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Even if the pandemic abates, FitXR thinks home fitness is the future

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Imagine wearing a VR headset, and being transported into a glitzy wellness club with a sunroof and funky lighting. The class starts and you rapidly throw punches at virtual objects hurled your way to a synchronized tempo. Your heart rate climbs. The sweat is real. And you can see other people in your peripheral vision doing the same thing, only it’s their avatars.

That’s what the next level of FitXR is all about. On Thursday, the London-based company rolled out a slew of updates to its app on Facebook’s Oculus headsets to make boxing and dancing in VR more engaging. The startup, formally BoxVR, says it wants to become the “virtual fitness destination” of the future, and unlocking new features might be one step toward getting it there.

“Anyone who’s attended a great group class knows that exercising with others, synchronously to the music in a nightclub environment with an instructor, is a powerfully motivating experience,” said Sam Cole, cofounder at FitXR. “Our entire vision is about delivering a virtual fitness club, and, and therefore providing people with the most fun way to workout at home.”

Part of that mission requires optional monthly memberships, which is a new addition to the app. FitXR is among the first group of companies to embrace the payment structure, which Facebook enabled for Oculus games this week.

FitXR also added multiplayer mode, a highly-requested feature designed to allow people to talk to each other virtually as if they’re in an actual fitness class. Multiplayer allows up to seven members to exercise in a virtual room together in real-time. I tried it out, and it’s entertaining to experience. There’s still room for growth, however. All you see is your friend’s digital head and fists in the corner of your eye while you focus on burning calories.

It’s also easy to work out by accident. You might sign on just to game, and find yourself drenched in sweat.

Be warned: The platform can be challenging if you don’t select the right intensity.

A large leaderboard calculates points as you exercise. The more moves you perform correctly, the higher the score. Users can also choose to compete against leaderboards from past recorded sessions.

VR workouts aren’t for everyone. You need a $299 Oculus headset, cheap by virtual reality headset standards but still expensive if you aren’t convinced it’s worth it. You also need enough free space to move around if you want to play without bumping into things around the house.

FitXR’s classes are $9.99 per month and give users access to an ever-evolving library of workouts.

Other new features include daily workouts, high-intensity interval training and additional environments to perform in. FitXR also promises a better soundtrack experience through a partnership with Warner Music. People paid $29.99 to sign up before the new rollout will still be able to use the old content they paid for. And they’ll get all the new content including multiplayer capabilities for the next 90 days.

FitXR and other fitness apps got a big boost amid the ongoing coronavirus health crisis as gyms temporarily shuttered or curbed offerings while more people spent more time at home. Facebook says FiTXR was one of the top non-gaming apps on Oculus and has one of the highest retention rates.

The app’s sales spiked 535 percent in the last quarter of 2020 compared to the same period around the holidays the year before, Oculus says.

It’s unclear how prepared the world is to continue to work out at home, and how many more people will welcome sweating with a VR headset covering half their face. But with many spending big bucks for on-demand spinning classes and high-tech gym equipment, the trend seems poised to outlast the pandemic.

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Google is about to start automatically enrolling users in 2FA

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In recent months, vulnerable apps, hacked websites, and zero-day exploits have accounted for an increasing amount of the reporting that we do here at BGR. There is risk in everything we do online, but there are many ways to mitigate that risk, such as turning on two-factor authentication (2FA) for any apps, services, or accounts that offer it. Speaking of 2FA, Google decided to take matters into its own hands on that front, as the company announced Thursday that it will soon enable 2FA by default for anyone with an “appropriately configured” Google account.

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“Today we ask people who have enrolled in two-step verification (2SV) to confirm it’s really them with a simple tap via a Google prompt on their phone whenever they sign in,” Google’s Director of Product Management, Identity and User Security, Mark Risher, said in a blog post. “Soon we’ll start automatically enrolling users in 2SV if their accounts are appropriately configured. (You can check the status of your account in our Security Checkup). Using their mobile device to sign in gives people a safer and more secure authentication experience than passwords alone.”

Basically, your account is “appropriately configured” if you have provided Google with recovery information, which could be a secondary email address, a phone number, or an authenticator app. You should already be using Google’s two-step verification, but if you’re not, at least make sure to visit the Security Checkup site.

As Google notes earlier in the blog post, searches for the phrase “how strong is my password” increased by 300% in 2020. Meanwhile, millions of you are still using passwords like “123456” or “password” or “qwerty,” so the resounding answer to that search query is an unequivocal “NO.” Make your passwords strong and difficult to guess, use different passwords for all of your accounts, and take advantage of Google’s Password Manager, which not only stores all of your passwords, but also lets you know when and if they have been compromised.

Google’s dream of killing passwords once and for all is still just that — a dream — but as we slowly work our way toward that glorious day, do what you can to keep your accounts and your personal data safe.

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Jacob started covering video games and technology in college as a hobby, but it quickly became clear to him that this was what he wanted to do for a living. He currently resides in New York writing for BGR. His previously published work can be found on TechHive, VentureBeat and Game Rant.


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Finding Dark Ships Via Satellite

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It would seem that for as long as there have been ships on the ocean, there’s been smuggling. The International Maritime Organisation requires ships to have AIS, the automatic identification system which is akin to a transponder on an airplane. However, if you don’t want to be found, you often turn off your AIS. So how do governments and insurance companies track so-called dark ships? Using satellite technology. A recent post in Global Investigative Journal tells the story of how lower-cost satellites are helping track these dark ships.

Optical tracking is the obvious method, but satellites that can image ships can be expensive and have problems with things like clouds. Radar is another option, but — again — an expensive option if you aren’t a big military agency with money to spend. A company called HawkEye 360 uses smallsats to monitor ship’s RF emissions, which is much less expensive and resource-intensive than traditional methods. Although the data may still require correlation with other methods like optical sensing, it is still cost-effective compared to simply scanning the ocean for ships.

The post tells the tale of an Iranian crude oil tanker. Noting a long gap in the AIS signal from the ship, HawkEye 360 attempted to locate the ship the next time it went dark. Of course, AIS can be off for other reasons, such as equipment failure or fear of piracy. Simply not squawking AIS isn’t a definite sign of malfeasance.

Using the satellite, radio transmissions on VHF channel 16 (156.8 MHz) — the standard calling frequency — were found from the ship and it appeared they were offloading crude oil to a refinery in Syria. With a specific target in mind, commercial satellite imaging picked up 3-meter resolution images of the ships and — apparently there is a database of ships at that resolution — identified four Iranian flag tankers at the site, three of which had arrived in stealth mode.

The HawkEye 360 satellites can pick up radar, emergency beacons, satellite phones, and VHF radio signals. A map shows the difference between the number of AIS signals in the South China Sea and the number of X-band radar signals. The AIS map looks sparse, whereas the radar map shows 3-4 times the number of vessels.

In another example, uses ESA’s Sentinel 1 satellite and synthetic aperture radar to locate ships going from China to North Korea. ICEYE, another smallsat company, is tracing illegal fishing activity around Argentina and smuggling near the UAE.

It is amazing to see how much satellite tech that would have been deep secret a few years ago is now commercially available. It isn’t just useful for law enforcement, either. The resolution is a far cry from the old weather satellites people tend to eavesdrop on.

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Designer modernizes retro iMac wallpapers for the new colourful M1 iMacs

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