FOXTROT/ALFA: CPU Shortages, Amazon Wants to See You Half-Naked, Dragon Age 4

Welcome to the 140th issue of FOXTROT/ALFA for Friday, 28 August 2020. Another workweek lies behind us and here’s all the interesting stuff that’s been happening in tech today.

CPU and Screen Shortages

If you still need a new CPU for Microsoft’s new Flight Simulator, you might not want to delay that purchase much longer. CPU components are getting hard to get again

The scarcity of PC components – specifically CPUs and screen panels – are threatening to limit availability in the run-up to the Christmas holiday quarter as orders for notebooks keep coming thick and fast, HP execs have warned.

The problem first showed up almost two years ago when Intel stumbled in efforts to switch fabs to 14nm and 10nm manufacturing processes, and was forced to prioritise chip production to higher-margin Xeons and top-end cores. Since then, all of the major PC makers including Lenovo and Dell competed over allocation, and suffered the double whammy of COVID-19 related factory closures in China that also slowed the flow of finished products.

Notebooks, as we all know, flew off the shelves as the COVID-19 crisis unfolded with employees working and students studying from home. Distributors in Europe sold all the product they had in Q2, including dusty notebooks that had been sitting on the shelves for 12 months.

Amazon: Please Upload Your Half-Naked Pics So We Can Motivate You

Amazon wants you to upload half-naked images to use its fitness armband. No, seriously. I’m not making this up.

Amazon has teased a smartphone app and wireless wristband that employ sensors and machine-learning algorithms to depict how fat you’ll get unless you do some exercise – and tell you to relax if you sound stressed. All for your own good, of course. Unlike other smartwatches or fitness trackers, this wearable does not have a screen. You won’t be able to tell the time with it nor display your phone’s notifications. Though, as expected of a fitness wearable, it packs sensors that detect movement, temperature, and heart rate, as well as two microphones.

Neural networks in the cloud can determine from your phone camera photos, uploaded via the app, how much fat and muscle is in your body, even going as far as generating a 3D model predicting what your body will look like if you lose or gain weight. You have to wear “tight, minimal clothing – think a sports bra and bike shorts for women; boxers or briefs for men,” in your submitted photos for this feature to work, says Amazon. Now that’s motivating.

“Neural networks” – that’s Tech for “some bloke in a cubicle in Lithuania”.

Everyone Wants to Buy TikTok

I’m sure that previously, if you thought “cool video app the kids use”, Oracle came right to mind! Well

With TikTok under increasing pressure to offload its American operations, or be banned from the States by President Trump, the suitors are lining up. Oracle is apparently the front-runner to acquire the US side of TikTok by offering $20bn in cash and stocks, according to showbiz news sheet The Wrap. We’re told the database software giant is prepared to cough up $10bn in cash and $10bn in Oracle shares, and give the vid-sharing app’s Chinese owner ByteDance half of the US operation’s profits for the next two years.

ByteDance investors General Atlantic and Sequoia Capital, which reportedly approached Oracle to suggest it buys TikTok’s US wing, are said to be in contact with the White House to ensure the profit-sharing part of the deal meets the President’s requirements. The Commander-in-Chief has given TikTok three months to simply sell or spin off its US wing, or be shut down over “national security” fears – ByteDance might be ordered by Beijing to spy on millions of American teens using the popular mobile app, it is claimed.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin apparently is in favor of the latest arrangement pitched by Larry Ellison’s IT goliath. Oracle threw its hat into the ring this month, and it was assumed it came about due to Ellison’s close relationship with the Trump administration. “I think that Oracle would be certainly somebody that could handle it,” the President earlier said without any sort of logical justification.

This is not about spying on teens, of course. As far as I can tell, Trump thinks TikTok actively facilitated the social media campaign against his Tulsa rally. I don’t know if there’s any thruth to that. The New York Times, The Guardian or the WaPo certainly wouldn’t report it, if there was. So who knows?

Telling People that Apple is Taking a Vig on App Store Purchases is “Irrelevant Information”, Says Apple

Nice to see Apple’s back to its old tricks again. It’s just like Stevo’s still in charge over there.

Apple nixed a message in the Facebook app for iOS warning users that Apple would take 30 percent of event payments, Facebook says. Facebook announced a new feature for paid online events earlier this month. It allows small businesses to host virtual cooking classes, workout sessions, happy hours, and other events and charge people to participate. In its announcement, Facebook said it was not taking a cut of customers' payments. That means that on Android, “small businesses will keep 100% of the revenue they generate,” Facebook says. But the story was different on iOS thanks to Apple’s 30-percent cut of in-app purchases.

The screenshot above shows how the social media giant wanted to alert users to the 30-percent charge. The iOS version of the app is at the left. Below the “Purchase” button it says, “Apple takes 30% of this purchase.” But Facebook says Apple forced the company to delete the notice, dubbing it a violation of the App Store’s policy against showing “irrelevant” information to users.

“Irrelevant information” …good one, Apple! LOL.

Dragon Age 4 is Being Worked On (Unsurprisingly)

Breaking fucking news! Bioware is working on Dragon Age 4! Wow, what a surprise.

Fans of BioWare’s Dragon Age series got a nice little surprise today, as the studio dropped a four-minute highlight reel at the all-virtual Gamescom 2020 promising players that the next game is still in development, and that it’s still going to be Dragon Age, even if we do have to keep waiting for approximately a million more years.

Dragon Age enthusiasts (me) have been waiting for concrete news about the next game in the series since 2015, when the Trespasser DLC for Dragon Age: Inquisition all but literally offered itself up as a prologue. Although the existence of some kind of Dragon Age 4 was an open secret, it took years for the studio even to admit publicly there was indeed a new game in development. Instead, BioWare focused on science-fiction properties like Mass Effect: Andromeda and Anthem.

Which were both absolutely shit.

The four-minute video features an array of studio leadership talking in very high-level terms about the game’s development. Everyone featured promises that the game will be chock-full of characters we’ll love, hate, or love to hate; epic boss fights; sweeping scenery; and all the fanciest technology the next console generation has to offer, all of which you’d expect to hear.

I used to really adore every new Dragon Age game, but Inquisition was very deeply flawed and apparently Bioware can’t make a decent RPG to save their lives these days. So I’m not holding out much hope for this one at the moment.

Also Noteworthy

Other things I’ve been reading today:

That’s it for this week. Just one thing left to do: My weekend song recommendation. I’ve recently received some feedback from a reader who said he’s especially looking forward to this every time, which made me really happy. So here’s a great song from an artist I’ve just discovered a few weeks ago from a Spotify recommendation (and the fact that I thought that album art looks exactly like the kind of photo I would use for my own album if I could actually play the guitar):

This is an archived issue of my daily newsletter FOXTROT/ALFA. You can find more information about it, including how to subscribe via email, on this page.