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Gadgets & Tech – Spoken Edition
3 minutes | Jul 3, 2020
iPadOS 14 Could Solve A Bunch of Little Problems We Have with iPad
It seemed like Apple completely reinvented the way we used iPads with the recent iPadOS 13 update that added support for trackpads and mice. But now iPadOS 14 is here. It’s not quite the overhaul that iPadOS 13 was, but the update adds a few useful features that could make it easier to get work done on your iPad. To start, an interface redesign puts puts navigation and organizational tools front and center in the apps you use most.
3 minutes | Jul 3, 2020
Goodbye Useless Amazon Dash Wand, May You Rest Peacefully in Eternal Obscurity
In an email, Amazon notified Dash Wand owners that it’s ending support for the device as of July 21. What’s that you say? You’ve never heard of the Dash Wand? Well, that’s hardly surprising. The first iteration of the gadget was introduced back in ye olde days of 2014. It was a lil wand thing with a barcode scanner and microphone, meaning you could scan your groceries or tell the stick to restock up what you were running low on. It got a quiet refresh in 2016.
4 minutes | Jul 2, 2020
Japan's New Fugaku Supercomputer Is Number One, Ranking in at 415 Petaflops
Japan’s Riken institute has ripped through prior records on computing speed, with its brand-new Fugaku supercomputer performing 2.8 times more calculations per second in a biannual speed ranking than the previous record holder, the IBM system at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Summit, the Oak Ridge computer, is now second place.
2 minutes | Jul 1, 2020
Once Again, Mr. President, You Have Broken the Rules of the General Discussions Board
Our big boy president has once again angered the mods, with Twitter flagging another one of his tweets for violating its rules. Last week, Donald Trump tweeted, “There will never be an ‘Autonomous Zone’ in Washington, D.C., as long as I’m your President. If they try they will be met with serious force!” (The autonomous zone is a reference to a group of protesters against police brutality in Seattle who have occupied parts of the Capitol Hill neighborhood and declared it a cop-free area; local officials have described it as resembling a block party, while the right-wing media and Trump have played it up as an apocalyptic threat to national security organized by terrorists.)
2 minutes | Jul 1, 2020
Apple Now Supports In-Store Mac Trade-Ins
Apple users will now be able to trade-in their old Macs in physical Apple Stores rather than having to use the company’s online system for these devices. An Apple representative confirmed the change to Gizmodo, and an updated FAQ on Apple’s trade-in hub now omits language that previously stated that the only exception to in-store trade-ins was Apple’s line of computers.
3 minutes | Jun 30, 2020
Was That So Hard, Zoom?
Video chat service Zoom will finally add end-to-end encryption to calls placed by users on the free version of its service, weeks after announcing it would only be available to premium users who shelled out for the privilege. In April, Zoom faced a shareholder lawsuit alleging that the service boasted it used true end-to-end encryption, which prevents malicious parties from intercepting the contents of a conversation unless they have access to one of the devices involved.
3 minutes | Jun 30, 2020
Olympus Is Getting Out of the Camera Game
It’s been a rough few years for Olympus, and with smartphones cannibalizing the sales of pocket cams and Sony dominating the sales of high-end mirrorless cams, Olympus has decided to sell off its camera division and exit the camera game entirely. In a press release issued last week, Olympus says that following due diligence it will sell its imaging business to Japan Industrial Partners by September 30, 2020.
3 minutes | Jun 29, 2020
All the Stuff Coming to Apple Home in the Fall
Apple’s super-stuffed developer’s presentation last week brought new announcements for wearables, an overhauled iOS interface, and a new macOS with the debut of Big Sur. But Apple dropped a bunch of updates coming to the Apple tech we use in our homes—a place we’re now spending more time than ever. The big push here was the ease with which you can use multiple products with the least amount of trouble, as you might with features like Airplay to push a video from your phone to your Apple TV or using the Home app to control the various smart devices around your space. Apple says it has open-sourced HomeKit to prioritize privacy and ease of use, so that when you add a smart device and set it up through the iOS 14 Home app, it’ll automatically suggest various automation options. Apple has long supported smart bulbs that can change to nifty colors. But with iOS 14, it’s adding something called Adaptive Lighting, which can be used to change the colors you see in specific rooms automatically based on your preference. The company is also rolling out a beefed-up system for home security cameras that will let users specifically designate the zones they want to monitor while excluding activity outside of those zones. So, for example, you can opt to only be alerted about activity within that designated area. Another security measure being added is facial recognition for close contacts you’ve tagged in your photos. This feature will extend to Apple’s own products as well. HomePod will alert you about who is at the door, while Apple TV will display a video overlay from your security camera in the corner of your streaming screen. The company said that all cameras connected with the Home app will be linked to tvOS 14 as well as supported through the control center. Apple TV got a few exciting updates of its own in tvOS 14. Multi-user support is coming to Apple Arcade from the control center to pick up where you left off. The company has also announced coming support for Xbox Elite 2 and Xbox adaptive controllers for Apple Arcade. With picture-in-picture support on the way, Apple will also introduce AirPlay sessions. As for news on the Apple TV+ front, well, the news was pretty slim (though it will be available on Sony and Vizio smart TVs later this year). But! We did get a trailer for the forthcoming Isaac Asimov sci-fi joint Foundation, which will arrive sometime in 2021.
3 minutes | Jun 29, 2020
China Finally Completes Its Rival GPS Network
On Tuesday, China launched the final satellite in its BeiDou Navigation Satellite (BDS) System, marking the completion of its homegrown GPS-esque navigation system. The project has been decades in the making. It began in the 1990s, and the first satellite launch was in October 2000, according to Space.com. BDS is currently one of four global navigations systems. The others are the U.S. government-run GPS, Russia’s GLONASS, and the European Union’s Galileo.
3 minutes | Jun 26, 2020
Philips Hue Goes Extra Bright with its New 1600 Lumen Smart Light
After releasing a line of new outdoor lights earlier this year, Philips Hue has returned with some new lights better suited for indoor use including an updated Lightstrip Plus and Hue Bloom lamp, along with a new 1600 lumen bulb which is now the brightest smart light out of Hue’s entire portfolio.
3 minutes | Jun 26, 2020
This MacBook Charger Hub Fixes One of Apple's Biggest Laptop Sins: Removing the Memory Card Slot
Apple’s butterfly keyboard will go down as one of the biggest tech blunders of recent years, but there’s another egregious sin the company has committed against its MacBooks that hasn’t been properly addressed yet: the elimination of the built-in SD card slot. There are lots of workarounds for the loss, but ElevationLab’s new ElevationHub appears to be the least intrusive. When Apple switched to using USB-C ports on its laptops, the company also decided it was time to eliminate the incredibly useful memory card slots it had been including on many of its notebooks for years. One less component meant there was more room inside for other tech, and milling out that tiny slot on the side of MacBook housings undoubtedly shaved a few precious seconds off the manufacturing process. It wasn’t as beneficial to consumers, though, as it once again meant that external hubs and card readers were accessories you had to keep close at hand for their inevitable use. The move gave birth to another accessory market for the MacBook: USB-C dongles and docks that not only allowed memory cards, HDMI cables, and even multiple USB devices to connect to a MacBook at the same time, but also the return of the dreaded dongle. They’re ugly, they’re cumbersome, and they’re easy to lose. And that’s exactly why the ElevationHubE might be the way to go. Instead of attaching to the MacBook itself, it’s designed to snap onto the side of the official Apple MacBook charger, adding an extra USB-A port and an SD-sized memory card reader, plus some much-needed cable management. Starting at $40 the Elevation Hub isn’t the cheapest way to expand the usefulness of a single USB-C port; there are other solutions that offer HDMI and even connectivity for network cables, but it stays out of the way, and it’s impossible to forget when traveling because it’s always mounted to your MacBook’s wall wart. Functionally, there are also some challenges. If you plug in your laptop under a desk it will probably be a bit of a pain to crawl under there every time you want to grab photos of a memory card. There are also better and smaller charging alternatives to the wall wart that Apple includes with the MacBook which the ElevationHub won’t fit, unfortunately. The perfect solution is Apple including memory card slots again on its machines, but until that happens (which could be never) this seems like one of the better solutions.
5 minutes | Jun 25, 2020
Microsoft Broke One of Its Most Useful Windows 10 Features With Its Latest Update
Microsoft has had one heck of a time fixing bugs in its last couple of Windows 10 versions. Many users, myself included, stuck with version 1809 longer than we anticipated because of all the bugs in version 1903 when it rolled out last year. One bug prevented users from upgrading to version 1903 if they had a USB device or SD card connected to their PC. Other bugs affected the Microsoft Game bar.
3 minutes | Jun 25, 2020
Build This Mini Star Trek TNG Computer To Make Yourself Feel Like You're Far Away From Earth
Exploring the stars, thousands of light years away from Earth, sounds pretty great right about now. While Darian Johnson hasn’t invented intergalactic travel, he has created a tiny desktop computer that looks straight out of Jean-Luc Picard’s ready room, letting you at least pretend that you’re safely aboard a distant starship. It’s a testament to Star Trek: The Next Generation’s production designers, including technical consultant Michael Okuda, that the fictional LCARS (short for Library Computer Access/Retrieval System) operating system used on the computers aboard the USS Enterprise-D still look futuristic, despite the show first airing 33 years ago. Gene Roddenberry himself insisted that the computer screens aboard the ship be as minimal and clean as possible to give the impression of the technology being incredibly advanced, and it’s an aesthetic that many fans of the show are still fans of, including Johnson. Johnson’s LCARS computer is based on an existing design for a similar TNG-themed alarm clock, which he upgraded with a larger 3D-printed enclosure, bigger screen, and additional components to add considerably more functionality. Using everything from an Adafruit ESP32 Feather Board to Amazon’s AWS cloud servers, the computer can access and display a host of information, accessible with a series of simple buttons, including the weather, the temperature and humidity of the room, news headlines, calendar data pulled from Microsoft Outlook, fitness info courtesy of Google Fitness, a resistor color code chart and calculator, and even a tool for measuring power and current that Johnson can use as he develops other devices. Geordi La Forge would be proud. All of the files and schematics needed to create and customize your own are available for free on Hackaday for download, and while you don’t need to be a Starfleet caliber engineer to build one, you will need soldering, electronics, and programming skills to make it so.
2 minutes | Jun 24, 2020
Adobe Flash Is Actually Going to Die This Time, For Real
Three years ago, long after the rise (and fall) of Flash, Adobe announced that its once-ubiquitous multimedia platform was finally going away. But Adobe never provided a specific date for when Flash would reach its end-of-life. Now we know: Adobe Flash is going to officially die on December 31, 2020. While younger folks should be forgiven for not knowing about Flash, during the late 90s, and into the 2000s, huge swaths of the internet relied on Flash to add interactivity to websites in the form of animations, games, and even videos. In fact, in its early days, YouTube relied almost entirely on Flash to serve up streaming videos to millions of people around the world. However, that changed in the latter half of the 2000s thanks to the rise of more powerful open-source platforms, like HTML 5 and CSS 3, and the need for a more efficient standard designed to run on mobile phones. Adobe Flash (or Macromedia Flash as it was known before Adobe bought it out in 2005) quickly began to lose its appeal. And that’s before you get into the numerous security problems often caused by exploits in Flash. Then in 2010, Steve Jobs signaled the beginning of the end for Flash when he posted an open letter explaining why Apple would not be supporting Flash on the iPad, iPhone, or any future products. Ever since products and sites, like the Flash-reliant Newgrounds, have been working to replace Flash or implement workarounds so as to ween themselves off a once-useful but now outdated platform. That brings us to today, where stumbling upon something that still needs Flash to run feels like calling up a friend using a rotary phone. While Flash won’t just vanish into thin air on December 31, Adobe says that it will stop distributing and updating Flash. Critically, that also means Flash won’t be getting any further security or privacy patches. For a software platform that lasted more than two decades and played a huge part in the Dot-com bubble of the late 90s and early 2000s, Flash lasted a lot longer than most people probably ever expected. So pour one out for the software that brought us wonderful time-wasters like YTMND and Homestar Runner. It’s been real, but it’s time to go.
3 minutes | Jun 24, 2020
NASA’s New Horizons Probe Is So Far Away, It Now Sees Stars in Different Positions Than We Do
A NASA parallax experiment involving New Horizons shows the probe now sees some stars in slightly different positions than we do on Earth, revealing just how far the spacecraft is from home. You can actually replicate this effect at home, kids. Fully extend your arm away from your face and raise a finger (anyone, you choose). You’ll notice that, when alternating between your left and right eyes, your finger will change position.
3 minutes | Jun 23, 2020
It's Hard to Imagine Ever Finding a Smaller Travel Mouse Than This
As handy as a built-in trackpad is, there are many laptop users who absolutely despise the option. To them, a mouse is still the only way to push a cursor around, and for those times when they have to travel, the surprisingly tiny CheerPod packs an impressive amount of functionality into a pocket-friendly device that’s about the size of a lighter. Using the CheerPod looks like a bit of a balancing act between a traditional mouse and a touchpad. It can be slid around a table to control the Windows or macOS’ cursor over Bluetooth, with a pair of left and right clickable buttons used to make selections. But the surface of the CheerPod also has multi-touch functionality, so depending on how many fingers you rest on top, moving the tiny mouse around can alternately scroll documents, switch between windows and apps, or activate various other gesture-controlled shortcuts each operating system supports. For those times when you just don’t have room to plop a mouse down next to your laptop, like when working on the tiny flip-down snack tray on a plane, the CheerPod also features a built-in gyroscope so you can use it as an air mouse and control your computer’s cursor by simply holding the mouse in your hand and moving it around. It can even be used as a remote for controlling slideshows, and its creators have even included a laser pointer because why not? There’s presumably a bit of a learning curve when it comes to mastering the CheerPod, like remembering not to accidentally place too many fingers on it while dragging it around. Its tiny size also means it doesn’t look like it’s the most ergonomically-friendly device. If you’re used to a mouse that feels like it’s been custom molded to the palm of your hand, you might have a hard time getting used to how to hold the CheerPod. But it seems like a minor trade-off given the tiny mouse requires little space in your laptop bag, and can even be easily carried in a shirt pocket. If there was a good reason to be hesitant about dropping $49 (a limited time discount for early pre-orders) on the CheerPod it’s that its creators are using an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to bring it to market. It’s long since blown past its original funding goal which helps, but it’s rare to see a crowdfunded gadget not run into unforeseen delays or problems as it moves from the functional prototype stage to a product ready for mass production, which is further complicated now with the pandemic still gripping the world. If you do pre-order one, it’s not a bad idea to take the promised September 2020 delivery date with a grain of salt.
3 minutes | Jun 23, 2020
Amazon Introduces Social Distance Software at Warehouses, but That Won't Fix Its Coronavirus Problem
Amazon is debuting a new software that will send its warehouse employees real-time visual cues about their physical proximity to other workers, one of the company’s latest initiatives in response to covid-19—a problem the company has been struggling to address in its facilities.
2 minutes | Jun 22, 2020
Super-Sized Lego Go-Kart Is Big Enough for Even Grown-up Kids to Drive
Matt Denton was one of the clever engineers responsible for designing and building the functional BB-8 robots and puppets used to film the most recent Star Wars trilogy. But online Denton is probably better known for his clever use of 3D printing to supersize Lego Technic sets, which now includes a functional go-kart he can actually drive On his YouTube channel, Denton has been sharing a series of videos detailing the planning, engineering, and construction of his latest XXL Lego build.
3 minutes | Jun 22, 2020
Amazon's Reportedly Fielding Probes From California, Washington State Over Trade Practices
Officials in California and Washington State are investigating Amazon’s business practices with a focus on whether the tech giant abuses its power over third-party sellers on its online marketplace, according to reports from the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Amazon’s been facing increasing antitrust scrutiny from both the U.S. and abroad over how the company aggregates data from these sellers and purportedly gives its own products an unfair advantage.
3 minutes | Jun 19, 2020
Brave Blows Up Its Whole Reason for Existing
As a software company in the browser space, Brave’s made a name for itself by putting user privacy first and monetization second. But now, some of its users are pointing out that the pledge might be a bit duplicitous. As first pointed out by the folks over at Decrypt, Brave has been quietly redirecting its users from particular cryptocurrency sites, over to affiliate URLs that Brave, in turn, can use to track users and skim off revenue. The news came to light this past weekend when one Twitter user pointed out that, upon typing the URL for the cryptocurrency exchange Binance into his Brave search bar, the browser automatically reformatted the original URL—”binance.us”—into the affiliate-friendly “binance.us/en?ref=35089877:” a link that directs the end-user to the exact same destination, but the latter ensures that Brave gets a commission for referring that user to that particular site. According to Binance’s blog post explaining its affiliate program, the commissioner’s cut can be “up to 50%” of each trade a user might make. There’s actually a name for these sorts of URL-tracking tags: link decoration. It’s a slightly-shady practice that the likes of Facebook and Google, along with countless other companies have dipped into while looking for ways to track users in a cookie-free way. But as Decrypt points out in its piece, Brave never tipped off the roughly 15 million people using its browsers each month that these tags were being added to some of their search terms—let alone that these tags could ostensibly be used to track them across the web. Not long after news of the Binance tracker came to light—along with similar trackers being added to the URL’s of several other crypto-centric services—Brave CEO Brendan Eich announced on Twitter that adding affiliate links within a user’s search bar was a “mistake” that the company is now “correcting.” But from his explanation, it seemed like it wasn’t much of a mistake at all. Brave, as Eich explained it, is “trying to build a viable business,” both by getting a cut from the ads that its users opt-into as part of the service, and through affiliate revenue via search—no different than “all major browsers” on the market, he explained. “When we do this well, it’s a win for all parties,” he added. “Our users want Brave to live.” As far as gaffes in the digital privacy sphere are concerned, this one is actually fairly minor—Eich pointed out that the affiliate links auto-added onto a user’s search terms were meant to identify the Brave browser itself, rather than the individual user. But it’s a gaffe just the same, and a gaffe from a company that has, until now, prided itself on being just a bit different from the power- and data-hungry browsers currently on the market. And if we can learn anything from these other companies, it’s that Brave will need to find some way to recoup this now-lost revenue—with or without our consent.
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