Skip to content

Archive for

22
Apr

Doctors look into the best ways to deal with periods in space


Two doctors have explored female astronauts’ options when it comes to suppressing their periods in space, especially for long-haul missions. While we already know by now that there are no menstrual issues associated with microgravity, some (if not most) might still consider it a huge hassle. Who’d want to deal with a heavy flow in the middle of a spacewalk? According to Varsha Jain, nobody. Jain, one of the two doctors who already works closely with NASA, told The Atlantic: “The women that I spoke to, for short duration flights, when they went up on shuttle missions, they chose either to suppress or they chose to time their cycles, so they didn’t have to deal with their menstruation…”

So, she and her colleague, Dr. Virginia Wotring, looked into the feasibility of using oral contraceptives and IUDs or implants to control periods during deep-space missions. Their conclusion is that oral contraceptives, which astronauts already use for short missions, aren’t that practical for, say, a three-year trip to Mars. That would entail packing thousands of pills, which would take up cargo space. Plus, NASA will have to figure out the best way to dispose of their packaging. Long-acting reversible contraceptives (IUDs and patches) are more viable, since they’re already inside the body. Not to mention, the astronauts wouldn’t have to worry about taking one everyday. Jain and Wotring warn, however, that more research is needed on the effects of contraceptives on bone loss in outer space.

Menstruation was one of the reasons why it took NASA almost two decades after the moon landing to put a woman on a space shuttle mission. For instance: a paper published in the 1960s said it’s a bad idea to put a “temperamental psychophysiologic human” — that’s supposed to be a woman on her period, if you can’t tell — in a complicated machine. Scientists also used to believe that period blood would flow inward in microgravity, causing severe health problems.

NASA has sent a lot of women to space since Sally Ride’s time, including Cady Coleman who we interviewed about every day life aboard the ISS. As they all successfully proved that female astronauts won’t set spaceships on fire then they’re on their periods, it’s safe to say that future deep space missions will include women. In fact, NASA announced last year that Sunita Williams, the same astronaut who fixed the space station with her toothbrush, is part of the first commercial spaceflight crew.

As Jain said, we “need to ensure [we] have the most up-to-date information on reliable contraception and means of menstrual suppression” if we’re sending humans to places farther than the ISS. Someday, traveling to the moon or to Mars might be more accessible, and it’s important that spacefaring women have safe options to consider if they decide to suppress their periods.

Source: King’s College London, Nature

Advertisements
22
Apr

Amazon locks top games behind a Prime paywall (updated)


Update: Some of the UK listings are starting to switch back, suggesting the Prime block was a mistake. At the time of writing Grand Theft Auto V remains Prime-only in the US, however. Our original article follows below.

For many, Amazon is the go-to place to buy video games. Now, the company is using that influence to incentivise Prime by requiring a subscription for select game orders. As VideoGamer reports, this applies to top titles such as FIFA 16, Far Cry Primal and Battlefield Hardline on both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in the UK. Similar restrictions are also live in the US — we’ve spotted the Amazon Prime label on Grand Theft Auto V, for instance. The requirement is only in place, however, if you want the order to be fulfilled by Amazon. At the moment, you can sidestep the problem by selecting a third-party merchant on the site instead.

These are big, popular games. When asked about the decision, the company told VideoGamer: “One of the many benefits of Amazon Prime is access to exclusive selection on a number of great products. Customers who are not Prime members can sign-up for a 30-day free trial of Amazon Prime, or they can purchase those items from a Marketplace seller.” Amazon has taken a similar approach with other forms of media — in the UK, for instance, you need a Prime subscription to buy Spectre on DVD.

Amazon has used games to drive Prime sign-ups before. In the US, you can get up to 20 percent discounts on pre-orders and newly released games if you have an active subscription. At the moment, this includes Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Doom, Overwatch and Homefront: The Revolution.

It’s not clear whether this is a timed promotion or something Amazon will enforce indefinitely. The move will, in all likelihood, convert a few customers into Prime subscribers, however it could also aggravate people that can’t afford, or would otherwise have no interest in the service. Amazon might be big, but it’s not the only place that sells video games — digital stores like Steam, for instance, are growing in popularity. Amazon is, therefore, risking its market dominance and its customers’ loyalty.

Via: VideoGamer

Source: Amazon

22
Apr

Microsoft and Google agree to work out regulatory disputes


Microsoft and Google have reached a worldwide ceasefire agreement in their ongoing regulatory disputes, Re/code reports today. In September, the two tech superpowers dropped the boatload of lawsuits they’d carried against each other for years. Today, the pair announced they will work together to settle any further disputes before going to court or involving any number of regulatory bodies around the globe.

Both companies offered the news in similar but separate statements to Re/code, highlighting their “changing legal priorities” and promised to drop any regulatory complaints. As Google put it: “Our companies compete vigorously, but we want to do so on the merits of our products, not in legal proceedings.” In other words, they plan to crush each other by building the most useful technology, rather than spending resources on attorneys.

The attitude change comes after both companies shifted their leadership. Whereas Steve Ballmer and Eric Schmidt were ruthlessly vying for platform dominance, their replacements Satya Nadella and Sundar Pichai have taken a kinder approach. In 2015, Nadella updated Microsoft’s mission to “empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more,” even if that means doing it on Android’s platform. And with fewer threats to its platform, Google has even less reason to draw out old battles in court and even more reason to focus on moving forward.

22
Apr

We’re updating our console reviews, starting with the Xbox One!


It’s rare — unprecedented, even — that Engadget re-reviews the same product. But game consoles are a curious exception. Though the hardware stays the same, these machines receive myriad firmware updates, sometimes long after launch, that make them even more valuable. That’s especially true of the Xbox One, whose interface became much, much easier to navigate after a major software update last year. With our coverage of the actual games still going strong, we thought it high time we revisit the devices themselves. As such, we’ll be rewriting, re-scoring and even re-photographing our original write-ups of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. (With news that the Wii U might not live past this year, an obituary might be more appropriate than a fresh review.)

To kick things off, you can read our take-two on the Xbox, whose score has risen to 84 from 81. (We’ve also left Ben Gilbert’s 2013 review up on the site for posterity’s sake.) Now that we’ve gotten Xbox out of the way, our reviewer Timothy Seppala is hard at work giving the PS4 the same treatment; you can expect a fully redone review there, too. Stay patient — the man’s only got two hands! — and check back soon for round two (of round two) of the console wars.

22
Apr

The best smart lock


By Jon Chase

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology. Read the full article here.

After spending more than three months researching and testing eight leading models in both side-by-side tests and real-world everyday use, we feel that the Kwikset Kevo with the optional Kevo Plus module is the best choice for most homeowners. It’s the most versatile lock we tested—you can control it via a standard key, a wireless key fob, or a smartphone (at close range or remotely, over the Internet). It consistently had the fastest unlock/lock response times of all the locks we tested, and the mechanical whir of its moving parts was among the quietest.

Who should buy a smart lock

The smart locks we tested, ready for installation.

Smart locks bring a level of convenience and flexibility to day-to-day life, by allowing you to no longer carry house keys and letting you keep tabs on who comes and goes at home while you’re away. Among other cool benefits, some smart locks even allow you to use your smartphone to instantaneously send a virtual key to a houseguest.

All of this potential comes with a price, naturally, and though not stratospheric, the investment may give some homeowners pause. If spending nearly three hundred bucks on a door lock isn’t personally justifiable, you may be just as satisfied dropping a couple bucks for extra keys and one of those hollow fake rocks to stash them in.

How we tested

In appraising these locks, we took a close look at the ease or difficulty of installation.

We installed each smart lock on an exterior door with an existing deadbolt, removing that deadbolt for models that included their own lock hardware. For devices that rely on a dedicated companion app, we installed apps on both iOS and Android smartphones (when apps for both platforms were available). For devices requiring use of a third-party hub and without their own dedicated apps for remote use, we used a Wink HUB with the companion Wink app.

After installation, we triggered the locks up close using our local Wi-Fi network and remotely from smartphones connected over 4G LTE. Where possible, we tested the various settings and preferences found in the lock’s companion app and also shared lock access with others. We then did several mock entrances, attempting to use the lock as we might in everyday life.

These devices have varying capabilities, so apples-to-apples (or even apples-to-oranges) comparisons weren’t always possible. Nonetheless, comparisons quickly boiled down to a question of if key features were available and if they were, did the “smart” features make the devices more convenient or functional than a standard lock.

Our pick

Aside from its lighted status indicator, Kwikset Kevo’s exterior is indistinguishable from a standard lock.

If you want a smart lock that’s easy to install, lets you unlock the door with a simple tap of your finger, and allows for remote monitoring and operation from anywhere in the world via an Internet gateway, the Kwikset Kevo with Kevo Plus is your pick. In our extensive tests of eight different smart locks, no other model offered the same effortlessly simple operation.

Kwikset, the Kevo’s maker, is a respected lock company with 60 years of experience. The Kevo is sturdily built and can be controlled with its equally polished companion app. This lock also has a lot of great features. Its touch-based trigger makes locking and unlocking a door notably faster than using a key or keypad and more secure than models that depend on geofencing to automatically unlock when you get near home. And as with any lock, the Kevo’s most important feature is that it properly secures a door as well as a standard “dumb” deadbolt lock of the same grade would.

For garage doors or renters

The Schlage Connect Touchscreen Deadbolt is great if keyless access is your main interest.

The Schlage Connect Touchscreen Deadbolt, with its built-in keypad, is an excellent choice. It has even bulkier hardware than our pick and doesn’t have a dedicated app for remote control. For some people, though, it may be a good solution if dedicated smartphone control isn’t a priority, because you can still easily gain or share access to your home without ever needing to deal with a key (though it has a keyed tumbler as a dead-battery backup). The resistive touchscreen is reliably fast, which is the real hook. As an ANSI Grade 1 device, this lock is sturdily built to withstand break-in attempts—plus, it has a few alarm modes built in, so anyone trying to force your door open will be greeted by a piercing siren. Overall, though, the Kevo was more convenient to manage and a better aesthetic option on a front door.

Keep your existing deadbolt

The August Smart Lock is a smart addition to your existing deadbolt.

Available in Apple stores everywhere and thus arguably the most high-profile smart lock around, the stylish August Smart Lock can be a good solution if you want to use an existing deadbolt. Adding the August Connect Wi-Fi adapter to the lock lets you share access easily and keep tabs remotely on who comes and goes at your home. This lock makes a lot of sense for renters or vacation-home owners, though we had a few quibbles: The battery compartment can slide off, and the auto-unlock feature was too unstable to work in urban environments, as it triggered a few times even when we were home.

You can install another August add-on, the August Smart Keypad, outside your home, next to your door, and get easier, smartphone-free access sharing for guests. Once you figure in the keypad’s expense, though, you might decide you’re better off simply buying a keypad-equipped deadbolt, such as our second-place pick, the Schlage Touchscreen Deadbolt.

Budget option

The Morning Industry QF-01SN Keypad and Remote Deadbolt is a lock that supplies basic convenience features at a lower price than any of its competitors.

For some people, the smartest lock may not be the smartest choice. The Morning Industry QF-01SN Keypad and Remote Deadbolt has a physical keypad for typing in an access code, but also comes with a keychain-fob remote. It has terrible remote-access implementation via Z-Wave—you aren’t even able to check if your door is locked or unlocked remotely—but that’s forgivable at this lock’s low price. The QF-01SN’s real value is its ability to open the lock via keypad or keychain remote, letting you unlock your front door from up to 30 feet away, just as you would your car.

This guide may have been updated by The Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

22
Apr

Bank’s dodgy cost-cutting led to $80 million hack


Earlier this month, hackers attempting to steal $850 million from Bangladesh Bank managed to only get away with $80 million. After an investigation into the breach, authorities determined that the culprits gained access thanks to $10 second-hand switches used to network the bank’s computers and the lack of a proper firewall. Transfers of the stolen funds were halted as the result of a spelling error, otherwise the heist could’ve been much worse.

What’s more, the lack of proper equipment and security is making it difficult for investigators to find out how the hacker’s gained access or where the attack originated. Banking and security experts called the findings “disturbing,” noting a financial institution that handled billions of dollars didn’t have the most basic security measures in place. Police in Bangladesh say they’ve identified 20 people in other countries involved in the ordeal, but those folks seem to be recipients of the funds rather than the thieves responsible for the breach.

Via: Gizmodo

Source: Reuters

22
Apr

The Xbox One revisited: Microsoft’s console has gotten better with age


Engadget is re-reviewing the current generation of game consoles, each of which has benefited from major firmware updates, price drops and an improved selection of games. We’re kicking off this series by revisiting the Xbox One. Though we’ve changed our minds on some things and raised the score to 84, you can still find our original review here, if you’re curious to read what we said at launch.

The Xbox One is the product of two different Microsofts. The console debuted in 2013 following a disastrous six-month-long PR campaign that ultimately led to then–Xbox head Don Mattrick leaving the company. Initially Microsoft said that the Xbox One would require an internet connection even for single-player, store-bought games. The company backpedaled on that ahead of the console’s release, cobbling together bits of code to ensure that games played at launch. Even then, the Xbox One arrived with a sizable day-one patch.

Months of incremental post-launch updates added Twitch streaming, a controller battery-life indicator, custom wallpapers, party chat and some much-needed UI improvements. The biggest changes, though, have come since Phil Spencer assumed Mattrick’s old position. The Kinect sensor is no longer a requirement for the system, nor is Microsoft packaging it with every console sold. Because of that, the Xbox One is now priced lower than its most obvious rival, the PlayStation 4: $299 with an included game and 500GB hard drive. At launch it cost $500 with just the 500GB console, a controller and Kinect in the box.

Spencer’s focus is on games — an about-face from Mattrick’s “services and entertainment first” approach. Notably, Microsoft found success in January 2015 when it debuted the forthcoming Windows 10 update that brought Xbox One–to–PC game streaming, improved speed and backward compatibility. That rolled out last fall, but if you poke around the Xbox One of today, there are still some skeletons from the console’s past lurking in the corners.

Hardware

Aside from Kinect no longer being a requirement, nothing has changed about the Xbox One’s hardware. Until a possible mid-cycle hardware refresh happens, the system still has HDMI input and output sockets on the back, an awkwardly placed USB 3.0 port on the left (plus two more on the back), gigabit Ethernet and a Kinect-specific USB input.

Design-wise, it’s still a big, black box, but now you can get it in different game-themed colors if that’s your thing. There are now models with 1TB hard disks (or even hybrid hard/solid-state drives), but they all cost more than the standard 500GB configuration, ranging from to $400 to $500. And with support for USB 3.0 external HDDs, it’s still more economical to go the 500GB route than for an Xbox One with more internal storage.

Stepping up to the $500 Elite console with the 1TB hybrid drive has a different type of benefit, though: It includes Microsoft’s awesome Xbox One Elite controller in the box. Whereas the gamepad that came with the console at launch suffered from sharp edges, stiff shoulder buttons and a generally unfinished feel, the Elite is an improvement in every way.

For starters, it sports a rubberized grip on the underside, a standard 3.55mm headphone jack for headsets and voice chat microphones, soft-touch finish and higher quality thumbsticks. It’s modular, too, supporting interchangeable thumbsticks, control levers and directional pads.

You can also remap nearly everything on the controller (save for the “menu” and “options” buttons) to customize the gamepad even further. In the run-up to launch, Microsoft promised that we’d see different controller configurations on a per-game basis from developers, but there haven’t been any new ones released yet beyond the initial offering.

So is it worth the $150 premium? That depends on your priorities. But for someone like me who felt the original pack-in controller felt cheap and unfinished, it’s a sensible investment — especially if the Xbox One is your console of choice.

UI

The most visible change to the Xbox One is its user interface. The Windows 8 tiles that made up the console’s dashboard at launch have given way to a more streamlined experience that’s easier to use and faster than what came before it. The good thing with Windows 10 is that the massive window that dominates the home screen and quickly gets you back to whatever you were doing previously hasn’t been altered just for the sake of change.

But the alterations we have seen are incredibly welcome. Previously, it felt like using a controller to navigate the system was an afterthought in favor of using Kinect voice commands. Common features and tasks were hidden under layers of unintuitive menus, but that’s different now: Navigating with a gamepad feels perfectly natural.

Perhaps the biggest change is what happens when you scroll left from the home screen. Doing so brings up the quick-access menu introduced in last year’s software update, which is populated with the friends list, party chat, achievements, messages, notifications, system settings and, at the very bottom, app snapping.

I cannot overstate how big a change this is. Accessing any of these features previously meant exiting out of whatever game or app you were using to do something simple like send a friend request or check how close you were to earning an achievement. Or you’d have to snap your chosen app onto the right side of the screen, resulting in a smaller window for the game you were playing. It was clunky, time-consuming and ugly. Thankfully, that’s gone now, and the new quick-access menu works well.

What’s odd is that it’s available only if you pull to the left from the very top of the home screen. Trying to access it after scrolling down one panel to the four most recent apps used, or from the redesigned area for pinned games and apps, doesn’t do anything. However, double-tapping the guide button on the Xbox One gamepad brings it up wherever you’re within the dashboard or in a game. It isn’t instantaneous, but it’s still pretty quick.

Social

More than previous generations of consoles, the current crop are all about being social, whether in the form of sharing in-game screenshots to Twitter and Facebook or broadcasting your gameplay via Twitch. Even if you’re not jumping into multiplayer, interacting with others is a big part of console gaming these days. The Xbox One handles this in a few different ways. To the right of the home screen resides the community tab, which was also introduced as part of last year’s Windows 10 update. It’s a feed that shows your and your friends’ recent activities, including achievements unlocked plus screenshots and videos shared. It’s elegantly designed and easy to use.

Perhaps most important, the multimedia content in the river loads quickly, which encourages actually checking out that clip of your buddy nailing six kills without dying in Halo 5: Guardians. You can easily re-share something that you’ve seen, too. That said, uploading a screenshot or video clip while you’re in-game is another matter entirely. Double-tapping the guide button brings up the quick-access menu after a slight delay. Press the “Y” button to grab a still or “X” to record video. Unlike on the PlayStation 4, you can capture only gameplay, not menus or anything else. After you get your screenshot, you have to open the Game DVR app, hover over the content you want to share and then press the menu button to open up the options for the image.

The Xbox One’s screenshot library interface.

From there you can choose to share it to the activity feed, profile, Twitter or OneDrive or as a message to a friend. You’ll notice that the largest social network on the planet, Facebook, isn’t a share destination for some reason. A Microsoft spokesperson tells Engadget that the company is working to fix that, but didn’t specify when that might happen. Once you’ve shared, you have to manually exit the DVR and go back to the game. It’s also incredibly frustrating that you can’t share to more than one platform at a time.

Compare that with the PlayStation 4, where uploading a screenshot to Twitter or Facebook (but not both simultaneously) takes all of five button presses, and then you’re automatically transported back to whatever you were doing prior to hitting the controller’s share button.

Using the Upload Studio app for cutting shareable video clips is pretty painless, at least. But again, sharing directly from the app where something was created isn’t possible and requires another trip back to the Game DVR, sifting through a few menus and then finally uploading it to whichever platform you choose.

Twitch

The elegance of the Xbox One’s Twitch app is impressive, and it’s also easier to use than Chromecasting from Android or iOS. The main attractions (video and chat) reside on a broadcast’s main screen, with channel info, past broadcasts, highlights and options to follow the streamer all off to the right.

Broadcasting from the system works pretty well, too, though you’re stuck with the sluggish legacy app-snapping feature for beginning a stream. It isn’t ideal, but you can at least hide the Twitch app and maintain your current broadcast without any onscreen clutter. For a quick stream with a few friends it works, but basing your fledgling broadcasting career around it isn’t the best idea. Besides, chances are, if you’re serious about streaming, you’re already using external methods to do so (e.g., a capture card and PC software).

Kinect

When the Xbox One launched, the second-gen Kinect was touted as a huge improvement over the original. It was also essential to using the console itself. But ever since Microsoft decided that the sensor would no longer be required to use the system, the Kinect has become more and more irrelevant.

Nearly everything the sensor does can now be done with a few button presses. And whereas the voice recognition continues to be temperamental, button presses mean everything works the first time, every time. The Kinect was supposed to be the most natural way to conduct Skype calls, turn the console on (“Xbox: On”), grab a screenshot or video clip (“Xbox: Record that”) or snap an app (“Xbox: Snap Twitch. No, snap Twitch. Xbox: Snap Twitch. Xbox: Are you even listening?”).

More than two years since launch, however, saying “Xbox: On” still doesn’t activate the console on the first try. Even if my apartment is dead quiet and I say it in a loud, forceful voice, the Xbox One will still sometimes refuse to power up.

It’s frustrating, and more often than not I don’t use the voice commands, aside from “Xbox: Use a code” to redeem a downloadable item. Ya know, because saying the same thing over and over to my console makes me feel pretty silly — even when I’m alone in my apartment. Perhaps when the Cortana virtual assistant makes its way to the Xbox One the situation will change, but for now I’m happy to stick with what works.

Backward compatibility

Xbox One Boot Up

By far the biggest change since the Xbox One came out — in terms of actually, you know, playing games — is the advent of backward compatibility. In the run-up to the console’s launch, Don Mattrick infamously said, “If you’re backwards compatible, you’re really backwards.” Fast-forward to June 2015, when Phil Spencer decreed that over 100 fan-requested Xbox 360 games would be playable on the Xbox One by year’s end. The most recent console update even lets you buy backward-compatible Xbox 360 games right from the Xbox One’s marketplace.

That said, you can’t just put your well-loved copy of Assassin’s Creed II in the One’s slot-loading Blu-ray drive and start playing off the disc. Instead, that only starts the process, because the old games rely on software emulation to play on the Xbox One. After inserting the disc, you’ll have to download a free backward-compatibility update, which is essentially a slightly modified version of the game designed to run on the newer hardware. Want access to your old saved files? Hopefully you had automatic cloud saves activated on your 360; if not, I hope you still have the console around so you can manually upload your progression data and then download it to the Xbox One.

It’s far from a seamless experience. The Xbox 360’s interface for transfers isn’t great, and uploading a bunch of old saved data at once is a slow-going process even with a speedy internet connection. But once it’s set up, it works as promised. Grabbing screenshots, making video clips and broadcasting via Twitch works without a hitch — but since it’s software emulation, the quality of the experience varies on a game-by-game basis. Assassin’s Creed II runs great, as does South Park: The Stick of Truth, but the Gears of War side story, Judgment, and Halo: Reach suffer from slowdown issues that could render the games unplayable for some.

Games

The good news is that for all the console’s changes, the Xbox One still plays games pretty well. Installing everything to a 500GB HDD remains a pain, but there’s support for external drives now, which renders that complaint mostly moot. Armchair pundits love griping every time a multi-platform game comes out and runs at a lower native resolution on the Xbox One versus PS4, but unless you have both versions running side by side, it’s going to be difficult to tell the difference. Sure, there are edge-case scenarios, but I haven’t seen any instances of games being unplayable. Really, the more game developers work with the Xbox One and familiarize themselves with the hardware, the better the performance will be.

In fact, buying a multi-platform title on Xbox One is becoming an enticing value, because publishers are packing in free versions of previous games for upcoming sequels. Bethesda Softworks did it with a backward-compatible Fallout 3 for Fallout 4 buyers, and Ubisoft did something similar with its Rainbow Six: Vegas series for Rainbow Six: Siege players last fall.

Game selection

Quantum Break from developer Remedy Entertainment.

In terms of exclusive games, the Xbox One is still lagging behind the competition. While the Forza racing series remains awesome, like so many of the other games you can play only on Xbox One, up to this point they’re mostly sequels to long-running franchises that, while bigger and prettier, aren’t anything you haven’t seen before. That could change this year, however, with Microsoft’s new focus on truly original, exclusive games like Sea of Thieves, from Rare, and Quantum Break, from Remedy Entertainment. Only time will tell, though.

Microsoft’s contentious attitude toward indie game developers under Don Mattrick is still hurting the company to this day. Both the Xbox One and PS4 offer free games to download every month as a bonus for subscribing to Xbox Live Gold and PlayStation+, respectively. The difference is the selection: Microsoft’s “Games with Gold” was a reactionary offering to PS+ games, and Redmond still can’t quite match the quality or consistency of free titles that PS+ subscribers get. Indies are a big part of that three-free-games per-month strategy on PS4, and while they might already be out on PC, they’re still new for folks who don’t own a gaming rig.

Xbox PC app

Another part of the Windows 10 experience on Xbox One that wasn’t available at launch is the ability to stream games from the console to a PC. I’m not exactly sure who the target audience is here, but so long as your Xbox One and PC are on the same network, the setup is simple. Of course, streaming doesn’t look quite as good as running a game off the console itself (compression artifacts aren’t uncommon), but if someone’s hogging the TV in the living room and you have an itch to play Sunset Overdrive, there’s a solution.

It’s worth noting, though, that if the TV hog in your household is using the Xbox for Netflix or HDMI passthrough, game streaming isn’t possible. On the flip side, Microsoft promised last July that it will soon be possible to stream PC games to the Xbox One, with full support for mouse and keyboard controls. When that will actually happen is anyone’s guess.

TV

Pre-Spencer, there was always a point during Microsoft’s E3 press conferences where the talk would go from the next Halo or huge game announcement to entertainment options and services. Whether it was introducing the now-defunct Xbox Entertainment Studios or things like Xbox Fitness, it never failed to suck all the excitement out of USC’s Galen Center, where the briefings are held. That manifested during the Xbox One’s debut on Microsoft’s Redmond campus, too, where a majority of the time was spent talking about the console’s aim to replace your set-top box — not your aging Xbox 360. If the new “games, games, games” approach from Spencer, along with user tweets and internet comment sections, are any indication, that direction to control your TV’s main HDMI input was a failure.

The Xbox One’s big TV problem: It’s not a DVR (cable and antenna DVR support is currently in testing), and it can’t talk to one to find recordings, set one up or play them. And that’s most of what I need a guide to do. That makes it mostly useless for cable TV subscribers. For cord-cutters, a Sling TV app, a TV tuner add-on and support for streaming video from other devices have all failed to make the Xbox One into a replacement for your cable or satellite box.

One thing that’s better now is the initial setup. An update along the way added some support for HDMI-CEC, which means the Xbox One can recognize some of the TVs or boxes it’s connected to and load the IR codes for them automatically. Unfortunately, actual control is still possible only via the IR-blasting Kinect. Another welcome change is that last year’s Windows 10 update ushered in a faster, easier-to-use OneGuide with better picture-in-picture and a full-screen guide that makes good use of your TV’s screen real estate.

Otherwise, being able to flip channels or pause a video without hunting for a remote is great … when it works. And, you know, when Kinect isn’t getting confused by sounds from the television itself. The other great feature is the ability to listen to TV via headphones. It means plugging them into a controller, which is a little worse than the Bluetooth option now available via Apple TV, but on Xbox One I can use it for late-night cable TV or Blu-ray watching without waking anyone up.

Microsoft’s focus on Xbox One TV features has shrunk since the console’s poorly received reveal at E3 2013, which makes it seem unlikely that things will change much in the future. There’s no indication that Microsoft plans to launch anything like PlayStation Vue streaming service for cord-cutters, and even as it tweaks, many of these problems need help from outside parties. Unless a company like Comcast or TiVo decides to give the XB1 direct access, for example, the guide will still be mostly useless for cable owners with DVR. Meanwhile, folks ditching cable or satellite can get most of the TV features on cheaper boxes.

Wrap-up

The Xbox One has come quite far in a relatively short span of time, but it still has a ways to go. The UI can still be sluggish to load in spots, controllers still disconnect from the console seemingly at will, and we’re still missing Xbox 360 features like default game settings applying to your user profile (camera viewpoints, difficulty settings, automatic or manual transmissions for racing games). Each time the Xbox 360 was updated, the console didn’t still feel like it was missing things. Instead, it always felt like new features were being added on top of everything that worked so well in the first place. The Xbox One hasn’t reached that point yet, but it’s getting there.

Richard Lawler contributed to this review. Photography by Will Lipman. Unwatermarked software screenshots courtesy of Microsoft.

22
Apr

Quebec contemplates mandating home EV charging stations


The Quebec government announced on Friday that it is currently considering a new mandate that would require every new home built within the province — as well as existing rentals — be outfitted with a 240V charging station for electric vehicles. The government has already started an impact study, the results of which are expected to be published by the start of this summer.

The addition of these outlets are expected to increase the cost of new homes — be they single family residences, condos or duplexes — but only by about $400. That’s a heck of a lot less than installing one after the fact. According to Quebec’s electric vehicle information site, putting a 240-volt charging station in an existing home will run you about $1500 on average, depending on the model of charger and installation costs. However, Quebec offers a $1000 subsidy for doing so, so really it’s about the same price either way. And of course, once the upfront costs are handled, operating the station is dirt cheap — only about $300 a year in electricity if you drive an average of 20,000 kilometers (12,000 miles) per year.

This isn’t the first time that local governments have nudged home builders towards modernization. In 2013, Palo Alto, California’s city government passed a similar requirement demanding that new homes be outfitted with EV charging stations. Heck, back in the 1970’s a number of municipalities actually had to legislate the addition of outlets for washing machines and dryers in new homes.

“It wasn’t standard in 1975.” Quebec’s Transportation Minister Jacques Daoust told Le Journal de Montreal. “If you built a house today without an outlet for a dryer, no one would buy it. We’re talking about a 30 ampere outlet. It’s not the end of the world.”

Via: Cantech Letter

Source: Le Journal de Montreal

22
Apr

Best Buy Weekend Sale Offers Discounts up to $200 on Apple Watch, Retina MacBook Pro, and More


Best Buy is currently offering users a hefty discount of $200 off of two models of the Stainless Steel Apple Watch, available now through Monday on the retailer’s website. Those interested can purchase a 38mm and 42mm Apple Watch with Milanese Loop for $449.00 and $499.00, respectively. The Black Sport Band with Space Black Stainless Steel case has also received a similar discount, with the 38mm option on sale for $349.00 and the 42mm available for $399.00.

The prices will run all weekend on Best Buy’s official website, but similar sales will be available in stores, pending stock availability. Best Buy hasn’t included any other editions or collections of the Apple Watch in this weekend’s deal, but it does lower the barrier for entry into the Stainless Steel version of the wearable for those who have been contemplating upgrading from a Sport, or buying one for the first time.

The 4-day sale isn’t focused on Apple Watch, however, with various other Apple products getting a nice discount from Best Buy. The retailer is cutting the price of a few 13-inch MacBook Pro models by $225: the non-Retina MBP (with 4GB memory and a 500GB HD) is on sale for $874.99, while the Retina MBP (with 8GB memory and 128GB flash storage) has been cut down to $1,074.99. The model with 16GB is not part of the 4-day sale.

On the iPad side of things, Best Buy is offering $70 off of the non-cellular versions of the iPad mini 2. Users can get the 7.9-inch display tablet with 16GB of storage in either Space Gray or Silver for $199.99. The sales event caps off its Apple deals with the 4GB MacBook Air for $749.99 (11-inch screen) and $849.99 (13-inch screen).

Anyone looking for more Apple deals can check out the MacRumors roundup for deals going on this week, and on specific products like iMacs, third-party accessories, and even iOS and Mac apps.

Related Roundups: Apple Watch, watchOS 2
Buyer’s Guide: Apple Watch (Caution)
Discuss this article in our forums

MacRumors-All?d=6W8y8wAjSf4 MacRumors-All?d=qj6IDK7rITs

22
Apr

Things to look out for when booking an Airbnb – CNET


airbnb-cuba-habana-penthouse.png
Airbnb

There’s a reason Airbnb is such a phenomenon: it’s cheap. People put their unused spaces up for rent, make a little cash while they’re out of town, and the total cost of your vacation can be cheaper than if you stay in a hotel — or you can get more luxurious. It’s a win-win for everyone involved…except when it isn’t.

You’re leaving quite a bit to chance. How do you know the person you’re renting from is legit? How can you be sure the apartment or house you’ve booked doesn’t smell or have noisy neighbors?

Here are some things to look out for when you’re booking to avoid having a nightmarish experience with Airbnb.

A lack of pictures

This one may sound like a no-brainer, but photos are a vital resource for anyone looking to book on Airbnb. They’re packed with information.

The more pictures there are, the better idea you get of whether a potential listing is exactly what you’re looking for. It also gives you other important information, such as the general cleanliness of the host. Photos can typically give you a better feel for whether you’re going to have to do some sanitizing on your own after you arrive, which is something you obviously want to avoid.

Keep an eye out too for photos with Airbnb’s verification watermark. This means that a professional photographer has been sent by Airbnb to take the photos and lets you rest easy knowing that, for the most part, what you see is what you get. Of course, the point of sending a professional photographer is to make a place look even better than it does in person.

Either way, try to gather all the information you can and avoid any listing with few photos.

Anything but stellar reviews

Reviews, like with anything you buy online, are going to be your most valuable resource. Not every location on Airbnb is going to be loaded with reviews, but be sure to read the ones that are available. If you see more than one or two less than stellar reviews, move along. There are typically plenty of rentals to choose from in any major city, so weed out the ones with mediocre to bad reviews first.

It’s true that a perfectly fine host could just be new to Airbnb and still trying to build their reputation. But if it’s your first time around with Airbnb or you’re still getting a feel for the site, stick with someone who has a longer history of nothing but positive reviews.

You can dabble with newer hosts on Airbnb after you’ve gotten comfortable and learned the ins and outs yourself.

A lazy or rude host

If you’ve found a listing that you’re serious about booking, try to generate some conversation with the host. Don’t expect instant replies for all your questions or concerns, but if they constantly take hours to respond, you can anticipate similar treatment once you’re in the place. If you run into an issue after arriving, it might be hours before it’s rectified.

Also, asking questions of the host can give you a better idea of their personality. You can’t expect them to be your personal concierge, but if they’re not willing to help with some general questions about the surrounding area or the listing itself, they might not make a great host, regardless of whether they’re on the property when you’re there.

It pays off to shop around a bit and find not only a listing that suits your needs, but also a host you feel comfortable with.

Rental agencies and scammers

Due to the popularity of Airbnb and its typical cost savings, rental agencies have started infiltrating the service and posting as hosts. A tell-tale sign of a rental agency is one particular host popping up countless times in your search of a particular city, each with similar-but-different listings.

While a legitimate host could have multiple listings in the same area, if you’re not dying for a specific listing, it’s better to stick with hosts who post a single listing with a great reputation.

Scammers have long been a problem on Airbnb too. Watch out for hosts asking for information that seems entirely too personal or asking for payment outside Airbnb. All transactions should be done through Airbnb itself. Anything outside that is either a scam or breaking Airbnb’s terms and conditions.

No actual savings

While Airbnb is often cheaper than staying in a hotel, you don’t always save money. Hosts are looking to make money, and so is Airbnb.

Unless you specifically want to feel the coziness of being at home while still on vacation, it’s better to shop around and check nearby hotel pricing to make sure you’re getting the best deal possible.

And if your stay is going to be longer than a few weeks, look for listings that do special pricing for long-term reservations, which are billed monthly.

Rejection

Just because you find the perfect spot to stay for your vacation and request to book it doesn’t mean you’ll get the reservation.

Hosts can and will reject you. They do this for a number of reasons — primarily, their own protection. For instance, maybe your profile isn’t completely filled out, or they didn’t like your tone or personality when exchanging messages.

If you want to avoid this, search for listings with the Instant Book feature enabled. Using this option reserves the dates for your trip and allows you to discuss the check-in details with the host later. The catch is that your profile must be completely filled out before you’re able to use Instant Book.

%d bloggers like this: