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7
May

Six of the world’s weirdest bikes


By Cat DiStasio

Bicycles are ubiquitous on most city streets, but that doesn’t mean they have to be boring. Over the years we’ve seen some absolutely bizarre bike designs that tiptoe around the borders of insanity. Some, like this wild dinosaur-inspired trike, were built to raise awareness about the environmental impact of fossil fuels. Others have more to do with the rider experience, whether it’s the pursuit of a more thorough workout or the desire to fly with the birds. Bikes come in all shapes, sometimes with pointy bits, and sometimes without any pedals, but no matter how weird they look or work, there’s something distinctly universal about these things we call bikes.

7
May

The Fujifilm X-Pro2 is a fantastic camera, but it’s not for me


I’ve been looking forward to the X-Pro2, Fujifilm’s flagship mirrorless camera, ever since switching over to the X Series 18 months ago. To understand why, you need to know a little about me. I’ve only really been taking cameras seriously for seven years. My first came in 2009, a slightly battered old Nikon D40. Three years, three Nikons (I upgraded twice) and three additional lenses (35mm, 40mm and 50mm fixed) later, I was tired of lugging around a giant camera, and even more tired of the small selection of good lenses available in my price range. I then tried out a mirrorless Sony camera, but Sony’s lens selection at the time was pitiful if you weren’t willing to spend big money.

It wasn’t until an old colleague of mine showed me the Fujifilm X100T, a compact camera with a 35mm-equivalent fixed lens and an innovative viewfinder that’s both electronic and optical, that I knew what I wanted. Within weeks I’d thrown my Sony in a drawer and bought an entry-level X-M1 and a pair of lenses to give Fujifilm a shot.

After an extremely successful trial run at CES 2015, I was convinced. All that was left to do was upgrade from the entry-level body to a model that did everything I wanted it to. I decided on an X-Pro1 — despite a colleague advising me against it — because it had the same viewfinder tech as the X100T I’d fallen in love with. The problem was, rumors suggested that a sequel, the X-Pro2, was just around the corner. So I waited.

And waited.

Fujifilm wouldn’t announce the camera until January this year, and I didn’t get a chance to touch one until last month. After all this time, was it worth the wait? On paper, the answer looked like a resounding yes: The X-Pro2 has an all-new third-generation X-Trans sensor, which ups the resolution considerably over the rest of the X Series, and a fresh image-processing unit (the “X-Processor Pro”). That means a 24.3-megapixel resolution and a native ISO limit of 12,800, a big upgrade from the previous cameras’ 16.3-megapixel and ISO 6,400 limits. There’s also an improved autofocusing system with phase detection — not entirely new for the X Series, but new for the X-Pro.

But before we really get into what the X-Pro2 is, let’s quickly cover what it’s not. The X-Pro2 is not a compact mirrorless camera. At 445g (0.98 pounds), it’s only 10g (a third of an ounce) lighter than the D3100 I tossed aside four years ago. The X-Pro2 is also not a DSLR replacement. The company’s X-T10 and X-T1 fill that niche, and the X-Pro2 is closer in shape to the Nikon SP and Leica M3 rangefinders popular in the ’50s and ’60s. Finally, the X-Pro 2 is not cheap. It’s $1,700, which puts it in the same price range as Nikon’s and Canon’s ultra-high-end APS-C DSLRs like the 7D and D500, or, closer to home, Sony’s superb full-frame mirrorless A7 II. None of these cameras are directly comparable to the X-Pro2, though, and that’s because of Fujifilm’s unique viewfinder.

Like the X-Pro1, and the X100T that sold me on Fujifilm in the first place, the X-Pro2 has a hybrid viewfinder that takes the best aspects of optical rangefinders and electronic viewfinders and mashes them into a single unit positioned in the top-left corner of the camera. In optical mode, it gives you a wide field of view and projects more information on top of it. Rather than showing you what your lens is seeing and its focus, you’ll instead have a white box indicating the area your lens will cover. For a more practical example: If you have a zoom lens, this box changes sizes depending on what focal length you’ve chosen. Above and below this view you’ll find the usual information you’d expect from a viewfinder. This is customizable, but I have it set to show shutter speed, aperture, ISO, exposure and battery.

Looking through the viewfinder, you see guidelines showing you framing, and an EVF preview of your finished shot in the corner.

The limitations of an optical viewfinder — namely, not being able to see what you’re focusing on — are mitigated by a tiny electronic viewfinder that sits in the corner of the optical window. This can either show you the whole frame (like you’d see on a regular EVF) or a tight crop of what you’re focusing on. The setup is a modern-day take on the rangefinding concept — using two separate image guides to take a single photo — and I relied on it fairly often when using my favorite Fujinon lens (a 35mm f/1.4). With a telephoto, though, you’re going to feel limited, because the boxed-in area will be tiny. Because of this, when shooting with a zoom lens I ended up flicking the lever on the front of the X-Pro2 and turning the optical viewfinder into a full-blown EVF.

The regular EVF is nothing to write home about. At 0.48 inches and 2.36 million dots, it’s bested by cheaper cameras from other companies and even Fujifilm itself. It’s definitely solid, and it provides some vital flexibility to make up for the optical view’s shortcomings. As explained, it’s great for shooting with telephoto lenses. That’s not something I do often, but even so, I found the EVF useful for navigating menus and viewing photos when shooting at night (i.e., when I didn’t want the LCD on the back lighting my face like a Christmas tree). Likewise, the main LCD — a 3-inch panel with 1.62 millions dots — is good enough, but it’s fixed in place. When the X-T, X-M and X-A series all offer tilting LCDs, you have to question why the X-Pro2 doesn’t have one.

Shot at f/4.0, ISO 12,800, with a 18-55mm f/2.8-4.0 lens. A high-res shot can be found here.

One of these three themes — fantastic, flexible and good enough — can be applied to every facet of the X-Pro2. The new image sensor and processor are fantastic, with great JPG handling, color reproduction (aided by Fujifilm’s “film simulation,” which lets you choose from various processing options), and usable images even at ISO levels as high as 12,800. Fujifilm provided me with an 18-55mm zoom lens (f/2.8–4.0 with optical image stabilization), which has been around for a few years. It’s remarkably sharp around 27–40mm — far more so than your typical kit lens — but as you’d expect suffers at the extremes of its range with softness and distortion. I ended up leaving it at home for the majority of my testing, mostly because I’m used to shooting at fixed focal lengths.

When I paired the X-Pro2 with lenses I’m familiar with, I was very pleased with the results, if not with the ease with which they were acquired. There are a pair of dials atop the camera, one a basic exposure (to ±3) control, the other a dual ISO/shutter speed control. The latter is very unintuitive — I literally couldn’t explain how it’s supposed to work despite having used it extensively. On the front and back of the camera are wheels whose functions change depending on what mode you’re in — shutter, aperture ISO, etc. — which I only really used for fine-grain control of shutter speed, as my lenses all have aperture dials. Elsewhere you’ll find dedicated mechanical buttons for auto-exposure lock, autofocus lock and a three-point switch for jumping between autofocus modes. There’s also a tiny joystick by the LCD on the back of the camera that lets you set a focal point with ease. It’s great, and every Fujifilm camera from now on needs to have it.

The X-Pro2 handles well, and with the kit lens, or smaller lenses like the 27mm or 35mm fixed, it’s very easy to maneuver and hold steady. Put a larger lens on it, though, and it suffers; the grip is a little too shallow for supporting the weight of a 55–200mm zoom, for example.

The offending/offensive dial.

Despite a vast range of physical controls at my disposal, I found the X-Pro2 lacking. The problem really is that ISO/shutter dial. The X-T10 (Fujifilm’s DSLR-like camera) breaks out shutter speeds and ISO into two separate dials, as do countless other cameras. Why the company’s flagship does not is a mystery. Luckily, the X-Pro2 has three customizable auto ISO settings, so I set them up in reasonably tight increments (200–800, 800–3,200, 3,200–12,800, respectively) and jumped between them on the fly using the Fn button. That suits my current shooting style (I typically use manual mode with limited auto ISO as a safety net), but it’s still nowhere near as quick or intuitive as it should be. What I was hoping for from the X-Pro2 was granular mechanical control over every facet of the camera. What I got instead was an irritating compromise.

Speaking of, one major pain point for Fujifilm cameras has been video. I specifically have a cheap Canon DSLR just to shoot the one or two things I need to per year, because Fujifilm’s video is so poor. While no one is buying an X-Pro2 for its video capability, I’m happy to report that it can actually shoot passable video now, at 1080p and 60fps. One for the “good enough” column, for sure.

Autofocus, another spotty area for the X Series, is vastly improved over previous Fujifilm cameras. The original X-Pro had precisely zero phase-detection pixels. That’s something that’s been rectified by more recent models, but the X-Pro2 has by far the most phase-detection pixels of any X Series camera, covering roughly 40 percent of the frame. That leads to a big real-world improvement in terms of both speed and accuracy, although it should be pointed out that the actual pace of focusing will depend on the lens you have in front of that sensor.

After a couple of weeks of shooting, I’ve taken some beautiful shots. In case my origin story didn’t clue you in, I am very much an amateur. My framing can be poor, my depth of field too narrow, my shutter speed too slow. No camera will fix that. What I can say is that the photos I’ve taken with the X-Pro2 have been better than the photos I’ve taken with other Fujifilm cameras. And I’ve had a lot of fun shooting them. I probably shouldn’t be advising you to visit a competing website, but I’d recommend checking out Sam Byford’s sample gallery over at The Verge. He’s a far better photographer than I am (and, not coincidentally, the aforementioned colleague who introduced me to the X Series in the first place).

Shot at f/4.5, ISO 2000, with a 35mm f/1.4 lens. A high-res shot can be found here.

As great a time as I’ve had with it, I’ve come to the realization that the X-Pro2 is not what I want from a camera. And that sucks, especially after a year of waiting for it. Of course, I can’t ignore the leaps forward it offers. Increased resolution without a dip in pixel-by-pixel quality, a native and usable ISO 12,800, improved autofocus, better JPEG rendering, a new film simulation mode (Acros, a black-and-white film, was used to capture the shot above), the new hybrid viewfinder — these are all worthy and welcome improvements. But they’re stuck inside a body that doesn’t work that well as an everyday interchangeable-lens camera. That viewfinder, as flexible as it is, is much better suited to the company’s fixed-lens offerings. The company’s fantastic lens selection handles better attached to the DLSR-like X-T1 and X-T10.

But this sensor and processor will come to other Fujifilm cameras. And they’ll be much, much better for it. As much fun as it’s been to shoot with, and even though it’s one of the best-performing cameras I’ve ever used, I’m not too sad to be saying goodbye to the X-Pro2. I am sad, though, to be stuck waiting again, this time for a refresh to another Fujifilm camera — for, I guess, the “X-T2.”

7
May

ASUS to hold ‘Zenvolution’ event in Taiwan on May 30


ASUS will announce what’s next for its Zen line of products on May 30. The “Zenvolution” event is taking place in Taiwan, just ahead of the Computex trade show, which itself runs May 31-June 4.

asus-computex-booth.jpg?itok=7T3wbiDv

The company has already put up a teaser site counting down to the press event, which will be held at the Humble House Taipei. The event will also be streamed live around the world.

It’s likely that ASUS will use this event to announce the ZenFone 3, and possibly a ZenFone 3 Deluxe. Recent leaks appear to show that the next ZenFone will sport 2.5D curved glass on the front and back, USB Type-C connectivity, a fingerprint sensor, front LED flash, and laser autofocus at the back. As for the Deluxe, it’s said to feature an all-metal design with a physical home button on the front.

7
May

Recommended Reading: Captain America vs. Iron Man


Why the Civil War between
Captain America and
Iron Man Is Inevitable

Tim O’Neil,
AV Club

The latest installment in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, Captain America: Civil War, hits theaters in the US this weekend. Before you head out, read up on what the comics have to say about the inevitable conflict between Captain America and Iron Man. Sure, there will be some spoilers, but if you ask me, it’s worth it to know how the narrative plays out in the books. In addition to the AV Club piece, NPR examined the similarities between the new Marvel film and the hit musical Hamilton for another interesting perspective.

The Cottage Industry Trying to Convince You Your Cell Phone Can Give You Cancer
Kristen V. Brown, Fusion

Patch’d is a $50 smartchip that promises to reduce your exposure to smartphone radiation. However, we’re still not sure if our phones are really causing cancer in the first place. Better safe than sorry?

Pizza Chains Want a Larger Slice of the Delivery Pie
Virginia Chamlee, Eater

As food delivery apps and services grow, pizza chains continue to suffer. Eater takes a look at how major brands are looking to tech to help spark a rebound.

RIP to the SoundCloud DJ
Carter Maness, Pigeons and Planes

SoundCloud’s new subscription service offers listeners an alternative to Spotify, Apple Music and others. For creators, the copyright terms that the paid service demands is causing all kinds of headaches, including dead accounts.

A DNA Sequencer in Every Pocket
Ed Yong, The Atlantic

What if scientists, or anyone for that matter, had the ability to analyze genes in a remote location like a jungle or on the open sea? One company is looking to do just that with a pocket-sized DNA sequencer.

7
May

AdBlock and AdBlock Plus are available for Microsoft Edge


Back in March, Microsoft started testing a version of its new Edge browser on Windows 10 with support for extensions. Now, one of the most-requested features is covered with the introduction of AdBlock and AdBlock Plus extensions for Edge. The feature list appears to be mostly intact from its Chrome and Firefox iterations, with the ability to block varying levels of ads or whitelist certain sites (like… Engadget.com for example).

AdBlock for Edge https://t.co/9VC1sGE3bk Adblock Plus for Edge https://t.co/MRSvQZoxlW

— WalkingCat (@h0x0d) May 6, 2016

Not everyone uses extensions for their browsing experience, but for those of us who rely on them every day, it’s impossible to consider switching to a browser without a healthy library of optional add-ons. You’ll need to be in the preview program to test out the extension-enabled browser, and if you are, just check the video below to find out how to install them.

Via: Walking Cat (Twitter)

Source: AdBlock (Windows Store), AdBlock Plus (Windows Store)

7
May

ICYMI: RoboDoc beats humans, touchpad skin and more


ICYMI: RoboDoc Beats Humans, Touchpad Skin and More

Today on In Case You Missed It: The Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot performed surgery on its own (with a human standing by) and turns out, makes such fine, consistent stitches that it actually beats those done by real counterparts. Carnegie Mellon created a wristwatch display and ring system that makes the skin of your forearm a touch pad to interact with the screen. And McDonald’s made something called the McTrax placemat in the Netherland’s and music folk everywhere want one, asap.

We also rounded up the week’s big headlines in TL;DR and hope your weekend conversations touch on whether the UAE should build an artificial mountain to get more rain. As always, please share any great tech or science videos you find by using the #ICYMI hashtag on Twitter for @mskerryd.

7
May

MIT is raising $5 billion to make the world a better place


MIT’s new fundraising initiative called “Campaign for a Better World” seeks to tackle some of humanity’s (and our planet’s) biggest challenges. Since that’s no easy feat, its goal is just as lofty: $5 billion. The institute lists its various projects under the campaign’s six priority areas. First is basic research, which includes studies on the aging brain, exoplanets and protein interaction. Second priority covers environmental research, such as the quest for sustainable consumption and viable climate change solutions.

The third priority is comprised of projects tackling the human health including one that plans to manipulate genes using CRISPR-Cas9, one about biological circuits and another that plans to develop a paper test for cancer. MIT will also use part of the money to help get student entrepreneurs started, to reinvent how it teaches the new generation, to increase resources for financial aid and to develop research facilities in an effort to entice new students.

MIT President L. Rafael Reif said:

“Humanity faces urgent challenges—challenges whose solutions depend on marrying advanced technical and scientific capabilities with a deep understanding of the world’s political, cultural, and economic complexities.

We launch the Campaign for a Better World to rise to those challenges and accelerate positive change. In this effort, we seek the support of enthusiastic partners who share our sense of mission and infinite possibility—including our remarkable alumni, who do the great work of MIT in the world every day. Together, through this Campaign, we will give the brilliant minds and hands of the MIT community the fuel and the focus to make inspiring progress for the world.”

MIT has already raised $2.6 billion toward the goal. It still needs some generous donors with deep pockets to raise $2.4 billion more, but you can donate any amount you can if you wish to help out.

Source: MIT

7
May

NatulaRays Outdoor Bluetooth Speaker – A fantastic little speaker that can survive serious abuse! (Review)


In this ever burgeoning digital age, we as a society have become almost 100% dependent on technology. Most of us are incapable of leaving our homes without some form of technology on our person. This need and necessity we have for tech and gadgets drives our innovation as a people. As our needs grow, so does our technology.

With the advent of the MP3, portable music has become a mainstay. These days, we just load our music on our phone and go.  But what if you want to take the music outdoors? The real outdoors. The elements can pose quite a problem for your pricey phone. On top of that, what if you want others to be able to hear your music? A phone is not going to have the sound capabilities to meet this need for you. Thankfully, a company in China that goes by the name, “NatulaRays,” has developed and offers a solution for you. They call it the “NatulaRays Outdoor Bluetooth Ultra-Portable Speaker.”

Technical Specifications

Product Size: 7.4″ x 2″x 2″
Bluetooth Compliance: Bluetooth V3.0
Playback time: 8-9 hours
Charging time: 3 hours
Battery: 3.7V/400 MAH
Connection range: up to 30 feet
Frequency Response: 80Hz – 20KHz
Voice Distortion: 5%
Output Power: 3W
Net Weight: 2.3 ounces
Water resistance level: IPX5

Design

The NaturalRay’s speaker is one of the more bizarre looking devices I’ve had the opportunity to lay my eyes on. The speaker itself is housed in a spherical, rubber coated shell with a stainless steel speaker grill on the front. Behind this sphere is a rubber tail with a loop on the end, that you can use to hang or attach the speaker to objects with.

natrualrays bluetooth speaker

 

The rubber that houses the speaker’s internals has a very smooth, soft feel that is pleasing to the touch. Despite how soft and pleasant it may feel, you also get the sense that this rubber can take a beating without any compromise in its structural integrity.

Under a small rubber cover, you will find a micro USB port used for charging the speaker, as well as a micro SD card slot that allows you to play MP3 files directly from an SD card, eliminating the need for connecting the speaker to a Bluetooth device.

natrualrays bluetooth speaker

On the top of the speaker (well, what could be considered the top, I guess) are three function keys. The two outside keys are for volume up, volume down, and are also used to skip tracks. The middle key is for play/pause functionality. The play/pause key also acts as the speaker’s on/off switch. Because this speaker has no display of any kind, NatulaRays has placed a blue LED in the base of its tail that will illuminate when you have successfully paired the speaker with a Bluetooth device. NatulaRays has also designed this speaker to automatically detect what mode it should be in, be it SD card mode, Bluetooth, Aux, etc. By default, the speaker is in Bluetooth pairing mode when you power it on.

natrualrays bluetooth speaker

Function

It’s all well and nice that a product looks good, but the real question is: “Does it work?” The answer is: YES!

On the Bluetooth side of things, the NatulaRays speaker was solid. Other than the occasional stutter (which I’ve found to be normal with most Bluetooth devices), the speaker stayed paired with my devices, even at great distances, with no issues.

Sound wise, the NatulaRays speaker is decent. It’s not anything to write home about, but for a speaker this small and this cheap, it sounds great. You won’t notice a great deal of punch in the sound this speaker produces, but it has the ability to play very loudly without a great deal of distortion. The highs, mids, and lows are pretty balanced with each other. You will find that the Bass this speaker produces is quite weak, but it’s easy to overlook when you consider what this device is designed for and how inexpensive it is. For a speaker that is this small, and this cheap, I have a hard time finding something to complain about with the sound.

Durability

natrualrays bluetooth speaker

What this speaker lacks in sound, it makes up for in sheer durability. NatulaRays claims that this device is water and shock proof. To be totally honest, I had zero confidence in this speaker surviving a dunk test. Thankfully, I was very, very wrong.

Water Testing

When it came to water, I put this speaker through its paces. My first test involved immersing the speaker in a 16oz cup of water for 60 seconds while the speaker was on and playing music. To my surprise, this didn’t kill it. Even while immersed in water, the speaker continued to play music with very little interference in its Bluetooth connection with my tablet. After removing the speaker from the water, it continued to play without a hitch and with no further hiccups in the Bluetooth connection.

I now had to take things to the next level. Would this speaker survive a shower? Surely not. I had to find out. I hanged the speaker from my shower head, connected it to my tablet, started blasting Queen over Spotify, and then commenced with taking a shower. It survived. This $30 speaker actually survived a 15 minute shower. Not only that, I let it play for 30 more minutes after the shower and it never skipped a beat. I was absolutely blown away.

Drop Testing

While not as exciting as the water tests, I also had resounding success with my drop tests. With the speaker playing music, I raised it above my head and dropped it two times onto my kitchen floor. That’s a drop of over six feet. During and after both drops, the speaker never once skipped or stuttered.

My next test was to literally just throw the speaker at a wall. Same result. It kept playing. Didn’t skip.

Conclusion

I was flabbergasted at how well this little $30 speaker performed. While it may not have the greatest sound quality, it’s not terrible by any stretch, and this speaker is capable of being quite loud. Above all of that, this thing can survive water immersion, a shower, six foot drops, and even being thrown against a wall. Something this durable for $30, with decent sound, is a steal! The NatulaRays Outdoor Bluetooth Speaker is that steal.

NatulaRays Outdoor Bluetooth Speaker – Amazon.com

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7
May

Facebook is testing a ‘discover’ feature for Groups


Groups on Facebook have evolved from being things you joined because they had dumb names and you were in college, to being legitimately useful ways to find new information. As a reflection of that, The Social Network is apparently testing a new feature on the iOS and Android apps, International Business Times writes, dubbed “Discover.” That also lets you peruse public and private groups and see which friends are in local groups, according to Mashable.

The groups are cordoned off into categories for different interests like parenting, networking and food. The functionality is expected to roll out to more users over the next couple of weeks. We’ve reached out to Facebook for more info and will update this post if there’s a response.

Source: International Business Times, Mashable

7
May

NVIDIA brings in-game photography to the masses with ‘Ansel’


Taking in-game screenshots is great and all, but there’s so much more potential than just grabbing an image of what you see during gameplay. NVIDIA knows this and is addressing the desire for artistic screenshots on PC games with Ansel, a photo mode that’ll work across a plethora of games. The name, of course, is a nod to the legendary landscape photographer Ansel Adams. It’s a bit like what Dead End Thrills has been doing for ages, and allows you to adjust the angle and have a fully free-form camera. One photo from the stage weighed in at 61,440 pixel width. You can even take 360 degree stereoscopic images in one click.

Oh, right: there’s also support for these stereo images on mobile devices thanks to Google Cardboard. No Cardboard? No problem because you can use a mobile app and move your phone around with a 2D image, with motion tracking. Supported games include The Witness, Tom Clancy’s The Division, Lawbreakers, Paragon and No Man’s Sky.

NVIDIA Ansel enables high-resolution image capture, free-moving camera, image editing, and more – all in-game. pic.twitter.com/6PR421yDSB

— NVIDIA GeForce (@NVIDIAGeForce) May 7, 2016

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