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Ben Heck’s Hackbot Wars, part 2: Weapons

The Ben Heck Show - Episode 250 - Ben Heck's Hackbot Wars Part 2: Weapons

It’s time for the “Hackbotz” to assemble! In this second part of the series, we see the bots being weaponized for ballon destruction. With their experience in thrifty salvaging, The Ben Heck Show team has scavenged parts to enhance their robots. Karen has taken apart a toaster for its warming nichrome resistive wire element, which should result in a popping surprise for Ben and Felix. Meanwhile, Ben develops a scorpian-tail-like weapon, the construction of which doesn’t quite go according to plan. We still don’t know what Felix has in store for his bot, but we do know he’s made the Intel Edison chip work with a Playstation 4 controller over Bluetooth. Find out how the team has put the CEL Robox 3D printer to use as they prepare for the Ultimate and Final battle of the Hackbots. Let us know over on the element14 Community what you think of the bots and how you’d design them differently.


Apple Introduces Major Retail Changes, Including New Pro-Level Positions and Credo

Apple held all-hands meetings with retail employees this weekend to introduce major new changes, including new and renamed positions, a new credo, and new store layouts, according to multiple retail sources.

Apple is implementing three new retail positions in the United States and United Kingdom, and likely elsewhere, including two pro-level positions and an all-new Technical Expert position to complement the Genius Bar/Grove:

Pro: A new sales position above Expert. These employees are considered the most knowledgable about Apple products and services.
Creative Pro: A new learning position above Creative. These employees are considered the most knowledgable about Apple products and services.
Technical Expert: An all-new customer support position in between Technical Specialist and Genius. These employees will be able to provide mobile repairs, a task previously limited to Geniuses, and troubleshooting for software and products like the Apple Watch and Apple TV. The position will help reduce Genius Bar/Grove and service wait times.
In addition to the new positions, Apple is renaming several of its current retail positions:

• Red Zone Specialist → Specialist
• Family Room Specialist → Technical Specialist
• Business Specialist → Business Expert
• Back-of-House Specialist → Operations Specialist
• Inventory Specialist → Operations Pro

Meanwhile, the Back-of-House is now called Backstage, where the Inventory and Operations teams work, and the Red Zone, which encompasses the sales floor, is now called the Product Zone. Apple’s existing retail locations will use the same tables from the old Red Zone for the new Product Zone.

Apple has also updated its credo, a motto that the company encourages its retail employees to follow. The new credo:

Enriching lives.

We are here to enrich lives.
To help dreamers become doers,
to help passion expand human potential,
to do the best work of our lives.


We give more than we take.
From the planet,
to the person beside us.
We become a place to belong
where everyone is welcome.

We draw strength from our differences.
From background and perspective
to collaboration and debate.
We are open.

We redefine expectations.
First for ourselves, then for the world.
Because we’re a little crazy.
Because “good enough” isn’t.
Because what we do says who we are.

We find courage.
To try and to fail,
to learn and to grow,
to figure out what’s next,
to imagine the unimaginable,
to do it all over again tomorrow.


We believe our soul is our people.
People who recognize themselves
in each other.
People who shine a spotlight
only to stand outside it.
People who work to leave this world better than they found it.
People who live to enrich lives.

Last, Apple said it now has over 30 retail locations based on its new design language, including the flagship Apple Union Square. The new layout includes a combination of The Avenue, Genius Grove, The Forum, The Plaza, and The Boardroom. Apple is renovating dozens of locations with the next-generation design, and all new locations since mid 2015 have been based on the new design language.

Juli Clover contributed to this report.

Related Roundup: Apple Stores
Tag: Apple retail
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House Of Marley One Foundation review – CNET

The Good The House of Marley One Foundation offers unique design and a user-friendly experience. The addition of Wi-Fi expands the capabilities beyond simple Bluetooth competitors. The speaker is able to play at high volume without showing signs of strain.

The Bad You pay a lot for so-so sound quality, and it’s huge! You’ll need a subwoofer if you want to play dub or reggae. AllPlay’s streaming service support is very limited.

The Bottom Line The House of Marley One Foundation looks — and can party — like no other sound bar, but it’s way too expensive for this level of sound quality.

A sound bar that can play music well is sort of a white whale. Most sound bars are designed to be cheap and only play explosions and dialogue well. The nuance demanded by music is beyond their capabilities. Even the decent ones, like Sony’s HT-NT5 or the high-end Definitive Technology W Studio, involve some degree of compromise.

What about a system that’s built from the ground up for music, but can also act as a sound bar? That’s the intriguing idea behind the House of Marley One Foundation. The system is designed around wireless music — Bluetooth and Qualcomm’s AllPlay — but it also features a wealth of inputs for connecting your TV or other device.

We’re fans of the company’s design approach, down to the real oak facade, but the sound just doesn’t measure up to the price. Its bass is relatively anemic compared to systems with subwoofers. Further, treble sounds a bit harsh at volume, so despite being able to play louder than competitors, it doesn’t sound better. Add in the high price and massive size, and it’s tough to see who the One Foundation would appeal to.

Guess we’ll have to keep combing the seas a little longer in search of that elusive whale.


house-of-marley-one-foundation-08.jpgView full gallery

The House of Marley One Foundation features a distinctive thick slab of oak and offers a number of different streaming and connectivity options.

Sarah Tew/CNET

They don’t make speakers like this anymore.

Unlike other one-box speakers or sound bars you may have seen, the One Foundation is large. It’s like a log, the part-of-a-tree kind. A thick slab of varnished oak is bolted onto the front, which holds in place a pair of 3.5-inch paper drivers flanked by 1-inch silk dome tweeters.

If you mount it as a traditional sound bar beneath your TV it will block part of your screen if you don’t have 9 inches of clearance (and sadly, it lacks wall-mounting capabilities). It measures 8.75 inches tall, 31 inches wide and 4 inches deep.

View full gallery

Sarah Tew/CNET

The speaker features a volume control on the top right of the device which glows in a color corresponding to the input — which, of course, is blue for Bluetooth. This is also echoed by another light at the base of the unit.

View full gallery

Sarah Tew/CNET

The remote control that comes with the speaker is a simple rectangular slab with a couple of large sculpted buttons for volume and input selection.


The One Foundation uses chipset-maker Qualcomm’s comparatively lame answer to Sonos, called AllPlay. As far as proprietary multiroom systems go it’s pretty low on the pecking order, with only Monster, Fon and House of Marley supporting it in the US (Hitachi and Panasonic are available in other markets for what it’s worth). Though the speaker was announced way back at CES 2013 the version with AllPlay onboard only appeared in the last 12 months.


Self-driving taxis and buses, and more in the week that was

The age of the self-driving car is finally here: Uber just announced plans to launch its first fleet of autonomous taxis this month, and self-driving buses are now hitting the streets of Helsinki. Airbus is shooting even higher with plans to build an autonomous flying taxi by the year 2017. Meanwhile, Nissan debuted a solid-oxide fuel-cell vehicle, which runs on ethanol and water instead of hydrogen. And Bosch rolled out a world’s most compact folding electric bike, which packs down small enough to fit easily in a car trunk.

Bosch’s Elektron is the world’s most compact e-bike.

Concrete is one of the most prevalent materials in our built environment, but it’s hasn’t seen much innovation. That’s why it’s so exciting that a team of Singapore researchers developed a new flexible concrete that’s lighter and tougher than existing mixtures. In other design news, a developer in Germany is building the world’s largest passive housing complex with a total of 162 units. Stanford researchers created a tiny black rectangle that uses sunlight to purify water in minutes instead of hours. In a stunning example of biomimicry this week, scientists studied squids to invent a high-tech fabric that repair itself and neutralizes toxins.

If thinking about biomimicry gets you excited, you’ll want to check out the just launched Biodesign Competition — an X-Prize funded design sprint with a prize of $1,000. The Biodesign Competition challenges designers to re-imagine the buildings of the future through the lens of biology and architecture. The winner will be showcased to the X-Prize Foundation to help develop a new X-Prize.

Wind farms and solar plants are popping up everywhere, but all that energy still needs to be stored. Fortunately, the US Energy Department says that the “holy grail” of clean energy storage is coming in the next five to ten years. And if you’ve ever been curious about how energy is used in the United States, this extremely detailed flowchart will scratch that itch. In other news, the UK just gave the green light to build the world’s largest wind farm, and we profiled a company that beat Elon Musk to the punch in developing an integrated solar roof.


After Math: All of them

This was an interesting week for understanding core concepts. Here are some examples. Every Eddie Bauer store was hacked, all of Twitter’s users now get quality filters, AT&T entirely eliminated overage charges (but only for some of its plans) and the days of a robot-only Uber fleet just got a little bit closer. Numbers, because how else will you know how much you’ve got?


Finding compatible USB-C accessories is a crapshoot

By Andrew E. Freedman

USB Type-C is mainstream now. HP and Apple put the new standard on their high-end laptops exclusively, while a number of others are using both USB 3.0 and USB-C. Samsung added USB Type-C to the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, which ensures that we’ll see it on a ton of phones going forward.

In theory, this should be awesome. You can use USB Type-C for charging, transferring data, putting video on external monitors, listening to music and more. And, most famously, it’s reversible.

But using USB Type-C with third-party accessories hasn’t proven to be the seamless experience it should be. I’ve been trying out a number of USB Type-C docks, chargers and other peripherals, only to find that, when it comes to charging and Alternate Mode for video, they work on a case-by-case basis (we haven’t had the same issues with data transfer).

I can’t recommend that you out and buy USB-C chargers and alt-mode docks immediately, unless you know for sure that what you’re buying will work with your specific laptop or tablet.

Oh God, the docks.

Take, for example, the Innergie PowerGear USB-C 45 universal charger. We really like this device, because it’s the first third-party power brick that promises to work with any USB Type-C laptop, tablet or phone. Unfortunately, thanks to some picky OEMs, it’s not so universal. For instance, HP’s notebooks block third-party chargers when they’re turned on — meaning you can’t guarantee that it will charge your notebook.

Then there are the alt-mode docks. Oh God, the docks.

Docks that use DisplayLink technology, which requires a driver and treats your video like regular USB data, don’t have trouble connecting to a monitor. However, docks that use USB Type-C’s Alternate Mode, or “alt-mode,” which sends the video as DisplayPort or HDMI signals, are extremely inconsistent. The Dell DS1000, Kensington SD4600P, Plugable UD-CA1 and HP Elite Thunderbolt 3 simply didn’t work with everything we tested. HP limited its dock to work with its computers, while the DS1000, UD-CA1 and SD4600P were complete crapshoots. Depending on the laptop you plug into these docks, they may or may not charge, output video to monitors or display the resolutions promised.

Who is to blame? The dock vendor or the laptop vendor? Does the USB Implementers Forum have any oversight here?

“Alternate Mode specifications are developed by the respective standards organization or vendor and not the USB-IF,” a spokeswoman for the group said in a statement to Laptop Mag. “For example, VESA has a DisplayPort Alternate Mode specification in support of USB Type-C, [the] MHL Consortium developed MHL Alt Mode for USB Type-C, and there are proprietary specifications like Intel’s Thunderbolt, which also has an Alt Mode spec in support of USB Type-C.”

MORE: How to Buy USB Type-C Cables That Won’t Fry Your Gadgets

The USB-IF declined to comment on any specific products, but suggested that those who had issues should contact the vendors or industry groups that are implementing Type-C and alt-mode. This is why DisplayLink-powered docks are still a much better option, even though they require you to install a small software package.

In other words, we need vendors to consistently implement USB Type-C, alt-mode and everything else that comes with it, if we are to have any hope that our chargers, docks, hubs, adapters and adapters will work across devices.

But right now, that isn’t the case. While Dell’s laptops, like the XPS 13, have worked with almost every accessory that we’ve tested so far, others, like Lenovo’s, have worked with some, but not all.

kensington dock 4

For instance, the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 was my go-to for the SD4600P, but Dell’s DS1000 didn’t want to play nice with it. In the latter’s case, it wouldn’t work with two monitors simultaneously as promised, and some ports, like VGA and HDMI, didn’t work while using DisplayPort. I had to switch to a Dell XPS 13 to get the results I wanted.

HP appears to be one of the biggest roadblocks, often blocking third-party USB-C accessories, likely due to fear of what a poorly made or counterfeit charger could do to a device.

“Are we being too conservative?” HP vice president Mike Nash asked PCWorld late last year. “I don’t think so.”

Just this week, the USB-IF announced the rollout of a USB Type-C charger certification program, where accessory makers will submit their power bricks for testing and be able to put a logo on them, showing that they are “safe.” However, we don’t know whether this program will have any effect on laptop manufacturers and their desire to block third-party chargers.

Until we get to a point where all vendors use the same spec, users are out in the cold.

You never have to wonder whether the generic micro USB phone charger you picked up at the airport store will power your LG or Samsung phone. And you shouldn’t have to worry about whether the USB Type-C charger you got at the corner store will juice your HP, Dell, Lenovo or Asus laptop.

Until we get to a point where all vendors use the same spec, users are out in the cold. Should they buy the dock they need? Will it work or will it serve as an expensive paperweight instead of delivering power? Is it worth your money to get an accessory that may or may not work? Be sure to check the vendor’s compatibility list, if there is one.

USB Type-C is great. It’s the future. I want vendors to pick it up even more rapidly than they have. But for the new standard to meet its potential, everything you want to plug into it has to work, no matter what company’s computer or phone you’re buying. If you’re buying something with a driver to deliver data, you’ll probably be fine, but the promise is that everything — everything — will work out of the box. That’s not the case yet. Hopefully, it will be one day.

Until then, purchase with extreme caution. Or hold off.

More from Laptop Mag and Tom’s Guide:

  • Laptops with the longest battery life

  • Which MacBook should you buy? MacBook vs Air vs the Pro

  • Best and worst laptop brands


The Public Access Weekly: Weird science

This week has been AI week here at Engadget, which means we’ve been examining the variety of ways that artificial intelligence is changing our technological landscape and our society as a whole — from meeting the bots that play Doom to looking at how AI could change the future of combat, policing and our roles in the workplace to asking why digital assistants often default to female voices and personalities, we’ve been all-AI, all week. It’s been pretty fun, actually.

Over in the community section, a quick heads up to our commenters: We’ve rolled out a “Censor” feature in comment threads which allows us to remove a comment that violates our community guidelines without removing the replies and responses to that comment. It looks like this:

So far we’ve only had to use this feature a handful of times — largely due to name-calling or cursing — but this at least gives us the ability to keep a conversation even if the person who started it was a bad actor.

Also, if you’re registering to be a Public Access member (which you can do here, hint, hint), please be aware that you must answer the specific registrations questions that are asked and please do not answer with joke replies. There are only a handful of questions on the Public Access registration form, which makes it occasionally challenging for our moderators to screen for spambots.

So, for example, if your answer to the question “Why do you want to join Public Access?” is “Your mom” or “42” then you may be mistaken for a bot. And we know it’s AI Week here, but… don’t get mistaken for a bot. (If you feel you’ve been rejected in error, you can always send an appeal with details to We’re pretty helpful.)

Looking for something to read? Check out:

Here are some things we said about the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 in the official Engadget review: “This is the best phone Samsung has ever made.” “..A premium device that can (and does) outshine the Galaxy S line on which it was based.” “…A fantastic smartphone that melds first-rate performance with a comfortable, water-resistant design.” That, of course, didn’t keep the commenters from disagreeing with us. Read on to find out what their objections and arguments are!

Over in our AI Week coverage, Jess Conditt’s article about artificial intelligence, consciousness and the human brain has provoked some truly interesting points, discussions and further reading suggestions in the comments.

The kerfuffle over disappearing headphone jacks, USB-Type C specs, adapters and the audio on smartphones is so, so very far from being over with Intel being the latest company to support an upgrade of the standard. This.. does not seem like a popular decision.

Looking for something to write about? Mull over:

We sat down with Xbox’s Aaron Greenberg to talk about gaming, Project Scorpio and whether this will be the “last console generation” which caused an immediate uproar in the comment section. Are the lines between PC gaming and console gaming blurring? Is there a reason to opt for one hardware option over the other? Will PC gamers and console gamers ever stop fighting over their respective platforms?

While the internet is particularly adept at helping consumers express their displeasure with a product or their bad service experiments, it’s rare to see positive feedback getting the same viral attention. On a more positive note: What tech company do you trust? What made/makes you trust them, and why do you continue to put your faith in this company?

Because there apparently aren’t enough chat apps out there already, Google is reworking Hangouts to focus more on business and enterprise users while consumers will be offered Duo, the new video chat app, and Allo, a text-based messaging app. Is business-use the best use of Hangouts? Are you eager to try out Duo and/or Allo? What’s your current favorite or most-used messaging app, and why?


Ride Hailing Firm Lyft Courted Apple in Attempted Sale

Ride hailing company Lyft recently approached several companies including Apple in an attempt to sell itself, according to a report by The New York Times.

The second-largest ride hailing firm in the U.S. held talks with or contacted Apple, Amazon, General Motors, Uber, Google, and Didi Chuxing over a potential sale, but was unable to find a buyer, said the newspaper’s sources.

G.M., one of the San Francisco-based company’s largest investors with a $500 million stake in Lyft, was reportedly the most interested suitor, but ultimately failed to make a written offer. The good news for Lyft is that it has a cash cushion of $1.4 billion and is not in danger of closing down, said the sources, despite the company not yet being profitable.

Earlier this month, Uber agreed to sell its Chinese arm to Didi Chuxing, which Apple recently invested $1 billion in.

The sale put a spanner in the works of Lyft’s partnership with Didi, which allowed Didi customers to use their app to hail Lyft drivers, and vice versa. Lyft’s so-called anti-Uber alliance with Didi is now in doubt and the U.S. based firm has said it is re-evaluating the agreement.

Tag: Lyft
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3D faces based on Facebook photos can fool security systems

Facial recognition systems aren’t quite perfect yet and can still make mistakes especially when they’re assessing the faces of people of color. Now, a team of researchers from the University of North Carolina showed that companies developing security systems based on the tech really do have a lot of work ahead of them. They proved that a number of existing systems can be fooled by the VR-like, computer-rendered faces they created. Further, they made their 3D models, which they showed the security systems on a phone, using only photos taken from social networks like Facebook.

The team collected photos of 20 volunteer subjects from online sources, like a real digital identity thief or stalker would do. They then created 3D models of the volunteers’ faces, added some facial animations and tweaked their eyes so they’d look like they were looking at the camera. In cases wherein they didn’t find any that showed the subject’s whole face, they recreated the missing parts, even those areas’ shadows and texture. What makes that even more impressive is that some of the volunteers are security researchers themselves, and the team were only able to dig up three or so low-quality photos of them online.

Since the researchers’ 3D models have shadows and even move a bit, they were able to fool four out of five security systems they tested 55 percent to 85 percent of the time. According to Wired, team member True Price said during the team’s presentation at Usenix security conference:

“Some vendors — most notably Microsoft with its Windows Hello software — already have commercial solutions that leverage alternative hardware. [In Hello’s case, that hardware is Tobii’s eye-tracking camera.] However, there is always a cost-benefit to adding hardware, and hardware vendors will need to decide whether there is enough demand from and benefit for consumers to add specialized components like IR cameras or structured light projectors.”

A real face would would give off infrared radiation, after all, which could be an added layer of protection. If you want to read more about the team’s method and results, you can check out the the full paper they published on Wired.

Source: Wired


Facebook’s Lifestage is a video-centric social app for teens

Facebook isn’t done launching products designed to capture the Snapchat generation. Its latest attempt after Instagram Stories and live filters? A new standalone, video-centric social app for high school students called Lifestage. To be able to complete your profile, you’d have to take videos and selfies of your likes, dislikes and facial expressions. It will ask you take videos of your BFFs, to bust out dances moves on cam, take photos of your desserts, so on and so forth. When we say that it’s for high school students, we mean you won’t even be able to see other people’s profiles if you’re older than 22. That’s assuming you won’t creepily pretend to be younger than you are.

See, it only shows you profiles of other kids going to your school and other ones nearby, similar to how Facebook was in the beginning. Further, the app will only unlock profiles from your school if over 20 students sign up. While we’ll have to wait and see if the new social network catches on, Lifestage was created by someone who truly knows its audience: 19-year-old Facebook employee Michael Sayman, who’s been with Facebook since he got out of high school. He’s been making apps since he was 13 years old, and Mark Zuckerberg personally invited him to join his team.

Sayman says his app “looks back at the days of Facebook from 2004 and explores what can be done if we went back and turned the crank all the way forward to 2016 with video-first.” That certainly aligns with Zuckerberg’s plan to transition his website into a more video-centric network. There’s no word yet on when it’ll come out for Android devices, but iPhone- and iPad-using high schoolers can now download it from iTunes.

Via: TechCrunch

Source: Michael Sayman (Facebook)

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