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After Math: Adventures in the 21st and a quarter century

We are living in the future here, people! Granted, no, full-body lycra catsuits haven’t taken off quite as well as we initially expected but the promise of futuristic technology has sure come through. Or, at least it will at the start of the next decade. By 2025, the UN will go to space, Volkswagen will debut an electric car with a 370-mile range and Elon Musk will send some folks to Mars! Numbers, because how else will you know how long until you’re exiled offworld?


Ben Heck’s Texas Instruments light booster

The Ben Heck Show - Episode 256 - Ben Heck's TI Launchpad Plant Booster

Even plants like to sleep sometimes. To do that, though, they need one hearty light meal from the sun. Watch how Ben and the team use Texas Instruments’ MSP430 microcontroller with the ADS7042 light-sensing BoosterPack to control a set of alternating current lighting. The idea is to provide what indoor plants need when the sun can’t provide enough light for food. Ben introduces us to rudimentary electrics on wiring a USA mains plug and using a solid-state relay to turn it on and off. Then he guides through using Code Composer Studio and Energia to compile code for the TI MSP430 and BoosterPack. You can find out more about the build, along with the code to support it, over on the element14 Community.


Volkswagen’s long-distance EV, and more in the week that was

This week Elon Musk unveiled his long-awaited plan to establish a self-sustaining city on Mars – and he’s targeting a ticket price of about $100,000 per traveler. Meanwhile, Volkswagen showcased a breakthrough electric car that will cost less and travel further than the Tesla Model 3 and the Chevy Bolt. Aerovelo shattered a world speed record by hitting 89.59 mph in a super-streamlined bicycle, and we spotted a swap-in wheel that turns any bike into an electric vehicle in 60 seconds flat.

Big storms contain an immense amount of energy – so one engineer developed an innovative typhoon turbine that could power all of Japan for 50 years. A team of researchers in India unveiled a Solar Power Tree that can light 5 homes with just 4 square feet of land, while California’s Brightsource Energy inked a deal with China to install a massive mirrored solar farm. Elon Musk is planning to launch his next-gen solar roof and Powerwall 2.0 next month, and SunCulture Solar debuted a 100% integrated solar panel that sets up in a snap.

Beijing’s smog-fighting vacuum tower.

The world’s largest rooftop farm has risen in Brooklyn – and it runs on 100% renewable energy and produces 10 million pesticide-free crops every year. Mycologist Paul Stamets has developed a breakthrough insect-killing fungi that could give Monsanto a run for its money, and a student discovered a way to destroy superbug bacteria without antibiotics. In design and technology news, Daan Roosegaarde built a giant smog sucking vacuum that will clean the air in China, and Adidas lunched the world’s first shoe made almost entirely by robots. And we scoured the shows of the London Design Festival to bring you a first look at 15 brilliant new lamps.


Fighting game’s ‘useless’ add-ons help its creators

Steam has a wide range of ways to support game developers, ranging from buying early releases through to countless add-ons. But it doesn’t have a way to pay developers out of sheer kindness. How are you supposed to donate short of visiting a website? Pehesse has a way: turn those donations into add-ons. The developer’s Honey Rose: Ultimate Fighter Extraordinaire is available for free, but includes eight DLC purchases that do absolutely nothing besides reward the team for its work. The creators of this brawler/visual novel hybrid are very explicit about their pay-what-you-like model, too — tier labels even offer suggestions, such as “symbolic,” “2016 standard” and “above and beyond.”

There’s no certainty that Valve will be completely fine with this approach. It’s easy to see less-than-scrupulous studios promising extras that never show up. However, Honey Rose does make a case for purchases that aren’t strictly tied to in-game content. Many developers (especially indies) don’t want to charge up front or restrict material to paying players — so long as they’re honest, why can’t they have a built-in tip jar?

Via: Kotaku

Source: Steam


Amazon Echo: First 7 things you should do to get Alexa started

Your Amazon Echo has just arrived and you might have glanced at the quick-start guide, but beyond the basic setup, do you know what Alexa can do or what services you want to integrate with your device?

Read on as we run through our list of the top things to do to get started.

Use the browser interface

Your Amazon Echo guide will tell you to download the Alexa app from iTunes or Google Play, but plenty of people have been struggling to set-up this way and we’ve had more success using the browser interface.


You can use this link to setup a new device, whether that’s setting up your Echo in the first place or adding other devices such as the Tap and Echo Dot, or adding other services.

Although the Alexa app is great for general use, we’d highly recommend using the browser interface for the initial setup and if you’ve got any problems with connecting your Amazon Echo to a BT Home Hub. It also makes the other things we’re going to cover in a minute a breeze too.

Setting a default music service

With a speaker built into the Echo, it makes for a good Bluetooth speaker alternative. Out of the box, your Amazon Echo will have access to your Amazon music library, i.e., anything you’ve purchased from Amazon and, if you have a subscription, Amazon Prime music.


If you don’t have an Amazon Prime subscription, no need to worry because there’s also TuneIn radio, which is free, and the ability to connect with Spotify.

Spotify too requires a subscription, but if that’s your usual music provider then setting it up as a service is easy through the interface. Just go to settings > music and media and click to authorise Spotify. This is one area people have had difficulty with when using the mobile app, especially on Android, so if you’re having problems using the browser might fix it.


It’s also worth noting that your Amazon Echo will read books to you by simple commands “Alexa, read my book” for Audible playback or “Alexa, read my Kindle book” for reading your Kindle library.

Changing your Echo flash briefing

Alexa, play my flash briefing” or “Alexa, what’s new?” will start your Amazon Echo reciting news updates. By default, your Amazon Echo is set to use Sky News and while there’s nothing wrong with that, you may choose to get your news from a different source.

Under settings > flash briefing you can pick from a range of different news services including BBC World Service, The Guardian, The Telegraph and more.


Syncing with your Google Calendar

Your Amazon Echo is pretty handy at helping you keep on top of your to-do list, but it’s also able to help you manage your day-to-day activities. By connecting to your Google Calendar you can get Alexa to check what’s happening today or at a specific hour on a day in the future.

To do this simply go to settings > calendar in the browser interface. You’ll need to authorise access to your calendar, but otherwise setup is easy.

Getting more Echo skills

Alexa is pretty smart and there’s a lot of things she can help out with, but you can further improve the usefulness of your Amazon Echo by adding relevant skills.


Skills are essentially plugins that allow you to do a variety of things such as ordering your last meal from Just eat or listening to UK radio. Just pop into the skills section and search for anything that fit your needs.

You can find some ideas of other skills that are fun to try in our Amazon Echo tips and tricks article.

Connect Alexa to smarthome devices

It might seem obvious, but Alexa is compatible with a range of different smarthome devices, giving you the power to control everything from your heating to your lighting if you have suitable technology in your home. Activate and connect the relevant Smart Home skills in the interface to get started.


Changing your Echo wake word

This one isn’t necessarily essential, but you might find it handy especially if you have someone called “Alex” living in your house. Under the device settings you can choose to change the wake word to something else, though the choice is pretty limited as only “Alexa”, “Amazon” or “Echo” are available currently. Alas, there’s no option for “Hal”.


Random and fun things to try

Now you’ve setup all the important things, why not try out something dafter and get Alexa to entertain you? There’s plenty to play with in this list.


Best deals and offers from Flipkart’s Big Billion Day sale


Flipkart has kicked off its Big Billion Day sale, and it is already turning out to be better than what Amazon is offering with its Great Indian Festival. Today’s sale focuses on lifestyle, fashion, and home appliances, and as such there aren’t a lot of tech-related deals to cover. However, there are a few notable wearable deals that are too good to pass up, including a flat 40% discount on Fitbit products. These are the best wearables deals from the Big Billion Day sale:


  • Moto 360 2nd gen 46mm – ₹16,599 – ₹4,400 off
  • Samsung Gear S2 Classic – ₹24,900 – ₹9,600 off
  • Samsung Gear S2 Classic Rose Gold – ₹24,900 – ₹9,600 off
  • Fitbit Blaze – ₹11,994 – ₹7,906 off
  • Fitbit Alta – ₹7,794 – ₹5,205 off
  • Fitbit Charge HR – ₹8,994 – ₹5,996 off
  • Huawei Watch – 10% off
  • ASUS ZenWatch 2 – ₹8,900 – ₹2,000 off

The Chromecast 2015 is also seeing a discount of ₹1,000, and is now available for ₹2,999. Same goes for Chromecast Audio. If you’re interested in taking a look at all the deals on offer, head on over to Flipkart.

See at Flipkart


Volvo’s e-buses will honk at oblivious pedestrians

Volvo’s e-buses, which are already shuttling passengers in some European cities, are silent operators like other electric vehicles out there. The automaker’s idea of minimizing their chances of colliding with pedestrians, however, is giving them the capability to make a lot of noise. Volvo’s new pedestrian and cyclist detection system uses a camera to constantly monitor its buses’ surroundings. If it spots someone nearby, it emits a gentle warning sound to signify that a vehicle is approaching. It also uses audio and visual cues to alert the driver of people nearby, just in case he’s fallen asleep at the wheel. If it senses an “imminent risk of an accident,” though, it does more than just give off a few beeps: it honks. Loudly.

Despite all the noise its electric buses will be able to make, the company promises they still won’t be as loud as their gas-powered counterparts. Volvo Director Peter Danielsson said in a statement:

“The bus can be heard — but without being disruptive. We’ve solved this problem by developing a synthetic background sound with a frequency range that is not perceived as disruptive. For instance, it does not penetrate windows with triple glazing, unlike the low-frequency noise made by a diesel engine.”

The Swedish corporation will roll out its new detection system to its European fleet by 2017. You can watch a demo of how it works below, though, complete with samples of the vehicles’ “non-disruptive” warning beeps.

Via: Fast Company

Source: Volvo


Google releases massive visual databases for machine learning

It seems like we hear about a new breakthrough using machine learning nearly every day, but it’s not easy. In order to fine-tune algorithms that recognize and predict patterns in data, you need to feed them massive amounts of already-tagged information to test and learn from. For researchers, that’s where two recently-released archives from Google will come in. Joining other high-quality datasets, Open Images and YouTube8-M provide millions of annotated links for researchers to train their processes on.

The Open Images set comes from a collaboration between Google, Carnegie Mellon and Cornell, with 9 million entries that were tagged by computers first before having those notes verified and corrected by humans. The Google Research team says it has enough images to train a neural network “from scratch,” so if you’d like to try your hand at a DeepDream-style project, better version of Google Photos or the next Prisma then it’s ready to go.

Announcing YouTube-8M: A Large and Diverse Labeled Video Dataset for Video Understanding Research –

— Google Research (@googleresearch) September 28, 2016

On the other hand, the YouTube8-M file points to 8 million videos (adding up to more than 500,000 hours of footage) that the group says “represents a significant increase in scale and diversity compared to existing video datasets.” The idea here is to create a library for video analysis that rivals those already in existence for still images, that’s also accessible for people without big data. Part of that is because Google has also extracted and tagged still images from the videos for researchers to download. Whether you’re working on the next self-driving car AI or something simpler, you can browse or download the database right here.

Via: Google Research Blog (1), (2)

Source: Open Images, YouTube8-M


You can pre-order the BlackBerry DTEK60 from NCIX Canada

If you’re interested in the BlackBerry DTEK60 — and you’re good with picking it up in Canada — You can pre-order it right now for $699.99 Canadian Loonies at NCIX.

The listing says the phone should be available on October 11, 2016, but no information we didn’t already know is there. On the NCIX USA site, the phone’s nowhere to be found so we’re not sure what’s up. Since BlackBerry hasn’t even announced it officially, there might be some sort of magic inside to justify the price. Or maybe a $200 gift card.


All kidding aside, while we’re hoping that price is just a placeholder, chances are it’s not as the $699 number has been floating around BlackBerry rumour land (yes, that exists) for a while now. We won’t tell you that’s too much to pay, but that is totally too much to pay. Wait for it to see the inevitable price drop.

In the meantime, you can go hit CrackBerry to see some more pictures and read what Bla1ze and everyone else thinks of the phone and the price tag.

Read more at CrackBerry


USB-C’s new audio spec could rid of your headphone jack

Like it or not, the effort to get rid of the headphone jack is well underway. The USB Implementers Forum has published its long-expected Audio Device Class 3.0 specification, giving device makers the standard they need to pipe sound through USB-C ports on everything from phones to PCs. And the organization isn’t shy about its goals, either — this is mainly about letting companies removing the ages-old 3.5mm port, according to the Forum. In theory, that means slimmer devices, better water resistance and opening the “door to innovation” through room for other features.

We’re not sure everyone will buy that last argument, but there are some advantages to the spec that are worthwhile even if the headphone jack is here to stay. Aside from offering better digital audio support (such as headphones with custom audio processing), the USB-C sound spec improves on earlier USB approaches with power-saving measures and keyword detection. In other words: a company could take advantage of USB audio without hurting your battery life as much as before, and it should be easier to implement voice recognition.

This doesn’t mean that every company will embrace 3.5mm-free hardware with the same enthusiasm as Apple or Motorola. After all, Samsung used its Galaxy Note 7 introduction to make a not-so-subtle dig at Apple’s then-rumored decision to drop the headphone jack on the iPhone 7. However, the USB-C spec may nudge vendors who were thinking about ditching the conventional audio socket and were just waiting for official support to make their move.

Via: AnandTech

Source: USB Implementers Forum (PDF)

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