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Sky Map (yes, that one!) is an oldie but a goodie (review)

Remember Sky Map? One of the ol’ standbys of the Android app world?

Of course you do!

Google Sky Map!——wait- No, not ‘Google Sky Map’, but just ‘Sky Map’.

“What do you mean, not Google?”, you ask? Well we’ll get to that in a moment. But for now I’d like to (re-)introduce you to one of the oldest, yet coolest, apps around: Sky Map.

What Is It?

Sky Map is just what it sounds like: it’s a free app (download here from the Play Store) that uses your phone or tablet to look deep into outer space, using your device’s compass, GPS, and/or gyro to locate multiple celestial entities in real time as you hold your device in a given direction.

It’s the original Augmented-Reality game.

Born in 2009 (eight years ago!) in the labs of one Google, Inc. out of Mountain View, CA, it is one of the increasingly rare apps to survive to today’s world.

Let’s think about that for a minute:

Sky Map is about the same age as this thing.

  • 2009 was the year Windows 7 was released, the year
  • Twitter became mainstream, and one year after the very first Android phone (that venerable HTC G1) was sold.
  • Heck, GPS was first born!

OK, so this app has staying power. Now, what about this “not-Google” thing? Everybody refers to this app as ‘Google Sky Map’.

But guess what: Google abandoned this app waaay back in 2012. Since then, it’s been released as open-source software, and has been maintained by a volunteer team of Google engineers. How cool is that? Heck, as of today, I even thought it was still ‘Google Sky Map’. So I’ve learned something today, and should just go to bed now.

App Experience

All that said, the app is pretty straightforward, while still looking and feeling rather fresh. Upon opening the app (after downloading from the Play Store, of course), you breeze through the title screen and are immediately taken right into the app itself (you will be asked for a couple of permissions if you’re on Marshmallow or later, but nothing too snoopy).

You hold your device up in front of you, and the app uses your GPS, compass, and gyro to display the current layout of the heavens before you on your display. The app keeps the display current to your location and time of year, so if you look, say, to the northwest sky on March 6, it will look different in June, then in September, and so on. At night seems to be the natural time to try this app, but it works just as well during the daytime.

Screenshot_20170306-185402-e148886288169Layer settings along the bottom.

The app gives you several levels of adjustment, staring with the overlay of what you can see in the sky. You can toggle on and off the following layers (including their labels):

  • Stars
  • Constellations
  • Galaxies
  • Planets
  • Meteor Showers
  • Horizon line

Looking around the sky with all the layers on, there is a ton of information and items to digest on-screen. The kiddos love looking for the moon, planets, and popular constellations; in that order. The app is extremely responsive as you move around the sky, in elevation, rotation, and vertically. There is also what I call a ‘night mode’, that turns all the colors to simple blank and red, to relieve eye strain.
While you can hold our device in any orientation you choose, I find keeping it in landscape is both most comfortable, and gives the feeling of looking through a pair of AR goggles to see the night sky.

There’s also a settings menu, with some basic location adjustments. Also in this menu, you can select ‘Gallery’ that offers up some nice renderings of interesting objects in the sky.
Another rather neat feature is what’s called “Time Travel” this lets you choose a date and time of day to let you peer into the sky at that time.

Settings menu.

Gallery samples.

Time travel!


Even with being as, well, vintage as it is, Sky Map is still a credibly cool app to have on your device. It’s been a day-1 staple on all my phones going back to my first Android (Galaxy S1, people).

My kiddos and I still pull it up when the conversation steers space stuff, and it always keeps us occupied for way longer than it probably should….we always find something new or interesting in the sky. Even looking down brings good space-related dialogue I, and how the other side of our planet sees things.

I highly recommend you give this a whirl on your device. I’d say you should hurry, but this app may outlive us all, so when it’s convenient should be fine. 🙂

Download from the Play Store here.

Visit the website here.




Ski-Doo sheds some weight with new ultracapacitor-powered engine starter

Why it matters to you

The SHOT engine starter provides an innovative way to keep snowmobiles lighter without sacrificing convenience.

For anyone who has owned a snowmobile, there have largely been two different ways to get the engine started. Traditional pull-start motors are lighter and reliable, but they can be physically taxing. More modern electric starters can be convenient, but they are bulky and add more than 20 pounds. However, a third option has entered the market and combines the best of both worlds.

Within the newly announced 2018 Ski-Doo lineup is the innovative E-TEC SHOT engine starting system. Using ultracapacitors, it’s a lightweight way to provide an electrical charge without a battery, starting motor, or ring gear. With just one pull-start in the morning, the SHOT system will be charged and ready to start the engine throughout the day.

More: The whole family can ride through the snow in the Whitefox four-seater snowmobile

Helping announce the technology were Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman of Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters. Using Rotax E-TEC technology, the SHOT system charges a 2-pound ultracapacitor after the first pull-start. These are basically lightweight batteries that can hold a charge for up to 30 minutes after the engine has been turned off. For subsequent starts, this stored energy is used to convert the magneto into an electric motor. It turns the crank, then the E-TEC injects and ignites the fuel to get the engine going.

“With SHOT, we are once again bringing to the market an industry-first invention created by our engineering teams in Canada and Austria,” BRP president and CEO José Boisjoli said in a statement to PowerSports Business. “I’m convinced it will become a benchmark in the snowmobiling industry.”

Over half of BRP’s 2018 Ski-Doo lineup is already available with the REV Gen4 platform with Rotax 850 E-TEC. This includes the Summit, Freeride, and Renegade Backcountry. The highest performing X-RS packages of the MXZ and Renegade sleds will also feature the new SHOT system.


Don’t buy a new ebike, just buy a new smart wheel from UrbanX

Why it matters to you

If you don’t want to get rid of your old bike in favor of a new ebike, just get a smart wheel that motorizes your wheels instead.

No electric bike? No problem.

That is, if  you have the motorized smart wheel from UrbanX, a new project heralded as the “world’s most economic electric bike solution.” Hoping to turn anyone’s road bike into a motorized commuting dream, UrbanX kicked off a Kickstarter campaign for its smart wheels UrbanX Eco and UrbanX Booster. By replacing your non-motorized bike’s front wheel with either one of these smart solutions, UrbanX promises to convert any BMX, cruiser, hybrid, mountain, road, or touring bike into an ebike boasting a 30-mile range. It takes just 60 seconds to install but will save you a whole lot more time whether you’re looking to commute to work or explore the world.

“Over the last several years, we have seen a resurgence in cycling that is especially prevalent in urban spaces across the globe,” says Eric Chow, founder and Chief Technical Officer of UrbanX. “This urban transportation revolution, due mostly to common city problems such as congestion, pollution, and parking woes, has inspired various electronic developments designed to make urban commuting more efficient and rider-friendly. UrbanX has taken these advances and created an economical solution that democratizes ebike technology for all riders.”

More: This biker spent 10 years building his dream bike from eBay-sourced parts

The UrbanX Eco comes with a 240-watt motor, whereas the UrbanX Booster has 350 watts in power, allowing bikes equipped with these smart wheels to hit top speeds of 15 and 20 miles per hour, respectively. And thanks to the Direct Drive Mechanism, your bike will be able to utilize 100 percent of the motor’s output to power your ride. Moreover, the company’s Sinus Algorithm Controlling System claims to further improve efficiency by turning more electric energy stored in the smart wheel’s battery into kinetic motor power.

Of course, because these are smart wheels, both models come with Bluetooth connectivity and a companion Android or iOS app, allowing riders to keep tabs on their riding status with data like battery life readouts, distance and speed tracking, a riding map, and speed levels. You can also use the app to set your wheel’s pedal assist level at low, medium, or high.

UrbanX’s smart wheels are constructed with aviation-standard aluminum capable of supporting up to 300 pounds, though the wheel itself weighs just 15 pounds. Thanks to a 36-volt Panasonic Lithium Ion battery, UrbanX provides a pedal assisted range of up to 30 miles per charge. If you act quickly, you can get the Eco at the early-bird price of $299 or theBooster for $399. The smart wheels are expected to ship to backers in June or July.


New York is suing Verizon over poor fiber rollout

Why it matters to you

This move by the city could force Verizon to speed up its FiOS rollout.

New York City is suing Verizon over allegedly failed promises to bring fiber internet access to every household in the city by mid-2014. Unsurprisingly, Verizon has disputed the claim, though in doing so it has to contend with its initial contract, since with more than a million homes still without access to FiOS, its fiber-based service, it may struggle to argue that it has abided by its terms.

The 2008 contract signed by the city and Verizon gave the telecom company a citywide franchise in exchange for it completing a universal rollout of its FiOS service by mid-2014. That meant extending it to an estimated 3.1 million homes, but to date only 2.2 million can access it.

While technically the original agreement only extended to cable TV, FiOS can also be used for fiber-based internet connections, and as a result Verizon’s slow timetable has left many people in one of the most developed cities in the world with poor internet access. The dispute claims that Verizon actively ignored requests from some consumers to install FiOS in their buildings.

More: Verizon is giving cellular customers free data — if they stream through Fios

In a public response to the suit, Verizon stated that some building owners refused to give it access to the required infrastructure for installing such services and that it has upheld its end of the contract “100 percent,” as per ArsTechnica. It also argues that its definition of what constitutes available access is different from the definition being put forth by the city, suggesting that as long as fiber is close enough to a building, it could technically be installed there within a reasonable time, and was therefore “available.”

Perhaps trying to head the city off at the pass, the company has pledged to invest a further billion dollars in NYC fiber infrastructure over the next four years and has promised once again to extend FiOS access to all New Yorkers by 2021.

That may be too little too late. Verizon is already nearly three years behind on its initial pledge and according to the terms of its agreement, it could face monetary damages. NYC admits that the definition of what constitutes available fiber was not outlined in the initial contract, but argues that that definition is well understood and established within the telecoms industry and in that context, Verizon is in breach of its contract.

The city also claims that in some cases Verizon demanded exclusive contracts for buildings before giving the go-ahead to provide its FiOS service there, even though the FCC bans such deals for video service in buildings with multiple dwellings.


Needle-free, painless vaccinations may become a reality thanks to MucoJet

Why it matters to you

This small device may make vaccinations as simple as snapping and counting to ten.

No one likes getting vaccinated but it’s a lot better than getting sick. Putting aside the concerns some have about the supposed risks of vaccines, let’s recognize that they’ve saved millions of children from diseases in the United States alone, according to the Center for Disease Control. So vaccinations are pretty great.

Injections, however, are pretty damn painful, especially for tiny tots who are most at risk of disease. That might change within a decade though thanks to a needle-free device called the MucoJet that make vaccinations practically painless. Developed by researchers in Dorian Liepmann’s lab at the University of California, Berkeley, the pill-sized, 3D-printed device shoots a stream of vaccine into the tissue of the cheek.

To activate the MucoJet, a patient first need to squeeze the device together, creating a reaction and increasing pressure inside. The patient then holds the device on the inside of her cheek for about ten seconds, at which point the pressure breaks a membrane and shoots a concentrated stream of vaccine through a small nozzle.

The MucoJet is needle-free (and thus virtually painless) and may also be able to address viruses more effectively than conventional techniques, according to Kiana Aran, a professor of mechanical and bioengineering who developed the MucoJet while working in Liepmann’s lab.

More: A new HIV vaccine therapy method lets five patients kick the daily drugs

“The majority of modern vaccines are injected intramuscularly or subcutaneously, although the majority of pathogens actually access the body via the mucosal surfaces,” she told Digital Trends. A few vaccines are administered through the mucosal surfaces — including oral polio and rotavirus vaccine but, Aran said, these have limited safety and utility since they contain live viral components. With MucoJet, the researchers think they may be able to design safer and more effective mucosal vaccines.

So far, the researchers have demonstrated a proof of concept, successfully delivering vaccine-size molecules to cells in the mouths of animals. A paper describing the device was published last week in the journal Science Translational Medicine. Future research will entail testing the MucoJet on larger animals, such as monkeys and pigs. The researchers think the product may come to market in the next five to ten years.


Oculus publishes Touch CAD files to help developers create custom peripherals

Why it matters to you

Oculus’ Touch Accessory Guidelines could help shape the way we interact with virtual reality experiences going forward.

Oculus has released the first version of its Touch Accessory Guidelines, a set of materials intended to make it easier for hardware designers and manufacturers to work in unison with the Oculus Touch peripheral. The guidelines include 3D CAD files for the controller itself, its battery compartment, and the Rock Band VR connector.

The Rock Band VR connector is slated to be included with the Oculus Touch, and allows players to use their existing Rock Band controllers with their Oculus Rift headset. Oculus has chosen to include documentation for the connector, because developers could potentially use it to connect other peripherals to the Touch controller, according to a report from Road to VR.

Rock Band VR has long been a prominent expected release for the Oculus Rift, and this might explain why. If Oculus can work with a company like Harmonix that knows plenty about peripherals, then the Touch controller can be the start of a larger ecosystem, rather than just a one-off accessory.

More: Rock Band VR setlist includes tracks by Aerosmith, Oasis, The Black Keys

One virtual reality experience can differ greatly from the next, and it has proven difficult for manufacturers to find one input method that works across the breadth of VR software. Giving developers the means to design their own peripherals would seem to be a clever solution to the problem.

This isn’t the first step in Oculus’ initiative to make it easier for developers to create hardware to complement the Touch controller. The company has previously released several versions of its Rift Accessories Guidelines, which serve a similar purpose.

However, the company has been criticized for falling behind the Rift’s primary rival, the HTC Vive, in this respect. In January 2017, HTC launched a campaign to distribute 1,000 Vive Tracker units to developers in an attempt to foster experimentation with the new hardware.


Google’s control of search advertising could reach 80 percent by 2018

Why it matters to you

Near-monopolies are rarely good for consumers, so other search engines need to figure out how to better attract your attention.

Google is the undisputed king of online advertising and that is only likely to increase in the years to come. According to a new report from research firm eMarketer, that share could increase to as much as 80 percent by 2018, at the cost of fellow search giants Microsoft, Yahoo, and Yelp.

The dominance of Google at the top of the U.S. search advertisement for years. What is impressive about the eMarkter report, as reported by Recode, is that it continues to make such big leaps. In 2016, its share of the market was 75.8 percent, jumping by a further two percent by 2017.

It’s predicted to rise again in 2018, hitting 80 percent for the first time, though that growth is thought likely to slow in 2019, rising by 0.2 percent. If true, that would generate more than $36.6 billion for the Alphabet owned company that year.

More: Everything you need to know about Google Assistant

In contrast, Microsoft has seen its share of the online search ad market dwindle over the past year, falling to under eight percent in 2017. If eMarketer’s forecast holds true, it could drop to as little as 6.6 percent by 2019.

Joining its downturn is Yahoo, which has seen its piece of the pie dip to 2.7 percent this year, with expectations of further dwindling over the next couple of years — though not as drastic as Microsoft.

The only companies other than Google to see their shares of the market increase this year have been IAC and Amazon, which each rose by 0.1 percent and are expected to do the same in the next couple of years.

All of the above should also be taken in the context of U.S.-only advertising revenue. In countries around the world, other companies are likely to have much more dominant positions, especially in territories like China where Google’s access is severely restricted.

Search ad revenue is not the be-all and end-all of online advertisements in 2017 either. In another eMarketer report, Google falls behind Facebook in terms of display advertising. There, the social network earns more than three times as much as Google, though part of that comes from its ownership of Instagram.


Google and Jio are said to be working together on a cheap 4G phone for India

Why it matters to you

India is proving to be a key market for tech companies and Google is attempting to break into the hardware space with a reported partnership with Jio.

The Pixel may cost you a pretty penny but Google is proving it can service a number of different markets and demographics by way of a new partnership with Jio, the self-described “largest 4G network in India.” The company recently claimed its 100 millionth subscriber and it will be working alongside Google to produce an affordable 4G-enabled phone exclusively for the network. According to a report from The Hindu, the phone will hit the Indian market before the end of 2017.

Google has experimented with entering India before, having previously provided free internet at railway stations throughout the nation, a service that is now used by 5 million customers every month. That said, the Silicon Valley tech giant has had less luck on the hardware side, with CEO Sundar Pichai noting that entry-level smartphones need to be as cheap as $30 to appeal to buyers.

More: Samsung denies plans to sell Galaxy Note 7 with refurbished batteries in India

With a Jio partnership, however, Google may have tapped into a mutually beneficial relationship. “Such a smartphone will help Jio increase data adoption — helping it render movies and music better over its network. It will also improve the overall quality of service delivered on the Jio network,” Sanchit Gogia, CEO at Greyhound Research, told The Hindu. “For Google, this would mean access to a large number of new users who would be connecting to the internet for the first time. It may also help the company assess its low-cost handset strategy.”

Neither Jio nor Google commented on reports of such a smartphone. The Hindu reports that “industry sources” have noted that the two companies have been in cahoots for quite some time, even collaborating on software for Jio’s smart TV services, which are also slated to launch later in 2017.

Hopefully, Google’s new venture with Jio will fare better than its ill-fated Android One project. “Android One had too many OEM partners, with each phone from every brand looking exactly the same, leaving no distinction for the vendor,” said Jayanth Kolla, founder and partner at Convergence Catalyst in an interview with The Hindu. “Moreover, at the same time, Chinese players like Xiaomi launched their phones at similar price with a lot more features, essentially killing the idea of Android One completely.”


Gmail app now lets you send money as an attachment

Why it matters to you

Gmail is making it easier to pay your rent. Now, it lets you send money via email.

If PayPal’s Venmo or Google’s Wallet app didn’t suit your style, there’s a new way to beam your hard-earned dollars to roommates, friends, and favorite family members: Gmail. On Tuesday, Google rolled out a money-sending option to the mobile email app on Android and iOS.

It’s as straightforward as it sounds. When you’re composing a message in the Gmail app, tap the attachment icon (i.e., the paperclip in the upper-right-hand corner) and choose the Send money option. Once you’ve entered the amount you wish to gift, selected a funding source, and tap out a memo, and Google’s magical money-changing elves — er, servers — will facilitate the transfer.

More: Google Wallet now lets you text money to your contacts

It’s a fee-free ordeal, and rolling out to U.S.-based Gmail users on iOS and Android starting today.


Sending money via Gmail is sort of old hat, it turns out. At the search giant’s 2013 I/O Developer Conference, Google announced “money as attachments” for Gmail on the web, a feature that lets users age 18 and over transfer up to $10,000 from a linked bank account or credit card to any email recipient. As long as the receiver had Wallet, Google’s payment processing platform, they could withdraw the funds however they saw fit.

The feature’s mobile expansion is aimed at the millions of people who use their smartphones to send money. It’s a skyrocketing market — in January 2016, Venmo handled $1 billion in peer-to-peer transactions, or two and a half times the volume from January 2015 and ten times the volume from January 2014.

More: Google to end support for physical Wallet card on June 30

Gmail is far from the only way to send money, of course. Facebook lets you tap a debit or credit card to pay friends through Messenger. Square Cash boasts quicker-than-average deposit times for texted funds. And Snapchat’s built-in payments feature lets you send funds to anyone 18 and older.


Google’s own Wallet app is still an option, as well. The app launched initially as a catchall payments platform — until mid-2016, Google offered a physical Wallet card that let users to pay for goods and withdraw money from ATMs. But many of Wallet’s core functions have since been superseded by Android Pay, Google’s contactless payment framework.

More: With new automatic transfers, Google Wallet users no longer have to “cash out”

Wallet’s not dead yet, though. In August 2016, it gained the ability to transfer funds automatically to an attached bank account. And in November, Google debuted a refreshed Wallet webpage and app with a bigger emphasis on peer-to-peer payments.


Speednite is a head-motion-controlled lighting stem for nighttime biking safety

Why it matters to you

The risk of cycling accidents is particularly high at night when lighting conditions are poor, but Speednite wants to help address that.

Cutting down on your car time in favor of cycling shouldn’t come at the expense of your safety. Luckily, there’s a new Kickstarter project that agrees. Meet Speednite, a head-motion-controlled lighting stem for your bicycle, so you can pedal about after dark with a bit more peace of mind.

As Speednite points out on its Kickstarter page, many biking accidents are related to poor or inadequate bicycle lighting devices, a problem that is particularly concerning at night. But with Speednite, you’re promised the “ultimate lighting solution” featuring an integrated tiltable headlight and left and right laser indicators that can all be controlled by the movement of your head. Thanks to a small head-motion sensor that attaches seamlessly onto your helmet, you’ll be able to increase your visibility by way of the connected system.

More: Deter bicycle thieves with this textile-based cable from Tex-Lock

Installation promises to be simple — just attach Speednite as you would a normal stem, attach your head sensor, and enjoy your cycling experience. The tiltable headlight features vertical movement of up to 130 degrees, and can be configured using the Speednite app. The light, by the way, is an impressive 800 lumens, so you’ll certainly be able to see clearly no matter how dark your environment.

There’s also an Auto SOS warning function that automatically activates itself if the head sensor detects an “abnormal strike.” Should an accident occur, your SOS signal light will be activated, and emergency contacts (set through the Speednite app) will be notified.

The smart sides laser indicator that comes with the Speednite lets you alert other motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians of where your next turn might be by flashing a laser signal on the road. Once again, this can be controlled either via your head sensor or the wireless control on the stem system. The wireless control system, as it happens, provides headlight control and hazard light control as well, because if you’re a responsible biker, you’re probably turning your head a lot without intending to set off any signals.

Finally, Speednite comes with an embedded cycling computer, which displays your speed, cadence, and heart rate data. And if you connect it to the companion Speednite app, you’ll be able to add other functions like GPS tracking and a cycling training report.

Speednite is water resistant, allowing you to hit the road regardless of weather conditions, and is currently available for pre-order on Kickstarter for $155. The anticipated ship date is currently slated to be October of this year.

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