Most of the time, I buy cameras for specific purposes. My DSLR exists to capture vacation photos and product shots for Engadget reviews. When I go on hikes or long bike rides, I pull out a GoPro Hero4. For some reason, however, I just can’t bring myself to buy a dedicated webcam for Twitch streaming or YouTube vlogs. I already have a handful of great consumer cameras — shouldn’t I be able to use one of those? In reality, that’s easier said than done: Most cameras simply aren’t designed to push a live feed out to a PC. It’s a problem I’ve spent hours trying to solve, but never did. Then, I heard about the Elgato Cam Link, a USB capture device that can turn any camera with HDMI output into a functional webcam.
If that sounds familiar, you’ve probably Googled “how to use a GoPro as a webcam” before. Unless your camera is designed to be used as a webcam, an HDMI capture device is usually your only option. In fact, content creators have been using capture cards to integrate higher-quality cameras into their workflow for years — but Elgato’s take on this idea is just a bit more streamlined.
Instead of finding a workaround to make an HDMI capture device work natively with various apps as a webcam, Elgato’s dongle does it in one shot: getting the Cam Link operational is as simple as downloading the latest version of the company’s Game Capture HD software and plugging an HDMI output up to the device. That’s basically it — and with the exception of a few hiccups, it actually works really well.
This is mostly because of how your PC recognizes the Cam Link compared to most HDMI capture cards. If you hook up a camera to Elgato’s own HD60 Game Capture device, for example, it will be recognized by broadcasting software as a USB video capture device. Most of the time, that’s perfectly fine, but what if you want to use it as a camera for Skype or through your operating system’s native camera app, you’ll need to download additional drivers and software to trick it into behaving as a webcam. The Cam Link, on the other hand, does that by default. Better still, Elgato’s own Game Capture HD software recognizes the Cam Link as a separate capture device, which makes embedding a “face cam” over gameplay a snap.
Because my main PC is a desktop computer and doesn’t have a built-in camera, this made the Cam Link an incredibly convenient way to pipe decent video to my machine for Twitch streaming and Skype calls. Elgato’s software takes some of the guesswork out of it, too — when I stream a webcam through OBS, I usually have to add an offset to make sure my webcam feed syncs up with my gameplay footage. The Game Capture HD desktop suite did that automatically. I even used it to record an unboxing video for YouTube, and was able to embed my external microphone’s audio directly into the recording. Normally I have to sync that up in editing. It was nice to have one less thing to worry about.
It’s an easier way to solve a cumbersome problem — but it still has some pain points. Like any HDMI capture device, it can only deal with the signal you give it. That means any overlay menus that your camera displays over its video-output will appear in the Cam Link stream, too. That wasn’t a problem for my GoPro, which has an option to disable the overlay, but I had trouble with my other cameras. My Canon Rebel T3i has a great lens, but you can’t get a clean HDMI signal out of it unless you use a custom firmware like Magic Lantern. The quality of that image depends on the camera, too. I can get a 1080p signal out of my action cam, but my DSLR won’t push anything higher than 480i.
That resolution issue comes into play even if you have a camera with decent output. In a best case scenario, the Cam Link can only capture 1080p footage. In my tests, 1080p recordings over HDMI were about the same quality as videos captured directly by the camera — but if you have a camera that shoots in 4K, you won’t be able to get that kind of fidelity when streaming through the Cam Link. Finally, I had one or two instances where the Game Capture HD software simply didn’t save a video I shot with the dongle. Elgato support is looking into it for me, but it made me cautious enough to move my workflow over to OBS.
What Elgato’s Cam Link does isn’t technically a new idea, but it’s a consumer-ready implementation of it that’s easy to set-up and use. In my perfect world, it still wouldn’t be necessary — I still think it’s bizarre that my GoPro isn’t natively recognized as a usable camera by my PC — but the Cam Link does exactly what I want with almost no hassle at all. If you have a nice camera that can output a clean HDMI signal, and you desperately want to use it as a webcam, the $130 Cam Link is an easy way to get it working.
Uncovering How Streaming Is Changing the Sound of Pop
You don’t have to look far to find evidence of how streaming services have dramatically changed the way we listen to music. But it’s not just the consumption that’s been affected, it’s the creation too. Pitchfork takes a look at how services like Spotify have impacted music trends and why things like globalization, collaborations and slower tempos have taken over the pop sound.
When Should a Prestige TV Show End?
No matter how good a TV show is, it will inevitably run out of steam. The Ringer tackles the question of when even the good ones should pull the plug.
James Cameron Sounds the Alarm on Artificial Intelligence and Unveils a ‘Terminator’ for the 21st Century
Terminator is coming back. James Cameron and Tim Miller chat about the reboot with THR.
The Fans Who Won’t Let ‘Mega Man’ Die
Kotaku takes a look at the superfans who are keeping Mega Man alive despite Capcom’s lack of interest.
Google Assistant is Google’s voice assistant, which grew out of Google Now, and is available on a range of recent Android devices and now the iPhone. You can use Google Assistant to trigger apps and devices, ask all kinds of questions, make plans, and carry out a variety of useful tasks. If you’re new to the voice assistant, it may be difficult to figure out just how it works. Lucky for you, we can help! If you’re currently wondering, “what is Google Assistant anyway?” or “how can I use all this stuff with OK Google?” then read on to get started.
How to launch Google Assistant
Begin by activating and setting up your Google Assistant on your Android device. It’s a good idea to do this in a quiet place when you have a few minutes of extra time.
Start by unlocking your screen and giving the Home button a lengthy, several-second press (if your device is listening, you can also just say “OK Google”). This should bring up a new window that says, “Meet your personal Google Assistant,” or something similar. If you’ve already set up your Assistant, the window will take you to the Assistant menu instead.
First-time users will need to press Continue and give Google Assistant access to their email and apps. Afterward, you will be taken through a short voice configuration process that has you say, “OK, Google” a few times. Once done, Assistant should be ready to go!
Keep in mind that Google Assistant is unique to each Google account. If your phone is shared among more than one Google Account, make sure you’re using your account before continuing. You can change accounts at any time by pressing the Home button until the Assistant menu appears, choosing Settings, and heading to Accounts.
Learn how to ask questions
With “OK, Google” as your activation phrase (watch Google’s video for more info), it’s time to try out some basic voice commands. Google Assistant uses a message screen for text answers and links, and voice features for answering questions out loud — you can type questions too, if you prefer. Google gives you a few ideas about what to try out, and if you have experience with voice assistants, then you know the sort of questions that it can answer. This includes basic questions like:
- What is the weather like today?
- How far is it to Seattle?
- What’s the latest business news?
- What are the latest sports scores today?
- How old are you?
You get the idea. Google Assistant is particularly good at followup questions and picking up context. You can ask, “Who sang Born in the USA?” and then follow it up with, “What year did he release it?” and Google will know you are still talking about Bruce Springsteen. Wording doesn’t usually have to be precise, so don’t worry about talking casually. For more details on what the virtual assistant can do, check out our roundup of some of the best Google Assistant commands.
See how Google Assistant connects to your apps
Asking general questions is fun, but the Assistant really becomes useful when you explore the ways that it connects to the apps and services on your Android device. Assistant integrates well with a variety of services, allowing you to accomplish many tasks with voice commands, such as:
- Ask the Assistant to “Set a reminder” for a specific day and time.
- “Show photos” of specific geo-tagged places or people.
- “Show emails” about specific topics, trips, meetings, social posts, or anything else that may be stored in your Gmail.
- Ask “What is planned for tomorrow?” or “What’s going on today” to bring up your calendar events.
- Connect a variety of smart home devices.
- Play music from services or storage.
- Ask a variety of map/direction-based questions.
- Open a specific app.
- Create shortcuts for more complex tasks.
Customize briefings and news
Google Assistant offers you a “My Day” briefing on demand, which basically amounts to a verbal news and event report. You can — and probably should — customize this briefing. Press the Home button until the Assistant window opens, and select the menu icon in the upper-right corner. From here, go to Settings and select My Day.
On the My Day screen, you’ll see a number of options you can check, uncheck, and customize. These include weather reports, commute updates, reminders pertaining to calendar events, and more. Anything that is checked will be included in your report, so only check the things you really want to hear about at the start of the day.
Now, just say “Tell me about my day” and your customized briefing will begin.
Personalize your Assistant in Settings
The Settings menu allows you to personalize a number of other Assistant features. A couple things you can do include:
Change how the voice behaves
In the Voice menu that you can access from Assistant Settings, you can turn speech off, allow speech to work offline, allow the Assistant to recognize “offensive” words, switch to Bluetooth headset compatibility, and more.
Change the news sources Google uses
From the Settings menu, choose News and then Customize. This gives you a list of popular news sites that Google will report from when you ask to, “Listen to news.” Keep in mind that Assistant will provide news from all the sources you select, so you don’t want to choose repeats. Choose your favorite news and sports sources from the list, and add in specialized reports (technology, stocks, etc.) as needed.
Change what Assistant calls you
In Settings, go to Personal Info. You can change your Nickname here to whatever you prefer Assistant to call you. You can even customize the pronunciation!
Watch for new partners
Voice assistant compatibility is a fast-evolving market. Google has recently added compatibility with speakers, appliances, and a variety of smart home devices — with a lot more partnerships on the way (not to mention the Alexa-like Google Home). It’s worth noting any new partnerships to see if Assistant’s compatibility expands into new areas that interest you.
There was a time, not so long ago, when 4K monitors just weren’t a feasible option for the average consumer. Some of them have been on the market for several years, sure, but the high-definition devices weren’t the most accessible considering their once-limited selection, high cost, and overall performance.
However, the last year has seen 4K monitors make some serious headway, especially since many 3,840 x 2,160-pixel displays are as gorgeous to look at as they are affordable. We’ve rounded up the best of them below, from value-based offerings to 32-inch behemoths outfitted with the best in factory calibration. So here they are, the best 4K monitors on the market.
Dell P2715Q ($477)
This excellent 27-inch monitor from Dell boasts intuitive on-screen controls and a terrific ergonomic stand, not to mention UltraHD capabilities and a display that basks in wide viewing angles, strong color, and deep blacks. The image quality adjustments are not the most robust — you’ll have to opt for a more professional display for that — but the picture is great even without adjustment. Of all the 4K monitors available, this delivers the most bang for your buck, and it’s suitable for any use. Read our full review.
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Acer S277HK ($434)
With a former retail price of $700 and a street price that often dips well below the $500 mark, Acer’s S277HK is one of the most affordable monitors on this list. But for that, it’s not lacking in quality: the default image is excellent, and if you need further tweaking there are plenty of variables to adjust. It’s also surprisingly attractive thanks to slim bezels and an unconventional and asymmetrical monitor stand. Of course, you’d best learn to love that stand. It’s not very adjustable, and there’s no option for a VESA mount. Read our full review.
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HP Z27s ($700)
This is not a monitor for gaming or watching movies, this is a monitor for professionals. The HP Z27s boasts near pitch-perfect color accuracy, and reproduces imagery with such high fidelity that it’s almost like peering out the window. The design is understated and utilitarian, however, so it’s not exactly a showpiece monitor. Starting at $700, but frequently found closer to $500, you do have to pay for that picture quality, but it’s a fair price for a killer professional monitor. Read our full review of the previous version.
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Acer Predator XB321HK ($1,149)
While Acer’s G-Sync enabled gaming monitor features the hefty price tag of $1,149, its solid build quality, top-notch image quality, and a well curated feature set make for a killer gaming monitor. Nvidia GPU users can take advantage of the G-Sync variable refresh technology, and all gamers will appreciate the 1ms response time and sleek black bezel. It’s an attractive offering and a great choice for gamers looking to make the jump to 4K. Read our full review of the previous version.
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Asus PG27AQ ($1,200)
Asus’ competitor to Acer’s monster monitor is the PG27AQ. This 27-inch 4K monitors boasts Nvidia’s G-Sync adaptive refresh technology, precise color accuracy after calibration, and both HDMI and DisplayPort inputs. The stand is also both sturdy and stylish, with built-in LEDs — which can be turned off — and full tilt, pivot, swivel, and lift action. It does cost a little more than the XB321HK, and need a bit of tweaking to realize its full potential, but it ultimately offers a premium 4K gaming experience.
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Dell P2415Q ($350)
The Dell P2415Q is the smaller sibling of the 27-inch Dell P2715Q, but it’s no slouch when it comes to picture quality. Cut from the same cloth as the larger version, the P2415Q carries on the family name with a smaller form factor — and price tag — without compromising color accuracy or Dell’s signature clarity. Featuring slim, black bezels and a compact design, the P2415Q is an excellent choice for anyone looking to dip their toes into 4K before investing in one of the larger and much more expensive displays on our list.
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App Attack is a weekly series where we search the App Store and Google Play Store for the best apps of the week. Check out App Attack every Sunday for the latest.
In 2017, toys have become a bit more complicated than we remember. Rather than barbie dolls or toy cars, children now have more control and customization over their products, and they’re doing it electronically. This week, we have an app that helps children (and adults, if you’d like) learn how to code in a fun and interactive way.
Pixel — available for both iOS and Android — sets out to teach the basics behind robotics and computer science. With the app, your smartphone or tablet turns into your own personal robot where you choose all different types of characteristics. Using the logic blocks provided, you can customize everything from your robot’s personality to the colors and look of it.
When first opening the app, users are greeted by the standard robot — named Pixel — ready for you to creatively give it personality and flair. By tapping on the icon in the left-hand corner, you’ll be able to choose from the “Brain,” “Connect,” or “Pixelize” sections. There’s a “Help” option as well, to read through commonly asked questions in case you’re having trouble or want to learn more. If need be, you also can send in an email of your own.
Under the Brain section, you’re able to alter different actions such as emotions, events, sound, controls, and facial expressions. Each one is separated by color in order to make it easier to to see what you’re building. When you start placing the blocks on the blank page to the right, you’ll notice they all have a different groove cut out into it, similar to puzzle pieces. When switching from each action, you’ll be able to drag and drop them into their respective places.
You can elicit a specific response from Pixel when you poke its forehead or its eyes, and it’s capable of speaking out loud if you type in a phrase for it. If you ever want to delete part of the robot you’ve put together, you can simply drag the block to the trash can at the bottom of the screen.
When it comes to the different combinations, the possibilities feel endless, and I actually found myself constantly tweaking it. Once I found one combination, I tried pushing the limits to see what else I could come up with by piecing together the blocks. While the app is geared towards children, coding games were non-existent “back in my day” so I was heavily intrigued at the uniqueness of it. I was especially excited when I realized I could make it Halloween themed, just in time for the month of October.
As far as aesthetics go, you can change the color of its face, eyes, pupils, brows, and mouth. By tapping the back arrow, you’re brought back to the main screen where Pixel lives. Once you tap on the menu, the Pixelize tab will bring you to a window with color options. After choosing whichever part you’d like to change, you can scroll along an HTML color picker tool — one in color and one in grayscale — which inform you of red, green, and blue values.
When it comes to connectivity, Pixel can pair with Arduino based chips, Lego Mindstorms, and Raspberry Pi to use as a body. There’s also the option of using actuators and sensors, if you’d like to add even more. You can find devices to pair it with by tapping on the Connectivity tab in the menu, which will then search and display compatible devices. The app is meant to be able to cover a wide range of possibilities in order to let children’s imaginations run wild.
Robot Playtime — the creators behind Pixel — have a strong mission to help others learn the necessary technological skills to flourish. With Pixel, they’ve made it extremely fun to pick up on a crucial skill like coding without making it confusing. Since the level of difficulty varies depending on your skillset, you’re able to play and experiment with the app as a beginner and continue even if you begin to excel.
The first few seconds with Pixel were definitely a little intimidating for me. I was initially drawn to how cute Pixel was and all of the customization options. But I had to get used to dragging the blocks and fitting them together — along with all the different options. As I started to piece more and more together, I started to visualize the entire map differently. The app does a great job of mapping out exactly how to get to each step in order to have your robot perform a specific move or emotion. Before you know it, you’ll start to see the cause and effect of it all and learn how all all the details work together.
As a 90s kid, I thought the toys we had were extremely awesome — in fact, I feel nostalgic thinking about it. But if coding is the future of the products coming out for the younger generations, then I must admit I’m a little jealous.
Why it matters to you
Want to know which robot breakthroughs deserve the credit for today’s robo revolution? This list will help you out.
From research labs to factories, farms, and even our own homes, robots are everywhere these days. But which are the most important robots ever built? We decided to welcome our new robot overlords with just such a list. Read on to discover which robots we owe a debt of a gratitude for their part in turning science fiction into, well, science.
William Grey Walter’s “Tortoises”
First developed in 1949 by William Grey Walter, an American-born neuroscientist living in England, these “tortoises” boasted a light sensor, marker light, touch sensor, propulsion motor, steering motor, and protective shell. Today, they are considered early examples of robots able to autonomously explore their own environments.
They even had some smart capabilities like the ability to steer toward a light source when running low on power. This led to intriguing behavior when they “saw” their light own light reflected in a mirror. Walter claimed that this, “might be accepted as evidence of some degree of self-awareness.”
The world’s first industrial robot, Unimate was employed on the General Motors assembly line from 1961. Its job was to transport die castings from the assembly line, so that they could be welded onto car bodies.
It was the first illustration of a modern robot being used to carry out jobs that would previously have been the domain of humans: a topic which is hotly debated (and increasingly prevalent) today.
An impressive step forward in computer vision, natural language processing, problem solving, and, of course, robotics, Shakey was a much-hyped 1960s robot developed at the Artificial Intelligence Center of Stanford Research Institute.
What made Shakey particularly impressive was its ability to analyze commands and break these down into separate components in a way that brought together logical reasoning and physical action. It was described, admittedly somewhat prematurely, as the world’s “first electronic person” by Life magazine.
Developed during the 1960s and 70s at Scotland’s University of Edinburgh, Freddy II was a robot arm with adaptive grippers, a camera, and some smart image recognition technology. Moving over a table like an arcade claw crane, Freddy was able to construct a model boat and car out of wooden blocks.
The process took 16 hours to complete, but it serves as an early example of fine grain, dexterous movement by a robot.
What’s one way of making people unafraid of the forthcoming robot revolution? Give your latest robotic creation the same name as one of history’s most terrifying and genocidal warlords, of course.
That’s what MIT did in 1989 when it debuted its Genghis hexapodal robot. Consisting of 4 microprocessors, 22 sensors, and 12 servo motors, Genghis’ walking action was revolutionary for its time.
NASA Mars Pathfinder and Sojourner
Robots in space is pretty much the sci-fi fantasy of every kid, and it’s something NASA realized in style with 1997’s Pathfinder mission to Mars.
Once landed on the Red Planet, Pathfinder deployed the smaller Sojourner rover, which explored the Martian terrain for a period of 83 days — sending back plenty of images, and taking various chemical, atmospheric and assorted other measurements in the process.
A bit like AI in the early 2000s, robots around the turn of the century still very much existed in research labs away from the general public. ASIMO wasn’t available for people to buy, but it did get plenty of mainstream publicity.
Short for Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility (as well as sounding a bit like Isaac Asimov), ASIMO was a 4.3 foot humanoid robot, developed by Honda, and capable of some pretty impressive walking capabilities.
Okay, we know: Furby isn’t particularly advanced by the standards of some of the robots on this list. What is was, however, is the first domestic robot to achieve stratospheric sales worldwide. The “must have” toy of the 1998 holiday season, Furby was an electronic owl-like creature which supposedly learned English as you spoke to it. (The NSA actually worried that it was a threat to national security.)
In reality, its abilities were a lot more limited than they appeared, but Furby remains one of the few robots in history that large numbers of people actually formed an emotional bond with.
Roomba vacuum cleaner
Like Furby, iRobot Corp’s Roomba vacuum cleaner robot is an example of a top-selling domestic robot that folks willingly welcomes into their homes in large numbers. Since launching in 2002, upwards of 14 million of the puck-shaped Roomba vacuums have been sold to date.
Not bad for a machine whose claim to fame is sucking up our grime!
BigDog and Spot
A dynamically stable four-legged robot created in 2005 by Boston Dynamics and partners, BigDog was a DARPA-sponsored creation capable of efficiently moving across a wide range of different terrains at high speed.
The most recent robot on this list, the project was sadly shelved after being deemed too loud for real combat. It has now been replaced by its smaller sibling, Spot.
A battle between two fantastic Android tablets at different price points.
Huawei’s Mediapad M3 and Mediapad M3 Lite are both extremely capable tablets that won’t break your budget. How do you pick between two devices that look so similar, though? You let us break it down feature by feature to see M3 is more worth your hard earned money!
|CPU||Qualcomm Snapdragon 435, octa-core||Kirin 950, octa-core|
|Screen resolution||8-inch 1920×1200 pixels||8.4-inch 2560×1600 pixels|
|Memory||16GB||32 GB / 64 GB|
|Battery||4800 mAh||5100 mAh|
|Price||$169||$299 / $330|
|Dimensions||4.8 x 8.4 x 0.30 in||4.8 x 8.5 x .28 in|
Same name, different device
The Huawei Mediapad M3 and Mediapad M3 Lite are two vastly different tablets that share a name. They’re both 8-inch portrait-oriented tablets (though the Mediapad M3 has a slightly bigger 8.4-inch screen).
It’s the actual hardware that makes a serious difference between the Mediapad M3 and the Mediapad M3 Lite. The M3 is in possession of the much more powerful Kirin 950 octa-core processor compared to the M3 Lite’s Snapdragon 435 processor. Likewise, the Mediapad M3 has a resolution of 2560 x 1600 pixels, which surpasses the 1920 x 1200 resolution of the Mediapad M3 Lite by quite a margin.
The Mediapad M3 also has more storage and RAM than the equivalent models of the Mediapad M3 Lite. And the Mediapad M3 has a slightly larger 5100mAh battery compared to the 4800mAh cell in the M3 Lite.
Now while the Mediapad M3 does have far more power under the hood, it’s also the much more expensive tablet at $299 versus the Mediapad M3 Lite’s $169 asking price.
Due to the major differences in hardware between these two devices, it’s a bit difficult to compare one directly against the other. Instead, what you need to consider it what you plan on using your Huawei Mediapad for.
If you need a device for distracting the kids during car rides, watching your favorite shows, and surfing Facebook, then the Mediapad M3 Lite is definitely the one to pick. It doesn’t have the better specs overall, but it is more than capable of getting the job done.
In comparison, the Mediapad M3 is capable of doing far more than letting you catch up on binge watching. It’s got a huge battery, a solid processor, making it great for everything from checking documents in Google Drive to conducting live chats with friends on Hangouts. With its fantastic screen and great speakers, the Mediapad M3 can really act as a replacement for your Laptop in most cases.
The Mediapad M3 is the better tablet!
By every possible marker, the Mediapad M3 comes out ahead of the Mediapad M3 Lite. This isn’t surprising, as it is the higher end Mediapad from Huawei, but Huawei has gone above and beyond to pack it to the brim with fantastic features for you to take advantage of. While it is a bit pricey compared to the Mediapad M3 Lite, it’s well worth it for the increase in screen quality, battery, processor, and speakers.
One thing to keep in mind, though, is that the Mediapad M3 shipped with Android 6.0 Marshmallow, and still hasn’t been updated to Android 7.0 Nougat in most regions of the world. The Mediapad M3 Lite, though, shipped with Nougat since it is a newer product.
Essentially in every other metric that counts, the Mediapad M3 excels, delivering a device that really does go above and beyond.
See Mediapad M3 at Amazon See Mediapad M3 Lite at Amazon
Which is your favorite?
Both the Mediapad M3 and the Mediapad M3 Lite are very capable, but the Mediapad M3 pulls ahead by virtue of all of its features. Do you agree that the Mediapad M3 is the better device? Do you prefer the Mediapad M3 Lite? Let us know about it in the comments below!
Huawei Mediapad M3 review
Ease is a ring away.
We have all done it. You are laying in bed or on the couch scrolling through the latest news, social media or cat memes on your phone and then splat. You just dropped your phone on your face, and it hurt. Even worse, it fell from your face onto the floor and now your precious phone has a cracked screen. Now that your face and ego are bruised, you realize that something needs to be done to ensure this travesty never happens again.
Allow me to introduce you to the phone holder that will not only revolutionize the way you use your phone, but make you feel safe all the while! Amazon has the 2-pack Aukey Phone Ring Holder for $6.99 when you apply coupon code AUKEYHP3 during checkout. This is the lowest price ever by $3.
Simply attach the 3M adhesive firmly onto the back of your phone or phone case, and you are all set. Now you can take that selfie with confidence. Better yet, watch your favorite movie by using the 180-degree flip-over ring design, and 360-degree rotating base as a phone stand.
See at Amazon
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For more great deals be sure to check out our friends at Thrifter now!
When Hurricane Maria crashed into Puerto Rico on September 20th, it found a vulnerable target. The island is facing an extreme financial crisis that’s been building steam for decades; roughly 43 percent of its residents live in poverty. Its sole electric company, PREPA, is $9 billion in debt and has been operating with outdated equipment for decades. Its power plants are an average of 44 years old and rely on outdated oil-fired systems, while most plants in the United States are about 18 years old and use newer natural-gas generators. PREPA filed for bankruptcy in July, calling its own infrastructure “degraded and unsafe.”
Then the hurricanes hit. On September 7th, Hurricane Irma skirted Puerto Rico’s northern coastline as a Category 5 storm, killing at least three people and knocking out power for more than 1 million residents. That weekend, PREPA was able to turn the lights back on for 70 percent of its affected customers, but others expected to wait months for power to return.
Hurricane Maria made its way up the Caribbean on September 20th, bringing winds of 140 MPH and dumping 25 inches of rain on Puerto Rico. It devastated the island. Maria knocked out PREPA’s electrical systems, leaving 3.4 million people in the dark, with little hope of a quick recovery. Officials have suggested it will take four to six months for power to be restored.
#PuertoRico being told to adjust to no electricity for next few months. This is what modern colonialism looks like. https://t.co/KmHXuFBoS5 pic.twitter.com/CWhn6oMRxM
—Alex Shams (@seyyedreza), September 21, 2017
Electricity is central to life on the island, just as it is in modern societies across the globe — and, no, it’s not just a matter of running televisions and toys. Puerto Rico’s sole energy provider powers everything from hospitals and food-storage facilities to air-conditioning and communication services. Most of Puerto Rico today is running on generator power, leading to extremely long lines at temporary gas stations as residents attempt to secure a canister of the scarce resource.
Water is one of the most pressing issues, however. Without power, there’s no way to pump water into homes and businesses, and some residents are collecting it where they can, including out of open-road drainage tracts and fire hydrants. People in Utuado, a city of 30,000, are relying on a pipe tapped into a mountain spring by the side of a highway. Until help arrives, that’s the only water available for drinking and cleaning in the area, CNN reports.
This week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency estimated that 42 percent of Puerto Ricans were without access to potable water. As of Friday, just nine of the island’s 52 wastewater treatment facilities were operational.
Eighty percent of the island’s overhead transmission lines were damaged in the storm. While underground lines were mostly unaffected, most of Puerto Rico’s power system is aboveground. This devastation knocked out air-conditioning and refrigeration systems — many people were stranded by debris clogging the island’s roads, in need of food and ways to safely store it. In the most isolated cities, families are rationing crackers and watching their food and medicines go bad.
Hospitals are another beast altogether. Roughly 70 percent of Puerto Rico’s hospitals are not operational, but one facility that is, San Jorge Children’s Hospital in San Juan, needs 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel every day to function outside of the power grid. With rampant supply and transportation issues, keeping the lights — and lifesaving medical equipment — on is nearly impossible. This week, San Jorge lost power for an eight-hour stretch, from 6 PM to 2 AM. Ventilators and other essential machines were kept on via emergency backup power, but the hospital was forced to discharge 40 patients. As of Thursday, the hospital had just enough diesel to last through this Saturday.
The death toll is mounting, and there are far more fatalities linked to Hurricane Maria than has been officially reported, according to The Miami Herald. The official number is 16 deaths, though most hospital morgues (there are 18 operating at least partially) report being at full capacity.
The longer power is out, the more likely it is that illness will spread. Without power to provide clean water, storage and medical help, doctors and experts expect the number of deaths to rise.
“It’s coming,” Dr. Norbert Seda of the Canovanas Medical Center told CNN. “When there’s a shortage of water and sanitation issues, it will come out. We are expecting something like that to happen.”
Billions of dollars in debt and facing an islandwide humanitarian crisis, Puerto Rico is not equipped to rebuild its power grid on its own. One of the most likely paths it’ll take is privatization.
Privatizing Puerto Rico’s power grid isn’t a new idea. Officials have been floating the possibility for years, and in June, four members of Puerto Rico’s Financial Oversight and Management Board penned an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal called simply “Privatize Puerto Rico’s Power.”
Congress established this seven-person board under President Barack Obama in 2016, as part of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act, which aimed to dig the territory (and PREPA) out of its massive debt via increased US oversight. The board is able to seize public assets, break union contracts and cut pensions, and its austerity measures include lowering the minimum wage from $7.25 to $4.25 an hour. PROMESA was contentious from the outset — a handful of Democrats in Congress likened the oversight board to a form of colonialism, decrying how the legislation stripped away even more of Puerto Rico’s autonomy.
Despite PROMESA’s financial goals, PREPA filed for bankruptcy just a year later. That was when four members of the oversight board wrote the following:
“We believe that only privatization will enable PREPA to attract the investments it needs to lower costs and provide more reliable power throughout the island. By shifting from a government entity to a well-regulated private utility, PREPA can modernize its power supply, depoliticize its management, reform pensions, and renegotiate labor and other contracts to operate more efficiently.”
No power companies have made overt moves in Puerto Rico so far, but one US-based business springs to mind as a natural partner in this space: Tesla.
Not only is Tesla the leading name among renewable-energy companies, but it has experience in bringing power to another US island, Hawaii. Tesla and Hawaii’s Kauaʻi Island Utility Cooperative are currently maintaining a 45-acre solar farm in the hills of Kapaia, supported by a 53 MWh array of Tesla Powerpacks. The Powerpacks are essentially giant, commercial-grade white batteries that store the energy captured by solar panels, resulting in a more stable system and less wasted power. Batteries are essential for sustaining large-scale renewable-energy systems, and this technology is just now becoming a reality.
Hawaii’s energy problems mirror Puerto Rico’s in a few ways: It’s not connected to the mainland, so there’s no backup if its power plants are destroyed, and it has some of the highest energy costs in the country. Puerto Rico’s energy costs are generally two to three times those on the mainland.
Tesla has already shipped hundreds of Powerwalls — the residential-size version of the Powerpack — to Puerto Rico in an effort to help the commonwealth get back online. The company hasn’t signaled any interest in setting up permanent shop in Puerto Rico, but if it does, it’ll need to make a deal with the US government. Puerto Rico is no stranger to this scenario.
One thing I’m worried about—in addition to my family’s safety—re: #Maria in #PuertoRico is how #colonialism capitalizes on #NaturalDisaster
— Jorge J Rodríguez V (@JJRodV), September 20, 2017
The island found itself in a similar situation just one year after becoming a US territory — in August 1899, Hurricane San Ciriaco devastated Puerto Rico with winds of 100 MPH and 28 straight days of rain. The hurricane killed more than 3,000 people and deleted nearly every acre of farmland, hitting coffee plantations particularly hard. As recovery efforts carried on, US interests scooped up land from former farmers and planted a booming investment crop: sugar. Control of much of Puerto Rico’s farmland transferred from citizens to US businesses, which have no obligation to ensure the health or sustainability of the territory or its people.
For example, The Intercept lists real-life problems caused by the partial privatization of PREPA’s power grid:
It’s not as if Prepa’s existing experiments with privatization have been success stories. The utility currently purchases around 30 percent of its power from two private sources, an AES coal plant in Guayama and a natural gas plant in Peñuelas, owned by the Spanish company EcoElectrica. AES sparked a major fight in the area and abroad for the plant’s dumping of coal ash, which can seep into waterways and cause a number of health problems. Post-Irma, UTIER — the Prepa utility workers’ union — denounced both of the private providers for shutting down during the storm to protect their infrastructure, straining both public providers and the unionized workforce. Were large swaths of Prepa to be privatized, it’s also likely UTIER would be disbanded.
Privatization could modernize and stabilize Puerto Rico’s energy infrastructure, but the island has a complicated history with both US businesses and the federal government. After Hurricane Maria, however, it doesn’t have the luxury of negotiating.
Hey, good morning! You look fabulous.
Welcome to the weekend. After Apple and Amazon, it’s Google’s turn to reveal some new hardware next week. We have all the information you’ll need to prepare, plus some of the big stories from this past week like our SNES Classic Edition review and Twitter’s controversial change.
Yes, he can do that.Travis Kalanick kicks off a power struggle at Uber
Uber’s ongoing corporate drama took another strange turn late Friday night when its ex-CEO announced the addition of two new board members. Travis Kalanick is still on the company’s board despite stepping down as its leader, and as a result of an investment deal last year, has control of three seats — Uber investor Benchmark Capital is suing to change that.
Everything new.What to expect at Google’s Pixel 2 event
On Wednesday Google will take its turn to unveil new hardware, and we’ve collected all the rumors fit to share in one place to help you prepare. Pixel 2, Home Mini, PixelBook and more — it’s all right here.
BFRElon Musk’s Mars dream hinges on a giant new rocket
Big F’ing Rocket. It’s the key to SpaceX’s plan for travel throughout our solar system and even the world, but how does it all come together? Steve Dent takes you through Elon Musk’s latest proposal, all the way from Moon Base Alpha to Mars City.
Where’s the TurboGrafx-16 Mini?A mini version of the Commodore 64 is coming in 2018
Missed out on your first attempt to purchase the SNES Classic Edition? Maybe you’ll have better luck with the C64 Mini. The $70 box from Retro Games is scheduled for release early next year with 64 preinstalled games aboard including California Games, Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe and Paradroid.
All Amazon everything.The Engadget Podcast Ep 44
This week, we turn our attention to a small underdog of a company with a narrow, well-thought-out product line. Just kidding, we’re talking about Amazon, which has enough money to roll out a wide range of products and see what sticks. We ranked the company’s confusing new lineup from “sensible” to “weird,” and also carved out a few minutes to rant about Twitter’s new 280-character experiment.
Secure the bag.Bloomberg: Google’s ‘Advanced Protection Program’ will replace two-factor authentication
In case typical two-factor authentication isn’t enough or is too complicated to set up, Bloomberg reports Google will roll out a replacement soon. Called the Advanced Protection Program, it’s intended for people with “heightened security concerns” like politicians and CEOs (John Podesta could’ve used this). According to the rumor, it will rely on two physical keys, including one that plugs in via USB, before anyone can access the user’s email or cloud storage.
But wait, there’s more…
- Facebook reportedly tests using facial recognition to recover your account
- Nintendo will close its Wii Shop Channel in 2019
- SNES Classic Edition review: Worth it for the games alone
- ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ deserves better than CBS’s streaming service
- Twitter tests a 280-character limit
- Every new Echo Amazon announced — and a Fire TV
- How the eSports community cares for injured players
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