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29
Sep

What to expect at Google’s Pixel 2 event


Almost exactly a year ago, Google unveiled a host of new products, a veritable “Made by Google” ecosystem, as the company called it. The most notable devices were the Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones and Google Home smart speaker, but Google also launched the Daydream View VR headset, a mesh-WiFi system and a 4K-capable Chromecast.

It was easily the company’s biggest push yet into Google-branded hardware. But one year later, the Pixel and Pixel XL have been lapped by new devices from Samsung, Apple and LG, among others. We’re due for a refresh, and we’ll almost certainly get that in San Francisco on Wednesday, October 4th, when the company hosts its next big product launch. New phones are basically a shoo-in, but there’s a bunch of other hardware that Google will likely show off. Here’s what to expect.

Google Pixel 2 and Pixel XL

From left to right: Leaked images of the Google Home Mini, Pixel XL 2 and DayDream View. Image credit: Droid Life

Sure, the smartphone may be a commodity at this point, but it’s still exciting to see what Google has cooked up to take on increasingly strong competition in the Android space. The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL have been leaked pretty extensively at this point (as happens with almost every major smartphone these days), so we largely know what to expect here.

VentureBeat believes that the smaller Pixel 2 will be made by HTC (don’t forget that Google just bought HTC’s phone division), just like both of last year’s models. In a lot of ways, this phone is expected to be a minor physical upgrade over the original — it’ll keep the large top and bottom bezels, something that many flagship phones are moving away from. The screen will stay in the same 5-inch range. Like most other phones in its size class, the Pixel 2 won’t feature a dual-camera setup either.

That’s not to say that the Pixel 2 won’t offer some new features. It looks like HTC’s “squeezable” frame (found in the U Ultra and U11) will show up in the Pixel 2. Additionally, it should include front-facing stereo speakers, but it may not have a headphone jack this time around.

Image credit: Android Police

Considerably more interesting is the Pixel 2 XL, which is said to be made by LG. While last year’s two Pixel phones were basically identical aside from screen size, Android Police reported that the Pixel 2 XL will have a number of new features and design flourishes that set it apart. Most notably, the XL 2 should have a nearly bezel-less, edge-to-edge screen, similar to Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and Galaxy Note 8, the LG V30 and the new iPhone X. Thanks to the lack of bezels, the XL 2 should be able to fit a 6-inch AMOLED panel into a frame that’s about the same size as the original Pixel XL. That screen is expected to have a Quad HD, 1440p resolution, the same as last year’s screen.

Just like the smaller Pixel 2, the Pixel 2 XL is expected to ditch the headphone jack in favor of a stereo speaker array. And even though it’s made by LG and not HTC, the XL 2 should also have a squeezable frame. As for the internals, both phones reportedly have Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 processor, 4GB of RAM and either 64GB or 128GB of storage.

Pricing comes in about where you’d expect for flagship phones: the Pixel 2 is rumored to cost $649 for 64GB of storage or $749 for 128GB, while the XL 2 would go for $849 or $949. Thanks to its entirely new design and lack of bezels, the larger phone is pushing into the same expensive territory as the Galaxy Note 8 and iPhone X.

Home Mini

Last year’s voice-activated Google Home speaker represented the company’s big push to bring the Google Assistant off phones and into people’s houses. While it looks like the original isn’t going anywhere, Google is also readying a smaller, cheaper sequel meant to compete with the Echo Dot. Droid Life says that the Home Mini will cost $49 and give you unfettered access to the Google Assistant; it just won’t have the larger speaker found on the regular Home. As such, you’re not going to want to play music through this device, but if you already own decent speakers the Home Mini might be worth looking at.

Home Max

While we’ve been hearing about the Home Mini for a while now, a new report from 9to5Google suggests that Google will reveal yet another smart speaker next week. This larger device, reportedly dubbed the Home Max, is designed to better compete with Apple’s forthcoming HomePod, along with Amazon’s newly announced Echo and whatever voice-activated speakers Sonos is getting ready to unveil. Details on this new speaker are minimal right now, so it’s a bit of a toss-up as to whether we’ll actually see this next week or further down the line. But given how many speakers Amazon is now offering, diversifying the Google Home lineup isn’t the worst idea.

Daydream View

Google’s VR headset is also apparently in line for an update, according again to Droid Life, but it’s unclear what’ll be different here, aside from some new color choices. It’s rumored to cost $99 this time around, $20 more than the original. At the very least, it looks like Google is moving away from the cloth-like finish of the original for something more closely resembling nylon (though it’s hard to say for sure without trying it out for ourselves). Whatever the case, we can count on this headset working with Google’s new phones.

Pixelbook

Image credit: Droid Life

It’s been awhile since Google has had much to say about Chromebooks and Chrome OS. Last year’s event skipped over the platform entirely, and Google has seen it fit to let partners like Samsung and ASUS show off their vision for Chromebooks. Google also hasn’t dipped its foot into the ill-fated world of Android tablets in some time, either — not since introducing the Pixel C two years ago. But it looks like Google may jump back into both categories with one product: the Pixelbook.

Droid Life believes that the Pixelbook will be a 2-in-1 laptop powered by Chrome OS that can fold back into tablet mode. It’s essentially a successor to the two previous Chromebook Pixel laptops, but it’ll have an entirely new hardware design compared to its successors. It’ll also be the first to officially include stylus support — in fact, Google will be selling its own “Pixelbook Pen” alongside it.

Since Chrome OS can now run Android apps, the Pixelbookl have access to the wealth of software in the Google Play Store (though, to be fair, most of those apps aren’t optimized for larger screens). It’ll still be a step up over your average Android tablet, though, as running the full desktop version of Chrome is significantly better than using its mobile counterpart.

As with Google’s previous Pixel laptops, it appears the giant caveat will be price. Reports indicate this device will start at a steep $1,200 — that’s $200 more than the 2015 Pixel. That’ll net you 128GB of storage, and Google is supposedly also selling versions with 256GB and 512GB at $1,400 and $1,750, respectively. While it wouldn’t be surprising to see Google deliver new Chrome OS hardware, it would be pretty unusual to offer these storage options. Chrome OS has never been a platform dependent on large amounts of local storage — as things are now, there’d be essentially no benefit to getting those higher-priced options.

Google Assistant headphones

The Google Assistant has been popping up in all manner of hardware lately, including headphones, so it’s logical for Google to make its own pair. Some sleuthing by 9to5Google a few months back revealed some references to Google Assistant headphones inside the Google Android app. And with the new Pixel phones expected to drop the headphone jack, having a wireless solution would be an important part of Google’s hardware ecosystem. Perhaps the strangest part of this rumor is that these headphones appear to be an over-the-head model rather than earbuds.

ARCore details

Late in August, Google announced ARCore, the company’s answer to Apple’s ARKit. It’s a set of developer tools that’ll make it easier to bring augmented reality apps to a huge variety of Android phones. Rather than use the more advanced but far less commonplace Tango hardware, ARCore will strive to bring AR to the masses. As this will be Google’s first public event since announcing ARCore, it wouldn’t surprise us if the company shows how it works with the new Pixel phones. We have our fingers crossed we’ll be able to try it out for ourselves following Google’s presentation — but regardless of what Google announces next week, we’ll be there bringing you the news live as it happens.

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29
Sep

Passenger Drone lives up to its name with manned flight


There are quite a few companies working on developing drones for human transportation, but a new one has just jumped into the fray. With an almost fully developed prototype and plans to start producing them commercially next year, the aptly named Passenger Drone introduced itself by showing off a manned flight on its first prototype.

The company has been quietly working on its tech for the last three years and it has produced a lightweight, car-sized drone that can fly autonomously, be maneuvered remotely or be controlled manually. It’s lifted by 16 rotors and produces zero emissions. Passenger Drone says it plans to build five more prototypes and log over 1000 hours of flight time before proceeding with commercial production.

While Passenger Drone’s rig may be inching close to real life flights, it’s entering a crowded field. Companies like EHang, Airbus and Volocopter are just a few of the groups working on their own models and Volocopter’s drone took its maiden test flight earlier this month.

You can check out Passenger Drone’s first manned flight in the video below.

Source: Passenger Drone (1), (2)

29
Sep

Katy Perry’s YouTube Red film distills her four-day livestream


If you missed Katy Perry’s four-day livestream back in June, tune into YouTube Red on October 4th. The subscription service will broadcast a full-length special showing behind-the-scenes footage from the pop star’s Witness World Wide livestream event. It will also show highlights of what went down during those four days. Perry did fun interviews, danced with the infamous left shark of NFL halftime fame, talked about the controversies that surround her and held round-table discussions about important issues with guests, including Anna Kendrick, America Ferrera, Caitlyn Jenner, RuPaul and Sia.

The documentary is called Will You Be My Witness? and was named after the superstar’s newest album Witness. Here’s a trailer that shows what you can expect from the film:

If you’re thinking, “hey, that’s pretty much a YouTube Red flick about a four-day YouTube livestream,” that’s because it is. But if you’re a fan and would like to see the creative process behind the project, as well as the aftermath of being in front of a cam 24/7 from June 8th to 12th, then you’ll have to pony up $10 per month to join the subscription service.

Source: Billboard

29
Sep

How the eSports community cares for injured players


Clinton Loomis, known to many by his online alias Fear, had his first experience of arm pain in Dec. 2013.

For more than a decade, Loomis has been a professional esports athlete for Defense of the Ancients (Dota) and Dota 2. At tournaments, his reputation precedes him. He is considered one of the best players in the games’ history, with multiple first-place finishes in global competitions, earning him six- and seven-figure sums.

Similar to traditional sports, the number of people who play Dota 2 is far greater than the number of people who can make a living from it. Professional gaming requires fine motor precision, encyclopedic knowledge and relentless practice.

The average gamer plays video games for five to six hours per week. Loomis estimates that at his professional height, he logged anywhere from eight to 12 hours per day playing Dota 2. A professional gamer like Loomis can average hundreds of actions per minute during those hours.

There is a sports phenomenon known as overtraining, where training and practicing at high volume, with high intensity, can cause physical performance to deteriorate. The body does not have sufficient time to recover in its resting state, particularly if athletes push through the warning signals their bodies are giving them. In the case of esports, the physical pain asserts itself in small ways at first.

“I didn’t understand what was going on,” Loomis said. “It was an issue with my forearm, and every time I clicked my mouse, I felt a sharp pain in the center of my forearm. It just got worse and worse. Every time I pushed down my finger, it triggered a response.”

“I saw a lot of doctors,” Loomis continued. “And at first, they didn’t give me a good diagnosis, because I didn’t do a good job of explaining to them what I was feeling. I was initially diagnosed with tennis elbow. I was told to put a brace on and rest my arm.”

It wasn’t tennis elbow, and Loomis still doesn’t have an exact diagnosis for his pain, though it’s due to the aggravation of his radial nerve. Loomis qualified for The International 2014, a particularly prestigious tournament, but was unable to compete and instead served as the team’s coach. He was healthy enough to compete in The International 2015 (which he won) and The International 2016 (in which he placed third). But eventually, the pain became unbearable. On Sept. 14th 2016, Loomis’ esports team, Evil Geniuses, announced that Loomis was retiring, “effective immediately,” due to his ongoing physical problems.

“Today, I’m announcing my retirement from competitive Dota,” wrote Loomis in a public statement. “I have been living my dream of being a professional gamer for over a decade now, and in that time I’ve accomplished each of the goals I placed for myself and for EG Dota.”

“Now, I have to pursue a new goal — getting healthy,” continued Loomis. “I still have a passion for Dota and for competing, but the long-term health of my arm has to come first.”

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Every game has a specific type of stress, and its own intrinsic issues … It’s individualized to the gamer as well as the game.

Dr. Levi Harrison, MD.

Competitive gaming provides a visible example of an old problem: repetitive motion/strain injuries, which occur when patients habitually perform awkward, uncommon movements and the associated nerves, muscles and tendons, which are unaccustomed to the strain, become inflamed. It’s not a new phenomenon; it simply goes by other names depending on the activity or occupation. For example, the condition lateral epicondylitis, which affects the outer elbow and forearm, was originally known as writer’s cramp and is now commonly referred to as tennis elbow.

But baseball pitchers can also suffer from tennis elbow, due to the torque they need to throw a curve ball. And since the advent of the personal computer and home video game markets, the number of tennis elbow diagnoses — not to mention other diagnoses of arm, wrist and hand conditions — has increased dramatically.

Dr. Levi Harrison is an orthopedic surgeon based out of Glendale, California. He deals with all manner of sports injuries, but he has found success and name recognition in the past several years as the gamers and esports doctor. Harrison notes that the gaming injuries he sees are not strictly limited to professional gamers; his youngest patient was eight years old and his oldest patient 90. Video games are not only AAA titles on consoles and PC rigs but also apps on smartphones. They are online poker and blackjack websites. They are educational titles for small children.

“I take care of everyone from elite gamers to weekend gamers to everyday gamers,” Harrison said. “And the major issue I find is overuse. [My patients] are gaming for up to 16 hours a day, especially the elite gamers. They don’t have have the proper ergonomic balance of their mouse and their desk, they don’t have the proper backrest, or they don’t know how to engage their posture. They have to learn how to sit properly and how to place their hands and elbows properly.”

When he meets a patient, Harrison asks a series of rhetorical questions.

“Why should you uncross your legs?” Harrison asked. “Why should you have the monitor a certain number of inches from your face? Why should you change the sensitivity of your mouse?”

To best assist his gamer patients, Harrison has them bring their keyboard, mouse or other gaming peripherals to his office, so that he can observe how they typically play. He can then adjust their sitting and posture; if the chair is too high in relation to the desk, for example, the wrists can be hyperflexed. If the chair is too low, the wrists can be hyperextended. Wrists are best situated in a neutral position.

Harrison analyzes their gaming so he can recommend a series of warm-ups and exercises. Different controllers, different games and different grips play a factor in this sort of preemptive measure. Does the player use a controller or mouse? If a controller, which type of controller? If a mouse, does the player use a palm grip or a claw grip? Does the player specialize in a fighting game like Tekken 7? Or maybe a real-time strategy game like Starcraft II? Harrison has exercises similar to those a physical therapist might provide, but most of them are specialized and devised by him to be therapeutic for gamers specifically.

“Every game has a specific type of stress and its own intrinsic issues,” Harrison said. “It’s individualized to the gamer as well as the game. If the gamer is using a keyboard, there are often problems with the wrist, elbow and fingers. If the gamer is using a controller, his or her thumb is the major digit that takes the hit.”

Both Harrison and his patients keep their relationships confidential. Obviously, Harrison has an ethical motivation, but the elite players have a more practical concern: They fear losing their sponsorships or giving their opponents a psychological edge. For these patients, Harrison tries to avoid surgery if possible; it’s always a risk, and too much downtime might affect a player’s livelihood. Harrison’s patients will often fly in to see him, and for those who cannot, he is available for Skype consultations. He also has several videos on his YouTube channel that go over some general stretching and exercise techniques.

Any gamer of any skill level can use these to improve their upper-extremity health.

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It’s very hard for a professional gamer to make a switch. If he or she has been playing on one mouse for years, moving it becomes second nature.

Clinton Loomis

But despite the warm-ups, the stretching and the proactive ergonomics, are esports injuries inevitable? What if the traditional mouse is simply not conducive to good health, particularly with high-volume usage? This is what inventor and Evoluent founder Jack Lo was thinking when he invented and patented the vertical mouse.

The theory behind the vertical mouse, as seen in the promotional video below, is that the handshake position, versus a palm-down position, is more natural and ergonomically sound, because it does not require the forearm bones to twist and put undue stress on the tendons. Lo came up with the idea while he was working as a patent agent — a job that required him to create diagrams and detailed drawings with a mouse. He was using a brand-name ergonomic horizontal mouse, where the palm faces downward, toward the desk.

“I found myself rotating my hand up to the vertical handshake position to relax and rest it before using the mouse again,” Lo recalled. “And I thought that it would be nice to have a mouse that would work that way.”

Lo patented his idea in 1994, and although some hardware companies showed interest, they all rejected the idea. Microsoft, for example, sent Lo a letter stating, “There are no proven biomechanic effects that we can speak of.” Lo was devastated. But in 2001, he decided to produce and market the mouse with his life savings. He worked with a distributor in China to get the mouse on shelves, and to this day, he still does all the design by himself.

“It’s mostly a one-man shop,” Lo said. “When you don’t have overheads, a small business like this can still be profitable.”

Today, Lo’s company, Evoluent, is very successful, and his invention has garnered praise from PC World, PC Magazine, TechTV and Business Insider, among others. There has never been a rigorous, clinical study of vertical-mouse design that proves the ergonomic benefits beyond a doubt, but the user reviews, many of which are written by doctors, physical therapists and sufferers of chronic wrist pain, paint a compelling portrait. Evoluent has released five generations of its vertical mouse, and Lo is currently designing the sixth generation, which will be out by the end of the year.

“The mouse has proved itself in the marketplace,” said Lo. “It’s not what I claim; it’s what my customers claim. It’s what my distributors and resellers tell me: that this is the leading mouse brand in ergonomics.”

Lo’s customer base is mostly comprised of businesspeople and home users. But what about esports athletes? Could a vertical mouse be a viable, competitive alternative to the traditional mouse? Lo states that some gamers have reached out to him, and during the next vertical-mouse release cycle, he plans on manufacturing a gaming-spec version, which he will send out to gamers to gauge interest.

Harrison does not endorse the vertical mouse — he wants to see more scientific backing behind it — but he believes it is viable in professional tournaments, as long as the player trains with it.

“If someone used a vertical mouse for five or six years and that’s all they used, then of course they’re going to be great at it.”

“It can be competitive; if someone used a vertical mouse for five or six years and that’s all they used, then of course they’re going to be great at it,” Harrison said. “But the vertical mouse hasn’t been out very long. It’s going to take time. Whatever elite gamers practice on most is what they can do well on.”

Loomis echoes this perspective. He appreciates the idea behind a vertical mouse, but its success in esports depends on a person’s experience with it. Loomis has been using a horizontal SteelSeries Sensei Raw for the past five years, but he’s currently in the process of switching over to a SteelSeries Rival 310.

“The Sensei Raw was a smaller mouse, which meant that there was less of an arch in your hand; hopefully, the Rival 310 [which is larger] will take some of the pressure off my carpal tunnels,” said Loomis. “I had a thumb problem, and I thought changing my hand posture would be good for me. But it’s very hard for a professional gamer to make a switch. If he or she has been playing on one mouse for years, moving it becomes second nature.”

“I’ve never seen vertical mice used for gaming,” said Jason Christian, product manager for SteelSeries. “But it’s definitely an interesting concept from what I’ve read and seen, and it’s something we’ll continue to monitor.”

Christian noted that many professional players use low dots-per-inch mouse settings. This equates to low sensitivity, which requires players to pick up and set down the mouse multiple times during a match. A proper gaming vertical mouse would need to account for that.

SteelSeries is currently focusing on refining the traditional mouse and keyboard for long-term play rather than rejecting the template altogether. The Rival 310 mouse, for example, is a product of player feedback on the Rival 300. Customer feedback called for better side grips, a smaller body and less weight; the company followed through on these requests.

Whatever a mouse’s design, any hardware solution to esports injuries must be competitively sound first and ergonomically sound second. There are so few professional players who can make a living as it is, and most players would rather a tournament edge than an unquantifiable injury preemption.

Evil_Geniuses_with_the_Aegis_at_The_Inte

In Sept. 2017, one year after he retired, Loomis announced that he was returning to Dota — not as a coach but as a full-time competitor. He’s following healthier habits this time, hoping to prolong this comeback for as long as possible. He does hand-stretching exercises before a match. He takes breaks between sessions rather than powering through the pain and ices down his muscles. And the sessions themselves are truncated. His teammates may play for 12 hours at a time, but Loomis won’t play for longer than five to six hours in a single session.

Surgery isn’t an option; Loomis’s doctor tells him that the severity of his arm injury isn’t high enough to warrant it. But he is seeing a doctor who’s going to closely monitor his health. And thanks to physical therapy, he has much better ergonomics, which he no longer budges on.

“Before, I just sat in a chair; I wasn’t picky at all,” Loomis said. “But now that I’ve had my arm injury, I’m very aware of what I need in a chair. Having armrests, making sure the chair is in line with the table, making sure there’s a backrest. I need good support, basically. If I don’t have that, then I don’t play at all.”

But even so, Loomis is closer to the end of his playing career than its beginning. His nickname, Old Man Fear, is a designation of respect, but it also has the ring of truth. Elite sports are a young person’s domain. Basketball players retire in their mid- to late thirties. Tennis players often hit their peak in their twenties. Most gymnasts retire in their teens. It takes someone exceptional to push beyond that and maintain optimal performance. Loomis is a 29-year-old player in a young esports community that grew up watching him. And even if he’s gaining wisdom as he’s losing his physicality, it’ll catch up to him eventually.

And because he’s seen it happen to other players, Loomis has been preparing for the day he hangs up his gear for good. He’s part-owner of Evil Geniuses, which gives him financial security. And he can always return to his coaching role, which suits his even, quiet temperament. But in the meantime, he’s grateful for his remaining time as a player and is trying to focus on the present, despite being aware of his limitations.

“Playing any sport, or wanting to be a professional athlete, is always going to be a gamble,” Loomis said. “And most players who are successful focus on the moment. But when you become older, it’s important to become self-aware.”

Image credits: SteelSeries (Mouse and keyboard photos); Dr. Levi Harrison, MD. (Dr. Levi Harrison, MD.); Evil Geniuses (Clinton Loomis photos).

29
Sep

8BitDo brings its wireless controllers to the SNES Classic


The SNES Classic is a cute microconsole with a hell of a selection of games. While it’s a pretty accurate recreation of the original number, and its controller cords are indeed longer than the NES Classic Edition that preceded it, the modern convenience of wireless controllers is hard to beat. The good news is that if you ordered up one of 8BitDo’s wireless SNES-styled gamepads and have last year’s Retro Receiver, it’ll work with the miniature 16-bit console in a pinch. Don’t have one? Then the company has something new, just for you — the SN30, a 2.5G wireless controller built specifically for the SNES Classic Edition.

A spokesperson tells us that the Retro Receiver used with the NES Classic Edition is indeed compatible with its newer counterpart. “We’re going to release a firmware update very soon so everybody who already owns those can use them,” the company said in an email. “Otherwise the SN30 2.5G is made specifically for the SNES Classic.” So if you’ve just picked up yours from the store, maybe mosey on over to 8BitDo’s to add some modern flair to Nintendo’s latest nostalgia machine.

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Source: 8BitDo

29
Sep

The best travel tripod


By Erin Lodi

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology. When readers choose to buy The Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. Read the full article here.

For less than $200, the MeFoto RoadTrip Travel Tripod is the best travel tripod for people who need to stow one in a carry-on bag for the flight home or easily strap one to a backpack for a multiday hike. Among the current crop of travel tripods, the MeFoto RoadTrip collapses smaller and weighs a bit less than most of the competition (when collapsed, it’s a bit longer than a standard folded umbrella) but maintains a height and load capacity that are on a par with those of a full-size tripod—and at a competitive price.

Who this is for

A travel tripod is essentially any tripod that collapses down small enough to be easily carried attached to a hiking bag or inside a carry-on suitcase. They’re smaller and lighter than their full-size brethren, and though they might not be quite as stable or have as many extra features as a bigger model, they make up for that in portability. For our purposes, it ought to be able to hold up the sort of gear the average user might bring while traveling or backpacking: a midrange DSLR and a zoom lens.

How we picked and tested

The first step of paring the dozens of nearly identical travel tripods that flood that market was research. We read lots of tripod reviews from actual users, scanned forum posts to determine what features were important, and talked with a number of experts. Eventually, we decided that the best travel tripods are less than 20 inches in length, weigh less than 4 pounds, have at least a 6-pound weight capacity, and were made of aluminum. We also prefered tripods that come with ball head mounts, which are smaller and easier to adjust than other types of heads.

We eventually settled on eight models to test, and used them while travelling around Hawaii. We took them hiking, onto a wet, slippery boat for some whale watching, and to the beach, making note of what features and criteria were important for real-world use.

Our pick

Tripod guru Jeff Mitchell of Glazer’s Camera was quick to point out the MeFoto RoadTrip.

The MeFoto RoadTrip Travel Tripod is the best travel tripod for your next excursion. It is lighter and can collapse smaller and more easily than most of the competition. It includes a ball head mount and comes in 12 bright colors. The MeFoto collapses down to a nifty 15.4 inches, weighs just 3.6 pounds and can expand to 61.6 inches with the center column extended. It’s rated for a load capacity of 17.6 pounds. You can also twist one leg off to quickly convert it to a monopod with a thick grip padding, and can attach optional spiked feet for use in slippery conditions. The RoadTrip also has a center column hook for hanging weight to increase stability.

As with everything, the MeFoto isn’t quite perfect—but many of the downsides are concessions that you have to make due to it being small enough to easily take traveling. This won’t be the tallest tripod you’ve used and it won’t hold your longest telephoto on your heaviest DSLR, but you’re sacrificing a bit of height and load capacity for portability. We also wish that the MeFoto had a slightly larger center column hook.

The (occasionally cheaper) runner-up

When fully extended, our top pick, the MeFoto at right, and the bargain version, the Dolica LA600 Pro at left, are very similar.

The Dolica LX600B502DS is our runner-up, and is a good pick if you can find it on the cheap and don’t mind it being just a little bit bigger than the MeFoto. It’s quite similar to the MeFoto (and exactly the same weight), but our top pick pulled ahead by offering an extra 1.6 inches in height. The MeFoto also collapses down to be more than an inch smaller than the Dolica. An inch may not seem like much, but it’s helpful when packing the tripod into a bag. Like our top pick, the Dolica can hold a load capacity on a par with full-size tripods.

We actually preferred the Dolica’s leg lock mechanism over the MeFoto’s, because it was simpler to lock into place, and the Dolica does offer a center column hook that’s easier for sausage fingers to access. The Dolica also had grip on each leg, rather than just on one with the MeFoto, but they don’t feel quite as high-quality as the MeFoto’s.

The budget pick

If you’re looking to spend less than $100, the Dolica LA600 Pro is only 1 inch longer than our main pick when collapsed and a tiny bit heavier, but it lacks many of the extra features and functionality that we like from the MeFoto RoadTrip. This budget tripod squeezed down to 16.5 inches, weighs 3.75 pounds, has a maximum height of 60 inches, and 15-pound maximum weight support. Combine that with the inclusion of a gear hook for stability, and you have a competently specced affordable travel tripod.

But it’s missing features that we think are critical: It uses the more-bulky flip locks, rather than sleeker and smaller twist versions, you can’t remove the center column for use as a monopod, and it won’t let you convert the feet to spikes for working in extra-slippery conditions.

A more mobile full-size option

We recommend the MeFoto BackPacker Air—a step down from the RoadTrip—if you value a tripod that emphasizes portability and simplicity over stability and fine-grained control. The BackPacker Air weighs about a pound and a half less than our top pick (2 pounds versus 3.6 pounds), collapses to just 10.4 inches when folded, and has a center column that converts into a selfie stick with a spring-loaded phone mount and a Bluetooth remote control. It’s not quite as tall as the MeFoto RoadTrip, but it still has some important features such as a reversible center column with a hook and a ball head mount. The BackPacker Air has a much lower maximum load weight (8.8 pounds versus 17.6 pounds for the MeFoto RoadTrip), and is also trickier to adjust than our top pick. It’s also missing some of the bells and whistles found on our top pick, such as a monopod or spiked feet.

Flexible, but not in a multipurpose way

One very different option to a traditional travel tripod is the popular GorillaPod line from Joby. These tripods can handle everything from a smartphone to a medium-size mirrorless camera to a full-size DSLR with heavy lens. Rather than having legs that lock into place, the GorillaPod has flexible limbs that can be wrapped around a nearby pole or tree, or anything that’s handy really. They’re small, affordable, and ideal for use with smartphones or lighter cameras, but they don’t provide nearly as much stabilization or any of the features found in our top pick.

This guide may have been updated by The Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

Note from The Wirecutter: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.

29
Sep

Sci-fi is a big part of Amazon’s upcoming TV slate


When it comes to the new TV shows that Amazon is focusing on, Jeff Bezos handed down a mandate to Amazon Studios chief Roy Price: “Bring me Game of Thrones.” It appears that the studio is taking that seriously. They’ve announced three new high-concept science fiction series are in the works: Lazarus, Snow Crash and Ringworld.

Lazarus is based on a comic book series from creators Greg Rucka and Michael Lark. It’s set in a distant future where the Earth is controlled by 16 families, each of which have a one-person enforcer that works as an assassin called a Lazarus. Rucka and Lark will write and executive produce the show, along with Angela Chen Caplan.

Snow Crash, based on Neal Stephenson’s famous novel, is also set on an Earth of the future, in which the main character, Hiro Protagonist, is a pizza delivery boy. But by night, he’s a warrior in a virtual reality called the Metaverse. This series is being co-produced with Paramount Pictures, with Joe Cornish and Frank Marshall as executive producers.

Finally, Ringworld is based on the popular sci-fi series from the 1970s by Larry Niven. Louis Gridley Wu is celebrating his 200th birthday on Earth, and he’s bored. When he’s given the chance to go on a voyage deep into space to explore an alien construction, he doesn’t hesitate to sign up. The series will be co-produced by MGM.

Amazon’s announced an ambitious slate of programming over the past few months. They’re putting a lot of money behind their television series, and it’s clear that they are serious about being a world-class studio for both TV and movies.

Via: The Verge

Source: Variety

29
Sep

A mini version of the Commodore 64 is coming in 2018


It’s hard to deny the popularity of Nintendo’s retro mini systems. After all, demand far outstripped supply for the mini version of the original console, and the same is expected to happen for today’s SNES release. It’s not a surprise, then, that other companies are getting in on the action. Retro Games is launching a mini version of the 1982 computer Commodore 64 called the C64 Mini. It will be available in early 2018, with a price point of $70.

The C64 Mini, which is half the size of the original version, will come with 64 preinstalled licensed games, including California Games, Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe and Paradroid. You can find a more complete list of games on their website.

It comes with a wired joystick, a charging cable and will connect to your TV via an HDMI port, but you can also use any standard PC USB keyboard to interface with it. The C64 Mini will have a save game capability and filtering options such as CRT, pixel perfect and scanline emulation. You can upgrade your console’s firmware via a USB flash drive. Retro Games is also planning a full-sized version of the C64 for late 2018.

Via: EuroGamer

Source: Retro Games

29
Sep

Study Finds Significant Number of Macs Running Out-of-Date Firmware Susceptible to Critical Exploits


A new research paper from Duo Security, shared by Ars Technica, reveals that a significant number of Macs are running out-of-date EFI versions, leaving them susceptible to critical pre-boot firmware exploits.

The security firm analyzed 73,324 Macs used in production environments and found that, on average, 4.2 percent of the systems were running the incorrect EFI version relative to the model and version of macOS or OS X installed.

The percentage of incorrect EFI versions varies greatly depending on the model. The late 2015 21.5″ iMac had the highest occurrence of incorrect EFI firmware, with 43 percent of systems running incorrect versions.

EFI, which stands for Extensible Firmware Interface, bridges a Mac’s hardware, firmware, and operating system together to enable it to go from power-on to booting macOS. EFI operates at a lower level than both the operating system and hypervisors, providing attackers with a greater level of control.

Successful attack of a system’s UEFI implementation provides an attacker with powerful capabilities in terms of stealth, persistence, and direct access to hardware, all in an OS and VMM independent manner.

Duo Security found that 47 models capable of running OS X Yosemite, OS X El Capitan, or macOS Sierra, for example, did not have an EFI security patch for the Thunderstrike exploit publicly disclosed nearly three years ago.

The research paper noted that there seems to be something interfering with the way bundled EFI updates are installed alongside macOS, while some Macs never received EFI updates whatsoever, but it doesn’t know exactly why.

There seems to be something interfering with the way bundled EFI firmware updates are getting installed, leading to systems running old EFI versions. We are not able to give an exact reason why, but there are significant discrepancies between the firmware version that is actually running on real world production systems and the version that is expected to be running, given the OS build. This means that even if your Mac is still receiving security patch support, there is a non-trivial chance that your system is not running the latest version, even though you thought it was installed.

While its research paper is focused on Apple, Duo Security said the same if not worse EFI issues likely affect PCs running Windows or Linux.

In response to the research paper, Apple said it appreciates the research on the industry-wide issue and noted that macOS High Sierra automatically validates a Mac’s EFI on a weekly basis to ensure it hasn’t been tampered with.

We appreciate Duo’s work on this industry-wide issue and noting Apple’s leading approach to this challenge. Apple continues to work diligently in the area of firmware security and we’re always exploring ways to make our systems even more secure. In order to provide a safer and more secure experience in this area, macOS High Sierra automatically validates Mac firmware weekly.

In a related blog post, Duo Security said users should check if they are running the latest version of EFI on their Macs, and it has released a tool to help do so. It also recommends updating to the latest version of macOS High Sierra.

Tags: security, Apple security, EFI
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29
Sep

Apple Acquires Regaind, a French Computer Vision Startup Focused on Photo and Facial Analysis


Apple has acquired Regaind, a small French artificial intelligence startup focused on photo and facial analysis, according to TechCrunch.

Apple essentially confirmed the deal with its standard statement:

Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.

Regaind has developed a computer vision API that can extract “game-changing insights” from images, according to its website.

We help businesses and developers deal with massive flows of images by using state-of-the-art artificial intelligence to analyze and sort them. Your problem is often not reduced to finding a photo of a “sailboat” or of a “lion”: it’s also about finding the right one for your specific use, among many others. Regaind enables you to understand the content of an image, as well as to assess its technical and aesthetical values, so as to maximize your impact with high quality photos.

Regaind is able to analyze the aesthetics, sharpness, exposure, colors, and other properties of photos, and use that information to boost or promote the most relevant ones in a meaningful way.

Regaind’s computer vision API can also detect faces in a photo, as well as the gender, age, and emotion of the people that appear. It’s possible that Apple is already using this technology for facial recognition features like Animoji in the iPhone X, and there could be additional implementations to follow.

Apple could use Regaind’s technology to improve the Memories feature in the Photos app on iOS, for example, which already intelligently curates photos and videos based on activities, trips, holidays, people, pets, and more.

Tags: Apple acquisition, Regaind
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