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23
Nov

Best iOS app deals of the day! 6 paid iPhone apps for free for a limited time


Everyone likes Apple apps, but sometimes the best ones are a bit expensive. Now and then, developers put paid apps on sale for free for a limited time, but you have to snatch them up while you have the chance. Here are the latest and greatest iOS app deals available from the iOS App Store.

These apps normally cost money and this sale lasts for a limited time only. If you go to the App Store and it says the app costs money, that means the deal has expired and you will be charged. 

Meditation Time

The “Meditation Time App” is a simple and clean timer for your meditation session. It lets you set the duration of your meditation and offers a mindfulness bell that rings at an adjustable interval. Choose from a wide variety of Tibetan singing bowls for the gong.

Available on:

iOS

English Spanish Dictionary

Simple and user-friendly options can enhance your Spanish-learning experience. You only need an internet connection for the images in this app and the spelling checker; otherwise, you can pick up a new language just about anywhere.

Available on:

iOS

Little Nugget

Use Little Nugget to personalize pregnancy and baby milestones by adding custom artwork and text to your baby pics in seconds. You can safely save your photos in a private feed or share them on social media.

Available on:

iOS

I Am

How many negative thoughts have been endlessly repeating in your mind? Daily affirmations help rewire our brains, build self-esteem, and change negative thought patterns.

Available on:

iOS

Relax Rain

Designed with simplicity in mind, Relax Rain is the simplest way to enjoy the relaxing and soothing sound of rain falling. Open up the app and sounds start playing automatically so you can relax, unwind, meditate, or just get some quiet time right away.

Available on:

iOS

Best Greeting Cards Maker

Create unlimited eCards for any occasion with just one single app. Whether you need to send one for the holidays, a birthday, or just because, this app can help.

Available on:

iOS




23
Nov

Don’t print with crappy plastic. Here’s the best 3D printing filament you can buy


Filament is to 3D printers what gasoline is to cars. You need it in order to run your machine; you can get it from a variety of different places; and it’s available in various levels of quality. Not all filament is created equally. Just as you can fill your car’s tank with premium gas to make it run better, it’s also possible to load up your printer with nicer filament that will optimize the machine’s performance.

But what filament should you choose? Before you purchase your next spool of plastic from the bargain bins of the internet, check out this handy guide to the best 3D printing filament out there. Your printer will thank you.

Hatchbox: cheap, reliable, and vast

Hatchbox is a 3D printing enthusiast’s dream store. Whether you need just one spool or fifty of them, Hatchbox has you covered. With every color of PLA and ABS you could ever dream of, along with other specialized filaments like PETG and TPU, you won’t just find what you need here — you’ll also find what you want.

Plus, in addition to its regular catalog of plastics, Hatchbox offers a variety of limited edition filaments, such as their special glow-in-the-dark PLA. Overall, Hatchbox is arguably the top dog when it comes to material variety, color options, and consistent quality from spool to spool.

Proto-Pasta: fun, personal, and interesting

ProtoPlant is the only company on this list that makes filament with its own proprietary industrial extrusion technology. Why does that matter? Well, basically, it gives the company a higher degree of control over what kinds of materials it can process, as well as more control over the quality of the end result.

Thanks to this tech, ProtoPlant can be (and is) highly experimental with its filaments. It was the first company to release a carbon fiber composite reinforced PLA, and has since gone on to release a wide range of other incredible materials, including steel, iron, high temperature, and conductive PLA. We’re definitely excited to see what these guys will think up next.

Taulman: professional, strong, and nylon

Nylon and PETG are materials that are unfamiliar to many 3D printing enthusiasts, but highly sought after by others. While more expensive, nylon and PETG filaments offer numerous advantages over traditional plastics like PLA and ABS. As such, you’d think that tracking down these high quality plastics would be a chore, right?

Well, not with Taulman. With a thick catalog of plastics ranging from regular PLA to silky smooth nylon and PETG, Taulman has you covered. As an added bonus, the company’s site is also super straightforward and professional. If you’re looking for a specific type of performance, Taulman’s no-nonsense spec breakdowns will ensure you find exactly what you’re after.

3Dfuel: eco-friendly and pleasant smelling

3Dfuel has an interesting policy on what goes into its plastics, and by that we mean that, well — just about anything goes into its plastics. We’re not just talking eco-friendly biodegradable stuff, either — we’re talking filament made from various kinds of industrial waste. In addition to normal spools of thermoplastic, the company makes filament from coffee waste, old beer wort, and discarded hemp stalks. There’s even one, called  “landfillament” that’s created from upcycled landfill plastic. Thankfully the “landfillament” is left out of the aromatic category that the coffee and beer plastics fall into.

If all that craziness isn’t enough for you, and you want some more traditional plastics to put through your machine, 3Dfuel also offers a wide range of PLA spools. From standard printing plastic to high-end stuff, 3D-Fuel has not only the plastic, but also the information to help you make the right choice.

NinjaTek: technical, flexible, and professional

So we’ve got ultra-tough plastic, coffee- and beer-based plastic, and glowing plastic on this list. What else could you possibly want? How about flexibility. NinjaTek is the leader in flexible filament production, and offers a wide range of plastics that allow you to create soft, squishable parts in your printer.

Now to be fair, lots of printing companies offer some sort of soft or flexible filament option these days — but in our experience, none can hold a handle to NinjaTek’s plastic in terms of durability and performance.




23
Nov

This is what happens when A.I. tries to reimagine Stanley Kubrick’s films


Thanks to his classic sci-fi movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, filmmaker Stanley Kubrick helped introduce the general public to the topic of artificial intelligence. Almost 50 years on, that movie’s HAL 9000 character continues to be one of the most enduring representations of A.I. in entertainment — and has helped inform everything from the design of smart assistants like Siri and Google Assistant to debates about the perils of machine intelligence. But what would modern-day A.I. make of Kubrick’s work?

That slightly offbeat premise is the basis of an intriguing project — called Neural Kubrick — from researchers at the U.K.’s Interactive Architecture Lab. The idea behind the project is to look at how artificial intelligence can impact filmmaking, an issue which speaks to a larger question about whether or not A.I. can be considered creative.

The exhibition created by researchers Anirudhan Iyengar, Ioulia Marouda, and Hesham Hattab, involves a multi-screen installation and deep neural networks which reinterpret scenes from 2001 and two other celebrated Kubrick movies: A Clockwork Orange and The Shining.

“Three machine learning algorithms take up the most significant roles in [our] A.I. film crew — that of art director, film editor, and director of photography,” Iyengar told Digital Trends. “There is a Generative Adversarial Network (GAN) that reimagines new cinematic compositions, based on the features it interprets from the input dataset of movie frames. There is a Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) that classifies visual similarities between inputted scenes and a dataset of hundreds of different movies, used to mimic the kind of decision making a film editor makes. And there is a Recurrent Neural Network (RNN), that analyzes the camera path coordinates of a cinematic sequence, and generates new camera paths to reshoot the original input sequence in virtual space — mimicking the role of a director of photography.”

The results of the Neural Kubrick experiment can be seen by checking out the website. It’s conceptual stuff, but it’s interesting because of the questions it poses about A.I. For instance, who is the author of a piece of work designed by an A.I.: The algorithm or its original programmer? Does any trace of Kubrick’s (very human) mastery of cinema remain when you’re trying to train a machine to replicate some of his decisions?

“It was intriguing for us to compare what meaning the machine makes of the given scene when all it interprets is features, patterns, zeroes, and ones,” Marouda told us.

The scenes generated by Neural Kubrick aren’t exactly entertaining in the classic sense, but they’re definitely interesting. At the very least, it’s difficult to imagine that Kubrick — a filmmaker known for pushing the technological limits of filmmaking — wouldn’t have been intrigued by the results!




23
Nov

This is what happens when A.I. tries to reimagine Stanley Kubrick’s films


Thanks to his classic sci-fi movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, filmmaker Stanley Kubrick helped introduce the general public to the topic of artificial intelligence. Almost 50 years on, that movie’s HAL 9000 character continues to be one of the most enduring representations of A.I. in entertainment — and has helped inform everything from the design of smart assistants like Siri and Google Assistant to debates about the perils of machine intelligence. But what would modern-day A.I. make of Kubrick’s work?

That slightly offbeat premise is the basis of an intriguing project — called Neural Kubrick — from researchers at the U.K.’s Interactive Architecture Lab. The idea behind the project is to look at how artificial intelligence can impact filmmaking, an issue which speaks to a larger question about whether or not A.I. can be considered creative.

The exhibition created by researchers Anirudhan Iyengar, Ioulia Marouda, and Hesham Hattab, involves a multi-screen installation and deep neural networks which reinterpret scenes from 2001 and two other celebrated Kubrick movies: A Clockwork Orange and The Shining.

“Three machine learning algorithms take up the most significant roles in [our] A.I. film crew — that of art director, film editor, and director of photography,” Iyengar told Digital Trends. “There is a Generative Adversarial Network (GAN) that reimagines new cinematic compositions, based on the features it interprets from the input dataset of movie frames. There is a Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) that classifies visual similarities between inputted scenes and a dataset of hundreds of different movies, used to mimic the kind of decision making a film editor makes. And there is a Recurrent Neural Network (RNN), that analyzes the camera path coordinates of a cinematic sequence, and generates new camera paths to reshoot the original input sequence in virtual space — mimicking the role of a director of photography.”

The results of the Neural Kubrick experiment can be seen by checking out the website. It’s conceptual stuff, but it’s interesting because of the questions it poses about A.I. For instance, who is the author of a piece of work designed by an A.I.: The algorithm or its original programmer? Does any trace of Kubrick’s (very human) mastery of cinema remain when you’re trying to train a machine to replicate some of his decisions?

“It was intriguing for us to compare what meaning the machine makes of the given scene when all it interprets is features, patterns, zeroes, and ones,” Marouda told us.

The scenes generated by Neural Kubrick aren’t exactly entertaining in the classic sense, but they’re definitely interesting. At the very least, it’s difficult to imagine that Kubrick — a filmmaker known for pushing the technological limits of filmmaking — wouldn’t have been intrigued by the results!




23
Nov

Action Launcher review: The Swiss Army home screen


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Android is constantly changing, and so is its home screen.

The home screen sets Android apart from other mobile platforms, and it’s an excellent marker to judge Android’s state and evolution. Folders have gotten more advanced (and far more fashionable) in the last two years. Live wallpapers are starting to experience a bit of a revival. Most importantly, launchers themselves have evolved and been refined, with gestures becoming a far more normalized and integral part of the experience. While many launchers have begun to add gestures to launch the app drawer and other specific actions, gestures have been at the core of the Action Launcher experience for years, and they help make it one of the most intuitive and customizable launchers on the platform.

Action Launcher’s evolution

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Action Launcher has been around for almost five years now, and in that time it has undergone a few significant evolutions. Almost three years ago, developer Chris Lacy completely re-imagined Action Launcher into Action Launcher 3, which made angry waves among Android users, as it required them to buy a fresh Plus version to unlock the paid features again. Then this summer, Action Launcher dropped the 3 to become Action Launcher again.

Action Launcher’s features have evolved and been refined over the years to better imitate Google’s vision of the home screen, while still offering up the customization and gesture-based UI that its users can quite quickly become addicted to. It’s no secret that Action Launcher has a following that’s almost as fervent as fellow market veteran Nova Launcher, including our own Modern Dad Phil Nickinson, and it’s because Action Launcher is easy to get your home screen exactly the way you want and then keep it that way.

Hidden treasures

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Action Launcher allows you to lay out your home screens with a desktop grid and padding to your liking, but the true magic comes in when we start getting crazy with gesture features. Enable the Quickdrawer for a vertical app list that you can swipe in from the left edge of the screen. Enable Quickpage to get an extra page of widgets and app shortcut space you can summon from the right.

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Then we have Covers and Shutters. Covers and Shutters enable Action Launcher to hide unsightly folders and widgets in plain sight by hiding them under normal-looking app shortcuts. Covers make folders practically invisible, setting the first app in the folder as both the folder icon and the tap action for the folder, while swiping up on the new icon will open the folder. Shutters allow you to swipe up or down on an app shortcut on your home screen or Quickpage and open a folder-like window containing a widget from that app. These tools allow you to nest Shutters inside Covers and hide both elements inside a clean-looking home screen. Once you get used to them, it’s pretty hard to go back to anything else.

One of the most prominent — and customizable — tentpoles of Action Launcher is its persistent search bar, called the Quickbar. Action Launcher goes beyond the boring one-function search bars most launchers use and allows you to add extra functionality, such as shortcuts to your favorite apps and the Quickdrawer. Action Launcher recently added the ability to colorize the icons in your Quickbar to be more vibrant and better match your themes. You can dock your Quickbar at the top of the screen, or at the bottom of the dock in the Pixel 2 style.

Tenacious delight

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Once you get the launcher set up the way you want, Action Launcher has a few features to make theming an existing home screen layout a breeze. Quicktheme allows Action Launcher to pull colors for its various elements from the set wallpaper, and from some wallpaper apps like Muzei. This means that changing themes can be as easy as just changing a wallpaper, as the launcher colors will automatically adjust. The most you’ll have to do is perhaps switch color types and change icon packs. The only downfall here is that Action Launcher sometimes misses the desired colors in a particularly vibrant wallpaper, or in most live wallpapers.

Action Launcher has adapted quite admirably over the years, quickly implementing Pixel folders last year and both the dock searchbar, notification previews and At A Glance widgets from this year’s Pixel 2 home screen. Action Launcher has even made the Pixel setup the default for the launcher, allowing new users to get to a Google-esque look without having to set everything up from scratch.

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Conclusion

There’s still more ground to be broken by Action Launcher, but rest assured this launcher is one of the best on the market. So long as it thoughtfully adapts and evolves along the Android system as a whole, there’s no doubt in my mind Action Launcher will be worthy of hosting your home screen. Which Action Launcher features keep you coming back? Are there any features you feel are still missing after almost five years of launcher loveliness?

Let us know in the comments below!

23
Nov

How to fix Google Pixel 2 battery life problems


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Everyone wants longer battery life.

On overwhelming majority of people have had a great experience with their Pixel 2 or 2 XL battery life. The Pixel 2 XL offers expectedly good battery life with its larger capacity, but even the Pixel 2 with just 2700mAh has been a champ. But we all use our phones differently, and maybe over time you’re finding your Pixel 2 or 2 XL isn’t getting the battery life you need — or at the very least, has dropped off some from when you first got it.

Degradation of battery life over time is something you can observe on any smartphone, but there are ways to improve your battery life and make sure you’re getting the best possible life out of the capacity you have to work with. Here are some tips for making the most of your Pixel 2 or 2 XL’s battery.

Check for power-hungry apps

This is the big one. Most of the time when someone sees a sudden drop-off in battery, it’s related to a bad app. It could be an app you’ve had for some time that’s now doing something different, or has received an update, or it could be something new you installed for one reason or another. Either way, it’s often hard to tell when an app (or three) is the culprit draining your battery.

It won’t be hard to pick out the app that is taking a hit to your battery.

At the end of a day (to get the most complete data), go into your battery settings and scroll down to see what percentage of your day’s battery was consumed by which apps. If you see a single app using more than 5% of your battery, think about what exactly that app was doing and if it justifies that much usage. It could be a one-time issue with the app that a “force stop” will fix, or it may take more investigation into the app itself to see if settings can be tweaked to calm it down.

Sometimes, you’ll find it’s just a badly designed app that isn’t being a good battery citizen on your phone. If it’s critical to keep the app around you can keep it installed, but if it’s something you can live without you should uninstall it and find something else that can do the job while taking up less battery.

Uninstall unused apps

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This is pretty simple: an app can’t drain your battery if it isn’t installed. We all get excited about different apps at some point or another and install them, then don’t touch them ever again — these are great candidates to be uninstalled if you’re experiencing weak battery life.

Once you’ve installed an app once it’ll be connected to your Google Account in the Play Store, so you can always re-install it with minimal effort later.

Turn off always-on display

Always-on display doesn’t have a huge effect on battery life, but any time your screen is turned on even partially it’s using up battery. Go into Display settings and turn off “Always-on” — a nice compromise between battery and convenience is to keep “Lift to check phone” turn on so it will illuminate when you pick it up.

Turn down screen brightness

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Hey at some point you have to turn the screen on. To reduce the amount of battery your screen is using when it is on, just reduce its screen brightness. The best balance for most people will be to just leave automatic brightness turned on, as you won’t be burning up precious battery in dim areas but you’ll still be able to see the screen when it gets bright outside.

But if you’re super paranoid about battery, head back into those Display settings and turn off “Adaptive brightness.” Now you’ll have to adjust it manually using the brightness slider in the notification shade quick settings.

Reduce display sleep time

Following the same logic of reducing the amount of time your screen is on, you can set your display to go to sleep quickly when it isn’t being interacted with. By default the Pixel 2 is set to stay on for a full minute without being touched, but you can set it as low as 15 seconds if you’d prefer to save battery instead of having the convenience of the screen being awake.

You’ll also find this in the Display settings, when you tap “Sleep.” Most people will probably find a nice middle ground with 30 seconds.

Use a static wallpaper

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Out of the box the Pixel 2 and 2 XL use a fantastic “living” wallpaper that subtly animates to make the phone feel a bit more active. It looks unique, but also uses up battery — you can swap to an equally cool looking static wallpaper to save the juice.

Enter your Display settings again (or long press on an empty home screen place) to choose from one of dozens of great pre-installed wallpapers. Or, of course, pick one online. A nice compromise here may be to use one of the main categories in the wallpaper settings that automatically swaps in a fresh image every day — the download happens once, and only on Wi-Fi, so you don’t have to worry about battery or data usage.

Make your charging time count

No matter what you do, sooner or later you’ll have to charge your phone. Whether it’s in the car on the way home from work after a hard day of phone use, or in the late morning because you forgot to charge over night, the best thing you can do is use the best charger for the job so you get off of that plug as fast as possible. Whether you’re using a wall plug, car charger or portable battery, the technology you’re looking for to get the fastest charging is “USB-C Power Delivery.”

We all have to charge — make the most of that time.

The wall charger that comes in the box with your phone of course has Power Delivery, but you’ll also find some other common chargers, like those that come with the top-end iPad Pro and new MacBook Pros, also have USB-C PD. The popularity of some newer phones and devices like the Nintendo Switch have boosted the number of portable batteries with USB-C PD as well, though most that support the standard are larger in capacity rather than the compact ~5000mAh kind.

Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL

  • Pixel 2 FAQ: Everything you need to know!
  • Google Pixel 2 and 2 XL review: The new standard
  • Google Pixel 2 specs
  • Google Pixel 2 vs. Pixel 2 XL: What’s the difference?
  • Join our Pixel 2 forums

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Best Buy

23
Nov

1Password X brings me closer to using a Chromebook full-time


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A new app could have you more comfortable using a Chromebook for everything.

Every few months, I open a Chromebook — most recently, the Pixelbook — and attempt to use it as my main computer for a few days.

In the past, that’s been difficult; so much of my life is tied up in a very particular workflow that, over the years, I’ve refined to a sharp point. It’s not that complex, but there are certain apps and services that need to be available and relatively easy to use or the whole thing goes to hell pretty quickly.

Since Google added Android app support to Chrome, I’ve regularly dipped into the world of Chromebooks without feeling a strong tug to return to safety. Apps like Adobe Lightroom, which I use every day to edit photos, and Dropbox, where I store the vast majority of my life’s most important files, are now much more accessible. More importantly, they’re not limited to web portals that store nothing locally. They’re good — not great, but good — alternatives to having native versions on my Mac or Windows PC.

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But there’s always been one part of the puzzle missing, an aspect of my workflow that, when switching to Chrome full-time, I deeply miss: 1Password. Specifically, I miss the interaction between the native 1Password app on Mac or PC and its Chrome extension, which I use all the time to recall and autofill impossible-to-remember login information for the services I rely on every day. Other services, like Dashlane, also have native Chrome support, while others, like Enpass, rely on a combination of an Android app and a Chrome hook.

It used to be that 1Password didn’t work at all in the browser; I simply couldn’t access my logins unless I had a phone nearby. That changed when the company moved to a centralized, cloud-based system that, provided I had another logged-in device at hand to automate the onboarding process, allowed me to access and manually copy my usernames and passwords into a web field. It was neither efficient nor enjoyable, but it was something.

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That’s all changed now. 1Password X, which quietly emerged from beta in mid-November, is a native Chrome app that provides the exact same functionality in the browser as a Mac or PC equivalent running behind the scenes. While the 1.0 version doesn’t support every feature of its cross-platform counterparts — you can’t yet modify the granularity of auto-generated passwords, and it only works in Chrome right now — it’s a good start. Eventually, 1Password plans to support Firefox, Safari and Microsoft Edge, but given most of the world uses Google’s browser, the move makes sense. Oh, and the impetus for 1Password X was ostensibly Linux support, a thread for which reportedly received over 75,000 views in the company’s support forums. So it also works with the world’s most popular OS, too.

Setting up 1Password X is simple. You download the Chrome extension and sign in through a simple web interface. The most complicated aspect of this process is recalling the Secret Key, 1Password’s special sauce that adds an additional layer of protection to the login process. (You will, of course, need a 1Password membership, which costs $36 USD per year for a single user and $60 for a family of up to five people.)

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Once it’s online, 1Password X performs two main functions: it allows you to manually call usernames and passwords from within a Vault; and in some cases, it offers an autofill popup, similar to the sleek new Android Oreo implementation. 1Password X also supports one-time passwords, so you won’t need a separate extension like Authy if you’re running a Chromebook.

After using 1Password X for a few days, I’m closer than ever to being able to use my Pixelbook, or any Chromebook, as my main computer. There are still some things that I can’t do, like truly resource-intensive video editing, but for day-long excursions, Chrome OS is looking increasingly capable. The combination of native solutions like 1Password X and the increased stability and usability of Android apps in resizeable Chrome windows makes all the difference.

Learn more about 1Password X

Chromebooks

  • The best Chromebooks
  • Should you buy a Chromebook?
  • Google Play is coming to Chromebooks
  • Acer Chromebook 14 review
  • Join our Chromebook forums

23
Nov

Pornhub owner may become the UK’s gatekeeper of online porn


NSFW Warning: This story may contain links to and descriptions or images of explicit sexual acts.

Mindgeek may be the most powerful company that you’ve never heard of, or at least, a company you’ll claim never to have heard about in polite company. It’s the conglomerate that owns some of the world’s most visited porn sites, including Pornhub, RedTube and YouPorn. Far from simply being a popular and free way for people to consume adult content, it may soon have a powerful political role in the UK that will ensure its dominance for decades to come. That’s because, within the next year, Mindgeek may become the principal gatekeeper between the country’s internet users and their porn.

In April, the UK passed the Digital Economy Act 2017, legislation that mandated that any website showing adult content must verify the ages of its visitors. It was pushed through in response to concerns that children were being corrupted by easy access to and exposure to adult content at an early age. Section 15(1) of the bill requires that “pornographic material” not be published online, on a “commercial basis,” unless it is “not normally accessible by those under 18.” The bill has several flaws, not least the number of vague proposals it contains, and the ad hoc definition of what pornography actually is.

Section 17 of the same act outlined the creation of an “age-verification regulator,” the digital equivalent of a bouncer standing between you and your porn. This gatekeeper will have the right, and duty, to demand you show proof of age, or else refuse you access. In addition, the body will be able to impose fines and enforcement notices on those who either neglect or circumvent the policy.

Myles Jackman on the Digital Economy Act a year before it was passed.

The punishments it will have in its arsenal will not be trivial, either, and include being able to serve injunctions or otherwise force compliance. In addition, the financial penalties are capped at a maximum of either 5 percent of the company’s annual turnover or £250,000 ($329,000). Falling foul of the rules could be ruinous for a number of small businesses that fail to comply for any number of reasons.

Businesses that do comply may also potentially lose a significant amount of money by implementing age verification. It’s currently assumed that the burden will be passed on to the sites themselves, which, again, could threaten many sites. It’s believed that one such verification system will charge around $0.07 per verification, which could substantially eat into the already slender revenues for some websites.

“Mindgeek has had several conversations with officials and is currently working on its own age verification platform, called AgeID.”

There are plenty of ifs and buts, because very few of the key decisions surrounding the program have been made. The government has yet to nominate a regulator to enforce the bill’s provisions, although it’s presumed that the British Board of Film Classification will be given the task. The BBFC is, however, an industry body set up by the film industry in 1913 to avoid direct government regulation and censorship.

The Open Rights Group believes that the BBFC will then hand over the actual mechanisms of the age verification platform to a third party in the private sector. Mindgeek has had several conversations with officials and is currently pushing its own age verification platform, AgeID. If selected, this platform could become the principal wall between Britons and their pornography — giving Mindgeek enormous power in the market. The service is already available in Germany, which restricts a wide variety of online services to those over 18, including violent video games, films with an 18 certificate and adult content.

“Obscenity lawyer” Myles Jackman wrote in his blog that he believes the government has ceded its responsibility to regulate the law it is enacting. Instead, it is handing “regulatory liability to a non-Governmental body founded by the film industry (the BBFC).” He added that passing the age verification role to a private sector company is similarly unwise.

Mindgeek’s discussions with the UK government are a matter of public record, as are some of the documents relating to the discussions. In one email, an unnamed Mindgeek representative proposed the gray-listing — essentially a temporary block — of more than four million URLs that (British ISP) Sky has cataloged. Each one of these sites, including Twitter, would then be contacted and told to sign up to the age verification system — like Mindgeek’s nascent AgeID — or face blacklisting. A Mindgeek spokesperson confirmed to Engadget that it believes up to 25 million Britons could sign up to its system.

Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group is critical of the plans, saying that the “approach is almost certain to go wrong.” By leaving the choice of age verification platform up to the websites, it hands Mindgeek all of the power. Similarly, he feels that, whatever happens, the result will be “the censorship of legal material.” And that the tools offered to the regulator are “purely a policy and financial choice,” rather than limited by more specific factors.

The idea is that a user will sign up to AgeID once and then have what Pornhub VP Corey Price describes as a “seamless browsing experience.” The executive believes that the approach will ensure users can move between compliant sites without “hitting multiple age verification walls.”

Pornographer Pandora/Blake, who has criticized the age verification platform, explained that the government has “written Mindgeek a blank check.” “Smaller sites like mine,” they argued, “will effectively have to pay a ‘Mindgeek tax’ to our biggest competitor.”

Adam Grayson, CFO of Evil Angel, can, at least, see the business sense of what Mindgeek is doing, even if it’s not great for the wider industry: “Mindgeek, very astutely, is trying to position themselves as a central place, the logic being that everyone goes to Pornhub at some point.” He added that if he were Mindgeek, he’d “probably take a similar approach. ‘I’m already the biggest porn brand in the world, I have the most traffic, I should just consolidate my power.’”

Pornhub VP Corey Price refutes the company’s implied role as a bully of the adult content industry and denies that AgeID is a tax on users or third parties. “We do not believe that age verification costs should be passed on to customers,” he said, adding that it’ll be “completely free to all users.” As for the smaller sites, like Pandora/Blake’s, Price said that Mindgeek will license AgeID “in a fair, cost-effective manner, based on the size of their UK traffic.” The executive believes that his company’s age verification platform will make life easy for “advertisers, affiliates and [our] competitors.”

Whatever happens, it doesn’t appear that there’s been any scrutiny about whether Mindgeek is a fit and proper body for this responsibility. In 2014, the company was described by David Auerbach in Slate as “a porn provider. Or more accurately, the porn provider.” It is not simply one of several competing adult content outlets selling their wares online, but a behemoth that has been described by many as a monopoly. Mindgeek could well command the attention of around 100 million users.

It’s also been postulated that the company could be the world’s third-biggest user of internet bandwidth, although, again, these figures are nearly impossible to verify. Pornhub is the world’s most trafficked porn website, with an Alexa Ranking of 39. Numbers 1 through 38 are either Google’s various local domains, or the online utilities that we all take for granted, like Facebook, Wikipedia, Reddit, Taobao, Amazon, Twitter and Weibo. Between the various other outlets that Mindgeek hosts and owns, it’s extraordinarily likely that if you’ve wanted to get your rocks off, you’ve done it on a Mindgeek site.

Fabian Thylmann addresses the Oxford Union on the matter of sex work in 2015.

Mindgeek itself was founded by Fabian Thylmann, a German entrepreneur who built an empire out of free porn. After creating online tracking software used by the adult industry, Thylmann cashed out to buy his first porn website. Colin Rowntree, founder of Wasteland, one of the oldest BDSM websites still running on the internet today, said that “2007 was the perfect storm, between the banking and mortgage crises in the US, and then the launch of the tube sites.” That was when Thylmann, backed by a hefty Wall Street loan, went on a spending spree to acquire a raft of sites including Mansef, Interhub, MyDirtyHobby, Webcams.com and xTube. But in 2012, Thylmann was extradited to Germany on charges of tax evasion, forcing him to sell the company.

“Tube” sites like Pornhub and xTube are known as such because their business model mirrors that of YouTube. Users are encouraged to upload clips of their own creation for sharing and viewing, with few barriers to sharing copyrighted content. “There was a suspicion,” said Rowntree, that users who were uploading other producers’ videos to sites like Pornhub “were outsourced employees of the tubes.” He explained that the people were believed to be “buying memberships to pay sites, downloading [everything] as fast as they can and uploading it to build the libraries.”

And as those libraries grew, so did Mindgeek’s prominence, which enabled it to use its financial clout to buy other sites. The limits of this business were tested when producer Ventura Content filed a $6.75 million lawsuit, claiming that “tube sites maintain the fiction that they offer a forum for consumers to upload and share their own original user-generated adult video” but that in reality they were just “repositories for an extensive collection of infringing adult videos,” no better than Napster or Kazaa.

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Smaller sites like mine will effectively have to pay a ‘Mindgeek tax’ to our biggest competitor.

Pandora / Blake

The lawsuit was settled, and it remains an open question how ethically companies like Mindgeek behaved at the time. Eventually, Pornhub would launch a content partner program, letting third parties market their wares on the site. If you watched a clip from a specific studio, you’d be directed back to its site and encouraged to sign up for a paid-for subscription. There was only one downside: Mindgeek claims 50 percent of that cash as commission.

Mindgeek stands accused of becoming a behemoth on a diet of pirated content, but its size gave it enormous power. It held smaller studios hostage, forcing them to either engage in what Rowntree calls the DMCA “whac-a-mole” or let them take 50 percent of the sales. That hasn’t worked out well for sites like Wasteland, and Rowntree believes that his income has fallen by more than 35 percent. Rowntree also accuses Pornhub of being aggressively laissez-faire with respect to pirated clips from its partner program members — a charge Pornhub refutes.

If you visit Wasteland’s free Pornhub channel, you’ll see that the studio has uploaded 798 clips, which have been viewed a combined 35,469,654 times. Rowntree said that his staff, and the performers in the videos, have directly received nothing. “You get a banner underneath your movie, and if somebody clicks on it and buys, then we get the honor of paying the tube back 50 percent of the revenue.” Rowntree added that the sites “do send members, but it’s not significant — it’s certainly nothing like it used to be.”

Not everyone agrees with Rowntree. Evil Angel’s Adam Grayson called Mindgeek “the most civilized [tube site] of the bunch.” He added that he doesn’t think the site is “such an egregious violator of [his] intellectual property rights,” and that he likes the fact that it has offices in Canada. As for the matter of piracy itself, Grayson believes that free porn and the proliferation of tube sites are just a “reality of the business.” Grayson feels that the content hosted by tube sites are, essentially, advertising. “If Pornhub gets $100,000 of market value from our clips, and we only get $10,000, then I have no other way to rationalize it that the other $90,000 was marketing.”

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Mindgeek stands accused of becoming a behemoth on a diet of pirated content.

There has always been free porn, but the economics of the industry generally have relied upon people paying something for the material they consumed. With equipment, crew, locations and a cast, it costs roughly $1,500 to produce a “scene,” and with an average selling price between $20 and $30, each scene would require upwards of 60 purchases to break even. “Performers would get sometimes as much as $1,200 to $1,300 per scene back in the old days,” explained Wasteland’s Colin Rowntree. “Now they’re lucky to get that for an entire day where they’re shooting four scenes.” Later, he added that he feels “horrible for them, because, I mean, most of the performers are living hand-to-mouth.”

Pornhub launched Pornhub Premium as a way to remedy complaints from studios, promising a Netflix-esque subscription service for adult content connoisseurs. For a monthly fee of $9.99 (or $95.88 for the year), users can watch adult content in full HD, with no ads, exclusive access to full DVDs and new original content each day. For third-party studios on the service, Pornhub offers a revenue-sharing agreement that compensates them based on the number of views.

The figures involved, however, are ludicrously small, to the point that it’s barely worth bothering with the service. Several studios — which declined to be named in this article — shared evidence of how much money they were making from Pornhub Premium. Despite scoring thousands of views each month, the payment for each view is less than five cents. At that rate, a film costing $1,500 would need to be watched 30,000 times before it could even break even.

What consenting adults get up to behind closed doors shouldn’t be of interest to anyone outside those four walls. But if Mindgeek gets its way, it will be in the position to record an individual’s browsing habits and keep them alongside a user’s real name and personal data. Jackman said that there are “no safeguards specifically written into the law to ensure that over a third of its citizens’ most personal and private data is held privately and securely.”

And there is plenty of historical evidence to suggest that such a repository of information should not exist, for a variety of reasons. For a start, as the Ashley Madison breach showed, that data can be used to enable criminals to hack, extort and otherwise threaten individuals. News reports at the time also showed that two people are believed to have taken their own lives as a consequence of the hack.

In our report on data collection and sextech, we explained how the data recorded by connected devices could be used against us. Details of people’s intimate desires made public can be used to marginalize, persecute or even kill individuals, and even in the 21st century revealing one’s sexual preferences can threaten their life.

It should be a worry that Mindgeek’s previous history of data security isn’t particularly great, either. This year, Pornhub was subjected to a malvertising attack that was in operation for more than a year via its advertising network. In 2012, YouPorn was breached by hackers, exposing email addresses and passwords for more than a million users. Brazzers, another Mindgeek site, had 800,000 accounts exposed in a data breach in September 2016, while 73,000 were revealed when Digital Playground was hacked.

Corey Price doesn’t believe that AgeID should be judged on Mindgeek’s prior record, however, saying that the tool was “built in isolation” by a separate team in the UK. “AgeID has privacy at its core. It does not see, let alone store any personal data,” said Price on the potential security risks. The company believes that the data will be processed by third-party verification providers, and all information will be hashed. Consequently, should a well-resourced hacker gain access to the system, he or she won’t be able to pull out anything more than random strings of numbers.

There’s also the issue of people being encouraged to hand over their credit card data to be used in a way that it was not intended. In 2016, Alec Muffett wrote about how users could be habituated into behaving in a way that would make most security professionals tear their hair out in shame. Asking people to “type their credit card numbers into random sites on the internet” is something not to be done lightly, but people may believe that there’s no security risk because the process is “government-mandated.” This could spark a boom in identify thefts, spoof sites and fraud conducted by those smart enough to exploit that trust.

Right now, nothing is set in stone, and it’s entirely possible that all of these concerns are unfounded. But no matter how little politicians wish to be embroiled in the business of pornography, there may need to be proper scrutiny of its prospective gatekeepers. The fact that Mindgeek may be entrusted with the deepest, darkest secrets of millions of Britons shouldn’t be taken lightly.

23
Nov

Wirecutter’s best early deals for Black Friday


This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter, reviews for the real world. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, they may earn affiliate commissions that support their work. Read their continuously updated list of deals here.

Amazon Fire HD 10

Street Price: $150; Deal Price: $100

The 10″, newer model of our budget pick in our best Android tablets guide, with a big $50 discount.

The 10 is quite similar to the 8, and with this price, makes it much more interesting as a media consumption tablet. We wrote, “The 2017 Fire HD 8 is slower, has a lower-resolution screen, and is more limited than the ZenPad, but it’s a great cheap tablet for media consumption, especially for Amazon content.”

Amazon Fire TV Stick

Street Price: $40; Deal Price: $25

A new low on our runner-up pick in our best media streaming devices guide.

We wrote, “If you’re a heavy Prime video user or want voice search, the Fire TV Stick offers a compelling alternative to the Roku that has really improved over the past few months.”

Bose QuietComfort 25

Street Price: $280; Deal Price: $180

Our pick for 3 years running, this the first substantial sale we’ve ever seen on the Bose QuietComfort 25, a huge $100 off.

The Bose QuietComfort 25 is our pick in our best noise-cancelling headphones guide. We wrote, “The amount of noise reduced is incredible: noticeably and significantly more than the vast majority of noise-cancelling headphones. In our testing, they dropped an average of 24.2 dB of noise, including over 30 dB at some frequencies, and more low-bass reduction than any headphone we’ve tested.”

UE Roll 2

Street Price: $75; Deal Price: $50

While we’ve seen this price a few times, it’s only a few dollars above the best we’ve seen.

The UE Roll 2 is our pick in our best portable bluetooth speaker guide. We wrote, “The Roll 2 sounds full, with smooth reproduction of everything from bass notes to cymbals, and it plays loud enough to fill a hotel room or a spot at the beach with sound. It’s so watertight, it will survive being dunked 1 meter underwater for 30 minutes.”

OXO On 9-Cup Coffee Maker

Street Price: $200; Deal Price: $136

Only a few dollars off from the best price we’ve seen on our pick in our best coffee maker guide.

We wrote, “Simply put, the OXO On makes it easy to brew a really good cup of coffee. If you grind your beans to the correct particle size (which is extremely important) and weigh the grounds so they extract just enough, the OXO will take the reins from there.”

GoPro Hero5 Black + $50 Gift Card

Street Price: $450; Deal Price: $350

Even with a new model out, drops are rare. This discount + the extra giftcard make this a great deal.

The GoPro Hero5 Black is our pick in our best action camera guide. We wrote, “The Hero5 Black builds on the success of its predecessor, the Hero4 Silver, with new features that significantly enhance its usability. The built-in waterproofing is the most important addition, since it means you can shoot anywhere, anytime, without fiddling with a case.”

Netgear Orbi RBK50

Street Price: $350; Deal Price: $280

We haven’t seen this drop below $320 before now, so save some money on one of the easiest ways to improve your home network.

The Netgear Orbi RBK50 is our pick in our best wi-fi mesh-networking kit guide. We wrote, “Netgear’s Orbi RBK50 is the best Wi-Fi mesh kit for most people, because it covers all the bases in the simplest way. It ranked at or near the top of the pack for throughput in every location we tested, and it required far less of our time and effort than most of the kits we tested for it to do its best.”

9.7-inch iPad (5th generation)

Street Price: $330; Deal Price: $250

While we have seen drops to around the $300 range, this sale drops an extra $30 off of previous prices and makes for a new low

The 9.7-inch iPad (5th generation) is our pick in our iPad guide. We wrote, “The things that have made all iPads great tablets—such as an unbeatable selection of outstanding apps, stellar hardware quality, long battery life, and unrivaled customer support—help them continue to best other tablets on the market.”

Oculus Rift + Touch

Street Price: $400; Deal Price: $350

The first drop below $400 we’ve seen, and it’s a big $50 savings.

The Oculus Rift + Touch is our pick in our best VR headsets for PC and PS4 guide. We wrote, “It’s clear Oculus put a lot of thought into building a headset that will appeal to gaming veterans and newcomers alike with a comfy fit, quick startup process, and wide range of content.”

Apple Watch Series 1

Street Price: $280; Deal Price: $210

Already a good sale, but if you use your Target Redcard, you can get an additional 5% off.

The Apple Watch Series 1 is our pick in our best smartwatch for iPhone users guide. We wrote, “If you want a smartwatch for managing your phone notifications, tracking activity and recreational exercise, and doing the gee-whiz things you can accomplish with apps (like texting with your voice or finger, checking sports scores, creating reminders, and adjusting your smart thermostat), the Apple Watch Series 1 is your best bet.”

Nikon D3400 (w/ AF-P DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR lens)

Street Price: $450; Deal Price: $397

While we used to see regular sales on the D3400, those have slowed down considerably. This latest deal matches the best price we’ve seen on this bundle.

The Nikon D3400 is our pick in our best DSLR for beginners guide. We wrote, “The Nikon D3400 is Nikon’s current entry-level model, and while it’s available for around $500, it can take better photos than cameras that sell for hundreds more.”

Because great deals happen more than once a week, sign up for our daily deals email and we’ll send you the best deals we find every weekday.

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

23
Nov

The best computer and mobile accessories to give as gifts


Perhaps the person on your list is already quite happy with their laptop or mobile device (slash, you’re not up to buying them a new one). There are plenty of accessories that make for affordable, and dare we say, practical gifts. Included in our holiday gift guide are two styles of keyboards, a high-end mouse, a battery pack, selfie and battery cases, a 400GB (!) microSDXC card, Bluetooth trackers and a wireless charging pad — useful for, say, a new iPhone owner.

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Source: Engadget Holiday Gift Guide 2017

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