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12
Apr

Misfit’s $150 slimmed-down hybrid watch is now available


You can now add Misfit Path, the brand’s slimmest hybrid watch yet, to the list of options to choose from if you’re looking to buy a high-tech arm candy. The wearable is now available for sale on Misfit’s website and will set you back at least $150, depending on the variant you choose and the number of interchangeable (16mm) silicon straps you buy. While the Path’s 38mm watchface makes it look like a regular timepiece, it has features its traditional counterparts can’t offer.

It can track your steps, calories burned, distances traveled and even your sleep duration. You can also take it swimming, since Misfit says it’s water resistant up to 164 feet. In addition to acting as your fitness companion, Path can also notify you if you have a new text message or email, or if there’s an incoming phone call. Simply create custom vibration patterns for each of them.

The downside is that, like many other Misfit devices, Path isn’t rechargeable: you’ll have to replace its cell battery every six months or so. If that isn’t a huge issue, you can check out and buy the available Path variants — Stainless Steel, Rose Tone, Gold Tone and Stainless Steel with Gold Tone Accent — on Misfit’s website.

Source: Misfit

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12
Apr

Jupiter’s north pole comes to life in this 3D infrared video


If nothing else, the spacecraft Juno, which is currently in an elongated orbit of Jupiter, has taught us that the largest planet in our solar system is weird. From spectacular photographs to readings that make us question what this giant even is, Juno has done a spectacular job uncovering the gas giant’s mysteries. Now, NASA has released a 3D infrared movie of Jupiter’s north polar region, depicting the intense storms in the area, as well as the dynamo that powers the planet’s massive magnetic field.

Scientists used the spacecraft’s Jovian InfraRed Auroral Mapper (JIRAM), which is able to capture light from deep inside Jupiter regardless of the time of day, to create this video. It is able to penetrate 30 to 45 miles below the planet’s cloud tops. Thanks to Juno and its instruments, scientists are finally uncovering the secrets behind the forces that power Jupiter’s magnetic field.

One such mystery is irregularities within the planet’s magnetic field intensity. Specifically, Jupiter’s magnetic field is intense and positive halfway between the north pole and the equator, but is flanked by less intense areas that are negative. In the southern hemisphere, the magnetic field is fully negative. Scientists would expect the planet’s magnetic field to be fairly fluid and uniform, but it turns out it’s more complicated than that.

“We’re finding that Jupiter’s magnetic field is unlike anything previously imagined,” said Jack Connerney of the Space Research Corporation. “Juno’s investigations of the magnetic environment at Jupiter represent the beginning of a new era in the studies of planetary dynamos.”

Source: NASA

12
Apr

Tougher regulation of Facebook is inevitable


Two long days of congressional hearings have come to an end for Mark Zuckerberg. But, the embattled Facebook CEO seems to have left members of Congress with more questions than answers about his company’s handling of user data, leading a number of them (both Democrats and Republicans) to float the idea of tougher regulations. Although more oversight means the government could keep a closer eye on how Facebook operates, there’s concern in the tech industry (and among free-market Republicans) that it could stifle innovation. That’s because only companies with deep pockets are likely to have the necessary resources to comply: While Facebook has the means to hire 15,000 people to monitor security, that may be hard for a startup to do.

Zuckerberg’s visit to Capitol Hill was the culmination of months of controversy over a number of issues for Facebook, including the spread of misinformation, hate speech and fake accounts on its platform. But the last straw came after news broke that Cambridge Analytica (CA), a political consulting firm with ties to the Trump campaign, had misused the private information of up to 87 million Facebook users. The CEO’s apology tour actually began last week, with a series of press interviews and updates to the company’s privacy policy. Zuckerberg said he was sorry and that Facebook’s recent mishaps were his mistake, and he echoed those sentiments in his testimony before the Senate Commerce and Judiciary Committees as well as the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Some members of Congress who questioned Zuckerberg, such as Senator Blumenthal (D-CT) Rep. Doyle (D-PA), believe Facebook may have violated a settlement it reached with the Federal Trade Commission in 2011. That decree accused Facebook of deceiving consumers by “telling them they could keep their information private and then repeatedly allowing it to be shared and made public” and, as a result, the company would be “barred from making misrepresentations about the privacy or security of consumers’ personal information,” among other things.

WASHINGTON DC - APRIL 10, 2018 One hundred cut outs of Facebook

We now know that Facebook learned about the Cambridge Analytica incident in 2015, but it wasn’t until last month that it disclosed what it described as a “breach of trust” by the consulting firm. And that was seemingly only because it learned that The New York Times and The Guardian were about the break the story. It also took Facebook more than two years to notify users whose data were affected, which it just started doing this week. Zuckerberg was asked if he was involved in the decision to not contact the users when the company became aware of the issue, and he said he didn’t know if there “were any conversations at Facebook overall because I wasn’t in a lot of them.”

While there’s a chance Facebook did violate its privacy deal with the FTC (Zuckerberg said he doesn’t believe that to be the case), the company won’t face any financial penalties regardless. The main issue is that the FTC, the primary body overseeing Facebook, doesn’t have strong enforcement powers. Even if the FTC does find that Facebook violated its 2011 agreement, the agency can’t impose fines because it would be considered a first-time violation. When you take into account that the company raked in a record $12.97 billion in revenue last quarter, most of which came from advertising, it can definitely afford to be held accountable for protecting people’s data.

“We continue to have these abuses and these data breaches, but, at the same time, it doesn’t seem like future activities are prevented.”

“We’ve been relying on self-regulation in your industry for the most part, and we’re trying to explore what we can do to prevent further breaches,” said Rep. DeGette (D-CO) on Wednesday. “We continue to have these abuses and these data breaches, but, at the same time, it doesn’t seem like future activities are prevented. And so I think one of the things that we need to look at in the future, as we work with you and others in the industry, is putting really robust penalties in place in case of improper actions.” Zuckerberg said that it’s likely Facebook will find that other apps abused user data like Cambridge Analytica, and promised to notify users quickly if that ends up being the case.

The idea of tougher regulation for Facebook (and other tech companies) seems to have bipartisan support, based on statements made by multiple members of Congress. Senator Klobuchar (D-MN) asked Zuckerberg if he would support a rule to notify users of a data breach within 72 hours, which he said he wouldn’t be opposed to. That would be a huge shift for his company, considering that it took it over two years to disclose the what happened with Cambridge Analytica.

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SAUL LOEB via Getty Images

Throughout the hearings, Zuckerberg repeatedly emphasized that he isn’t against the idea of Facebook being regulated, and pledged to work with policymakers on proposed rules. He also highlighted his support for digital advertising regulations like the Honest Ads Act, a bipartisan bill that proposes online advertising be regulated the same way print, radio and television are.

Senator Graham (R-SC), meanwhile, asked Zuckerberg if he thought Facebook had a monopoly, pointing to the acquisition of social media app Instagram in 2012. “It certainly doesn’t feel like that to me,” Zuckerberg said. “It is a good business decision,” added Senator Graham. “My point is that one way to regulate a company is through competition, through government regulation. Here’s the question that all of us got to answer: What do we tell our constituents, given what’s happened here, why we should let you self-regulate?”

Zuckerberg replied by saying that his position position is not that there should be no regulation. “I think the real question, as the internet becomes more important in people’s lives, is what is the right regulation, not whether there should be or not.” Graham then encouraged Zuckerberg to submit proposals to Congress, adding that “one way to regulate a company is through competition, through government regulation.” But the truth is that, with more than 2 billion monthly on Facebook alone (not counting Instagram), the company really doesn’t have much competition in the space. Twitter, in comparison, has 330 million monthly active users.

Senators and representatives also asked Zuckerberg if he would be open to the idea of implementing something similar to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which goes into effect on May 25th and aims to focus on data consent and strengthen protection for individuals’ private information on the web. Under these new rules, sites like Facebook will be held accountable for how they handle personal data from their users and would be compelled to respond when people request a report of the information a company has on them. It will also require that organizations be clear about what they’re doing with their users’ data, whether it’s ad targeting or user research.

If Facebook were to implement something similar to GDPR in the US, and around the world, that has the potential to solve a lot of the company’s problems. Still, one of the main concerns for various lawmakers is that Facebook isn’t transparent enough with its users, particularly when it comes to what it does with their personal data — even if they consensually give it to the company. “Your user agreement sucks,” Senator Kennedy (R-LA) told Zuckerberg on Tuesday, in one of the hearing’s more memorable moments.

“The purpose of a user agreement is to cover Facebook’s rear end, not inform users of their rights.”

“The purpose of a user agreement is to cover Facebook’s rear end, not inform users of their rights.” Kennedy added, “I’m going to suggest to you that you go back home and rewrite it. And tell your $1,200-an-hour lawyers — no disrespect, they’re good — you want it written in English, so the average American can understand it.” This is something Facebook has already started to fix.

Just last week, Facebook updated its terms of service and data policy to make it easier for users to understand, thanks to a more straightforward language that doesn’t require a law degree to process. It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s worth noticing that the privacy policy itself largely remains the same — this change was mostly about adding language that’s easier for the average Facebook user to discern. Zuckerberg said that if Facebook continues to not communicate its policies clearly, “then that’s something we need to work on.”

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We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. And it was my mistake. And I’m sorry.

Mark Zuckerberg

Among the most ambitious proposals was a consumer privacy bill of rights designed to protect people’s personal data, which was introduced during Tuesday’s hearing by Senator Blumenthal and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA). With the Customer Online Notification for Stopping Edge-provider Network Transgressions (CONSENT) Act, the FTC would be required “to establish privacy protections for customers of online edge providers like Facebook and Google.” Zuckerberg said that the details of these types of proposed regulations “matter a lot,” but that if it makes sense, he would fully support it. “If it’s the right regulation, we’ll welcome it,” he said. “I think that’s a discussion that needs to happen.”

Still, Senator Blumenthal said he has reservations about Zuckerberg’s testimony. “I don’t see how you can change your business model to maximize profit over privacy,” he said, “unless there are specific rules from an outside agency. I have no assurance that these vague commitments will produce any action.”

As earnest as Zuckerberg seemed during both hearings, he also has a track record of empty apologies. If he really wants to earn people’s trust back, he’s going to have to do more than just say sorry and actually prove that he’s willing to put users’ privacy protections over Facebook’s bottom line. Stronger federal regulation likely won’t happen overnight (or at all so long as Republicans control Congress), but that may ultimately be where we’re headed. This probably isn’t the last Zuckerberg has heard from Congress.

Images: Getty Images (All)

12
Apr

BenQ’s HT2550 is a well-priced 4K projector with some minor issues


4K video is made to be seen on very large screens, and projectors are the cheapest way to do that. High-end models from Sony are out of reach, price-wise, for most of us, but cheap 4K projectors from BenQ, Optoma and others are finally hitting the market. One of the cheapest and most interesting is BenQ’s HT2550 (known as the W1700 in some markets), priced at $1,500 and packing true 4K and HDR resolution. It delivers perhaps the most detailed image of any cheap new 4K projector, but it has a few flaws that should give you pause.

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Features

Physically, the BenQ HT2550 looks pretty sharp, and with a white body and black-and-gold front, should fit into most home theater decors. At 10 pounds, it’s relatively light and compact compared to rival models like Epson’s Home Cinema 4000, making it easy to take it down from the ceiling and use for night wall projections in summer, for instance.

The HT2550 DLP projector has a pixel resolution of 1080p, not 4K. To get 4K, it “pixel shifts” the image four times, producing a true Ultra HD (3,840 x 2,160) result. Texas Instruments manufactures the tiny DLP chip and promises that you do get 4K worth of pixels on the screen.

The reason BenQ, Optoma, Acer and other manufacturers don’t use true 3,840 x 2,160 chips — when you can buy a 55-inch TV with that actual resolution for $500 — is cost. While the pixels on a TV are relatively large, putting the same number on a 0.47-inch chip is a lot harder. Until the prices drop, the only place you’ll see them is high-end cinema projectors from the likes of Christie, or spendy home units from Sony and JVC.

The Ultra HD tech used by BenQ is a cheat, but it’s a good cheat. Keep in mind that with any 4K projector, or TV for that matter, many viewers won’t discern the extra detail in 4K anyway. Even aficionados say that the improvement is between 10-20 percent over 1080p under optimal viewing conditions. That means sitting fairly close (around six to eight feet) to a 100-inch screen. My own screen yields an 80-inch picture, so I sat even closer to best judge the image.

It outputs a healthy 2,200 lumens of light, but you won’t get that unless you’re in bright mode, which infects the image with a green tint. Lamp life is rated for 4,000 hours in bright mode, but several times more than that under regular use. It also offers 3D, making it one of the few 4K projectors under $2,000 with that feature.

The HT2550 can output 1.07 billion colors (30 bits) with native 16:9 support and HDR, so you can expect smooth color gradients and detail in dark and bright areas. Input lag is 50ms, which is okay but probably not good enough for many gamers — the best projectors for that have lag less than 20 milliseconds. Finally, the HT2550 has a single 5W speaker that’s actually good enough to use in a pinch, with less tinny sound than most models but still a far cry from a home-theater system.

Setup

The HT2550 has a 1.2 zoom lens and keystone digital adjustment support, but no optical lens shift to square the image. That means I needed to have the projector lens in the center of the screen, at a fairly tight distance, and just above or below the top or bottom of the screen, which I did, luckily. If you need to use the keystone adjustment, it can distort or reduce the resolution of the image, unlike a shift lens — which is available on the rival $1,800 Optoma UHD 60.

Connection-wise, the BenQ HT2550 has an HDMI 2.0 port for 4K, 60Hz video and an HDMI 1.4 port for anything less. I have 1Gbps fiber internet and a 4K TV decoder with HDR support, along with a 4K HDR Google Chromecast Ultra. So that brings up one issue. Because both of those devices have to be connected to the HDMI 2.0 port to deliver 4K HDR, I also had to invest in a decent switch.

Here’s another problem. It’s impossible for me to use my 4K cable decoder from the spot where it normally sits, connected to the projector by a 10m (33 foot) cable. As mentioned, 4K is only supported by the box via an HDMI 2.0 port, but there’s no image when it’s connected with the long cable. With a shorter cable, however, it works just fine.

Most projector installations, I’d guess, are permanently mounted on the ceiling, so cable length issues are more likely to affect projectors than TVs. As others have pointed out, this problem happens much more with HDMI 2.0 and can be device dependent. My Chromecast Ultra, for instance, does work with 4K HDR and the 10m cable. To fix the issue with the 4K TV decoder, I might need to change the cable or use some kind of signal booster.

Performance

The HT2550 is reasonably bright, letting you watch TV casually with some ambient light. If you want to appreciate the 4K and HDR, however, you’ll need to reduce the room brightness as much as possible. Contrast is also relatively low at a rated 10,000:1. If you need a brighter, more contrasty projector, you’ll probably want to look at the Optoma’s much brighter $1,800 UDH60 4K projector, which has 3,000 lumens compared to the BenQ’s 2,200 lumens.

Brightness and contrast are further reduced in 3D. If you’ll only use that setting from time to time, that’s not a deal breaker, but if you have a big collection of 3D DVDs, you might want to investigate a brighter 3D projector like Epson’s $1,800 Home Cinema 4000.

The BenQ model produces a true 4K image at 24, 30 and 60 Hz (you can see that for yourself using a test pattern like this one). It can upsample HD, but to my eyes, it was clearly sharper with the 4K video I viewed, including Netflix programs like Jessica Jones, The Crown, Altered Carbon and Stranger Things.

The sharpness, however, varies depending on the distance you are from the screen. About 12 to 15 feet away, I can see the difference in fine details like hair or landscape scenes. The more you watch and get used to 4K, the easier it is to appreciate its superiority over HD, regardless of viewing distance.

The difference with HDR is a bit subtler. The BenQ HT2550 is supposed to automatically detect and activate HDR, but it doesn’t always do so. With Stranger Things, for instance, I had to force it into HDR mode to get it to work. Once it’s turned on, the result is a punchier image with more detail in brighter and darker regions. HDR10, however, is an inferior system compared to Dolby Vision or Samsung and Amazon’s HDR10+, so don’t expect miracles.

In terms of color accuracy, the BenQ’s projection is a touch blue out of the box, so if you’re a maniac for true colors, or just want a warmer image, you’ll need to calibrate it first. If you take the time to set up the colors first, though, you’ll get much more accurate and punchier colors in both HDR and standard 4K modes. Personally, I changed the default color temperature from cool to normal and bumped the contrast two percent, which fixed the blue issue and made the image less muddy.

The picture is excellent for the price, but the BenQ HT2550 is not without its faults. In standard (not quiet) mode, I found the fan noise can be excessive and even buzzy, something that other buyers have noticed as well. The projector also had some early quality control issues, as the 3D didn’t work for many folks who bought it when it first came out, and BenQ had to issue a firmware patch.

Another bothersome issue is light leaking. It projects a dark gray frame a few inches wide that will fall on the walls around your screen. If your walls are white like mine, it’s noticeable. Projector Central notes that all projectors using that DLP chip have the same problem.

Wrap-up

Despite some issues, BenQ’s HT2550 is one of a handful of ground-breaking projectors that finally offer 4K at an entry-level price. At $1,500, it’s certainly one of the cheapest ways to deliver a 100-plus-inch, 4K HDR image. For around the same price, you can get a good-quality 4K 65-inch TV, but stepping up just 10 inches to a 75-inch model will cost you thousands more.

I’ve spent a few weeks with the HT2550 and used it as my regular TV. I’m consistently impressed with the image quality, especially when watching high-quality drama series and movies that have been carefully graded for HDR. As someone who wants to replicate the cinema experience at home without spending a fortune, the HT2550 fulfills my needs nearly perfectly.

12
Apr

Facebook can’t move fast to fix the things it broke


Facebook’s old motto was “move fast and break things,” a sort of hacker rallying cry that put product evolution over basically everything else. Realizing that the demands placed on a massive, publicly traded company required a new outlook, Facebook officially changed that motto to “move fast with stable infrastructure” in mid-2014. For all the changes that have occurred within and around Facebook, it’s particularly telling that “move fast” is the one part of the company credo that remains untouched: It speaks to the company’s endless drive for growth but dodges the notion that speed and thorough thinking don’t always go hand in hand. After watching Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg get grilled by committees from both chambers of Congress over the past two days, it seems that Facebook can’t move fast enough.

Considering that speed of growth and development remains core to the Facebook ethos, it’s little surprise that the social giant hasn’t completely fleshed out its understanding of its role and responsibilities to its users. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) even invoked Facebook’s first mantra and asked whether the company made missteps or bad judgments as a result of its tendency to move fast and break things. Zuckerberg quickly said yes. “I do think that we made mistakes because of that,” he said. “But the broadest mistakes that we made here are not taking a broad enough view of our responsibility.”

He later added, “I think the big mistake that we’ve made looking back on this is viewing our responsibility as just building tools rather than viewing our whole responsibility as making sure that those tools are used for good.”

Of all the flaws that have been exposed as a result of the Cambridge Analytica debacle, this seems like the most fundamental — and potentially the most damning. Zuckerberg essentially admitted that Facebook’s leadership didn’t have the vision to see how its myriad products could be exploited. That corporate sin, borne from a culture of speed and innovation above all else, continues to haunt the company. And despite how quickly Facebook established itself as a purveyor of essential products, none of the forward steps the company is taking will be particularly fast.

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Getty Images

How could they be? Facebook should’ve acted more decisively when the Cambridge Analytica saga began to unfold — instead, it was surprisingly slow to pick up on what actually happened. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Zuckerberg was taken to task by some members of Congress for not acting on the Cambridge Analytica situation — and some of the underlying issues that made the debacle possible — any sooner. Zuckerberg conceded to Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) that even though Facebook itself didn’t sell user data to Cambridge Analytica, it happened on his watch and indicated that his company’s responsibility should be to “prevent that and be able to take action sooner.” Not long after that, he admitted in response to a question from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) that one of his “greatest regrets in running the company” was that Facebook was “slow in identifying the Russian information operations in 2016.”

While some representatives and senators spent their four or five minutes with Zuckerberg stumbling over themselves trying to look chummy, most pressed the young CEO for insight into the investigations and policy changes that have arisen because of Cambridge Analytica. And many of them were curious as to how quickly Facebook would be able to complete the crucial work of understanding the extent of its personal-data liabilities.

Consider Facebook’s ongoing investigation into the tens of thousands of apps that had access to large amounts of personal data, like “This Is Your Digital Life,” which is at the heart of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. When Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH) pressed for detail on how long it would take to complete the audit, Zuckerberg declined to comment on the time needed to review a single app but said the overall process would take “many months.” (When Schakowsky asked if the audit could actually require years, Zuckerberg could only respond, “I hope not.”)

The logo of social networking site Facebook is reflected on the screen of a smartphone resting on a laptop keyboard. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski/PA Images via Getty Images)

To be clear, Facebook’s stiff founder didn’t spend his entire time on Capitol Hill fielding questions about Cambridge Analytica. Members of Congress also pressed Zuckerberg for answers about how quickly it could implement new privacy features and tools to help manage hate speech. Spoiler alert: He didn’t have much in the way of fast fixes on other subjects either. Zuckerberg told Rep. Gene Green (D-TX) today that enhanced privacy protections like those afforded to European users under GDPR would be extended to others around the world. Naturally, this prompted someone else — in this case, Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA) — to ask when US users could expect such protections to kick in. Zuckerberg’s response? “Congressman, we’re working on doing that as quickly as possible. I don’t have the exact date yet.”

And while Facebook pledged to have more than 20,000 people working specifically on security and content review by the end of this year, Zuckerberg also noted the importance of artificial intelligence tools to better weed out dangerous conversations at scale. Such tools are already being used to root out terrorist propaganda and have seen significant success: The company said in 2017 that it can catch 99 percent of terrorist content before users flag it. When it comes to handling pervasive, divisive hate speech — which Zuckerberg conceded can be hard to distinguish from “legitimate political discourse” — the time frame widens pretty dramatically.

“Hate speech,” Zuckerberg began. “I am optimistic that, over a five-to-10-year period, we will have AI tools that can get into some of the nuances — the linguistic nuances of different types of content to be more accurate in flagging things for our systems.”

Like it or not, Facebook has been a part of our collective social fabric for more than 10 years, and I wouldn’t count on it going anywhere soon. Now that the company is more than a decade into its mission, though, it’s only becoming more clear that the foundation Facebook was built on is flawed. Building something can be fast, as Facebook has proved. But fixing it? That takes time.

12
Apr

Nintendo wants startups to pitch new Switch hardware ideas


If you thought Nintendo opening the Switch to new indie games every quarter was a big shift for the company, wait ’til you hear that it’s getting into startups. The venerable video game corporation has partnered with Scrum Ventures to find companies tinkering with new ways to play with or use Nintendo’s flagship console.

Scrum will consider ideas for new Switch tools from startups, teams in larger companies or university researchers, Bloomberg reported. Then the early-stage venture capital firm will workshop concepts with teams before they pitch them to Nintendo this fall. Scrum will only consider hardware ideas, which in itself is a new frontier for a game company that has always relied on trusted, established suppliers.

But the Switch has heralded an era of experimentation. The well-received Labo kits set to debut next week are a good example, blending DIY cardboard controllers with the console’s sensor-packed Joy-Cons and tablet-like central screen unit. Whatever Scrum finds will likely be a surprising use of the Switch’s existing hardware, but it’s just as shocking to see the famously protective and secretive Nintendo open its doors to third parties, large and small.

Source: Bloomberg

12
Apr

Amazon celebrates its Ring acquisition with $100 smart doorbells


Amazon’s acquisition of connected home company Ring is complete, and to celebrate, the online retail giant is offering a nice deal. You can now get a Ring Wi-Fi Enabled Video Doorbell in Satin Nickel for just $100. At the time of writing, the doorbell is currently not in stock until April 25, 2018, so people have clearly been taking advantage of this deal. This new pricing is permanent, not just a promotion.

It’s important to note this is for the original Ring doorbell, which was previously $133 on Amazon. The more recent Ring 2 doorbell retails for $199. The first iteration of the Ring doorbell is also £89 in the UK as a part of this price cut.

Ring isn’t the only smart home-related company that Amazon has purchased recently. It also acquired Blink, with its smart doorbells and wireless security cameras, back in December. And it recently expanded the service area of its Amazon Key smart lock program. All in all, Amazon has become a major player in the connected home market, and it will be interesting to see what the company does next.

Update: This article was corrected to clarify that this is not a temporary promotion. It is a permanent price cut.

Source: Business Wire

12
Apr

Apparently high-definition vinyl is coming next year


The process of making records hasn’t changed much over the last hundred or so years, but that itself could change soon. Austria-based Rebeat Innovation has begun the work to bring vinyl into the 21st century. Of course, that involves lasers. Specifically, converting analog audio information into a digital, 3D topographic map of the music, and then etching that into a platter with light. According to Pitchfork, this process will result in around 40 percent longer playing times per side, 30 percent more amplitude and will offer better sound quality overall. It’d also sidestep the chemicals typically used in the record-making process.

The first HD records won’t be in stores for awhile, though. Rebeat recently picked up a $4.8 million investment and it’s using $600,000 of that money to buy its laser system, which may not ship until this July. From there, the company needs to produce test stampers and find a handful (five) of pressing plants. The plan is to have test pressings ready for Detroit’s Making Vinyl conference this October, with LPs arriving at your favorite record store sometime next year.

Purists might scoff at the idea of vinyl needing any improvements, of course. But the fact remains that sound quality for records is all over the place and not everything lives up to the “vinyl just sounds better, man” credo your music-fiend friends crow about. That’s not to mention how inconvenient it can be to flip a plate every 15 to 20 minutes — especially in social or party situations. The increased amplitude might be nice, too, and with a hotter source you likely won’t have to crank your amp as loud.

Maybe best of all is that if HD vinyl takes the music world by storm, unlike UHD Blu-rays you won’t have to upgrade your equipment to listen to them. That’s right, your existing turntable will play these and your collection of vintage records. It probably won’t stop labels from putting out new versions of their classic catalogs at an even higher price, however.

Via: WhatHiFi

Source: Pitchfork

12
Apr

Tesla ends formal agreement to cooperate with NTSB on Model X crash


Tesla has been in an uncomfortable spotlight recently following the fatal crash of a Model X on March 23rd. Tesla’s Autopilot system was on in the car, and it steered the vehicle straight into a highway barrier, killing the driver. Now, according to The Wall Street Journal, Tesla has withdrawn from a formal cooperation agreement with the National Transportation Safety Board over the company’s public release of crash details.

The company has been on the defensive since the accident. A week after the crash, Tesla issued an update confirming that its semiautonomous driving system was engaged in the vehicle at the time of the accident. However, the company also stated that the driver’s hands had not been “on the wheel for six seconds prior to the collision,” despite multiple visual and audio warnings. Tesla’s Autopilot is semiautonomous and is not intended to be used without hands on the wheel.

The statement goes on to say, “The driver had about five seconds and 150 meters of unobstructed view of the concrete divider with the crushed crash attenuator, but the vehicle logs show that no action was taken.” The “crushed crash attenuator” refers to a safety barrier that was missing at the location of the collision due to an earlier accident in the same area.

It’s not a surprise that NTSB officials were displeased with Tesla’s public candor on the issue. And this week, Tesla officials issued another, even stronger statement that the Autopilot feature was not to blame for the crash. “The crash happened on a clear day with several hundred feet of visibility ahead, which means that the only way for this accident to have occurred is if Mr. Huang was not paying attention to the road, despite the car providing multiple warnings to do so,” the statement says in no uncertain terms.

Tesla is still willing to assist federal investigators with the accident investigation. However, the company has taken issue with the NTSB’s chastisement after it released details to the public about the crash. “Today, Tesla withdrew from the party agreement with the NTSB because it requires that we not release information about Autopilot to the public, a requirement which we believe fundamentally affects public safety negatively,” the company said in a statement to The Wall Street Journal. “We believe in transparency, so an agreement that prevents public release of information for over a year is unacceptable. Even though we won’t be a formal party, we will continue to provide technical assistance to the NTSB.”

It’s not clear what will happen from here. Until now, Tesla has been very cooperative in decoding vehicle data for the NTSB, and it looks as though that will continue. However, this isn’t a great precedent to set. It will be interesting to see what fallout there might be from this, especially as the NTSB’s investigation of the fatal Uber crash continues.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

12
Apr

‘Hearthstone’s first big expansion of 2018, ‘Witchwood,’ is live


With the release of the Witchwood expansion just now, Blizzard’s card game Hearthstone has officially ticked over into a new year. That means all of the cards from 2016 have rotated out of the competitive Standard mode — good riddance, Yogg Saron and Barnes — to make room for new ones. As was the case in previous years, this first new set of cards for the year is the best time for interested players to get in the game.

Rise up and reclaim The #Witchwood! Log in now to claim a random class Legendary card and three packs for free!

Now live in NA, EU and Asia regions: https://t.co/18fpiUKzOj pic.twitter.com/IDLYjFHvjW

— Hearthstone (@PlayHearthstone) April 12, 2018

Why is now the best time to start playing? Not only will Witchwood’s 135 new cards be viable for the longest time (two years) of all of 2018’s sets, but the whole game is in flux as old deck archetypes become obsolete. The turnover is a great period to experiment as players try out new strategies before the meta settles.

Like other expansions, Witchwood also brings new card types. The first, Echo, lets you play copies of the same card but only on that turn, letting you plunk down as many, say, 2-mana versions of a creature (or spell) as you want. The second, Rush, lets minions attack when they’re played, but not players. It’s a weaker version of the Charge mechanic, but this set introduces some synergy to get those cards in your hand. There are also new Worgen creatures that swap their attack and health each turn they’re in your hand. Lastly, keep a lookout for strategy-defining legendary cards like ‘Baku the Mooneater,’ which upgrades your hero power if you only include odd-cost cards in your deck.

As the Hearthstone team promised when they introduced the set, Witchwood will also add another free single-player mode: Monster Hunt. Much like the Dungeon Run that came in the previous expansion Kobolds and Catacombs, this new player-versus-computer adventure lets users add cards to their deck as they defeat colorful bosses. And that’s it! Go forth and play, card nerds.

Source: Hearthstone (Twitter)

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