technology

Bag Week 2018: The Bitcoin Genesis Block backpack will centralize your belongings

Posted by | Bag Week 2018, Bitcoin, blockchain, computing, cryptocurrencies, ethereum, Gadgets, TC, technology, United Kingdom, vitalik buterin | No Comments

Welcome to Bag Week 2018. Every year your faithful friends at TechCrunch spend an entire week looking at bags. Why? Because bags — often ignored but full of our important electronics — are the outward representations of our techie styles, and we put far too little thought into where we keep our most prized possessions.

It’s difficult to show people that you love blockchain. There are no cool hats, no rad t-shirts, and no outward signs – except a libertarian bent and a poster of a scantily-clad Vitalik Buterin on your bedroom wall – to tell the world you are into decentralized monetary systems. Until, of course, the Bitcoin Genesis Block Backpack.

Unlike the blockchain, this backpack will centralize your stuff in a fairly large, fairly standard backpack. There is little unique about the backpack itself – it’s a solid piece made of 100% polyester and includes ergonomically designed straps and a secret pocket – but it is printed with the Bitcoin Genesis Block including a headline about UK bank bailouts. In short, it’s Merkle tree-riffic.

The green and orange text looks a little Matrix-y but the entire thing is very fun and definitely a conversation starter. Again, I doubt this will last more than a few trips to Malta or the Luxembourg but it’s a great way to let Bitcoin whales know your ICO means business.

The bag comes to us from BitcoinShirt, a company that makes and sells bitcoin-related products and accepts multiple cryptocurrencies. While this backpack won’t stand up to 51% attacks on its structural integrity, it is a fun and cheap way to show the world you’re pro-Nakamoto.

So as we barrel headlong into a crypto future fear not, fashion-conscious smart contract lover: the Bitcoin Genesis Block backpack is here to show the world you’re well and truly HODLing. To the moon!

Read other Bag Week reviews here.

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Build your own L3-37 droid complete with voice interaction

Posted by | arduino, Droid, electronics, Gadgets, L3, robot, robotics, TC, technology, verizon wireless | No Comments

Robot maker Patrick Stefanski has created a 3D-printed – and animated – model of L3-37, the droid in the recent Solo movie. L3-37 is one of the funnest – and woke – droids in recent memory and this recreation is fun and ingenious.

Stefanski used Alexa voice controls to let the robot head respond to voice commands and he set the wake word to “Hey L3” to which the robot responds with a grumpy “What!”

The version you see above is painted and weathered but you can 3D print your own pristine version from here and then add in a Raspberry Pi and Arduino with a simple servo to control the head motion. In all it looks like a lot of fun and the hardest part will be printing all of the larger head parts necessary to recreate L3’s saucer-like dome.

It could make for a nice weekend project and looks to be surprisingly simple to build. Just don’t be surprised L3 rallies your DVR and air conditioner to revolt against attacks on droid rights.

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Netgear put a cable modem in latest Orbi wifi router

Posted by | cable modem, computing, digital cable, Gadgets, internet access, modems, Netgear, Router, technology, wi-fi, wifi router, wireless networking | No Comments

Generations ago, the internet spoke of an old saying that involved a man exhibiting excitement about hearing of a person’s love of an object, so he did favor, and put that something inside of something else. That’s what Netgear did here. Netgear heard people like the internet so much that the company put an internet modem inside a WiFi router.

The Orbi WiFi System with Built-in Cable Modem is just that. It’s an Orbi WiFi router with a DOCSIS® 3.0 cable modem built in. In theory this setup would make for easier setup and troubleshooting of internet issues while providing the home with great WiFi.

I have an Orbi system in my house and it’s wonderful. The system does a far better job at covering my home with WiFi than my previous single router setup. Including the cable modem in the setup, though, just makes sense and other networking companies would be smart to follow Netgear’s lead. Naturally, there’s a danger in including a cable modem in a router as one piece could become obsolete before the other but I would argue that most consumers upgrade their equipment every few years anyway.

This convenience comes at a cost. The router with built-in Orbi networking costs $299 and a system with an Orbi extender costs $399.

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Leaked iPhone pics show glass back and headphone jack

Posted by | Apple, apple inc, Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, computing, electronics, Gadgets, iOS, iPad, iPhone, iphone 5s, major, technology, wireless earbuds | No Comments

The headphone jack could still have a future in an iPhone. These leaked pics show an iPhone SE 2 with a glass back and headphone jack. Like the current iPhone SE, the design seems to be a take on the classic iPhone 5. I dig it.

The leak also states the upcoming device sports wireless charging, which puts it in line with the iPhone 8 and iPhone X.

Rumors have long stated that Apple was working on an updated iPhone SE. The original was released in March 16 and updated a year later with improved specs. With a 4-inch screen, the iPhone SE is the smallest iPhone Apple offers and also the cheapest.

WWDC in early June is the next major Apple event and could play host for the launch of this phone. Last month, around the iPhone SE’s birthday, Apple held a special event in a Chicago school to launch an education-focused iPad. It’s logical that Apple pushed the launch of this new iPhone SE to WWDC to give the iPad event breathing room.

While Apple cut the headphone jack from its flagship devices, the SE looks to retain the connection. It makes sense. The low-cost iPhone is key for Apple in growing markets across the world where the last two models helped grow iOS’s market penetration. This is Apple’s low-cost offering and thus suggests Apple doesn’t expect buyers to also spring for its wireless earbuds.

If released at WWDC or later in the year, the iPhone SE looks to serve consumers who enjoy smaller phones with headphone jacks. That’s me.

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Meet the quantum blockchain that works like a time machine

Posted by | Bitcoin, blockchain, computing, cryptocurrencies, decentralization, Gadgets, information, Startups, TC, technology | No Comments

A new — and theoretical — system for blockchain-based data storage could ensure that hackers will not be able to crack cryptocurrencies once the quantum era starts. The idea, proposed by researchers at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, would secure cryptocurrency futures for decades using a blockchain technology that is like a time machine.

You can check out their findings here.

To understand what’s going on here we have to define some terms. A blockchain stores every transaction in a system on what amounts to an immutable record of events. The work necessary for maintaining and confirming this immutable record is what is commonly known as mining. But this technology — which the paper’s co-author Del Rajan claims will make up “10 percent of global GDP… by 2027” — will become insecure in an era of quantum computers.

Therefore the solution to store a blockchain in a quantum era requires a quantum blockchain using a series of entangled photons. Further, Spectrum writes: “Essentially, current records in a quantum blockchain are not merely linked to a record of the past, but rather a record in the past, one that does not exist anymore.”

Yeah, it’s weird.

From the paper intro:

Our method involves encoding the blockchain into a temporal GHZ (Greenberger–Horne–Zeilinger) state of photons that do not simultaneously coexist. It is shown that the entanglement in time, as opposed to an entanglement in space, provides the crucial quantum advantage. All the subcomponents of this system have already been shown to be experimentally realized. Perhaps more shockingly, our encoding procedure can be interpreted as non-classically influencing the past; hence this decentralized quantum blockchain can be viewed as a quantum networked time machine.

In short, the quantum blockchain is immutable because the photons that it contains do not exist at the current time but are still extant and readable. This means the entire blockchain is visible but cannot be “touched” and the only entry you would be able to try to tamper with is the most recent one. In fact, the researchers write, “In this spatial entanglement case, if an attacker tries to tamper with any photon, the full blockchain would be invalidated immediately.”

Is this possible? The researchers note that the technology already exists.

“Our novel methodology encodes a blockchain into these temporally entangled states, which can then be integrated into a quantum network for further useful operations. We will also show that entanglement in time, as opposed to entanglement in space, plays the pivotal role for the quantum benefit over a classical blockchain,” the authors write. “As discussed below, all the subsystems of this design have already been shown to be experimentally realized. Furthermore, if such a quantum blockchain were to be constructed, we will show that it could be viewed as a quantum networked time machine.”

Don’t worry about having to update your Bitcoin wallet, though. This process is still theoretical and not at all available to mere mortals. That said, it’s nice to know someone is looking out for our quantum future, however weird it may be.

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The NEEO universal remote is a modern Logitech Harmony alternative

Posted by | Android, Apple, apple remote, Assistant, ethernet, Gadgets, Google, Google Assistant, hardware, harmony, iPhone, Logitech, logitech harmony, Philips, Remote Control, Reviews, Sonos, TC, technology, Universal Remote | No Comments

The advanced universal remote market is not a very crowded market. In fact, for a while now, Logitech’s Harmony line has been pretty much the only game in town. Newcomer NEEO wants to upset that monopoly with its new NEEO Remote and NEEO Brain combo ($369), which is a system that can connect to just about any AV system, along with a smorgasbord of connected smart devices including Nest, Philips Hue, Sonos and more.

NEEO’s two-part system includes the Brain, which, true to its name, handles all of the heavy lifting. This is a puck-shaped device with 360-degree IR blasters dotting its outside perimeter, and which has one IR extender out (there’s one in the box) for connecting devices held within a closed AV cabinet, for instance. This central hub also connects to your Wi-Fi network, and setup requires plugging it into your router via Ethernet to get everything squared away, similar to how you initially set up Sonos speakers, if you’re familiar with that process.

Most of the setup work you need to do to get NEEO working happens on your phone, and that’s where it becomes apparent that this smart remote was designed for a modern context. Logitech’s Harmony software has come a long way, and now you can do everything you need to do from the iOS and Android app, but it’s still somewhat apparent that its legacy is as something you initially setup using a desktop and somewhat awkward web-based software. The NEEO feels at home on mobile, and it makes the setup and configuration process much better overall.

The other core component of the NEEO system is the NEEO Remote. This is a fantastic piece of industrial design, first of all. It’s a sleek rectangle crafted from aerospace-grade aluminum that oozes charm, in a way that nothing in the current Logitech Harmony lineup can come close to matching. The minimalist design still doesn’t suffer from the ‘which way is up?’ problem that the Apple Remote faces, because of subtle design cues including bottom weighting and the presence of ample physical buttons.

A NEEO Remote isn’t necessary for the system to work – you can just use the Brain along with the companion app for iPhone or Android, but the remote is a joy to hold and use, thanks to its unique design, and it features a super high density display that’s extremely responsive to touch input and pleasingly responsive to touch. NEEO took a lot of time to get this touchscreen experience right, and it pays off, delivering a clear and simple control interface that shifts to suit the needs of whatever activity you’re running at the time.

The NEEO Remote also has an “SOS” feature so that you can locate it if you happen to misplace it, and it can even be configured to recognize different hands if you want to set profiles for distinct members of the household, or set parental control profiles limiting access to certain content or devices. This kind of thing is where NEEO’s feature set exceeds the competition, and shows a particular attention to modern device use cases.

One NEEO Remote can also control multiple NEEO Brains, which is another limitation of the completion. That means you can set up NEEO Brains in each room where you have devices to control, and carry your remote from place to place instead of having to have multiple. The NEEO Brain is still $200 on its own, however, so it’s definitely still a barrier to entry.

NEEO otherwise does pretty much everything you’d expect a smart remote to do in 2018: You can set recipes on the deice itself, including with triggers like time-based alarms or motion detection (without using IFTTT). You can connect it to Alexa, though that functionality is limited at the moment, with more updates promised in future to make this better.

The bottom line is that NEEO offers a competent, intelligent alternative the big dog on the block, Logitech’s Harmony system. Logitech’s offering is still more robust and mature in terms of delivering Alexa and Google Assistant compatibility, as well as rock solid performance, but NEEO has some clever ideas and unique takes that will serve more patient and tech-forward users better over time.

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Samsung’s Galaxy S9 is the way to wean yourself off of DSLRs

Posted by | Android, Camera phone, computing, consumer electronics, Fujifilm, Gadgets, hardware, PIXEL, Pixel 2, Reviews, S9, Samsung, samsung galaxy, samsung galaxy s9, smartphone, smartphones, TC, technology | No Comments

Samsung has a new smartphone out, the Galaxy S9 (and S9+). It’s the latest flagship from one of the top smartphone makers in the world, but this year’s version has a lot in common with last year’s model, at least on the surface. The big focus (lol) this year was on the camera, and for good reason: Samsung stepped up its game significantly in this department with this update, and it comes closest to any smartphone camera I’ve tried yet to replicating some of the aspects of traditional photography that I love.

Arguably, other smartphone cameras, and the Pixel 2 in particular, can produce better photos. The Samsung Galaxy S9 is basically on par with that industry leader when it comes to quality of photos when shot in automatic mode – in some situations, including a lot of low-light scenarios, the S9 is better, but in others, like when there are big lightning differences across the scene, Google’s smartphone edges the Samsung. But either device (and the latest iPhones, if you’re going beyond Android) is going to be a fantastic photographic choice for most smartphone buyers, and that shouldn’t be a major concern when making a buying decision.

Where the Samsung Galaxy S9 really takes a leap forward is in bringing some of what has been so appealing about manual-friendly retro camera designs like those favoured by Fujifilm to the mobile realm. There are plenty of manual photography apps that do similar things, but the Galaxy S9 has its crucial dual aperture camera lens, which can manually switch from F/1.5 to F/2.4 in pro shooting mode. This gives you a noticeable degree of control over depth of field, or the effect of subtly blurring either background or foreground details depending on where you want to draw attention in the frame.

It’s this small, but crucial detail that really drives the appeal of the S9 for me. Without it, it’d be difficult to roundly recommend it as a major upgrade from last year’s model, and hard to say that it can stand apart from the rest of the crowd, most of which now feature magnificent cameras.

The Galaxy S9 also produces pretty fantastic results with full-light photos outdoors, as you can see from the gallery, with vibrant, rich color that might be a bit artificial, but ultimately comes off looking like it includes the kind of minor boosts and tweaks I’d do while editing in post anyway. The video shooting is good, as well, though it lacks the degree of stabilization that Google’s Pixel 2 can provide when filming while in motion.

On the Galaxy S9+ (which I didn’t test, but spent a bit of time with ahead of launch), the dual-camera design provides even more balm for DSLR and mirrorless addicts, since it gives you access to that 2x manual zoom. But the standard S9 strikes a great balance in terms of portability, design and features, and honestly most people won’t often use the zoom lens anyway.

Another key feature of the S9 is its new super slow motion mode, which captures brief clips at 960 fps at 720p resolution. I had fun with this, but found its automatic mode frustrating (it rarely detected motion when I wanted it to, and often went either too early or too late to get the moment). Turning that to manual was again more fun, for many of the reasons described above, and more interesting in terms of results produced, like the clip below.

Other new features, including the AR Emoji, are less well-executed and will probably enter the dustbin of history with a lot of other Samsung exclusive features. That’s not necessarily a criticism however: Samsung trying a bunch of stuff and then introducing it into the wild for hundreds of millions of customers isn’t hurting anyone (though mode switching on the S9 is super sensitive to casual left and right swipes, meaning AR emoji could come up accidentally) and sometimes crazy stuff they try actually works. AR emojis is not one of those.

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Anker’s Nebula Capsule portable projector is a pocket powerhouse

Posted by | Amazon, Android, Bluetooth, bluetooth speaker, capsule, coke, computing, Gadgets, hardware, HDMI, indiegogo, Netflix, Remote Control, Reviews, Speaker, Streaming Media, TC, technology, usb, wi-fi, wireless | No Comments

Anker is a device maker that’s rapidly become a go-to brand for affordable, quality accessories include cables, chargers and backup batteries. More recently, it’s started to branch out into additional areas, including projectors through its Nebula brand. The Nebula Capsule is the latest product from that line, a super portable projector with an Android-based OS, a built-in battery and the ability to double as a Bluetooth speaker.

The Nebula Capsule is the smaller sibling to the Nebula Mars portable cinema projector, which is actually far less portable than the newer Capsule. The Mars is more of a home theater projector that you’re also technically able to take with you if you want, whereas the Capsule is roughly the size of a can of Coke, and easy to stash in even smaller bags, or, if you’re not worries bout some bulging, even in a jacket pocket.

Anker initially launched the Capsule on Indiegogo, but now it’s made its way to Amazon where it retails for $349. The projector can extend an image up to 100 inches in diameter, with 100 ANSI lumens of brightness, and it can mange four hours of video playback on its built-in power source. There’s a 360-degree speaker integrated into the base, and it comes with built-in Wi-Fi and Android 7.1, with its own app store to run popular apps like Netflix, Plex, Hulu and Amazon Prime.

The device has micro USB OTG input, and can read from USB drives formatted in FAT32, plus a full-sized HDMI for attaching basically anything. Its native 854×480 resolution isn’t going to win any awards, but it’s hardly important when you’re catching up on a show on the road or playing Switch in your backyard on a stretched out bed sheet. And the trade-off, in terms of portability and versatility, its worth it.

On top of the device, there are arrows that help you adjust volume, and there’s a button to turn it on, as well as a mode switch so you can use it as a Bluetooth speaker I you want. Focus adjustment is handled via a wheel mounted into the side, and this is a bit tricky because it involves a little hunting to get it just right, but the minimal interface options, but again, it’s a practical way of doing it and works given the form factor of the device.

In the box, you also get a remote control, which works via IR (there’s a receiver built into the back of the device). Here, it’d be nicer to have some kid of RF-based remote instead, but the IR version works well enough, and there’s a companion mobile app for both controlling the projector and for mirroring your content. You can’t mirror content-protected media, which is a bit of a pain, but the fact that the Capsule supports streaming media from built-in apps mostly makes up for this.

The speaker is surprisingly powerful, and can fill a small room easily. It’s not going to compete with 5.1 audio systems, or with something like the HomePod, but it’s plenty good enough that watching a show or movie on the Capsule is pleasant, and never falls down on the back of bad sound. Plus, I almost always pack a dedicated Bluetooth speaker on my trips away, anyway – the Capsule doubles as one, and takes up as little or even less space than most, with equivalent sound quality. Acting just as a Bluetooth speaker, the capsule’s battery life extends out to 30 hours.

Considered as a two-for-one combo that includes a great travel projector and a terrific portable Bluetooth speaker, the Anker Nebula Capsule is a hard bargain to pass up.

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Nest’s video doorbell is now shipping

Posted by | Amazon, doorbell, Emerging-Technologies, Gadgets, Home Automation, Internet of Things, Nest Labs, ring, smart doorbell, Speaker, technology, thermostat, yale | No Comments

Back in September of last year, Nest announced its first smart doorbell. When it would actually ship, however, was left sort of up in the air; all the company said at the time was to expect it sometime in Q1 of 2018.

Turns out, that means today. The Nest doorbell — or the Nest Hello, as it’s known — is now shipping for $229.

Nest also mentioned a few other bits of news:

  • The front door lock/touchpad they built in partnership with Yale, also announced back in September of last year, is now shipping
  • They’re now making external, wireless, battery-powered temperature sensors for the Nest Thermostat (previously, the thermostat only really cared about the temperature of whichever room it was in). You can add up to six sensors. One sensor will cost $39, or a three pack goes for $99. The sensor (pictured at the bottom of this post) is a simple white puck, just a bit over an inch wide.

Not unlike the now Amazon-owned Ring, the Hello’s primary purpose is to let you know when someone rings the doorbell, and to let you see and communicate with them by way of the built-in camera/microphone/speaker rig. Out of the box, sans subscriptions, Nest will store the video of who rang your doorbell for 3 hours; if you want to access it beyond that, you’ll need a monthly Nest Aware subscription.

In most cases, hooking up the Hello should be a matter of popping out your old doorbell and wiring up the new one; it pulls its power from the same wiring setup that most doorbells use, and it should play friendly with any in-door chimes you probably already have in place.

Its got a 3-megapixel camera (with infrared night vision) for 1600×1200 video at 30 frames per second, a 160º field of view, and 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi. Unlike some competitors, it doesn’t have a battery — so you’ll need that aforementioned power line.

With that said, it’s got a few tricks I haven’t seen with others in the space, like a “Quiet time” mode for when you (or, say, your baby) are sleeping. It’ll still buzz your phone, but in-door chimes won’t go ringin’ away. Pre-recorded messages, meanwhile, let you communicate with delivery people and anyone else who might be hanging around your porch during those times when shouting “PLEASE LEAVE THE PACKAGE ON THE PORCH I’LL GRAB IT SHORTLY” might feel a bit weird.

We should have one to check out before too long, so expect a review as soon as we’ve put it through the paces.

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Samsung turns to Harman to further SmartThings development

Posted by | computing, Consumer Electronics Show, Gadgets, Google, google home, Harman International Industries, Home Automation, Samsung, smart speakers, smartthings, technology | No Comments

Harman and Samsung have entered into a strategic association that will have Harman taking up the SmartThings’ standard and carrying it forward against other Internet of Things products. Announced today, Samsung SmartThings R&D team and HARMAN Connected Services (HCS), a division of HARMAN International, will collaborate on the platform with HCS developing and supporting the […]

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