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Blind-spot Monitoring Systems

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017

This technology uses ultrasonic sensors located on the car’s flanks to detect when a car is in your blind-spots. Most BLIS implementations will warn by illuminating a notification light on or near the side mirror on the appropriate side of the vehicle. If you activate your turn signal while BLIS is triggered, you’ll usually also get an audible beep or tone to let you know to look twice before changing lanes. Most basic systems will let you know if a car is currently in your blind-spot, but more advanced versions will let you know when a vehicle is about to be there. Lane Change Assist, as Hyundai calls it, extends the range of the side sensors as much as three to five car lengths back and monitors the speed of oncoming vehicles. With this information, the system can sort of predict the future, alerting you to an upcoming car in your blind-spot before it’s even there. If you don’t properly adjust your car’s mirrors or if your vehicle of choice has thick window pillars, you may find that there’s a blind spot just over your shoulder where cars behind you can hide. A blind-spot monitoring system can help watch your back so that you don’t find yourself trading paint when changing lanes.

Blind-spot monitoring systems are among the most common modern driver aid technologies, being found on the options list of many mid-tier or budget models. The tech is sometimes shortened to BSM or called blind-spot warning (BSW). I tend to call it a blind-spot information system (BLIS), as it was by Volvo, which originated the tech back in 2007 for use on its and Ford’s vehicles. Typically, blind-spot systems only work at speeds above 20 to 35-ish mph. This prevents false positives on city streets but tends to only make the tech useful at highway speeds. And as I mentioned, the audible alerts work only if you actually use your turn signal, which some people don’t always use. So, keep in mind that the technology is no replacement for an old-fashioned glance over your shoulder before changing lanes. Always look before you leap.

BLIS and rear cross-traffic alerts are increasingly becoming “must-have” technology on larger SUVs and cars with poor rearward visibility and the next evolutions of the tech are already here. Volvo is at the forefront of blind-spot monitoring tech it figures, they invented it — with its BLIS with Steering Assist. Featured on the new 2018 Volvo XC60, BLIS with Steering Assist can actively guide the SUV out of harm’s way and back into its lane if it detects that you’re about to collide with another vehicle when changing lanes. Ford and Toyota/Lexus, for example, have taken the next logical step of adding automatic braking assist technology to their most advanced RCTA systems. So, if you’re backing out of a parking spot and another vehicle is approaching, the system will sound an alert and then, if you ignore the warning, automatically brake before you move into a possible collision path.

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SMART UMBRELLA

Tuesday, November 21st, 2017

A new umbrella may be just the answer for those of us who constantly forget or misplace our rainy-day gear. The Weatherman umbrella, which debuted Thursday, uses an app paired with a Bluetooth tracker to follow weather forecasts. The app sends real-time weather alerts and custom notifications, so you know when to bring along your umbrella. An embedded tracker chip uses Bluetooth 4.1 technology for your smart devices to help locate your umbrella as well. This even could mean that you find your umbrella in the hands of someone who grabbed it by mistake. The umbrella is made with 14mm gauge fiberglass ribs help prevent breaking and inverting inside out during strong winds, up to 55 mph. The umbrella fabric is coated with Teflon to repel the rain.

The smart umbrella is backed by meteorologist Rick Reichmuth (hence the umbrella’s name Weatherman) who appears on “Fox and Friends” and “Fox News Sunday.” “I looked everywhere for a solid umbrella that would last, and I came up short every single time,” Reichmuth said in a statement. “I realized, I know what a good umbrella should be, so I could just make one. That’s how it all started.” The Weatherman comes in two styles: The Collapsible Umbrella, and the Stick Umbrella. Both umbrellas are available in black, navy blue, green, orange, yellow and white. The umbrella comes with its own wall mount that also serves as a charging stand for the device. A color-changing LED on the handle alerts you when it’s umbrella weather.

Here’s a look at the umbrella’s key features.

  • Feather weight: Approximately 198 grams, the TARAbrella is lighter than the iPhone.
  • Weather forecast system: A built-in, pressure-sensing piece of hardware that provides an accurate weather forecast within as short a time of 6 hours.
  • Patented safety runner: Durability and ease of use combine here to allow the contraption to be locked or release with a simple click.
  • Super LED light: Equipped atop the TARAbrella is a super LED light that can brighten up dark or foggy places to ensure the user’s safety in hazardous conditions.
  • Anti-lost tracker: A detachable clip will alert the wearer if they move more than a set amount of feet from the TARAbrella.
  • Ergonomic design handle: The handle of TARAbrella was crafted to ergonomically fit in your hand, making it comfortable to hold for extended periods of time with the smooth texture.

Of all the things you need as winter comes, a smart umbrella is surely at the very top of your list. You look critically at everything in your life these days, and if something’s not “smart,” you disdain its very existence. Sadly for some, it’s currently only on sale in Japan and Korea. I can see many Americans taking a trip there just to buy one or more of these. You can never have enough smart tools. The more you have, the smarter you surely are.

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Tesla’s new Roadster

Monday, November 20th, 2017

Tesla’s new Roadster has some impressive numbers. But with a price on par with a Bentley or Aston Martin, the question is, can it deliver on the kind of luxury and drivability those buyers expect? That’s going to take a lot more than just sternum-cracking acceleration. Prices for the Roadster will start at $200,000, with a required deposit of $50,000. A limited edition Founders Series of the car will cost $250,000 and will have to be paid for up front and in full. At these prices, someone could buy an Aston Martin DB11 or a Bentley Continental GT. Those cars can’t match the Roadster’s advertised performance figures, but there’s a lot more to a sports car than just speed.

The Roadster’s ability to go from zero to 60 in under two seconds is unprecedented, and would make this the quickest production car ever. It can run the quarter mile in 8.8 seconds. That’s faster than a Dodge Challenger Demon, an 840-horsepower single-seat car designed especially for drag racing. And its top speed of over 250 miles an hour puts it in the same league as the $3 million Bugatti Chiron. That figure is especially surprising, given that top speed is not an area in which electric cars tend to excel. Anyone who can afford to spend a quarter million dollars on a car is used to high level of quality of craftsmanship. That means Tesla needs to overcome the production issues it is currently having with the far simpler Model 3, as well as the sort of quality issues it’s been having with the complex Model X.

Sports cars also need to corner well and give the driver a sense of confidence and control. Tesla’s original Roadster, produced from 2008 to 2012, was built on the skeleton of a British Lotus sports car. Lotus is legendary for how well its cars handled, and for an obsession with light weight, which also helps with cornering and control. For a company building a high-end sports car, there could hardly be a better place to start. This Roadster will presumably be all Tesla. Electric drive does provide some advantages for a sports car. First, most sports cars have an engine that concentrates weight somewhere in the car. A lot of sports car design is about how to carry that big block of metal through turns at high speeds. Engineers and designers work hard to position the engine as low as possible in the car, and in a place that will give the car stable, controllable and predictable cornering characteristics.

In an electric car, the weight is concentrated in battery packs, but those batteries don’t need to be all together. In Tesla’s other vehicles, they’re spread out under the floor of the car, giving them a very low center of gravity and weight that’s evenly balanced. But, batteries are heavy and weight is still a problem, no matter where it is. That’s why electric cars are, generally speaking, heavier than gasoline powered cars. Tesla engineers will still have to overcome, or minimize, the sheer weight that will come with that level of range and performance. Still, based on Tesla’s claims, the Roadster certainly the potential to be a big winner for Tesla that could help generate the profits it so badly needs and even more buzz.

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MekaMon

Thursday, November 16th, 2017

The robots are upgradable and customizable with detachable legs, shields, and weapons. They feature four IR sensors, so the robot can measure distance and location and also accurately track and attack opponents. The robot can also flip on its back and stabilize rather quickly. Each robot weighs around 2.2 pounds, with a dimension of 11.8 x 11.8 x 5.9 inches.

When it comes to gaming competition with friends, most of us grew up playing games like Pokémon, battling with friends through Game Boys and old link cables, and mostly using our imagination when the gameplay animation was still pretty basic. Fast-forward a few decades, and you can still battle friends, but the modes have expanded incredibly. The latest form is a gaming robot from Reach Robotics. Called MekaMon, the four-legged robots have AR capabilities that can be controlled by your smartphone.

The toy connects to the smartphone app through Bluetooth, and other robots via infrared signals. The battery life is a bit limited, though: you’ll only get about one hour of play before it needs to be recharged. MekaMon’s story is set in 2076 and follows Earth after an alien invasion, where humans are fighting back using the battle robots. There are options to play them in story mode, arcade mode, or battle with friends. “We’ve created an entirely new video gaming platform,” Silas Adekunle, CEO of Reach Robotics said in a statement. “Players can whip out their smartphone to battle their multi-functional, connected battlebots in the physical and virtual worlds at the same time.”

The robots are compatible with both iOS and Android devices, using the phones’ cameras and infrared sensors. You look through your phone’s screen to guide your robot and objects in the room like tables and chairs can be used to hide from attacks in the game. Reach Robotics says more add-ons will be available from MekaMon.com in the future. MekaMon is available in white and black models from Apple and MekaMon.com.

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Firefox Quantum

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

Firefox today released its newest browser Firefox Quantum out of beta. The company claims it’s twice as fast as the original Firefox from six months ago. Firefox Quantum has a sleek UI with the option to customize the toolbar. It also exceeds the performance of Google Chrome in a browser speed test battle. The new browser also includes Pocket recommendations of what sites to browse on every new tab. Night Mode and other features are available as Firefox free add-ons.

Despite competing against Google in the browser space, Firefox does resort to using Google as the default search engine in the US, Canada, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. For years, Firefox used Yahoo as a default, though it also offered Google and Bing as alternative selections, but it recently terminated its contract with Yahoo, according to an email statement from Mozilla. The company’s chief business officer Denelle Dixon said, “We exercised our contractual right to terminate our agreement with Yahoo! based on a number of factors including doing what’s best for our brand, our effort to provide quality web search, and the broader content experience for our users.”

The biggest selling point of Quantum versus Chrome is the smaller RAM usage something Google has been repeatedly critiqued for over the years. As you open more tabs in Quantum, it takes up less memory than opening up multiple tabs in Chrome. On my Asus laptop with an Intel Core i5, it runs six processes for 20 open tabs, while Google Chrome runs 21 processes for 14 tabs. Note that after opening the 10th tab, Quantum begins to show a squiggly loading sign on new tabs.

Private browsing mode for Firefox Quantum looks just as good as regular browsing. A purple masked symbol on the right indicates what mode you’re in, and Firefox has tracking protection on by default. Quantum was a project open to volunteers, with about 700 authors contributing to the code. It took a year for Firefox to complete the project. You can download the final version today for free from Mozilla for the web, Android, and iOS.

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The Temperature-control MUG

Friday, November 10th, 2017

The Ember ceramic mug changed the way I’ll drink coffee, and it can do the same for anybody who hates lukewarm swill and the flavor of overcooked coffee sludge. Here’s the deal: within the mug, a microprocessor-controlled heating system gathers information from four separate temperature sensors and activates its adaptive dual heating mechanism. This means no more unintentional cold brew. It’s fascinating how little, everyday frustrations can stick in your brain forever. Like why isn’t there an apparatus that breaks spaghetti in half without throwing shards of raw noodle all over your kitchen? Or why aren’t there half-size spaghetti noodles? Anyway, a few weeks ago, I got a product that spoke to the very heart of me. It spoke to the part of me that has always hated tepid coffee.

The Ember ceramic mug allows you to set your ideal temperature preference—to the degree and keep it there. Most serious coffee drinkers know that the correct temperature for brewing falls between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit depending on the brew. Any higher and you will over-extract the coffee. Lower, you’ll under-extract, leaving the coffee sour and weak. The temperature at which you drink it, however, is much more subjective and is based on personal preference. The Ember mug allows you match your tastes. There are other methods for keeping coffee warm, but they have their flaws. Hot-plate-style warmers generate uneven heat from the bottom. Vacuum-sealed, double-walled containers leak heat constantly, despite their best efforts to hold onto those precious degrees. The only thing a hot beverage has to be is not cold.

The Ember mug is made of reinforced stainless steel and coated with a white ceramic. It comes with a matching coaster that acts as a charger, the cup holds a charge for about an hour and has a built-in LED light to notify you when your drink is at the optimal temperature or running low on batteries. The LED light even has color options for multiple users or drinks. Unlike the brand’s previous product the Ember Travel Mug, which has an adjustable dial on the bottom of the device, the new mug connects to your smartphone or Apple Watch to adjust the temperature. It senses when there is no liquid inside, puts itself into sleep mode when not being used, and then uses a three-axis accelerometer to recognize movement and wake the mug back up. The mug is approximately $80 and can be purchased on the Ember’s website or in most Starbucks throughout the United States and Canada.

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UberEats knows what you want before you do

Thursday, November 9th, 2017

UberEats suggests menu items based on what you’ve ordered in the past. On-demand food is a competitive space. Besides UberEats, people have a multitude of apps to choose from. There’s Caviar, Grubhub, Seamless, DoorDash and Postmates. There’s also the old-fashioned choice of simply calling a restaurant and ordering food, although not all restaurants deliver. By making its service more personalized, UberEats aims to stand above the rest. The food delivery service first launched in 2014 in Los Angeles under the moniker UberFresh. Then eventually it morphed into UberEats with an official launch in Toronto, Canada, in December 2015. By the end of 2016, UberEats was is 56 cities worldwide. Today it’s in 130 cities and is slated to be in 200 by the end of the year. UberEats is even in some cities that don’t have the ride-hailing service, such as Tokyo, Taipei and Seoul.

The food-delivery service added three new features to its app on Thursday that aim to learn your tastes, preferences and likes. It’ll now show “recommended for you” menu items, eater-generated restaurant ratings and also let you “favorite” certain dining spots. Essentially, UberEats is getting more personal. UberEats wants to get to know you. “With such a large and growing selection of restaurants on the platform, we’re thinking how can we show you what you want. UberEats is the food-delivery branch of the ride-hailing service Uber. Similar to how people can hail an Uber ride with the push of a button on their smartphone, they can also order food from dozens of local restaurants using the UberEats app.

Every single consumer on the platform is super different. By learning your preferences we can more intelligently suggest food that you like. UberEats’ new restaurant ratings work a little differently. Ratings aim to better guide eaters in picking restaurants and to help restaurants better learn what dishes are resonating with people. The feature will have a five-star rating system and show feedback over the last 90 days. Sometimes negative ratings can hurt restaurants. Businesses have complained that they’ve lost customers after receiving bad ratings on sites like Yelp, OpenTable and MenuPages. Negative ratings shouldn’t harm UberEats’ partner restaurants since they refresh on a rolling 90-day basis.

UberEats partners with restaurants, so restaurants can decide what they want to sell on the app. The company charges restaurants a service fee that’s calculated as a percentage of its sales on the platform. Uber now has partnerships with 80,000 restaurants, which include everything from upscale eateries to McDonald’s. “With an increasing choice of selection it becomes a little bit more difficult to choose what you want to order. Uber has created “technical solutions to solve some of the pain points for our customers.” UberEats’ new “recommended for you” feature uses machine learning to personalize the app based on what each person is ordering and favoriting. It looks at past restaurant and menu item choices to make suggestions much like how Netflix makes movie recommendations. So, if you tend to order pasta, UberEats will likely show you a restaurant’s spaghetti, lasagna or tortellini dishes.

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Increase Safari SPEED on iOS Devices

Tuesday, November 7th, 2017

Has browsing the Web become an exercise in frustration with Safari on your iPhone or iPad? The first suspect to consider in this crime most foul is your Wi-Fi network itself, but if other devices are humming along at a reasonable clip and it’s just a single iOS device whose Safari is acting sluggish and slow, there are a few things you can try to speed it back up.

Clear history, cookies and data

This move may speed up Safari but will also make the browser a bit more of a pain to use at the outset because it won’t suggest a URL as you type until you visit a site again. Go to Settings > Safari and tap Clear History and Website Data to clear your browsing history and data along with any cookies. Your bookmarks will remain, and Safari will remember your AutoFill information for forms.

Close tabs

It’s easy to run up the count of open tabs in Safari. As a lifelong fan of Ohio State football, I get a daily email newsletter about the team, and each time I tap on a story, it opens as a new tab in Safari. Do I then close each tab after I’m done reading about my Buckeyes? Of course not. When Safari feels a step slow, I close all of the open tabs I have sitting there in Safari by long-pressing the Tab button in the lower-right corner and then tapping Close All [insert number here] Tabs. (You can also tap the Tabs button and long-press Done to get to the same option.)

Disable background processes

It may be that Safari itself isn’t to blame but a couple of background processes that are syphoning off valuable system resources. If your iPhone is downloading updates and refreshing apps in the background while you are browsing, then your performance might suffer. To disable automatic downloads, go to Settings > iTunes & App Stores and turn off automatic downloads for Music, Apps, Book & Audiobook and Updates. To disable background app refresh, head to Settings > General > Background App Refresh and turn it off. Or, if you have a firm suspicions of the app or apps that are refreshing in the background a bit too much to your liking, you can disable the feature for individual apps from the list below.

Reset network settings

When all else fails, you can try resetting your network connection. You’ll need to reconnect to any of your Wi-Fi networks, but it might fix what ails Safari. Go to Settings > General and scroll down to the bottom and tap Reset. On the Reset page, tap Reset Network Settings.

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Sharp like a “RAZER”

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

“You use this for a week and then go to any other phone, you’re going to be upset,” says Tom Moss, Razer’s head of mobile. He’s talking about the Razer Phone. Because where most new flagship phones are shiny rounded rectangles with curved screens, Razer’s first phone is unabashedly a black brick. It flaunts sharp 90-degree corners instead of curved edges. You can even stand the phone on end. The 5.7-inch, 2,560×1,440-resolution screen is flat as a pancake, and you’ll find giant bezels above and below that screen, just when we thought bezels were going out of style. But there’s another trite phrase that might accurately convey the Razer Phone: “It’s what’s on the inside that counts.”

When the Razer Phone ships Nov. 17 for $699 the company says it’ll be the first phone with a display that refreshes 120 times per second, like a high-end PC gaming monitor or Apple’s iPad Pro. Combined with a dynamic refresh technique Razer’s calling Ultramotion, it can mean beautiful, butter-smooth scrolling down websites and apps, and glossy mobile gameplay. The Razer Phone is not exactly what you’d call stunning, and the phrase “breath of fresh air” doesn’t really feel right either, even if the phone is pretty different from anything else on the market. Then there are the speakers. Remember those giant bezels that flank the screen? There’s a reason they exist: they house a pair of front-facing speakers that get louder than you’d imagine a phone has any right to be. When fired up the Dolby Atmos app in a big conference room in Razer’s San Francisco offices, I can’t believe how well they fill the room.

As we run down the spec sheet, it’s clear that Razer focused on meeting or exceeding the competition in other ways as well. It’s got 8GB of RAM. There’s a 4,000mAh battery. A 12-megapixel dual camera with both a wide-angle lens and 2x optical zoom. Two years of guaranteed software updates though it ships with last year’s Android 7.1.1 Nougat, with Oreo coming next spring and 64GB of storage by default, with a microSD slot to add up to 2TB more. The phone has the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chip you’ll find in most of today’s flagship phones, Razer claims theirs will perform better than the competition by borrowing some of the thermal engineering know-how the company uses for its high-end laptops, including an actual heatpipe to draw heat away from the chips. It’s the best landscape mode phone, it’s the best audio quality, it’s the best for movies, noting that the big, speaker-filled bezels aren’t just there for audio, they’re a way to hold the phone comfortably in landscape without blocking the screen.

Mind you, there’s no waterproofing to be had here, no wireless charging, and no 3.5mm headphone jack. Razer says the giant speakers weren’t compatible with the idea of waterproofing, the all-aluminum chassis doesn’t have a spot to pass the wireless charging signal, and there’s a USB-C to 3.5mm headphone adapter dongle in the box. Perhaps more importantly, prospective US buyers should know it won’t support CDMA carriers like Verizon or Sprint. Like the OnePlus 5, our favorite budget powerhouse, the Razer Phone is strictly a GSM-only affair. It’s not yet clear what, beyond the Razer brand, makes this a gaming phone. When we ask, Moss downplays that idea a bit. “It shouldn’t just be a gaming phone, it should be a phone for gamers.” The phone will ship Nov. 17 from Razer’s website, Amazon and some Microsoft Stores. In Europe, it’ll exclusively be available where pre-orders begin today.

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Samsung Gear SPORT

Monday, October 30th, 2017

Samsung makes fantastic looking watches but it doesn’t always give them the best tools for success. So is Samsung Gear Sport a typical Samsung watch? The Gear Sport isn’t the super-powered mega-watch that last year’s cellular-enabled S3 was. Instead it focuses on fitness… and even takes a step back on making phone calls. It feels more practical than ambitious. The Sport has GPS and adds 50-meter water resistance, a first for a Samsung watch. That means it’s swim-ready in fresh or salt water, like current top-end fitness trackers such as the Apple Watch Series 3, the Fitbit Ionic and Garmin’s recent watches. It also launches alongside a Spotify app update that lets you download songs and albums if you have a premium account.

The Gear Sport launched last Friday for $299, along with a new longer-battery-life version of the Gear Icon X heart-rate-enabled headphones with music storage. Wearing the Gear Sport for a while, you will appreciate the watch’s more practical outlook and design and its detailed on-screen fitness and notification readouts. It’s worth considering, maybe, if you’ve wanted something a bit like an Apple Watch Series 3 for a Samsung or another Android phone. In other words, it’s a swim-ready fitness watch with a little music onboard. Its smart features are far better than Fitbit Ionic, but getting it all to function feels like a serious project.

The Gear Sport has a squared-off circle design, with rounded edges that poke under the circular bezel. The hematite-type glossy black model I tried looked great. It’s a sleeker-looking watch than many round Android Wear watches I’ve seen. It’s not as massive as last year’s Gear S3. The thinner replaceable band is comfortable and it’s pretty nicely done. But the case is definitely chunkier than the older Gear S2. The spinning bezel is still a unique touch. Introduced two years ago, it cycles through watchfaces and quick-glance apps. Is it faster than swiping or using a spinning side crown button? Maybe not, but it’s still satisfying. The display looks fantastic. The watch faces are bold and crisp. The extra fitness features have a lot more detail than similar watches, so you can check your weekly graphs and progress at a glance.

Spotify works, but it’s a hassle to set up. When paired with a phone, it acts as a remote to the phone app. On its own, it can browse and download music, or stream it over Wi-Fi or cellular. The Gear Sport doesn’t have cellular LTE, but last year’s Gear S3 had it as an option. Once connected, Spotify works well. The round interface can show album art, plus play and volume controls. Logging in was annoying, though. When away from a phone, the app made me log in on the watch by tapping my account info into a tiny keyboard. It didn’t seamlessly sync my account from the phone app. Still, having Spotify on a fitness watch with locally saved music (that can be downloaded over Wi-Fi from the watch itself) is a great perk for Spotify users. Eventually, the watch will be able to use Spotify with iOS, but right now it only works for Android phones.

Since Samsung’s key apps like Spotify, S-Health and Samsung Pay arrived, I like the Gear Sport more than the Gear S3, but all the app-connectivity problems have not yet been solved. It feels nice to wear, but it doesn’t always feel nice to use.

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