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Main article: Gadgets

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In a first, Amazon launches a battery-powered portable Echo speaker in India

08:11 | 4 December

After launching nearly a dozen Echo speaker models in India in two years, Amazon said on Wednesday it is adding one more to the mix that addresses one of the most requested features from customers in the nation: Portability.

The e-commerce giant today unveiled the Echo Input Portable Smart Speaker Edition, a new variant in the lineup that includes a built-in battery. The 4,800mAh enclosed battery will offer up to 10 hours of continuous music playing or up to 11 hours of stand-by life, the company said.

“Portability has been one of the most requested features in India,” said Miriam Daniel, VP of Alexa Devices. “You want to be able to carry Alexa with you from room to room within your homes. So we have designed something just for you.”

The battery-powered Echo model, designed exclusively for India, is priced at 5,999 Indian rupees ($84). Users can currently purchase it at an introductory price of 4,999 Indian rupees ($70) and the device will begin shipping on December 18.

Other than the built-in battery pack, the new speaker model offers an identical set of features as other Echo variants. (There is an array of four LEDs that light up when a user taps the power button to show battery level.)

More to follow…

 


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‘Carpentry Compiler’ turns 3D models to instructions on how to build them

04:04 | 3 December

Even to an experienced carpenter, it may not be obvious what the best way is to build a structure they’ve designed. A new digital tool, Carpentry Compiler, provides a way forward, converting the shapes of the structure to a step-by-step guide on how to produce them. It could help your next carpentry project get off the screen and into the shop.

“If you think of both design and fabrication as programs, you can use methods from programming languages to solve problems in carpentry, which is really cool,” said project lead Adriana Schulz from the University of Washington’s computer science department, in a news release.

It sounds a bit detached from the sawdust and sweat of hands-on woodworking, but they don’t say “measure twice, cut once” for nothing. Carpentry is a cerebral process more than a physical one, and smart, efficient solutions tend to replace ones that are merely well made.

What Carpentry Compiler does is codify the rules that govern design and carpentry, for example what materials are available, what tools can do, and so on, and use those to create a solution (in terms of cuts and joins) to a problem (how to turn boards into a treehouse).

Users design in a familiar 3D model interface, as many already do, creating the desired structure out of various shapes that they can modify, divide, pierce, attach, and so on. The program then takes those shapes and determines the best way to create them from your existing stock, with the tools you have — which you can select from a list.

Need to make the roof of your treehouse but only have 2x4s? It’ll provide a recipe with that restriction. Got some plywood sheets? It’ll use those, and the leftovers contribute to the base so there’s less waste. By evaluating lots and lots of variations on how this might be accomplished, the program arrives at what it believes are the best options, and presents multiple solutions.

“If you want to make a bookcase, it will give you multiple plans to make it,” said Schulz. “One might use less material. Another one might be more precise because it uses a more precise tool. And a third one is faster, but it uses more material. All these plans make the same bookcase, but they are not identical in terms of cost. These are examples of tradeoffs that a designer could explore.”

A 24-inch 2×4 gets cut at 16 inches at a 30-degree angle.

That’s really the same kind of thing that goes on inside a woodworker’s brain: I could use that fresh sheet to make this part, and it would be easy, or I could cut those shapes from either corner and it would leave room in the middle, but that’ll be kind of a pain… That sort of thing. It can also optimize for spatial elements, if for example you wanted to pack the parts in a box, or for cost if you wanted to shave a few bucks off the project.

Eventually the user is provided with a set of instructions specific to their set of tools. And the carpenters themselves act as the “processor,” executing operations, like “cut at this angle,” on real-world materials. In Carpenter Compiler, computer programs you!

The team presented their work at SIGGRAPH Asia last month. You can read more about the project (and learn how you can try it yourself) at its webpage.

 


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The UniFi Dream Machine router is a great entry point for networking nerds

23:01 | 2 December

A few weeks ago, Ubiquiti unveiled the UniFi Dream Machine, an all-in-one networking device that combines a router, a switch with four Ethernet ports and a Wi-Fi access point for $299. It has what Ubiquiti calls an integrated cloud key that lets you control your network.

I’ve been using the UniFi Dream Machine on my home network for the past couple of weeks, so consider this a review of the device.

Ubiquiti is a well-known networking brand. Most people are familiar with the company’s access points — those rounded antennas that you can find around schools, companies and public spaces.

But the upfront investment has always been a bit steep for personal use cases and even small companies. The UniFi Dream Machine sits perfectly in between professional gears and consumer devices. It represents a huge upgrade is you’re using the router with Wi-Fi capabilities provided by your internet service provider.

Rebundling UniFi devices

Ubiquiti has a range of routers under the AmpliFi brand for consumers who are looking for a plug-and-play solution. The company recently announced a new device with great specifications if you don’t want to mess around with networking settings.

But if you’re reading this, chances are you know that UniFi products offer some customizations that you think are lacking in consumer products.

Switching from an all-in-one networking device to a UniFi system has always been a bit complicated. The company has broken down the networking stack into different devices to offer you more control.

It means that you have to buy a Security Gateway (a router, the “brain” of the network), a switch (just like a power strip, but for Ethernet ports) and an access point (a Wi-Fi antenna). On top of that, a UniFi cloud key is an essential buy if you want to manage your network with the company’s controller software.

If you’re committed to the UniFi ecosystem, you get a great experience. You can manage each Ethernet port on your switch individually, you can control Wi-Fi settings from anywhere in the world and many, many more things. Ars Technica’s Lee Hutchinson fell down the UniFi rabbit hole and wrote a great story about his experience running professional networking gears at home.

The UniFi Dream Machine takes a different approach. It rebundles all the separate pieces that make a UniFi network come to life. You can buy the $300 UniFi Dream Machine and control every little detail of your network.

Specifications

A few words on the specifications of the UniFi Dream Machine. The pill-shaped device has an integrated security gateway, which lets you run a DHCP server, create firewall policies, take advantage of multiple VLANs and more.

In addition to the WAN port to connect your device to the internet, there are four Gigabit Ethernet ports. As for Wi-Fi, the Dream Machine supports 802.11ac Wave 2 (“Wi-Fi 5”) with a 4×4 MU-MIMO antenna — no Wi-Fi 6 unfortunately.

Behind the scene, the device uses a 1.7GHz ARM Cortex-A57 processor. It has 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage and consumes up to 26W.

Using the Dream Machine

Setting up the UniFi Dream Machine is a great experience. Ideally, you want to plug an Ethernet cable in your ISP-provided router and put it in bridge mode. This way, it’ll act as a dumb modem and let the UniFi Dream Machine do all the hard work.

After downloading the mobile app and turning on the UniFi Dream Machine, you get a popup that mimics the pairing popup of the AirPods. You can then control your network from that mobile app or use a web browser on your computer.

This is when it gets interesting.

UniFi’s controller software usually lists all the UniFi devices currently running on your network. With the UniFi Dream Machine, you get a single device. But if you expand that device, you can see a list of three separate UniFi components — a gateway, a switch and an AP.

As expected, you can control every little detail of your network. Once again, this isn’t for everyone and you will have to learn a lot of things about networking in order to optimize your setup. But if you’re a digital tinkerer, it’s a breath of fresh air.

The UniFi Dream Machine acts as the DHCP server in my home. I have renamed my devices and assigned fixed IPs to all my device in order to find them more easily. You can see in real time the network they’re using and if they’re getting a good Wi-Fi signal.

I have also configured Cloudflare’s 1.1.1.1 public DNS at the network level.

There are a ton of possibilities if you care about security. I created a guest Wi-Fi network that only lets my friends access the internet. They can browse Twitter and stream Netflix shows without any issue, but they can’t access my computers on the local network.

I also created another Wi-Fi network for IoT devices, such as connected speakers, a printer and a robot vacuum. Connected devices don’t get a lot of security patches and have more vulnerabilities than a computer or a smartphone that you keep up-to-date. I assigned a different VLAN to this Wi-Fi network. VLANs let you create a partitioned network with different sets of rules.

I applied firewall rules to this VLAN so that I can control the devices from my personal devices, but they can’t initiate requests to my devices on their own. This is overkill for most people, but it’s fun that you can do that from UniFi’s controller. More details here.

When it comes to Wi-Fi, everything is customizable and performances have been stellar. I live in a small apartment, but the balcony has always been an issue. I often work from the balcony, and I’ve been using a cheap Wi-Fi extender that I found in a box of gadgets and cables.

I unplugged the Wi-Fi extender and tried to connect to the UniFi Dream Machine. I get better performance, even if I reduce Wi-Fi transmit power to medium.

These are just a few examples of things you can do with the UniFi Dream Machine. I feel like I’m still underusing the device (you can connect via SSH and control everything from the terminal), but I wouldn’t consider going back to an entry-level router with Wi-Fi capabilities.

Targeting prosumers

The UniFi Dream Machine is the networking device I didn’t know I wanted. I’ll never have hundreds of Wi-Fi devices connected to my home network. I don’t need a dozen Ethernet ports. And yet, I want to be in control of my network. If you

Apple’s AirPort Extreme or if you’re a networking nerd, you should consider the UniFi Dream Machine.

Small businesses and shops often make some poor decisions at the beginning of the company. A cheap Wi-Fi router on Amazon doesn’t cut it when your business scales. The Dream Machine can be a good entry point as you’ll be able to build upon that base device.

But if you think you have bigger needs, don’t try to run a big network from a UniFi Dream Machine. Ubiquiti sells some great rackable devices that will give you a lot more flexibility. The UniFi Dream Machine is a constrained machine after all. That’s what makes it both not good enough for enterprise customers and great for prosumers.

 


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Now even the FBI is warning about your smart TV’s security

22:47 | 1 December

If you just bought a smart TV on Black Friday or plan to buy one for Cyber Monday tomorrow, the FBI wants you to know a few things.

Smart TVs are like regular television sets but with an internet connection. With the advent and growth of Netflix, Hulu and other streaming services, most saw internet-connected televisions as a cord-cutter’s dream. But like anything that connects to the internet, it opens up smart TVs to security vulnerabilities and hackers. Not only that, many smart TVs come with a camera and a microphone. But as is the case with most other internet-connected devices, manufacturers often don’t put security as a priority.

That’s the key takeaway from the FBI’s Portland field office, which just ahead of some of the biggest shopping days of the year posted a warning on its website about the risks that smart TVs pose.

“Beyond the risk that your TV manufacturer and app developers may be listening and watching you, that television can also be a gateway for hackers to come into your home. A bad cyber actor may not be able to access your locked-down computer directly, but it is possible that your unsecured TV can give him or her an easy way in the backdoor through your router,” wrote the FBI.

The FBI warned that hackers can take control of your unsecured smart TV and in worst cases, take control of the camera and microphone to watch and listen in.

Active attacks and exploits against smart TVs are rare, but not unheard of. Because every smart TV comes with their manufacturer’s own software and are at the mercy of their often unreliable and irregular security patching schedule, some devices are more vulnerable than others. Earlier this year, hackers showed it was possible to hijack Google’s Chromecast streaming stick and broadcast random videos to thousands of victims.

In fact, some of the biggest exploits targeting smart TVs in recent years were developed by the Central Intelligence Agency, but were stolen and published online by WikiLeaks two years ago.

But as much as the FBI’s warning is responding to genuine fears, arguably one of the bigger issues that should cause as much if not greater concerns are how much tracking data is collected on smart TV owners.

The Washington Post earlier this year found that some of the most popular smart TV makers — including Samsung and LG — collect tons of information about what users are watching in order to help advertisers better target ads against their viewers and to suggest what to watch next, for example. The TV tracking problem became so problematic a few years ago that smart TV maker Vizio had to pay $2.2 million in fines after it was caught secretly collecting customer viewing data. Earlier this year, a separate class action suit related to the tracking again Vizio was allowed to go ahead.

The FBI recommends placing black tape over an unused smart TV camera, keeping your smart TV up-to-date with the latest patches and fixes, and to read the privacy policy to better understand what your smart TV is capable of.

As convenient as it might be, the most secure smart TV might be one that isn’t connected to the internet at all.

 


0

Peak Design’s Everyday Backpack Zip and Everyday Backpack V2 are top-notch photo and travel bags

20:11 | 28 November

Peak Design has evolved from a crowdfunded upstart into a trusted accessory brand for photographers everywhere, and this week it introduced updates to its ‘Everyday’ line of backpacks and bags. These new and improved designs offer stuff that impresses anyone who was previously a fan of Peak’s work, and should also win the company brand new fans, based on my testing of the all-new Everyday Backpack Zip 20L and the updated Everyday Backpack V2 30L.

Everyday Backpack Zip 20L

The Everyday Backpack Zip is a brand new product for Peak, taking a lot of inspiration from the Everyday backpack but opting for a full zip closure in place of the MagLatch that it created and introduced on the Everyday line. Opting to go with a zipper instead of the MagLatch means that the Zip backpack doesn’t have the same capacity expandability to allow you to stuff more… stuff… in the top compartment, but it also offers its own benefits depending on your needs.

First, there’s price: The Backpack Zip 20L I reviewed will cost you $219.95, which is $40 less than the equivalent Everyday Backpack with the magnetic closure. It’s not a huge gap, but if you’re looking to save a few dollars it’s a good value for what you get. The Zip also comes in a smaller 15L capacity, the smallest size for any of the Everyday Backpacks, and that’s a nice compact bag for anyone with a smaller frame or looking to carry less gear.

The zipper enclosure is also interesting in its own right, allowing you to fully open the back of the bag if you want. By default, there are rigid dividers in the backpack to effectively give it shelves, but should you want to remove these, this makes this the most easily packable Peak backpack in this daypack size range. It’s therefore a great choice for those looking for a backpack to use for purposes other than as a camera bag.

The Everyday Zip also still packs a ton of connection points for you to hook gear to, as well as improved zippers vs. Peak’s original packs. There’s a dedicated laptop sleeve with a tablet pocket that can fit 15″ laptops on the 20L and 13″ laptops on the 15L. The 20L also features the all-new adjustable laptop pocket design that Peak introduced on this generation, which includes an adjustable shelf that lets it more easily hold smaller laptops without them falling all the way to the bottom. It’s also on the standard Backpack V2, and it’s an awesome and easy-to-use quality of life improvement.

Like the Everyday Backpack, the Zip also features a pass-through luggage strap for putting it on a roller while you’re making your way through an airport, and interlocking zipper pulls that can help prevent anyone from quickly tugging open the bag to try to manage a quick pass-by theft. The durable, ripstop fabric exterior is also great for lifetime sustainability.

In terms of capacity, this is a smaller bag but it can still fit a lot of gear – I was able to pack my Sony 70-200 f/2.8 GM, Sony 100-400 f/2.8 GM and my Sony A7R IV with the 24-70 f/2.8 GM attached for instance, though fitting all that in with the requisite accessories is probably too tight a fit and merits moving up to the bigger sizes of the V2.

 

Everyday Backpack V2 30L

The improved Everyday Backpack V2 brings back the MagLatch, with a new design that Peak says is “more ergonomic and sleek.” It definitely stands out less than before, and does seem to be more intuitive to use, which is good news. The sides are again accessible via two zippered compartments (all the zippers are improved and designed for more durability) and the interior is divided by three included velcro, flexible dividers.

The overall look of the Everyday Backpack V2 has been tweaked – and for the better. It was already one of the better looking photo backpacks you could buy, but Peak has made it more rounded this generation, and improved the look of all the seams for a look that just generally projects more quality and attention to detail.

Peak sent the 30L version for me to review, and the capacity difference between it and the 20L Zip allows for packing in way more stuff, including all the various accessories like extra batteries and chargers, mics and more you’re likely to want with you on a dedicated photo or video shoot. I could easily pack the same lens+body combo mentioned above, plus a Mavic Mini and a second Sony A7III body in the 30L.

That height-adjustable laptop sleeve is again present, and makes an even bigger difference on the 30L, since the pocket is deeper to begin with. On my existing V1 Everyday, chasing down the company-issue 13″ MacBook Pro in that cavernous pocket was always a bit like diving deep to pull a rabbit out of a hat, but here it’s really easy and far less likely to give your fingers rug burn.

The shoulder straps on the Everyday V2 are also improved, and they do feel more comfortable based on initial testing. They also now have embedded magnets that connect to the back of the bag when you’re not wearing it, which is actually wonderful for when you’re stowing the bag in an airplane overhead compartment, or putting it through the scanner at the airport security checkpoint. It’s a small detail, but then again Peak’s whole rep is built on it including small details, like the various stowable straps, that remain out of the way until needed and then really deliver awesome convenience.

Bottom Line

Just like the originals, Peak has delivered what are likely the most thoughtful, carefully designed photography backpacks available on the market with their V2 range. The fact that Peak as a company is now also focused on ensuring they can build and deliver their products in a way that has a neutral impact on the climate is just an added benefit of its ability to engineer and deliver high-quality, functional gear.

Peak’s stuff is not for everyone – you can definitely get totally fine photo gear for less money. But it’s a category-leading choice for anyone with the means and a great value if you’re looking for a long-term, modular solution that you can go everywhere with.

 


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The Samsung Galaxy Fold is headed to Canada, with in-store pre-orders starting today

17:37 | 28 November

The Samsung Galaxy Fold is a very unique smartphone, in more ways than one. The most obvious differentiator is that it folds out to expose a large, continuous 7.3″ display, hiding the seam thanks to a flexible OLED screen. It’s also at the very top end of the smartphone market price-wise, which could explain why it only debuted in a few limited markets at launch. Samsung says that customer interest has helped expand that initial pool of availability, however, which is why it’s launching pre-orders in Canada today.

There’s going to be some sticker shock for Canadians, however: The Fold starts at $2,599.99 CAD in its newest market. That’s the price you’d pay for a well-specced computer, but it’s actually right in line with the price of the phone in the U.S. when you account for currency conversion. Pre-orders are also going to be exclusively in-store, at Samsung’s Eaton Center, Sherway Gardens and Yorkdale locations, all of which are in Toronto. Retail sales, also exclusive to Samsung’s own retail operations, are starting December 6 but pre-order customers will be able to ensure a day one pickup.

Samsung’s Galaxy Fold has had a bit of an uneven launch, with a first attempt cancelled in light of multiple reviewers experiencing issues with their devices. Samsung re-designed elements of the phone as a result, including adding caps to prevent dust entering the crucial hinge component that powers the folding actions, and embedding a necessary pre-installed protective screen covering under the phone’s bezels. Still, our own Brian Heater experienced a display hardware issue within a day with his redesigned review device.

Samsung is offering free “Fold Premiere Service” which includes discounted screen replacements and standard free repairs when an issue is not due to any misuse on a user’s part. Overall, the takeaway should be that this is a first-generation device, but also a totally unique piece of technology in today’s marketplace for those willing to risk it.

 


0

Nix Pro 2 and Nix Mini color sensors are powerful, easy-to-use additions to any creative pro toolkit

16:59 | 28 November

Translating the physical world to the digital has been a challenge, especially when it comes to things like color: Color isn’t actually all that static a thing, and the myriad displays and cameras we use can represent them in very different ways. But new gadgets from startup Nix can help cut through the confusion – the Nix line of color sensors, including the accessible Nix Mini (normally $99) and the more sophisticated Nix Pro 2 (normally $349).

These devices are deceptively simple in their use and construction, but do one job remarkably well – with a lot going on behind the scenes to make that possible. They’re main purpose is to give you a digital interpretation of an analog color, which could be the color of any surface you come across. To do this, they house a small lens and sensor inside a diamond-shaped plastic enclosure. Both the Mini and the Pro are easily pocketable, but the Mini is about the diameter of a large coin, while the Pro feels more like a golf ball in the hand.

The sensors include built-in batteries that charge via Micro USB, and since they aren’t really using that much power when in operation, you can get around 3,000 individual surface scans out of a single full battery. Using them is also fantastically easy: You download an app (Nix has three, including one for digital color capture, one for paint, and one for Pro users with additional info useful for professional paint shops and other applications), pair one of the devices (they should show up automatically once charged) and then tap a button in the app to scan a surface, holding the Nix up to said surface.

The process is super quick, and provides different results depending on which app you’re using. In the Nix Paints app, once you select your preferred brand, it’ll give you the closes possible off-the-shelf matches, which is great if you’re doing patch work or repainting a portion of your house. You can also get a palette of complimentary or otherwise matching colors for redecorating. And the ‘Digital’ app lets you see all the HEX and other values you’d use for web or digital product design, and also build palettes that work together for project work.

[gallery ids="1917679,1917680,1917681,1917682"]

Nix Pro provides a range of color readouts that are used by professionals for super-accurate matching and measurement, and you can again use the built-in paint library to match accurately, or the color values to have a batch custom mixed to your specifications.

Nix can scan just about any surface, including all types of paints and fabrics, as well as tile and other flooring. It’s an accessory that really makes quick and painless what has been a pretty messy process in the past, and it also comes calibrated out of the box so there’s nothing the user has to do to ensure color accuracy when actually using it.

 


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Gift guide: Photography accessories for the shutterbug in your life

02:00 | 28 November

Looking for some gift ideas for the photographer in your life? Look no further. Though shooters amateur and professional tend to take care of their own needs pretty well, there are plenty of things you can given them that they’ll appreciate. But you might have to be ready to spend a bit — people don’t pick up this hobby because it’s so cheap.

USB-C Hub – $40-$60

A lot of the latest laptops are eschewing a variety of ports for more or only USB-C. Some like this trend, and some hate it, but one way or another you’ve got to deal with it. Photographers especially. This Vava hub has pretty much everything your average shooter needs, including old-type USB ports for legacy gear, an SD card reader, and a headphone jack for reviewing video. This one is $60 but there are bigger and smaller ones if you happen to know they use Ethernet, microSD, and so on. Just stay away from the bargain bin ones — you don’t want to mess around when it comes to carrying lots of power.

Hand strap – $10-$40

Everyone has a neck strap for their camera because they always come with one. But not everyone wants to use them — the included ones are cheap and even good ones can be annoying. A hand strap is a good alternative that adds a lot of security very simply. For a smaller camera like a mirrorless, a simple, high quality strap like Gordy’s is a good option. And for heavier bodies like DSLRs with big lenses, Peak Design’s Clutch is a solid one that works across many brands. Many camera manufacturers make their own as well, but we’ve found that Peak often makes meaningful improvements on suchstandard models.

Extra SD cards and a carry case – $30-40

A photographer can never have too many cards, and a good case never goes amiss, either. You can’t go wrong with Pelican when it comes to cases, even if $30 seems a lot to spend on a little plastic clamshell with foam inside. As for SD cards, 32 gigabytes is a nice safe number. Just make sure you stick to known brands like Sandisk and Kingston, and make sure it’s a “Class 10” card — lower numbers mean slower transfer speeds.

A year of Adobe – $120

This is a tough one. Lots of photographers use Lightroom and Photoshop, and it would be nice to be able to gift them a few months or a year’s worth of subscription to Adobe’s platform. But Adobe makes this so hard to do that we can’t actually figure out a good way to do it. Nevertheless, if you can figure out a creative way to go about this, your photographer friend will appreciate it. Adobe, if you’re reading this, make this work!

Microfiber wipes – $10-15

One thing you can never have too many of as a photographer is lens wipes. Some prefer the disposable type and/or a little air puff, but a pack of small microfiber ones will also be welcome, as they can be used for glasses, laptop screens, and everything else as well. They’re all pretty much the same and you can get a dozen small ones for less than ten bucks.

A decent bag – $100-400

waxed messengers 28

It’s amazing how often a photographer will spend a thousand bucks on a lens but have their gear sloshing around in some old backpack. A good bag helps keep your gear safe but also makes you a better shooter by making you organize, inventory, and keep things accessible. There are a lot of great bags to choose from out there, which is why we have Bag Week, but I’m partial to Ona for waxed and vintage style camera bags and Peak Design for a more modern, synthetic style.

Soft shutter release – $25

A soft shutter release is definitely a niche gift, but if you have someone on the list who shoots one of Fujifilm’s rangefinder-style cameras, or a Leica if they’re really fancy, a soft shutter release is an awesome, inexpensive stocking stuffer. The Match Technical Boop-O pictured above on an X-T3 camera adds a very nice, easy-to-squeeze ergonomic shutter control to the existing flat button. It screws into a hole that’s already built in to Fuji cameras that support this, including the X100-series and the X-T series cameras, to name just a few popular options. Stick-on soft shutter releases are also available for cameras that don’t have this mount built-in.

Portable lighting – $70-$500

If you think photographic lighting is just about on-camera flash, then you probably haven’t done enough experimenting with the variety of smart lightening accessories out there. Two great options are the Lume Cube line of products (Lume Cube Air pictured, left above) and the Profoto C1 and C1+. These serve different needs, but can both be used to help you do really fun stuff with both smartphone and dedicated camera-based photography. The price ranges vary, but Profoto’s offering is aimed more at pros who want portable lighting that approaches what you can get out of much more expensive studio setups, while Lume Cube is better suited to the action and drone photography set.

Gnarbox – $500-$900

Gnarbox 2.0 6This is definitely a gift reserved only for the people who merit big ticket purchases on your list, given its price. It’s also designed specifically to suit the needs of creative professionals, so it’s probably too much gear for most people. That said, if there is a pro photographer or videographer in your life who you really care deeply about, this is likely to be a gift that they’ll value – even if they already have one, since it’s the kind of gear where more = better. The Gnarbox provides easy SD backup and file management for photos and videos, so that you can keep shooting longer in the field and work with the files on the go. The 2.0 version is finally shipping, which offers SSD-based storage for much faster transfer and working speeds.

Mini tripod – $12 – $35

A mini tripod is a great addition to any photography kit, and there are a range of options available to suit different sizes and types of cameras, from smartphones all the way up to big DSLRs. The best value for money just might be the Manfrotto PIXI lineup, however, which itself comes in a range of options. The basic PIXI Mini Tripod is probably plenty enough for most, and can really help make sure that you get great travel shots and selfies while keeping your pack light. The PIXI EVO gives you a bit more flexibility with extendable legs for a bit more money.

 

 


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Gift Guide: Essential security and privacy gifts to help protect your friends and family

00:37 | 28 November

 

There’s no such thing as perfect privacy or security, but there’s a lot you can do to lock down your online life. And the holiday season is a great time to encourage others to do the same. Some people are more likely to take security into their own hands if they’re given a nudge along the way.

Here we have a selection of gift ideas — from helpful security solutions to unique and interesting gadgets that will keep your information safe, but without breaking the bank.

A hardware security key for two-factor

Your online accounts have everything about you and you’d want to keep them safe. Two-factor authentication is great, but for the more security minded there’s an even stronger solution. A security key is a physical hardware key that’s even stronger than having a two-factor code going to your phone. These keys plug into your USB port on your computer (or the charger port on your phone) to prove to online services, like Facebook, Google, and Twitter, that you are who you say you are. Google’s own data shows security keys offer near-unbeatable protection against even the most powerful and resourced nation-state hackers. Yubikeys are our favorite and come in all shapes and sizes. They’re also cheap. Google also has a range of its own branded Titan security keys, one of which also offers Bluetooth connectivity.

Price: from $20.
Available from: Yubico Store | Google Store

Webcam cover

Surveillance-focused malware, like remote access trojans, can infect computers and remotely switch on your webcam without your permission. Most computer webcams these days have an indicator light that shows you when the camera is active. But what if your camera is blocked, preventing any accidental exposure in the first place? Enter the simple but humble webcam blocker. It slides open when you need to access your camera, and slides to cover the lens when you don’t. Support local businesses and non-profits — you can search for unique and interesting webcam covers on Etsy

Price: from $5 – $10.
Available from: Etsy | Electronic Frontier Foundation

A microphone blocker

Now you have you webcam cover, what about your microphone? Just as hackers can tap into your webcam, they can also pick up on your audio. Microphone blockers contain a semiconductor that tricks your computer or device into thinking that it’s a working microphone, when in fact it’s not able to pick up any audio. Anyone hacking into your device won’t hear a thing. Some modern Macs already come with a new Apple T2 security chip which prevents hackers from snooping on your microphone when your laptop’s lid is shut. But a microphone blocker will work all the time, even when the lid is open.

Price: $6.99 – $16.99.
Available from: Nope Blocker | Mic Lock

A USB data blocker

You might have heard about “juice-jacking,” where hackers plant malicious implants in USB outlets, which steal a person’s device data when an unsuspecting victim plugs in. It’s a threat that’s almost unheard of, but proof-of-concepts have shown how easy it is to implant malicious components in legitimate-looking cables. A USB data blocker essentially acts as a data barrier, preventing any information going in or out of your device, while letting power through to charge your battery. They’re cheap but effective.

Price: from $6.99 and $11.49.
Available from: Amazon | SyncStop

A privacy screen for your computer or phone

How often have you seen someone’s private messages or document as you look over their shoulder, or see them in the next aisle over? Privacy screens can protect you from “visual hacking.” These screens make it near-impossible for anyone other than the device user to snoop at what you’re working on. And, you can get them for all kinds of devices and displays — including phones. But make sure you get the right size!

Price: from about $17.
Available from: Amazon

A password manager subscription

Password managers are a real lifesaver. One strong, unique password lets you into your entire bank of passwords. They’re great for storing your passwords, but also for encouraging you to use better, stronger, unique passwords. And because many are cross-platform, you can bring your passwords with you. Plenty of password managers exist — from LastPass, Lockbox, and Dashlane, to open-source versions like KeePass. Many are free, but a premium subscription often comes with benefits and better features. And if you’re a journalist, 1Password has a free subscription for you.

Price: Many free, premium offerings start at $35.88 – $44.28 annually
Available from: 1Password | LastPass | Dashlane | KeePass

Anti-surveillance clothing

Whether you’re lawfully protesting or just want to stay in “incognito mode,” there are — believe it or not — fashion lines that can help prevent facial recognition and other surveillance systems from identifying you. This clothing uses a kind of camouflage that confuses surveillance technology by giving them more interesting things to detect, like license plates and other detectable patterns.

Price: $35.99.
Available from: Adversarial Fashion

Pi-hole

Think of a Pi-hole as a “hardware ad-blocker.” A Pi-hole is a essentially a Raspberry Pi mini-computer that runs ad-blocking technology as a box that sits on your network. It means that everyone on your home network benefits from ad blocking. Ads may generate revenue for websites but online ads are notorious for tracking users across the web. Until ads can behave properly, a Pi-hole is a great way to capture and sinkhole bad ad traffic. The hardware may be cheap, but the ad-blocking software is free. Donations to the cause are welcome.

Price: From $35.
Available from: Pi-hole | Raspberry Pi

And finally, some light reading…

There are two must-read books this year. NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s “Permanent Record” autobiography covers his time as he left the shadowy U.S. intelligence agency to Hong Kong, where he spilled thousands of highly classified government documents to reporters about the scope and scale of its massive global surveillance partnerships and programs. And, Andy Greenberg’s book on “Sandworm”, a beautifully written deep-dive into a group of Russian hackers blamed for the most disruptive cyberattack in history, NotPetya, This incredibly detailed investigative book leaves no stone unturned, unravelling the work of a highly secretive group that caused billions of dollars of damage.

Price: From $14.99.
Available from: Amazon (Permanent Record) | Amazon (Sandworm)

 


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This robot scientist has conducted 100,000 experiments in a year

22:01 | 27 November

Science is exciting in theory, but it can also be dreadfully dull. Some experiments require hundreds or thousands of repetitions or trials — an excellent opportunity to automate. That’s just what MIT scientists have done, creating a robot that performs a certain experiment, observes the results, and plans a follow-up… and has now done so 100,000 times in the year it’s been operating.

The field of fluid dynamics involves a lot of complex and unpredictable forces, and sometimes the best way to understand them is to repeat things over and over until patterns emerge. (Well, it’s a little more complex than that, but this is neither the time nor the place to delve into the general mysteries of fluid dynamics.)

One of the observations that needs to be performed is of “vortex-induced vibration,” a kind of disturbance that matters a lot to designing ships that travel through water efficiently. It involves close observation of an object moving through water… over, and over, and over.

Turns out it’s also a perfect duty for a robot to take over. But the Intelligent Tow Tank, as they call this robotic experimentation platform, is designed not just to do the mechanical work of dragging something through the water, but to intelligently observe the results, change the setup accordingly to pursue further information, and continue doing that until it has something worth reporting.

“The ITT has already conducted about 100,000 experiments, essentially completing the equivalent of all of a Ph.D. student’s experiments every 2 weeks,” say the researchers in their paper, published today in Science Robotics.

The hard part, of course, was not designing the robot (though that was undoubtedly difficult as well) but the logic that lets it understand, at a surface level so to speak, the currents and flows of the fluid system and conduct follow-up experiments that produce useful results.

Normally a human (probably a grad student) would have to observe every trial — the parameters of which may be essentially random — and decide how to move forward. But this is rote work — not the kind of thing an ambitious researcher would like to spend their time doing.

So it’s a blessing that this robot, and others like it, could soon take over the grunt work while humans focus on high-level concepts and ideas. The paper notes other robots at CMU and elsewhere that have demonstrated how automation of such work could proceed.

“This constitutes a potential paradigm shift in conducting experimental research, where robots, computers, and humans collaborate to accelerate discovery and to search expeditiously and effectively large parametric spaces that are impracticable with the traditional approach,” the team writes.

You can read the paper describing the Intelligent Tow Tank here.

 


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