Sending It Up

Any seasoned watcher of Indiegogo and Kickstarter will know that there’s a fairly standard formula for product pitches, from the vocal inflections to the disembodied hands. This gives a great opportunity for lampooning those start-ups that take themselves entirely too seriously. Here’s Introducing Carrot, a new venture dedicating to bringing the orange root vegetable to the technorati. Not sure why they didn’t go with Carrt….

If that’s not enough, Ikea’s BookBook, is both a fabulous parody while promoting a real product. Total genius, though it has been around for a little while.

Finally, Mike Frey‘s My Life Vs…GoPro is a great antidote to GoPro’s videos, jumpcutting between their adrenaline-fuelled action and mundane reality.

All too true.

Redbox Instant Shutting Down

redboxI have had a Redbbox Instant account for a couple of months, and was actually on the verge of canceling it. The only reason I decided not to, was that I had been getting 4 free video rentals per month and the kids had been using the service off an on. This morning I received the following notice.

Thank you for being a part of Redbox Instant by Verizon. We’re reaching out to let you know that the service will be shut down on Tuesday, October 7, 2014 at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time.
You will receive a separate email from us on Friday, October 10 with details regarding refunds you are owed. For additional information, please click here.
In the meantime, you may continue to stream movies and use your Redbox kiosk credits until Tuesday, October 7 at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time.
Thanks again for being a Redbox Instant by Verizon customer. We apologize for any inconvenience and thank you for the opportunity to entertain you.
Sincerely,
The Redbox Instant by Verizon Team

Massdrop Raises $6.5 million

Massdrop LogoMassdrop have announced that it has raised $6.5 million in a Series A round of financing, led by Mayfield Fund. This new funding brings the company’s total funds raised to about $8 million, which includes existing investors Kleiner Perkins, First Round Capital and Cowboy Ventures. Massdrop will use the cash to fuel its rapid growth and deliver on its vision for a new wave of community-driven commerce.

If you haven’t come across Massdrop before, it’s a bit like a social version of GroupOn. Massdrop supports a range of communities from automotive to in-vogue vaping. A poll product category is put forward and enthusiasts suggest different models in the product category, before everyone votes on their preferred one. For example, there might be a poll for external battery packs with models from Anker, NewTrent, Mophie and Satechi put forward and then voted on. Once there are some top choices, Massdrop approach the vendor(s) to see if they would be interested in a bulk sale, potentially with a range of price points based on volume. If agreeable, the product is put on sale with the different points shown thermometer-style. Purchasers can either buy regardless of price point or else commit to buy when it reaches a particular point.

It’s a cool idea that seems guaranteed to get savings. There are some downsides, the main one being that you have to wait until you get your hands on the product. First, the purchasing window has to close, then the whole shipment is delivered to Massdrop who finally re-ship the individual items. Definitely not for goods you want in hurry, but where it scores is that you potentially get the best product in the class at a good price.

On this basis, it’s not hard to see why Massdrop could be big. It combines the benefits of a crowd-sourced product recommendation site with the power of group purchasing to reduce prices while keeping quality up. For vendors, it’s no longer a race to the bottom; there’s an incentive to make good products.

Further, unlike Kickstarter and Indiegogo, you’re buying a real, existing product and not gambling on the design and manufacture of an unknown product which takes months to deliver.

I think that the financiers have made a canny investment in Massdrop as there’s lots of potential here and I’ll be looking out for a bargain on the site too. What do you think?

Podcast Awards Acquired by New Media Expo


As Founder of the Podcast Awards, I want to announce some exciting news. After some thought, I’ve made the decision to sell The Podcast Awards to New Media Expo and their team. I made this decision as Rick and his team have been so involved with us over the past few years.

It has been my absolute pleasure to create and run the awards for the past 9 years, giving podcasters a platform to be recognized. All of this would not have been possible without the support of the podcasting community, and the podcasters that supported the show financially. I will be forever grateful for their participation.

Over the past couple of years, New Media Expo has been instrumental in our Awards Ceremony’s success. I feel certain that the NMX team is ready to take The Podcast Awards to the next level.

Of course, I am not disappearing. I will have a founders’ role and will advise the NMX team in the development and production of the 10th annual event, April 14th in Las Vegas, NV. While Rick and his team will likely make some changes along the way, the spirit of the Peoples Choice Awards will still remain, with the nominees and winners being selected by the listeners, fans and podcasters.

See you at the 10th Annual Podcast Awards

Todd

See New Media Expo Comment

Archos Smart Home Review

Archos LogoThese days it’s either i-this or smart-that with new gadgets measuring and changing our personal environment. From Fitbit to Philips Hue, the internet of things is steadily growing and into this increasingly connected world, French firm Archos have stepped in. Their Smart Home tablet wirelessly connects sensors to a central hub that monitors and initiates actions based on conditions. Archos kindly lent me a Smart Home to raise the IQ of my house. Let’s take a look.

Archos Smart Home Box

In the box there’s the Smart Home tablet, plus six connected objects; two mini-cams, two movement tags and two weather tags. The tablet itself looks much like a digital photo frame but it’s actually a small 7″ device running Android 4.2.

Archos Smart Home Front View

Archos Smart Home Rear View

In the looks department, the Smart Home tablet fits the bill with styling that wouldn’t look out of place in a living room. It is all plastic, including the screen which seems to be acrylic rather than glass, but perhaps will better withstand being knocked. Some thought has been given to the design as the screen’s viewing angle appears to be have been adjusted slightly so that screen looks good when someone looks down at it, rather than straight on. There’s only about 2.5 GB of free memory on-board but there is a microSD card slot to boost the Smart Home’s capacity. Performance-wise, it’s no speed demon with a 1.2 GHz ARM processor, but as most of the time the Smart Home just sits there receiving data, it’s a not a big deal. A camera and a thermometer are built into the tablet too and these can be used to take pictures and measure the temperatureas well as the connected objects.

The connected objects are shown below with the mini-cam, weather tag and movement tag from left to right. All have sticky pads which allow adhesion to flat surfaces round the house. The mini-cam ball is held in the foot by magnets and it means the ball can oriented in almost any direction. The weather tag measures temperature and humidity, and the movement tag can measure both motion and door opening / closing.

Archos Smart Home Sensors

Getting setup is easy and straightforward. Running the Archos Smart Home software initially asks for the different rooms where devices are located.

Smart Home Rooms

Once the rooms are setup, the connected objects can be added into the relevant room. The objects use Bluetooth rather than Zigbee and pairing is simply a case of holding down a button on the connected object for 5 seconds. It worked flawlessly. The pairing screen shows all the objects available, not only the ones in the box.

Accessories

Once all setup, the Smart Home tablet presents a view with the room and all the objects in the room.

Hall

In the Hall, I had two mini-cams, a weather tag and a movement tag. Tapping on any device in the app then gives more data or information – here’s the weather tag showing data over the past week for both temperature and humidity.

Temperature and Humidity

Great but how do we get from monitoring the weather to doing something smart? Archos have the answer by building simple “if this, do that” programs. For example, if temperature falls below two degrees Celsius, email to me “It might be slippy.” Or more usefully, if the door opens, take a picture and send an email – like this.

Program

Sure enough, when the front door is opened, I get an email (my personal email is address is obscured by the black box).

Mail

 

The mini-cam also takes a picture (or a short video) but they won’t show a live feed, presumably because Bluetooth can’t transfer the data very quickly. You’ll notice one of the slight problems….the Smart Home doesn’t really take pictures fast enough as in many of the photos the person who opened the door has already moved out of shot. These are all real life photos, nothing was staged. A mini-cam positioned further down the hall generally did better at getting people entering the property.

Minicam Pictures

Out of the box, there’s a fairly limited range of actions such as send email, turn on plug and so on, but Smart Home can use the Tasker app to do more. Tasker supports a wide range of actions, including starting other apps, which makes it quite a powerful solution. However, even this simple email-me-on-the-front-door-opening is useful when wanting to know if someone has arrived home safely (or a thief has broken into your house!)

Other nifty features are that the Smart Home can be accessed from other tablets or smartphones. After a straightforward authorisation process, the system can be viewed from other devices both inside and outside the house. Here’s what it looks like on my smartphone.

Smartphone View

Overall, the Smart Home worked well, mostly sitting on the table doing its job. I did find that I mostly used my ordinary tablet (a Nexus 7)  to work with the Smart Home rather than picking up the unit itself. I set the Smart Home tablet up as a digital photo frame using the standard Android Daydream screensaver to fit into the room.

There were a couple of problems, the first being the range and penetration of Bluetooth. I live in a modest house with brick walls which meant that the weather tag at the rear of the property couldn’t be picked up if the Smart Home tablet was in the front room. Secondly, battery life – the mini-cams seemed get through a set of batteries in about a fortnight and each one took three CR2450 button cells. The movement and weather tags weren’t quite so bad – perhaps a month and only one battery. As an aside there’s no way of muting the low battery warnings that appear in orange on the screen. A connected object could be disconnected but that deleted the historical date at the same time.

Bizarrely, the other problem was how I felt about spying on my family, which is not anything to do with the Archos Smart Home, so I’ll save that for another post. I can see the Smart Home working for families with children that come home when the parents are still at work and the email notifications would give any parent a measure of comfort that their son or daughter is home safe.

The Smart Home costs GB£199 from Archos’ online store. Other additional connected objects are “coming soon”, including an HD weatherproof camera and a siren tag. In summary, the Smart Home is a well integrated system that has room for expansion with more types of connected objects but watch out for the limitations of Bluetooth range and battery life.

Thanks to Archos for the loan of the Smart Home.

 

Welcome HTWeekly.com to GNC Family

HT_Weekly_iTunesI want to welcome Jamie Davis and his show Health Tech Weekly (HTWeekly.com) to the Geek News Central Family. Jaime and I have worked together for a number of years on a variety of projects. So it is with great pleasure that I welcome him to our family of shows.

We have entered an age where our health activities will be monitored by the tech we wear and what our doctors prescribe. We are also seeing huge advancements in medicine through the technology that the medical profession utilizes and Jaime and his team will bring you all the latest.

This is the second show we have added to our family of shows this year and I look forward to working with Jaime and his team.

So we have a new look!

It has been at least 3-4 years since we have done a major over-haul of the site. There are a lot more changes coming, each of the shows on the site will be moving to their own sites, and while we should wrap up most of the heavy lifting this weekend I look forward to tweaking things and adding elements to the website.

Let us know what you like, hate, would like to see improved. If you see things out of place don’t fret we are working on it as fast as we can.

Digital Curmudgeon

EEEPC-SSDThere’s a dirty little secret about computer performance that is hiding within plain sight. A solid state drive (SSD) will take almost any machine manufactured within the past five to ten years and give it a massive performance boost.

I have an Asus 1000HE EEEPC Netbook from four or five years ago. It came with a 160 gigabyte 5900 RPM conventional spinning hard drive. With the conventional hard drive, the computer was painfully slow to boot up and to use. It would take the better part of 10 minutes to completely boot up and become usable.

I installed a 120 gigabyte Crucial M500 SSD drive into it and restored the operating system (Windows XP SP3) from the original system DVD that came with the machine. After installing the software I will be using with the machine, including Adobe Audition 1.5 and MS Office XP, it completely boots up and is 100% usable within 30 seconds! Programs load immediately and windows snap to attention.

I use this machine as a handy backup machine to an older SSD-equipped white plastic Macbook. The Asus Netbook doesn’t take up much room when I’m traveling. I realize that XP is no longer being supported by Microsoft, but I want to hang on to the perfectly functional older software such as Adobe Audition 1.5 that really has no modern equivalent that I like nearly as well. I am not browsing or doing email with this machine, so it should be perfectly safe to continue to use well into the future.

The move to mobile has caused me to shift away from relying much on traditional computers. During the last year I have used my computers only to record podcasts with. Email and browsing are handled exclusively on mobile devices.

In recent years I’ve grown increasingly annoyed by the constant upgrade cycle drumbeat. It seems there is always some fix or some new supposedly “must have” version of virtually every piece of hardware and software. Why upgrade? “Better performance” and/or “better security” are almost always the answers that are either given or implied. Often I find that NOT to be the case.

Operating system updates end up destroying existing software and hardware compatabilities. Sometimes software that won’t work on a new version of an operating system is never updated or replaced, and the functionality is simply lost.

So, if you have an older machine, including both Windows and Mac, depending on what you are using it for, if you want to hold on to perfectly functional older hardware and software, installing an SSD into an older machine can give it an incredible performance boost that will blow away any brand new machine that is not equipped with an SSD drive. Also, SSD prices contine to go down. A 120 gigabyte Crucial M500 drive now sells for about $72 dollars on Amazon, making it one amazing inexpensive upgrade that offers the absolute most bang possible for the buck!

Crowdtilt Gets a New Name and Logo

Tilt logoCrowdtilt is one of the websites that people go to when they want to raise money via crowdfunding. They have announced that they are changing their name to Tilt. Naturally, this required an alteration to their logo.

Crowdfunding, as you may know, is the act in which a person raises money by asking the good people of the internet to send them small financial donations. The person typically posts a photo (or video) of himself or herself, explains why they need money, and asks for help. At Crowdtilt, the amount of money raised needed to hit a certain amount in order to “tilt”. If a project “tilts”, it means the person will receive the donations that are sent.

Crowdtilt says: Our motivation is to turn ideas into reality through the power of simple, social, collective action, and reaching that transformative moment of critical mass – it’s always been about the tilt. So today, we’re changing our name to reflect this mission.

From today forward, Crowdtilt will be called Tilt. The choice of new name is explained on their blog as follows: Tilting is about people coming together to create the world around them. Our new name reflects this broader vision. You can get a group, crowd, a community together to tilt anything. A “tilt” is that moment when you reach critical mass and unlock something amazing as a group. Our users have embraced this word to describe pooling resources and rallying their group. Now, we’re reflecting that in our brand and story.

Their blog also asks you to “stay tuned” for other big announcements that will be revealed over the next month. It also notes that you can buy a t-shirt with their new logo on it for $1.00.