Self-Driving Cars May Be Here Sooner than you Think

Tesla logoThe self-driving car. It’s the dream of daily commuters and crosstown drivers alike. What would you do with all of the time you could save by not having to pay attention to the road during your trip to work? Or how about those occasions when you just don’t have time to drive the kids to the mall (again)? Self-driving cars have made a lot of news over the last few years with much of the focus being placed on Google’s autonomous automobile research. But high-end electric car manufacturer Tesla may have lapped Google in the self-driving car race.

Elon Musk, founder and CEO of Tesla just announced that his company will be introducing autonomous vehicle technology as early as this summer. What’s even more remarkable is that these futuristic features won’t come by way of hardware retrofits. But rather, Tesla Model S sedans will gain autonomy thru a software update. The new software will allow these vehicles to operate in a hands-free “autopilot” mode which will initially only be available on major roads such as highways.

Other car manufacturers have already implemented some limited self-driving features in their own cars. But even in automatic mode, those vehicles still require a driver’s hands to be placed on the steering wheels. The Model S is likely to be the first truly self-driving car on American roads.

And while it is a serious accomplishment for Tesla, don’t run out to the nearest Model S dealer just yet. There is still much debate and speculation as to whether or not self-driving cars are even street legal in most parts of the country. Still, there is some good news for Model S owners who don’t want to wait for the government to work out the legalese around self-driving cars. On private property, Model S owners will be able to summon their cars using a smartphone app. Also, these cars will be able to park themselves in a driveway or inside a garage.

And even tho the dream of autonomous driving is now closer than ever, the base model for a Tesla Model S sedan will set you back just shy of $70,000. So if you were really hoping to impress your friends by showing off your car that can park itself in the garage, you may want to start saving up now and/or take out a second mortgage.

London Tube Testing Bluetooth Beacons for Visually Impaired Passengers

Underground logoTechnology has come a long way in improving many aspects of our day-to-day lives. But we’ve become so used to being surrounded by sensors, screens and other devices that in many cases, we take them all for granted. That’s why regular passengers on the London Underground may not have noticed a special series of Bluetooth beacons placed along specific paths of select Tube stations.

These beacons are being used to test a new system that would help visually impaired passengers gain more independence when using the Underground. From the BBC:

Members of the Youth Forum of the Royal London Society for Blind People (RLSB) said they wanted to navigate the tube system independently.

Currently most have to rely on friends to help them get used to familiar routes or phone ahead to request assistance from London Underground staff. Many do not feel confident about using the whole network.

The beacon system was created with the help of a digital design group called ustwo. The beacons use Bluetooth to send audible signals to smartphones and other mobile devices. Passengers who have their devices set to pick up those signals will hear specific directions that guide them throughout Tube stations, allowing them to reach their destinations without the aid of another person.

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The Next Must-Have Gadget: Your Own Personal Flamethrower

XM42 logoIf you spend even a small amount of time on the Internet, you’ll see some things that are just downright confounding. That’s why it’s good to view most things online with a healthy dose of skepticism. When I first saw an article about the XM42 flamethrower I thought it must be a joke. The XM42 is being touted as the “world’s first commercially available flamethrower.” An idea that is sure to evoke either pure delight or sheer terror, depending on your perspective.

The XM42 was dreamed up by a small company called The Ion Production Team. This quaint group of pyro-loving geeks describe their brainchild as, “…the world’s first fully handheld, grab and go flamethrower on the market. No heavy pressurized tanks, no silly car-wash sprayers.” The Ion team then go on to say that the XM42 has, “…endless possibilities for entertainment and utility. Start your bonfire from across the yard, or kill the weeds between your cracks in style.” Of course! What could go wrong?

If you’re wondering about the legalities of flamethrower ownership, no worries. The FAQ on the XM42 website states:

There are generally no restrictions on flamethrower ownership in the United States. However, we are currently aware that California and Maryland have legislation regarding flamethrowers… In California, unlicensed possession of ‘any non-stationary and transportable device designed or intended to emit or propel a burning stream of combustible or flammable liquid a distance of at least 10 feet’ H&W 12750 (a)—is a misdemeanor punishable with a county jail term not exceeding one year or with a fine not exceeding $10,000 (CA H&W 12761). Licenses to use flamethrowers are issued by the State Fire Marshal.’

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IK Multimedia’s iRig 2 is Here for On-The-Go Music Production

iRig 2One of the more remarkable developments that’s happened in the post-iOS world is the rise of hardware and software that allows an iPad or iPhone user to create high-quality multitrack audio. One of the pioneers in this mobile recording technology is IK Multimedia. The company kicked things off with its simple but effective iRig, an adapter that connected to an iOS device’s headphone port and allowed users to plug in instruments like guitars and then use those instruments to interact with a wide range of apps.

Now IK Multimedia has upped the game with the release of its iRig 2. It improves on its predecessor by providing better sound quality and more universal compatibility. It does this while maintaining the convenience and ease-of-use that have made it a staple piece of gear for many musicians.

Like the first iRig, the new iRig 2 plugs directly into the headphone jack input of a mobile device. It lets musicians send an instrument signal to apps, such as IK’s AmpliTube, while also providing on-board output for real-time monitoring. Unlike the original iRig, the new model comes with a built-in gain control. This means that it can be customized to always provide the best sound, no matter what type of guitar, bass or line-level instrument or device is used.

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Robot Underpants: 03.19.15 (193) “Gold Darth Maul”

Baron Mat “Langley” Luschek, “Karaoke” Bob and “Starman” Michael Gaines have a ton of Star Wars news, Batgirl controversy, and more!

Star Wars Trader
JJ Abrams Addresses Lightsaber
Mallrats 2
Blade Runner Models
Flash Gordon 2
Scarface Reboot

Is the Apple Watch Edition Worth the $10K Investment?

The Apple Waapple watch editiontch launch day is rapidly approaching. While Apple’s entire smartwatch lineup is impressive, the most spectacular offering is the gold Apple Watch Edition. Ever since the initial announcement back in September, Apple fans worldwide have been speculating about one thing— how much will this luxury smartwatch cost? With a real gold frame and speciality gold-accented bands, we all knew the Edition was going to cost a fortune, and now we know the exact cost: a base price of $10,000, with the most expensive watch/band combination rounding out the lineup at a whopping $17,000.

While it’s safe to predict that the majority of Apple’s watch sales will come from the basic $349 Sport version and to a lesser extent the $549 stainless steel version, there will inevitably be a small percentage of society’s elite who will snag an Edition without hesitation. While most of us aren’t uber-famous socialites with millions to blow, there is something to be said about the value of investing in a precious heirloom watch that can be passed down through the generations. While at first glance the idea of spending $10,000 or more on a luxury Rolex may sound crazy, at least a Rolex will retain— and possibly increase— it’s value over time. With a battery replacement and/or tune-up every few years, that expensive Rolex will work just as well 10 years later as it did when it was first purchased, making it a worthwhile investment for those willing to take the plunge.

Even though they have the $10K price tag in common, there is a fundamental difference between a Rolex and an Apple Watch Edition. The Apple Watch is not merely a designer watch, it’s technology product, and the technology scene is constantly changing. Like an smartphone or tablet, a smartwatch is doomed by design to become outdated after a few years, meaning that those who want to enjoy the latest and greatest features have no choice but to upgrade or be left in the dust. It’s difficult for the average person to comprehend dishing out $10K for a watch that will only remain relevant for a year or two– you could buy 3 years’ worth of Apple Watch Sports for that price!

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that you boycott the entire Apple Watch lineup. The good thing about Apple’s watch strategy is that the specs and features are virtually identical across all versions of the Apple Watch. No matter which version you get, you’ll be able to enjoy health monitoring, GPS, Siri, dictation, heartbeat-sending, texting, and everything else the Apple Watch has to offer. Yes, the Edition looks nicer, but for a third of the price you can get all the same features in the $349 Sport version.

The bottom line is, unless you’re drowning in piles of money, the Apple Watch Edition simply isn’t worth the $10K price tag. You’re much better off buying the Sport or stainless steel version and saving hundreds of dollars than paying a fortune for the same thing plus a few ounces of gold.

GNC #1018 Where is ET?

So where is ET with 6 sextillion planets in the habitat zone or are they just getting us fattened up for lunch. Also we find out that Google has been shaking down folks in the search arena and being it appears to be evil. Lots of tech tonight and next week the show is on the road with an Audio only show.

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TweetDeck rolls out New Teams Feature

tweetdeck logoI prefer to access my various Twitter accounts thru the TweetDeck web interface. It organizes all of the different accounts and their associated streams very well, and it makes it much easier and more enjoyable to use Twitter.

Today, TweetDeck announced a new “Teams” feature, which will allow multiple users to access the same Twitter accounts but those users won’t need to share passwords in order to log in. From the Twitter blog, linked above:

TweetDeck Teams is a simple solution to Twitter account sharing. It enables you to delegate access to as many people as you like, and remove accounts when they no longer need access.

TweetDeck Teams works by having the owner (Admin) of one Twitter account create a team inside of TweetDeck and from there, that owner can add other users (Contributors). Those users confirm their place on the team thru an e-mail invitation. Account owners can also remove team members anytime. More from the Twitter blog:

Admins are users who sign in to TweetDeck with their personal account. As an admin, the user can Tweet from the account (plus build lists, follow or unfollow accounts, send Tweets and schedule Tweets), add or remove team members and view the team. An admin cannot access the account off of TweetDeck or change the credentials or password.

And contributors are those people who can Tweet from and act as the account (plus build lists, follow or unfollow accounts, send Tweets and schedule Tweets). Contributors cannot view, add or remove team members, and can not access the account outside of TweetDeck.

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Datavideo SE-700 is a Feature-Rich Hardware Video Switcher

SE-700 switcherVideo switching technology has come a long way over the years. No longer is it necessary to have a giant console full of confusing controls. And even tho much can be accomplished these days using only a computer, some webcams and a software-based switcher, some producers still need a dedicated hardware solution. That’s where the Datavideo SE-700 comes in.

The SE-700 comes with a total of four video inputs, two SDI and two HDMI. There’s one upstream keyer, supporting chroma key and linear/luma key as well as one upstream PIP, supporting chroma key and luma key modes as well as unkeyed mode. For transitions, the SE-700 comes with a wipe generator that contains 32 patterns, including circle and heart with borders and softness control, along with cut and mix options. The unit also features one DSK and a full M/E preview function. The SE-700 also comes with a built-in frame store that has a dedicated stills buffer with up to 24 images stored on an SD Card.

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Creative Sound Blaster E1 Portable Amplifier Review

Creative Logo

Creative products always induce a little nostalgia with me as the Creative Sound Blaster Pro was the first ever upgrade that I bought for my PC. Looking back from today and the state of digital audio, it’s hard to imagine that most PCs only went “beep” back in the late 1980s and early 90s. Once I’d installed the SB Pro, I had glorious multichannel stereo sound, and incredibly, Wing Commander II had speech. Look it up kids.

Creative E1 Box

Returning to the 21st century, on review here is the Creative Sound Blaster E1 Portable Headphone Amplifier, a battery-powered amplifier supporting high impedance headphones, combined with a USB DAC sound card. In other words the E1 lets you used studio-quality 600 ohm headphones with smartphones, tablets, laptops or desktops. Pretty much anything with a 3.5 mm socket or a USB port and it works fine with lower impedance headphones, so let’s take a look.

What’s in the box? Simply, everything that you need to get going in the scenarios outlined above. There’s the E1 amplifier itself plus two bright red cables; a 4 pole (TRRS) 3.5 mm jack audio lead and a USB to micro-USB cable. The first cable is needed for tablets and smartphone listening and the second when using the E1 as a sound card (DAC). Bring your own headphones though.

Creative Sound Blaster E1

There’s a hint of red detailing on the E1 too but you have to look pretty hard to see it. Of course, there’s assorted instructions, warranty and disposal leaflets too.

Creative Sound Blaster E1

Glancing over the amplifier itself, the E1 is a lightweight plastic unit with a clothing or belt clip on the back. One end takes the music audio inputs, either digital via micro-USB or analogue through a 3.5 mm audio socket. The other end has the two 3.5 mm audio sockets, one for a set of headphones and one for a microphone or second set of ‘phones. On the side, there’s a power switch, a volume slider, a multi-function button and a small LED.

Creative Sound Blaster E1

Enough of what it looks like….what does it sound like? Pretty good actually. I used the E1 in both configurations, first taking an input from a smartphone or tablet and in this instance I was using a Nexus 9 tablet and a OnePlus One smartphone, both with high bit rate mp3s and Spotify. I’m not a total audio geek, so I don’t actually have any high impedance headphones so the testing was done using Sennheiser earbuds and recent edition 414 headphones (the ones with the yellow earpads).

Listening to the E1, there’s no dramatic difference from the source but it does tend to ameliorate the worst aspects of compressed digital audio, reducing the high frequency tinniness and giving it a slightly warmer feel. It particularly worked well with Spotify and other low-bit music sources, smoothing out the treble.

If worn conveniently, the E1 has a built-in microphone to enable hands-free calling. Call comes in, press the multi-function button, take the call. Callers reported that they could hear me well as long as the E1 was close. Clipped to my shirt was fine.

Using the E1 as a sound card is simply a case of plugging in the E1 to a spare USB port via the red cable. I tested with a Windows 8.1 Toshiba laptop, an 8.1 HP tablet via a dock and a Samsung Chromebook, and in all cases it worked out of the box. In this configuration, the presentation of the sound was good and generally superior to the audio provided by the laptop or tablet, especially when listening to Spotify.

Generally, background hiss was kept to a minimum and was only noticeable in the earbuds when I went looking for it, e.g. by putting the source volume down low and increasing the volume on the E1. With the source volume at a normal level there’s no problem and is unlikely to be noticeable with on-ear headphones.

In case anyone is wondering, it’s not possible to use the E1 as a mixer with two sources. Plugging in a 3.5 mm audio jack disconnects the micro-USB input. Sorry.

The E1 works well out of the box, but where it delivers in spades is with the full driver and app package which is downloaded from Creative’s web site. Once installed the software gives tons of extra controls over the E1, in particular allowing the audio response to be customised.

SB Studio

One of the best features is the equaliser which adjusts the frequency response. There are a bunch of presets with the usual suspects from classical to pop and rock, and its also customisable to personal preference. I liked this.

SB Studio

Overall, the E1 portable amplifier does what sets out to do, making compressed audio sound better, whether from an analogue 3.5 mm source or a digital USB connection. The extensive range of features from hands-free calling to audio equalisation is impressive and for those people who live in their headphones, it’s worth considering. The RRP is £39.95 in the UK or $49.99 in the USA.

Thanks to Creative for the loan of the review unit.