Thanks for Nothing, Taskrabbit

Taskrabbit logoAs a freelancer, I’m always looking for new ways to increase my income. I prefer to do this by doing more of the things I’m really good at like audio production or writing. But when those gigs aren’t coming thru as often as I’d like, I start to look around for other opportunities. I’d heard of Taskrabbit awhile back. It’s a service that aims to connect those with available “odd jobs” to potential laborers looking for work. Like everything in this post-app world, it looks like a great idea and could be truly beneficial to those who use it. I wish I could say that was my experience with Taskrabbit.

I decided to sign up for the service as a “Tasker,” the term Taskrabbit uses for those who are looking for work. I gave Taskrabbit the usual details about myself (name, e-mail address, phone number, mailing address, etc.) and that’s fine. One of the things Taskrabbit strives to provide is a sense of trust among its users and that’s really important as the service is essentially connecting strangers. Taskrabbit needs to know that its users aren’t hiding behind fake credentials, especially since some Taskers will be sent to peoples’ homes.

From there, I was asked to take a 10-question quiz based on topics in the Taskrabbit user guide. I’ll admit, I didn’t read the guide. But the questions were pretty easy to work out, as the answers were all based on real-world common sense. However, I did miss one question and apparently, the Taskrabbit quiz is only passable on a perfect score. I had to retake the quiz and this time, I aced it.

That led to the next part of the signup process where Taskrabbit asked for my Social Security and bank account numbers. I’m always apprehensive about giving over this kind of sensitive information. I double checked my browser to make sure I was on a secure connection and that I hadn’t fumbled entering the address and accidentally went to “tsakrabitt.com” or something like that. Everything looked good so I entered the information and moved on. Then, I had to tell Taskrabbit the geographical area in which I’m available to work. Using the site’s handy mapping tool, I drew a box around my hometown and then clicked the Next button.

And finally, this is the point where Taskrabbit decided to tell me that the service isn’t available in my area. I was pretty discouraged by this. Why didn’t Taskrabbit check my ZIP code against its database when I first entered my information? I understand that some people may live in one area not covered by Taskrabbit but may be open to work in an area that is covered by the service. But why not give me a warning first? Not only did I waste my time in signing up, taking (and retaking) the quiz, but Taskrabbit now has my Social Security and bank account numbers. And while I’m sure Taskrabbit’s security is top notch, information breeches happen all of the time.

I just wish Taskrabbit would’ve told me the service isn’t available where I live before I had given them all of that information. There’s no ETA as to when Taskrabbit will be available here. All I can do now is wait and see when they get here. Or deactivate my account, which is probably what I’ll do.

Zynga is Closing Eleven Games

Zynga logoZynga has announced that it will be closing eleven of its games on April 30, 2015. I first learned about this when I tried to play CafeVille and was presented with an informative page that discussed the upcoming end of the game. It was a fun, extremely simple, game that involved virtual food.

Zynga posted on its blog a “games update”. Part of it said:

Based on the natural evolution of our game storylines and changing consumer preferences, we have made the tough but important decision to close 11 of our older Web and mobile games, some of which have been in market for more than 4 years. The games impacted are: Ayakashi: Ghost Guild, Bubble Safari Mobile, Bubble Safari Ocean, CastleVille, ChefVille, Duck Dynasty Slots, Pioneer Trail, Puzzle Charms, Skateboard Slam, Riches of Olympus Slots, and Zynga Slots. All games will be ending by April 30th. Games have begun rolling out closure information via in-game messages and a thank you to players.

At the time I am writing this blog, Zynga has six games that are accessible to play on the website. Or, at least, they used to be. I’m having difficulty trying to play CafeVille today because the game keeps having an error and then refreshing (and making me lose progress). Your experience may vary.

Later on in the blog post, Zynga points out that they have three mobile games slated to launch later this year. Those games are Farmville: Harvest Swap, Empires & Allies and Dawn of Titans. There is no specific date on when those games will appear. Interestingly, the blog also says “…we are excited to usher in a new era of Zynga and NaturalMotion games that we hope you will enjoy.”

NaturalMotion is the creator of the Clumsy Ninja game that was featured in the Apple Keynote Event in 2012. It seems NaturalMotion joined Zynga in 2014.

Robot Underpants: 04.08.15 (196) “Happy LOST Day”

Baron Mat “Langley” Luschek, “Starman” Michael Gaines and “Karaoke” Bob bring you this week’s hot geekery including: Tron news, She’s All That news, Lost Day, Comcast news and more!

* Remake of “She’s All That”
* Lost Day
* Comcast Gets DirectTV Ads Pulled
* Aliens by 2025

Sprint brings Free Wi-Fi Calling to iPhone

Sprint logoWhen I got my first cell phone in 1995, I opted for a plan that included a whopping 60 minutes of monthly airtime. Back then, cell phones were still looked at as “emergency contact devices” by most people. But much has changed in the last two decades. Today, cell phones are ubiquitous and there’s an expectation that we can use them wherever we go. And for the most part, this is true. However, there are still some challenges when it comes to finding a cellular signal, and smaller carriers such as Sprint and T-Mobile have had to adapt their coverage systems to fill in the gaps where their towers can’t reach.

Wi-Fi calling has been a regular feature on most T-Mobile handsets for years. This service allows customers to make standard voice calls over Wi-Fi when the cellular network is out of range. And now, Sprint is bringing a similar service to its iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s-wielding customers. Over the next week, Sprint’s iPhone customers will receive a software update that allows them to initiate high-quality voice calls over Wi-Fi. This enhances and expands Sprint’s coverage and connectivity options. The service is as easy to use as Bluetooth – there is a simple setting to turn it on and off. Calls made over Wi-Fi won’t have any impact on a user’s voice or data plan, making those calls virtually free.

Sprint customers will now be able to take advantage of millions of Wi-Fi networks to talk and use data even when cellular coverage may be limited. This will definitely make a difference in office buildings and other places with cellular network challenges. Customers traveling internationally can also use Wi-Fi calling to enjoy free calls from over 200 countries back to the U.S.

When I recently got back into the cell phone game with an iPhone 6 Plus, I didn’t even consider Sprint as an option, mainly due to the company’s lack of overall coverage. Upgrades like this will definitely make the carrier more attractive in the future.

Gadget Show Live Quick Review

Gadget Show LiveYesterday’s trip to Gadget Show Live didn’t start off well: my flight to Birmingham airport was delayed for 2 hours because of fog. The knock-on effect was that I missed the photocall with the show’s presenters and the DeLorean from Back to the Future. Fortunately the press office issued a few official photos. Here’s the gang.

Presenters together - DeLorean

Starting on the show floor, I had a quick scout round. This year there seemed to be more independent stands and fewer mainstream stands. In previous years, Samsung, LG, Sony, Microsoft and Canon would have all had major stands but this time HP and Panasonic were the big names. Having said that, there were still plenty of recognisable brands; Western Digital, Tesla, Synology and Philips Hue to name a few. This year, the most popular products were around the smart home, with lighting from Philips Hue, security systems from Swann and domestic appliances from Panasonic.

Aside from the stands there were several areas for activities like robot wars and gadget-making but as it was the press and trade day, nothing much was happening in them.

Viewers of The Gadget Show might recognise some of the exhibits from recent programmes.

RoboJason

Rocket Sled

Spider Bots

There was a giant Rubik Cube too but I didn’t get a chance to play with it.

Rubik Cube

The British Inventors’ Project is an initiative to promote new product ideas and on show were everything from concepts to products ready to come to market. The winning product was OmniO Rider, a lightweight child’s buggy that folds up into a backpack. I interviewed most of the participants in the project so we’ll be hearing from the them later.

OmniO Rider

The Centre for Computing History had a stand with some old computer and consoles. Geeks of a certain age will remember these fondly – I had the Binatone in the foreground.

Historical Computers

Best product of the show for me was the HP Sprout. It’s a desktop PC that uses a touch-sensitive mat combined with a projector and cameras to create a really unique proposition. For example, place an object on the mat and the cameras will scan it to create a 3D model. It’s aimed at creatives but it could be so much more. I’d love to have one in the office just to read documents in a more natural way. Watch the video below to understand it better.

After 7 hours, 12,000 steps and 25 interviews, it was time to head home. I was done. Over the next few days, I’ll be publishing the interviews from the show, so stay tuned.

GNC #1023 You have been Served

Be careful your spouse may sever you divorce papers via Facebook. I talk about that story and all the top tech stories of the day. One more show before I head to Vegas. I also announce the winner of the Rasberry Pi

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GNC Heads To Gadget Show Live

Gadget Show LiveThe UK’s Gadget Show Live kicks off tomorrow at the NEC in Birmingham and yours truly will be in attendance on behalf of GNC. Tuesday is the press day with the main show under way on Wednesday through to Sunday. The Gadget Show Live is as close as the UK gets to CES though it’s no small event. For comparison CES gets around 170,000 visitors while GSL will get around 80,000. It’s surprisingly big.

I’ll be touring the stands and getting some interviews – the exhibitor list is here – so if there’s a product you are interested in let me know either in the comments or via @andrewhpalmer on Twitter.

The winner of the British Inventors’ Project Award will be announced too and I’ll try to review some of the less well-known products that will be coming to market soon. And if I’m lucky, I might even bag an interview with Jason Bradbury or Otis Deley, stars of the eponymous TV show.

Time for bed now…it’s an early flight for me tomorrow!

Roku Refreshes Hardware and Software

ROKU LogoRoku today announced a significant refresh of their streaming package with enhancements to both the software and hardware across the US, UK and Canada. Starting with the software, voice search lets owners search for films, TV programmes, actors and directors across the main streaming channels. For the US, that seems to mean CBS News, HBO Go and Sling TV and while the UK channels aren’t mentioned explicitly, let’s hope that it includes iPlayer, ITV Player and 4oD (or All 4).

The other new software feature is “Roku Feed” which will monitor the streaming channels for upcoming films and then let the owner know when it’s available, along with the price. Let’s say you missed Ex Machina at the cinema but want to catch it as soon as it comes out on pay-per-view. Roku Feed will keep an eye out for Ex Machina hitting the movie libraries and then let you know. I use this kind of feature with Sky for upcoming TV programmes and it is really useful.

On the hardware front, both the Roku 3 and Roku 2 have been given a hardware bump. The new Roku 3 now includes the voice search and remains the company‘s top-of-the-line streaming player. The included enhanced remote control now features a button to activate voice search and retains the headphone jack for private listening and motion control to play casual games. The new Roku 3 is available today from Roku.com and retailers for an MSRP of $99.99 in the US. UK distribution or pricing was not disclosed.

Roku 3

The Roku 2 has also been refreshed and the new Roku 2 matches the speed and performance of the new Roku 3 without the enhanced remote. The new Roku 2 is available today for $69.99 in the US and £69.99 in the UK from early May. (Don’t think much of that exchange rate!)

Roku 2

Finally, the Roku app for iOS and Android will be updated as well, rolling out in the US shortly and to other territories in the coming weeks. Free!

Line 6 Releases new G70 Digital Wireless System

Line 6 logoAs a performing musician, it can be a real drag to have to deal with an instrument cable hanging off behind you on stage. You never know for sure if that cord is going to get tangled up in a weird way, potentially damaging your gear (or maybe even you!). Also, cables can be limiting in terms of mobility. Because sometimes, you just want to get out into the crowd and get up close with your audience during a show. Fortunately, modern music makers have access to wireless transmitters that can fix both of these problems. And audio equipment/musical instrument manufacturer Line 6 has just released the most advanced guitar wireless system ever, the Relay G70.

The G70 supports multiple transmitters so musicians can instantly switch between instruments. Each transmitter features a locking 1/4” input that allows guitarists to plug right in without requiring any special cables or adapters. User-programmable presets on the receiver enable performers to control each instrument’s signal routing, levels and more, with the single press of a footswitch. For example, guitarists can route an electric guitar to an amp via one of two assignable 1/4″ outputs, and an acoustic guitar to the PA system through the assignable XLR output. A dedicated always-on 1/4″ tuner output is also provided, in addition to a built-in tuner. And to preserve battery life in multi-instrument setups, the new intelligent sleep mode allows you to leave all your transmitters on with minimal battery drain while connected to the instruments you’re not actively playing.

Relay G70 provides the lowest latency of any digital wireless system, coming in at under 1.5ms. A custom-designed radio with four calibrated internal antennas delivers a lossless 24-bit digital signal and a wide dynamic range of over 120dB. The G70 also never compresses the signal, providing guitarists with the purest possible audio quality. Performers will enjoy 8+ hours of battery life with standard AA batteries, plus up to 70 hours of standby time thanks to the intelligent sleep mode. The Relay system features a rugged but familiar stompbox-style form factor that integrates easily with an existing guitar pedalboard.

Relay G70 is available now for purchase from most audio gear/musical instrument vendors. One receiver and transmitter retails for $699.99 and additional Relay TB516G transmitters are priced at $279.99 each.

Bose Soundlink Color Bluetooth Speaker Review

bose soundlink colorI’ve been playing around with the Bose Soundlink Color Bluetooth Speaker and, truth be told, I think I’m in love.

The Soundlink Color packs an incredible punch despite its compact design. It weighs only 1.25 pounds, making it the perfect audio solution for travel and everyday use. The upright, rounded design allows for crisp, clear sound that projects throughout the room. While it doesn’t beat the quality of higher-grade professional speakers, the Soundlink Color is perfect for the average music lover, with exceptional sound quality considering that it connects via Bluetooth.

Pairing your smartphone, tablet, or computer with the Soundlink Color couldn’t be easier. Just turn on the speaker and it will begin searching for nearby Bluetooth devices within a 30-foot range. When it pops up as an available connection on your device, just hit connect and you’re good to go. The speaker will guide you through the process with voice prompts so you’ll be connected in no time. The Soundlink Color can connect to up to two Bluetooth devices at a time, so you can easily switch between different sources of audio. In addition, the speaker remembers the last eight devices it’s been paired with to make connecting even easier.

The Soundlink Color’s rechargable lithium ion battery boasts an impressive 8-hour battery life, so you’ll get plenty of listening time before its time to charge up. This makes it the perfect choice for camping, traveling, or casual listening wherever you are. You can charge the speaker using the included wall adapter or via USB.

True to its name, the Soundlink Color comes in an assortment of colors: red, mint, blue, white, and black. I bought the black model, and it is quite attractive. One of the first things I noticed when trying it out is just how sturdy this little speaker is– you can feel the durability. The durable rubber casing protects it against dust, dirt, and damage, without compromising on style or performance.

You can purchase the Soundlink Color for $129.95 on the Bose website or at an electronics retailer near you.