Month: September 2017

Samsung is the latest tech titan to open an AI lab in Canada

If it wasn't already clear that Canada is becoming a hotbed for AI research, it is now: Samsung has opened an AI lab (shown below) at the Université de Montréal. The school's faculty and students (including long-time Samsung partner Prof. Yoshua Bengio) will collaborate with South Korean researchers on a slew of AI-related projects, including self-driving car technology, image recognition, translation and robots. While you may not see the first fruits of this lab for years, it underscores both Samsung's increasing dependence on AI and the tech industry's rapid shift to the north.

It's no secret that Samsung wants (and arguably, needs) to bolster its AI work. The Bixby assistant is already a tentpole feature for Samsung's smartphones, and it's spreading to devices like smart speakers or even appliances. If it's going to be a success, it needs to rapidly evolve past its current rough state and become something you'd actually prefer -- especially since it does have relatively unique features like object identification. Combine this with Samsung's early autonomous driving and robotics work and it's possible that the fate of the company could hinge on the strength of its AI labs.

And one thing's for sure: Canada's investment in AI (it earmarked $125 million in federal funding, among other initiatives) is leading to a fierce battle for talent, particularly in Montreal. While major brands are researching AI across the country, such as Google's DeepMind office in Edmonton and Apple's self-driving unit in Ottawa, Montreal was already home to teams from Facebook, Google and Microsoft. If Samsung didn't open an AI lab in the city, it risked losing talent. It's hard to say how much longer this trend will continue, but it's easy to see other big names following suit out of fears they'll miss a big AI breakthrough.

Source: Samsung Newsroom, Universite de Montreal

Amazon’s new Fire TV supports picture-in-picture and recording

Amazon is mainly selling the new Fire TV's hardware-dependent features, such as 4K HDR video and Dolby Atmos sound, but there are some key software improvements, too. The online shopping giant has revealed that the device's Fire OS 6 underpinnings run on Android Nougat, enabling app features specific to Google's not-quite-latest platform. You can play picture-in-picture video within apps, so you don't have to disrupt your show while you check settings. There's a framework for time-shifting to pause and rewind live video. And apps can record content, including scheduling that can grab content automatically. This doesn't mean that you'll be ripping video from your favorite streaming service, but it does make it relatively easy for Fire TV apps to include DVR-like functions or capture epic game sessions. Just don't expect these features to reach your older hardware.

As Amazon notes, there are no plans "at this time" to upgrade earlier Fire TV devices to OS 6. In other words, you'll need this latest Fire TV if you want to run apps that use Android's built-in support for PIP, time-shifting and recording. This doesn't preclude developers from writing their own solutions for previous-generation gear, but you're that less likely to get app features that you might see on Android TV or mobile Android devices.

Via: AFTVnews, 9to5Google

Source: Amazon

South Korea cracks down on use of digital cash for crowdfunding

South Koreans who were planning to raise funds using cryptocurrency will have to find an alternative method. The country has decided to follow in China's footsteps and has banned raising money through all forms of virtual currency, according to Reuters. As TechCrunch noted, businesses around the globe have raised over $1.8 billion this year using the method known as initial coin offering or ICO. It's a convenient way to gather funding for various products, but it's not regulated and could easily be used to scam millions out of investors.

People could take advantage of the tool to sell products that don't exist or gather support for projects that will never materialize. That's why the South Korean government was alarmed by the increasing number of ICOs in the country. It said anyone involved in ICOs will be hit by "stern penalties," though Reuters said South Korea's financial regulator didn't elaborate on what kind of penalties are waiting for people who break the new rule.

Via: TechCrunch

Source: Reuters

Equifax breach shows signs of a possible state-sponsored hack

Ever since word of the Equifax hack got out, there's been one lingering question: was it a state-sponsored attack, or just criminals who took advantage of a security hole? At the moment, it looks like it might be the former. Bloomberg sources have shed light on the ongoing investigations into the breach, and they claim there are signs of a government's involvement. The initial group of hackers weren't particularly experienced, according to the tipsters, but they handed things over to a more "sophisticated" team. There are even hints that this might be the work of Chinese intelligence agents, although it's not yet clear who's responsible.

The insiders say that "many" of the tools used in the hack were Chinese in origin, and that there are similarities to China-backed breaches targeting the health insurance firm Anthem and the US government's Office of Personnel Management. Also, none of the stolen data has surfaced online -- whoever took it wasn't in a rush to profit. This was a "'get as much data as you can on every American' play," one of Bloomberg's contacts said.

However, sources aware of federal investigations say only that there's evidence of a state-sponsored attack, not that it points to any one country. Equifax's security consulting partner, Mandiant, wrote as recently as September 19th that it couldn't identify the culprits or where they came from.

As it is, Equifax may have been its own worst enemy in the early days of the breach. The company had hired Mandiant to look into earlier security issues, but there was a he-said-she-said fight over Equifax's security in the weeks surrounding the hack. Equifax reportedly thought Mandiant had sent rookies to look into the vulnerabilities of its systems, while Mandiant decried what it saw as unpatched systems and sloppy policies. An Equifax spokesperson told Bloomberg that it has had a "professional, highly valuable relationship" with Mandiant and isn't commenting on its ally's investigation, but the scoop suggests that the squabble may have hurt the chances of a timely fix for the flaw that compromised 143 million Americans.

Whatever contributed to the incident, there are significant ramifications if there's a foreign power involved. If it's China, it'd be a huge violation of the US-China agreement that was supposed to put an end to hacking campaigns. Many didn't expect either side to fully honor the pact, but this would be an overt violation. And if it's another known country with state-sponsored hacking, like North Korea or Russia? That wouldn't be any better, as it would exacerbate already high tensions. No matter who's behind this, things could get very thorny very quickly.

Source: Bloomberg

YouTube Live playthroughs are now a no-no for Nintendo Creators

Nintendo has updated its Creators Program's rules to add a new entry: members can no longer broadcast on YouTube Live. The gaming titan has long been extra protective of its properties and regularly issues takedown notices for videos that use its games. It launched the initiative in 2015 as a sort of a compromise with YouTubers who feature its IPs. The program gives streamers a way to get part of their Nintendo videos' ad revenue, but it looks like the company doesn't want people earning money for livestreaming their playthroughs.

A lot of fans are obviously unhappy about the change, especially since streamers have to be part of YouTube's Partner Program to be eligible for Nintendo's. That means they first have to rack up at least 10,000 public views and get approved for YouTube's partnership before they can even apply for the developer's. To be clear, program members can still post "Let's Play" type videos with commentaries. However, if they want to broadcast live, they can only choose between two options.

They can either livestream on a channel not affiliated with the program or pull their channel out of the initiative entirely. If they opt for the latter, they can then register any of their work that contains a Nintendo IP on a per video basis. Unfortunately, they'll only get 60 percent of the ad revenue if they opt to register each video separately, whereas member channels get 70 percent.

Via: Gamasutra

Source: Nintendo Creators Program

Ask Engadget returns (and you should send us your questions)!

A long time ago in a far-away land called 2013, we used to run a feature called "Ask Engadget" where you -- our readers, fans, followers and critics -- could ask us for our advice, opinions and recommendations on everything from cheap laptops and starter cameras to routers and email clients. You would write into with all the pertinent details about your issue, and like your favorite trusted oracle, we would gather all our knowledge and experience into a reply (and let the community weigh in as well).

It was fun, it was informative and honestly, we've missed doing it. So, we're bringing it back! Starting in October, we'll be using our super powers for good and answering questions that are sent to the email address. We'll gather advice from our staff, from experts and from the community at large to provide you with a solution. If you've got questions, well, you know what to do.

Apple Watch Series 3 review: A good watch, a so-so phone replacement

With each generation, the Apple Watch's purpose has seemed to shift. The first one demonstrated what Apple thought a wearable should be, and the second tried to be the perfect workout companion. When it came time to build the Series 3, though, Apple took everything it got right with the fitness-friendly Series 2, polished it up, and threw an LTE radio inside.

And lo, the $399 Apple Watch Series 3 became the first of a new breed of Apple devices -- it straddles the line between smartwatch and phone, with a dash of iPod thrown in for good measure. For those who'd rather play it safe, Apple also built a $329 Series 3 with just GPS and no cellular connection. In fact, that safe bet will probably pay off for most people -- the cellular Series 3 is a little too inconsistent for my taste.

Hardware and design

Chris Velazco/Engadget

Despite what some redesign rumors suggested ahead of the big event, this year's Apple Watch looks... just like an Apple Watch. Shocking, I know. As ever, the Series 3 comes in 38mm and 42mm sizes, so earlier bands will continue to fit just fine. And, as with the Series 2, all versions feature a built-in GPS radio and 50-meter water resistance. Don't let that classification fool you, though -- you can take the Watch for a swim, but you almost certainly shouldn't take it 50 meters underwater. (Why the watch industry continues to use such counterintuitive terminology is beyond me.)

Not much has changed with the display either -- we're still working with a tiny OLED screen running at 390 x 312, covered by a plate of Ion-X glass. (The stainless-steel and ceramic models instead use tougher sapphire crystal, but this Watch's glass face was very good at resisting nicks as I accidentally banged my hands into walls and fixtures.) Max brightness still tops out at 1,000 nits, which is more than enough to keep notifications and apps readable under bright sunlight. More interesting is the way the screen doubles as the Watch's wireless antenna; it's a nifty feat of engineering that seems to get the job done well.

In any case, I've been wearing a 42mm Apple Watch on and off since the first version launched in 2015, and the fit and finish of my 42mm cellular review unit is first-rate, as always. It's impossible to tell that the Series 3 is slightly thicker than the models that came before it, and thankfully, it's just as hard to feel the difference when it's strapped to your wrist. That's because the Watch's aluminum squircle of a body hasn't changed -- the ceramic hump around back housing the heart rate sensor is, according to Apple, two sheets of paper thicker than it was before. The 42mm body's weight hasn't changed either, which is pretty impressive considering the extra stuff needed to turn this wearable into a tiny, functional phone. Throw in an improved, dual-core S3 chipset and a slightly bigger battery, and we've got a remarkably snappy little package.

Until you start talking into your wrist, there's only one way to tell if a Watch is LTE-enabled or not: You need to spot the red dot. This red highlight serves no technical purpose; it's purely for looks, and if you're the type who likes visual metaphors, you'll notice a certain symmetry with the Watch's red notification dot. I get the need for some sort of visual signifier, but fashionistas, beware: That red flourish clashes with a lot of Apple Watch bands out there.

As a traditional smartwatch

Chris Velazco/Engadget

The original Apple Watch gave shape to the company's vision for wearable computing, but, man, it was frustratingly slow sometimes. Fast-forward two years, and we finally have an Apple Watch that feels as fast as it should. Swiping between watch faces is smoother than before, and launching apps seems to take considerably less time, all thanks to Apple's updated S3 chipset. Series 1 and 2 owners might not find the difference that pronounced, since both devices have dual-core processors of their own, but the fractions of a second I'm saving every time an action works more smoothly becomes time I get to spend doing something else that matters to me.

One of the best ways to see all this power in action is by talking to Siri -- and, for once, the experience won't make you want to tear your hair out. Siri can finally speak to you on the Series 3, and it uses the same natural-sounding voice you'd hear it use on an iOS device running iOS 11. I never really used Siri on the Series 2, because it required me to glance down at my wrist all the time. This year, Siri's audible responses and generally spot-on voice transcription meant I could ask it to send a message or email for me and not worry too much about what happened next. Yes, this eventually bit me in the ass, but never too badly. Beyond handling messages and tasks, Siri has also been helpful for navigating to hole-in-the-wall restaurants and answering various random questions.

As useful as Siri is now, it still has its limits. For one, you need to be careful with how you ask for things -- "open News" does what you'd expect it to, but "show me the news" kicked me out to external search results. Oh, and don't forget that the Watch's screen has to be on to get Siri's attention with a voice command. A version of Siri that constantly listens for commands would be ideal, but that'd probably wreak as much havoc on battery life as, well, a cellular radio would.

The Series 3's new watch faces sure are... interesting.

Chris Velazco/Engadget

Beyond just Siri, Apple's new watchOS 4 offers a few other new features as well. There are new customizable kaleidoscope watch faces, along with a handful of faces starring characters from Toy Story. The music app has been updated with a new look and slightly more seamless syncing -- some playlists, like "New Music" and "Favorites," are transferred over by default while the Watch charges for the first time. Individual tracks and playlists can be moved over easily enough too, but literally any support for podcasts would've been nice. To make the most of the Watch's music player, though, you need to be an Apple Music subscriber; the Watch still offers media controls for whatever audio is playing on the iPhone, but you're out of luck if you'd prefer to interact with Spotify's superior playlists.

The Series 3 technically works as a standalone device, but let's be real: We're so attached to our phones that the Watch will spend most of its time connected to an iPhone anyway. I'm not complaining either, mostly because the Watch has very good battery life as a result. I usually pull my Watch off its charger at around 8AM, and I've routinely seen it chug along until midafternoon the next day if I didn't make many voice calls on it. Over the weekend, when my phone was gloriously quiet, I got nearly two full days of screen-on time before needing to charge the Watch again. Apple bumped up the Series 3's battery capacity to maximize cellular usage time, so while I'm pleased that tethered battery life has improved, I'm not surprised.

As a standalone device

Chris Velazco/Engadget

The connection between the Apple Watch and an iPhone is the core of Apple's wearable experience, and for the first time, the company gave the Watch the tools to function independently. Seeing the Watch hop onto an LTE network and use your same phone number is undeniably neat, but honestly, it's not something I'd want to do very often.

First off, yes, you're going to have to pay your carrier $10 a month for the privilege, not to mention an activation fee once this first wave of promotions dies down. Setting up the Watch with my AT&T phone plan was mostly a breeze, but some reviewers have experienced issues getting everything squared away, especially when older rate plans were involved. Your mileage may vary, but I suspect most of you won't need to worry much.

Actually using the phone is easier than expected -- you can either punch in a number or select one of your contacts -- and call quality was generally very good. In a majority of conversations I had, the people on the other end couldn't even tell I was talking into a watch. That can change suddenly, though. Earlier this week, I parked myself outside the office to take a few phone calls, and the signal indicator bounced between two and four dots of coverage while I was just sitting there.

As a result, call quality got really strange -- I could hear the other party just fine, but I sounded like a mess to them. This happened only one other time, in a completely different location, and I'm at a loss as to why. In any case, if you're interested in taking calls on a Series 3, a Bluetooth headset is a must. It'll also help in situations where the Watch's speaker just isn't loud enough, which is most of the time, frankly.

Messages rolled in quickly too, but here's the thing: Not all messages are treated equally. As long as you have some kind of wireless signal, iMessages will be delivered just fine. Text messages are usually subject to a delay, since they're routed through your iPhone, but this also means that SMSes won't come through at all if your iPhone is dead. Emails running through Apple's Mail app worked fine but took longer than usual to pop up on my wrist, so I wouldn't advise going watch-only when urgent business is in the offing. And most of the Watch apps I installed worked normally, though a few -- like Slack and Twitter -- either did nothing or force-quit when I tried to use them.

Early review models also seemed prone to connectivity issues stemming from a Wi-Fi bug -- in a bid to conserve battery life, the Series 3 tries to latch onto wireless networks your other Apple devices have flagged as being suitable for use. The problem was, not every network was flagged correctly, so captive portals (like those used at, say, Starbucks) would get the OK and the Watch would try to connect, with no way of getting past whatever interstitial screen popped up. It's not that the Watch was going out of its way to jump onto unfamiliar networks -- it's that some of the networks it thinks are kosher actually aren't.

This is a major goof, but I can see why it might have escaped detection -- I have had precisely zero issues with my Series 3 attempting to latch onto bum networks. Then again, I'm one person, and I find it hard to believe that not a single engineer testing the Series 3 prior to launch ran into this. I'm fairly sure you won't run into this very specific kind of trouble, but it remains a risk; Apple promised a fix after catching some well-deserved flak, but it still hadn't materialized when we published this review.

Really, my biggest concern is much more mundane: Going completely iPhone-free means the Watch's battery life will take a huge hit. After an early-morning run while listening to music and using the GPS, followed by a couple of test calls, the Series 3 was on its last legs by early afternoon. Apple has always been clear that the Series 3 is more of a temporary phone substitute than an actual replacement, so this probably won't seem shocking to you. Still, if this morning routine sounds like your idea of a good time, remember to have a charger handy.

I don't mean to make the Series 3 sound terrible at this stuff -- when everything works properly, it makes for an adequate untethered companion. It's just too bad that those moments weren't as common as I expected.

As a fitness tracker

Chris Velazco/Engadget

With the Series 2, Apple decided the Watch should be a serious fitness wearable, and its focus on getting people out of their chairs clearly isn't going away. Thankfully, the Series 3's blend of capable hardware and thoughtful software make it a great choice for people who take their workouts seriously, but not that seriously.

The Series 3's step counts were in line with other wearables I tested it against, though accuracy is a weird thing to look for in cases like these. Every fitness tracker I've ever worn seemed to interpret my steps a little differently, but the Series 3 was consistently within +/- 10 steps of my own counts (in my head, up to 250). Strangely, I guess I define "a flight of stairs" differently from how the Watch's new barometer does, since it consistently underestimated me on days when I decided to avoid the office's elevators. Meanwhile, the updated Workout app packs support for new workout types (perfect for you crazy high-intensity interval people) and easier controls for setting time or calorie burn goals for your swim, walk or run.

Speaking of running, I've had no issue with GPS accuracy either -- I run the same route a few times a week, and the distance was basically bang-on every time. Granted, I don't precisely know how long that makeshift course is, so hardcore runners (like Engadget marathoner-in-residence Dana Wollman) may be better served by more purpose-built wearables that can more accurately measure one's pace. Now, once I get moving, I don't have too much trouble powering through to the end; the real trouble comes in getting off my ass to start with. For better or worse, Apple's three-ringed activity app now offers more proactive notifications, the most effective of which tells me roughly how much longer I'd need to walk to hit my goals at the end of the day. It's just enough of a push to get me where I want to be, and I'm surprised Apple didn't implement this sooner.

Your author really needs to chill out.

Chris Velazco/Engadget

Even though I'm not the exercise nut I used to be, I appreciated Apple's enhanced focus on your heart. The Watch tries to get more accurate readings of your resting heart rate by checking it when it knows you haven't been moving, and it plots your heart rate readings on handy graphs to show you changes over time.

It's especially helpful for tracking your recovery after intense exercises, but that's one of the few areas where the Watch offers a little more data than casual users are probably interested in. All told, this a wearable best suited for generalists. Good thing for Apple, then, that there are a lot of them out there. Hardcore athletes may get more mileage out of a wearable that measures even more, like blood oxygenation. (Curiously, the Apple Watch's heart rate sensor works in such a way that it could also function as a pulse oximeter, but the feature has never been activated.) What's more unfortunate is that two features that should be great for exercise buffs -- Apple Music streaming over LTE and integration with gym equipment through GymKit -- won't be ready for a few more weeks.

The competition

Chris Velazco/Engadget

There haven't been too many Android Wear 2.0 watches released this year, which leaves the LG Watch Sport at the top of the proverbial pack. Chatting with Google Assistant is mostly a pleasure, and it uses a rotating crown button for navigation, just like the Series 3. One of Android Wear's biggest assets has always been its visual flexibility, and I've spent more time than I care to admit sifting through watch faces in the Play Store in hopes of finding the perfect look for my wrist. The Sport can also jump onto cellular networks, but LG's approach is problematic: There's an actual SIM card inside, so the watch's body is huge, and the antennas extend into the watch's unremovable bands. It's a solid option if you're a smartwatch shopper who doesn't care for Apple, but beware of its compromises.

Samsung's Gear S3 Frontier comes to mind too, since it also packs an eSIM and an LTE radio for truly phone-free use. It's a bigger, more masculine-looking watch than the Series 3, and it's a little less comfortable, but its rotating bezel remains one of the most inspired interaction methods I've ever used on a smartwatch. It's effing excellent, and so is its Spotify streaming support. The Frontier can also tell when you've started to work out and will track your movements accordingly, an intelligent touch that (sadly) doesn't always work as well as it should. The biggest knock against the S3 Frontier, however, is its Tizen OS. Who cares if you can install apps in the woods if they're mostly apps no one cares about?


Chris Velazco/Engadget

The Apple Watch Series 3 often feels like two devices in one. When it's connected to a phone, it's an improvement over its predecessors in just about every way that matters. More important, the tight integration of improved hardware and more thoughtful software give the Series 3 a very notable edge over its smartwatch competition. It's that good. As a standalone device, though, the Series 3 can be maddeningly limited. Over time, I'm sure apps will grow to take advantage of persistent data connections, and still other kinks will be worked out entirely. For now, though, the kinks remain and the overall experience suffers as a result. Apple's vision of a wearable that remains forever connected to the things that matter to you is an enticing one, and the Series 3 is an important first step down that path. Here's hoping Apple's next step is as consistently good on its own as it is when connected to a phone.

Recommended Reading: Streaming is changing the sound of music

Uncovering How Streaming Is Changing the Sound of Pop
Marc Hogan,

You don't have to look far to find evidence of how streaming services have dramatically changed the way we listen to music. But it's not just the consumption that's been affected, it's the creation too. Pitchfork takes a look at how services like Spotify have impacted music trends and why things like globalization, collaborations and slower tempos have taken over the pop sound.

When Should a Prestige TV Show End?
Alison Herman, The Ringer

No matter how good a TV show is, it will inevitably run out of steam. The Ringer tackles the question of when even the good ones should pull the plug.

James Cameron Sounds the Alarm on Artificial Intelligence and Unveils a 'Terminator' for the 21st Century
Matthew Belloni and Borys Kit,
The Hollywood Reporter

Terminator is coming back. James Cameron and Tim Miller chat about the reboot with THR.

The Fans Who Won't Let 'Mega Man' Die
Salvatore Pane, Kotaku

Kotaku takes a look at the superfans who are keeping Mega Man alive despite Capcom's lack of interest.

Elgato’s Cam Link turns your DSLR into a souped-up webcam

Most of the time, I buy cameras for specific purposes. My DSLR exists to capture vacation photos and product shots for Engadget reviews. When I go on hikes or long bike rides, I pull out a GoPro Hero4. For some reason, however, I just can't bring myself to buy a dedicated webcam for Twitch streaming or YouTube vlogs. I already have a handful of great consumer cameras -- shouldn't I be able to use one of those? In reality, that's easier said than done: Most cameras simply aren't designed to push a live feed out to a PC. It's a problem I've spent hours trying to solve, but never did. Then, I heard about the Elgato Cam Link, a USB capture device that can turn any camera with HDMI output into a functional webcam.

If that sounds familiar, you've probably Googled "how to use a GoPro as a webcam" before. Unless your camera is designed to be used as a webcam, an HDMI capture device is usually your only option. In fact, content creators have been using capture cards to integrate higher-quality cameras into their workflow for years -- but Elgato's take on this idea is just a bit more streamlined.

Instead of finding a workaround to make an HDMI capture device work natively with various apps as a webcam, Elgato's dongle does it in one shot: getting the Cam Link operational is as simple as downloading the latest version of the company's Game Capture HD software and plugging an HDMI output up to the device. That's basically it -- and with the exception of a few hiccups, it actually works really well.

This is mostly because of how your PC recognizes the Cam Link compared to most HDMI capture cards. If you hook up a camera to Elgato's own HD60 Game Capture device, for example, it will be recognized by broadcasting software as a USB video capture device. Most of the time, that's perfectly fine, but what if you want to use it as a camera for Skype or through your operating system's native camera app, you'll need to download additional drivers and software to trick it into behaving as a webcam. The Cam Link, on the other hand, does that by default. Better still, Elgato's own Game Capture HD software recognizes the Cam Link as a separate capture device, which makes embedding a "face cam" over gameplay a snap.

Because my main PC is a desktop computer and doesn't have a built-in camera, this made the Cam Link an incredibly convenient way to pipe decent video to my machine for Twitch streaming and Skype calls. Elgato's software takes some of the guesswork out of it, too -- when I stream a webcam through OBS, I usually have to add an offset to make sure my webcam feed syncs up with my gameplay footage. The Game Capture HD desktop suite did that automatically. I even used it to record an unboxing video for YouTube, and was able to embed my external microphone's audio directly into the recording. Normally I have to sync that up in editing. It was nice to have one less thing to worry about.

It's an easier way to solve a cumbersome problem -- but it still has some pain points. Like any HDMI capture device, it can only deal with the signal you give it. That means any overlay menus that your camera displays over its video-output will appear in the Cam Link stream, too. That wasn't a problem for my GoPro, which has an option to disable the overlay, but I had trouble with my other cameras. My Canon Rebel T3i has a great lens, but you can't get a clean HDMI signal out of it unless you use a custom firmware like Magic Lantern. The quality of that image depends on the camera, too. I can get a 1080p signal out of my action cam, but my DSLR won't push anything higher than 480i.

That resolution issue comes into play even if you have a camera with decent output. In a best case scenario, the Cam Link can only capture 1080p footage. In my tests, 1080p recordings over HDMI were about the same quality as videos captured directly by the camera -- but if you have a camera that shoots in 4K, you won't be able to get that kind of fidelity when streaming through the Cam Link. Finally, I had one or two instances where the Game Capture HD software simply didn't save a video I shot with the dongle. Elgato support is looking into it for me, but it made me cautious enough to move my workflow over to OBS.

What Elgato's Cam Link does isn't technically a new idea, but it's a consumer-ready implementation of it that's easy to set-up and use. In my perfect world, it still wouldn't be necessary -- I still think it's bizarre that my GoPro isn't natively recognized as a usable camera by my PC -- but the Cam Link does exactly what I want with almost no hassle at all. If you have a nice camera that can output a clean HDMI signal, and you desperately want to use it as a webcam, the $130 Cam Link is an easy way to get it working.

How Puerto Rico’s power crisis ends

When Hurricane Maria crashed into Puerto Rico on September 20th, it found a vulnerable target. The island is facing an extreme financial crisis that's been building steam for decades; roughly 43 percent of its residents live in poverty. Its sole electric company, PREPA, is $9 billion in debt and has been operating with outdated equipment for decades. Its power plants are an average of 44 years old and rely on outdated oil-fired systems, while most plants in the United States are about 18 years old and use newer natural-gas generators. PREPA filed for bankruptcy in July, calling its own infrastructure "degraded and unsafe."

Then the hurricanes hit. On September 7th, Hurricane Irma skirted Puerto Rico's northern coastline as a Category 5 storm, killing at least three people and knocking out power for more than 1 million residents. That weekend, PREPA was able to turn the lights back on for 70 percent of its affected customers, but others expected to wait months for power to return.

Hurricane Maria made its way up the Caribbean on September 20th, bringing winds of 140 MPH and dumping 25 inches of rain on Puerto Rico. It devastated the island. Maria knocked out PREPA's electrical systems, leaving 3.4 million people in the dark, with little hope of a quick recovery. Officials have suggested it will take four to six months for power to be restored.

Electricity is central to life on the island, just as it is in modern societies across the globe -- and, no, it's not just a matter of running televisions and toys. Puerto Rico's sole energy provider powers everything from hospitals and food-storage facilities to air-conditioning and communication services. Most of Puerto Rico today is running on generator power, leading to extremely long lines at temporary gas stations as residents attempt to secure a canister of the scarce resource.

Water is one of the most pressing issues, however. Without power, there's no way to pump water into homes and businesses, and some residents are collecting it where they can, including out of open-road drainage tracts and fire hydrants. People in Utuado, a city of 30,000, are relying on a pipe tapped into a mountain spring by the side of a highway. Until help arrives, that's the only water available for drinking and cleaning in the area, CNN reports.

This week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency estimated that 42 percent of Puerto Ricans were without access to potable water. As of Friday, just nine of the island's 52 wastewater treatment facilities were operational.

Eighty percent of the island's overhead transmission lines were damaged in the storm. While underground lines were mostly unaffected, most of Puerto Rico's power system is aboveground. This devastation knocked out air-conditioning and refrigeration systems -- many people were stranded by debris clogging the island's roads, in need of food and ways to safely store it. In the most isolated cities, families are rationing crackers and watching their food and medicines go bad.


Hospitals are another beast altogether. Roughly 70 percent of Puerto Rico's hospitals are not operational, but one facility that is, San Jorge Children's Hospital in San Juan, needs 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel every day to function outside of the power grid. With rampant supply and transportation issues, keeping the lights -- and lifesaving medical equipment -- on is nearly impossible. This week, San Jorge lost power for an eight-hour stretch, from 6 PM to 2 AM. Ventilators and other essential machines were kept on via emergency backup power, but the hospital was forced to discharge 40 patients. As of Thursday, the hospital had just enough diesel to last through this Saturday.

The death toll is mounting, and there are far more fatalities linked to Hurricane Maria than has been officially reported, according to The Miami Herald. The official number is 16 deaths, though most hospital morgues (there are 18 operating at least partially) report being at full capacity.

The longer power is out, the more likely it is that illness will spread. Without power to provide clean water, storage and medical help, doctors and experts expect the number of deaths to rise.

"It's coming," Dr. Norbert Seda of the Canovanas Medical Center told CNN. "When there's a shortage of water and sanitation issues, it will come out. We are expecting something like that to happen."

Billions of dollars in debt and facing an islandwide humanitarian crisis, Puerto Rico is not equipped to rebuild its power grid on its own. One of the most likely paths it'll take is privatization.

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Privatizing Puerto Rico's power grid isn't a new idea. Officials have been floating the possibility for years, and in June, four members of Puerto Rico's Financial Oversight and Management Board penned an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal called simply "Privatize Puerto Rico's Power."

Congress established this seven-person board under President Barack Obama in 2016, as part of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act, which aimed to dig the territory (and PREPA) out of its massive debt via increased US oversight. The board is able to seize public assets, break union contracts and cut pensions, and its austerity measures include lowering the minimum wage from $7.25 to $4.25 an hour. PROMESA was contentious from the outset -- a handful of Democrats in Congress likened the oversight board to a form of colonialism, decrying how the legislation stripped away even more of Puerto Rico's autonomy.


Despite PROMESA's financial goals, PREPA filed for bankruptcy just a year later. That was when four members of the oversight board wrote the following:

"We believe that only privatization will enable PREPA to attract the investments it needs to lower costs and provide more reliable power throughout the island. By shifting from a government entity to a well-regulated private utility, PREPA can modernize its power supply, depoliticize its management, reform pensions, and renegotiate labor and other contracts to operate more efficiently."

No power companies have made overt moves in Puerto Rico so far, but one US-based business springs to mind as a natural partner in this space: Tesla.

Not only is Tesla the leading name among renewable-energy companies, but it has experience in bringing power to another US island, Hawaii. Tesla and Hawaii's KauaŹ»i Island Utility Cooperative are currently maintaining a 45-acre solar farm in the hills of Kapaia, supported by a 53 MWh array of Tesla Powerpacks. The Powerpacks are essentially giant, commercial-grade white batteries that store the energy captured by solar panels, resulting in a more stable system and less wasted power. Batteries are essential for sustaining large-scale renewable-energy systems, and this technology is just now becoming a reality.

Hawaii's energy problems mirror Puerto Rico's in a few ways: It's not connected to the mainland, so there's no backup if its power plants are destroyed, and it has some of the highest energy costs in the country. Puerto Rico's energy costs are generally two to three times those on the mainland.

Tesla has already shipped hundreds of Powerwalls -- the residential-size version of the Powerpack -- to Puerto Rico in an effort to help the commonwealth get back online. The company hasn't signaled any interest in setting up permanent shop in Puerto Rico, but if it does, it'll need to make a deal with the US government. Puerto Rico is no stranger to this scenario.

The island found itself in a similar situation just one year after becoming a US territory -- in August 1899, Hurricane San Ciriaco devastated Puerto Rico with winds of 100 MPH and 28 straight days of rain. The hurricane killed more than 3,000 people and deleted nearly every acre of farmland, hitting coffee plantations particularly hard. As recovery efforts carried on, US interests scooped up land from former farmers and planted a booming investment crop: sugar. Control of much of Puerto Rico's farmland transferred from citizens to US businesses, which have no obligation to ensure the health or sustainability of the territory or its people.

For example, The Intercept lists real-life problems caused by the partial privatization of PREPA's power grid:

It's not as if Prepa's existing experiments with privatization have been success stories. The utility currently purchases around 30 percent of its power from two private sources, an AES coal plant in Guayama and a natural gas plant in Peñuelas, owned by the Spanish company EcoElectrica. AES sparked a major fight in the area and abroad for the plant's dumping of coal ash, which can seep into waterways and cause a number of health problems. Post-Irma, UTIER -- the Prepa utility workers' union -- denounced both of the private providers for shutting down during the storm to protect their infrastructure, straining both public providers and the unionized workforce. Were large swaths of Prepa to be privatized, it's also likely UTIER would be disbanded.

Privatization could modernize and stabilize Puerto Rico's energy infrastructure, but the island has a complicated history with both US businesses and the federal government. After Hurricane Maria, however, it doesn't have the luxury of negotiating.