Tag: services

Apps and gadgets for the ‘Blade Runner’ future we didn’t ask for

Punks, monks and Harrison Ford running scared through a poisonous cityscape were just a few of the details that made the original Blade Runner feel like its environment was a standalone character in the film. It felt as alien and familiar as the way we live today, with an environment turning against us, a government that couldn't care less, and a corporate ruling class that would make the Tyrell Corporation jealous.

The dystopian world of Blade Runner felt like it had naturally come to be. Unlike the version of Blade Runner we seem to be living in now, which feels like someone threw a switch at New Year's, and surprise, we're living in hell. Suddenly we have to catch up to living in dystopian fiction really fast, lest we die from fires, hurricanes, connected Nazis or nuclear war. So it's probably best that we use every bit of tech to our advantage so we make it to the next noodle bar, as it were.

Roy Batty's survival kit

Despite the best efforts of our federal government to deny it, climate change is real and the planet has had enough of our foolishness. From hurricane destruction to extreme heat and cold, everyone needs to plan for a local disaster -- at the very least. The way things are now, with fires and floods, and even hurricanes hitting Ireland, it seems like we need to prepare for everything. But not everyone can afford a survival pod.

Survival kits start with the basics: A "go bag" to keep by the exit, a kit (or extra supplies) for staying in your house, and an off-site stash in case you have to literally run from disaster (such as a "car kit"). Pick one, or all three if you have the luxury. The American Red Cross has a good starting list, while the Disaster Supply Center has a multitude of readymade kits.

Now that we're living in a Blade Runner future on Krack, we'll have to fill in the details of true life in a future gone wrong. Like many in Northern California, this past week set a record for locals comparing life in San Francisco to existing in the film itself. That had a lot to do with the fires, which have us investing in daily-wear face masks and conditioned to air quality worse than Shanghai. We realize that we're just catching up with the rest of the world in so many ways in terms of life with poisoned air.

Prep your cyberpet

On the Set of 'Blade Runner'

As Pris surely knew, real animals are rare in Blade Runner's universe. Animals were the first to start dying of the pollution which pushed humans Off-World. From fires to dust to gale-force winds, or bombs, your kit needs a face mask with N95 and N100 ratings.

Sure, you can get any old thing at the hardware store or Amazon, but this is the future. You can take advantage of living in a time when even product designers are allergic to everything, and get an air mask fit for a city dweller. In many instances, these nouveau air-pollution masks are better than what you'll get in that prepper survival kit.

Great daily use (or temporary daily use) masks that look good are now a competitive market. For the Cal Fires, a number of SF locals grabbed a Vogmask off Amazon for getting around town. Other recommended masks that will make you actually want to wear it are those from Airinum and the Cambridge Mask Co.

If Pris had survived her encounter with Deckard, she'd surely have an animal companion -- and the gear to make her darling doggo or kitteh ready for anything. For starters, she'd make sure that sweet little manufactured beast stayed far away from any actual blade runners with GPS tracking. One option is the Whistle Pet Tracker; internet famous travel cat Willow stays connected with the Tabcat tracker and a long-range (no cell service needed) MarcoPolo Tracking System.

Pris would also have a Pet First Aid Kit, certainly, but for the oppressive heat in a climate gone wrong, she'd own a swamp cooler pup jacket or a canine cooling harness. Or like me, she'd have read about the woman fleeing the Cal Fires who put her 80-lb pit bull in a backpack and bicycled to safety, and would want a quick escape solution -- like a U-Pet escape pod.

Off-World isn't yet an option

Blade Runner

Fire is one thing, but looking at recent events, everyone will probably need waterproof everything. When you can, get a waterproof (or water-resistant) case for all your devices, or try to invest in the newest versions of things like the Kindle, which is now waterproof.

Harrison Ford's character Deckard drank whiskey -- Johnny Walker Black Label, to be precise -- so that's one way you might be able to avoid the poisonous drinking water of our collective future. For those who may find this impractical for daily applications, a top-end water filtration device is the gadget you want. The most advanced consumer model is the MSR Guardian™ Purifier, but day trippers living in the future-now will want a handheld UV water purifier like the SteriPen.

Your biggest asset in a dystopian climate change emergency might just be your backups. You can make your backup with a reputable cloud service, like Crashplan or iCloud. But to be safe from today's security threats, you should have a secure backup hard drive that you keep at home (or in another safe place) and one that you can grab and go.

This portable drive can hold copies of everything you might have to leave behind, from family photos to scans of your passport. It should also be waterproof, shock-proof, and password protected. The gold standard for this type of external hard drive is IOSafe, which claims to also be fireproof. For a small drive to keep in a bag, in case the replicant hunters come looking for you or a hurricane strikes out of nowhere, consider a Silicon Power drive, with small versions storing up to 4TB.

Power will be a concern, no matter if you're in a sci-fi climate disaster future or just on the go in our Blade Runner day-to-day lives. For those who are oppressed by the sun, solar chargers are now easy to use and take everywhere with you. Adafruit's DIY solar charger tutorials will have your devices constantly charged, and can help you keep others charged as well.

If your modern-day Blade Runner experience doesn't include DIY tinkering, the American Red Cross FRX3+ All Purpose Weather and Radio Charger has it all. It includes a NOAA AM/FM weather alert radio, LED flashlight, a charger via its USB port, and it stays powered for a week when fully charged via hand crank, its solar panel, or its 2600 mAh rechargeable battery.

Alcon Entertainment

Apps for humans and replicants alike

One of the apps that made day to day living safe in the Bay Area over the past two weeks was AirVisual's air quality app. More immediate than local alerts, it let us know when we needed to wear masks to go to the grocery store, and when we'd expect to get a break with some fresh air.

That said, many were stuck inside worrying how fast we were dying from the air in our apartments. That's where the AirVisual Pro would come in handy, showing inside air quality as well as that outside our doors. Yet, inside is really where it counts in polluted dystopias like ours, which is why an air purifier is probably the "coolest" gift anyone can give in this coming holiday season. For the most tech-inclined, Dyson's pricey hot-cool air purifier is definitely the Cadillac of purifiers, and comes with its own app to help you monitor your space.

Radiation wasn't an influence on the original Blade Runner's storytelling, but it might be in ours. In case our dystopia takes a Fallout 4 turn, Idaho National Laboratory scientists created an Android app for detecting radiation -- and they tested it on several different smartphone models (Samsung Nexus S, Samsung Galaxy Nexus, Samsung SIII and LG Nexus 4).

The CellRAD app wasn't released to the public, but a similar app called Radiation Alarm works on the same functionality. It uses an Android's camera app to detect gamma radiation, as long as you follow the instructions closely (and keep the camera covered to get a reading).

There are apps I wish I'd had before the fires, and apps I've found that make me glad I'm installing them now. Climate change has made Weather alert apps completely invaluable. Weather Underground, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, RainAware, and Hurricane by the American Red Cross would've helped me decide to get an air purifier in time, and will probably save me and my replicant cat before the next disaster.

It's too bad that IBM's mesh network weather alert app isn't available in America yet, but I'm setting an alert to download it when it can help us out. This will negate the need to have cell service to get alerts, and I wonder how many lives it might've saved this year so far.

Should hurricanes hit San Francisco, or if Deckard comes looking for me and my friends, I've now got the Red Panic Button. This app sends email, text, and GPS coordinates to trusted contacts in the event of an emergency, as well as notifying 911. The "ICE" app (In Case of Emergency) from American Red Cross keeps an unlocked medical alert on the lockscreen of my phone, just in case.

While we're on the subject, the American Red Cross has its problems, but the apps they provide are invaluable. Those include a Shelter Finder app, a hurricane/wildfire/earthquake app, and their first aid apps. The medial aid apps come in both human and pet versions, and they are stored offline should you end up without cell service and need to save a fellow replicant's life.

Some might say that Blade Runner was just a movie. But for the rest of us, it's suddenly a way of life, and also a guide to survival. Hopefully this little guide helps, too.

Images: Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images (Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty); Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images (Joanna Cassidy as Zhora Salome with Snake); Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images (Harrison Ford and Edward James Olmos as Deckard and Gaff); Alcon Entertainment / Blade Runner 2049 (Weather display)


Vodafone’s introducing a zero-rating scheme too

Just as several of its carrier peers have done recently, Vodafone will soon be jumping on the zero-rating bandwagon. Vodafone Passes, as they're called, are a selection of paid bolt-ons that'll offer unlimited data towards several music and video streaming services, as well as some social media and messaging apps.

When these bolts-on launch in early November, the Video Pass will be available for £7 per month before increasing to £9 after an unspecified introductory period. Pick one of those up, and any data you use to stream Netflix, Amazon Video, YouTube, Vevo, My5 and TVPlayer won't eat into your usual monthly allowance. The £5 per month Music Pass does the same for Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Deezer, Amazon Music, Soundcloud and Napster.

The £5 Social Pass zero-rates data for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, while the £3 Chat Pass ensures WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Viber don't pilfer your monthly allowance. You'll also be able to pick up the £15 per month Combi Pass, which includes all of the above and saves you a bit of money in the process.

Depending on your usage, it might end up being more sensible (if not a little more complicated) to pick up a basic plan to cover general browsing and snag a Combi Pass for everything else. The only catch is you need to be on a pay-monthly tariff -- handset or SIM-only is fine, but pay-as-you-go customers are out of luck.

Zero-rating became the cool thing to be doing this summer, among mobile providers at least. Three was first with its special "Go Binge" tariffs, which include unlimited data for a handful of streaming services. Virgin Mobile introduced "data-free" Twitter shortly after, though the MVNO had actually been zero-rating Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp since last year.

EE followed suit by zero-rating all data gobbled up by Apple Music during the carrier's six-month free trial of the streaming service. Vodafone also unveiled a new, youth-focused sub-brand Voxi in August, which zero-rates several social media apps as standard. While not available at launch, the plan was to offer "passes" through Voxi, so we wouldn't be surprised if the bolt-ons become available across both brands early next month.

Vodafone might be a tad late to the party, but it certainly has many more big names on its scheme than any of its rivals currently do. That doesn't necessarily mean Passes are more compatible with the concept of net neutrality, though. Zero-rating is a controversial practice, since it can encourage customers that might be frugal with their data to use some services over others. There's no concrete rules in Europe, however. Schemes as assessed on a case-by-case basis, and are considered legal as long as they don't stifle innovation.


Google Play lets you test drive Android apps before installing them

Google's Instant Apps are available in a few places for curious Android users, but they've been conspicuously absent in one place: the Play Store. Wouldn't you want to check out an app before committing to it? You can now. Google is now building Instant Apps into the store through a "Try It Now" button on app pages. Tap it and you can find out if an app is your cup of tea without the usual rigamarole of downloading it first. Only a handful of apps are explicitly labeled as Instant Apps-ready (the New York Times' crossword game is one example), but we'd expect that list to grow before long.

There are other important tweaks to the store, too. There's a revamped games area (shown above) with trailers and sections for new and "premium" paid games. Also, the redone Editor's Choice area is now up and running in 17 countries.

Google has also implemented some behind-the-scenes changes that could improve your chances of seeing your favorite subscription service on Android. In a parallel to Apple's App Store reforms, Google will reduce its cut of subscription apps from 30 percent to 15 percent if a user remains with the service for more than a year. This won't take effect until January 1st, 2018, but it could make all the difference for services that previously balked at giving away nearly a third of their revenue no matter how long you stayed aboard. And that's particularly relevant on Android -- as you don't have to offer apps through Google's store, some creators have skipped the shop altogether to ensure they get all the money. They'll still lose some income if they bring their apps to the Play Store after January 1st, but it'll be much more tolerable if you stick with their service for the long haul.

Via: TechCrunch, The Verge

Source: Android Developers Blog, Google Play


Facebook’s news subscription service will debut on Android, not iOS

Back in June, we reported that Facebook was working on a subscription deal with The Wall Street Journal. Then in July, we learned that the social platform was launching a news subscription service which would layer a paywall above Instant Articles. Now, TechCrunch reports that Facebook is, in fact, in testing mode for subscriptions for Instant Articles.

Facebook is offering publishers two options. The first is to allow a certain number of articles for free and restrict users once free articles have been used up. The other is to lock certain articles only. It's debuting with the following ten publishers: Bild, The Boston Globe, The Economist, Hearst (The Houston Chronicle and The San Francisco Chronicle), La Repubblica, Le Parisien, Spiegel, The Telegraph, tronc (The Baltimore Sun, The Los Angeles Times and The San Diego Union-Tribune) and The Washington Post. Interestingly, The Wall Street Journal is not on that list, though Facebook was reportedly in discussions with the publisher News Corp.

The most interesting part of this news is the subscription model. Facebook will allow users to sign up for subscriptions through their app, but they will be redirected to the publisher's site to actually pay for it. This means that Facebook won't be keeping a chunk of that revenue, a very attractive proposition for publishers. Users will be able to activate subscriptions on Facebook as well, granting them access to articles if they already subscribe.

However, the revenue model also the reason that this feature will be launching on Android devices only, and not Apple, according to Recode. Android has no restrictions on how subscriptions can be sold in apps, but Apple takes up to 30 percent of the price of all subscriptions sold within its apps. Facebook and Apple were unable to come to terms on this despite months of negotiations, so for now, this feature will roll out across Android devices only over the next few weeks.

Source: Recode, TechCrunch


Verizon aims for spring 2018 to debut its streaming TV service

We first heard that Verizon was interested in launching a streaming TV service back in March, but getting it off the ground has been a real struggle. It was originally scheduled to debut this past summer, though rumors had it slipping to the fall. Now, Bloomberg reports that Verizon is eyeing a launch in spring 2018.

Verizon's faced multiple issues in regard to this streaming service. As recently as August, the company was unable to secure enough broadcasters to make the effort worthwhile. Media companies were hesitant because there wasn't a solid plan in place for the service in terms of pricing, programming and tech. It didn't help that they'd lost multiple executives during the process; what's more, news broke last month that the company's media head Marni Walden will leave the company in February 2018.

Adding to the uncertainty is the fact that Go90, Verizon's venture into producing original, streaming, ad-supported shows didn't exactly go well, according to Bloomberg. Still, the company is big enough, and this is clearly important enough of an endeavor, that they will figure out how to make their streaming service work, at least in the short term. It remains to be seen how users and potential subscribers will respond, given the ubiquity of options already available to them.


Scoot is adding battery-swapping cars to its San Francisco lineup

If you spend any time in San Francisco you'll see them. The red electric scooters with a white lighting bolt and the word "Scoot" plastered on the side of the cargo box. Scoot, the company behind these ubiquitous two-wheeled vehicles has been able to litter the city with over 700 of these bikes that can be picked up and dropped off via an app almost anywhere within the city. Now, the short-term rental company is eyeing cars.

According to Scoot founder and CEO Michael Keating, the electric scooter rental service has been used by almost 50,000 users since it launched in 2012. An impressive number, but as pointed out by Keating, not everyone is comfortable braving the perilous streets of San Francisco on two wheels. With that in mind, he announced a partnership with Chinese automotive startup CHJ to bring the automaker's yet-to-be-released small electric car with swappable batteries to San Francisco.

The goal of the two companies is to recreate the scooter model with a small EV. Riders would find and reserve one of these SEV (small electric vehicles) via the Scoot app, get inside and drive it to their destination, then just leave the car on the street for the next Scoot customer. That sounds great, but it's not allowed in San Francisco which is why the two companies invited the city council and policy makers to an event in the city's Dogpatch district.

At the center of the shindig was the CHJ electric vehicle (which will be sold under the company name AmpGo) . A car roughly the length of a Mercedes Smart Fortwo but less than half the width. Small electric cars are nothing new, but the yet-to-be-named SEV has swappable batteries in the trunk that can be replaced in about a minute. That's what makes it suitable for a floating rental service. If the car never has to be plugged into a wall, maintenance crews can just drive around and swap out batteries, and the vehicle is good to go. "We want to bring affordable electric transportation to every San Francisco neighborhood without needing more charging stations," Keating said.

The biggest obstacle isn't technology (the SEV is built to be part of a service like Scoot from its small size to it's Linux/Android-powered infotainment system that talks to the cloud), it's San Francisco regulations and lack of parking. In 2012, BMW launched DriveNow a service similar to Car2Go. The cars could be booked for one-way trips but the vehicles had to be parked in dedicated parking lots and the city just couldn't deliver those spaces. So in 2015, BMW left and later rebranded the service ReachNow and relaunched in Seattle.

Scoot and CHJ are hoping that the small footprint of the SEV (four to five can be parked sideways in a typical parking space), its battery-swapping technology and Scoot's history of delivering a one-way rental service in San Francisco will sway city officials. But that may prove difficult as the area has experienced an increase in traffic with, according to research by the Northeastern University and San Francisco's Transit Authority, services like Uber and Lyft account for up to 20 percent of the vehicles on city roads. Adding another car service to the already congested roads could be difficult.

Keating notes this and hopes that adding Scoot's car-rental service to complement the transportation options already available in the city could convince some residents to give up their gas-powered cars for something that's more convenient and ultimately cleaner. The California DMV reports that there are over 413,000 privately owned cars in San Francisco according to 2016 registrations. Of those only 5,000 are electric.

The CEO also noted that ride-hailing systems like Uber and Lyft need a complimentary low-cost alternative for when someone needs to get to a destination quicker than public transportation can take them. He said that the SEV would cost slightly more than the $3 per half-hour the company charges for the scooters on the network. Anyone that's used a ride-hailing services (which have rates that fluctuate wildly based on demand) knows that's a deal.

So it's an uphill battle, but Keating seems determined that it'll happen. At the end of his presentation, he announced that Scoot and CHJ had come to an agreement to import as many of the small SEVs to San Francisco as the city would allow. That puts San Francisco on the spot to make a decision about how it works with companies like Scoot. It also puts a lot of pressure on a single tiny car.

Unfortunately, Scoot and CHJ would not allow any photos of the vehicle. Yet, even though we only have a few out of focus glimpses of the vehicle in the photos provided by the companies, I was able to take it for a spin. Well, a circle, I was able to drive it around some cocktail tables in a room.

It was far from a true test of the car's capabilities, but I was impressed that all the top-line features (touch-screen dash, transmission, rear-view camera, brakes, doors) seemed ready to hit the road. One feature that really impressed me was that the company had installed two buttons on one of the small rear flares that allowed the driver to get out of the car and back it up or move it forward with these controls. This is how the car can be arranged four (or five) across in a typical parking spot.

At the end of the evening I was shown the power packs. Two 3.2kWh batteries that work in tandem to keep the car on the road up to 30 miles. It reminded me of Gogoro's electric scooter. A new way to charge without loitering around a station. Scoot and CHJ are hoping that these two boxes and the car they go in won't have them waiting around for the city as it tries to figure out if this unlikely partnership will help it reduce congestion while cutting emissions.


The way scientific units are calculated is changing

Scientific units are set to receive their biggest shake-up since the inception of the modern metric system in 1960. The International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) -- one of three committees that oversees this type of stuff -- is presently looking into revising the ampere, the kilogram, the kelvin, and the mole. The higher-ups at the General Conference on Weights and Measures will then conduct a final vote on the recommendations next year, before ordering them into effect in May 2019. Although it may not impact everyday measurements, the redefinition is crucial for scientists, who require the utmost accuracy for their work.

Ever pondered the precision of the international system of units (SI)? (Why should you? You're not going to be called on to measure the temperature in the Large Hadron Collider any time soon). You may be in need of a refresher, then. The kilogram is defined as the lump of platinum-iridium locked in a vault in Paris. The artefact is known to fluctuate in weight (due to surface contamination), making it tricky to define its exact mass.

But, it made the cut for its inclusion in the broader redefinition of units with the acceptance of the so-called watt balance method in 2015. This approach essentially compares mechanical power with electromagnetic power using two methods -- which measure speed as well as experimental values relating the voltage and current in Planck's constant.

An ampere (the base unit of electric current, often shortened to "amp") is presently defined by an imaginary experiment involving the force between two infinite wires. In the near future, the unit could be measured using an electron pump. Meanwhile, the mole is the unit for the amount of substance in a system with as many elementary entities as there are atoms in 0.012 kilograms of carbon-12. In just a couple of years, it could be defined using the silicon sphere (the device that gives scientists Avogadro's constant).

Finally, the Kelvin -- the base unit for temperature -- relates to little more than water: The triple point of water to be exact. The redefinition would rely on the Boltzmann constant, which scientists measured using a dielectric-constant gas thermometer. By grounding the SI on an invariable foundation of constants, scientists should be able to pin down their definitions for good. Roll on, 2019.

Source: BIPM


Nielsen is tracking streaming services like it does broadcast TV

To address the new normal of cord cutting, Nielsen is going to start tracking subscription-based streaming numbers in a big way. The idea is to measure streaming services in the same way that the outfit has tracked broadcast TV for decades: with demographic info and the number of people streaming a program. As TechCrunch notes, only Netflix has signed on for the tracking service, but Nielsen expects Amazon and Hulu to jump on board next year.

A&E, Disney-ABC, Lionsgate, NBCUniversal and Warner Bros, specifically, will be watching those numbers from Netflix. What's odd is that this won't be a comprehensive reporting, as mobile devices won't be counted. Given the number of people who stream on their commutes or on a tablet that might double as their bedroom TV, that could adversely affect the ratings' accuracy.

Nielsen began tracking TV ratings for Hulu's live TV service and YouTube TV in July, and a month later announced it would begin tracking videos on Facebook, Hulu and YouTube viewing habits back in August. As more and more people shift away from traditional TV broadcasts, advertisers and media executives still need a way to measure a show's popularity. This new Subscription Video On Demand Content Ratings program should help with exactly that.

Source: Nielsen


Earbud translators will bring us closer: The Future IRL

The moment Google Pixel Buds were used earlier this month to demonstrate real time translation from Swedish to English, people started freaking out about potential use cases for this kind of technology. But the thing is, Google isn't the only company taking this on.

Doppler Labs offered me a chance to try the beta version of its translation software, used inside of its existing Here One earbuds. It plans to release the translation feature in a software update early next year. I jumped at the chance, and first exchanged pleasantries with a fluent Cantonese speaker, then let folks in San Francisco's Dolores Park use the buds to translate Spanish. Everyone that tried them in front of me loved them, but that doesn't mean they're perfect. Proper nouns are enormously difficult to translate with ease across languages, and that was apparent when we asked one person in Spanish whether she preferred House Stark or House Targaryen in Game of Thrones. The translation spit out mostly gobbledygook. I struggled similarly when trying to understand where my conversational partner lived (Near Ocean Beach in San Francisco, from what I could tell) but it took about three tries to get there.

Doppler Labs plans to up their earbud ante even future in Q3 of 2018, when an updated earbud will give even longer battery life and power for translation, enabling some compute either on the earbuds or on a paired phone, without having to touch the cloud for translation, a pretty common occurrence in most products like it now.

The wise gadget lover might wait for that updated bud, or for that matter, v.2 of Google Pixel Buds or other competitors. But if you imagine yourself an intrepid explorer of the world, translation earbuds are probably already on your wish list. You could wait for generation two or later products from Google, Doppler, Bragi and more, but let's be real: This technology is simply too life-changing to make yourself wait.


Hulu’s VR content is now available on Windows Mixed Reality headsets

With its latest OS update, Microsoft has officially begun to support VR headsets from companies like Lenovo, Acer and Dell and today, Hulu announced its VR content will now be available across the lineup of Windows Mixed Reality headsets. The company has also added its VR app to the Microsoft Store.

Along with this announcement, Hulu also revealed that with Microsoft, it has developed two new VR projects -- The Driver, which follows NASCAR driver Jeffrey Earnhardt and lets viewers experience what it's like to be on a racetrack, and A Curious Mind, a pop science show hosted by Dominic Monaghan (The Lord of the Rings, Lost) that explores our planet. For the next 30 days, both The Driver and A Curious Mind will be available exclusively to Microsoft Mixed Reality headset users. Afterwards, they'll become available on Hulu's other supported platforms including Gear VR, PSVR, Daydream and Rift.

The Hulu VR app is available for free and users can access over 85 pieces of VR content. For those with a Hulu subscription, they can also view the streaming service's entire 2D library in immersive 3D environments. You can watch trailers for The Driver and A Curious Mind below.

Source: Hulu