iPhone mania leads to early gadget Christmas

Christmas shopping has certainly evolved over the years. With gadgets now dominating our lives, they also dominate our Christmas shopping, even for younger kids as the age minimum for smart phones in many families keeps getting lower. Sure, boys still love footballs and girls love their dolls, and parent will buy all sorts of things large and small. Clothes and stocking stuffers and trivial gifts like cards puzzle frames are still common, but gadgets have certainly become the most important item on many gift lists.

The gift guides will be coming out soon, and you can expect the iPhone 5 to dominate many of these lists, and that shouldn’t be a surprise. The only thing holding it back is that so many people have already purchased one, as the introduction of the iPhone in many ways was an early Christmas for those involved in the logistics of delivering the new phone. The iPhone hysteria is certainly good for companies like UPS and serves as a warmup for the crazy Christmas season.

Despite the maps fiasco, the new iPhone 5 is obviously a hit. But it’s certainly not for everyone with the high price tag. Parents in particular will be searching for less expensive alternatives, and many parents frankly don’t want to spoil 10-year old kids with a new iPhone. Yet the pressure remains. So scour the upcoming holiday gift guides for other ideas that will make the kids smile.

Worx’s New Power Screwdriver Won’t be Passing Through Security Anytime Soon

I’m not a handy person in the traditional sense. I mean, I can work a hammer or screwdriver but prefer to only do so in the event of a zombie invasion (and I don’t mean hanging up boards).

You know…like this

So usually when an incredible new power tool comes out, it tends to fly under my radar. However, by its basic design, the new SD Power Screwdriver by Worx is pretty hard to ignore.

First of all, yes it does look an awful lot like a really cool sci-fi gun. It’s certainly a design decision that makes the drill immediately visually appealing, but that’s only a skin deep observation of the hand cannon influences on this tool. The real pistol influenced feature of this semi-automatic screwdriver lies in the chamber function, which allows you to automatically swap and load six different drill bits without the hassle of having to change them out manually.

Outside of that, the drill boasts some other useful abilities such as its lightweight design and compact size allowing for ease of use in just about every situation, as well as a second cartridge so you can keep 12 different bits handy at any time. Plus you get a nice LED light right under the chamber for further ease of use in tight, dark areas (your probably not supposed to treat it as a laser sight but no one can stop you from doing so either).

As I mentioned, I’m not handy, but that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t try to be. Little tasks of home improvement come up all the time, and many of the basic ones involve needing a good screwdriver. The new Worx looks to provide just that, and whether you’re looking to actually start filling up your own toolbox, or you know a handyman in the family who needs a gift come the holidays, the Worx is more than just a fun design, and looks to be one of the more versatile power screwdrivers on the market for its price.

Plus, there’s nothing technically stopping you from posing with it when no one is around and saying “Your move creep!”

You know…like this

Fuzz Wants to be Online Radio by the People, for the People

You know somewhere between Pandora’s steady, old reliable model, Spotify’s have it all, take it anywhere incredible features, and various other stations like SHOUTcast covering some of the most obscure music out there, I guess I once felt content saying that the world of internet radio is pretty well covered.

And yet it seems like there is at least one more site out there that thinks that there is still fresh ground to tread in that particular field by catering to this wild idea that instead of a computer algorithm generating music selection, perhaps it would be preferable for human beings to take a stab at it.

That site is called Fuzz and, if you let them, they’d very much like to rock/rap/alternative/classical your world.

How? Well the entire site is made up of user created stations. Members can upload their personal music and create a radio station set to a theme of the music selection, with the built in system mixing the music together for you. Examples include the standards like classic rock or 90’s hip hop, but a quick search reveals more specific stations like classical dinner music or trendy sushi bar.  A band search option is available to get you started, but the general idea is to start with music you are familiar with, and expand your interests, and favorite playlists, based on people who like those same bands or songs other available selections. It’s an idea that is automatically handled by computers on other sites, but Fuzz treats it much more like each user is the DJ to their own mix, complete with custom station names, backdrops, and comment and feedback features.

The creator of the site, Jeff Yasuda, has tooled around the internet radio scene for a while, and he and his team simply feel that it is more fun, and rewarding, for people to share music with people and not machines. It’s an idea that was encouraged by Yasuda’s other music app Blip.Fm, which allows people to play the music they’re listening to via Twitter and Facebook. The quiet success of that app has instilled Yasuda with the belief that a site that expands that idea into a full radio station could be a hit. Although, he is certainly aware of the long shot that any internet station is, as he reveals via a cryptic quote in an interview with Bloomberg.com when speaking of the internet radio industry:

“The space is crowded and the graveyard is long, deep and wide,”

So how is the site? While I’m personally still inclined to default to Spotify or Pandora for a kickback and let it play listening experience, Fuzz is infinitely more entertaining to just explore, whether it be for new music, or just to see what obscure and awesome stations people dream up. Though the battle for success, much less supremacy, is one that hasn’t even begun, to me it is indisputable that the basic idea behind Fuzz is a winner. Yasuda and co. are right in their idea that it is much more fun to put people in charge of a music selection, and the difference give Fuzz a personality in its beta stage that even the larger, and more established, stations don’t share.

In fact, even if Fuzz doesn’t take off, it’s that idea that I love, and which I hope ultimately influences other stations to implement something similar. Although, as so many other things in the tech business have proven, sometimes all it really does take is a good idea, and the proper amount of momentum to make it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I may have to make a station featuring the music of Lou Reed, Leonard Cohen, and the soundtrack to the video game “Earthbound.

A Non-Violent Solution to Ending Headphone Tangles

In the world of headphone problems, somewhere behind having one ear go out and the other not (I believe they design these things like that to sell more) and straight up losing them, lies the burden of tangled cords.

It seems that taking even the most surefire methods to avoid this problem, like neatly folding them and securing them with a twisty-tie, yield no solution to this issue as somehow those cords always find a way to become this jumbled mess that makes the Griswold family Christmas lights seem like a simple knot.

I’ve long resigned myself to the fact that much like the two socks go in, one sock comes out dryer conundrum, tangled headphones are just one of those issues you have to deal with once in a while even if there is sometimes no valid reason for its occurrence.

Luckily, more innovative people than myself have not given up the good fight, and there does now exists what looks like a cheap, practical solution to this dilemma.

That’s the Nest Earbud Protector, and the idea behind it couldn’t be simpler or more welcome. It’s a silicone case you pop up, and put your earbuds in. From there you just wrap the cords around the spindle, pop it back into place, and your headphones are now stored in a neat package that keeps them safe from damage, and of course tangles. The best part is a simple yank of the headphones will free them without hassle.

Actually, the best part may be that the Nest only costs $10. Now sure, I could just buy a Bluetooth headset, but I’m still fundamentally against spending over $50 on a pair of headphones that aren’t for anything more than everyday commute use, and I feel like most Bluetooth headsets make me look more ridiculous than I care to admit.

If you’re incredibly stuck in your ways like me then, it’s hard to not recommend giving something so affordable and useful as The Nest Earbud Protector a look.

Everything You Wanted to Know About the iPhone 5 But Were Too Afraid to Ask

With the first reviews pouring in today for everyone’s soon to be most bragged about toy, the iPhone 5, it’s time to take a step back and look at everything we know about the new iPhone, to date.

The Look

It’s thinner (the thinnest smartphone in the world according to Apple), it’s taller (a half an inch taller to be exact), it comes in black and white (though that doesn’t matter according to the late Michael Jackson), and of course it’s pretty sleek. Apple has had more than enough time in this business to know what works and what doesn’t and they aren’t messing with the formula now. The iPhone 5 looks like an iPhone, just better.

The Features

For the most part, all of the usual upgrades apply. The sound is better, the video is clearer, and everything is supposed to be faster. Of particular note, though, are the new 4G capabilities and Siri functions. The 4G is supposedly as quick as you need it to be, Siri is better than ever, and can perform an array of new tricks from pulling up apps on request, to providing sports scores. Also, the camera is supposed to work better in lowlight, and the battery life is cited as working up to 12-14 hours in some cases with normal usage, which would mean a great improvement over the previous models.  However, if you’re looking for the real new feature of the iPhone 5, you have to turn to the new iO6.

iO6

The biggest upgrade to i06 is the new Apple Maps features which opposes the popular Google Maps program. Reviews aren’t particularly flattering for the new app, as reviewers cite trouble using it practically in urban environments ,along with being generally behind Google Maps, but with things like Yelp integration, and Siri enabled GPS, a few updates could put the system on the right track. Otherwise, the new operating system is offering up increased Facebook functionality, Facetime compatibility, and a great all in one travelling app called Passbook that also works with some of your payment methods to help create a virtual wallet. Nice.

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The CruxSKUNK Might Provide the Perfect iPad Keyboard

For a company all about upselling (just try to leave an Apple Store without being sold a case for your iPhone) Apple themselves haven’t done a great job of providing an accessory to fix the iPad keyboard dilemma.

See as beautiful a device as the iPad is, its on screen keyboard doesn’t exactly lend itself to any use more urgent than internet browsing. This severely hinders many of the features the wonder tablet can offer. Apple, along with several other companies, offer Bluetooth keyboard accessories, but the results of trying to use one are often awkward and make enjoying using your iPad more burdensome than need be. Some companies like Belkin, Zagg, and Kensington have tried to get around this problem with keyboard/case hybrids that turns your iPad into something that closer resembles a laptop. Reactions and results are mixed on those hybrids, with many of them still coming off as awkward, causing severe limitations in mobility, or worse just plain cheap.

Where others have failed in resolving this problem, though, an unlikely savior, with an unlikely name for a savior, may have emerged from the funding fields of Kickstarter.

It’s called the CruxSKUNK (what?) and it may succeed where other, similar products have failed by using some of the same product synergy Apple is so fond of themselves. That’s because, when you put your iPad into the case, the entire unit is made to resemble a Macbook Air in weight, looks, and feel. The metamorphosis is genuinely impressive, as is the keyboard itself which features nice large type-face, full keyboard set-up and range, and a nicely thin base (6mm). Aesthetically, it is the most immediately pleasing case of its kind on the market.

But the CruxSKUNK isn’t trying to get by on its looks. Instead the real beauty of this case is its hinge that lets the user place their iPad in a variety of positions to suit their needs. The idea is to provide the perfect set up for watching movies, working on documents, or playing games all without having to remove the case. After seeing the video of the CruxSKUNK in action, its hard to believe that they haven’t achieved just that. If you do need to remove your iPad, however, the Crux also allows you to do so without much in the way of hindrance.

Currently the CruxSKUNK has already well exceeded its revamped $90,000 goal, with over $191,000 dollars earned and 20 days still left to go for funding.  The only available backing options left range from $155 for a CruxSKUNK and nice leather carrying sleeve, to $1500 plus for 10 cases and 10 sleeves. Obviously, that’s not cheap when compared to some of the competitors on the market. However, since the main complaint of those competitors is how cheap their actual products are, you ultimately have to ask yourself if your need for an iPad keyboard case is truly great enough to warrant going for the top of the line. If it is, even in its pre-production phase, the CruxSKUNk appears to be just that.

GoDaddy Becomes Just Another Anonymous Victim

Today, GoDaddy.com became the latest victim of the hacking group Anoymous.

The damage to the popular webhost is not necessarily long term, but it did force millions of websites that the site supports to go down as a result. The attacks themselves seem to be the works of the hacking group, of whom a sole member has claimed responsibility for the attacks via their Twitter handle AnonymousOwn3r, and said it was done in an effort to expose the security weaknesses of the site. Currently, GoDaddy has announced they are aware of the problem, and are working to resolve it as quickly as possible.

While the scope of this attack (again, millions of websites went down as a result) makes this event certainly newsworthy, it’s inevitably but another notch in the post in a long run of Anonymous attacks. The workings and power structure of the group (if one does in fact exist in the classic sense) are certainly ambiguous, and it often becomes difficult to properly tell exactly what events can be truly attributed to the group, and which ones are done in their name.

Also of ambiguous nature is the exact motivation and intentions of the organization.  In one moment they appear as anarchists, yet a swift glance away yields their image to that of political heroes. Even still, turn your back on them, and the next you hear, you in fact  found yourself face to face with one of their more popular monikers, that of cyber terrorists.

The reason for these profile inconsistencies has to do with the variety of actions performed, or supposedly performed, by the group. While the volume, and nature, of these actions are alarmingly astounding, there are a few that stand out above the rest for one reason or the other. The following are among them:

The Chris Forcand Bust

In one of the most early and public instances of “Anonymous justice”, Chris Forcand was arrested for attempted molestation of a minor, exposure, and weapons charges after members of Anonymous set up an online sting by posing as underage children, and providing the evidence (which included photos of Forcand exposing himself) to the police. When Anonymous would later claim responsibility for the actions, the event would eventually become cited as one of the first known cases of internet vigilantism.

The No Cussing Club

In one of the more petty acts of supposed Anonymous action, California teenager McKay Hatch thought it might be a good idea to start the No Cussing Club with the goal of making people aware of the overuse of profanity. Hackers shut the site down, and got a hold of McKay’s information and leaked his phone number and address to the public resulting in a barrage of hate mail, prank calls, and porn and pizza deliveries made to his residence.

It’s an incident that would prove that no target was too big or small for the considerable capabilities of the group.

Operation Payback

A multi-tiered and ambitious campaign, Operation Payback started a retaliation against the companies supporting anti-piracy campaigns.

The attacks done in the name of this campaign are almost too numerous to list here. They’ve included shutting down the Playstation Network in retaliation against Sony, shutting down a law firm website and releasing private documents they found within, shutting down the website for the Associação do Comércio Audiovisual de Portugal (ACAPOR) which pledged to keep the people of Potruguese from accessing The Pirate Bay (and then redirecting the site directly to Pirate Bay), and attacks against numerous government institutions and politicians.

Operation Payback would later result in Operation Avenge Assange, which was in response to the infamous WikiLeaks shutdown, that also resulted in numerous attacks against a variety of big names including PayPal, Amazon, and large Credit Card companies. Under any name, these operations represent some of the largest and most focused online attacks ever seen against high profile organizations.

2009 Iranian Election Protests

Many of the actions of anonymous are done in support of those they considered to be the “disenfranchised.” In 2009 the people of Iran joined these ranks when the controversial results of the presidential election were announced leading to national protests. In a coalition with the Pirate Bay, Anonymous launched the website Anonymous Iran. The purposes of the site was to get around the restrictions set up by the Iranian government that outlawed news updates about the protests, and provide free information to the citizens.

It was one of the more official acts of the group and emphasized their particular balance of political contributions, and wide scale personal attacks.

Barr, Aaron Barr

One of the more infamous cases of Anonymous attacks, Aaron Barr was CEO of the internet security firm HBGary Federal.  Barr launched a one man campaign of sorts where he infiltrated online hotspots for Anonymous member gatherings, and started collecting data. At one point, he felt he had supposedly acquired knowledge of the majority of the Anonymous leadership and planned on exposing them to the FBI.

Unfortunately in what the kids call a “bad move bro” he also decided to publish his investigation in the Financial Times. When members of Anonymous found out, their vengeance was thorough as they shut down Barr’s company website (an internet security company mind you), altered all of the passwords used internally on the site, wiped out significant amounts of the company’s database information, and published over 50,000 of the companies e-mails for public viewing. As a finale, and in the ultimate show of one-upsmanship, they also erased Barr’s personal iPad.

In order to get them to stop, Barr had to issue a public apology for his actions and also resign as CEO. HBGary would also never recover completely from the incident, as their name is still associate with the incident to this day.

Anonymous vs Scientology

Batman has the Joker, the Hatfields had the McCoys, Maggie Simpson had that baby with the one eye-brow, and for a rival, Anonymous has the Church of Scientology.

It began when Anonymous released a video that showed Tom Cruise spouting a slew of somewhat maniacal “facts” about the church of scientology. As a result, the church put their full legal force into getting the video removed from public, and as a general protest to everything the church represents, the hacking group went into overdrive in the name of revenge.

One of the most significant actions of this campaign was the organizing of physical protests across the world outside of various scientology institutions, where many protestors could be seen wearing Guy Fawkes masks, made popular by the “V for Vendetta” story, in show of their support to Anonymous. The sheer number of worldwide protesters that showed up were astounding, and their methods of protest, while peaceful, were notable in their organization and enthusiasm. Of course, the usual Anonymous methods of protest, including hacking, prank calls, and rigging Google so that the search “dangerous cult” lead to the Scientology website as the top result, were also employed.

To this day the war against Scientology wages on for Anonymous, and has become their signature movement, known as Project Chanology. Along with providing some of their most notable manifestos and iconic images, it’s a movement against just about everything the group considers wrong. While many aspects of the group Anonymous are debatable, there is no denying the social impact of this movement regardless of any personal feelings towards it.

Bing Invites You to a Five Round Fight With Google

Well, I’ll give Microsoft and Bing this. They’re clearly not going down without a fight. In fact, thanks to their latest marketing ploy, that is exactly what they are seeking.

If you go to the website Bing It On, you can take part in a challenge that pits the search engines Google and Bing against each other in a side by side comparison. You enter a search term, and the results generated by both pages are given to you, along with the option to choose which results were better, or to declare it a draw. At the end of five searches, your score is tallied to reveal which search engine was your overall preference. Of course, to make sure that you have an open mind about the subject, this is a blind test and doesn’t make an indication as to which search engine is which when the results are displayed, Pepsi Challenge style.

Although, my guess is the average internet user is probably aware when they are looking at Google search results.

And that’s what makes this competition so bizarre. Even though the end of the test shows that overall results favor Bing at a 2-1 ratio, after taking the test three times, 15 total searches, my personal results came up with a draw once and Google coming ahead twice. While I freely admit that some of this may have been me subliminally recognizing Google and choosing it, even my Bing preferences were little more than the result of a mental “coin flip” of sorts that resulted from me not wanting to choose the draw option and cop out.

In fact the biggest conclusion I drew from this contest is that Bing is on par with Google. Congrats to them for that, but I don’t think that was ever really the question was it? Proving you’re as good as Google doesn’t make you Google, and if Bing really wants to close the gap in the search engine market share, it should probably spend more time working on what makes it different from the search giant, and not proving that if you type donuts into Bing, you get equal or slightly more appealing results for donuts than Google.

In a bit of irony about this challenge that kind of highlights that predicament, using Bing as one of the search subjects produced better results through Google, and I heard about the challenge initially using…Google.

But hey, it’s a fun little use of five minutes if you can spare it.

The Pianocade May Just Be Music to a Nostalgic Gamer’s Ears

When I look back at the 8 bit era of video games, the thing that impresses me most is the music quality. Think of classic themes like those in Mario, Zelda, and DuckTales, and marvel at how such a new concept like full video game music could have produced so many classics on a sound system that was as bare bones as can be. Even as modern games now come with sweeping full sound orchestras accompanying them, some still prefer 8 bit music as a medium, and not just view it as another wing in the nostalgia museum.

The makers of the Pianocade, also recognize the technological brilliance of the 8 bit era of melody and have engineered an equally brilliant device to help people replicate it. Underneath the minimalist arcade board design lies a pretty complex keyboard system meant to product an exact replication of the 8 bit music style. The Pianocade boasts a full range MIDI system and open source capabilities that allows for an immense level of user customization and sharing options. The built in synthesizer also produces an impressive level of sound quality with a 128 note sound range, and full tempo control. Now if you’re as musically inept as I am (I believe the technical term is “Tone Deaf”) then you don’t really need to follow all of the specs, and instead just need to check out the video of this thing in action.

Currently the Pianocade is only available for pre-order, and retails for $250CDN ($253 US) for a one octave model, or $325CDN ($329US) for the two octave version. Even better is the newly announced optional strap that allows for conversion of the unit into a keytar. The preorder period is estimated to be over on September 14th, at which time the first units will begin shipping out.

Obviously if you want to recreate 8 bit music there is a wide variety of digital options available (hell, it was digital to begin with). But since the goal of this project is to recreate the arcade experience of a room filling with a variety of video game music for all to enjoy, if you have the skill and the means this could make for one interesting party piece, conversation starter, or even a legitimate addition to your recording studio, as if you have the need, this device certainly has the capabilities.