Drexel University is Providing Free MacBooks to its Students

I never owned a laptop in college, mostly due to my preference for a powerful, desktop PC gaming rig. Of course, I realized the error of my decision fairly quickly, as a laptop was, and still is, the most valuable tool available to the modern college student.

Drexel University in Philadelphia realizes this as well, and have set up a vending machine in its library that provides free MaBooks for its students. It’s an addition spawned in part by the suggestion of a student who was tired of lugging his computer all around campus, for both the physical burden it posed, and the security risks.

The deal is this. Students use their ID’s on the machine to rent a MacBook for five hours. They must keep the MacBook in the library (the computers have attached security sensors to be sure), and should they exceed the five hour time limit, a $5 per hour fee is assessed. Once the student returns the laptop to the machine, it wipes all personal data, and starts recharging the battery.

Drexel staff are apparently considering expanding this initiative to include dispensable iPads, and while that would be a first, the use of this laptop machine is actually being employed in a couple of other east coast school and seems to slowly be developing into a trend for universities that is sure to be very welcome to the always tightly budgeted college student.

You know, between this and that mandatory “Minecraft” class in Sweeden, I think I might have picked the wrong era to attend school.

Wouldn’t Be the First Time that Crossed My Mind…

The Game Stick: A Small Console that is Part of A Big Movement

One of the bigger stories of 2012 in gadgets was the success of the Ouya. The Ouya promises gamers a new type of game console that will be powered off the Android OS, and will retail for under $100 with free to play games, which could include thousands of titles, and serve as a  highly accessible development platform for small game developers everywhere.  It sparked a sizable wave of hype, and destroyed Kisckstarter records, as the idea of such a fresh game console took the public by storm, and had them throwing money at their computers to support it.

And now, not long after the release of the initial Ouya development kits, it appears the Ouya’s triumphant burst onto the gaming scene has left a gaping hole for other companies to join the party through. The latest, and most intriguing, is the Game Stick, a project of PlayJam. It’s intriguing, because it’s a console that is essentially just a controller and a USB stick that plugs into your TV’s HDMI port. From that simple set up, you have access to a substantial number of high profile Android based games available through the PlayJam Games Network service, as well as a host of additional titles the company are hoping to acquire from major Android developers.

Currently the creators of the Game Stick are looking for $100,000 on Kickstarter to start production, and are over halfway to their goal with 29 days to go.

2013 is set to be a huge, huge year in gaming, and you can’t belittle the Ouya’s role in that. Even if it achieves nothing greater than its current role as Kicstarter darling, the little system that could is proving that there is a market out there for a cheaper, simpler, open sourced gaming platform. While the Game Stick doesn’t appear to be quite on the same level of the Ouya as far as depth or available titles, it does offer further evidence that the indie and mobile markets are looking for a traditional platform that will allow them to stand shoulder to shoulder with the big boys to see how they measure up. At an expected $75 price point, the Game Stick may not prove to make that impact, but it could be a great way to get Android games on TV’s on a budget, and with minimal set up.

New Virtual Simulator Allows For Complete Sensory Experience

Considering that the average person can pull out a device smaller than their hand and access the collective general knowledge of the world, and that a group of above average people managed to shoot a remotely operated vehicle on a planet hundreds of millions of miles away, it takes a lot for a new technological idea to make you take notice.

But that is the case with Ikei Laboratory’s Virtual Body Technology, as it explores that age old fascinating concept of virtual reality in an exciting and new way, where the user is allowed to see, hear, smell, and feel what another person would be seeing, hearing, smelling and feeling in a completely different part of the world.

It’s not quite stepping into someone else’s shoes, especially as the avatar isn’t real and the experience is predetermined, but what’s impressive is the sheer set up of the device, which revolves around a motion capable chair facing a 3D monitor, surrounded by fans that simulate smells and sensations (like the wind), while the user wears a pair of high quality headphones and fits themselves into a foot rig that’s motion and vibration can simulate walking and running. It’s extremely comprehensive in recreating genuine physical experiences.

Honestly, this kind of thing has been around for a while, and is even used in high-tech movie theaters and theme parks as an attraction. This design is slightly different though in how many sensations and experiences it can recreate and, more importantly, how accurately it can recreate them. Even with all of our technological advancements, virtual reality is still an idea that eludes us in the classic sense of the term, but this device is a practical step forward in closing in on the idea.

Right now the main motivation behind the device is to allow elderly people who may be unable to do so traditionally the chance to explore new places in the most complete way possible. However, it is also capable of scenarios like recreating the sensation of running like world champion Usain Bolt. In other words, it has the potential to provide a uniquely entertaining experience for anyone who straps themselves in.

Well, unless they choose the Jay Cutler simulator.

Shown Here in his Natural State

Thanks to 3D Printing, There is Now a Vinyl Record for the Digital Age

As the success of companies like Instagram (well, recent terms of service controversy notwithstanding) is proving, even an increasingly hi-tech world will grow nostalgic for the simpler, sometimes uglier, tech of days gone by. One consistent example of this has been the love for the classic design of the vinyl record, which some still insist just sounds better, even as the much more diverse, convenient, and technically higher quality world of digital audio becomes the undisputed music listening method.

However, programmer and inventor Amanda Ghassaei, a user on the site Instructables, has found a new and exciting way for the two to coexist. By using the consistently awesome technology of 3D printing, she has been able to convert an audio file into a 3D printed record that can be played on any traditional record player. The process of creating one is very complex (requiring some serious programming skills and, of course, a 3D printer), and the sound quality is even less than that of a traditional record, but as you can see in the video below, it does truly work.

To anyone with the set up and know how, the instructions can be found via video and text over at Instructables. As someone that can only admire the work and thought put into this process though, I find myself wanting to see this idea grow into a consumer good (with maybe a little higher quality on the final product) as with the addition of some custom artwork, and the right personal set up, this is an awesome idea that provides the opportunity to turn the best of your all-encompassing digital music library into a stylish, and classic, physical record collection.

Google Launches Maps for iOS; Enjoys Benefits of the Eric Cartman Theory

Umm…the Eric Cartman theory?

Yeah, well remember that episode of “South Park” where Cartman buys a failing amusement park with his inheritance so he can have it all to himself? Eventually the operating costs force him to re-open it, and as a result, the time spent telling people they couldn’t come in made them want it even more, and the place became a huge success.

It’s a well reasoned theory that is now being enjoyed by Google, as they recently released the long awaited Google Maps app that has now shot to the top of the free apps download list, after less than 24 hours on the market. Of course the reason that people were so anxious to jump on the app is because it wasn’t available to them when the iPhone 5 first came out, as Apple tried to gain a leg up on the competition resulting in the hilarious failure known as Apple Maps.

That’s not to say that the app isn’t impressive. It is. But it’s also the exact same Google Maps we’ve known and loved for some time now, with a few little niceties thrown in for Apple users. But, oh my does it feel special this time. It’s like how you can take breathing for granted even if it is vital, but when it’s that first breath after being submerged underwater, it’s an incomparable joy.

It’s also pretty embarrassing for Apple. The question is, what do they do now? Had Apple Maps been a success right out of the gate, they could have really converted their users to the native feature and stole some serious momentum from a big rival. Instead, they now just have to watch as a stunning amount of users immediately abandon it, while Apple must continue to work hard to not only catch up with Google Maps, but somehow surpass it, lest they end up with a monumentally embarrassing failure on their resume.

The early success of Google Maps on iOS isn’t an immediate monumental victory for Google, or a resounding defeat for Apple. It is, however, for Apple, the first touchdown surrendered in a football game. While it doesn’t necessarily determine the outcome, they must still watch as another team celebrates in their territory.

And that’s got to hurt.

New Galaxy Line to Bend, Not Break

 

The Galaxy S3 proved to be a hard phone not to love, as Samsung managed to take everything they did right , and learn from the things they did wrong, with their previous releases and craft a smartphone so sleek and versatile it caused not only onlookers, but longer term users as well to consistently say “whoa” in its presence.

Of course, since it more than had the sales figures to match its technical accomplishments, there was never any doubt that Samsung would be hard at work on an S4 for 2013. Now though, the rumors that are starting to pile up about the S4 are making it increasingly apparent that the only thing obvious about the next generation phone, is its eventual release.

A few of the news bits coming out like the rumored better camera and bigger screen (5 inches is the theory), suspected April or May release date, and faster processor are all unconfirmed, but seem inevitable. The more interesting theories are actually the ones leaking from Samsung’s camp, including the idea that thanks to the use of OLED panels, the display on the S4 might be unbreakable. The more plastic based OLED panel would allow for an incredibly durable alternative to the traditional glass set up and, while it may be the bane of cell phone repair centers, would be a welcome feature to consumers that can’t seem to stop spiking their phones, and end up living with a cracked screen.

Even more intriguing is word that the use of OLED panels might also allow Samsung to create a truly flexible cell phone display that will allow the user to bend, twist, fold, and roll their phone with ease. Not that the S3 was ever a burden (that would be the Galaxy Note), but the thought of being able to contort your phone to any position is not only exciting, but in combination with the unbreakable screen also sets up what could be the most reliable piece of hardware every released in the field.

These are both just rumors still, and might not even come into play until the S5, but it’s looking like Samsung is working under the motivation that in the smartphone world, 2nd is no place at all.

New Deal Could Take Netflix to Infinity and Beyond

In their biggest exclusive content deal yet, Netflix has been handed the keys to the Magic Kingdom, as they signed an estimated $300 million deal with Disney that will give them access to the vaults of the famed production company.

The amount of content this gives the streaming powerhouse is nothing short of incredible. Not only will they be gaining access to the Disney classics collection (my inner child is freaking out), but they will also be securing new Disney releases during the same time that cable services get them (estimated to be about 6 to 9 months after theatrical releases), and starting in 2016 Netflix will become the exclusive provider of Disney films as they become available. Oh and, in case you were wondering, this means they gain the rights to the entire Disney family of films which includes Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Walt Disney (classics), and Disneynature.

My not so professional opinion? Yowza.

The timing couldn’t be better for the acquisition since Netflix has started to get behind their Just For Kids section in a big way, and the recent loss of Starz caused some to question if they could handle the impact of the missing content. Not that there was ever a bad time to acquire the films of one of the largest and most cherished production companies in the world mind you, and now the pressure is on the competition more than ever. While Amaon’s deal with Epix, and Hulu’s with Criterion have provided each some worthy bragging rights, they now may be forced to humbly admit that neither of them had the ability to pull off a deal of this magnitude, and they must now retreat to the drawing boards to formulate an effort that will match the even greater attention, and subscriptions, that Netflix will garner from the exclusive rights to one of the most widely regarded and beloved collection of movies available from a single source.

It’s a game changer with no hyperbole possible in describing its implications.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I must patiently await the arrival of “Heavyweights” on Netflix Instant.

“Do It To It Lars!”

Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on Your Head? Consider the Air Umbrella

There’s some simple things that just don’t need to go high tech. Duct tape would be one (still useful in its native form on most high tech gadgets in fact), a wine glass might be another, and naturally you’ve got toilet paper (well until they perfect the three sea shells from “Demolition Man” of course).

Seriously, how does that work?

I would have thought that umbrellas might be another, but there’s a couple of inventors named Je Sung Park and Woo Jung Kwon working on a pretty cool idea for an upgrade in the invisible “Air Umbrella”. Essentially it is just a baton like object that takes air from the base of the device and shoots it to the top to create a barrier between the user and the elements that spreads for full coverage. Features allow the user to adjust the air flow to compensate for how heavy a rain (or snow) is present, and the baton itself is retractable for ease of carry.

The more you think about the idea behind the air umbrella, the more you see the advantages. For one thing, if you’ve ever been in a crowded public area with everyone carrying an umbrella, then you know the often comical, but sometimes dangerous, problems it causes which this device could theoretically eliminate. Also the low maintenance design of the air umbrella makes the other worst part of owing a traditional umbrella, lugging it around indoors, irrelevant.

While a really cool idea, it’s not all singing in the rain though when you look at the design, as I still wonder how the device would hold up in strong winds, and about the potential trouble it could cause for passerby hats (or short skirts if directed improperly). Finally much like the dome umbrella, or a Snuggie, this is a look that isn’t meant for everyone despite how practical it may be, as some people will always just feel out of place carrying a giant baton functioning as an invisible umbrella instead of the classic design.

The Penguin, for instance

Want a Nexus 4? Apparently So Does Everyone Else

Ever since its release, the LG Nexus 4 has been garnering praise from all corners due to it’s much improved camera, enhanced overall system speed, baffling array of high-end powerful features, and one of the most beautiful displays on any smartphone. Despite its notable lack of 4G LTE service (at least in the US), there are few out there that are denying it is one of the most technically impressive phones available.

Odds are good though you haven’t had a chance to experience what all of the hype is about, as it’s proven to be one of the most difficult to get phones on the market. Since launch, buyers have been scouring the internet looking for rare windows to purchase one at reasonable retail prices. Ideally, this would be done through the Google store, and sure enough yesterday for the first time since the Nexus 4’s release  they were offering the phones back in stock.

However, it  now looks like no real celebration is in order since as of today attempting to buy the phone will only warn you of its 8-9 week delivery time for the 8 GB model, and month minimum shipment date for the 16 GB version. Considering how long the window of opportunity was, it would seem that the sale was either an aberration, or that the Nexus 4 truly is the hottest phone of the holiday season.

In either case, the shortage of available phones is making some fans remember the madness surrounding the Nexus 7 tablet earlier this year, where even buyers who believed they purchased an in-stock tablet found themselves suddenly waiting and waiting for a unit to free up and ship out. Although, this time Google has taken precautions to insure those same expectations are kept more in check.

Considering that the Nexus 4 was meant as a high end smartphone at a competitive price, the sudden lack of options has changed the outlook of the the device so that it is now a high end smartphone at absurd prices. To fetch one, you have to turn to suspicious third party sites, or gouging eBay sellers, and deal with price inflations that are ranging anywhere from $150 to $300 or more. If you must have one by Christmas though (or in 2012), it would seem that may be the only option though.

There are more high quality smartphones on the market than ever before, and yet it seems in the mind of consumers the real race is now between the Nexus 4, the Galaxy SIII, and the best selling smartphone ever in the iPhone 5 for the crown. Considering most buyers won’t even be getting a Nexus this year, I’ll be interested to see how the hype and mania around the new model carries over to the other big two’s inevitable new designs in 2013.

CannaBliss: Must Have Smoking Accessories

Congratulations to the re-elected president Obama, as yesterday after a long campaign you and your team claimed victory and will lead this country again in the next four years.

But sir, with all due respect, you did not have the biggest headline from yesterday. Instead that would go the states of Colorado and Washington which became the first US states to approve the long awaited legalization of marijuana for recreational use.

Or, as the great Homer Simpson put it, you could “…walk up to the President and blow smoke in his stupid face and he’d just have to sit there groovin on it”

With that in mind, if you live in one of the recently impacted states, it may be time to consider the an upgrade to your smoking equipment in celebration. After all, now that you don’t have to shame hide your pieces in old socks, or cupboards any more, it may be time to add a little more class to your glass. To help you, here is a quick rundown of the best paraphernalia on the market.

Water Bong

The centerpiece of any respectable collection is a good bong. Many smokers own one with a variety of “trippy” colors, a funky name, a few fun stories, and maybe a skull or two. However, there are few brand names that serious smokers swear by, and among them the best may be Sovereignty Glass.  Of that particular collection, the jewel in the crown would be the Peyote Pillar Perc.

This 19 inch beauty is made of some of the finest glass work available in this particular field. However, unlike other flashier models, it isn’t meant to impress just by looks alone, but rather with its functionality. Sporting a multi chamber base, you can load the bong with more smoke than any other model, while producing a cleaner pull than you ever felt possible. It is a model of dangerous design and efficiency and is the absolute head of its class in every measurable way. As a testament to its quality, it retails for a hefty $1,200 and is regularly sold out.

Pipe

Ideally a pipe is going to be your on the go piece, or similar option. As such, you don’t have to invest as much in it, and there are a variety of ways to go. Since so many pipes are of good quality, don’t be afraid to go for a little more style, or something that reflects your personality.

Or, if you want a really cool and extremely practical option, just go with the Monkey Pipe. A handy little wood model, the Monkey Pipe is extremely portable in its native form, is easy to maintain, looks cool, and is still very reliable. Now that residents of Colorado and Washington will be able to smoke freely in the great outdoors, a Monkey Pipe is a perfect solution for smoking on the go.

Vaporizer

A more modern solution to smoking, there is no substitute for the vaporizer. The unit heats up to a high degree and evenly burns your marijuana with minimal effort and maximum effect. Even better, it produces virtually no smoke and is kinder for your lungs. Every smoker must own one.

But which to buy? For years the answer was, without argument, the Volcano. While it is still a great way to go, I must recommend the Exteme Q vaporizer from Arizer. It’s cheaper than the more popular Volcano, has memory settings for temperature, comes with a remote, and unlike the Volcano has traditional hose as well as a bag option for your toking pleasure. Wrap it up in a well designed package, and for an even $239.00 you’ve got the only home piece you’ll ever truly need.

Grinder

If you’re new to the smoking game, you may underestimate the value of a good grinder, but you do so at your own peril. It crushes and breaks up your marijuana in an instant, and not owning one is the equivalent of peeling all of the potatoes you will eat for the rest of your life by hand, and not using a peeler.

You’ll be wanting the best then, so you’ll be wanting a four piece Space grinder. It’s output consistency is impeccable, its durability is unquestionable, it features magnetized top seal, and has a mesh screen for collecting that most potent of smokeables, crystallized kief. There’s no going back from one of these, but considering how well they work, that’s a good thing

Snack

 

Not technically an accessory, definitely not a gadget, but without a doubt a necessity. There are an impossible number of ways to go for snacking, from the bag of chips, to cookies and candy. However for something salty, sweet, creamy, and satisfying it’s hard to argue against Ben and Jerry’s “Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night Snack” ice cream.

It’s vanilla bean ice cream with a salty caramel swirl and fudge covered potato chips, as well as evidence, besides the recent de-criminalization acts, that smoking has definitely planted roots in the mainstream.