Products & Reviews Archive

Tech news site The Information is reporting that Google is developing three successors to Google Glass, to be released in 2016.

Notably, one of those three models is Glass-less, so to speak. It will drop the screen in favor of exclusively audio output. Moreover, the audio will be delivered by bone conduction, as was the case with the original Google Glass.

Although Google continues to develop a 2nd generation screened version for the enterprise market, the audio-centric version, which is presumably targeting the sports market, may overcome the primary challenge that blocked Google Glass from more widespread adoption. Specifically, a small and unobtrusive bone conduction audio device may allow for a connected experience without putting barriers between individuals who are face-to-face.

With all wearable devices, I am concerned about sending signals to other people that I’m distracted or otherwise not paying full attention to someone. Regularly I found myself checking alerts on my Pebble Watch only to realize it looked like I was checking my watch as if I was bored with a conversation or had a conflict. This is less prominent with the Apple Watch, in my experience, because it handles multiple missed alerts more

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Caroline was throwing fish to the largest dolphin — the big male called Scarback — when a gentle tickling on Floyd’s wrist announced an an incoming call. He tapped the slim metal band to quench the silent alarm and forestall the audible one, then walked to the nearest of the comsets scattered around the room.”

— 2010: Odyssey Two (1982)

After almost four weeks with the Pebble smartwatch I have to admit I’m pretty satisfied. I bought the Pebble out of curiosity and a love of new technology, but its proven itself and demonstrating staying power on my wrist. The Pebble is not all things to all people, and never will be, but for a limited set of uses it’s been a great addition to my daily load-out.

Number one, I love the notifications — that’s the biggest weakness of keeping a phone in your pocket. Either you need it to make a significant noise which is as likely to disrupt someone else as alert me, or it’s on vibrate in which case I find I miss a lot of calls and texts. Therefore, I was very happy with the pebble which provides subtle but clear alerts. I have yet to be

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While the world is all aflutter about viewing tasks and news alerts from a wristwatch, I’ve recently discovered two delightful programs that allow me to do the same from a terminal window — yes, without a mouse.

Task Warrior

Task Warrior is an impressively fully-featured terminal task list manager.  After a quick review of the tutorial, I was up and running with powerful task customization capabilities beyond those even offered by Google’s task client.  Task Warrior supports not only project-categorization and due dates, but also dependencies, recurrence, project completion progress, and more.  Furthermore, the entire application is extensible via third party or custom scripts and add-ons.

Tasks are easy to add with simple syntax such as follows:


$ task add Call home
$ task add Pick up milk proj:Errands pri:H
$ task add Walk the dog due:eoy recur:daily proj:Life tag:dog

Also, the developers have smartly added three levels of task-viewing: very short, short, and complete (below). Also, it’s easy to view only specific projects as your task list grows. The simplicity is addicting, and will never be maligned as skeuomorphic. I’m eagerly awaiting future versions of the client which will allow syncing across devices.

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On Friday the WSJ reported that Google is actively working on both a smartwatch and a game console. Although a Samsung-developed Android watch has been in the pipeline for a while now, it’s a logical product initiative for Google, and one that I suspect they wish they’d prioritized over Glass.

The era of the smartwatch is upon us, while the era of marveling over the possibility of smart HUDs is perhaps beginning. Glass was always a bright and shiny thing that staked Google well ahead of the competition in terms of ambition and innovative creativity, but it is little more than a decorative jewel in its crown. The fact that a year will pass between its highly overpriced beta to actual market speaks to the fact that the technology is not ready. In the meantime, smartwatches exist and have proven popular with the common folk.

Watches are easy: they are unobtrusive yet convenient, appropriately sized screens can fit a reasonably large amount of information (see the iPod Nano), the device can be produced in a variety of fashions to suit individuals’ tastes, and today’s style prefers large watches anyway (at least for men). Eye

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You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. While the world drools in anticipation of the Pebble or an Apple or Samsung smartwatch, Nike is sitting idly by fielding a promising piece of tech on the JV team while it could be a runaway hit in the big leagues. I speak of the Nike Fuelband, the wristband with a white and RGB variable-brightness LED output, accelerometers, an input button, Bluetooth and USB interface, iOS interactivity, and a four-day battery life in a well-designed water-resistant package with three color options (see teardown here).

I’d be pretty excited if had that tech on hand to sell. It could alert me to and read txts and e-mails, it could give me some basic gesture input to an app, it could show caller id, etc… basically what the Pebble proposes to do, even if in a more spare LED graphical output. Nike has not only refused to market the product as a mobile-connected wearable output device, but it has actively opposed others’ attempts to liberate the device for such purposes. And so you get what we had here last week, which is the way they wants it:

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Google has revealed through regulatory filings that Google Glass will incorporate bone conduction audio output in what may be the biggest mass market development for the technology ever, but it will not be the first. Bone conduction audio has existing in some form for almost 100 years, and has a long history of commercialization in both the medical and consumer audio markets, but to date it is a niche technology with adoption concentrated in narrow domains.

Has the time for bone conduction audio for the mass market finally arrived? Probably not yet, but we’re close.

The Origins of Bone Conduction Audio

The general public’s unfamiliarity with bone conduction audio belies its age and the advanced state of the technology’s development. Historically, bone conduction audio has been widely employed as a hearing aid technology – by transmitting sound into the skull audio signals may bypass a defective middle ear, allowing many hearing-impaired or otherwise deaf individuals to hear, even where traditional amplication-style hearing aids are ineffective. A bone conduction hearing aid was first described by Hugo Gernsback in 1923, though the first relevant patent I have located was issued in 1941. Since that time, the technology has improved with lighter

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Elon Musk’s Tesla announced today that it would be discontinuing sales of its entry-level Model S vehicle given poor sales. Apparently only 4% of customers opted for the least-expensive 40 kWH version, which affords the smallest driving distance (160 miles between charges). Tesla will generously fill all undelivered 40 kWH orders with a 60 kWH battery package, but customers shouldn’t expect to take a leisurely 170 mile drive because the battery will be software-governed to perform like a 40 kWH battery. A software upgrade will be available to unleash the full 60 kWH capabilities, but it will run a cool $10,000, which is the difference in model price anyway.

Welcome to a world in which DRM and OEM-imposed limitations bleed into every corner of our lives. Tesla doesn’t owe anyone more than exactly what the contract stipulated, and the concept of OEM-control is not entirely new (e.g., your cable box since 1980), but it is troubling to see a company artificially diminish the capabilities of its product. The cause is not safety, or maintenance of product quality, but simply to deliver an exacting account of dollars and cents paid per value received.

Surely there would be some upset 60 kWH-buyers if

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It’s not too challenging to find a resistor through Google or on Amazon, but there are a few online retailers that reliably cater exclusively to makers and their projects. These sites not only sell Arduino, Raspberry Pis, and accessories, but they also help shoppers discover cool new projects by featuring interesting sensors, kits, and books. Below is my top five list (plus one) of great online retailers for electronics makers.

Spark Fun Electronics and Maker Shed
Spark Fun and Maker Shed are very similar sites – both worth checking for a given project. They both carry great curated selections of books, Arduino-related supplies, other components, Raspberry Pis, and kits. Noting its affiliation with Make Magazine, Maker Shed has more in the way of kits and educational materials while Spark Fun is perhaps stronger in components. Both are great sites with whom I’ve had very positive customer experiences.

Adafruit Industries
Adafruit grew as an electronics kit developer, but has grown into open source hardware development since that time – today they sell branded Arduino shields, and it recently developed the Arduino Micro in conjunction with Arduino. Its products include kits and components for Arduino, mbed, Raspberry

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It may not be edgy, but I, like many others on the bleeding edge, am waiting with bated breath for the release of Thalmic Labs’ Myo Armband expected to ship later this year. Although I generally avoid buying products 6-9 months before they’ll be in my hot little hands, the prospect of remotely controlling a tablet, stereo, or household device with a subtle gesture was too much to pass up on. One pre-order later, I’m left biding my time before a surge of tech-powered midi-chlorians enter my veins.

Unlike Field of Dreams, often times awesome tech is built and no one comes – so the question I’m left pondering is who will use it, who will develop for it, and will it just be me and my 15,000 other geeks $150-poorer while waving our hands in the air with nary an app to hear us. Having some Objective C and other development experience under my belt I’m looking forward to building some of my own software to make use of the device, but I’m still confronted with the what and why of the device. What I want most is to solve real problems, rather than tear down strawmen with my $150

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