August can now generate smart entry codes for Airbnb guests

August can now generate smart entry codes for Airbnb guests

8:32am, 26th June, 2018
Lock is getting into the homesharing industry, making the process of checking in an Airbnb guest a bit easier. has done what it can over the past few months to make checking in plain and simple. For example, the company built out that lets hosts spell out check-in instructions within the app, all in a simple flow, to make sure guests have all the info they need at their fingertips. But that hasn’t solved the biggest problem of all: the key. For one, people don’t often have a lot of interest in meeting strangers, especially when they’re fresh off a plane or road trip. Secondly, it’s annoying to block out that time (sometimes getting off work) to go hand off a key to an Airbnb guest. And then there’s the matter of getting keys copied or re-tooling your smart lock to temporarily offer a stranger access. That’s where August comes in to play. August now let’s Airbnb and hosts link their accounts to August. When a guest books at their home, August will generate a smart code that lasts for the duration of the stay and no longer, letting the guest easily check-in and come and go without the host having to babysit the process. Guests will receive their pin code and instructions via email. Hosts simply need an August Smart Lock and Smart Keypad to start letting technology do the heavy lifting. And, in fact, August is running a deal right now for 25 percent off the Smarter Hosting Bundle, which includes an August Smart Lock, August Connect Wi-Fi Bridge and August Smart Keypad. This, coupled with other startup services like Handy, should make becoming an Airbnb host as simple as tapping a few buttons.
Oh, the things I would do to get this cardboard-style Nintendo Switch

Oh, the things I would do to get this cardboard-style Nintendo Switch

10:51pm, 25th June, 2018
is building on its with some sweet Mario Kart integration and a truly fabulous limited edition Switch with a faux-cardboard finish. It really is just the greatest thing and I would do terrible things to have it. Unfortunately some smart kid will probably get it, because you have to win it by designing something cool with Labo. So, first the Mario Kart stuff. If you have Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for the and you really should because it’s excellent, you can now use the Toy-Con (buildable with the Labo Variety Kit) . You twist the right “handlebar” to accelerate and rotate the whole thing to turn. This is the first game to get its own special Labo support, but the company says more are on the way. Splatoon 2, perhaps? If you’re a creative type and you have a Labo set, you’re in luck. , and entry puts you in the running to win the amazing neutral-colored Switch shown up top. I really don’t know why I love it so much, but I do. And if you do too, you should enter. (If you’re in the U.S. or Canada. Sorry, world.) The first challenge is to create a musical instrument with the Toy-Con pieces and “craft materials.” You’ll have to document its creation and show it working on video; it’ll be judged on “Quality, Creativity, Spirit, and Sound.” Caps Nintendo’s. The second challenge is to create a game or game-like experience using Toy-Con Garage. Same judgment categories as before, minus Sound. There will be one grand prize winner and four runners up per contest. Grand prize is that amazing Switch (approximate retail value $1,000?!), plus a cool (?) Labo jacket. Runners up get a pair of cardboard style Joy-Cons and a jacket. Respectable. If you’ve been looking for a reason to pick up that Labo kit again or use some random pieces you never tried, this is surely that reason. Now get to work!
iOS 12 is all about making your phone work better

iOS 12 is all about making your phone work better

4:35pm, 25th June, 2018
The pace of iOS innovation has been so intense that even couldn’t keep up. In some ways, iOS 11’s main feature was that it was packed with bugs, with autocorrect bugs, messages arriving out of order and the Calculator app not calculating properly. iOS 12 is a nice change of pace. “For iOS 12, we’re doubling down on performance,” Apple’s SVP of Software Engineering Craig Federighi said . While there are a few interesting new features, iOS 12 isn’t a splashy release like the ones that were released over the past few years. It doesn’t change and it doesn’t open up apps with . It’s clear that all the low-hanging fruits have been addressed. Now, Apple is mostly adding new frameworks for specific categories of apps instead of releasing major platform changes that affect all third-party apps. And for the rest, it’s all about refinements, bug fixes and optimizations. Apple released the today. I played a bit with early beta versions of iOS 12, so here’s what you should be looking for. Operating system changes Let’s start with the updates at the operating system level. iOS 12 should be faster than iOS 11, including on older devices. You know that feeling of instant regret when you update your old iPhone or iPad to a new version of iOS. Everything seems much slower. Apple wants to reverse this trend and make iOS 12 faster for the iPhone 5s or the iPad mini 2. Apps should launch faster, the keyboard should appear more quickly, the camera should be more reactive and more. It’s hard to feel that with a beta version of iOS 12 so we’ll have to look at that statement again in September. Other than that, there is another major theme for iOS 12 — making you look at your phone less often. And this goal is reflected with three new features — Screen Time, better notifications and a more granular Do Not Disturb mode. Screen Time is a brand new feature that lets you see how much time you wasted . You’ll get weekly reports and parents can set up app limits that sync across all your iOS devices. Do Not Disturb is now more granular as you can set it up for an hour, until the end of an event or until you leave a location. Many people didn’t want to use this feature because they forgot to turn it off. As for notifications, they are now grouped by default. In my experience, it takes a while to get used to it, but it’s a big improvement for noisy apps. You can also swipe on a notification to disable notifications from a specific app or turn them into silent notifications. You’ll feel more in control of your iPhone instead of feeling like your iPhone is controlling you. App updates Apple couldn’t stop at those improvements and had to release app updates for its own apps. Let’s look at the most memorable ones. You can finally ditch Skype for good as FaceTime now supports group conversations — at least if all your friends are using iPhones. This feature alone will definitely increase iPhone stickiness, just like the fact that you can’t participate in iMessage conversations on Android. Talking about Messages, most iPhone users won’t see a difference this year as Apple focused on the iPhone X. In addition to new Animojis, you can now create your own avatar using Memoji. I have to say that I really like Snap’s Bitmoji so I’m quite excited to use it. The only issue is that it feels like a one-way conversation if you’re not messaging someone who is using an iPhone X. It’s the kind of features that will start to make sense after a few years when everybody has Face ID on their iPhone. Four other Apple apps got an update. Stocks and Apple News received some design improvements. Voice Memos will now store your your memos in iCloud and sync them with your iPad and Mac without using iTunes (finally). iBooks is now called Apple Books, and it now looks more like the updated App Store. Apple’s two bets With iOS 12, Apple is pursuing its big bet on augmented reality and starting something new with Siri. Those platform changes could resonate well with developers and users or could become a distraction for everyone. Apple’s augmented reality SDK is getting a major update. With ARKit 2, developers can create apps that share the same augmented reality world between multiple users. You can imagine multiplayer games and shareable worlds. Apple also worked on improving the overall performance of the framework. But does it really matter? It feels like many geeks like you, TechCrunch readers, tested ARKit apps after the release of iOS 11. But there hasn’t been a mainstream hit so far. It’s still unclear if people actually want to use their iOS device to power an augmented reality experience. And the second big thing is Siri Shortcuts. After Apple Workflow, the automation app for iOS, many people wondered what it would mean for automation fans. The good news is that Apple is completely with a set of features. App developers can now configure Shortcuts to let users add a restaurant booking, a favorite Deliveroo order or a favorite sports team to Siri. On paper, it’s quite powerful and limited at the same time. It sounds like bookmarks for Siri. Most users will stop at suggested shortcuts. But power users will be able to configure multi-step workflows in the new Shortcuts app. It’s just like Workflow, but with a new name and new home automation features. This is great news if you’re a power user, but I wonder if Shortcuts will find a mainstream audience. I couldn’t test those features as it’s not yet available in the beta. Maybe Shortcuts will be added with iOS 12.1 or 12.2. There are many small refinements in iOS 12 that I haven’t listed there. For instance, Portrait Mode has been improved and the Photos app is getting better at showing you personalized recommendations. Or if you have an iPhone X, you’ll be able to add a second face to unlock your phone. iOS 12 looks especially promising if you consider your iPhone as infrastructure. Many people want a device that is as reliable as possible. And iOS 12 should stand out on this front.
New technique brings secrets out of old daguerreotypes

New technique brings secrets out of old daguerreotypes

2:10pm, 25th June, 2018
Daguerreotypes – photos made with a process that used mercury vapors on an iodine-sensitized silvered plate – break down quite easily. The result is a fogged plate that that, more often that not, is completely ruined by time and mistreatment. However researchers at Western University have created a system that uses synchrotrons and “rapid-scanning micro-X-ray fluorescence imaging” to scan the plates for eight hours. The system shot an X-ray 10×10 microns thick at “an energy most sensitive to mercury absorption.” This, in turn, showed the researchers where the mercury Kozachuk used r to analyze the plates, which are about 7.5 cm wide, and identified where mercury was distributed on the plates. With an X-ray beam as small as 10×10 microns (a human scalp hair averages 75 microns across) and at an energy most sensitive to mercury absorption, the scan of each daguerreotype took about eight hours. The team published their findings in Scientific Reports. “It’s somewhat haunting because they are anonymous and yet it is striking at the same time,” said Madalena Kozachuk, a PhD student in Western’s Department of Chemistry. “The image is totally unexpected because you don’t see it on the plate at all. It’s hidden behind time. But then we see it and we can see such fine details: the eyes, the folds of the clothing, the detailed embroidered patterns of the table cloth.” The technology promises to improve the methods of conservation for old photographs and should bring many previously unusable daguerreotypes back to life.
Anker Mars II projector promises solid summer fun

Anker Mars II projector promises solid summer fun

11:45am, 25th June, 2018
, a popular if battery and cable company, recently announced the Mars II projector under its Nebula brand. The company, which , is expanding out of batteries and cables and is now creating audio and other portable AV gear. This compact, battery-powered DLP projector is their latest creation and it has found a place of honor at our family barbecues. The projector is actually an 7.1 device stuffed into a case about as big as a Bluetooth speaker. A physical lens cap slides down and turns on the system and you control everything from he included remote or the buttons on the top of the device. You can also download an app that mimics a mouse and keyboard for choosing videos and information entry. It projects at a maximum of 300 lumens and projects at 720p. You can also connect an HDMI device like a game console or stick in a USB drive full of videos to view on the fly. Again, the real benefit here is the ability to stream from various apps. I have YouTube, Plex, and other apps installed and you can install almost any other Android app you can imagine. It has speakers built in and you can cast to it via Miracast but you cannot insert a Chromecast. If all you want to do is throw up a little Santa Clarita Diet or Ice Age on a sheet in the back yard, this thing is perfect. Because the brightness is fairly low you need solid twilight or a partially dark room to get a good picture. However, the picture is good enough and it would also make a great presentation device for a closed, dark conference room. Because of its small size and battery life – four hours on a charge – it makes for a great alternative to a full-sized projector or even a standard TV. At $539 the Mars II is priced on par with other 720p projectors. The primary use case – connecting a computer or console via HDMI – works quite well but streaming user experience is a bit of a mixed bag. Because Anker didn’t modify the Android installation much further than adding a few default apps, some apps require a mouse to use and others can be controlled via the arrow keys on the remote or body of the device. This means that some apps – like Plex, for example – let you pick a video via the arrow keys but require you to press the “mouse” button to begin simulating a mouse cursor on the screen. It’s a bit frustrating, especially in poor lighting conditions. One of the interesting features is the automatic focus system. Instead of fiddling with a knob or slider, you simply point this at a surface and the system projects a bullseye focus ring until the picture is in focus. The focus changes any time you move the device and sometimes it gets caught up if the screen or projector are moving. However in most cases it works perfectly fine. Like most portable projectors you aren’t buying the Mars II to watch 4K video in 5.1 surround sound. You buy it to offer an alternative to sitting on the couch and watching a movie. That means this is great for on-the-road business presentations, campouts, outdoor movie viewing, and sleepovers. It is cheap and portable enough to be almost disposable and it’s not as heavy and hot as other, larger devices. In short, it can go anywhere, show anything, and works really well. Anker also makes the Mars, a more expensive 1080p device, but this one works just fine for about $400 less – a big drop in just about a year of brisk sales. It’s nice to see a good, low-cost manufacturer dabble in the world of complex consumer electronics and come up with a product that is truly useful and fun. [gallery ids="1662668,1662666,1662665,1662662,1662661"]
Apple reportedly working on next-gen, water-resistant AirPods

Apple reportedly working on next-gen, water-resistant AirPods

9:21am, 25th June, 2018
is reportedly working on a new, likely more expensive, set of AirPods with noise-cancellation, according to . The report cites people familiar with the matter, who said that Apple is exploring making the AirPods water resistant. That said, you still don’t want to go swimming with these things, as the rumored water resistant AirPods would be more likely to only stand up against perspiration and rain rather than being submerged. Bloomberg said that one source suggested Apple could add biometric sensors to the next-gen AirPods, furthering the company’s health tracking efforts. Sources also say that the updated AirPods would come with a new case that is compatible with the Apple’s new wireless charging pad. As it stands now, AirPods cost $159 in the U.S. The new, rumored pair of in-ear wireless headphones will likely cost more, allowing Apple to price AirPods the same way it prices iPhones, offering a more expensive high-end model and a low-end model like the iPhone SE. This news comes in the middle of a big year for Apple’s auditory efforts. On the one hand, Apple’s Amazon Echo competitor, the HomePod, was delayed quite a bit following its announcement. Bloomberg says Cupertino is already hard at work developing a new model. Apple is also reportedly working on over-the-ear headphones. The headphones would be Apple-branded, and would be on the higher-end of the spectrum with Boze and Sennheiser. The company already sells over-the-ear headphones via Beats, which Apple .
Bag Week 2018: Why I still love the Peak Design Everyday Backpack

Bag Week 2018: Why I still love the Peak Design Everyday Backpack

9:52am, 22nd June, 2018
Welcome to . Every year your faithful friends at TechCrunch spend an entire week looking at bags. Why? Because bags — often ignored but full of our important electronics — are the outward representations of our techie styles, and we put far too little thought into where we keep our most prized possessions. A few months back the best thing at CES 2018. It was a silly comment since the bag was released a couple years back but it was new to me. I had purchased the bag from Best Buy a few days prior and was in love with the bag and had to tell the world. I’m happy to report that after carrying the bag around several more conferences and a family trip to Disney World, I’m comfortable declaring it the best I’ve ever used. The company recently released a black version and sent me one to test. It looks mean. It’s the backpack Darth Vader would carry if he needed to tout around a full frame DSLR, a couple lenses and a MacBook Pro. [gallery ids="1661479,1661478,1661477,1661475,1661476,1661480,1661482"] The bag’s main clasp is wonderful. It’s designed in such a way that the wearer can quickly open and securely close it. Just pull down and away to open the bag. To close it, pull down so the top is tight, place the clasp next to the rungs and let go. Magnets hold the clasp next to the bag and the tension on the top causes the clasp to find the next available rung. Try it and you’ll love it. I do. Peak Design equipped the bag with solid hardware. All the clasps are metal and the zippers are durable. I don’t think there’s plastic anywhere on the bag. Like I said several months ago, the bag is best described as smart and solid. It’s a confident design with just enough pockets and storage options. The bag features one, large pocket that makes up most of the bag. Foldable dividers allow the wearer to customize the bag as needed. And quickly, too. These dividers fold in several ways, allowing the bag to hold, say, a large telephoto lens or several smaller lens. The bag is packed full of surprises, too. Straps are hidden throughout allowing it to hold a surprising amount of items even a drone. Small packing cubes make the Peak Design Everyday Backpack a storage cabinet. This is my bag while traveling overseas. Peak Design positions this bag as a camera bag, but it can be so much more with some little bags. I use and they fit perfectly in both the 20L and 30L bag. It lets me keep things organized and separated in a way that I’ve haven’t found possible in other bags. Peak Design should look at making a series of these bags. I would be all over them if they did. The bag I bought back before CES was the 20L. It’s the smallest option though far from small. My 15-inch MacBook Pro squeezes into the laptop compartment and the bag has yet to feel too small even when it’s holding a camera, a couple books and a travel pillow. The new black bag looks amazing but it seems to show scuffs and dirt more than my grey one. That’s a shame, too. I throw my bags around and expect a lot out of them. This black bag looks more dirty after one oversea trip than my grey one does after six months of use. Just like I said back at CES, I’m not going to run through all the details of this bag. A few more are worth calling out: The sternum strap is fantastic. It uses clips without moving parts so it should last a lifetime. The shoulder straps are attached to the bag with a rivet that allows the straps to swivel as needed — it’s a smart advancement in the design of a backpack. And inside the laptop sleeve is a small pocket that is absolutely perfect to hold a Traveler’s Notebook and a pen. As backpacks go, the Peak Design Everyday Backpack costs more than most. The smaller 20L is $260 and the 30L is $290. To me, the higher price is justified and if there’s a backpack worth the extra cost, it’s this one. I highly recommend this bag. Bag design with Peak Design Folks, it’s Bag Week! Tito Hamze visits Peak Design’s HQ in San Francisco to learn about the company and how they create their bags. From humble beginnings starting with a clip to hold your camera to a full-fledged accessory company, this outfit is growing and creating quality products — all while never having taken any traditional VC funding.
Bag Week 2008: Why I still love the Peak Design Everyday Backpack

Bag Week 2008: Why I still love the Peak Design Everyday Backpack

9:23am, 22nd June, 2018
Welcome to . Every year your faithful friends at TechCrunch spend an entire week looking at bags. Why? Because bags — often ignored but full of our important electronics — are the outward representations of our techie styles, and we put far too little thought into where we keep our most prized possessions. A few months back the best thing at CES 2018. It was a silly comment since the bag was released a couple years back but it was new to me. I had purchased the bag from Best Buy a few days prior and was in love with the bag and had to tell the world. I’m happy to report that after carrying the bag around several more conferences and a family trip to Disney World, I’m comfortable declaring it the best I’ve ever used. The company recently released a black version and sent me one to test. It looks mean. It’s the backpack Darth Vader would carry if he needed to tout around a full frame DSLR, a couple lenses and a MacBook Pro. [gallery ids="1661479,1661478,1661477,1661475,1661476,1661480,1661482"] The bag’s main clasp is wonderful. It’s designed in such a way that the wearer can quickly open and securely close it. Just pull down and away to open the bag. To close it, pull down so the top is tight, place the clasp next to the rungs and let go. Magnets hold the clasp next to the bag and the tension on the top causes the clasp to find the next available rung. Try it and you’ll love it. I do. Peak Design equipped the bag with solid hardware. All the clasps are metal and the zippers are durable. I don’t think there’s plastic anywhere on the bag. Like I said several months ago, the bag is best described as smart and solid. It’s a confident design with just enough pockets and storage options. The bag features one, large pocket that makes up most of the bag. Foldable dividers allow the wearer to customize the bag as needed. And quickly, too. These dividers fold in several ways, allowing the bag to hold, say, a large telephoto lens or several smaller lens. The bag is packed full of surprises, too. Straps are hidden throughout allowing it to hold a surprising amount of items even a drone. Small packing cubes make the Peak Design Everyday Backpack a storage cabinet. This is my bag while traveling overseas. Peak Design positions this bag as a camera bag, but it can be so much more with some little bags. I use and they fit perfectly in both the 20L and 30L bag. It lets me keep things organized and separated in a way that I’ve haven’t found possible in other bags. Peak Design should look at making a series of these bags. I would be all over them if they did. The bag I bought back before CES was the 20L. It’s the smallest option though far from small. My 15-inch MacBook Pro squeezes into the laptop compartment and the bag has yet to feel too small even when it’s holding a camera, a couple books and a travel pillow. The new black bag looks amazing but it seems to show scuffs and dirt more than my grey one. That’s a shame, too. I throw my bags around and expect a lot out of them. This black bag looks more dirty after one oversea trip than my grey one does after six months of use. Just like I said back at CES, I’m not going to run through all the details of this bag. A few more are worth calling out: The sternum strap is fantastic. It uses clips without moving parts so it should last a lifetime. The shoulder straps are attached to the bag with a rivet that allows the straps to swivel as needed — it’s a smart advancement in the design of a backpack. And inside the laptop sleeve is a small pocket that is absolutely perfect to hold a Traveler’s Notebook and a pen. As backpacks go, the Peak Design Everyday Backpack costs more than most. The smaller 20L is $260 and the 30L is $290. To me, the higher price is justified and if there’s a backpack worth the extra cost, it’s this one. I highly recommend this bag. Bag design with Peak Design Folks, it’s Bag Week! Tito Hamze visits Peak Design’s HQ in San Francisco to learn about the company and how they create their bags. From humble beginnings starting with a clip to hold your camera to a full-fledged accessory company, this outfit is growing and creating quality products — all while never having taken any traditional VC funding.
Bag Week 2018: Mission Workshop’s Radian rolltop starts simple but grows piece by piece

Bag Week 2018: Mission Workshop’s Radian rolltop starts simple but grows piece by piece

7:23pm, 21st June, 2018
Welcome to . Every year your faithful friends at TechCrunch spend an entire week looking at bags. Why? Because bags — often ignored but full of our important electronics — are the outward representations of our techie styles, and we put far too little thought into where we keep our most prized possessions. I’ve always been wary of modular, rail-based bag systems. They’ve always struck me as rather military and imposing, which I suppose is kind of the point. Even Mission Workshop, whose other bags , put out one that seemed to me excessive. But they’ve tempered their style a bit and put out the Radian, a solid middle ground between their one-piece and modular systems. is clearly aimed at the choosy, pack-loving traveler who eschews roller bags for aesthetic — which describes me to a tee. Strictly rolltop bags (originating in cyclist and outdoors circles) end up feeling restrictive in where you can stow gear, and rollers are boxy and unrefined. So the Radian takes a bit from both, with the added ability to add bits and pieces according to your needs. What it is: Adaptable, waterproof, well-designed and not attention-grabbing What it isn’t: Simple or lightweight The core pack is quite streamlined, with no protruding external pockets whatsoever. There’s the main compartment — 42 liters, if you’re curious — and a cleverly hidden laptop compartment between the main one and the back pads. Both are independently lined with waterproof material (in addition to the water-resistant outer layer) and the zippers are similarly sealed. There’s also a mesh pouch hidden like the laptop area that you can pop out or stow at will. You can roll up the rolltop and secure it with velcro, or treat it as a big flap and snap it to a strap attached to the bottom of the bag — the straps themselves are attached with strong velcro, so you can take them off if you’re going roll style. The “Cobra” buckle upgrade is cool but the standard plastic buckles are well made enough that you shouldn’t feel any pressure to pay the $65 to upgrade. [gallery ids="1661276,1661280,1661279,1661282,1661283,1661278,1661277,1661272"] Access is where things begin to diverge. Unlike most rolltop packs, you can lay the bag on the ground and unzip the top as if it were a roller, letting you access the whole space from somewhere other than the top. The flap also has its own mesh enclosure. This is extremely handy and addresses the main ergonomic issue I’ve always had with strictly top-loading bags. In a further assimilation of rolltop qualities, there’s a secret pocket at the bottom of the bag that houses a large cloth cover that seals up the pack straps and so on, making the bag much more stowable and preventing TSA or baggage handlers from having to negotiate all that junk or bag it up themselves. Of course, a single large compartment is rarely enough when you’re doing real traveling and need to access this document or that gadget in a hurry. So the Radian joins the Mission Workshop , which lets you add on a variety of extra pockets of various sizes and types. Just be careful that you don’t push it over the carry-on size limit (though you can always stuff the extra pockets inside temporarily). There are six rails — two on each side and two on the back — and a handful of accessories that go on each, sliding on with sturdy metal clips. The pack I tested had two zippered side pockets, the “mini folio” and the “horizontal zip” on the back, plus a cell phone pocket for the front strap. They’re nice but the rear ones I tried are a bit small — you’d have trouble fitting anything but a pocket paperback and a couple energy bars in either. If I had my choice I would go with the full-size folio, one zippered and one rolltop side pocket. Then you can do away with the cell pocket, which is a bit much, and have several stowage options within reach. Plus the folio has its own rails to stick one of the small ones onto. There’s really no need to get the separate laptop case, since the laptop compartment would honestly fit two or three. It’s a great place to store dress shirts and other items that need to stay folded up and straight. [gallery ids="1661272,1661278,1661275,1661281,1661284,1661271"] As far as room, the 42 liters are enough on my estimation to pack for a 5-day trip — that is to say, I easily fit in five pairs of socks and underwear, five t-shirts, a sweater or two, a dress shirt, some shorts, and a pair of jeans. More than that would be kind of a stretch if you were also planning on bringing things like a camera, a book or two, and all the other usual travel accessories. The main compartment has mesh areas on the side to isolate toiletries and so on, but they’re just divisions; they don’t add space. There are places for small things in the outside pockets but again, not a lot of room for much bigger than a paperback, water bottle, or snack unless you spring for the folio add-on. As for looks — the version I tested was the black camo version, obviously, which looks a little more subdued in real life than my poorly color-balanced pictures make it look. Personally I prefer the company’s flat grey over the camo and the black. Makes it even more low-profile. In the end I think the Radian is the best option for anyone looking at Mission Workshop bags who wants a modular option, but unless you plan on swapping pieces out a lot, I’m not personally convinced that it’s better than their all-in-one bags like the and . By all means take a look at putting a Radian system together, but don’t neglect to check if any of the pre-built ones fit your needs as well.
Bag Week 2018: The Nomadic NF-02 keeps everything in its right place

Bag Week 2018: The Nomadic NF-02 keeps everything in its right place

11:11am, 21st June, 2018
a Japanese brand sold by in the US, makes some of my favorite bags and . The was an amazing little bag and I’ve always enjoyed the size, materials, and design. The $89 The best thing about this 15×7 inch backpack is the compact size and internal pouches. The Nomadic can hold multiple pens, notebooks, and accessories, all stuck in their own little cubbies, and you can fit a laptop and a few books in the main compartment. This is, to be clear, not a “school” backpack. It’s quite compact and I doubt it would be very comfortable with a much more than a pair of textbooks and a heavier laptop. It’s definitely a great travel sack, however, and excellent for the trip from home to the office. The bag comes in a few colors including turquoise and navy and there is a small hidden pouch for important papers and passports. There is a reflective strip on the body and it is water repellent so it will keep your gear dry. Again, my favorite part of this bag are the multiple little pockets and spaces. It’s an organizer’s dream and features so many little spots to hide pens and other gear that it could also make an excellent tourist pack. It is small enough for easy transport but holds almost anything you can throw at it. Nomadic is a solid backpack. It’s small, light, and still holds up to abuse. I’m a big fan of the entire Nomadic line and it’s great to see this piece available in the US. It’s well worth a look if you’re looking for a compact carrier for your laptop, accessories, and notebooks.
Bag Week 2018: WP Standard’s Rucksack goes the distance

Bag Week 2018: WP Standard’s Rucksack goes the distance

10:13am, 21st June, 2018
– formerly called Whipping Post Leather – makes rugged leather bags, totes, and briefcases and their is one of my favorites. Designed to look like something a Pony Express rider would slip on for a visit to town, this $275 is sturdy, handsome, and ages surprisingly well. There are some trade-offs, however. Except for two small front pouches there are no hidden nooks and crannies in this spare 15×15 inch sack. The main compartment can fit a laptop and a few notebooks and the front pouches can hold accessories like mice or a little collection of plugs. There is no fancy nylon mesh or gear organizers here, just a brown expanse of full grain leather. I wore this backpack for a few months before writing this and found it surprisingly comfortable and great for travel. Because it is so simple I forced myself to pare down my gear slightly and I was able to consolidate my cables and other accessories into separate pouches. I could fit a laptop, iPad Pro, and a paperback along side multiple notebooks and planners and I could even overstuff the thing on long flights. As long as I was able to buckle the front strap nothing fell out or was lost. This bag assumes that you’re OK with thick, heavy leather and that you’re willing to forgo a lot of the bells and whistles you get with more modern styles. That said, it has a great classic look and it’s very usable. I suspect this bag would last decades longer than anything you could buy at Office Depot and it would look good doing it. At $275 it’s a bit steep but you’re paying for years – if not decades – of regular use and abuse. It’s worth the investment.
Inside Atari’s rise and fall

Inside Atari’s rise and fall

9:44am, 21st June, 2018
Jamie Lendino Contributor Jamie Lendino is the editor-in-chief of By the first few months of 1982, it had become more common to see electronics stores, toy stores, and discount variety stops selling 2600 games. This was before Electronics Boutique, Software Etc., and later, . Mostly you bought games at stores that sold other electronic products, like Sears or Consumer Distributors. Toys ’R’ Us was a big seller of 2600 games. To buy one, you had to get a piece of paper from the aisle, bring it to the cashier, pay for it, and then wait at a pickup window behind the cash register lanes. Everyone had a favorite store in their childhood; here’s a story about one of mine. A popular “destination” in south Brooklyn is Kings Plaza, a giant (for Brooklyn) two-story indoor mall with about 100 stores. My mother and grandmother were avid shoppers there. To get to the mall from our house, it was about a 10-minute car service ride. So once a week or thereabouts, we’d all go. The best part for me was when we went inside via its Avenue U entrance instead of on the Flatbush Avenue side. Don’t ask me what went into this decision each time; I assume it depended on the stores my mother wanted to go to. All I knew was the Avenue U side had this circular kiosk maybe 50 feet from the entrance. The name has faded from memory. I remember it was a kind of catch-all for things like magazines, camera film, and other random stuff. But the most important things were the Atari cartridges. There used to be dozens of colorful Atari game boxes across the wall behind the counter. When we walked up to the cashier’s window, there was often a row of new Atari games across the top as well. Sometimes we left without a new cartridge, and sometimes I received one. But we always stopped and looked, and it was the highlight of my trip to the mall each time. For whatever reason, I remember the guy behind the counter gave me a hard time one day. I bought one of Atari’s own cartridges—I no longer remember which, but I’m almost sure it was either Defender or Berzerk—that came with an issue of Atari Force, the DC comic book. I said I was excited to get it. The guy shot me a dirty look and said, “You’re buying a new Atari cartridge just for a comic book?” I was way too shy to argue with him, even though he was wrong and I wanted the cartridge. I don’t remember what my mother said, or if she even heard him. Being too shy to protest, I sheepishly took my game and we both walked away. Mattel Stumbles, While Atari Face-Plants began to run into trouble with its Intellivision once the company tried to branch out from sports games. Because Mattel couldn’t license properties from Atari, Nintendo, or Sega, it instead made its own translations of popular arcade games. Many looked better than what you’d find on the 2600, but ultimately played more slowly thanks to the Intellivision’s sluggish CPU. Perhaps the most successful was Astrosmash, a kind of hybrid of Asteroids and Space Invaders, where asteroids, space ships, and other objects fell from the sky and became progressively more difficult. Somewhat less successful were games like Space Armada (a Space Invaders knock off). Mattel also added voice synthesis—something that was all the rage at the time—to the Intellivision courtesy of an add-on expansion module called Intellivoice. But only a few key games delivered voice capability: Space Spartans, Bomb Squad, B-17 Bomber (all three were launch titles), and later, Tron: Solar Sailer. The Intellivoice’s high cost, lack of a truly irresistible game, and overall poor sound quality meant this was one thing Atari didn’t have to find a way to answer with the 2600. These events made it easier for Atari to further pull away from Mattel in the marketplace, and it did so—but not without a tremendous self-inflicted wound. A slew of new 2600 games arrived in the first part of 1982. Many important releases came in this period and those that followed, and we’ll get to those shortly. But there was one in particular that the entire story arc of the platform balanced on, and then fractured. It was more than a turning point; its repercussions reverberated throughout the then-new game industry, and to this day it sticks out as one of the key events that ultimately did in Atari. Pac-Man (Atari, March 1982) The single biggest image-shattering event for the 2600—and Atari itself—was the home release of its Pac-Man cartridge. I can still feel the crushing disappointment even now. So many of my friends and I looked forward to this release. We had talked about it all the time in elementary school. Pac-Man was simply the hottest thing around in the arcades, and we dreamed of playing it at home as much as we wanted. The two-year wait for Atari to release the 2600 cartridge seemed like forever. Retailers bought into the hype as well. Toy stores battled for inventory, JC Penney and bought in big along with Sears and advertised on TV, and even local drug stores started stocking the game. And yet, what we got…wasn’t right. Just about everyone knows how Pac-Man is supposed to work, but just in case: You gobble up dots to gain points while avoiding four ghosts. Eat a power pellet, and you can turn the tables on the ghosts, chase them down, and eat them. Each time you do so, the “eyes” of the ghost fly back to the center of the screen and the ghost regenerates. Eat all the dots and power pellets on the screen, and you progress to the next one, which gets harder. Periodically, a piece of fruit appears at the center of the screen. You can eat it for bonus points, and the kind of fruit denotes the level you are on (cherry, strawberry, orange, and so on). But that’s not the game Atari 2600 owners saw. After securing the rights to the game from Atari gave programmer Tod Frye just five weeks to complete the conversion. The company had learned from its earlier mistakes and promised Frye a royalty on every cartridge manufactured (not sold), which was an improvement. But this was another mistake. The royalty plus the rushed schedule meant Frye made money even if the game wasn’t up to snuff, and thus Frye had incentive to complete it regardless. Atari also required the game to fit into just 4KB like older 2600 cartridges, rather than the newer 8KB size that was becoming much more common by this point. That profit-driven limitation heavily influenced the way Frye approached the design of the game. To top it all off, Atari set itself up for a colossal failure by producing some 12 million cartridges, even though there were only 10 million 2600 consoles in circulation at the time. The company was confident that not only would every single existing 2600 owner buy the game, but that 2 million new customers would buy the console itself just for this cartridge. We all know how it turned out. The instruction manual sets the tone for the differences from the arcade early on. The game is now set in “Mazeland.” You eat video wafers instead of dots. Every time you complete a board, you get an extra life. The manual says you also earn points from eating power pills, ghosts, and “vitamins.” Something is definitely amiss. Pac-Man himself always looks to the right or left, even if he is going up or down. The video wafers are long and rectangular instead of small, square dots. Fruits don’t appear periodically at the center of the screen. Instead, you get the aforementioned vitamin, a clear placeholder for what would have been actual fruit had there been more time to get it right. The vitamin always looks the same and is always worth 100 points, instead of increasing as you clear levels. The rest of the scoring is much lower than it is in the arcade. Gobbling up all four ghosts totals just 300 points, and each video wafer is worth just 1 point. The ghosts have tremendous amounts of flicker, and they all look and behave identically, instead of having different colors, distinct personalities, and eyes that pointed in the right direction. The flicker was there for a reason. Frye used it to draw the four ghosts in successive frames with a single sprite graphic register, and drew Pac-Man every frame using the other sprite graphic register. The 2600’s TIA chip synchronizes with an NTSC television picture 60 times per second, so you end up seeing a solid Pac-Man, maze, and video wafers (I can still barely type “video wafers” with a straight face), but the ghosts are each lit only one quarter of the time. A picture tube’s phosphorescent glow takes a little bit to fade, and your eye takes a little while to let go of a retained image as well, but the net result is that the flicker is still quite visible. It gets worse. The janky, gritty sound effects are bizarre, and the theme song is reduced to four dissonant chords. (Oddly, these sounds resurfaced in some movies over the next 20 years and were a default “go-to” for sound designers working in post-production.) The horizontally stretched maze is nothing like the arcade, either, and the escape routes are at the top and bottom instead of the sides. The maze walls aren’t even blue; they’re orange, with a blue background, because it’s been reported Atari had a policy that only space games could have black backgrounds (!). At this point, don’t even ask about the lack of intermissions. One of Frye’s own mistakes is that he made Pac-Man a two-player game. “Tod used a great deal of memory just tracking where each player had left off with eaten dots, power pellets, and score,” wrote Goldberg and Vendel in Atari Inc.: Business is Fun. Years later, when Frye looked at the code for the much more arcade-faithful 2600 Ms. Pac-Man, he saw the programmers were “able to use much more memory for graphics because it’s only a one player game.” Interestingly, the game itself is still playable. Once you get past the initial huge letdown and just play it on its own merits, Pac-Man puts up a decent experience. It’s still “Pac-Man,” sort of, even if it delivers a rough approximation of the real thing as if it were seen and played through a straw. It’s worth playing today for nostalgia—after all, many of us played this cartridge to death anyway, because it was the one we had—and certainly as a historical curiosity for those who weren’t around for the golden age of arcades. Many an Atari 2600 fan turned on the platform—and Atari in general—after the release of Pac-Man. Although the company still had plenty of excellent games and some of the best were yet to come, the betrayal was immediate and real and forever colored what much of the gaming public thought of Atari. The release of the Pac-Man cartridge didn’t curtail the 2600’s influence on the game industry by any means; we’ll visit many more innovations and developments as we go from here on out. But the 2600 conversion of Pac-Man gave the fledgling game industry its first template for how to botch a major title. It was the biggest release the Atari 2600 had and would ever see, and the company flubbed it about as hard as it could. It was New Coke before there was New Coke. Grand Prix (Activision, March 1982) The next few games we’ll discuss further illustrate the quality improvements upstart third-party developers delivered, in comparison with Atari, which had clearly become too comfortable in its lead position. First up is Activision’s Grand Prix, which in hindsight was a bit of an odd way to design a . It’s a side-scroller on rails that runs from left to right, and is what racing enthusiasts call a time trial. Although other computer-controlled cars are on the track, you’re racing against the clock, not them, and you don’t earn any points or increase your position on track for passing them. Gameplay oddities aside, the oversized Formula One cars are wonderfully detailed, with brilliant use of color and animated spinning tires. The shaded color objects were the centerpiece of the design, as programmer David Crane said in a 1984 interview. “When I developed the capability for doing a large multicolored object on the [2600’s] screen, the capability fitted the pattern of the top view of a Grand Prix race car, so I made a racing game out of it.” Getting the opposing cars to appear and disappear properly as they entered and exited the screen also presented a problem, as the 2600’s lack of a frame buffer came into play again. The way TIA works, the 2600 would normally just make the car sprite begin to reappear on the opposite side of the screen as it disappeared from one side. To solve this issue, Crane ended up storing small “slices” of the car in ROM, and in real time the game drew whatever portions of the car were required to reach the edge of the screen. The effect is smooth and impossible to detect while playing. The car accelerates over a fairly long period of time, and steps through simulated gears. Eventually it reaches a maximum speed and engine note, and you just travel along at that until you brake, crash into another car, or reach the finish line. As the manual points out, you don’t have to worry about cars coming back and passing you again, even if you crash. Once you pass them, they’re gone from the race. The four game variations in Grand Prix are named after famous courses that resonate with racing fans (Watkins Glen, Brands Hatch, Le Mans, and Monaco). The courses bear no resemblance to the real ones; each game variation is simply longer and harder than the last. The tree-lined courses are just patterns of vehicles that appear on screen. Whenever you play a particular game variation, you see the same cars at the same times (unless you crash, which disrupts the pattern momentarily). The higher three variations include bridges, which you have to quickly steer onto or risk crashing. During gameplay, you get a warning in the form of a series of oil slicks that a bridge is coming up soon. Although Atari’s Indy 500 set the bar early for home racing games on the 2600, Grand Prix demonstrated you could do one with a scrolling course and much better graphics. This game set the stage for more ambitious offerings the following year. And several decades later, people play games like this on their phones. We just call titles like Super Mario Run (a side-scroller) and Temple Run (3D-perspective) “endless runners,” as they have running characters instead of cars. Activision soon became the template for other competing third-party 2600 developers. In 1981, Atari’s marketing vice president and a group of developers, including the programmers for Asteroids and Space Invaders on the console, started a company called Imagic. The company had a total of nine employees at the outset. Its name was derived from the words “imagination” and “magic”—two key components of every cartridge the company planned to release. Imagic games were known for their high quality, distinctive chrome boxes and labels, and trapezoidal cartridge edges. As with Activision, most Imagic games were solid efforts with an incredible amount of polish and were well worth purchasing. Although Imagic technically became the second third-party developer for the 2600, the company’s first game didn’t arrive until March 1982. Another company, Games by beat it to the punch by starting up in October 1981 and delivering its first (mediocre) game, Skeet Shoot, before the end of the year. But when that first Imagic game did arrive, everyone noticed. Demon Attack At first glance, the visually striking Demon Attack looks kind of like a copy of the arcade game at least without the mothership screen (something it does gain in the Intellivision port). But the game comes into its own the more you play it. You’re stuck on the planet Krybor. Birdlike demons dart around and shoot clusters of lasers down toward you at the bottom of the screen. Your goal is to shoot the demons all out of the sky, wave after wave. The playfield is mostly black, with a graded blue surface of the planet along the bottom of the screen. A pulsing, beating sound plays in the background. It increases in pitch the further you get into each level, only to pause and then start over with the next wave. The demons themselves are drawn beautifully, with finely detailed, colorful designs that are well animated and change from wave to wave. Every time you complete a wave, you get an extra life, to a maximum of six. On later waves, the demons divide in two when shot, and are worth double the points. You can shoot the smaller demons, or just wait—eventually each one swoops down toward your laser cannon, back and forth until it reaches the bottom of the screen, at which point it disappears from the playfield. Shoot it while it’s diving and you get quadruple points. In the later stages, demons also shoot longer, faster clusters of lasers at your cannon. The game is for one or two players, though there’s a cooperative mode that lets you take turns against the same waves of demons. There are also variations of the game that let you shoot faster lasers, as well as tracer shots that you can steer into the demons. After 84 waves, the game ends with a blank screen, though reportedly a later run of this cartridge eliminates that and lets you play indefinitely. If I were still nine years old, I could probably take a couple of days out of summer and see if this is true. I am no longer nine years old. Demon Attack was one of Imagic’s first three games, along with Trick Shot and Star Voyager. Rob Fulop, originally of Atari fame and one of Imagic’s four founders, programmed Demon Attack. In November 1982, Atari sued Imagic because of Demon Attack’s similarity to Phoenix, the home rights of which Atari had purchased from Centuri. The case was eventually settled. Billboard magazine listed Demon Attack as one of the 10 best-selling games of 1982. It was also Imagic’s best-selling title, and Electronic Games magazine awarded it Game of the Year. “The trick to the Demon Attack graphics was it was the first game to use my Scotch-taped/rubber-banded dedicated 2600 sprite animation authoring tool that ran on the Atari 800,” Fulop said in 1993. “The first time Michael Becker made a little test animation and we ran Bob Smith’s utility that successfully squirted his saved sprite data straight into the Demon Attack assembly code and it looked the same on the [2600] as it did on the 800 was HUGE! Before that day, all 2600 graphics ever seen were made using a #2 pencil, a sheet of graph paper, a lot of erasing, and a list of hex codes that were then retyped into the source assembly code, typically introducing a minimum of two pixel errors per eight-by-eight graphic stamp.” Although you can draw a line from Space Invaders to just about any game like this, Demon Attack combines that with elements of Galaga and Phoenix, with a beautiful look and superb gameplay all its own. Pitfall! (Activision, April 1982) A watershed moment in video game history, David Crane’s Pitfall! was one of the best games released for the 2600. As Pitfall Harry, your goal is to race through the jungle and collect 32 treasures—money bags, silver bars, gold bars, and diamond rings, worth from 2,000 to 5,000 points each. Jump and grab vines, and you soar over lakes, quicksand, and alligators, complete with a Tarzan-style “yell.” You can stumble on a rolling log or fall into a hole, both of which just dock you some points. Each time you fall into quicksand or a tar pit, drown in a lake, burn in a fire, or get eaten by an alligator or scorpion, you lose a life. When that happens, you start the next one by dropping from the trees on the left side of the screen to keep playing. Pushing the joystick left or right makes Pitfall Harry run. He picks up treasure automatically. Holding the stick in either direction while pressing the button makes him jump, either over an obstacle or onto a swinging vine (running into the vine without jumping also works). Push down while swinging to let go of the vine. You also can push up or down to climb ladders. In an incredible feat of programming, the game contains 255 screens, with the 32 treasures scattered throughout them. The world loops around once you reach the last screen. Although Adventure pioneered the multiroom map on the 2600, Pitfall! was a considerably larger design. Crane fit the game into the same 4KB ROM as Adventure. But rather than storing all 255 screens as part of the ROM—which wouldn’t have fit—Crane’s solution was not to store the world in ROM at all. Instead, the world is generated by code, the same way each time. This is similar to games like Rogue, but even in that case, the game generates the world and then stores it during play. Pitfall! generates each screen via an algorithm, using a counter that increments in a pseudorandom sequence that is nonetheless consistent and can be run forwards or backwards. The 8 bits of each number in the counter sequence define the way the board looks. Bits 0 through 2 are object patterns, bits 3 through 5 are ground patterns, bits 6 and 7 cover the trees, and bit 7 also affects the underground pattern. This way, the world is generated the same way each and every single time. When you leave one screen, you always end up on the same next screen. “The game was a jewel, a perfect world incised in a mere [4KB] of code,” Nick Montfort wrote in 2001 in Supercade: A Visual History of the Videogame Age, 1971-1984. You get a total of three lives, and Crane points out in the manual that you need to use some of the underground passages (which skip three screens ahead instead of one) to complete the game on time. The inclusion of two on-screen levels—above ground and below ground, with ladders connecting them—makes the game an official platformer. And the game even gives you some say in where to go and what path you take to get there. Pitfall Harry is smoothly animated, and the vines deliver a genuine sensation of swinging even though the game is in 2D. The game’s 20-minute timer, which approximates the 22-minute length of a standard half-hour television show, marked a milestone for console play. It was much longer than most arcade games and even cartridges like Adventure, which you could complete in a few minutes. The extra length allows for more in-depth play. “Games in the early ’80s primarily used inanimate objects as main characters,” Crane said in a 2011 interview. “Rarely there would be a person, but even those weren’t fully articulated. I wanted to make a game character that could run, jump, climb, and otherwise interact with an on-screen world.” Crane spent the next couple of years tinkering with the idea before finally coming up with Pitfall!. “[After] only about 10 minutes I had a sketch of a man running on a path through the jungle collecting treasures. Then, after ‘only’ 1,000 hours of pixel drawing and programming, Pitfall Harry came to life.” Crane said he had already gone beyond that 4KB ROM limit and back within it many times over hundreds of hours. Right before release, he was asked to add additional lives. “Now I had to add a display to show your number of lives remaining, and I had to bring in a new character when a new life was used.” The latter was easy, Crane said, because Pitfall Harry already knew how to fall and stop when he hit the ground. Crane just dropped him from behind the tree cover. “For the ‘Lives’ indicator I added vertical tally marks to the timer display. That probably only cost 24 bytes, and with another 20 hours of ‘scrunching’ the code I could fit that in.” Pitfall! couldn’t have been timed more perfectly, as Raiders of the Lost Ark was the prior year’s biggest movie. The cartridge delivered the goods; it became the best-selling home video game of 1982 and it’s often credited as the game that kickstarted the platformer genre. Pitfall! held the top spot on Billboard’s chart for 64 consecutive weeks. “The fine graphic sense of the Activision design team greatly enriches the Pitfall! experience,” Electronic Games magazine wrote in January 1983, on bestowing the cartridge Best Adventure Videogame. “This is as richly complex a video game as you’ll find anywhere…Watching Harry swing across a quicksand pit on a slender vine while crocodiles snap their jaws frantically in a futile effort to tear off a little leg-of-hero snack is what video game adventures are all about.” Pitfall!’s influence is impossible to overstate. From Super Mario Bros. to Prince of Persia to Tomb Raider, it was the start of something huge. The preceding was an excerpt from by Jamie Lendino.
Bag Week 2018: Waxed canvas bags from Filson, Ona, Croots and more

Bag Week 2018: Waxed canvas bags from Filson, Ona, Croots and more

4:50pm, 20th June, 2018
If you’re looking for a good jacket or bag, you have your choice of materials: leather, heavy nylon, waterproof synthetic weaves like Gore-Tex… but for my money (and not a little of it either) the king of them all is waxed canvas. Pliant yet protective, wind and water–resistant but breathable, handsome to start but grows a character of its own, waxed canvas strikes, for me, the perfect balance of attributes. I drape myself in it, and in the case of bags, drape it from myself. The main caveat is that it is not is cheap — sure, you can get a bag for $30 or $40 on Amazon, but if you want something that will live for years and years and get better with age, you’re going to be spending quite a bit more than that. The bags here are expensive, but like leather the craftsmanship and material quality matter a great deal in whether you end up with an item that deteriorates steadily or comes into its own. Like so many things, you get what you pay for — up to a certain point, of course. I’ve collected bags from a variety of producers and tried them all for the last few months during everyday use and trips out of town. I focused on the “fits a medium-size laptop with room for a couple books and a camera” size, but many of these makers have plenty of variety to choose from. Check the galleries under each bag to see examples of anything I pick out as nice or irritating. (The galleries are all really tall because of a bug in our system. Don’t worry about it.) ONA Union Street ($299) and Brixton ($289) Pros: Rigidity and padding, customizable dividers, nice snaps Cons: Cheap-feeling interior, bulky, could be waxier bags, at least these, are aimed more at the laptop-camera combo than others, with extra padding and internal dividers for bodies and extra lenses. years and years ago during a previous bag week and liked it so much that I decided to buy one. It’s the larger of these two bags, fitting a 15-inch laptop and a DSLR with an extra lens or two small ones. Not only is the whole interior lined with padding, but the dividers are padded and the main flap itself has a sturdiness that has helped protect my gear against drops and kicks. The bottom, although it is also padded and feels soft, has lived through years of scooting around and placement on rough terrain. I like the spring-powered self-locking snaps, though when I first got the bag I was convinced they’d be the first thing to fail. Seven years and thousands of snaps later, they’re still going strong, and when I was worried one was failing (it didn’t), Ona gladly sent me a replacement. It was my standby for a long time, and I still have it. It has aged well in some ways, not so well in others — its waxed front has survived years of scratches and slides along the floor and is marvelously smooth and still water resistant. I don’t know how they did it. On the other hand, some areas have worn holes and the magnet that holds the back flap shut (a smart idea) eventually burrowed its way out. The newer one feels very lightly waxed, but I know it’s in there. That said, if you want the full waxy look and feel, it could use a bit more. It’s really a matter of taste. [gallery ids="1660239,1660237,1660238,1660236,1660241,1660240"] The inside is the weakest link. The fuzzy plush interior feels cheap to me (though it’s undeniably protective), there are no internal pockets, and repeated sticking and unsticking of the Velcro dividers wears the material down in places. Although being able to customize the interior space is invaluable for photographers specifically, a couple strong decisions inside would make it a better all-purpose bag, in my opinion. is the Union Street’s smaller sibling, fitting a 13-inch laptop and a bit less camera-wise. They share many qualities, including price (only a $10 difference) and ultimately the decision is one of what you need rather than which is better. For me it’s a toss-up. I like the open, separate pockets on the exterior of the Brixton for things like filters and cables, but the zippered front pocket of the Union Street is better for pens, phones, and more valuable stuff. Personally I like the look of the Union better, with its riveted straps and uninterrupted waxed canvas flap. If I had to choose, I’d go with the Union Street again, since it’s not so much larger that it becomes cumbrous, but the extra space may make the difference between having to pack a second bag or not. Filson 24-Hour Tin Briefcase ($395) Pros: Versatile, well made and guaranteed, spacious Cons: Lighter material and wax, floppy handles, storm flap nitpick Filson has been a Seattle standby for a century and more, with its signature waxed-canvas jackets covering the bodies of the hip, the outdoorsy, and the tourists alike. Their most practical bag is this one, , which as the name indicates is a little more on the overnight bag side of things. This bag has a large main compartment with a padded laptop area that will hold a 15-incher easily, and a couple pockets on the inside to isolate toothbrushes and pens and the like. On the outside is a pair of good-size zippered pockets that open wide to allow access from either the top or side; inside those are organizer strips and sub-pockets for pens and so on. This is definitely the best generalist out of the bags I tried — it’s equally at home as a daily driver or at the airport. Essentially it’s the perfect “personal item” carry-on. When I’m leaving for a trip I invariably grab this bag because it’s so adaptable. Although it looks a bit bulky it flattens down well when not full, but it doesn’t look weird when it’s packed tightly. [gallery ids="1660230,1660234,1660231,1660229,1660227,1660226,1660224"] A bonus with Filson is that should it ever rip or fail — and I mean ever — you can take it in and they’ll fix or patch it for free. I’ve done this with my jackets and it’s 100% awesome. The scars where the tears were make for even more character. On the other hand, unlike many Filson products this one feels only lightly waxed. If you want more protection from rain you’ll want to add some wax yourself, not something everyone wants to do. You’ll eventually re-wax any of these bags, but this one just seemed to need it right off the bat. The material is a little lighter than some of the other bags, but that could be a plus or a minus. I wouldn’t mind if it was a bit more heavy-duty, The handles are nicely made and thick, but tend to sort of flop around when not needed. And the storm flap that covers the top zipper, while welcome, feels like it has the snap on the wrong side — it makes attaching or detaching it a two-hand affair. When it isn’t full, the bag can be a bit shapeless — it’s not really boardroom ready. For that you want Croots or Ernest Alexander below. Ernest Alexander Walker and Hudson – $385 Pros: Great texture and color, nice style details, low-profile Cons: Impractical closure on Hudson, Walker has limited space, looks compromise utility a bit Note: I tried two bags from this maker and unfortunately in the meantime both have sold out. I’ve asked when they’ll be back on the market, but for now you can take this review as a general indicator of the quality of EN bags. The one I took to from the start is the ; it has a pleasantly sleek, minimal look on the outside, the material a handsome chocolate color that has started to wear well. But open up the flap and you have this lovely blue fine canvas inside (there’s a reverse scheme as well). To me this was the most refined of all the bags in this roundup. I like that there are no snaps, clips, or anything visible on the outside — just a wide expanse of that beautiful material. It’s slim bag but not restrictively so; if what you need to carry isn’t awkward or bulky, there’s room for a good amount in there. Books, a mirrorless with a pancake lens, laptop — sure. But you’re definitely not fitting a spare set of clothes or some groceries. The small zippered exterior pocket is great for a phone or cables, while the deep interior and exterior pockets are easily accessed and relatively spacious. If you control your loadout, there’s room for lots of stuff in here. [gallery ids="1660219,1660221,1660218,1660222,1660217,1660216"] Unfortunately, if you don’t control it, the bag gets bent out of shape easily. Because the top flap attaches to the bottom at the center, if it gets too full the whole thing bulges awkwardly and the tips flip out. And the carry strap, alas, tends to tug on the flap in a way that draws its sides up and away from the clip. And don’t even try to pick it up with the flap detached. Placing the clip underneath the flap also makes for a fiddly procedure — you have to lift up one side to get at it, and because the loop flips down when not in use, it becomes a two-handed operation to put the two pieces together. A sturdier, more fixed loop would make this easier. But it’s all in the name of style, and the sleek exterior may make up for these fussy aspects. The cross-body strap has a lot of extra material but I made it into a neat little knot. I think it works pretty well, actually. The larger messenger I was prepared to like but ultimately just can’t recommend. Theoretically it’s fantastic, with magnetic pocket closures, tons of room, and a cross between the simplicity of the Walker and the versatility of the Filson bag. But the closure system is just too much of a hassle. It’s two straps in a simple belt style, which are a huge pain to do over and over if you’re frequently opening and closing the bag. Compared to Ona closures, which combine speed with the flexibility of belt-style adjustment, it just takes forever to access the Hudson. If they make a revised version of this bag that addresses this, it will have my hearty recommendation. Croots England Vintage Canvas Laptop – $500 Pros: Handsome, well padded, excellent craftsmanship and materials Cons: Flappy handles, uneven wear, laptop compartment, expensive Having encountered a Croots bag in the wild one time, I knew I had to include this long-time waxed canvas player in the roundup. Croots waxed canvas is less oily than Filson or ONA, more like a heavy sailcloth. It feels very strong and holds its shape well. It is however on the high end of the spectrum. That said, because of its stiffness, the seems to want to wear prematurely in areas that stick out a bit, like corners or folds near stitching. The wear process shifts the material from the smooth, almost ballistic nylon texture to a rough fuzzy one that I’m not so sure about. The aging from just a couple weeks of use already has me a little worried but it’s also very thick canvas. The design is a bit more busy than the Ernest Alexander bags, but very handsome and mostly practical. I love the olive color, which contrasts beautifully with the red backing for the zippers. It doesn’t look Christmas-y at all, don’t worry. The straps are a standout feature. The thick leather handles are attached below the zipper and rear pocket to D-rings, which in turn attach to separate leather straps that go under the entire bag. First this means that the handles flip down easily out of the way, since the D-rings rotate in their loops. The riveted construction also means that there’s no stitching to worry about in the whole strap assembly. And the bottoms of the loops do a little basic protection of the canvas down there. [gallery ids="1660207,1660206,1660210,1660211,1660212,1660209,1660208,1660204,1660214"] It also means that when you’re walking, the outside handle tends to flap rather ungracefully against the side; the inner one, up or down, will be rubbing against your flank or back. You can however stow them in the side pockets with a bit of effort, which is a thoughtful touch. The interior is a lovely shade of red, with several large loose pockets and some stiff leather ones for notebooks and so on. Unfortunately the laptop pocket is poorly proportioned: it’s hugely spacious, enough for three or four laptops to slide in, but the button to snap it shut is so low that I can’t get it fastened over a single 13-inch MacBook Pro. The idea that it could hold a 15-inch is ludicrous. There’s lots of padding, though, so I wasn’t worried about anything banging around. There’s also the option for a separate camera insert, though large SLR users will likely want to size up. There isn’t a heck of a lot of room in there but this is definitely meant to be a daily driver briefcase and not an overnight bag — a “personal item” on the plane perhaps but I would take the Filson or ONA over it for space reasons. However as a bag to take to work, the cafe, or the bookstore it’s a great option and a striking one. The is a slightly more expansive and unique option. S-Zone – $30 Pros: Price, magnetic closures, leather edge details Cons: Cheap-feeling interior and leather, little padding for laptop To balance out the admittedly very expensive bags in this review I decided to grab a cheap one off Amazon as well. As I expected, it isn’t up to the quality level of the others, but for $30 it’s a bargain. If you want to experience how waxed canvas evolves and wears, an inexpensive bag like this is a great way to try it out. fabric is a little thin but solid, rather stiff to begin with, but that’s fine — it’ll loosen up as you use the bag. The interior is a cheap-feeling synthetic, however — it’ll work, but you won’t feel like royalty using it. There’s leather detailing all over, and in some places it feels solid, like the attachments for the shoulder strap and at the corners, where there are big patches that will scuff up nicely. But the handle feels like trouble waiting to happen. [gallery ids="1660249,1660246,1660244,1660247,1660243,1660248,1660245"] Instead of a D-ring to allow it to flip down, the leather itself has been loosened up so that it’s extra bendy just above where it attaches. When it’s down, the thin rope around which the handle leather is wrapped is exposed; I can just see this getting soaked, bent, soaked again, bent, and getting weaker and weaker. The front pockets are a little tight, but I like the little magnetic snaps — they make it easy to open and close them without looking. Just be careful not to stuff too much in there or the snaps won’t hold against the pressure. There’s a good deal of room inside, more than the Croots or Ernest Alexander, but less than the ONA or Filson. But then there’s the curious design choice to put padding in the divider defining the laptop section, rather than on the outside. And the leather corner pieces stop just short of it! That means the only thing between the corner of your laptop and the ground is the nylon and canvas — and they don’t make for much of a cushion. Though the other bags don’t all have dedicated padding in this area, they do all seem to mitigate it better, and the S-Zone bag puts your laptop in the most danger of hitting the ground. Hopefully the high prices of most of these items won’t turn
New system connects your mind to a machine to help stop mistakes

New system connects your mind to a machine to help stop mistakes

11:02am, 20th June, 2018
How do you tell your robot not do something that could be catastrophic? You could give it a verbal or programmatic command or you could have it watch your brain for signs of distress and have it stop itself. That’s what researchers at MIT’s robotics research lab have done with a system that is wired to your brain and tells robots how to do their job. The initial system is fairly simple. A scalp EEG and EMG system is connected to a Baxter work robot and lets a human wave or gesture when the robot is doing something that it shouldn’t be doing. For example, the robot could regularly do a task – drilling holes, for example – but when it approaches an unfamiliar scenario the human can gesture at the task that should be done. “By looking at both muscle and brain signals, we can start to pick up on a person’s natural gestures along with their snap decisions about whether something is going wrong,” said PhD candidate Joseph DelPreto. “This helps make communicating with a robot more like communicating with another person.” Because the system uses nuances like gestures and emotional reactions you can train robots to interact with humans with disabilities and even prevent accidents by catching concern or alarm before it is communicated verbally. This lets workers stop a robot before it damages something and even help the robot understand slight changes to its tasks before it begins. In their tests the team trained Baxter to drill holes in an airplane fuselage. The task changed occasionally and a human standing nearby was able to gesture to the robot to change position before it drilled, essentially training it to do new tasks in the midst of its current task. Further, there was no actual programming involved on the human’s part, just a suggestion that the robot move the drill left or right on the fuselage. The most important thing? Humans don’t have to think in a special way or train themselves to interact with the machine. “What’s great about this approach is that there’s no need to train users to think in a prescribed way,” said DelPreto. “The machine adapts to you, and not the other way around.” The team will present their findings at the Robotics: Science and Systems (RSS) conference.
Bag Week 2018: The Bitcoin Genesis Block backpack will centralize your belongings

Bag Week 2018: The Bitcoin Genesis Block backpack will centralize your belongings

9:27am, 19th June, 2018
Welcome to Bag Week 2018. Every year your faithful friends at TechCrunch spend an entire week looking at bags. Why? Because bags — often ignored but full of our important electronics — are the outward representations of our techie styles, and we put far too little thought into where we keep our most prized possessions. It’s difficult to show people that you love blockchain. There are no cool hats, no rad t-shirts, and no outward signs – except a libertarian bent and a poster of a scantily-clad on your bedroom wall – to tell the world you are into decentralized monetary systems. Until, of course, the . Unlike the blockchain, this backpack will centralize your stuff in a fairly large, fairly standard backpack. There is little unique about the backpack itself – it’s a solid piece made of 100% polyester and includes ergonomically designed straps and a secret pocket – but it is printed with the Bitcoin Genesis Block including a headline about UK bank bailouts. In short, it’s Merkle tree-riffic. The green and orange text looks a little Matrix-y but the entire thing is very fun and definitely a conversation starter. Again, I doubt this will last more than a few trips to Malta or the Luxembourg but it’s a great way to let Bitcoin whales know your ICO means business. The bag comes to us from , a company that makes and sells bitcoin-related products and accepts multiple cryptocurrencies. While this backpack won’t stand up to 51% attacks on its structural integrity, it is a fun and cheap way to show the world you’re pro-Nakamoto. So as we barrel headlong into a crypto future fear not, fashion-conscious smart contract lover: the Bitcoin Genesis Block backpack is here to show the world you’re well and truly HODLing. To the moon! .
Apple slapped with $6.6M fine in Australia over bricked devices

Apple slapped with $6.6M fine in Australia over bricked devices

4:37am, 19th June, 2018
has been fined AUS$9M (~$6.6M) by a court in Australia following a legal challenge by a consumer rights group related to the company’s response after iOS updates bricked devices that had been repaired by third parties. The Australian Competitor and Consumer Commission (ACCC) invested a series of complaints relating to an error (‘error 53’) which disabled some iPhones and iPads after owners downloaded an update to Apple’s iOS operating system. The ACCC says Apple admitted that, between February 2015 and February 2016 — via the Apple US’ website, Apple Australia’s staff in-store and customer service phone calls — it had informed at least 275 Australian customers affected by error 53 that they were no longer eligible for a remedy if their device had been repaired by a third party. Image credit: via Flickr under license The court judged Apple’s action to have breached the Australian consumer law. “If a product is faulty, customers are legally entitled to a repair or a replacement under the Australian Consumer Law, and sometimes even a refund. Apple’s representations led customers to believe they’d be denied a remedy for their faulty device because they used a third party repairer,” said ACCC commissioner Sarah Court in a statement. “The Court declared the mere fact that an iPhone or iPad had been repaired by someone other than Apple did not, and could not, result in the consumer guarantees ceasing to apply, or the consumer’s right to a remedy being extinguished.” The ACCC notes that after it notified Apple about its investigation, the company implemented an outreach program to compensate individual consumers whose devices were made inoperable by error 53. It says this outreach program was extended to approximately 5,000 consumers. It also says Apple Australia offered a court enforceable undertaking to improve staff training, audit information about warranties and Australian Consumer Law on its website, and improve its systems and procedures to ensure future compliance with the law. The ACCC further notes that a concern addressed by the undertaking is that Apple was allegedly providing refurbished goods as replacements, after supplying a good which suffered a major failure — saying Apple has committed to provide new replacements in those circumstances if the consumer requests one. “If people buy an iPhone or iPad from Apple and it suffers a major failure, they are entitled to a refund. If customers would prefer a replacement, they are entitled to a new device as opposed to refurbished, if one is available,” said Court. The court also held the Apple parent company, Apple US, responsible for the conduct of its Australian subsidiary. “Global companies must ensure their returns policies are compliant with the Australian Consumer Law, or they will face ACCC action,” added Court. We’ve reached out to Apple for comment on the court decision and will update this post with any response. A company spokeswoman told it had had “very productive conversations with the ACCC about this” but declined to comment further on the court finding. More recently, Apple found itself in hot water with over its use of a power management feature that throttled performance on older iPhones to avoid unexpected battery shutdowns. The company apologized in for not being more transparent about the feature, and allowing consumers to turn it off if they did not want their device’s performance to be impacted.
This simple robot offers more cowbell

This simple robot offers more cowbell

8:22am, 18th June, 2018
Fellas, you’re gonna want that cowbell. And what better way to get that cowbell than with an automatic cowbell-playing robot that uses simple components to create a musical experience like no other. The system, built over at , includes a simple Arduino controller, a potentiometer to control the speed of the cowbell hammer, and a few audio systems to play back some BÖC and the immortal words of The Bruce Dickinson: “More cowbell.” It even includes a controller to activate a fog machine for a little extra rock and roll. You can download the code for the system and there is a full build guide . Ultimately this is one of the silliest DIY projects I’ve seen in a while but, as you may recall, the only prescription for certain fevers is obviously more cowbell.
Watch a laser-powered RoboFly flap its tiny wings

Watch a laser-powered RoboFly flap its tiny wings

7:45pm, 15th May, 2018
Making something fly involves a lot of tradeoffs. Bigger stuff can hold more fuel or batteries, but too big and the lift required is too much. Small stuff takes less lift to fly but might not hold a battery with enough energy to do so. Insect-size drones have had that problem in the past — but now this RoboFly is taking its first flaps into the air… all thanks to the power of lasers. We’ve seen bug-sized flying bots before, like the , but as you can see it has wires attached to it that provide power. Batteries on board would weigh it down too much, so researchers have focused in the past on demonstrating that flight is possible in the first place at that scale. But what if you could provide power externally without wires? That’s the idea behind the , a sort of spiritual successor to the RoboBee that gets its power from a laser trained on an attached photovoltaic cell. “It was the most efficient way to quickly transmit a lot of power to RoboFly without adding much weight,” said co-author of the paper describing the bot, Shyam Gollakota. He’s obviously very concerned with power efficiency — last month he and his colleagues published a way of . There’s more than enough power in the laser to drive the robot’s wings; it gets adjusted to the correct voltage by an integrated circuit, and a microcontroller sends that power to the wings depending on what they need to do. Here it goes: “To make the wings flap forward swiftly, it sends a series of pulses in rapid succession and then slows the pulsing down as you get near the top of the wave. And then it does this in reverse to make the wings flap smoothly in the other direction,” explained lead author Johannes James. At present the bot just takes off, travels almost no distance, and lands — but that’s just to prove the concept of an wirelessly-powered robot insect (it isn’t obvious). The next steps are to improve onboard telemetry so it can control itself, and make a steered laser that can follow the little bug’s movements and continuously beam power in its direction. The team is headed to Australia next week to present the RoboFly at the in Brisbane.
First CubeSats to travel the solar system snap ‘Pale Blue Dot’ homage

First CubeSats to travel the solar system snap ‘Pale Blue Dot’ homage

5:15pm, 15th May, 2018
The earlier this month had a couple stowaways: a pair of tiny CubeSats that are already the farthest such tiny satellites have ever been from Earth by a long shot. And one of them got a chance to snap a picture of their home planet as an homage to the It’s hardly as amazing a shot as the original but it’s still cool. The CubeSats, named MarCO-A and B, are an experiment to test the suitability of pint-size craft for exploration of the solar system; previously they have only ever been deployed into orbit. That changed on May 5, when the Insight mission took off, with the MarCO twins detaching on a similar trajectory to the geology-focused Mars lander. It wasn’t long before they went farther than any CubeSat has gone before. A few days after launch MarCO-A and B were about a million kilometers (621,371 miles) from Earth, and it was time to unfold its high-gain antenna. A fisheye camera attached to the chassis had an eye on the process and and inform mission control that all was well. But as a bonus (though not by accident — very few accidents happen on missions like this), Earth and the moon were in full view as MarCO-B took its antenna selfie. Here’s an annotated version of the one above: “Consider it our homage to Voyager,” said JPL’s Andy Klesh . “CubeSats have never gone this far into space before, so it’s a big milestone. Both our CubeSats are healthy and functioning properly. We’re looking forward to seeing them travel even farther.” So far it’s only good news and validation of the idea that cheap CubeSats could potentially be launched by the dozen to undertake minor science missions at a fraction of the cost of something like Insight. Don’t expect any more snapshots from these guys, though. A JPL representative told me that the cameras were really only included to make sure the antenna deployed properly. Really any pictures of Mars or other planets probably wouldn’t be worth looking at twice — these are utility cameras with fisheye lenses, not the special instruments that orbiters use to get those great planetary shots. The MarCOs will pass by Mars at the same time that Insight is making its landing, and depending on how things go, they may even be able to pass on a little useful info to mission control while it happens. Tune in on November 26 for that!
Tushy is the simple bidet for every toilet

Tushy is the simple bidet for every toilet

3:45pm, 15th May, 2018
If there’s one thing I envy in the global spirit and character its the appreciation of a fine bidet. Hygiene being close to godliness, one can imagine the huddled scientists at CERN and KAUST and Tokyo University creating scientific marvels, secure in the knowledge that their posteriors were as clean and crisp as their lines of thought. The same can be said of peoples of all continents who celebrate the occasional fountainal intrusion, from those who use bidets to hide their doings to those with a simple hose next to the can. But America, that land of the free and the home of the brave, can’t join in the fun? Is there no bidet culture in Dear Columbia? Phshaw. After all, there’s something called . This simple bidet system is the gateway drug to posterior enjoyment. I’ve been trying to install a proper bidet in my home since . The problem I discovered was that the design of my toilet did not allow for something large and heavy up against the toilet tank. Because the system was so large I couldn’t fit it in place of the seat, resulting in endless heartbreak. I was almost going to swap out my toilet for one of a simpler designed by luckily the Tushy is the low-cost, low tech solution I was looking for. It works by sitting in line with the tank refill line. You simply connect the line to the Tushy and then connect a line from the Tushy to the tank. The water that would normally go into your bowl is routed through a little movable nozzle and up into your backside. The water, obviously, is cold. You can also turn it so the water cleans the nozzle, and important health and safety addition. Bear in mind that the Tushy is as simple as it gets. It doesn’t blow out fine perfumes, it doesn’t steam or mist you, and it doesn’t play birdsong. But it costs $69 and seems to work just fine in my testing. In fact, I’m thinking of Tushying up the whole house since it doesn’t actually need electricity or any plumbing changes. Tushy also sells an $84 Spa model that connects to your hot water line for a bit of warmth. But that’s for the coddled few who can’t manage a little cold water.Why is this important? Because all innovation is important, for one. The changes in lifestyle associated with tech are moving out of the esoteric into the basic, a fact that should give us all a bit of a giggle. If electrified scooters in SF are a sign of the apocalypse, things like the Tushy are a sign of a renaissance. After all, the clean innovator is the happy innovator. Ultimately ideas like Tushy will lead us to a new world of butt hygiene. Perhaps, one day, all of us will have a bidet in our homes and offices. Perhaps one day we will be able to break the shackles of toilet paper. And perhaps, one day, we will join the ranks of men and women who enjoy a good squirt in the morning. Until then, Tushy does its business.