Archive for June, 2013

How NASA Wants Us to Explore the Universe With Robotic Avatars and Holodecks

Take three minutes of your life to listen to Dr. Jeff Norris, one of the science rock stars at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. He talks about how NASA is working to democratize space exploration by using robots, holodecks and 3D technologies so we can all see space with our own eyes using space probes that will travel to other planets and stars.

It’s an inspiring vision that you need to listen to. One that is not coming soon enough, but it’s coming sooner than the warp drive.

I love his punchline: we are all the space invaders. Cue in Bowie’s Moonage Dream. [Thanks to our friend Mark Rober, another of the JPL geniuses]

How NASA Wants Us to Explore the Universe With Robotic Avatars and Holodecks

Jason D. Little – Light Stalking

Given the ubiquity of the camera phone and their ever increasing quality, there are people who are perfectly content having their mobile device also serve as their only camera. I, for one, would likely experience something akin to severe withdrawal if I had to give up my dSLR and shoot exclusively with my cellphone.

But, as with everything in life, I am willing to bet that such a circumstance would present you with at least a few important points that you will want to retain. So no matter where you are on your journey as a photographer, consider the following lessons you can learn from shooting with a camera phone.

For most of us, we would rather offer up an internal organ (a kidney maybe, or even better, the actually useful but still totally expendable appendix) than part with our cameras. I guess it makes sense to feel that way, considering we sometimes see our technology-laden cameras as being more important than they are, assigning to them a value directly proportional to the photos we make.

7 Lessons You Can Learn from Shooting with a Camera Phone

But we’re all familiar with the notion that great photographers make great photos regardless of what camera they have in hand. I’m not suggesting that everyone should run around with pinhole cameras just to prove that they are “good” photographers, but it would probably be a fun and worthwhile exercise to undertake. And if you were indeed to put aside your trusty dSLR, your next best alternative wouldn’t be so low-tech as a pinhole camera; you’d likely turn to your mobile phone camera.

1. Seeing

Shooting with your phone’s camera is going to free up your head. Obviously, you’re not going to have any gear to lug around and, perhaps most important, you don’t really have any settings to fiddle with. You’re free to spend much more of your time simply seeing; you’ll eventually find yourself looking at everything and everybody in a different way than if you were using a dSLR. Since you have so little control over settings, you won’t be able to fall back on any technical contrivances. You will have to learn to rely solely on your ability to “see” good things in order to make good photos.

2. Using Your Feet

Have you ever used your phone’s zoom feature? If you have, then you know the results are appalling. It’s a conundrum of engineering: the thinner phones get, the more difficult it is to design a built-in camera with a usable zoom. Zooming in on most phones means it’s using digital zoom, just blowing up and cropping in on an image, causing it to appear pixellated and rather ugly. So, forget the zoom. If you want the subject closer to your lens, your best bet is to use your feet. This idea translates well to the dSLR user also, especially when using a prime lens. Sometimes (but not always) it’s better to get closer to your subject.

3. Finding the Light

While the sensors found in camera phones improve with each generation of devices, they are still no match for the sensors found in dSLRs and, as such, are prone to struggle when it comes to capturing adequate light. To compensate, you will need to learn to find good lighting, whether natural (wait a moment for that cloud to pass) or artificial (turn on the lights in the room). Applying the same principle to shooting with your dSLR will allow you can keep ISO levels low.

4. Composing Your Shot

Repeat after me: “composition still matters when you’re using a camera phone.” You may have little to no control over shutter speed or ISO on your phone, but you do have total control over composition. There’s no reason to disregard it just because you’re shooting with a camera phone; in fact, the camera display on your phone is probably equipped with an optional grid overlay singularly purposed to help you compose your shot according to the classic “rule of thirds.” Use it. Strengthening your compositional skills is never a bad thing and it will give you the foundation you need to start breaking the rules of conventional composition.

5. Companionship

Having a cellphone that doubles as a camera is convenient (a gross understatement, I know). It’s lightweight, fits in a pocket, doesn’t require lens changes – it easily goes everywhere you go, making it possible for you to capture life as it happens. To invoke another old photography adage, the best camera is the one you have with you. Using your camera phone in this fashion just might encourage you to start taking your dSLR with you everywhere, allowing you to document the speed of life in higher quality.

6. Maintenance

Most people I’ve observed tend to dote over their devices, cleaning and charging them on a very regular basis, and carrying them in protective cases. It’s understandable behavior; after all, what good is a dead or broken phone? The lesson here for dSLR users is that you should maintain your camera with the same dedication. Public charging stations for cell phones are becoming easier to find in most cities; I don’t think such a thing exists for big camera batteries. Thus, it would be to your advantage to keep at least one fully charged spare battery with you whenever you’re out shooting, and when you return home, recharge each battery you used even if it’s only partially drained.

7. Appreciation

Despite the advancements being made in mobile phone cameras -better sensors, better lenses, more megapixels – it’s never going to be enough to sway dSLR users away from their cameras. But if you have ever spent a significant amount of time shooting exclusively with a camera phone, I can only imagine how eager you were to be reunited with your main camera. No, it doesn’t fit in your pocket and you can’t make calls or play games on it, but it’s your bread and butter. You’re an artist and it’s your paintbrush. Your camera phone makes a great sidekick, but it can never be the main attraction. Give your main camera the love and respect it deserves.

7 Lessons You Can Learn from Shooting with a Camera Phone

They say good technique is more important than anything else. Is it true? If you think you’re up to it, challenge yourself to shooting for a few days with just your camera phone and consider how what you learn along the way can apply to shooting with your DSLR. If you’re recently transitioning from a camera phone to a DSLR, have you found anything in particular that has been helpful in making the transition a little easier? Feel free to share.

This post by Jason D. Little is republished with permission from Light Stalking. Jason Little is a photographer (shooting macros, portraits, candids, and the occasional landscape), part time writer, and full time lover of music. You can see Jason’s photography on his photography blog or on Flickr.

Image credits: Flickr/Paul Bica, Flickr/Bram & Vera, Shuttershock/Evgenia Bolyukh

According to a new study from Perion, the developer of popular mail client IncrediMail, the majority of iPad owners prefer reading and writing email on their tablets over their PCs and smartphones.

Perion surveyed 4,400 iPad users about the way that they use email to get the results, and 90 percent of respondents said that using email on the iPad was important. Two thirds of those surveyed check their email on the iPad more than three times a day.

55 percent of people surveyed preferred tablets for reading emails, followed by 32 percent for the PC/Mac and 10 percent for the mobile phone. When it comes to writing emails, 48 percent preferred tablets, 41 percent preferred the PC/Mac, and 9 percent preferred mobile phones.

Despite the number of people using email on the iPad, most are unhappy with the email client they have to work with. 41 percent of people said they were extremely satisfied with their email apps, meaning a majority of the group is looking for a better solution.

While surveying people about how they use email on the iPad, Perion asked some in-depth questions that garnered interesting results.

For example, 97 percent of iPad users read emails on their device, but only two thirds of those people send back quick replies. Just 31 percent read and send all of their emails using the iPad.

Women surveyed showed a higher satisfaction for using their iPads for reading emails, and were also more likely to send emails compared to men. 68 percent of women used their iPads only for personal emails, while 52 percent of men send business emails as well. The iPad is not just for leisure – 38 percent of respondents said they use the iPad for both personal and work emails.

Apple’s default Mail app, unsurprisingly, is the most popular mail app. 41 percent of users surveyed use the app, while 31 percent use Gmail and another 13 percent use Hotmail. 18 percent of users just use the web browser for checking email.

Do your own experiences fall in line with this survey? Personally, I rarely check email on my iPad, but I do so often on my computer and my iPhone. These numbers, though they come from a limited sample size, do show that the iPad is being integrated into homes and replacing tasks that were once done with a computer.

Timeline 3D is an app that every teacher, educator, writer, or presenter should check out out, because it is a quick and simple way to make well designed multimedia timelines that can be shared at meetings, in classrooms, and more.

It can be used to create and present timeline charts for all kinds of events, from historical to personal. You can use the app to make and explain chronologies with an all new perspective, making it a great way to demonstrate timelines.

For example, this app presents a clear way to explain historical events to students, making the educating process easier than ever.

The app is ultra simple to use, because all you need to do is enter a series of events, which is pretty simple to do. You can enter events and times in a global format, and you can even include notes, website links, and descriptive tags. Images, videos, and text dictation can be inserted at specific dates, making a fully interactive, media rich presentation.


That data is then used to automatically generate a timeline. From there, you can use that timeline to tell any story that you want, from the history of a company to the history of the world. It really only takes a single tap to generate a timeline from a list of events. When you are presenting, simply swipe to switch from event to event, and use pinch gestures if you need to zoom in.

You can present your timelines right on the iPad, but it makes more sense to take advantage of AirPlay if you happen to have an Apple TV, projecting your timelines on the big screen.


Timelines that you create can be exported to Timeline 3D on the Mac, and you can import files from the Mac version as well. You’re also able to send Timelines via email, making it easy to share.

If you have a reason to use an app like this, you won’t find a better solution than Timeline 3D. And trust me, you almost certainly have a need for this, from creating a timeline of a vacation to explaining an event to a group of students. It can be used for a huge variety of purposes.

What I liked: As a writer, I could see this app coming in handy for creating a cohesive storyline. It is also great for classroom settings. There are so many uses for this app!

What I didn’t like: It would be nice to be able to turn timelines into a video or a slideshow that could be uploaded to social networks, and it would be nice to incorporate other types of media.

To buy or not to buy: Timeline 3D is an expensive app at $9.99, but it is worth the purchase price if it offers a functionality that you need.

  • App Name: Timeline 3D
  • Version Reviewed: 1.0.9
  • Category: Education
  • Developer: Beedocs
  • Price: $9.99
  • Score:

Do you still remember the wonders of film photography? What is that? What do you mean, cameras have never used films? You must be one of the modern generation brats who live in an “instant” culture, and the first exposure you had to cameras were of the digital kind. Let me share with you, my young padawan, of the days when cameras still used films that had to be developed in a dark room. In an effort to bridge the gap between the past, present and the future, this UK exclusive 59.99 Lomography Smartphone Film Scanner might be just the tool that you were looking for, as it allows you to scan, edit and share all your 35mm film stock, directly into the smartphone itself (memory permitting, of course).

The Lomography Smartphone Film Scanner is completely compatible with both iPhone and Android platforms, where it relies on a direct light panel to evenly and efficiently scan negatives and slides onto your smartphone. Not only that, it will also take advantage of decent Lomo technology so that you can churn out your fair share of slideshows, movies and panoramas along the way.

Glasses could turn into the next big tech thing. First you’ve got Google starting to tout their upcoming Google Glass product. Many of the functions of our smartphones will be included in their “smart spectacles” – which will attempt to eliminate the awkward fumbling that inevitably occurs when we need our phone. Next up in the world of glasses? A conceptual gadget from Johns Hopkins University looks to include a literal lifesaver on a pair of specs.

The recently announced Stroke Detector looks like a pair of swim goggles or Rec Specs. Included within are an infrared video camera and connection for a laptop. Together they measure and record eye movements. Strokes that occur in the back of the brain present symptoms of dizziness and vertigo which can also be present with simple inner ear issues. The key to understanding if it really is a stroke are their eye movements which are undetectable to a human. Four million people a year visit US emergency rooms with stroke-like symptoms and only 5% actually do prove true. Most of these 4 million people go through a costly MRI which – in the case of those actually having a stroke – causes a delay in diagnosis. Time is of the essence when a stroke sets in. The Stroke Detector looks to save those valuable minutes, save lives and maybe even money.

Thanks: CBS News
[ Lifesaving Glasses copyright by Coolest Gadgets ]

The US Postal Service is obviously suffering because, you know, the internet. It’s about to stop Saturday delivery, but another part of its plan to save $20 billion over the next three years is to sell off some post offices. More than 600 have been “earmarked for disposal” and a total of 57 are up for sale via real estate firm CB Richard Ellis.

Included on the chopping block? A handful of architectural gems that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places And unfortunately they’ll probably end up as Apple Stores, or Starbucks, or Wells Fargos.

Here are eight of the awesome post offices we’ll be sad to see go.

The Berkeley, California post office at 2000 Allston way was built in 1915. The city council has asked for a one-year stay of execution on this beautiful Mediterranean-style building so they can find the funds to save it.

8 Historic Post Offices That Might Turn Into Starbucks

Image credit: Flickr

The Bronx General Post Office at E. 149th Street and Grand Concourse features 13 giant Depression-era murals by Ben Shahn and his wife, Bernarda Bryson. Operations would move from the official New York City landmark into a smaller space.

8 Historic Post Offices That Might Turn Into Starbucks

Image credit: Flickr

Built in 1858, the Renaissance-style post office on 31st Street in Washington, DC is already under contract.

8 Historic Post Offices That Might Turn Into Starbucks

Image credit: Flickr

The 1933 building on Hamilton Ave in Palo Alto isn’t up for sale yet. But a change of hands is being considered.

8 Historic Post Offices That Might Turn Into Starbucks

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

There’s already a for sale sign up in front of the Norwich, Connecticut post office, which was built in 1905.

8 Historic Post Offices That Might Turn Into Starbucks

Image credit: National Register of Historic Places

The Derby, Connecticut post office is also up for grabs. Operations would be consolidated with another town.

8 Historic Post Offices That Might Turn Into Starbucks

Image credit: CTPost

The Old Chelsea Station Post Office on West 18th Street in Manhattan, New York was erected in 1935 in the Colonial Revival style. This is another case where a sale is just being considered at this point.

8 Historic Post Offices That Might Turn Into Starbucks

This isn’t the Annapolis Post Office’s first brush with death; four years ago a Pennsylvania developer wanted to turn it into condos.

8 Historic Post Offices That Might Turn Into Starbucks

Image credit: Wikipedia
[New York Times]

Zuck bought Facebook its fanciest new outfit in many years this week, and naturally, the New News Feed is getting all the swooning. But FB added a handful of delicate tweaks and turns to the site—some you might not have noticed yet.

It makes sense to toss in little changes in the shadow of a giant one. Some of them make sense given the news feed shakeup. Others are just augmentations the team slid in without noticing. Many are good. Some are not. Here’s a guide to all that’s new and (mostly) improved.

All The Tiny Changes Hiding in Facebook's Latest Redesign


The words you read on Facebook look different now. Helvetica. All over the place. According to Facebook Product Designer Vivian Wang, the typographical shift is part of Facebook’s strategy to be more consistent. Your statuses should look the same whether you read them on a phone, tablet, or browser, and with the Helveticafication of Facebook, there’s a “consistent voice” no matter what device you’re using. And voice is neutral—Helvetica is beloved for being both brilliant and inoffensive, which is why you’ll see it everywhere from the NYC Subway and the Space Shuttle. And now, Facebook. This was probably inevitable.

FB also added some old fashioned styling to its revamped article sharing—if you toss in a link, the headline will be displayed in large point Georgia—a typeface that’s very, very close to Times New Roman, and carries a lot of its gravitas. Zuck said he wanted the feed to be more like a newspaper, and here’s how.

All The Tiny Changes Hiding in Facebook's Latest Redesign

RIP Ticker

The controversial Ticker—that live feed of everything our friends clicked, liked, and shared, as it happened—has been beaten within an inch of its life, and stuffed into an insultingly small box in the bottom left of the page, where no one will even think to look for it. It only shows one item at a time, and completely blends into your IM buddy list, so really, it might as well not be there at all. Wang said the Ticker is now “more of a peripheral feed,” which seems appropriately euphemistic for a funeral. She was quick to point to the “Most Recent” category of the revamped New News Feed, which Facebook says is now your best bet for perma-stalking your friends.

Don’t be surprised when the ticker vanishes completely. You probably won’t even notice.

All The Tiny Changes Hiding in Facebook's Latest Redesign

New profile pictures

Hey, did [__________] change her profile picture? I love those glasses, don’t you? George looks handsome, too. And now they’ve got their own little rectangle in the Photos News Feed, highlighting their most recent vanity changes.

All The Tiny Changes Hiding in Facebook's Latest Redesign

Update bubbles

This is so tiny, and so lovely. If there’s a new story on a feed you’re currently reading, you’ll get a gentle bubble reminder. Click it, and you’ll be taken to the top.

All The Tiny Changes Hiding in Facebook's Latest Redesign

Animated likes

Entirely trivial, but slightly charming. When you like something, the little thumb briefly bounces, just like in the mobile app. I’m sure some group of PhDs decided that would make people click things more often, because we’re animals that like to see little things bounce around.

All The Tiny Changes Hiding in Facebook's Latest Redesign

Shape-shifting sidebar

A great deal of Facebook has been stripped down and stuffed into the lefthand sidebar. What happens if you don’t have the screen real estate to fit that and everything else? Just make your browser window smaller, and the bar shrinks to an icon-only view, saving a great swath of pixels.

Friend lists? Hello? Bueller?

Sorting our Facebook buddies into categories we care more or less about seemed like a neat way of sorting signal from noise, given how many worthless people we’re friends with these days. But how do we edit these lists now? The old buttons and menus that let you edit your social silos seem completely gone—I was only able to find an editing option by jumping through a bunch of outdated articles in the Facebook Help section. It’s here, if you want it.

Notice any others? Show ’em off below.

User Manual is Gizmodo’s guide to digital etiquette and internet intelligence. It appears as if by magic every Friday.


Skeptical that BlackBerry’s new operating system and the handsets on which it runs are slick enough to convert iPhone and Android users? Don’t be. And if you can’t help but raise an eyebrow over the idea, at least keep an open mind. Because, according to BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins, the appeal of the company’s new Z10 handset extends well beyond BlackBerry loyalists.

Heins, who has been in the press a lot lately, talking up BlackBerry’s new make-or-break line of smartphones, told Spanish newspaper Expansion this week that the Z10 has been well-received by more than just the BlackBerry faithful.

“We are receiving a very positive response to BlackBerry 10 from our customers, but it’s also been attractive for customers coming from other platforms,” Heins told Expansion. “We are a little surprised by that.”

Happily surprised, I imagine. BlackBerry’s comeback hinges not just on convincing existing customers to remain on its platform, but also on convincing users of rival operating systems like iOS and Android to switch. The big question, of course, is, can the company convince those users to switch in meaningful numbers, and across a number of markets?

According to BlackBerry there are some indications that it can. Sunil Dutt, managing director for BlackBerry India, says that the number of BlackBerry switchers in the country has been significant. Said Dutt, “In a couple of markets where we launched first, about 45 percent of people who bought BB10 devices were unique customers who were using phones of some other brand.”

Forty-five percent.

That seems high for a new platform from a struggling handset maker, but it does jibe with what BlackBerry told AllThingsD last week. “We are seeing strong interest from consumers currently on other platforms, but can’t comment further on specifics,” BlackBerry spokeswoman Amy McDowell said. “While of course our loyal customer base is upgrading to BlackBerry 10, initial reports from Canada and the U.K. are encouraging, and data suggests a significant percentage of users are coming to us from iOS and Android, too.”

The sliding glass doors open, and you walk into your local Best Buy store ready to browse for some new electronic toys. As the blue-polo-and-khaki-clad salespeople start approaching you to offer assistance, you realize they’re practically speaking a different language — a language that includes confusing technical phrases not used in everyday conversation.

[ See post to watch video ]

But you, too, can become fluent in geek speak. In this week’s column, I’ll walk you through some terms that are often used when talking about smartphones, TVs, cameras and laptops. The words range from those that describe a category of device to particular features found in a gadget, but all are helpful to know as you’re shopping around.

Let’s start with cellphones. Go into any electronics store and you’ll find a myriad of touchscreen phones — some with displays so large that they look like they belong on tablets. This latter group is often referred to as phablets — a term born from combining the words phone and tablet (a la Brangelina).

Phablets offer all of the capabilities of smartphones, including the ability to make calls, but they feature screens between five inches and seven inches. (More normal smartphones have screens in the 3.5 to 4.7-inch range.)


The benefit to the larger display is that it’s easier for reading text, viewing videos and browsing the Web. The downside is that the device is larger in size, making it less pocketable and more difficult to use with one hand. Some examples of phablets include the Samsung Galaxy Note II and LG Intuition.

Another word that’s tossed around when talking about mobile gadgets is processor. The processor acts like the brains of the device. It manages tasks like running the operating system and handling graphics in games and Web pages.

With today’s smartphones and tablets, you’ll most often hear that model X has a dual-core or quad-core processor. The advantage of these multi-core processors is that they can handle numerous tasks at once, thus speeding up overall performance.

But a quad-core processor doesn’t double the power of a dual-core one. Memory, operating system and other factors also play a part in a device’s performance. If all work together and efficiently with the processor, you’ll see increased performance, but the difference in speed will not be that dramatic.

One other term associated with speed, though it has more to do with data speeds, is 4G LTE. LTE, which stands for Long Term Evolution, is fourth-generation (4G) wireless technology that offers up to 10 times the speed of 3G networks. AT&T, Verizon and Sprint all operate 4G LTE networks. Meanwhile, T-Mobile will launch its LTE network later this year.


Let’s move on to laptops, shall we? Like smartphones, there’s a new subcategory of notebooks called Ultrabooks.

Ultrabooks — the name was coined and trademarked by Intel — were designed to be a compromise between a full-size laptop and tablet (think MacBook Air).

To wear the title, they must meet certain size specifications, use Intel processors and have a minimum battery life of five hours.

Ultrabooks also must awake from sleep mode in less than seven seconds. To help achieve this, many models use solid-state drives (SSDs). Unlike the hard disk drives, which use moving discs to read and write data, SSDs have no moving parts and can retrieve data faster. The downsides are that they don’t offer as much disk space as hard drives, and they’re more expensive.

As such, Ultrabooks really haven’t taken off with consumers, partly due to higher price points that start in the $900-plus range. But prices are beginning to come down ($500 and up), and there is now a greater variety of designs available.

Whether you’re looking for an Ultrabook, laptop or all-in-one PC, you might have noticed that Microsoft released a new version of its operating system. But there are two versions — Windows 8 and Window RT.


Windows 8 is considered the full version, and can run legacy software that you used on your older Windows machines, in addition to new apps.

Meanwhile, Windows RT can only run new Windows 8 apps, and doesn’t offer access to such features as Windows Media Player or Windows Media Center. Windows RT was designed primarily for use on mobile devices, like tablets.

Over in TV land, two terms are getting a lot of buzz lately. The first is smart TV. This refers to TVs with integrated Internet capabilities.


Aside from allowing you to stream content from services like Netflix and Hulu Plus, you can also browse the Web from TV, interact with your social networks, access apps and more.

Samsung and LG, in collaboration with Google, are just a couple of the companies that offer smart TVs. But poor user experiences and the availability of the similar features on cheaper set-top boxes, like the Roku, have kept them from taking off.

The second phrase is 4K TVs (also known as Ultra HD). 4K refers to the horizontal resolution of the TV display. At about 4,000 pixels, 4K TVs offer almost four times the display resolution of today’s standard 1080p HD TVs.

Many TV manufacturers will brag that these new sets reduce the gap between pixels, but when viewed from far away, the difference may not be that noticeable. Also, since 4K TVs are still relatively new, they’re crazy expensive (we’re talking in the five-figure range). And there’s a lack of 4K content out there at the moment.


Last but not least, we come to the camera section. If you’re looking to graduate from a point-and-shoot but don’t want to jump to a large, higher-end digital SLR (Single Lens Reflex) device, mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras might be a good compromise.

They allow you to switch lenses and can accommodate larger sensors to provide DSLR-like image quality, while still offering relatively small builds. Unlike DSLRs, these cameras do not have an eyepiece (or a mirror-based optical viewfinder) that you can look through to frame and focus your picture. Instead, most offer a rear display to help you capture the image.

The world of tech is constantly changing, and trying to keep up with the latest trends can be frustrating. But, as with anything, a little education and research can ensure that you’re make the right decision when it’s time to buy.

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