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Thursday, July 11, 2019

Is the Cheapest MacBook Pro the best MacBook Pro? 2019 13" MacBook Pro R...

These Sony earbuds do what AirPods can’t

Confirmed: Apple's new MacBook Pro gets a big speed boost

"These two entry-level Apple laptops get spec upgrades and, in one case, an important price cut.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple kicked off the back-to-school season with some pretty significant changes to the MacBook lineup on Tuesday. There were price cuts, trickle-down features and a few quiet cancellations, including the old, pre-redesign MacBook Air and the cult favorite 12-inch MacBook
Getting an update are the MacBook Air and the lowest-end version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro. For the Air, that's a significant point, as the system received its largest overhaul in a decade just last year. 
Both new MacBooks have arrived in the CNET Labs for review. Our testing is ongoing, but here's an early look at some of the initial results and our first hands-on impressions. 

The entry-level MacBook Pro now includes Apple's Touch Bar. 
Sarah Tew/CNET

The new MacBook Air doesn't look any different, but it adds Apple's True Tone display, which can adjust the screen's color temperature based on the ambient lighting. It's already found on iPad Pro, recent iPhones and some MacBook Pros. 
But more important than that, the starting price has been cut by $100, from $1,199 to $1,099 (£1,099, AU$1,699). That's still not the classic MacBook Air price of $999, but it's getting closer and students can get it for $999. 
Watch this: Back-to-school MacBooks get faster, cheaper
More consequential are the changes to the 13-inch MacBook Pro. That $1,299 model was a favorite for some, as it excluded the Touch Bar found in more-expensive MacBook Pros. Now you can no longer avoid the Touch Bar, but it's included for the same $1,299 price, along with the TouchID fingerprint reader and T2 security chip. 
It also jumps from an older dual-core Intel CPU to a newer quad-core version, so the least expensive Pro feels more like, well, a Pro. Case in point, we ran the new quad-core 13-inch MacBook Pro against an older dual-core version. Yes, the eighth-gen chips have an advantage over the seventh-gen ones, but the difference between the two base models is huge. 

Geekbench 4 (multicore)

MacBook Pro 13-inch (quad-core, 2019)
MacBook Pro 13-inch (dual-core, 2017)


Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench R15 CPU (multicore)

MacBook Pro 13-inch (quad-core, 2019)
MacBook Pro 13-inch (dual-core, 2017)


Longer bars indicate better performance

System Configurations

We're currently testing both the new MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, and will report full benchmark results, including battery life, in upcoming reviews. While the Pro is getting a big speed boost, I wouldn't expect any real change in the MacBook Air performance -- the biggest move there is the price. "

Confirmed: Apple's new MacBook Pro gets a big speed boost

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

FCC: Phone Companies Can Block Robocalls by Default

Red vintage phone on the floor

"Unlucky Atlantans

Which area code was hardest hit last month? The 404 area code in Atlanta had that sorry distinction in May, with an estimated 78.7 million robocalls, according to YouMail.
After Atlanta, the next hardest hit area codes were 214 in Dallas, 72.1 million; 832 in Houston, 70 million; 678 in Atlanta, 61.6 million; 954 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., 47.5 million; 817, also in Dallas, 46.3 million; 917 in New York, 45.9 million; 310 in Los Angeles, 45.6 million; 210 in San Antonio, 43.9 million; 702 in Las Vegas, 43.6 million; and 901 in Memphis, Tenn., 42.3 million.
Because you take a cellphone anywhere, YouMail's estimates are based on area codes, regardless of where you actually live, said Alex Quilici, CEO of YouMail.
Under the FCC's decision, customers can opt out of call blocking. They may worry about missing legal automated calls about medical appointments, school closures, flight changes or late payments.
And phone companies will be able, though not required, to charge for the call-blocking service.
YouMail's Quilici said he expects the phone companies first will begin blocking robocalls that are obviously illegal: for example, those displaying area codes and prefixes that don't exist, or numbers that are unassigned.
That means “tons” of robocalls still will be able to get through as carriers judge which calls are wanted and which aren't, he said.
"I think the carriers are going to move slowly and not go whole hog,” he said. “They have to be careful with what they block."
FCC: Phone Companies Can Block Robocalls by Default

Why a Sony User Picks Canon EOS R over the Sony A7III

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Opinion | Why Is America So Far Behind Europe on Digital Privacy?

"By The Editorial Board

In the past year, Congress has been happy to drag tech C.E.O.s into hearings and question them about how they vacuum up and exploit personal information about their users. But so far those hearings haven’t amounted to much more than talk. Lawmakers have yet to do their job and rewrite the law to ensure that such abuses don’t continue.

Americans have been far too vulnerable for far too long when they venture online. Companies are free today to monitor Americans’ behavior and collect information about them from across the web and the real world to do everything from sell them cars to influence their votes to set their life insurance rates — all usually without users’ knowledge of the collection and manipulation taking place behind the scenes. It’s taken more than a decade of shocking revelations — of data breaches and other privacy abuses — to get to this moment, when there finally seems to be enough momentum to pass a federal law. Congress is considering several pieces of legislation that would strengthen Americans’ privacy rights, and alongside them, a few bills that would make it easier for tech companies to strip away what few privacy rights we now enjoy. 

[If you use technology, someone is using your information. We’ll tell you how — and what you can do about it. Sign up for our limited-run newsletter.]

American lawmakers are late to the party. Europe has already set what amounts to a global privacy standard with its General Data Protection Regulation, which went into effect in 2018. G.D.P.R. establishes several privacy rights that do not exist in the United States — including a requirement for companies to inform users about their data practices and receive explicit permission before collecting any personal information. Although Americans cannot legally avail themselves of specific rights under G.D.P.R., the fact that the biggest global tech companies are complying everywhere with the new European rules means that the technocrats in Brussels are doing more for Americans’ digital privacy rights than their own Congress.

The toughest privacy law in the United States today, is the California Consumer Privacy Act, which is set to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020. Just like G.D.P.R., it requires companies to take adequate security measures to protect data and also offers consumers the right to request access to the data that has been collected about them. Under the California law, consumers not only have a right to know whether their data is being sold or handed off to third parties, they also have a right to block that sale. And the opt-out can’t be a false choice — Facebook and Google would not be able to refuse service just because a user didn’t want their data sold.

While the California Legislature is still working out the precise details of the law and its implementation, other states — including New York — are hard at work on their own privacy legislation. The prospect of a patchwork of state-level rules explains why tech companies are suddenly eager for Washington to step in to set a national standard.

If a weak federal privacy law pre-empts state law, it would roll back the protections that Californians are supposed to get — and it would make it impossible for other states to set the bar even higher. That’s exactly what’s going on with privacy bills introduced by Senator Marco Rubio (the American Data Dissemination Act) and Senator Marsha Blackburn (the Balancing the Rights of Web Surfers Equally and Responsibly Act). Both offer weak privacy protections bundled with federal pre-emption. If passed, they would gut the California law. In the House, Representative Suzan DelBene’s Information Transparency and Personal Data Control Act also pre-empts state law, while offering a respectable amount of privacy protection, like a requirement for companies to secure opt-in consent before collecting user data. Still, even that bill lacks some rights that the California law provides.

The Senate bills that take privacy seriously do not contain pre-emption clauses. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto’s DATA Privacy Act, for instance, bears similarities to the California law and to the G.D.P.R., as does Senator Ed Markey’s significantly more ambitious Privacy Bill of Rights Act. Although Ms. Cortez Masto’s bill does not create a private right of action — that is, the ability for consumers to sue tech companies for privacy violations — Mr. Markey’s does, and invalidates arbitration clauses that could otherwise shield companies from individual lawsuits. Consumer lawsuits are a hot-button issue — in the California law, the private right of action exists only in a limited form thanks in part to corporate lobbying. Most interestingly, Mr. Markey’s bill requires the creation of a public list of data brokers in the United States — third party companies who buy and sell your data.

Not all bills on the table take an omnibus approach. Some appear to be highly specific swipes at Facebook. For example, a social media privacy bill introduced by Senators Amy Klobuchar and John Kennedy does not add very much to consumer privacy, but each of its provisions — like one that forbids a change to a product that “overrides the privacy preferences of a user” — seems to be a reference to something Facebook has done in the past. Senators Mark Warner and Deb Fischer have introduced a bill circumscribing experimentation on users without their consent. It might seem shocking that any company would do such a thing, but, in fact, Facebook tinkered with its News Feed in 2014 to test whether it could alter its users’ emotions. (The bill also bars designing sites targeted at children under the age of 13 “with the purpose or substantial effect of cultivating compulsive usage, including video auto-play functions initiated without the consent of a user” — a provision aimed at YouTube and its effect on children.)

Where the Warner/Fischer bill looks to alleviate the harmful effects of data collection on consumers, Senator Josh Hawley’s Do Not Track Act seeks to stop the problem much closer to the source, by creating a Do Not Track system administered by the Federal Trade Commission. Commercial websites would be required by law not to harvest unnecessary data from consumers who have Do Not Track turned on.

A similar idea appeared in a more comprehensive draft bill circulated last year by Senator Ron Wyden, but Mr. Wyden has yet to introduce that bill this session. Instead, like Mr. Warner, he seems to have turned his attention to downstream effects — for the time being, at least. This year, he is sponsoring a bill for algorithmic accountability, requiring the largest tech companies to test their artificial intelligence systems for biases, such as racial discrimination, and to fix those biases that are found. 
A grand bargain privacy bill is said to be in the works, with a handful of lawmakers from both parties haggling privately over the details. Forward-thinking legislation — and the public hearings that would inform its passage — are urgently needed. Americans deserve a robust discussion of what privacy rights they are entitled to and strong privacy laws to protect them. 
Congress’s earliest attempts to regulate computing in the 1980s and 1990s were embarrassing. The Congressional Record shows that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1984, for instance, was prompted by a fantastical Hollywood film about a boy hacker. The Communications Decency Act of 1996 — many sections of which were deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the following year — had its origins in a moral panic about internet pornography touched off by questionable research. All this lent support to the received wisdom that the tech industry is best left to its own devices without the interference of a clueless legislature. More recent attempts, like the abortive Stop Online Piracy Act, an overbroad piece of copyright enforcement legislation that was killed in 2012 after furious backlash from internet users, have not instilled much confidence in Capitol Hill’s understanding of technology. But encouragingly, many of the privacy bills introduced this session show a sophisticated understanding of the market for personal information, the nation’s woefully inadequate cybersecurity and the many dangers posed by a sector of the economy that has proved itself incapable of self-regulation. Legislators have stepped up their game.

A single bill is of course not the end of government’s responsibilities to its citizens. Any regulation must evolve alongside technology to safeguard fundamental freedoms. But a strong law would be a welcome start. The California privacy law will go into effect in less than seven months. Congress should seize the moment and the public momentum to enshrine digital privacy rights into federal law."

Opinion | Why Is America So Far Behind Europe on Digital Privacy?

Are Plastic, Paper Or Reusable Bags Better For The Environment?

The truth about reusable tote bags is more complicated than you might think. That doesn't mean you should stop using them.&nb

"So which choice is the least bad? Well, it depends whom you ask.

In April, Quartz published an article titled “Your cotton tote is pretty much the worst replacement for a plastic bag.” The story was based on a 2018 life cycle assessment of grocery bags from the Danish Environmental Protection Agency, which found that single-use plastic was less detrimental than cotton totes or even paper bags when it comes to how their manufacturing affects climate change, ozone depletion, water use, air pollution and toxicity for humans.

“Cotton bags must be reused thousands of times before they meet the environmental performance of plastic bags — and, the Denmark researchers write, organic cotton is worse than conventional cotton when it comes to overall environmental impact,” according to Quartz."

Are Plastic, Paper Or Reusable Bags Better For The Environment?

Saturday, June 01, 2019

Is Apple Really Killing iTunes?

SHOWDOWN: Powerbeats Pro VS AirPods 2 VS Galaxy Buds!

Opinion | Will the Legitimacy of the Supreme Court Survive the Census Case? - The New York Times

"By Joshua A. Geltzer, www.nytimes.comView OriginalMay 31st, 2019

Last year, the court overlooked the anti-Muslim animus of the travel ban and ruled for the administration. It should not be taken in again.

Mr. Geltzer is the executive director and a visiting professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection.

Demonstrators outside the Supreme Court in April protested the proposed addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

Photo by: Mandel Ngan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Supreme Court is poised to decide one of its most divisive cases since litigation around the travel ban: the challenge to the Trump administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

Even as the justices deliberate on this case, shocking new reporting offers critical support to opponents of the administration’s position. It strongly suggests that the justification from Trump administration lawyers, in their presentation before the Supreme Court, for adding a census question on citizenship was an outright falsehood, or at the least a deliberate pretext. A recently deceased Republican strategist, whose 2015 study showed that adding a citizenship question to the census would supercharge pro-Republican gerrymandering, provided the actual rationale and wrote key language that informed a Justice Department letter claiming that the citizenship question was needed to enforce the Voting Rights Act.

We have seen this drama before. Last year, the Supreme Court faced similar questions of blatant misrepresentation from the Trump administration in the case on the travel ban. The court overlooked the sketchy details in that case and decided in the administration’s favor.

In this term’s most important matter, the court should not be taken in.

During the travel ban case, I remember sitting in the courtroom astonished when the solicitor general claimed to the justices that President Trump had “made crystal-clear” that he had “no intention of imposing the Muslim ban” — a ban that, as a candidate, Mr. Trump had repeatedly promised.

In such a case, the justices look for evidence of animus against a particular group. And so establishing the connection between Mr. Trump’s pervasive anti-Muslim remarks and the ban he promulgated was a core aspect of the challengers’ argument.

Ultimately, the conservative justices in the majority voted to uphold the ban, deciding that it was a valid exercise of the president’s authority.

In the census case, which the Supreme Court will soon decide, the administration was challenged on the grounds that the addition of a citizenship question violated proper administrative procedures and would violate, by design, the constitutional guarantee of equal protection by discriminating against minority groups and immigrants, especially of certain nationalities.

In three federal lawsuits, judges have ruled against the administration’s action.

Much as I was taken aback a year ago as the travel ban case was argued, during argument day for the census case I was astonished to hear the solicitor general insist that the question’s addition was intended to facilitate enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The facts brought out at trial made clear that this was a mere pretext for a pre-existing commitment to adding a citizenship question.

The information recently revealed from the Republican strategist confirms in dramatic fashion what the trial record already showed: The Trump administration’s actual reason for the citizenship question is entrenching Republican political power. Adding the question, according to opponents of the move, would deter many immigrants from participating in the census and thus from being counted, which would in turn help Republicans.

A letter filed on Thursday with the Supreme Court rightly says that adding the question began as an effort “to create a structural electoral advantage” for “‘Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.’” And a judge in the United States District Court in Manhattan, who had ruled against adding the question, set a hearing for next week to evaluate, among other implications, whether these documents mean that key witnesses lied during trial. The hearing may produce stark evidence directly relevant to the Supreme Court’s handling of the case.

On Thursday, the Justice Department said that the new information was merely “a last-ditch effort to derail the Supreme Court’s consideration of this case” and added that the 2015 study had “played no role” in the department’s request to reinstate a citizenship question.

The Justice Department also said that it will explain itself in a court filing. Perhaps there’s some explanation for why this isn’t the smoking gun it appears to be. But we already have a shooting gallery of smoking guns from the trial record demonstrating that the Trump administration’s justification was mere pretext. The new evidence has made it, at a minimum, a lot smokier.

The legitimacy of our judicial system depends on judges and justices deciding cases on the facts — the real facts, not a distortion of them offered by one party to a case.

The Supreme Court now faces a choice: How will a majority of the justices handle another attempt by the Trump administration to mislead the court? There is a sad history, dating at least as far back as the infamous Korematsu decision during World War II — a shameful decision upholding the forcible relocation and internment of Japanese-Americans — of the court reaching unfortunate decisions based on misrepresentations by the government that are later proved false.

But there’s still time for the court to get the census case right by looking past the pretext to the Trump administration’s real motivation for adding a citizenship question. For the sake of its own legitimacy, the court must do so and avoid getting snookered by Trump’s lawyers."

Opinion | Will the Legitimacy of the Supreme Court Survive the Census Case? - The New York Times

Friday, May 31, 2019

OnePlus 7 Pro Review: Silly Fast!

Trump Says U.S. Will Hit Mexico With 5% Tariffs on All Goods

"President Trump on Thursday outside the White House. The administration also said it planned to seek congressional approval of the new trade pact with Mexico and Canada.Tom Brenner for The New York Times

President Trump on Thursday outside the White House. The administration also said it planned to seek congressional approval of the new trade pact with Mexico and Canada.Tom Brenner for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump said Thursday that he would impose a 5 percent tariff on all imported goods from Mexico beginning June 10, a tax that would “gradually increase” until the flow of undocumented immigrants across the border stopped.

The announcement, which Mr. Trump made on his Twitter feed, said the tariffs would be in place “until such time as illegal migrants coming through Mexico, and into our Country, STOP.”

Trump Says U.S. Will Hit Mexico With 5% Tariffs on All Goods

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Best Lenses for Landscape Photography

The new Google Nest brand could lock Amazon Alexa and other third parties out of your smart home - CNET

"The Amazon Echo and the Nest Learning Thermostat are two of the biggest hit products of the smart home. They've also worked together for years. You can ask Alexa, the voice assistant built into the Echo smart speaker, to change the temperature on your Nest thermostat. After Google I/O, this important smart home connection looks in danger of being cut.

Google and Nest have been technically part of the same team since last year, but last week at Google I/O, Nest and the Google smart home team joined into a single brand called Google Nest. In addition to a new product -- the Nest Hub Max -- and a few price cuts, the joined brand also means Google will encourage current Nest customers to merge their previously siloed Nest accounts with Google.

You'll still be able to keep your Nest account, but it will be relegated to a "maintenance mode" and it will only receive security updates. New features will all be designated for Google accounts. If you already center your home around Google's smart home products -- such as the Google Home smart speaker -- this shift isn't likely to have a big effect on you. In fact, more functionality is likely to be rolled into the Google Home app to help encourage customers to move away from the separate Nest app.

If you primarily use Nest products and automated recipes involving third party gadgets, your current smart home set up could turn dumb as soon as August 31, 2019. On that date, Google is shutting down the Works with Nest program, which allowed third party developers, including Amazon, to control Nest gadgets.

Developers can join the Works with Google Assistant program instead, and many of the major brands that work with Nest already work with Google, but the two programs have a few fundamental differences that could sever the connections you have set up at home.

One way commands

Works with Nest allowed third party gadgets to both give and receive info from Nest products like the Nest Learning Thermostat. Works with Google Assistant is tailored for Google to give the commands to third party products, not the other way around.

Abode is a good example of a smart home company that currently works with both systems. Abode makes one of our favorite DIY security systems. Different Abode kits include a variety of sensors, sirens, cameras, and even gadgets like switches, lights and dimmers.

If you integrate Abode with Google Assistant, you can control Abode's lights, switches and dimmers with a voice command to a nearby Google Home (or any other gadget with Google Assistant built-in). If you integrate Abode with Nest, you can tell your Nest Cam to start recording if an Abode motion sensor causes an alarm. You can turn the Nest Thermostat to away mode automatically when you arm your Abode system. The integrations are more robust because Nest can both give and receive information from Abode.

"We've always believed the smart home experience is made better for customers through interoperability and companies working together to give consumers choice," said Chris Carney, CEO and co-founder of Abode. "While Google's choice to shut down the 'Works with Nest' program is contrary to our belief and against the direction we think the smart home needs to move, it is consumers who will be impacted the most."

Right now, Nest products can control Abode products, and Abode products can control Nest products. With Google Assistant, Nest products could be forced onto a one way street.

If Works with Google Assistant doesn't allow input from third party devices by August 31st, the effect on the smart home will be widespread. For Abode that would mean you would no longer be able to trigger an action from one device based on the behavior of another one. In other words, that Nest Thermostat away mode automation when you arm your Abode system would no longer work.

This disconnect will be most widely felt by Nest device owners that use Alexa as their voice assistant. A Google representative offered some reassurance on this front, "We're working with Amazon to migrate the Nest skill on Amazon Alexa to ensure a smooth transition for Nest customers prior to winding down the Works With Nest program"

If Google adds the necessary code to Works with Google Assistant that will let Amazon control Nest devices, that code could theoretically allow other affected manufacturers to keep their current functionality as well.

"Abode will do everything we can to make this as painless as possible for our customers and have already begun working on enhancing our existing Google Assistant integration and will be adding additional features as they become available to us," said Carney.

An Amazon representative put the onus for the change on Google, "I would defer you to the device manufacturer for questions about their products."

Triggering change

Works with Nest and the Nest app are capable of a few other features that Google will need to add by September if they don't want customers to feel any interruption in service. The Nest app allows you to assign levels of access to members of your home, the Google Home app doesn't. If you add someone to your home through Google, they have access to all of your devices and can even remove you from the home.

To be clear, the Nest app isn't shutting down, but given the way Google is pushing people towards Google accounts and away from Nest accounts, the Google Home app will be the new center of the combined brand.

You still can't set up Nest gadgets using the Google Home app. Nest also uses smart home triggers with a lot of third party gadgets. With Philips Hue, Lifx, Lutron and other smart lighting companies, you can program your lights to flash red if your Nest Protect senses smoke. You can have them turn on and off at various intervals when your Nest Thermostat knows you're away in order to fool would be intruders.

In these cases, the Nest product is the one sending the info to the third party gadget and controlling them accordingly. Google might be able to add similar functionality to Works with Google Assistant even if the company doesn't want to receive commands from third party gadgets, but Google doesn't have similar triggers yet.

You can create grouped commands called routines for Google Assistant. Say "good morning" to your Google Home, and it can turn on the lights, set the temperature of your thermostat and even play your favorite podcast. You can customize a routine to trigger on any command you'd like and can even schedule routines to start at a certain time so you don't need to use a voice command.

Google has also promised that you'll be able to trigger morning routines from your phone's alarm, and the upcoming Nest Hub Max smart display will be able to automatically relay personalized information when it recognizes that you've walked into the room. These are all effectively triggers, which is what Nest uses to flash your lights red, but as of now, Google doesn't let you fully customize triggers.

Routines are limited to voice commands, schedules, and potentially a few extras determined by Google. You can't train one smart gadget to respond to the input of another. When asked for comment, the involved smart home companies have generally said that they're working on it.

"We're working closely with Google to continue to deliver the best possible experience to our customers," said a representative from Philips Hue. "For now, we recommend they keep an eye on the Nest FAQ and Google's and our social channels for more updates as we approach August 31, 2019."

A representative from Lifx said that they "are in regular contact with the team there to develop integrations as soon as we hear about any changes to the architecture."

Matt Swatsky, the Vice President of Lutron said, "We look forward to working with Google on their Works with Google Assistant program to determine the best way to take care of our joint customers and maximize the Lutron user experience."

Nest has similar triggers that can turn on smart sprinklers from Rachio when the Nest Protect smells smoke. "We're always evolving and upgrading our integrations, so this will be no different," said Chris Klein, the CEO of Rachio.

One of the reasons Google might not add these triggers is the company's renewed focus on privacy. Along with the new Google Nest brand, Google announced privacy initiatives to keep customers informed about what data their smart home was collecting and how it was being used. If your Nest Thermostat is going to trigger your Philips Hue lights, it needs to share data with Philips.

Lots can happen in the interim

Three and a half months is a long time in the tech world. A Google representative offered more reassurance over email, "The majority of our most popular Works With Nest partners are already up and running with the Works with the Google Assistant platform and we're actively collaborating with other partners on the transition. We're also working to improve Assistant Routines so people will be able to replicate the top integrations."

Even in the unlikely worst case scenario, in which Google doesn't add any of Nest's existing functionality to Google Assistant before shutting down Works with Nest, lots of related smart home integrations will continue to function normally. You'll still be able to control your Nest gadgets with your Google Home. Any integrations you've built around Google Assistant will be unaffected.

Some major Works with Nest brands, like August, are minimizing the impact. August, the makers of the August Smart Lock, is part of the Works with Nest program. You can see the status of your Nest gadgets in the August app and set your thermostat to Home or Away when you lock or unlock your door.

The change should have "a very minimal impact for August customers," said Jason Johnson, CEO of August. "Our Google Assistant integration doesn't change and that is a far more popular integration."

Nevertheless, Amazon and Google are certainly capable of letting ongoing battles affect customers, and if Alexa stops being able to control Nest products, that could have a huge and negative impact on a lot of smart home customers.

Google Nest launched with a cool new product, price cuts, and a renewed focus on privacy. The joined brand makes sense given that the two teams were already ostensibly part of the same unit. Still, joining the brands and ending Works with Nest could make a lot of smart homes much dumber, and Google has a lot of work to do before August 31st to make sure that doesn't happen.

Nest Hub Max, a higher-end smart display for Google Assistant: Google's new premium-tier smart display joins the Nest family and adds a camera.

The best home security systems we've tested: Yes, shopping for the best home security system can be a confusing headache. Fortunately, we've done a lot of the legwork for you."

The new Google Nest brand could lock Amazon Alexa and other third parties out of your smart home - CNET

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Meteor that hit Earth came from beyond the solar system - CNET

"The man who argues interstellar object Oumuamua could have been an alien spacecraft now says a meteor that hit Earth's atmosphere in 2014 also came from elsewhere in the Milky Way, perhaps carrying life with it.

Harvard astronomer Abraham "Avi" Loeb and undergraduate student Amir Siraj have drafted a new paper identifying the second cosmic object to visit the inner solar system from beyond (Oumuamua being the first). The paper has been submitted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, but has yet to be peer reviewed.

"The reported meteor entered the solar system with a speed of 60 km/s (134,216 mph) relative to the local standard of rest (obtained by averaging the motion of all stars in the vicinity of the Sun)," Loeb wrote in an email. "Such a high ejection speed can only be produced in the innermost cores of planetary systems -- interior to the orbit of the Earth around a star like the sun, but in the habitable zone of dwarf stars, hence allowing such objects to carry life from their parent planets."

In other words, according to Siraj and Loeb's calculations, something happened a long, long time ago in a star system far, far away that caused some space debris to be launched into interstellar space at a very high velocity. After traveling some unknown number of light-years at high speed, this interstellar interloper the size of a kitchen oven smacked into our atmosphere on Jan. 8, 2014."

Meteor that hit Earth came from beyond the solar system - CNET

Diffraction WRECKS sharpness: Photography physics

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus review: the anti-iPhone - The Verge

"Every year for the past decade, Samsung has released a steady beat of new Galaxy S phones. The early Galaxy S phones were good, but not great, and were such close copies of the iPhone that Apple sued Samsung over them and won.

It took Samsung a few years to hit its stride with high-end hardware, and the last few Galaxy S phones have been considerably better, if a bit predictable. This year’s Galaxy S10 family is no different: these are high-end phones with cutting edge technology and sleek designs.

What Samsung has gained over the past 10 years is an identity. The Galaxy S10 is distinctly Samsung — it’s not a copy of the iPhone or any other device you can buy. In fact, it almost feels like the opposite of the iPhone: if you’ve been frustrated with Apple’s recent devices for lacking headphone jacks, adding notches, or removing fingerprint scanners, Samsung is here for you with a headphone jack, a fingerprint scanner, and a notchless screen design (that has some other compromises). It feels a bit like the S10 is the anti-iPhone.

That isn’t to say there aren’t similarities between Apple’s flagship and Samsung’s. For one thing, both are expensive: the Galaxy S10 starts at $899.99, while the S10 Plus that I’ve been testing for the past week starts at $999.99. You can even option an S10 Plus out to a staggering $1,600 — that’s nearly three times the starting cost of the popular OnePlus 6T.

The other thing that the S10 shares with the iPhone is a lack of a compelling differentiator from its previous iterations. Sure, the screen is bigger and there are some incremental advancements in performance and battery life, but an S10 is not going to change much for you if you have a Galaxy S8 or S9.

That said, the S10 is one of the best phones you can buy right now, and the best Galaxy S phone Samsung has ever made. It’s just going to cost you."

Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus review: the anti-iPhone - The Verge

The Galaxy S10 is fantastic - Video - CNET

The Galaxy S10 is fantastic - Video - CNET

HP Spectre x360 15" Gem Cut Review- GTX 1050 Ti MQ + 6 Core CPU

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

MICROPHONES... Here's what you need to know

Have Dark Forces Been Messing With the Cosmos? - The New York Times

"There was, you might say, a disturbance in the Force.

Long, long ago, when the universe was only about 100,000 years old — a buzzing, expanding mass of particles and radiation — a strange new energy field switched on. That energy suffused space with a kind of cosmic antigravity, delivering a not-so-gentle boost to the expansion of the universe.

Then, after another 100,000 years or so, the new field simply winked off, leaving no trace other than a speeded-up universe.

So goes the strange-sounding story being promulgated by a handful of astronomers from Johns Hopkins University. In a bold and speculative leap into the past, the team has posited the existence of this field to explain an astronomical puzzle: the universe seems to be expanding faster than it should be.

The cosmos is expanding only about 9 percent more quickly than theory prescribes. But this slight-sounding discrepancy has intrigued astronomers, who think it might be revealing something new about the universe.

And so, for the last couple of years, they have been gathering in workshops and conferences to search for a mistake or loophole in their previous measurements and calculations, so far to no avail.

“If we’re going to be serious about cosmology, this is the kind of thing we have to be able to take seriously,” said Lisa Randall, a Harvard theorist who has been pondering the problem.

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At a recent meeting in Chicago, Josh Frieman, a theorist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill., asked: “At what point do we claim the discovery of new physics?”

Now ideas are popping up. Some researchers say the problem could be solved by inferring the existence of previously unknown subatomic particles. Others, such as the Johns Hopkins group, are invoking new kinds of energy fields.

Adding to the confusion, there already is a force field — called dark energy — making the universe expand faster. And a new, controversial report suggests that this dark energy might be getting stronger and denser, leading to a future in which atoms are ripped apart and time ends.

Thus far, there is no evidence for most of these ideas. If any turn out to be right, scientists may have to rewrite the story of the origin, history and, perhaps, fate of the universe.

Or it could all be a mistake. Astronomers have rigorous methods to estimate the effects of statistical noise and other random errors on their results; not so for the unexamined biases called systematic errors.

As Wendy L. Freedman, of the University of Chicago, said at the Chicago meeting, “The unknown systematic is what gets you in the end.”

Hubble trouble

Generations of great astronomers have come to grief trying to measure the universe. At issue is a number called the Hubble constant, named after Edwin Hubble, the Mount Wilson astronomer who in 1929 discovered that the universe is expanding.

As space expands, it carries galaxies away from each other like the raisins in a rising cake. The farther apart two galaxies are, the faster they will fly away from each other. The Hubble constant simply says by how much.

But to calibrate the Hubble constant, astronomers depend on so-called standard candles: objects, such as supernova explosions and certain variable stars, whose distances can be estimated by luminosity or some other feature. This is where the arguing begins.

Until a few decades ago, astronomers could not agree on the value of the Hubble constant within a factor of two: either 50 or 100 kilometers per second per megaparsec. (A megaparsec is 3.26 million light years.)

But in 2001, a team using the Hubble Space Telescope, and led by Dr. Freedman, reported a value of 72. For every megaparsec farther away from us that a galaxy is, it is moving 72 kilometers per second faster.

More recent efforts by Adam G. Riess, of Johns Hopkins and the Space Telescope Science Institute, and others have obtained similar numbers, and astronomers now say they have narrowed the uncertainty in the Hubble constant to just 2.4 percent.

But new precision has brought new trouble. These results are so good that they now disagree with results from the European Planck spacecraft, which predict a Hubble constant of 67.

The discrepancy — 9 percent — sounds fatal but may not be, astronomers contend, because Planck and human astronomers do very different kinds of observations.

Planck is considered the gold standard of cosmology. It spent four years studying the cosmic bath of microwaves left over from the end of the Big Bang, when the universe was just 380,000 years old. But it did not measure the Hubble constant directly. Rather, the Planck group derived the value of the constant, and other cosmic parameters, from a mathematical model largely based on those microwaves.

In short, Planck’s Hubble constant is based on a cosmic baby picture. In contrast, the classical astronomical value is derived from what cosmologists modestly call “local measurements,” a few billion light-years deep into a middle-aged universe.

What if that baby picture left out or obscured some important feature of the universe?

‘Cosmological Whac-a-Mole’

And so cosmologists are off to the game that Lloyd Knox, an astrophysicist from the University of California, Davis, called “cosmological Whac-a-Mole” at the recent Chicago meeting: attempting to fix the model of the early universe, to make it expand a little faster without breaking what the model already does well.

One approach, some astrophysicists suggest, is to add more species of lightweight subatomic particles, such as the ghostlike neutrinos, to the early universe. (Physicists already recognize three kinds of neutrinos, and argue whether there is evidence for a fourth variety.) These would give the universe more room to stash energy, in the same way that more drawers in your dresser allow you to own more pairs of socks. Thus invigorated, the universe would expand faster, according to the Big Bang math, and hopefully not mess up the microwave baby picture.

A more drastic approach, from the Johns Hopkins group, invokes fields of exotic anti-gravitational energy. The idea exploits an aspect of string theory, the putative but unproven “theory of everything” that posits that the elementary constituents of reality are very tiny, wriggling strings.

String theory suggests that space could be laced with exotic energy fields associated with lightweight particles or forces yet undiscovered. Those fields, collectively called quintessence, could act in opposition to gravity, and could change over time — popping up, decaying or altering their effect, switching from repulsive to attractive.

The team focused in particular on the effects of fields associated with hypothetical particles called axions. Had one such field arisen when the universe was about 100,000 years old, it could have produced just the right amount of energy to fix the Hubble discrepancy, the team reported in a paper late last year. They refer to this theoretical force as “early dark energy.”

“I was surprised how it came out,” said Marc Kamionkowski, a Johns Hopkins cosmologist who was part of the study. “This works.”

The jury is still out. Dr. Riess said that the idea seems to work, which is not to say that he agrees with it, or that it is right. Nature, manifest in future observations, will have the final say.

Dr. Knox called the Johns Hopkins paper “an existence proof” that the Hubble problem could be solved. “I think that’s new,” he said.

Dr. Randall, however, has taken issue with aspects of the Johns Hopkins calculations. She and a trio of Harvard postdocs are working on a similar idea that she says works as well and is mathematically consistent. “It’s novel and very cool,” Dr. Randall said.

So far, the smart money is still on cosmic confusion. Michael Turner, a veteran cosmologist at the University of Chicago and the organizer of a recent airing of the Hubble tensions, said, “Indeed, all of this is going over all of our heads. We are confused and hoping that the confusion will lead to something good!”

Doomsday? Nah, nevermind

Early dark energy appeals to some cosmologists because it hints at a link to, or between, two mysterious episodes in the history of the universe. As Dr. Riess said, “This is not the first time the universe has been expanding too fast.”

The first episode occurred when the universe was less than a trillionth of a trillionth of a second old. At that moment, cosmologists surmise, a violent ballooning propelled the Big Bang; in a fraction of a trillionth of a second, this event — named “inflation” by the cosmologist Alan Guth, of M.I.T. — smoothed and flattened the initial chaos into the more orderly universe observed today. Nobody knows what drove inflation.

The second episode is unfolding today: cosmic expansion is speeding up. But why? The issue came to light in 1998, when two competing teams of astronomers asked whether the collective gravity of the galaxies might be slowing the expansion enough to one day drag everything together into a Big Crunch.

To great surprise, they discovered the opposite: the expansion was accelerating under the influence of an anti-gravitational force later called dark energy. The two teams won a Nobel Prize.

Dark energy comprises 70 percent of the mass-energy of the universe. And, spookily, it behaves very much like a fudge factor known as the cosmological constant, a cosmic repulsive force that Einstein inserted in his equations a century ago thinking it would keep the universe from collapsing under its own weight. He later abandoned the idea, perhaps too soon.

Under the influence of dark energy, the cosmos is now doubling in size every 10 billion years — to what end, nobody knows.

Early dark energy, the force invoked by the Johns Hopkins group, might represent a third episode of antigravity taking over the universe and speeding it up. Perhaps all three episodes are different manifestations of the same underlying tendency of the universe to go rogue and speed up occasionally. In an email, Dr. Riess said, “Maybe the universe does this from time-to-time?”

If so, it would mean that the current manifestation of dark energy is not Einstein’s constant after all. It might wink off one day. That would relieve astronomers, and everybody else, of an existential nightmare regarding the future of the universe. If dark energy remains constant, everything outside our galaxy eventually will be moving away from us faster than the speed of light, and will no longer be visible. The universe will become lifeless and utterly dark.

But if dark energy is temporary — if one day it switches off — cosmologists and metaphysicians can all go back to contemplating a sensible tomorrow.

“An appealing feature of this is that there might be a future for humanity,” said Scott Dodelson, a theorist at Carnegie Mellon who has explored similar scenarios.

The phantom cosmos

But the future is still up for grabs.

Far from switching off, the dark energy currently in the universe actually has increased over cosmic time, according to a recent report in Nature Astronomy. If this keeps up, the universe could end one day in what astronomers call the Big Rip, with atoms and elementary particles torn asunder — perhaps the ultimate cosmic catastrophe.

This dire scenario emerges from the work of Guido Risaliti, of the University of Florence in Italy, and Elisabeta Lusso, of Durham University in England. For the last four years, they have plumbed the deep history of the universe, using violent, faraway cataclysms called quasars as distance markers.

Quasars arise from supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies; they are the brightest objects in nature, and can be seen clear across the universe. As standard candles, quasars aren’t ideal because their masses vary widely. Nevertheless, the researchers identified some regularities in the emissions from quasars, allowing the history of the cosmos to be traced back nearly 12 billion years. The team found that the rate of cosmic expansion deviated from expectations over that time span.

One interpretation of the results is that dark energy is not constant after all, but is changing, growing denser and thus stronger over cosmic time. It so happens that this increase in dark energy also would be just enough to resolve the discrepancy in measurements of the Hubble constant.

The bad news is that, if this model is right, dark energy may be in a particularly virulent and — most physicists say — implausible form called phantom energy. Its existence would imply that things can lose energy by speeding up, for instance. Robert Caldwell, a Dartmouth physicist, has referred to it as “bad news stuff.”

As the universe expands, the push from phantom energy would grow without bounds, eventually overcoming gravity and tearing apart first Earth, then atoms.

The Hubble-constant community responded to the new report with caution. “If it holds up, this is a very interesting result,” said Dr. Freedman.

Astronomers have been trying to take the measure of this dark energy for two decades. Two space missions — the European Space Agency’s Euclid and NASA’s Wfirst — have been designed to study dark energy and hopefully deliver definitive answers in the coming decade. The fate of the universe is at stake.

In the meantime, everything, including phantom energy, is up for consideration, according to Dr. Riess.

“In a list of possible solutions to the tension via new physics, mentioning weird dark energy like this would seem appropriate,” he wrote in an email. “Heck, at least their dark energy goes in the right direction to solve the tension. It could have gone the other way and made it worse!”

Have Dark Forces Been Messing With the Cosmos? - The New York Times

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Google calls Nest's hidden microphone an 'error' - CNET


"Google's line of Nest Secure had microphones, but you wouldn't know that from the product's specs or the company itself.

It became apparent after Feb. 4, when Google announced that its voice assistant would be coming to Nest Secure. The microphone has never been listed on Nest Secure's technical specifications, and was not publicized from Google. 

In a statement first reported by Business Insider, Google said the omission was a mistake.

"The on-device microphone was never intended to be a secret and should have been listed in the tech specs. That was an error on our part. The microphone has never been on and is only activated when users specifically enable the option," a Google spokesperson said in an email to CNET.

The spokesperson added that Nest Secure had the microphone for future features like detecting the sound of glass breaking.

The omission strikes as a privacy concern for many, as the microphone has been on Nest's home security hub since 2017. Google has also been in hot water over privacy issues, facing a $57 million fine in Europe for violating the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation.

The tech giant was also slammed for its location data tracking practices, along with allowing third-party developers to read people's emails on Gmail.

Last September, Google's chief privacy officer Keith Enright told the Senate Commerce Committee that the company has made mistakes on privacy issues. The hidden microphone is Google's latest error in privacy.

Correction: The microphone was on Nest Secure's home security hub, not its cameras. 

Originally published at 7:15 a.m. PT.

Updated at 7:34 a.m. PT: To include details on privacy issues and Google.

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Google calls Nest's hidden microphone an 'error' - CNET