All posts by John Skrhak

John Skrhak | Gadgets, Sports and Toys Fanatic | Read about them all here.

Kevlar cartilage could help you recover from joint injuries

You don’t even need a lot of it to replicate a human body’s sturdiness and overall functionality. A material with 92 percent water is about as tough as real cartilage, while a 70 percent mix is comparable to rubber. Previous attempts at simulating cartilage couldn’t hold enough water to transport nutrients to cells, which made them a poor fit for implants.

There’s a long way to go before the material becomes useful. Researchers are hoping to patent the substance and find companies to make it a practical reality. The implications are already quite clear, mind you. If it works as well in patients as it does in lab experiments, it could lead to cartilage implants that are roughly as good as the real tissue they replace. A serious knee injury might not put an end to your running days.

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The 12 best Black Friday camera deals we’ve found so far

Editor’s note: Updated November 19, 2017 with BH and Adorama Black Friday deals and pruned expired ones.

There still aren’t a lot  Black Friday deals on cameras to get excited about — at least not yet, or unless you want to wade into some murky shopping waters. For instance, Abe’s of Maine deals are so good they’re suspect, and the best deals at Ritz Camera tend to be “international” versions; in other words, gray market, so there’s no US warranty. 

For those unacquainted with my holiday shopping philosophies, I don’t consider bundles with massive amounts of mostly useless, zero-profit-margin accessories at higher prices good deals; the only thing that makes the bundle more valuable are lenses, and depending upon the camera, possibly a battery grip. 

That leaves you predominantly with the manufacturer’s seasonal discounts, where more mainstream places like BH, Adorama or Best Buy just shave a few trivial bucks off most already-discounted models.  I’ll update as I see more aggressive price cuts.

The Canon printer and dSLR bundle

Canon’s offering a rebate on a few of its photo printers if you buy one in conjunction with many of its dSLRs, and there are several prebuilt bundles for the EOS 5D Mark IV and EOS 6D Mark II with the Pixma Pro-100 and a $350 mail-in offer. The ultimate price of the camera does turns out lower than without the printer rebate.  Since a lot of folks never mail in the rebates, I kind of think this means a lot of hoop jumping unless you actually want one of the printers, which makes me ambivalent about the deals, despite the fact you can ultimately get the 5D Mark IV body for $2,850 at Adorama (requires code CADEAL2016), or bupkes, if you do the work. 

But if you’re inclined to take advantage of the offer, keep a few of things in mind. First, because it has a higher initial price than you’d see without the printer, you’ll be paying more sales tax (where applicable). Second, the rebate comes in the form of an American Express Reward Card, and if you don’t spend it all within seven months they’ll start charging you $2 a month, and you can’t cash it in for cash. Third, you’re going to have to find something to do with that printer unless you wanted it. It runs through the end of December, so you have some time to decide.

Adorama deals: Canon | Nikon | Sony | Fujifilm | Olympus | Panasonic

BH deals: Canon | Nikon | Sony

In any case, here are my picks of the products worth buying at their current seasonal prices as well as the Black Friday discounts. 

Nikon D3300 (with 18-55mm II lens, Black)

Nikon D3400 with the AF-P 18-55mm VR lens

Sarah Tew/CNET

Best dSLR value under $500
Nikon D3400 with AF-P DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR Lens

While you can find cheaper, more accessory-packed entry-level dSLR kits, these D3400-based options combine one of the best products in its price class with good value for the money. 

My top pick here is the Nikon D3400 with AF-P DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR Lens for a hair under $500. (Note that “VR” here stands for “vibration reduction,” Nikon’s term for image stabilization, and not virtual reality.) Since it’s a manufacturer discount, you can get it directly from Nikon, or for $4 less from BH, Adorama, Amazon and elsewhere.

 Buy from NikonBuy from BHBuy from AdoramaBuy from Amazon

Three-lens bundle for $800:  If you’re okay spending more than $500, Nikon also offers a deal on a very clever bundle: A “parent’s” kit, which runs about $770 for the body plus three lenses. On one hand, I’m not jazzed about the combination of the AF-P versions of the 18-55mm and 70-300mm (which come as part of another dual-lens kit bundle) because it leaves the 55mm-70mm range open. I like a 18-55mm and 55-200mm option more, but Nikon doesn’t have an AF-P version of that lens, yet. 

But for the triple-lens Parent’s Camera Kit, Nikon throws in a 35mm f1.8 as well, a fast lens that will let you shoot in low light. The price went up from $770 to $800, but it’s still a good deal. Sadly, this bundle only comes with the red model.

Buy from Nikon | Buy from BH 

Nikon D5600

The Nikon D5600 with the AF-P 18-55mm lens

Sarah Tew/CNET

Best kit under $1,000 
Nikon D5600 with AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-140mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens for about $950

Once again, there are tons of combinations of bodies and lenses on sale this time of year, but the excellent D5600 paired with a solid general-purpose lens like the 18-140mm is a great bet. Nikon lists it as back-ordered on its site, but you can get it from Amazon, Adorama, Best Buy and so on.

Buy from AmazonBuy from AdoramaBuy from Best Buy 

Another good option: the dual-lens kit, with the 18-55mm and 75-300mm AF-P lenses, for $797 at BH.

Buy from BH

Sony Alpha ILCE-7 (A7)

Sony A7 with FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Lens

Sarah Tew/CNET

Best body under $1,000
Sony A7 for $800

The priced dropped even more since I wrote this story, down to about $799. At that price, it goes from a pretty sweet deal to a steal. Though several generations old and not the fastest camera, the Sony A7, aka the ILCE-7, is a full-frame model for less than $1,000. Plus, it’s far more compact than Nikon and Canon’s newer and a lot more expensive dSLR versions. You’ll also want to pick up a spare battery or two, since the A7 has sad battery life.

Buy from BH | Buy from Adorama | Buy from Best Buy | Buy from Amazon

Kit with 28-70mm lens for $1,000: The price on this dropped as well, hitting just under $1,000. The 28-70mm isn’t my favorite E-Mount lens, but it’s one of the least expensive ones, so it’s a reasonable choice if you want to get up and shooting immediately. 

Buy from AmazonBuy from Adorama | Buy from BH | Buy from Best Buy

More good deals 


Sony A6000 with 16-50mm power zoom lens

Lori Grunin/CNET

Sony A6000 dual-lens kit for $700

My perennial gifting go-to, the Sony A6000 APS-C mirrorless, comes in a kit with the 16-50mm and 55-210mm power zoom lenses for $700 at places like BHAdoramaAmazon and Best Buy, which is a great value.

Buy from Amazon | Buy from BH | Buy from Adorama | Buy from Best Buy

Another option: The successor to the A6000, the A6300, is dropping into solid-deal territory as well. You can get a dual-lens kit with the A6300 for just under $1,000 at BH, which is a good price for it.

Buy from BH


Panasonic GH4

Lori Grunin/CNET

Panasonic GH4 for $900

The GH4 has been replaced by the Panasonic Lumix GH5, but this groundbreaking-for-video Micro Four Thirds mirrorless still holds its own for 4K videography, and it’s now a really good value for the money. BH offers the GH4 for the same price as everyone else, but throws in a Rode VideoMic kit  or an alternative model with the  V-Log L firmware update — Panasonic charges for it. 

Buy from BH (Rode mic) | Buy from BH (with V-Log L) 


Nikon D7500 with 18-140mm lens


Nikon D7500 with 18-140mm lens for $1,550

Most of the discounts you see before December are on inventory the manufacturers are trying to dump. And while Nikon’s discount on this new, terrific midrange model optimized for action photography isn’t that big, combined with the discount on the lens this Nikon D7500 bundle makes a pretty compelling option for the money. 

Buy from Nikon | Buy from BH | Buy from Adorama | Buy from Best Buy 


Canon EOS Rebel T6i

Sarah Tew / CNET

Canon EOS Rebel T6i dual-lens kit for $900

Canon’s T6 looks alluringly cheap this time of year, but the Canon EOS Rebel T6i is a better camera — almost anything is — so if price matters go for one of the D3400 deals I mentioned earlier. You can get the generation-old T6i for $750 with the 18-55mm lens, but the best value is the $900 kit with the 18-55mm and 55-200mm lenses from BH. Everyone else tries to sell you the Creator’s Kit, which has the lenses and other video-related paraphernalia for $50 more. There’s also a kit with the 18-135mm and 55-250mm lenses for $1,100, but that’s a strange pairing that overlaps quite a bit. 

Buy from BH


OM-D E-M5 Mark II with 24-40mm f2.8 lens 

Lori Grunin/CNET

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with M.Zuiko ED 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO Lens for $1,500

A very nice Micro Four Thirds mirrorless, the E-M5 Mark II is on sale for $800, the price it really belongs at (not $1,100). Olympus doesn’t really specify kit discounts, but it offers lens discounts when purchased with a body. You get a nice price when you pair the pricey 12-40mm f2.8 lens — one of my favorites — with the Mark II for $1,500 all told, effectively giving you about $300 off the lens. And BH has bundled it all up for you.

Buy from BH


GoPro Hero5 Black

Joshua Goldman/CNET

GoPro Hero5 Black for $350 at Target on Black Friday

Target‘s the only retailer that’s announced any Black Friday-specific camera deals as yet, and when its doors open at 6 p.m. local time on Thursday you’ll be able to get the GoPro Hero5 for $350, $50 less than the usual price.

Black Friday dealsSee every Black Friday 2017 deal we’ve found so far

Holiday Gift GuideCNET’s full gift guide, including dozens of products priced under $25, $50 and $100


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‘SNL’ viewers want ‘Come Back, Barack’ song to hit iTunes

This “Saturday Night Live” skit starts out with what seems like a simple love song, performed ’90s RB style, as host Chance the Rapper, Kenan Thompson and Chris Redd croon about how much they miss a lost love.

But then it’s revealed that the object of their affections is… former President Barack Obama, and the song takes on a fresh meaning.

“And every night, I turn the TV on and cry, and I say, why, I feel like we’re all gonna die, so come back, Barack,” they sing. “We didn’t know just what we had. Now things are looking bad. Like. really bad, like world war bad, like nuclear bad.” 

The three muse about Obama’s seemingly picture-perfect retirement, as he hang-glides, vacations in Hawaii and takes his daughter Malia to college, while wondering if they could perhaps bring him back for a speech — soon realizing his speaking fee is out of their price range.

“How much would that cost?” they ponder. “For real? Oh, no, we definitely can’t afford that.” The singers consider a few more candidates for the 2020 presidential election. (“Maybe Michelle could run?” “I’d vote for Joe Biden.” “And what about George Clooney? I mean, that dude was Batman, that’d be cool.”)

But in the end, they decide, “you know what? I don’t think the three of us have the firmest grasp on government.”

The catchy, Boyz II Men-style tune had fans raving, and many of them immediately proclaimed they’d buy it from a streaming music service.

Some suggested that if the song was sold, proceeds should go to charity. That’s not a foreign idea. Chance the Rapper announced in September that his SocialWorks youth-empowerment organization has raised $2.2 million for Chicago public schools.

In his show-opening monologue, he announced that he wanted to donate another million dollars, and offered up a Thanksgiving-themed song in hopes it would help him make that goal. But many on social media felt “Come Back, Barack” was the one that would sell better.

NBC did not immediately reply to CNET’s request for comment on whether the song will be sold.

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How NASA will defend the Earth against plagues from outer space

Biological contamination goes both ways, mind you. Just as important as keeping extraterrestrial organisms from reaching the surface (aka “backward contamination”) is ensuring that our planetary probes carry as few microbial hitchhikers from Earth as possible (“forward contamination”). To that end, in 1958, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) issued a decree urging “that scientists plan lunar and planetary studies with great care and deep concern so that initial operations do not compromise and make impossible forever after critical scientific experiments.”

The following year, the newly formed Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) argued “that all practical steps should be taken to ensure that Mars be not biologically contaminated” until an exhaustive search for life on the planet had been undertaken. These recommendations became law in 1967 when the US, the USSR and the UK all signed onto the United Nations Outer Space Treaty.

“Part of our thinking about planetary protection is that we want to make sure that we safeguard to any future human exploration,” Dr. Lucianne Walkowicz, an astronomer at Adler Planetarium and the Astrobiology Chair at the Library of Congress, told Engadget. “When we bring spacecraft to other worlds (or eventually human beings), we want to make sure that we understand that environment. That means being relatively cautious about contaminating it.”

However, not every extraterrestrial target of human interest requires the same degree of caution. Places like the Sun or Mercury, which are almost assuredly devoid of biological organisms, don’t require the same level of protection as, say, Mars or the Moon, which are just heavily irradiated and desperately cold. In fact, COSPAR has developed a 5-category system which space agencies must abide by when they’re developing their planetary probes:

  • Category I covers places with little chance of finding even basic forms of life, like Mercury.

  • Category II includes places that might be explored for the origins of life but where the chances of contamination by Earthly microbes is remote. Think Venus or the Moon.

  • Category III regulates flyby and orbiter missions where the chances of contamination are moderate, like Mars or Europa. This is why Cassini was thrown into Saturn: we couldn’t have it falling into Enceladus or Titan.

  • Category IV regulates lander or probe missions to the same places as category III, though it is further divided into a series of subclasses based on specific regions of the planet’s surface and what the lander is actually looking for.

  • Category V is what happens if there’s a good chance we’ll pick up a Blob in space. It demands “absolute prohibition of destructive impact upon return, containment of all returned hardware which directly contacted the target body, and containment of any unsterilized sample returned to Earth.”

“I think they’re good for us as a working framework,” Walkowicz said. “They certainly have served us well in the history of exploration and our solar system thus far.”

It’s extremely important that space agencies understand the categorical protection requirements of their mission, explains Dr. John Rummel, Senior Scientist at the SETI Institute and former NASA Planetary Protection Officer. “If you tell someone at the last minute they going to do something they had never been planning on, well, they may have to re-engineer entire spacecraft,” he told Engadget. “If, on the other hand, they anticipate these requirements from the beginning… then it’s not that big of a deal.”

This planetary protection scheme is designed to minimize the damage from both forward and backward contamination. “We really want to safeguard our own planet’s biosphere we have all these wonderful living things here,” Walkowicz said. “We want to make sure that we can explore and bring back the samples and use the benefits of our Earthly labs without endangering the world.”

Dr. Rummel, however, is not particularly concerned. “In my opinion, there is a reasonable possibility that nothing we could do with a sample return done robotically would bring back anything that’s alive,” he said.

Rummel argues that any microorganisms hitching a ride from Mars aboard a material sample would be woefully ill-equipped to handle the rigors of interplanetary flight. “We don’t know what those organisms require so the chance that we get lucky and bring them back alive is small.”

That said, Rummel acknowledges the value in assuming the worst. “The National Research Council and Space Studies Board have always maintained that we will contain [returned samples] as if they’re the most hazardous thing on Earth until we prove that it’s safe,” he continued. “There’s no upside in cutting corners.”

To ensure that outbound spacecraft remain sterile until they’re launched, the OPP has traditionally relied on a process known as Dry Heat Microbial Reduction (DHMR). This involves baking individual spacecraft components at temperatures of 110 degrees Celsius for 47 hours or 125C for 5 hours with zero relative humidity.

First utilized for the Viking missions, “it’s a very handy technology,” Walkowicz explained. “It’s very effective on surfaces, but also between surfaces or even within materials, which is why it has widespread adoption.”

There are limitations to this method, however. It cannot sterilize an entire spacecraft, for example, as everything from electronic components to structural adhesives and landing parachutes would be destroyed by the heat. As such, NASA has been researching alternative methods to augment the DHMR process, many of which hail from existing medical technologies.

Of particular interest for Mars exploration is supercritical carbon dioxide cleaning. Carbon dioxide is held under extremely low temperature and at extremely high pressure so it exhibits qualities of both a gas and a liquid. When mixed with peracetic acid (PAA), it can be used to sterilize materials. What’s more, Walkowicz said, given the planet’s high CO2 content “maybe there would be a way to develop technology that could use Mars’s atmosphere in some way to create a local bioburden reducing technology… and do that in situ.”

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab is also developing a technique dubbed vapor phase hydrogen peroxide (VHP) sterilization, which is generated from a solution of liquid H2O2 and water. When concentrated between 140 ppm and 1400 ppm, it acts as an antimicrobial agent. However, “the limitation there is that it’s never been used at a systemic level — like the whole spacecraft level — so you could do it on smaller components but not necessarily the entire craft,” Walkowicz said. There’s also the danger of it becoming too concentrated. If VHP levels reach 75 ppm, it becomes toxic to humans.

There is also work being done with ethylene oxide as a sterilizer, though Walkowicz points out that ethylene oxide is “kind of explosive.” Ionizing radiation techniques are also being explored. The parachute for the Beagle 2 mission, for example, could not withstand DHMR, so NASA scientists subjected it to radioactive sterilization instead. Beyond that, the NASA Mars Exploration Program has examined leveraging electron beam sterilization, which is already utilized in food processing, as a means of cleaning spacecraft.

Of course, there is also the chance that we’re overthinking this whole issue, at least as it applies to Mars exploration. Rummel hypothesizes that there was a natural interchange of biology between Mars and Earth some 4 billion years ago that potentially renders our efforts moot:

Imagine that life originated on Mars. Life was knocked off of Mars by a large impact event which made Mars rocks eventually come to Earth. The Earth, without any life, is seeded by Mars rocks and then all of a sudden you have all these Mars organisms living on the Earth… the natural response of Earth and Mars together would be the evolution of animals, plants and whatnot. So we could all be Martians and that is as bad as it gets, I think.

Whether we need the protection or not, there are a number of ways that future interplanetary explorers might avoid the biological pitfalls of Mars. “We tend to think of it as being robotic exploration or human exploration,” Walkowicz said. “In reality we see humans and robots cooperate all the time in exploration on Earth” such as the Fukushima power plant cleanup or subsea exploration in Antarctica.

“We often send robotic probes and I think that that’s something that we’re likely to see in some of those early explorations of Mars that involves a human component,” she continued. Essentially, astronauts would either remain in orbit or sequestered in a planet-side bunker and remotely control robotic rovers who would do the legwork on our behalf. “The other possibility is, instead of worrying about cleaning your spacecraft off afterwards, you construct it as cleanly as you possibly can” from the start.

In the end, Walkowicz argues, planetary protection requirements should not be viewed as a hindrance to space exploration, but rather, an asset. “If we want to answer some of those difficult questions about the origin of life, if we really want to understand Mars or Europa or any of these worlds as astrobiological resources, we have to fold planetary protection into our thinking,” she said. “It enables the science that we want to be able to do.”

Or, as Rummel points out, “To paraphrase Franklin Roosevelt, ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.'” Well, that and the space plague.

Images: United Nations (Outer Space Treaty signing); NASA (clean room and Carl Sagan with Voyager 1)

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2019 Mercedes-Benz CLS teased ahead of LA debut

The 2017 Los Angeles auto show is just around the corner, which means it’s teaser time! Mercedes-Benz is the next automaker on the teaser train with a shadowy looks at its upcoming 2019 CLS.

Here’s what we know: This is an all-new CLS, updating its luxury four-door coupe format with a new look that borrows styling cues from E-Class and S-Class Coupes that bookend it in Mercedes-Benz’s lineup, both on the outside and within. Beneath, it will be underpinned by the new MRA (Modular Rear Architecture) platform, which it also shares with the E-Class. And in the cabin, we’re looking forward to an update to Benz’s new-generation cabin technology suite with the automaker’s mbrace connectivity suite.


Daimler AG – Global Communication

Benz recently showed off a CLS prototype in San Francisco, where we learned that the new model will debut in the U.S. as the CLS450 or CLS450 4Matic, the latter boasting all-wheel drive. Both will be powered by Benz’s inline-six cylinder engine that makes 367 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque and makes use of the automaker’s 48-volt EQ-Power mild hybrid system to enable smoother stop-start anti-idling tech to save fuel. 

We expect to get a clearer look and to learn more about the CLS at the 2017 LA Auto Show in just a few days, so stay tuned. 

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This crazy Bluetooth speaker turntable system actually works


The+Record Player 


I first heard about The+Record Player when it was a Kickstarter project, and thought this one-piece Bluetooth speaker and turntable was a silly idea. Think about it: Turntables have to be isolated from external vibration to sound their best, and speakers make sound with vibrating woofers and dome tweeters. So how could you mate a speaker with a turntable? 

Answer: +Audio’s engineer Bob Hazelwood is a clever guy and he made it work with extensive internal cabinet bracing and anti-vibration techniques. Hazelwood has been in the audio business for 35 years and previously worked at JBL and Cambridge SoundWorks.

Hearing is believing

I auditioned The+Record Player at the New York Audio Show last weekend at the Park Lane Hotel, and as they say the proof is in the listening. Hazelwood explained that his single-speaker system’s side-mounted 3.5-inch woofers don’t just cancel a lot of the cabinet’s internal vibration. They also project sound laterally so it bounces off the room’s side walls to produce stereo sound. The+Record Player also has a pair of front-mounted 1-inch dome tweeters. The system’s left and right channels are internally bi-amplified with 35-watt amps for the woofers, and 15-watt amps for the tweeters.

img-9051Enlarge Image

The+Record Player at the New York Audio Show

Ty Pendlebury/CNET

The+Record Player’s sound was warm and inviting, and the stereo spread was convincing enough I didn’t at first notice all the sound was coming from The+Record Player cabinet. Nice!

System connectivity runs to Bluetooth, one optical and one USB digital input, and one USB digital output. There’s also a set of stereo RCA analog inputs, and stereo outputs that can be used to drive separate stereo speakers or a subwoofer.  

The belt-drive turntable is built by Pro-Ject, a well-known supplier of audiophile-grade products. The+Record Player is being offered with two different Pro-Ject turntables, one with an aluminum tonearm fitted with an Ortofon OM10 phono cartridge, and an upgraded The+Record Player Carbon Edition with a carbon fiber tonearm and an Ortofon 2M Red cartridge. Both models have built-in phono preamplifiers, and both The+Record Players are available with Maple or Walnut trim. Measurements run 8.5×17.6×13.9 inches.

I like The+Record Player for what it is: A compact all-in-one system. But you can buy a much better sounding component system for a lot less money. For example I’d go for the $250 Fluance RT81 turntable, $149 Yamaha R-S202 stereo receiver, and ELAC Debut B6 speakers for $280 per pair. Sure, that system would take up more space and have more wires, but if you’re itching to spin LPs and space is limited The+Record Player is a viable option.

The+Record Player will start shipping in January 2018, and there’s now an introductory price of $999 for the model with the standard aluminum tonearm. That price will jump to $1,199 next year. The+Record Player Carbon Edition price is $1,399.

Rebooting the Reef: CNET dives deep into how tech can help save Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

The Smartest StuffInnovators are thinking up new ways to make you, and the things around you, smarter.

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