Tag Archives: Gadget Features

Let science save you from a whopper of a hangover

Planning to party New Year’s Eve? If so, check out this new video from the American Chemical Society, which has some pro tips for enjoying the buzz without the blech.

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New Year’s resolutions for a more user-friendly life

It’s easy to focus on what went wrong in 2015. We prefer to look to the future. Inspired by folk legend Woody Guthrie’s “New Years Rulin’s,” we offer up simple suggestions for a fun, successful 2016.

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Astronaut dials the wrong number from space

When your phone rings randomly during the holidays, pick it up. It could be British astronaut Tim Peake calling you from the International Space Station.

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CES 2016 will be full of wearables, but would you really wear them?

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A sketch of an outfit that will be showcased at this year’s FashionWare fashion show.


Living in Digital Times

Have you ever wished you looked more like a stock ticker? Well, now there’s a smock that lets you scroll a custom message down its front, lit up like a marquee. Then there’s a dress that uses special ink and sensors to change color based on the weather.

Welcome to the brave new world of fashion.

Well, kind of. Those were some of the garments on display earlier this year at FashionWare, a fashion show held every year during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The 2016 edition kicks off next week.

The garments are more concept designs than anything else, but they’re emblematic of the challenge as technology and fashion increasingly and unapologetically collide. Can designers get people to wear tech-infused clothes without them looking like (A) idiots, (B) caricatures of sci-fi characters or (C) both?

“We’re way past spandex,” said Robin Raskin, CEO of Living in Digital Times, the company that is putting on the fashion show for its sixth straight year at CES. Once upon a time, the stretchy material was one of the only tools designers had if they wanted to try out something futuristic. Now the palette is much more plentiful: sensors, LED lights, screens, all woven into garments, watches, rings, headbands and more.

Wearables weren’t always the obvious choice when people wanted to make a fashion statement with personal tech. For almost a decade, that honor has gone to the smartphone, whose metal bodies and glass screens have been the epitome of cool for almost a decade. But that’s begun to change.

Take the iPhone, which was the apex of tech fashion for years but has perhaps become too commonplace. And now that Google’s Android mobile software has gotten good enough to be a decent Apple alternative, other phone makers are getting fashionable too.

Whatever the reason, phones are everywhere, and now that they look roughly the same, they can’t be the fashion symbol they once were.

“You’re starting to see the phone become the thing that’s buried somewhere on you,” said Raskin.

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Silicon Valley giants like Apple are increasingly teaming up with high fashion brands like French boutique Hermes.


James Martin/CNET

To fill that void, the fashion world has looked to other things — smart garments like shirts and shoes and fitness bands — to try to inject a dose of cool back into personal tech. Over the past several years, CES has slowly become the de facto showcase.

Fashion has been on the fringes of the trade show in the past, but the distance between the two worlds is shrinking. Compared to last year, the square footage of the wearable tech section at CES has quadrupled to 9,400, according to the Consumer Technology Association. The number of wearables exhibitors has almost tripled to 41, not including the companies that fall into the health and fitness category, like Fitbit. This will also be the first CES since the April release of the Apple Watch, a gateway drug for many into the habit of wearing computer chips.

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Designers are pushing for “fashion-first” tech that people wouldn’t mind wearing.


Living in Digital Times

“We’re really trying to push toward fashion-first wearables,” said Amanda Parkes, chief of technology and research for Manufacture New York, a company that helps nurture young fashion startups and also serves as a factory for their products. Translation: Make things that actually look good.

That’s the challenge Silicon Valley’s biggest tech companies are trying to tackle. Google, with its Android Wear software for wearables, has partnered with traditional watchmakers including Tag Heuer and Fossil. Apple has teamed up with high-end boutiques like French luxury brand Hermes to make bands for the Apple Watch. Chipmaker Intel infiltrated New York fashion week in September, teaming up with women’s fashion label Chromat to show off smart bras and dresses. Why? Intel has the technology part down, but “it would be naive to think we were the best fashion designers,” said Steve Holmes, vice president of Intel’s Smart Device Innovation group.

It’s a far cry from when Parkes, an alum of the MIT Media Lab who has been studying wearables since 2002, began her research. “When I came in, everything looked very cyborg,” she said. “The fashion industry didn’t want anything to do with it.”

Now there are bigwig fashion industry executives milling about CES every year, said Raskin. For example, the designer Donna Karan will be speaking at a digital health conference at this year’s show.

This battlefront will be different from what the tech industry has been used to in recent years. Unlike the smartphone wars, one or two companies like Apple and Samsung won’t largely win it all.

Instead, the aim should be for a “diversity of aesthetics,” just as with fashion in general, said Parkes. That means countless designers and manufacturers would be making smart clothes and accessories — something for everyone. “You’d never market the same piece of clothing to a 14-year-old girl and to a 70-year-old man,” she said.

Of course, for the market to really take off, the garments and products need to actually be useful, and not just tech for tech’s sake.

“I’m not trying to create a world where every garment lights up,” Parkes said. “That’s terrifying.”

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First look at Benedict Cumberbatch as ‘Doctor Strange’ is spellbinding

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Entertainment Weekly’s latest cover introduces Benedict Cumberbatch as the supernatural superhero Doctor Strange.


Entertainment Weekly

Hold on to your grimoire! For months, fans (myself included) have been speculating not only about the characters the stellar cast of Marvel’ “Doctor Strange” would be playing, but also what lead Benedict Cumberbatch would look like as the mystical superhero himself.

Now we no longer have to guess if Cumberbatch would grow a goatee or don the cape and high-collared costume just as the character Doctor Strange wears in the famed Marvel comics created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in the Silver Age of comics.

Entertainment Weekly posted on Monday, December 28, a first look at Cumberbatch looking like a dead ringer for the comic book character Doctor Strange with all the elements of the paranormal hero complete with a magical spell at his finger tips.

Cumberbatch plays Dr. Stephen Strange who, after a tragic car accident, discovers the hidden world of alternate dimensions and magic.

Principal photography already started filming in November with the cast which includes Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor (“Serenity”), Rachel McAdams (“Sherlock Holmes”), Michael Stuhlbarg (“Steve Jobs”), Mads Mikkelsen (“Hannibal”) and Tilda Swinton (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”).

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People are strange as Benedict Cumberbatch takes on the role of Marvel’s mystical medic, joined by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelsen and Tilda Swinton.


Michael Muller/Marvel

Executive producer Stephen Broussard and producer Kevin Feige have also finally confirmed that Mikkelsen will be playing the main villain in “Doctor Strange.”

“Mads’ character is a sorcerer who breaks off into his own sect,” Feige told Entertainment Weekly. “[He] believes that the Ancient One (played by Swinton) is just protecting her own power base and that the world may be better off if we were to allow some of these other things through.”

Director Scott Derrickson doesn’t wrap the movie until March 2016, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be hunting for clue in that first image of Cumberbatch as Strange with the same kind of appreciation for detail his other popular character, Sherlock Holmes, would appreciate.

“I’m still in the infancy of learning all that,” Cumberbatch told Entertainment Weekly. “It was like, okay, I’ve got to keep throwing these poses, these spells, these rune-casting things, everything he does physically.”

“I’m thinking, there’s going to be a huge amount of speculation and intrigue over the positioning of that finger as opposed to it being there, or there,” Cumberbatch added. “And I’m still working on that. We haven’t played any of those scenes yet. I felt really self-conscious. But, then, by the end, it was great. It’s like anything, you just have to experiment.”

In addition to its cover image, Entertainment Weekly also posted a small gallery of “Doctor Strange” images, including a side view of Cumberbatch in costume, showing off his magic skills and movie concept art of the actor after the character’s tragic car accident.

The film will land in theaters in the US on November 4, 2016, in the UK October 28, 2016. No release date has been announced for Australia.

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Internet-connected homes open the door to hackers

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Connected appliances like the ones in CNET’s smart house in Louisville, Kentucky, are made with ease of use in mind. You’ll need to do the work yourself to protect them from hackers.


Chris Monroe/CNET

It’s nighttime in Saudi Arabia, so we can’t see much when Aamir Lakhani hacks into a video stream. But the fact that we can see the video stream at all is startling.

Even more surprising, we are viewing it from the conference room of cybersecurity company Fortinet, 8,100 miles away in Sunnyvale, California.

Lakhani, a security researcher at Fortinet, accomplished the hack without any coding skills, though he has those in spades. He merely went to Shodan.io, a website where anyone can find a huge trove of Internet-connected devices, from baby monitors to cars, cameras and even traffic lights.

He calls the site the “search engine for the Internet of Things,” and it allows him to hack into the video stream, picked at random, just by entering word “admin” for the camera’s username and password. That is the flip side to the promise of the Internet of Things, which is shorthand for the notion that anything and everything will be connected over the Internet.

Billions of sensors will soon be built into appliances, security systems, health monitors, door locks, cars and city streets to help manage energy use, control traffic, monitor air quality and even warn physicians when a patient is about to have a stroke. The revolution has already started. Market forecaster Gartner expects 6.4 billion connected devices will find their way into our lives in 2016. This shiny new world will be on full display next month in Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronics Show, the annual showcase of all things tech.

Mayhem

So what could all these connected devices possibly lead to? Mayhem, according to Tanuj Mohan, executive and co-founder at connected lighting company Enlighted.

“Things are designed to be used by humans” and not computers, Mohan said.

When computers hold the reins, criminals can grab control in unexpected ways. That connected coffee maker in the office — it wouldn’t be much of a stretch for a hacker to put it into a continuous loop and brew coffee throughout the weekend, flooding the office, Mohan said.

Mohan’s company monitors lighting systems in large commercial buildings to help his customers improve energy efficiency. Enlighted also makes sure intruders don’t take control of the lighting.

“If I turned them on and off 10 times per second on Sunday, none of the fixtures would work on Monday,” Mohan said.

Mayhem could hit at home, too. Tech-savvy thieves could look at the settings of your connected thermostat, lighting and security system to figure out you’re away on vacation. Can you say burgle?

There’s also the threat that hackers could “land and expand,” using your connected device to hack your computer. Research into the Fitbit fitness tracker, which pairs with computers over Bluetooth, points at how it might be done.

Fortinet security researcher Axelle Apvrille in October released research suggesting she could infect a Fitbit with code that could later sneak onto a computer. Fitbit disagrees. Fitbit security researcher Marc Brown said this month that his company has tried to complete an attack on a computer from its product, but cannot.

Still, the scenario shows that hackers could eventually use your connected refigerator to penetrate your home system, said Mohan, who warns that manufacturers aren’t paying close enough attention to the problem.

“They’re not yet aware of how everything they build can be exploited,” he said.

Safety last

There’s an old saying that we’re only as safe as the weakest link in the chain. That saying has real meaning with the Internet of Things, where one weak link can bring down a chain of connected devices.

Remember how easily Lakhani took control of that video camera? He said that gadget makers are partly to blame because they want to make their products as simple to set up as possible. That often means using default passwords like “admin” and encouraging users to log in to their devices through unsafe web accounts.

“They all have to make it easy. That’s the problem,” Lakhani said.

There are steps you can take to make your devices safer once you get them out of the box. If you can change the default password, do it. You may also be able to set up your connected “things” so they’re accessible from only your private home network, advises Lakhani. You can still log in from afar via a virtual private network. It takes some extra steps for you, but that means it would also take extra steps for a hacker.

So yes, the Internet of Things holds the promise of lower energy costs, more convenience and healthier lives. But for everything that touches everything we touch, it’s smart to take a “safety first” approach.

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