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11 Tech gadgets NOT to buy this holiday season

(TECH NEWS) Save yourself some money and frustration this holiday season with our what NOT to buy tech guide.

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okto man with ring gadgets

Seriously, take our advice

If you’re like us, over the next few weeks you’ll be frantically searching the web for gifts for the important people in your life. Tech toys are always a winner… unless when they aren’t. From smartphones for vaping to smart shoes you’d be smarter to avoid, these new products are truly the tech equivalent of a gift card. We’re not saying we know what gift will be a hit this year, but we certainly can suggest a few that won’t.

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1. Oombrella

oombrella
From a company with a hard to pronounce name comes a product with a name that’s just as tough. While we commend Wezzoo for working to improve the classic umbrella, the Oombrella may end up being just as useful as Karen’s ability to tell when it’s already raining in Mean Girls. Also, maybe not the smartest idea to mix smartphones and rain?

2. Xcooter

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If you want the weird looks you’d get from a hoverboard without the slight edge of cool, the Xcooter may be the scooter for you. Compact and energy efficient? Perhaps. The future of transportation? Probably not.

3.Overpriced Smart Appliances

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There are certainly a few smart appliances that are getting much-deserved buzz, like the June Oven or Google Home, but the industry as a whole remains clunky and overpriced. These gadgets tend to be living proof of the saying, “Why fix it if it ain’t broke,” with LCD screens that replace magnetized refrigerator doors to display photos or coffee makers that you can activate with your smartphone. Someday, there will be a great line of smart appliances worth the price point, but for now you’re better off appreciating what you’ve already got.

4. Sprocket

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HP claims “printing off social media photos has never been easier from your smartphone,” but maybe there’s a reason for that? Isn’t the point of taking a photo on your phone that it’s quick, easy, and compact? The Sprocket adds an extra gadget to your already full pockets, and then leaves you with a small, printed photo that you probably will untag yourself from online in a few days anyway.

5. Google Pixel

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In a year full of talked-about phone releases, the Google Pixel was actually a breath of fresh air. The first phone by Google is the highest rated smartphone ever, and is being praised for the long-lasting battery, headphone jack, and the fact that it doesn’t catch fire. Unfortunately, its popularity means you probably won’t get yours before Christmas if you’re trying to buy it from Google directly (or certain carriers). You’re better off waiting until the holiday hype dies down.

And yes, this one is on the list because our boss doesn’t have his Pixel yet.

6. Jupiter IO

jupiter-io
Speaking of problematic smartphones that may catch fire, the Jupiter IO has a built in vaporizer and unites two technologies we never knew needed to be combined. The $499 device seemed like a Funny Or Die skit when we first heard about it, but makers Vaporcade confirmed earlier this year that it is in fact real. Just because it exists doesn’t mean anyone actually needs or wants it though.

7. Digitsole Smart Shoe

digitsole
Snazzy, hyped up shoes can be a great gift for the sneakerhead in your life. Nike recently released a limited number of self-tying Nike Mag shoes inspired by Back To The Future and the internet went crazy, leading them to become the world’s most expensive shoes. Digitsole’s Smart Shoes had a less triumphant release, and understandably so. They can warm your feet and track your steps, but they unfortunately can’t look stylish while doing so. Unless you can shell out for a elusive pair of Nike Mags, you may want to avoid self-tying shoes this gift-giving season.

8. Samsung WELT

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In German, “welt” means “world.” For you, it probably translates to an unsuccessful gift. The Samsung WELT is a smart belt with a very unfortunate name that may turn out to be just slightly a better gift than socks or underwear. Tech companies have long been trying to develop smart belts, and while the WELT has gotten the most buzz thus far, at the end of the day it’s still just a belt.

9. Tipron

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Tipron is a home robot that can project an 80-inch screen from a distance of three meters, great for all those times you were projecting a movie and wished the projector could move on its own. The main reason to avoid gifting Tipron this holiday season is the limited number of applications it actually offers. The creators claim one use would be to walk into your bedroom and project the news or your Twitter feed on the ceiling as you wake up. For now, we recommend saving $2,000 and just rolling over to find your phone like a normal person.

10. OKTO Smart Ring

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I know I’m not alone in that I still get a little bothered when I see someone talking on a Bluetooth earpiece, so the OKTO Smart Ring may be just what we don’t need. It is definitely a better bet than some of the new wearable tech out there, but with limited usage and the risk of damage when you wash your hands, perhaps a good pair of headphones with a mic would be a smarter gift.

11. Garmin’s Fitness Tracker

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Smartwatches are consistently getting better, but the Garmin Forerunner seems to be stuck in one place. Garmin generally makes a good product, but there are dozens of smartwatches with loads more functions for practically the same price. One person who might appreciate this is your dad though, who’s likely been wearing a watch with a similar range of features for half a decade.

Bonus: It’s not a tech gadget, but no one in the galaxy deserves to be gifted a clip on man bun. The only thing that would make this worse is if it doubled as a vaporizer.

#techtoavoid

Brian is a staff writer at The American Genius who lives in Brooklyn, New York. He is a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, and majored in American Culture Studies and Writing. Originally from California, Brian has a podcast, "Revolves Around Me," and enjoys public transportation, bicycles, the beach.

Tech News

Airbnb has blocked 50K+ bookings for being too big during COVID-19

(NEWS) Airbnb has cancelled a huge number of reservations as a security precaution during COVID-19 in the past year or so.

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airbnb

In the last year or so, Airbnb has purposefully prevented at least 50,000 people from making irresponsible reservations on their properties, in many cases blocking those people from the platform itself. This prevention, at least in theory, helped cut down on the number of COVID parties during the pandemic.

According to The Verge, Airbnb’s head of trust and safety communication, Ben Breit, acknowledged blocked reservations in several cities across the United States, including Dallas, San Diego, and New Orleans. Breit confirmed that this response was an attempt to prevent large gatherings and parties during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic during which many areas banned group activities involving more than a few people.

While some requests for reservations were simply denied or “redirected”, many users were blocked from using Airbnb entirely. Airbnb noted that the number of blocked requests outpaced the number of people who were blocked, signifying that some accounts attempted to make more than one reservation before being removed from the platform.
Airbnb reportedly stated that “Instituting a global ban on parties and events is in the best interest of public health” prior to enacting a total ban on rentals at the beginning of 2020, a decision that gave way to the blocks and redirections in the last 12 months.

The evaluation system used to flag problematic reservations is relatively simple, according to Breit: “If you are under the age of 25 and you don’t have a history of positive reviews, we will not allow you to book an entire home listing local to where you live.”

But Airbnb didn’t entirely remove multiple-body listings or large rentals. The Verge reports that flagged users with the aforementioned criteria were still able to book both small rentals in local locations and larger rentals in reasonably distant locations.

Regardless of the optics here, Airbnb’s policy efficacy can’t be ignored. Multiple cities reported comparatively “quiet” holiday seasons–something that may contribute to Airbnb’s decision to extend their policy through the end of this summer.

The hosting company is also offering increased security measures, such as noise detection and a 24-hour hotline, at a discounted rate to property owners.

As both the vaccine gap and the proliferation of the Delta variant of COVID-19 continue to contribute to outbreaks, one can reasonably expect Airbnb to hold to this policy.

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Tech News

TL;DV summarizes video meetings so folks can catch up in quickly *with* context

(TECHNOLOGY) TL;DV makes catching up on video team meetings slightly more tolerable and easily digestable.

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TLDV

2021 was the year of virtual meetings, and while there are some perks associated with remote collaboration (I’m looking at you, pair of work pants that I didn’t have to wear once this year), these meetings often feel exponentially more arduous than their dressed-up counterparts. TL;DV, a consolidation app for Google Meet, looks to give back a bit of your time.

TL;DV (an acronym for “Too Long; Didn’t View”) is a Google Chrome recording extension that helps users specify important sections of meetings for anyone who needs to view them asynchronously. Users can tag specific segments in Google Meet sessions, transcribe audio, and leave notes above tagged sections for timestamp purposes, and the subsequent file can be shared via a host of both Google and third-party apps.

While the extension is only available for Google Meet at the time of writing, the TL;DV team has included a link to a survey for Zoom and MS Teams users on their site, thus implying that the team is looking into expanding into those platforms in the future.

The mission behind TL;DV is, according to the website, to empower users to “control how we spend our precious time” in the interest of combatting FOMO and meeting fatigue. By dramatically shortening the amount of time one must spend perusing a meeting recording, they seem well on their way to doing so.

Of course, the issue of human oversight remains. It seems likely that meeting facilitators will drop the ball here and there while tagging sections of the recording, and employees who miss crucial information in a recorded session are sure to be frustrated in the process–just not as frustrated as they might be if they attended the entire meeting live.

The current (free) version of TL;DV is in Beta, so users will have a three-hour cap on their videos. The development team promises a professional version by the end of 2021, with the added bonus of leaving prior recordings available for free for anyone who used the Beta. This is certainly an extension to keep an eye on–whether or not you’re remaining remote in 2022, virtual conferencing is no doubt here to stay.

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Tech News

Hiding from facial recognition is a booming business

(TECH NEWS) ‘Cloaking’ is the new way to hide your face. Companies are making big money designing cloaking apps that thwart your features by adding a layer of make up, clothing, blurring, and even transforming you into your favorite celebrity.

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Facial recognition companies and those who seek to thwart them are currently locked in a grand game of cat and mouse. Though it’s been relentlessly pursued by police, politicians, and technocrats alike, the increasing use of facial recognition technology in public spaces, workplaces, and housing complexes remains a widely unpopular phenomenon.

So it’s no surprise that there is big money to be made in the field of “cloaking,” or dodging facial recognition tech – particularly during COVID times while facial coverings are, literally, in fashion.

Take Fawkes, a cloaking app designed by researchers at the University of Chicago. It is named for Guy Fawkes, the 17th century English revolutionary whose likeness was popularized as a symbol of anonymity, and solidarity in V For Vendetta.

Fawkes works by subtly overlaying a celebrity’s facial information over your selfies at the pixel level. To your friends, the changes will go completely unnoticed, but to an artificial intelligence trying to identify your face, you’d theoretically look just like Beyonce.

Fawkes isn’t available to the general public yet, but if you’re looking for strategies to fly under the radar of facial recognition, don’t fret; it is just one example of the ways in which cloaking has entered the mainstream.

Other forms of cloaking have emerged in the forms of Tik Tok makeup trends, clothes that confuse recognition algorithms, tools that automatically blur identifying features on the face, and much more. Since effective facial recognition relies on having as much information about human faces as possible, cloaking enthusiasts like Ben Zhao, Professor of computer science at the University of Chicago and co-developer of Fawkes, hope to make facial recognition less effective against the rest of the population too. In an interview with The New York Times, Zhao asserts, “our [team’s] goal is to make Clearview [AI] go away.”

For the uninitiated, Clearview AI is a start-up that recently became infamous for scraping billions of public photos from the internet and privately using them to build the database for a law enforcement facial recognition tool.

The CEO of Clearview, Hoan Ton-That, claimed that the tool would only be improved by these workarounds and that in long run, cloaking is futile. If that sounds like supervillain talk, you might see why he’s earned himself a reputation similar to the likes of Martin Shkreli or Ajit Pai with his company’s uniquely aggressive approach to data harvesting.

It all feels like the beginning of a cyberpunk western: a story of man vs. machine. The deck is stacked, the rules are undecided, and the world is watching. But so far, you can rest assured that no algorithm has completely outsmarted our own eyeballs… yet.

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