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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

xcooter
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

samsung-family-hub-refrigerator
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

hp-sprocket
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

google-pixel-silver
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

welt
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

tipron
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

smart-ring-okto
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

garmin
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

DIY: Project Alias protects your privacy from invasive smart speakers

(TECHNOLOGY) Smart speakers are beloved, and oh so helpful, but they’re always listening, no matter what tech companies say. This DIY stops that.

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project alias for smart speakers

DIY culture has a solution for everything, including protecting your privacy. Home assistant devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home, while helpful, are constantly listening for commands which means any nearby conversation is free game for information gathering. On the bright side, Karmann’s Project Alias is a “parasitic” device that gives you control in what your home assistant device hears.

True to its function, a Project Alias device looks like a parasitic growth that can fit atop your Amazon Echo or Google Home. Inside its 3D-printed shell are a Raspberry Pi A+, a ReSpeaker 2-Mics Pi HAT, and a pair of small speakers.

Once you install the Project Alias code, you can use your phone to connect to the device, and train it with a “wake” word. The Echo or Google Home will not hear you until you say this “wake” word to Project Alias.

Ta-da! Privacy is back in your hands! (Some assembly required).

The pieces to make your own Project Alias device, while attainable, (Office Max and Staples offer 3D printing services), requires some hands-on work and possibly several trips to the store. When all is said and done, the overall cost in time and money can add up. It’d be much simpler if a Project Alias device came in the mail or on a store shelf ready to roll.

This is sounding like prime Kickstarter material here.

The exploitation of privacy through our smart devices including phones, tablets, laptops, tvs, gaming consoles, etc. is becoming a common concern. Not only are we feeling attacked by advertisements that feel like they’re reading our thoughts, but anything said around these devices is collectable data.

Unfortunately, it’s wishful thinking to have any trust in the gadgets we own.

A device like Project Alias is a long time coming and needed now more than ever. Until tech companies begin to take measures to protect the privacy of their customers (which isn’t in their financial interest), we’re likely to see a new market for devices like Project Alias. The odds are you’ll need more than one.

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Descript is a mindblowing editing shortcut for audio and video

(TECH NEWS) Descript is an automatic transcription tool that uses machine-learning to make transcribing easier.

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transcribe descript

Anyone getting into audio/video editing for the first time is almost immediately struck with the sheer enormity and complexity of it all. Even if you have the physical hardware, the proper software, and the creative spark to produce media, that doesn’t make the process of editing it all into a cohesive product any less daunting. For those of us struggling under the sisyphean weight of complicated editing workflows, a new product aims to relieve us all of this struggle. Enter Descript, an automatic transcription tool.

Descript uses machine-learning to transcribe your raw audio and video files into a dialogue script. This in itself is an incredibly valuable tool for anyone looking to transcribe podcasts, youtube videos, or whatever kind of media you produce. But this is just the beginning of what makes this app so special.

Descript is the world’s first audio word processor. Using the transcript the app creates from your audio, you can edit the text script to change the media itself. Removing the “umms” and “ahhs” from your speech — or removing whole sentences at a time — is as simple as using the backspace key on a word processor.

As a would-be podcaster, I played around with the app over the weekend, so I can tell you my initial impressions of the app. While it’s not for me (not yet, anyway), it is incredibly easy and fun and quite frankly mindblowing to use.

First things first, let’s talk about the cost.

The app works on a subscription model that pays by the minute. New users are able to upload up to 30 minutes of audio for free, but anything past that will require paying 15 cents per minute or signing up for a monthly subscription. Keep in mind these costs apply to total raw audio uploaded, not finished product audio produced. So if you’re the type (like me) to record several hours of audio per week only to trim it down to a single hour of product, this may be a bit on the wasteful side.

As for the transcription itself, the program’s machine-learning transcription transcribed my dulcet tones into the appropriate written words with nearly complete accuracy. I did have a few issues with the program understanding other speakers, but I believe that may have been a fault on my end that I’ll go into later. If the machine-learning transcription isn’t accurate enough for you, you can also choose to pay extra in order to have your audio specially transcribed by real human professionals.

The app can divide audio between different people speaking, but not automatically. If you have different audio files for each speaker, then each audio file will be labeled separately from the start. If multiple speakers are on the same audio track (like mine), then you’ll have to notate these differing speakers in the script yourself. I believe this is why the program had difficulty transcribing other speakers on the audio than myself. Being on the same audio track, the machine attuned itself to my voice (the first speaker on the recording) and was trying to interpret other people’s words as if I were the one saying them.

As for the audio editing aspect of this program, well, it really needs to be experienced to be believed. I was told what the program could do beforehand, but actually editing audio just by changing words around on a script is something else entirely. Cutting out non sequitur sentences, removing unnecessary articles, or even changing the order of words around to better suit the flow of conversation — through a literal word processor — will make you feel like an arcane grammar wizard.

Will this replace your entire audio/video workflow? Probably not. At least not yet. In addition to the cost factor which may be prohibitive to some users, there are some issues of editing that aren’t based on word choice. I found myself frustrated at my inability to change the timing of spaces between words, sometimes leaving gaps between sentences (or not enough space between words). Of course, I only had the program for a weekend, so this could very well be attributed to user error.

Whatever flaws real or imagined this program may have, it’s very important to keep in mind that Descript is the first of its kind.

It can only improve from here, not to mention potentially inspire a wave of similar programs that may very well function better. Whether or not Descript is right for you, what’s undeniable is that this program is the start of something amazing.

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This eye tracking tech could be what saves VR

(TECHNOLOGY) VR has struggled with adoption rates, but this new technology could finally make it more useful in daily life.

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VR could be saved

The new HTC Vive Pro Eye VR headset made its debut at CES 2019. An updated version of the HTC Vive Pro, its features are expected to have a variety of uses over the long-term.

The Vive Pro Eye features new eye tracking technology developed in partnership with Tobii Eye Tracking. Inside the headset are sensors around the eyes to help the A.I. target what your eye is seeing. This is integrated into the UI design, allowing users to select menu options just by looking at their choice. In theory, users can choose how to interact with different A.I. characters or in VR chat spaces.

The eye tracking features Dynamic Foveated Rendering which will allow the computer to render VR objects the user is looking at to a high resolution. Likewise, images on the user’s periphery or outside the field of view will appear at a lower resolution or won’t be rendered at all. This way headset will require less performance power from its graphics card, and can still generate high-quality images in the places that matter.

Another feature is the A.I. assist where the computer can register intended targets in the VR environment based upon where your eyes are looking. This could be helpful for newcomers to VR instead of adjusting to the hand-eye coordination with the remote.

In a new industry like VR, the turnover rate for technology is fairly high, but the fovated rendering is likely to stay. Since its practicality not only enhances user experience, but also provides support from a hardware standpoint, its not outlandish to think developers will piggy-back off this new feature.

Sounds like fun? Well, currently the Vive Pro Eye is meant for business ventures rather than for consumers. But we’ll likely see this technology eventually find its way into more affordable VR products. There is no release date or price range yet available.

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