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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

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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

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

Making Slack actionable makes you productive

(TECHNOLOGY) Slack is an amazing productivity tool, but of course can add more to your plate – this feature puts you back on track.

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You know when you’re using Slack and you’re having a conversation with your teammate about whether or not you should grab lunch or go to Soul Cycle, but before you can answer, your editor Slacks you about deadlines and your design partner messages you proofs and suddenly you snap back to reality and remember that you’ve been working on a blog post for an hour and your concentration is completely shattered? You know, the exact moment when your productivity is officially derailed?

Well, Slack now offers Actions to help make sure that doesn’t happen. Your day may get busy, but at least nothing will slip through the cracks, work-wise.

Integrated with project management tools like Asana, Zendesk, and Jira, Actions allows users to create and comment on tasks, tickets or issues within conversations. That means no clicking through tabs or apps until you can no longer remember why you started clicking in the first place. More importantly, Actions keeps track of the work you need to do and when you need to do it.

So, how do Actions work?

1. Need to create a deadline or set up an appointment? Anything you see in Slack that needs a follow-up can be turned into an action when you click the ••• icon and choose an “action.”

2. When you’ve completed an action, a message appears in your Slack channel and lets your team know you’ve flagged it for follow-up.

3. Whichever app you’ve integrated with will alert Slack at which point you and your team can determine the next steps.

Bottom-line, Actions help keep your workflow moving. While it may not stop the onslaught of Slack messages from breaking your concentration, at least you’ll know what you should to be concentrating on.

If you’re curious to know more about Actions, the company has ample info on their API pages for your perusal.

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Tech News

Quickly delete years of your stupid Facebook updates

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Digital clutter sucks. Save time and energy with this new Chrome extension for Facebook.

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When searching for a job, or just trying to keep your business from crashing, it’s always a good idea to scan your social media presence to make sure you’re not setting yourself up for failure with offensive or immature posts.

In fact, you should regularly check your digital life even if you’re not on the job hunt. You never know when friends, family, or others are going to rabbit hole into reading everything you’ve ever posted.

Facebook is an especially dangerous place for this since the social media giant has been around for over fourteen years. Many accounts are old enough to be in middle school now.

If you’ve ever taken a deep dive into your own account, you may have found some unsavory posts you couldn’t delete quickly enough.

We all have at least one cringe-worthy post or picture buried in years of digital clutter. Maybe you were smart from the get-go and used privacy settings. Or maybe you periodically delete posts when Memories resurfaces that drunk college photo you swore wasn’t on the internet anymore.

But digging through years of posts is time consuming, and for those of us with accounts older than a decade, nearly impossible.

Fortunately, a Chrome extension can take care of this monotonous task for you. Social Book Post Manager helps clean up your Facebook by bulk deleting posts at your discretion.

Instead of individually removing posts and getting sucked into the ensuing nostalgia, this extension deletes posts in batches with the click of a button.

Select a specific time range or search criteria and the tool pulls up all relevant posts. From here, you decide what to delete or make private.

Let’s say you want to destroy all evidence of your political beliefs as a youngster. Simply put in the relevant keyword, like a candidate or party’s name, and the tool pulls up all posts matching that criteria. You can pick and choose, or select all for a total purge.

You can also salt the earth and delete everything pre-whatever date you choose. I could tell Social Book to remove everything before 2014 and effectively remove any proof that I attended college.

Keep in mind, this tool only deletes posts and photos from Facebook itself. If you have any savvy enemies who saved screenshots or you cross-posted, you’re out of luck.

The extension is free to use, and new updates support unliking posts and hiding timeline items. Go to town pretending you got hired on by the Ministry of Truth to delete objectionable history for the greater good of your social media presence.

PS: If you feel like going full scorched Earth, delete everything from your Facebook past and then switch to this browser to make it harder for Facebook to track you while you’re on the web.

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Tech News

Are we really ready to be under constant video surveillance?

(TECHNOLOGY) Facial recognition technology is happening, now. What does it mean, who does it benefit, and who makes the rules?

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facial recognition

Facial recognition technology is growing quickly. More and more applications are asking for a look at your face as the ultimate in security. What does that mean, and what are the consequences?

You’re a digital-enabled human. That means, in all likelihood, some combination of Apple, Facebook, or Google knows everything about you that matters. ‘Tis the nature of the Almighty Cloud.

At the moment, the cloud(s) consist(s) of data you gave it voluntarily. If facial recognition were to become standard, to replace user IDs and credit card numbers as identification the way those things replaced signatures, it would link your physical self to that data.

In theory, anyone with the dough for a security camera or point-of-sale machine could buy the knowledge of what you’re doing and when you’re doing it, anywhere, anytime, so long as you were in eyeshot of a networked device.

Also in theory, fraud would be impossible, no criminal would go free, and no innocent person would ever be convicted of a crime. Right. Riiight.

Faces are unique, there’d be a camera on everything, and first in line to buy themselves some Every Breath You Take benevolent stalker gear would be the police. After all, if you’ve got a driver’s license, a residency card, a passport, or about nineteen other governmental thingamajigs, the Powers That Be already have your face. They’re just trusting humans to identify it. Robots might be better!

They also might not be (remember when police robots couldn’t tell the difference between a picture of sand dunes and a butt?).

Which is it? Who’s to say? Who gets to say?

The Verge recently asked that very question of a panel of very smart people. The result was a continuum of views on regulation of facial recognition technology, which is to say, at least 1 of these 5 people has probably correctly guessed how you’ll be interacting with technology for the next 50 years.

Listen up.

Lots of people are pro-regulation, but not always for obvious reasons.

First, as always, are the philosophers. Philosophers have been fretting about tech for so long one of the cave glyphs at Lascaux probably translates to “Fire: Is Society Ready?”

But philosophers are by no means always wrong, and in this case several have correctly noted that facial recognition technology is being marketed before the discussion of its limits has even begun.

Right now, all the decisions on what the tech can and can’t do are being made by people who stand to benefit if it sells well.Click To Tweet

More moderate voices, ironically, speak to what could be even more serious concerns. Algorithms remain badly flawed when used in human-facing roles (remember Salter’s Law: for every person you replace putting AI in a customer-facing job, you will have to hire at least two more to handle the fallout when it screws up) and notoriously tend to perpetuate societal failings.

Current facial recognition software, for instance, has white guys down pat, but struggles to differentiate between people of color, women, children and the elderly. Likewise, it has an ugly habit of identifying innocent people as criminals if they happen to belong to the same minority group. The data we collect as a culture reflects our cultural biases, and all an algorithm can EVER do, is parse that data.

This is enough of a problem that many facial recognition companies are in favor of regulation, seeking to set development parameters from “go” in order to keep from perpetuating old ills.

On the anti-regulation side, shockingly, are early adopters who jumped in headfirst without triple-checking the consequences, and a bunch of people who sell facial recognition technology would quite like to have all the money, now, please.

They also have an extremely important point. The plain fact is that regulation cannot keep up with innovation.

Culture moves too quickly for laws to catch up now, and legislators are notoriously not tech-savvy. The people best qualified to understand exactly how facial recognition technology works, and therefore, to determine what limitations are necessary, are the people making it.

Opponents of regulation also point to the successes of facial recognition as implemented to date. Facial recognition has been used successfully in fields ranging from law enforcement to device security to shortening lines at the airport. Don’t know about y’all, but we at AG are all for improving all of those things.

So as of today, you are being surveilled. That’s fact.

If you’re in the States, over the course of your day, you will likely be surveilled by several different private entities. Including us, by the way. Hi! We call it “consumer data,” but it’s surveillance. If you’re in China, Russia or the UK, there’s an excellent chance your primary voyeur is the government instead, since they have the most active state-run surveillance systems. It’s the price of the Digital Age; someone is watching. How much are you willing to let them see?

In China, citizens are used to (therefore fine with) the government watching their every move on camera, but Americans aren’t historically open to Big Brother watching.

So, we’re really asking – is effortless, contactless shopping, travel and tech worth surrendering your face to the Omniscient Eye? Or is inefficiency a price worth paying for holding onto just that much of your privacy?

It bears repeating: facial recognition is happening, now. Decide quickly.

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