Mind-control armbands, paper supremacy and more in this week’s Staff Picks

Staff Picks March 3

les-shuLes Shu: Roshambo, paper beats gadgetry

Despite living in and writing about the digital age, the old-school journalist in me still gravitates toward paper. While my colleagues whip out their iPads and laptops to “jot” down notes during a press conference, you’ll find me with a small reporter’s notebook and my current favorite pen, the Pilot G-2 0.7mm Fine. It’s not that I don’t know how to type – I can punch out words with 98-percent accuracy like a crazy person, thank you very much – but I still find writing on paper to be faster and easier to focus.

One of my favorite paper-based products is Field Notes. These simple-looking booklets are created in the U.S.A. using high-quality stock. They seem to embody a certain soul that’s not found in mass-produced notepads, yet without the pompous attitude of Moleskine. Field Notes are easy to stash in your pocket, durable, and, besides taking notes, fun to draw on.

For each new limited-edition version introduced, Field Notes puts out fun, well-produced short videos, that tell a nice story along with announcing the product. My favorite video is still the clever one they posted last year for Valentine’s Day – a sweet story that will make you smile, regardless of the time of the year. If you want to learn how to make fun videos, check out the rest of the company’s shorts at Vimeo to learn a thing or two.

molly-mchughMolly: This armband will finally make me a Jedi

Before I dive in, I’d like to remind everyone that my birthday is fairly soon.

You should probably go get a mop and broom real quick because YOUR MIND IS ABOUT TO BE BLOWN.

The MYO armband is without a doubt the closest any of us are ever going to get to Jedi status (provided my investments in overseas mitoclorian research don’t pan out). This isn’t just some camera-based Kinect or Leap Motion technology either – the MYO actually uses your body’s muscular and electrical activity to interact and control objects.

If you don’t want one of these, something is very wrong, very wrong with you. Just watch the video on the site; it’s like… daaaaaaaamn that professor just flipped slides without even looking at the projector. Daaaaaamn that creepy, Omen-looking kid just rolled a ball across the floor. (Is anyone else silently laughing to themselves at that part of the video thinking about how if Anakin happened upon it, he’d be all “But I thought I killed all the child Jedis!” Seriously cracking myself up now. You’re all welcome).

So here’s the pipe dream: Get MYO. Get Google Glass. Get the Leap. Be like <this close> to being a cyborg.

This is the stuff dreams are made of. My dreams at least.


caleb denisonCaleb Denison: So good, it’s scary

As a somewhat (read: totally) jaded audio nerd and surround-sound purist, I have mounted my high horse several times to deride virtual surround sound headphone technology. It just chaps my hide to see such poor excuses for the real thing marketed as if it they were just as good as the genuine article. It’s like saying O’Douls is just as good as real beer. No it isn’t. It’s horrible. It’s not nearly as enjoyable, nor does it have the same effect. The thing that really bugs me, though, is that I know it’s been possible to create convincing surround effects from headphones for a while now – it’s just that nobody has stepped up and done it. You can’t tell me that in a world that has 3D printing, the Tesla Model S and the McRib, we don’t have the know-how to make virtual surround more realistic.

Thank you, DTS, for proving me right. At CES 2013, DTS put on the coolest demo I saw during my time at the show. Its Headphone:X technology was so fun to behold, I still can’t shut the hell up about it. Instead of trying to make it seem as if a sound is simply coming from behind you, it recreates the sound of sound objects in a room. It’s hair-raising to behold, really. And just so you know I’m not drinkin’ on DTS’ delicious Kool-Aid, check out this funny video prank which utilizes the technology to scare the crap out of unsuspecting survey volunteers. Then, go check out this news about when you can expect to check this tech out for yourself.

Jennifer BergenJen Bergen: Secret DVD slot burns art exhibit while you wait on the street

If you walk past the Museum of Moving Image in Queen’s Astoria neighborhood, chances are you won’t notice the small slit in the building’s wall. But, if you happen to be in the neighborhood, we suggest you bring a blank DVD because behind that slit is actually a slot-loading DVD burner. The DVD Dead Drop, as it’s called, is available 24 hours a day. Users can insert a blank DVD-R, wait 7.5 minutes, and come back to find their disc fully loaded with a digital art exhibition.

Curated by artist Aram Bartholl, the digital exhibition consists of a collection of media and other featured content by Bartholl and other artists. The exhibit has been around since August, but we were just informed of its presence thanks to CollaCubed. The concept of offline file-sharing networks in public spaces isn’t new. Bartholl’s original Dead Drops included USB thumb drives cemented into walls, buildings, and curbs. Unlike the DVD Dead Drop, which was commissioned by the Museum of Moving Image, these USB Dead Drops were unauthorized – creating another type of street art.

In an age when many computers are ditching optical drives for digital downloads, the concept of the DVD Dead Drop is interesting. “DVD Dead Drop imbues the act of data transfer with a tangibility left behind in a world of cloud computing and appstores, using a medium – the digital versatile disc – that is quickly becoming another artifact of the past,” Bartholl said on his site. There’s a good chance a lot of people will have old blank DVDs lying around that they no longer have a need for, so what better way to put them to use than by sticking them into a random slot in the side of a building?

andrew coutsAndrew Couts: How the Internet works

I would wager that when most people think of “the Internet,” what they are actually thinking of is “the Web” – sites like Digital Trends, Facebook, or Twitter, that are built on top of an immense global infrastructure. We haven’t just lost touch with the mechanisms that connect us all together, many of us never understood how it all works in the first place. 

But that can all easily change with one simple website. And when I say “simple,” I means simple – “How Does the Internet Work?” from U&I learning looks like something out of the Internet’s Stone Age. That’s completely irrelevant, however, because it gets the job done: A few clicks, and you can navigate through the intricate details about how this thing we call the Internet is all put together, with the help of some nifty GIFs that show how all this data flows from one machine to the next. 


ryan flemingRyan Fleming: The Wheel of Time has stopped turning

Earlier this year the final book in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series was released, marking the end of a story that began 23 years ago. For many of us that read sci-fantasy books, The Wheel of Time has been with us for a significant portion of our existence. In my case, I have been reading these books for the majority of my life. And now it is done.

It’s a melancholy sensation to complete the final chapter. When the author Robert Jordan died in 2007, it seemed like the story may have died with him. Due to a lengthy illness though, Jordan had enough time to plot out the finale and write huge sections before passing away. Author Brandon Sanderson did a good job of filling in, though. So even if the styles were notably different, fans should be grateful that the series managed to finish at all. The final book itself is a good conclusion, even if it does have a few issues, including a meager 15-ish page epilogue for a series that was nearly 12,000 pages long. A bit more there would have been nice.

There is a good chance other authors will explore Jordan’s world in the future, but for now it feels like saying goodbye to an old friend (an old friend that occasionally rambled on and refused to get to the point, like the entire tenth book where nothing happened at all and it did so over 800 damn pages… but I digress). Despite the odd report to the contrary, the series is too big and unwieldy to ever adapt to TV or film, and despite possible outrigger novels in the future, The Wheel of Time has finally reached its conclusion after nearly a quarter of a century.

Emerging Tech

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Home Theater

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Don't know what to do with all your old DVDs? Here's how to convert them to MP4

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Emerging Tech

New Hubble image displays dazzling Messier 28 globular cluster

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A.I.-generated text is supercharging fake news. This is how we fight back

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Cosmic dust bunnies: Scientists find unexpected ring around Mercury

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Take a dip in the Lagoon Nebula in first image from SPECULOOS instrument

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Robot assistants from Toyota and Panasonic gear up for the Tokyo Olympics

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Racing to catch a flight? Robot valet at French airport will park your car

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Bags with brains: Smart luggage and gadgets are making travel smoother

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At $99, Nvidia’s Jetson Nano minicomputer seeks to bring robotics to the masses

Nvidia announced a new A.I. computer, the Jetson Nano. This computer comes with an 128-core GPU that Nvidia claims can handle pretty much any A.I. framework you could imagine. At $99, it's an affordable way for A.I. newbies to get involved.

Nvidia’s A.I. Playground lets you edit photos, experience deep learning research

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