Jun 7, 2012

The Desk You’re Acually Encouraged to Scribble All Over

If you're a brainstormer, or are prone to compulsive list making, then Miguel Mestre's My Desk is probably your type of design object. Centered around a giant 100x70 centimeter sketchpad, the desk will let you go back to the drawing board again, and again, and again, and again. Just don't put anything on it. Or spill your coffee. More here.

Jun 6, 2012

World’s Smallest Fingerprint Reader Borders on Adorable

Following in the footsteps of USB flash drives that have shrunk to meer slivers of plastic, Eikon's new Mini biometric fingerprint reader is barely noticeable as it hangs off your laptop. And the convenience of not having to remember passwords will cost you just $10.

It works with both Mac and Windows PCs, and includes all of the necessary software and drivers you need for unlocking your OS, and accessing secure websites, with just a finger swipe. You're not going to find a smaller or cheaper solution that's not already built in to your laptop. More here.

Exposure to Awesome Things Makes You a Better Person

"Awesome" is a word which is thrown around liberally these days. But a new studysuggests that things that inspire awe—that is, a feeling of respect mixed with fear or wonder—actually help make you a better person.

The research, carried out at Stanford University by Melanie Rudd, shows that a sense of awe expands people's perceptions of time, enhances feelings of well-being, and even causes people to behave more altruistically and less materialistically.

In particular, she explains in her paper that's due to be published in Psychological Science later this year, the most significant effects are achieved when people are presented with new awe experiences. While reliving previous awe-inspiring events or reading about imaginary ones has some positive effect, being there, as something amazing happens, is best for you.

But how can your inject more awesome into your life? Rudd has some suggestions:
"There are two things needed for a true awe experience: 1) Perceptual vastness (i.e., you need to perceive that you've encountered something vast in number, size, scope, complexity, or social bearing) and 2) A need for accommodation (i.e., you must feel that you need to revise or update your mental structures/the way you think/your understanding of the world in order to understand the perceptually vast thing/stimuli). So anything you experience in daily life that leads you to experience these two things can stimulate awe and its benefits. And the things that elicit these two things and, as a result, awe, can differ from person to person. However, there are some things that seem to more frequently elicit awe-experiencing nature, being exposed to art or music, and observing the accomplishments of others. Things like social interactions and personal accomplishments seem to be less likely to elicit awe. And I imagine that just putting yourself in new situations, in new places, and encountering new people would increase your chances of experiencing awe."
If ever there was a good advert for getting out there and doing amazing things, this is it. What are you waiting for? More here.

Jun 5, 2012

Windows Phone Has 100,000 Apps Now. Is That Impressive or Embarrassing?

Windows Phone just passed the 100,000 app milestone. Which sounds like a lot, until you think about it and then it sounds like a very small amount indeed. So which is it?

Well, iOS has almost 600,000, while the Google Play store has 500,000. Windows Phone took 20 months to get to 100,000, while iOS took 16 months, and Android took 24. So just about even growth-wise, right? Well, maybe. There are significantly more users and developers at this point than when the iPhone and Android were cutting their teeth, so maybe a steeper buildup should be expected.

WP fares worse when you look at quality: just 12 percent of apps have more than five US ratings. That number isn't awful awful, but it underlines the fact that there are very few quality apps, and Microsoft's had to resort to bribing bigtime apps to have third parties develop WP versions. Which of course backfires, because the apps usually turn out to be unreliable and abandoned.

Jun 4, 2012

New X-Ray Vision-Style Video Can Show a Pulse Beating Through Skin

Researchers at MIT have developed a crazy process called Eulerian Video Magnification that seems like it was pulled straight from a science fiction movie. It reveals the "subtle changes in the world" that are otherwise imperceptible to the human eye, like an artery pumping in a wrist. Spoiler: kinda gross!

So how does it work? It picks up on the very slight nuances in a video that you can't detect, such as the way a face reddens as blood is pumped through the body. It grabs these visualizations from a video sequence, and applies spatial decomposition then temporal filtering to the frames. Then it amplifies the color so these nuances become amazingly dynamic and easy to see. More here.

iOS 6 Might Get a Do Not Disturb Feature That Stops Annoying Notifications from Taking Over Your Phone

With WWDC around the corner, iOS 6 rumors are coming in waves. 9to5Mac is reporting that iOS 6 will have a super useful 'Do Not Disturb' feature, iCloud Tabs and Mail VIPs. Do Not Disturb looks especially useful, as it would be able to hide all alerts and banners from taking over your phone while you're playing a game or just don't want to be bothered.

All the features hail from Mountain Lion, Apple's next desktop OS and tie themselves neatly with iCloud. iCloud Tabs is a simple way to keep various versions of Safari (desktop, mobile) in sync, when you open iCloud Tabs on your iPhone, you'll see a list of tabs you have open in Safari elsewhere. Mail VIPs are just a simple star next to very important people who send you e-mails. Potentially useful in helping you quickly sift through your e-mails.

But perhaps the most useful new feature is a 'Do Not Disturb' toggle switch. When flipped on, Do Not Disturb will disable all your Notification Center alerts and banners. More here.

Corning Unveils Slim, Flexible Willow Glass

That is not plastic, it's glass. In particular it's Corning's new 100-micron-thick Willow Glass, a new ultra-thin and flexible substrate for LCDs and OLEDs. The extreme thinness of the glass should lead to lighter, svelter devices, but it also means that shape is no longer a barrier for design.

In fact, Corning expects Willow Glass will eventually lead substrates to be manufactured "roll-to-roll" instead of "sheet-to-sheet" -- similar to how newspapers are printed. Even though the glass as thin as paper (literally) it doesn't give up its patented Corning toughness.  

Jun 3, 2012

ROCCAT's New Lua Three-button Mouse is Thirty Dollars Away From Your FPS

How many buttons does a gaming mouse need? If you ask ROCCAT -- for today at least -- the answer is three. Evidently not happy with the current choice of tri-buttoned peripherals, it's launching a new "Lua" model at both Computex and E3. As well as the aforementioned triplet of clickable appendages, it houses a Pro Optic R2 sensor which will let you jack the DPI setting from 250 up to 2000 and back again on the hop, battlefield, or wherever you may be. The ambidextrous device launches internationally sometime in late July early August, with a $30 price-tag.

The Only Toolkit You’ll Need For the End of the World

First-aid supplies? Fresh water? Canned food? Sure, they're all nice things to have when the world as we know it comes to an end and zombies walk the Earth. But what you really need to survive the apocalypse is knives. Lots and lots of knives.

And this Ka-Bar kit delivers just that with four distinct blade designs named after the four horsemen of the apocalypse: Famine, Pestilence, War, and Death. Made from sharpened steel with distinctive green handles, each knife includes its own sheath and a smaller backup blade if things don't go as planned. You can buy them each separately for $60 a pop, but it's smarter to just get the whole set for $210, because you can never really have too many knives. More here.

Jun 2, 2012

New Smaller SIM Format Gets Standardized, Shrinks 40 Percent

ETSI has given the nod to a new SIM format standard, which will be 40 percent smaller than the existing micro-SIM design. Agreeing to the design in Osaka, Japan, the shape will be 12.3mm by 8.8mm and will measure the same thickness as existing SIMs at 0.67mm thick. The design promises to work with existing hardware and appears to fly closer to Apple's suggested size, following plenty of crossed wordsbetween manufacturers over the next iteration of the card.

Nokia has since put out a statement saying it will honor ETSI's decision and license out the needed patents on fair terms after the standards group made sure the vote was fair. There will be more than a small number of sour grapes from Espoo over having its own design rejected, though: it still sees Apple's nano-SIM as "technically inferior" and thinks the existing micro-SIM will still be the "preferred option." More here.

How a Looong Steadicam Shot Was Constructed in Hugo

Long Steadicam shots have become a staple of Hollywood movies over the past decade or so. Pulling it off involves complexities way beyond the seemingly simple task of walking through a room.

In this behind-the-scenes clip from last year's Hugo, you can see the coordination and movie tricks that go into a great Steadicam shot such as moving walls, precise queues, and an agile boom operator. Most important is an extremely skilled camera-man. Steadicam operators carry a lot of weight and must be adept at maneuvering the equipment.

You can hear the guy winded after the shot is over, and he probably has to do it over and over again.

Jun 1, 2012

Windows Phone 8 Phones Might Get Beautiful HD Screens

According to WP Central, Windows Phone might be ditching its dumpy 480x800 displays for new hi-res screens once WP8 hits.

WP Central piled onto the web analytics binge going around trying to dig up data about future Windows 8 devices right now, and in checking its own logs, found references to devices with 768x1280 resolution displays. Now, that's the rumored resolution for the 7-inch Google Nexus tablet. And we know Nokia is cranking out some kind of "hybrid mobile" device for Windows 8. But the LG Optimus TrueHD is 720x1280, and other phones are sitting around there as well, so the resolution itself isn't that much of a stretch.

A Windows Phone rep at CES wouldn't say whether WP would be bumping its specs all at once or gradually moving away from its unfragmented bubble, but he said "it was a total no brainer." Which, you know, seems like maybe we'll get a firehose full of upgraded standard specs for WP on the Windows 8 kernel. Or maybe not! Analytics extrapolations are notoriously random, so this could be one big false alarm. But hopefully not! More here.

Double-Sided, Transparent Touchscreens Might Be the Future of Gadgets After All

When transparent LCD technology started popping up as consumer tech prototypes a few years ago, it was quickly dismissed as gimmick, or something for a marketing kiosk. But looking at this touchscreen concept from Fujitsu—which is double-sided and transparent—makes you wonder if there isn't hope for this tech yet.

As the video shows, the implications for gaming are especially intriguing, since you could still control the action with your grubby little fingers, but not have to obscure your view in the process. It basically takes the idea of the PS Vita's rear touch panels one step further.

But of course, there's the issue of visibility and color depth, which, by the screen's very nature, makes it inferior to a standard LCD. Maybe someday, we can have the best of both worlds.

May 31, 2012

Can Exercise Actually Be Bad For You?

Not many of us actively enjoy it, but at least we know exercise is good for us. Right? Well, perhaps not: a team of well-respected scientists say that, actually, exercise might not be good for everyone after all.

The researchers studied how 1,687 people reacted to rigorous exercise. They found that 10 percent of the participants got worse, based on one or more measures of heart disease, including blood pressure and levels of insulin and HDL cholesterol. In fact, 7 percent got worse on at least two measures. Those results are published in PLoS One.

The weird thing is, nobody knows why. Claude Bouchard, one of the researchers and professor of genetics and nutrition at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, could only muster that the finding "is bizarre" when quizzed by the New York Times.

In fact, there's a bit of a problem with studies about the benefits of exercise on health. While many have shown in the past that exercise can have an affect on measures of health—usually in a way that we'd think of as positive—very few of them carry through the analysis to see if participants suffer fewer heart attacks or live longer lives.

It might shock you to hear that most of the guidelines that recommend how much exercise you should take are based largely on such studies. While they've shown that exercise causes somepositive change to some biomaker that in the short-term makes you medically "healthier"—they don't necessarily guarantee longer life.

Is that enough to stop exercising? No, absolutely not. This one study is interesting in so much as it may be the case that for a small number of people not exercising is better for them. But it's not a general rule.

In fact, even the authors of the study agree. As they explain, no medical intervention works for 100 percent of people. If you think of exercise as a medical intervention, then it's bound not work for a tiny percentage of the population—but for the rest of us, it can make a huge difference. More here.

Windows 8 Release Preview

Windows 8 Release Preview is among us and, boy, is it lovely. It's so much dreamier than the Consumer Preview, and makes the Developer Preview look like something cobbled together out of two-by-fours, electrical tape, and rebar. It also is quite boring.

Windows 8 is Microsoft's next-generation operating system, due to ship this fall. It adds lots of touch-based gestures to the old familiar Windows, and introduces an entirely new notion of how apps should look and run with its Metro interface, where single apps take over the entire screen and run free of clutter from buttons and menu bars. It's a dramatic leap forward. But while the Developer Preview was a grand unveiling, and the Consumer Preview was its first big meet and greet, this version of Windows 8 is all about refinements. The new Release Preview is an iterative update, inching us closer to final release. It's more mature maturity, increasingly refined, and already possesses a subtle elegance. Get it here.

Recycled Vinyl Records Become Bases for Beautiful Lamps

Brooklyn-based Orlando Dominguez of GIN Art & Design debuted his simple yet gorgeous lamps, whose bases are made of recycled 45 vinyl record, at the recent annual New York Design Week.

Picking up the colors in the vinyl—the glowing columns of light look almost like cut glass. More here.

May 30, 2012

Death to the Dock Connector Is Imminent, Suggests Apple Job Opening

Apple has posted on their jobs pages a job opening at Cupertino for a Connector Design Engineer, which only strengthens thegrowing speculation that the 30-prong dock connector we've all grown accustomed to is on its way out the door.

Rumors of a new iPhone with a smaller dock connector have proliferated recently, with images of alleged prototypes leaking out across the internet. And The job description itself all but confirms the rumor:
The Connector Design Engineer will be responsible for managing multiple connector designs and developments in support of the iPod product lines. Cross-functional development and consulting will be a major part of your daily work. As a Lead Engineer you be responsible for identifying appropriate connection technology requirements for new products and follow through with selection and development of suitable interconnect products. This will often involve adaptation of existing connectors or completee new designs. Interfacing with connector suppliers to direct and implement the necessary design changes or creation of completely new designs will also be a major part of your daily work.
A smaller connector doesn't seem like much of an upgrade, and actually it will be prettyannoying for those of us with a plethora of 30-prongs circulating amongst our devices. More here.

Is This Finally a Toughphone Worth Buying?

Sony has just announced that it's launching a new toughphone, called the Xperia Advance. Unlike previous examples of hardy handsets, though, this one actually looks normal—and its specs aren't too shabby either.

It packs a 3.5-inch 480 x 320 display, dual-core 1GHz processor, 5-megapixel camera and runs... well, it runs a Gingerbread version of Android. Android 4.0 will, apparently, find its way to the device soon though. One excellent little feature is something called "wet finger tracking" which means that the screen is still useable when it's raining or when your hands are covered in water. More here.

May 29, 2012

They’ve Finally Perfected the Ice Cream Scoop

This fine piece of gastronomical engineering could very well be the perfect ice cream scoop. And if you've ever battled to get ice cream out of a container with a more traditional looking scoop, you'll appreciate the extra thought that's gone into this one's design.

First off, the leading edge is serrated like a knife, so it can slash its way through even the most solid of frozen treats. And that fancy faceted design on the scoop? That's not just for futuristic looks. No, that texture prevents a scoop of ice cream from sticking like a suction cup, so it's easier to deposit onto a cone. You'd expect such innovation to be priced at a premium and only available to professionals who make their livelihood scooping, but you can get one for your own kitchen for a mere $10 here.

Early iPad Prototype With Two Dock Connectors Sells For $10,200

Since its launch in 2010 the iPad has only ever featured a single dock connector, despite being used frequently in landscape orientation. There were, just before launch, rumors that the device might have two connectors—and now a prototype which has just sold on eBay further suggests that such plans were considered.

This prototype 16 GB original iPad is plastered in prototype identification numbers and, while it's always difficult to say for certain if such items are real, the accompanying documentation and images certainly make it appear to be a genuine Apple prototype. Certainly, one person was convinced enough to spend $10,200 to secure the item.

It does raise the question as to whether two dock connectors might have been a good idea. It would, of course, have taken up more internal space, and looked ugly and asymmetric—but would the extra convenience have been worth it? More here.