This Just In: Smartphones Make Life Easier

smartphoneYou might have detected a hint of sarcasm in that headline.

There was a Gallup poll conducted back in March about the effects of mobile technology on the lives of Americans. The study considered how the use of smartphones and tablets has impacted communication behaviors in respondents of various age groups. The results were, well, not all that surprising across the board. 62% of Americans polled claim that communication with friends and family increased dramatically, as did the amount of work they performed outside of regular business hours; while their involvement in the political process, such as campaigns and election activities, showed a much smaller improvement. According to the numbers, it appears that two-thirds of Americans in the workplace find themselves working more after business hours because of the freedom that mobile technology provides.

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A Mobile Device for Your All Your Mobile Devices. And they mean ALL of them.

batteriesOne of the things I often find myself dealing with on an almost daily basis is my cell phone running low on juice. Whether I just forget to plug it in before I go to bed the night before and find myself using it all day, or happen to leave some powerful apps open by mistake; before I know it the battery indicator screen pops up telling me to connect my charger. Problem is, I’m nowhere near an outlet and I certainly don’t bring my charger with me everywhere I go anyway. The tablet isn’t as bad, but sometimes I’m just not paying much attention and of course, I’m at Starbucks and the battery starts dying. Frustrating as heck, and it’s always at the worst possible time.

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Tactical Backpacks. High-tech Bags for the Civilian Market

Condor Compact Assault Pack For as long as I can remember, the military has always had great gear that the marketplace at large has coveted. Much of the time, similar versions of things that only soldiers were able to take advantage are made available to the buying public. The Humvee is probably the best example. These military SUV’s were glorified on TV and film in the 90’s and soon enough, a civilian version was distributed for those consumers who wanted the same durability and reliability as our men and women in uniform were accustomed to using. Of course, modifications were made to make them more palatable to the mainstream. Have you ever sat inside an actual Humvee? They’re among the most uncomfortable vehicles ever made, so obviously, the creature comforts we come to expect from high-end vehicles had to be implemented.

GPS is another military technology that gained incredible popularity among consumers. Same thing with duct tape. That’s right, duct tape. Invented for military use but now readily available in Home Depot. What about microwave ovens? Those were a military only technology happened upon quite mistakenly in 1945. Decades later they became a household item. Chances are you have one in your own kitchen. Cargo pants are another one. Popular with men, they were available only to troops until the 90’s when they became a fashion trend.

You can now add tactical backpacks to that list of military issue gear that we can own and enjoy. Tactical backpacks come in various different sizes and are known for the amount of pockets and pouches that are available throughout the bag itself. There are multiple compartments that house interior pockets and smaller compartments to keep all of your gear organized and easy to access. These bags are waterproof and impact resistant so you can take them with you pretty much anywhere you need to be. Many of them are outfitted in something called MOLLE webbing, which enables you to add extra pouches and pockets to the bag for more storage options. These bags are designed for soldiers and their gear, and they’ve been built to take the kind of abuse that a soldier can dish out and endure as well.

There are a wide variety of tactical backpacks and you can find a large selection here. Check them out and see what the military has been enjoying this whole time while you’ve been missing out. Good news is, you don’t have to miss out anymore. Now grab your duct tape, throw on your cargo pants, get in your Hummer and let’s head out for adventure!

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Tech in Surprising Places

cool techThere was a time when glasses were just glasses. Now they’re Google glasses and they do everything from record video to giving you turn by turn directions. While I’m super excited about getting a pair at some point there are times if I wonder if we’ve gone too far. Maybe glasses should just stay as glasses.

But then I come to my senses and remember that I love finding tech in surprising places! Here are my top three cool gadgets that have really come a long way over the years.

Awesome New Hearing Aids

I use my ear buds a lot. I’m always on the phone, or listening to music, or my favorite podcasts. I have no doubt that eventually all that time spent with a speaker less than an inch away from my ear drum is going to catch up to me. As much as I hate to admit it, I, and most other people my age are probably going to need hearing aids earlier than any other generations. My grandfather had hearing aids. they were big and clunky and were always making a high pitched whine. These days they’re small, are able to cut out background noise, and last for weeks or months on a single charge. While I’m not excited about the prospect of using them, I feel like they’ll be pretty small and unnoticeable when I get to that point.

Super Advanced Watches

There was a time when you had to wind a watch and it could be off by more than 10 minutes a day. Well ladies and gentleman, times have changed. These days watches can track your gps coordinates, measure barometric pressure, tell the temp, and a ton more. Some are made of lightweight but extremely strong hydrocarbons and are virtually unbreakable. I’m partial to tactical watches like these here because they do everything you could ever need and they look badassed!

Shoes

Shoes are more than  leather sole these days. Now you can find pairs that are powerful computers that can track all your movements. No need for a separate pedometer or running timer. Your shoes will keep track of everything for you. All you need to do is download the data when you get home. Simple as that!

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The Ultimate iPad App for Your Eyes Can Turn Back Time on Your Vision

eye chartAnyone who’s been on the iTunes store knows there are literally hundreds of thousands of apps for just about anything and everything under the sun. Games seem to be the most prevalent for obvious reasons, but while you sit there for a half hour or so playing Candy Crush or Clash of Clans, all you’re really doing is racking up points and clearing levels. When you’re done there’s a feeling of accomplishment and you’ve had some fun. But what if the next game you played could actually help improve your eyesight?

That’s the claim made by the folks over at Carrot Neurotechnology, makers of the UltimEyes app. Download and play their app, which is part eye test, part touch-screen game (kind of similar to Bug Squash); and the company claims it can actually help enhance the quality of your vision if you play it at a prescribed four sessions a week. In fact, the game description on the Apple iTunes store boldly states that using the app will help you see better at night, read in dim light, even delay the need for reading glasses. It even says that users experienced a 100% increase in contrast sensitivity.

You may be asking how it does all of these things, and luckily the game description goes into detail there as well. The app works through something called brain plasticity; a process that is targeted in recuperative therapies for stroke and brain injury victims to help them recover lost motor skills. The UltimEyes app stimulates this brain plasticity, resulting in a natural remedy to achieve improved vision. Four 25-minute sessions a week is all you need to get started on the road to better eyes, and considering all of those countless hours I’ve spent on Candy Crush, this should be a cinch.

But can an iPad game really do all of these things the developers claim? The iTunes description explains that the app has been examined by a number of academic institutions such as UCLA, the University of California at Riverside, and the Western School of Optometry. The company even cites research published in the scientific journals Vision Research and Current Biology. That caught my eye (no pun intended), so I dug a little deeper to see just what had been published. Turns out the study that’s in Current Biology outlines how 19 college baseball players at UC Riverside used the app after 30 sessions at 25 minutes each, the players started showing a 31% improvement in their vision. Some of the players even displayed vision of 20/7.5 – meaning at a distance of 20 feet, they could clearly see what someone with normal eyesight could see from 7.5 feet away. That’s impressive to say the least.

So I figured, what the heck, I downloaded the app. It’s extremely easy to play, even though the levels get increasingly harder as it goes, just like any other game out there. You basically locate little amoeba-like shapes and tap the screen to obliterate them, without hitting decoy icons that will count against your score. The gelatinous shapes get tougher to find and destroy as the levels get more difficult and faster. The app makers claim I could notice some difference in my eyesight in as little as three weeks. I guess time will tell.

In the meantime, maybe I’ll get an eye chart to test myself as I progress in the game. See what I can see now versus what I’ll be able to see later on. I’ll check back and let you know if anything changes!

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Unmanned Aerial Wi-Fi

dronesIt seems those unmanned drones have been in the news a lot lately for all the wrong reasons. Whether they’re being deployed to hunt down Al-Qaeda leaders inside of Yemen, or Senator Rand Paul is criticizing their use overseas, or there’s the pervading paranoia by many Americans that they’re going to be used by the U.S. Government to take away our freedoms and track our every move; these vehicles are controversial at best.

The debate will continue to rage on over their appropriate use, not to mention the moral and ethical dilemmas that come with their part of our foreign policy. Then there’s Jeff Bezos telling Amazon.com shareholders, just a few weeks ago, how he absolutely intends to pursue his vision of “delivery drones” that would fly packages straight to your doorstep, despite the hundreds of questions and what-if scenarios that nearly everyone from Wall Street analysts to late night talk show hosts put forth. Wouldn’t thieves shoot these things out of the sky to steal their valuable cargo? Oh and how the heck are they going to transport a 70” television right to your home?

No matter what the reason, unmanned drones seem to divide the populace at large over their benefit and intent. But the latest development in the evolution of the UAV is sure to find supporters and detractors in equal measure with the newest application for their use while roaming the skies overhead. The DoD’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (or DARPA for short) has found a pretty interesting use for surveillance drones that were being used in Iraq at one time, but have essentially been decommissioned: they’re turning a bunch of RQ-7 Shadow surveillance drones into mobile Wi-Fi hotspots.

The idea is to bring wireless communication capabilities to far-off, remote regions of the world where there’s little to no service available, by way of outfitting the RQ-7 with networking pods. The goal is to make it easier for soldiers and personnel to communicate with tactical headquarters no matter what part of the globe they may find themselves stationed. DARPA’s Mobile Hotspots Program is designed to modify retired RQ-7’s with networking hardware that can transfer data at one gigabyte a second.

As most of you know, that’s about equal to the kind of 4G connectivity you can get from your smartphone provider, and all of it will be handled by small antennas and steerable amplifiers that are attached to the drones which measure about 11 feet long. That doesn’t leave a lot of surface area to work with but DARPA believes they’ve the met the challenge with both hardware placement and signal strength, taking area terrain of potential target environments and their topographical interference into consideration.

Weather conditions may also pose a significant problem to the program, but that’s a challenge they’re still working on. The DirecTV reception gets wonky when it rains pretty hard here, what’s that likely to do to extremely high-frequency millimeter wave-band signals? The Mobile Hotspots Program has just entered Phase 2 in which the networking pods are being attached to ground vehicles for further connectivity testing.

Say what you will about UAV’s, but applications like these can only be a sign that there are entirely beneficial, and benevolent, uses to the controversial drones. Any equipment designed to help troops survive in hostile situations by improving their communication capabilities is a technological advancement that poses great potential for similar, civilian-based uses as well. Does that mean we need drones buzzing overhead at all hours of the day? Not necessarily, but I’d much rather hear stories about drones being re-purposed for tasks such as these instead of the much deadlier alternative.

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Nissan is about to put car washes out of business

nissanI never cease to be amazed at the next big thing intended to make our lives easier. There always seems to be some new thing someone’s thought up, designed specifically for convenience and efficiency. Wearable technology (I’m still saving up for my Google Glass!), hard drives filled with helium for greater storage space capacity, 3D printers, the list goes on and on.

A few might argue that some of the stuff is unnecessary, others might say they don’t know how they got along without it before now; but you can’t deny the modern ingenuity that is on display year in and year out. The human race is coming up with some truly fascinating stuff. Well now there’s another new thing to love that could become the norm of our everyday lives in the coming years: cars that can wash themselves. No, it’s not a flying car just yet, but we’re getting there.

The folks over at Nissan are developing a car paint that repels oil and water, effectively making it the first self-cleaning automobile. Now if you’re anything like me, I love nothing more than grabbing the hose and a bucket of suds and doing the job myself. But I’m one of those guys that thinks a Sunday afternoon should be spent outdoors, and sometimes that afternoon is spent washing the car. I know a lot of you probably think that’s one too many chores around the house and you’d be better off taking it to the local car wash for a roll under the brushes.

Some of you probably find even that to be a hassle what with your busy schedule, and you likely haven’t washed the car in months. That’s not good for the paint and if there’s bird crap anywhere on the car, that stuff will eat away at the top layer before you know it. Birds eat berries, berries have acid in them, the acid eats away at the enamel.

So if you’re not much for washing your car, then this is for you. Engineers at Nissan’s UK technical center have developed a car paint that is both hydrophobic and oleophobic. Which means dirt rolls off the car as if it was never there in the first place. The trick is in the exterior finish called Ultra-Ever Dry, which acts as a sealant wax of sorts, making everything from rain, snow, sleet, oil, standing water, dirt, even bird droppings, roll right off the car and to the ground, resulting in a clean car.

They did some test runs with the new paint on a Nissan Note, in white no less. In the video the company provided, everything they throw at the car simply beads up and rolls away leaving a mostly pristine exterior. This type of technology isn’t entirely new, of course. There’s a hydrophobic spray you can buy from Rust-Oleum that provides the same type of protection to anything you apply it to.

It works in much the same fashion, with liquids beading up on the finish. But no one’s ever thought to apply it to a motor vehicle yet. Nissan says the paint isn’t a standard feature yet, but could be soon. They’re thinking of offering it as an extra option on future vehicle releases, so it’s not available at the moment. I wouldn’t suggest spraying your vehicle with Rust-Oleum either. Just take it to the local car wash for now. Especially if there’s bird poop on the hood.

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