Monday, January 20, 2020

Doorbell cameras become crime-fighting tools

Last summer someone cruising our alley in red pickup swiped three nice bicycles that were parked behind a neighbor's house.

My front door and my Ring doorbell have a view of that alley. So when I heard about the missing bikes, I browsed through my stored videos and there it was - a red pickup truck with the bike clearly visible among the stuff piled in the back.

The video didn't capture the truck's license plate. But after I posted a still image on Nextdoor, a neighborhood-focused social network, I heard from several neighbors who recognized the truck. One of them knew the owner, a man who frequently cruised the neighborhood streets collecting discarded items.

Doorbell video cameras like mine have become watchfull eyes all across America, according to a story published yesterday in the New York Times. The article recounts a number of examples of how the cameras have foiled criminals and assisted neighbors, including a woman who had been locked out of her home on an icy winter night.

It also reports that police agencies in many communities have obtained access to Ring doorbell videos, with the permission of their owners, to assist in criminal investigations. That hasn't happened in my community, but I think that if asked, I would be inclined to agree. How about you?

Here's a link to the Times' story and a YouTube video of a thief stealing a $100 item -- the doorbell that recorded him in the act.


Monday, January 6, 2020

Mictic turns body movements into music

One of the mesmerizing charms of an orchestra conductor is the way he (or she) appears to create music out of thin air with the wave of a baton.

That may be what a group opt Swiss engineers were going for when they invented Mictic. It's a wireless sensor that produces lush, fully-formed notes and chords from hand movements.

To see what I'm talking about, check out the video below. A cellist performs a short piece by moving his right hand across the strings while his left hand moves up and down the fretboard.

But look closely - there's no bow in his right hand and he soon lifts his left hand off the neck of the cello. He's playing music without an instrument.

The creators of Mictic call it "the world's first body instrument" that launches "the beginning of a new era:  audio augmented reality."

The device pairs a wrist sensor that's the size of a large watch with a companion app that interprets body movements and instantly transforms them into sounds.

Mictic developers plan to launch the device early next year. They have created a few sound kits that  match musical instruments and plan to expend into other sounds. Their website mentions plans for kits that will mimic the sounds of a lightsaber or a robot.

Mictic AG is currently looking for investors and plans to launch a pre-release sale by the end of April to raise development funding.

For more details, to get on the company's mailing list and to watch several more videos, visit the the Mictic website. You can also follow @Mictic_Move on Twitter.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Need a faster note taker? Check out JotBlue

There was a time when I always carried a pen and few scraps of paper. I wanted to be ready to jot down a phone number, a reminder, an appointment or something to add to my shopping list.

Of course those days are gone now that everybody carries a computer -- their mobile phone -- in their pocket or purse. And those phones offer several apps to capture notes or reminders. But so far, I haven't found one specific app that will quickly and efficiently capture and file every piece of data.

JotBlue just might be the one. It's a recently upgraded app for Android phones that can handle and manage a wide variety of information bits. For instance, you can type in text or activate the phone's microphone to dictate a note or appointment.

And it solves a problem I've had with Evernote, one of the most widely used apps for capturing and storing notes. When I want to take a note with Evernote, I have to find the topic I want it to be stored under, otherwise it just becomes a generic catchall memo.

JotBlue uses a clever letter code to tag a note right from the start and direct it to the proper folder. The letters correspond to topics: A = Appointment, B = Buy, C = Call and so on.

Need a reminder to buy a gift card for your brother? Type B, then a space, then "gift card for Pete." Type a D to make an entry in your diary or E to record a business expense.

Here's one more feature that I like about JotBlue: You don't have to give up Evernote. If you sync Jotblue with Evernote, all of your Jotblue notes will also be recorded in your Evernote App.
JotBlue is available as a free download in the Google Play Store. For more details, check out the video below and visit the JotBlue website. JotBlue is also on Facebook and @jotblue on Twitter.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Duel Quiz is a fantasy app for global soccer fans

As the NFL football season rolls toward the playoffs and the Super Bowl, millions of Americans are checking their mobile phones for updates on their favorite teams and fantasy league players.

But in much of the rest of the world, fans are following a different sport, the one Americans call soccer. And those fans also have a mobile app and a fantasy game they can play.

Football Duel Quiz is a turn based multiplayer trivia game for all designed for soccer fans around the world. Users play as a member of their favorite club and they compete against other club fans. Points are scored in during six round of trivia questions.

To score points, players answer questions like this one: "Who was the first man to bring any major silverware for the Manchester United?" With each win, points are contributed to the player's chosen team. Like a real life football league, the game has clubs standings for each league, with rankings determined based on their fans' contributed points. And as in real club soccer, after each  season, the top two clubs are promoted to a higher football league while the bottom are relegated to a lower league.

The game includes the top 64 football clubs from around the world in three football leagues. The developers say more clubs will be added in the future.

Football Duel Quiz is available as a free download in the Google Play Store

Monday, December 9, 2019

loveBuds let you share music, movies and video calls

When my wife and I travel together we often share a movie on my computer or tablet. But that only happens when I remember to bring along two sets of earbuds and a little splitter cable so we can both plug into the same headphone jack.

Then there are times when I want to share a song with her. What do I do - offer her one earbud and half of the the stereo?

Those are the times when I wondered why no one had created dual earbuds with two sets built into one plug.

It turns out someone has. They're called loveBuds and they're much more practical than a couple of standard earbuds plugged into a splitter.

For example, loveBuds have separate microphones and volume controls. Dual mics mean my wife and I can both participate in a Skype or Facetime video call. And the volume control lets me crank up the movie sound without blasting her.

The buds are colored black and pink, so users will always know which pair are his and which are hers.

And the cables are long enough to let us use them if we were sitting across from each other at a dining table, for example, or strolling through a museum.

The loveBuds have a standard audio pin plug so they would work fine with my laptop computer and with many mobile phones and tablets. Users who have newer Apple phones or tablets will need to have their own adapter.

You can get more details at the loveBuds website or order a set for $34.99 from Amazon.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Source Rabbit launches desktop CNC milling machine

The development of 3D printers has made it easy to create prototype products, custom prosthetics and architectural models. But what if you need a replacement part of an antique motorcycle or a replacement for a metal item that is no longer manufactured?

Computer-controlled milling machines are also moving to the desktop with a new generation of devices that can quickly transform a computer design into a fully-finished item.

The new Micro Mill CNC milling machine from Source Rabbit can function as a router, lathe, drill or grinder. And it works with a wide variety of materials, including aluminum, wood, plastics and PCB boards. It also works with all major computer design computer software.

The Source Rabbit website says the Micro Mill has the kind of high-precision specs that make it a good choice for lab technicians, jewelers, electricians, model makers and precision opticals.

Here are some of those specs:
  • A cutting area of 300x200x180 mm
  • A Z-Αxis column that is exactly 90° with its table  
  • A bed travel area of 300x200 mm
  • All axes are running on hardened 15mm linear rails
  • A waterproof terminal switch on each axes.
To get a closer look at the Micro Mill, visit the Source Rabbit website.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Inventor wants to put a wind turbine in your yard

Which renewable energy source contributes the most to US energy production? Here's a hint: It's not the sun.

According to Enerdata's statistical yearbook for 2018, solar energy accounted for 2 percent of electricity production compared to 7 percent for wind power.

Electricity output from wind turbines keeps growing every year. Most of that power comes from sprawling wind farms like the ones in Northwestern Indiana. There, hundreds hundreds of giant turbines have sprouted across three counties where they produce enough electricity to power more than 270,000 homes.

But Roger Phillips, an inventor and entrepreneur, thinks wind power can contribute even more if it's deployed on a smaller scale. Instead of hundreds of massive propellers generating power for thousands of homes, Phillips envisions small generators that could power a single home or a small business.

Here's how Phillips laid out his vision on his website:

What if people could power their homes for free?
What if they could drive their cars for free?
Would they buy an electric car?
What if companies could eliminate their power bills?
Would this change the economy?

Phillips is the brains behind Mighty Watts, a wind turbine small enough to be installed next to a residence or commercial building. The electricity generated by the device would be integrated into the local electrical grid the way solar panels now reduce or eliminate electric utility bills.

Phillips is a Navy veteran who ran two businesses in Minnesota before retiring to life on the road in an RV. About 10 years ago, he began exploring ways to reduce the $1,700 electricity bill he was pay for a commercial building.

Over the past decade the idea evolved into the Mighty Watts turbine. Instead of huge blades mounted on a skyscraping pole, Mighty Watts uses small blades housed in a circular casing that could turn out to be about 13 feet wide.

And Mighty Watts might also work well in areas that aren't especially windy. The device makes use of the Venturi effect to increase the velocity of the ambient wind. Phillips explains the process this way:

The Venturi takes the outside wind traveling at its normal speed, forcing it through a smaller area where it speeds the wind up behind the blades, eliminating the resistance to the incoming wind.

Phillips believes the widespread use of Might Watts devices could eliminate the need for fossil fuels and reduce the threat posed by global warming.

To get his invention rolling, he launched a campaign on Go Fund Me where he hopes to raise $350,000. The money would be used to hire engineers, conduct a computer fluid dynamics analysis and build a 9- to 13-foot prototype for real-life testing.

Once the prototype is built, tested and perfected, Mighty Watts could move on to manufacturing. With funding, Phillips says the engineering phase could be completed in less than six months and the test device built within another three months.

For a closer look at at the ideas behind Might Watts, watch the video below and check out the Mighty Watts website.

Mighty Watts it also on Twitter @mightywattswind and on Facebook and Instagram.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

AstraChat offers secure group chat

Every time I hear a report about someone's private chats getting hacked or snooped I wonder why some talented programmers haven't created a secure alternative to the common chat programs we all use.

It turns out that the coders at Rockliffe Systems have done just that. Their product is called AstraChat. It lets users communicate securely in real time using almost any platform, from iOS an Android mobiles to Windows, Mac and even Linux desktops.

With AstraChat, users can communicate one-to-one or in groups both small and large. In addition to sending and receiving text messages, they also can exchange photos and conduct VoIP conference calls.

A key element in the AstraChat structure is its use of its own enterprise server instead of using a commercial chat platform with a cloud installation or a proxy server.  AstraChat clients support SSL and TLS encryption and optional encryption using OTR (Off the Record).

The AstraChat client software is always connected to an XMPP server running in the background to provide immediate push notifications of new messages. And the elimination of a proxy server add enhanced security.

Client apps are available for free from the Apple App Store, the Google Play Store and the Amazon App Store.  The apps connect directly to the AstraChat server and do not require users to sign up or create an account.

For a closer look, check out the video below and for more details, visit the AstraChat website.

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