A multitool that's also a belt-buckle

SOG's $60 Sync II "wearable belt buckle" multitool isn't the only multitool/buckle on the market, but it does add a couple very sensible innovations, like a clip-on/clip-off base that lets you use your tool without taking off your belt, and a squared-off form factor (like a pair of folding travel sewing scissors) that adapts the folded tool for the buckle form-factor. Read the rest

A beer cooler that follows you around

This week on Cool Tools' Maker Update: Kitty Grabs Gold, a beer cooler that follows you, the Circuit Playground Express, Adafruit and Microsoft, Other Machine Co. and Bre Pettis, Tinkercad Lego export, a great kit for gadget and toy hacking, and Maker Faires. Our featured Cool Tool is the iFixit Electronics Tool Kit.

Check out the show notes. Read the rest

Inexpensive keyboard has two settings: “OFF” and “NO”

The mechanical Royal Kludge keyboard (Update: in stock here) seems to do well with Amazon reviewers, but there are no guarantees you'll receive one with the coveted OFF/NO switch. Read the rest

Don't call Microsoft's upgraded tablet PC the Surface Pro 5

Microsoft announced Tuesday a long-awaited upgrade to its Surface Pro series of high-end tablet PCs, dropping the number from the name and adding Kaby Lake processors, more minutes on a charge and a few dollars to the price tag.

Here's Mark Hachman, Senior Editor at PCWorld:

For Surface Pro 4 owners, the new Surface Pro is a tablet that’s 20 percent faster, with 50 percent more battery life, all for roughly the same price. If you're wondering how Microsoft eked out more battery life, executives said it was a combination of an increased battery capacity as well as efficiencies in both the new Core chip and the Creators Update of Windows 10.

The new low-end fanless model will be good stuff for everyday Windows users wanting a does-it-all gadget.

Tom Warren at The Verge reports that the pen is being significantly upgraded, too, getting tilt detection, 4096 levels of sensitivity and a reduction in activation force: "Inking now feels a lot less laggy and way more responsive on the Surface Pro."

This is key for me. I couldn't quite get used to even the highest-end models in the past because the pen latency was so much worse than Wacom gear or the iPad Pro. I'll check in on the fifth Surface Pro and report back. Read the rest

Kickstarting a replica of the original Pioneer Plaque, manufactured by the original craftsman

You know what would go great with your Voyager Golden Record? A replica of the "galactic greeting card" plaque that rode along with the Pioneer 10 and 11 probes, designed by Frank Drake and Carl Sagan with artwork prepared by Linda Salzman Sagan. Read the rest

Powerful Russian Orthodox cleric summoned to spritz computers with holy water to fight ransomware

Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church is a powerful reactionary figure in the country's toxic political scene, which has welded a tale of thwarted imperial destiny to a thin-skinned fundamentalist theology that can't bear the slightest sign of mockery; he's blamed ISIS on secularism and Pride parades and says that marriage equality literally heralds the imminent apocalypse. Read the rest

Three months with the cheapest electric kettle that didn’t look like it would kill me

At $11, the Proctor Silex K2070YA 1-Liter Electric Kettle was the cheapest model I could find on Amazon that didn’t look like it would result in electrocution or an explosion of boiling water. I’ve spent three months with it. It’s OK.

In fact, it’s showing no sign at all of problems. It boils water fast. The cord is detachable. It automatically shuts off when it boils, or if you try to boil air. The design makes it possible to refill from a faucet or fridge dispenser without opening the lid. You can see from across the room how full it is, too, thanks to its nice big window.

The little “heating in progress” LED light inside the transparent switch is still working after months of use, and there’s no rubbery seal around the lid slowly failing; two problems that soon became annoyances on the $75 Breville this replaced. The only problem, such as it is? The LEX part of the logo has completely and slightly mysteriously disappeared.

Here’s a photo of the heating element after a thousand or so boils:

If you do want to die, though, the $2.17 Lookatool Pocket Boiler is where it’s at. The Ovente looks quite similar to the Proctor Silex model, comes in several cool colors, and is currently the same price, but has a stupid window. Read the rest

Kickstarting Evezor, an open robot that can carve, draw, engrave, pour, pick, place, cut, weld, print, grab, mill, assemble and create

We are introducing Evezor, a robot that can carve, draw, engrave, pour, pick, place, cut, weld, print, grab, mill, assemble and create your next project or business. Powered by Raspberry Pi, open source software and hardware, Evezor is the most hackable robotic arm there is. Evezor can share and automate the hand tools you already own and with open toolhead platform, anyone can make tools for this machine. Read the rest

Review: Mainstays $9 portable electric burner

Mainstays Single Burner is a portable electric coil hotplate you can buy for $9 at Walmart (and Amazon). It has a 1m two-prong cord, an adjustable power control (temperatures are not marked) and rubber feet.

I tested it with a steel stock pot with 8 quarts of water.

After turning up the heat I watched it for a while. It got the water to about 160 degrees but it was only slowly rising and I doubt it would have gotten to a boil. Touching the steel to observe the element, I felt a strange tingling, rippling sensation in my arm.

“That’s odd,” I thought, lifting the pot up to look at the element. The sensation left me. Part of the element glowed red but mostly it remained dark. I placed the pot back on the element and the moment it touched it that weird tingle shot up my arm again.

“Oh, I’m being electrified,” I said, “because I bought a $9 electric burner from fucking Walmart.” Read the rest

How to check if a phone is stolen

Buying a phone on Craigslist or eBay or some other shady venue? Get the device's ESN or IMEI number from the seller and post it to the Stolen Phone Checker, a single-serving website set up by industry trade group CTIA. If the seller won't give you the number, assume it's stolen. [via] Read the rest

Gallery of gadgets at the Bang & Olufsen Museum

Vlad Savov went on a tour of the Bang & Olufsen Museum in Struer, Denmark—a wonder closet of cool audio gear.

The very earliest Bang & Olufsen product was actually a component rather than a full-fledged radio. The Eliminator, as it was called, made batteries unnecessary and allowed you to plug your radio directly into the mains. A couple of years after the Eliminator’s introduction, Peter Bang and Svend Olufsen moved their work out of the Olufsen family farm and into a factory in the nearby town of Struer in northwest Denmark. This is where the main B&O manufacturing facilities remain to this day.

In terms of their design inspiration, these first B&O radios were like the original skeuomorphic iPhone OS of their time. They adapted the styling of familiar pieces of home furniture to their technological purposes.

Read the rest

Review: Logitech MK270, the cheapest-ass wireless keyboard and mouse combo

The Logitech MK270 Wireless Keyboard and Mouse set was just twelve dollars and fifty cents!

It's sometimes $16.99 or even a bit more, but that's still pretty damned cheap.

I expected it to be about as bad as the Amazon Basics Keyboard, which is the same price, but wired, and you don't get a mouse. You know those nasty squidgy roll-up rubber portable keyboards? Imagine one of those in a rigid plastic case, and you have the Amazon Basics Keyboard.

This, though, is a perfectly decent full-size rubber-dome keyboard, as good as most of the tat in, say, a Best Buy or Staples. The special keys worked, including a calculator key that actually brings up the system calculator. Fucking witchcraft! Read the rest

What's inside a phone that's designed to fit inside your rectum?

On Hackaday, Alasdair Allan documents the ingenious techniques employed in the creation of the Beat the Boss Phone, a tiny, lozenge-shaped phone (with a voice-changer) that is designed to be smuggled past the BOSS metal detectors used in UK prisons in the rectums of prisoners. Read the rest

Apple's control-freakery is making the Internet of Shit shittier

The anonymous individual behind the must-follow Internet of Shit Twitter account now has a column in The Verge, and has devoted 1,500 words to documenting all the ways in which Apple's signature walled-garden approach to technology has created an Apple Home IoT platform that is not only manifestly totally broken, but also can't be fixed until Apple decides to do something about it -- and once you opt for Apple, you can forget about plugging in anything Apple hasn't greenlit, meaning that your choice of smartphone will determine what kind of toaster and lightswitch you're allowed to connect to your smarthome. Read the rest

Lekue Cooking Mesh makes boiling veggies fun again

It's pricier than the five-buck alternative, but my Lekue silicone cooking mesh bag [Amazon] has survived dozens of boils.

GreenSavers are the best produce savers I've tried

After trying too many different options, I decided that GreenSavers [Amazon link] best met the twin goals of keeping veggies fresh while making the fridge navigable.

235 apps attempt to secretly track users with ultrasonic audio

Ultrasonic beacons (previously, previously) let advertisers build an idea of when and where you use your devices: the sound plays in an ad on one device, and is heard by other devices. This way, they can associate two gadgets with a single user, precisely geolocate devices without aGPS, or even build graphs of real-world social networks. The threat was considered more academic than some, but more than 200 Android apps were found in the wild using the technique.

In research sponsored by the German government [PDF], a team of researchers conducted extensive tests across the EU to better understand how widespread this practice is in the real world.

Their results revealed Shopkick ultrasonic beacons at 4 of 35 stores in two European cities. The situation isn't that worrisome, as users have to open an app with the Shopkick SDK for the beacon to be picked up.

In the real world, this isn't an issue, as store owners, advertisers, or product manufactures could incentivize users to open various apps as a way to get discounts.

From the paper:

While in April 2015 only six instances were known, we have been able to identify 39 further instances in a dataset of about 1,3 million applications in December 2015, and until now, a total of 234 samples containing SilverPush has been discovered. We conclude that even if the tracking through TV content is not actively used yet, the monitoring functionality is already deployed in mobile applications and might become a serious privacy threat in the near future

Apparently it's not very effective—consumer speakers and mics aren't designed with ultrasonic use in mind and the authors say noise, audio compression and other factors "significantly affects the feasibility" of the technology—but the intent is clearly there on the part of advertisers and appmakers to make a stab at it. Read the rest

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