Laminitis research to help save horses and ponies

Laminitis research to help save horses and ponies

Laminitis — a complex, common and often devastating disease — is the second biggest killer of domestic horses. Now a body of important research on it has been compiled and shared online for equine vets and others to access.

As knowledge of the pathophysiology, diagnosis and treatment of the deadly condition continues to grow, the Equine Veterinary Journal (EVJ) has published Understanding and managing equine endocrinopathic laminitis, a special online collection of 27 papers and three accompanying editorials compiled by EVJ Associate Editor Nicola Menzies-Gow and QUT’s Dr Melody de Laat.

Over the past ten years researchers have made great strides in understanding the pathophysiology of endocrinopathic laminitis. Dr de Laat summarised the collection’s papers on the links between insulin dysregulation, equine metabolic syndrome (EMS), pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID) and laminitis.

“We have defined insulin is the key player in endocrinopathic laminitis. We know horses and ponies with EMS and PPID are at an increased risk for developing endocrinopathic laminitis and we have come to understand that it’s insulin dysregulation in these animals which is helping to drive the laminitis,” said Dr de Laat.

She added there was much discussion about the role of obesity in laminitis. A couple of pathophysiology articles in the collection look at the fact that generalised obesity isn’t necessarily a factor of endocrinopathic laminitis.

“What’s actually going on in the foot of an animal with laminitis is still little understood. Several papers focus on lamellar lesions. Others look at the role that growth factor receptors may play in the disease,” Dr de Laat said.

“I am really optimistic that within the next ten years we are going to be able to understand the pathophysiology of this condition really well. And then we’ll be able to turn our attention to new treatment options for the disease, which will help horses to become pain free.”

Dr Nicola Menzies-Gow’s editorial reviews the collection’s papers on the diagnosis of endocrinopathic laminitis. An accurate diagnosis of laminitis relies on owner recognition of the disease. One of the papers sought to validate this and identified 45% of cases diagnosed by the vet which were not recognised by owners, highlighting the need for better education of owners.

“Detection of insulin dysregulation is essential to identify animals at increased risk of endocrinopathic laminitis so that the preventative management strategies can be focused on these individual animals,” says Dr Menzie-Gow, who works at the Royal Veterinary College, London.

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Wirecutter’s best deals: Save $150 on the Apple MacBook Air (2018)

Wirecutter’s best deals: Save $150 on the Apple MacBook Air (2018)

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Aukey Latitude EP-B40 Bluetooth Earbuds

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Street price: $27; deal price: $18 with code WCITQDNR

The Aukey Latitude EP-B40 earbuds are back down to $18 in black with code WCITQDNR, matching the lowest price we’ve seen in recent months. Recommended for casual gym use (or if you’re especially hard on earbuds and like to have a few backup pairs around the house), these comfortable yet inexpensive earbuds feature an 8-hour battery life. This is a solid recurring deal on an already budget-friendly option.

The Aukey Latitude EP-B40 earbuds are the budget pick in our guide to the best wireless workout headphones. Lauren Dragan wrote, “Comfortable for most people, durable, and backed with a two-year warranty, the Aukey Latitude EP-B40 bests everything else in its price range. These earbuds stay in place, they’re easy to use, and they sound decent, whereas other tested wireless workout headphones under $50 were uncomfortable, poorly built, or marred by piercing high-frequency ranges that made turning the volume up past 40 percent literally painful.”

Hamilton Beach 12-Cup Coffee Maker (46205)

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Street price: $40; deal price: $29

Down to $29, this is an excellent price and a rare drop under $30 for this already affordable coffee maker. While we saw sub-$30 pricing for it a couple times in 2017, such drops were much rarer for this model in 2018 with street prices often settling in the $40s. If you’re looking to get a decent cup of coffee but you’re on a budget, it’s a nice option.

The Hamilton Beach 12-Cup is the top pick in our guide to the best cheap coffee maker. Thais Wilson-Soler wrote, “A great cheap coffee maker should be easy to use and it should make decent coffee, and the Hamilton Beach 12-Cup Coffee Maker (46205) excels on both fronts. None of the testers in the Wirecutter test kitchen had issues figuring out how to brew a pot or how to program it to brew in the morning using the six-button interface. A removable water reservoir combined with a rotating base made it the easiest to fill as well. Flavorwise, it was bested only by our high-end coffee maker pick, the OXO On 9-Cup, which we brought in as a control (although the OXO beat it by a wide margin according to our tasting panel of expert roasters). To be clear, if you’re freshly grinding specialty coffee beans every morning, the Hamilton Beach isn’t for you. (You’ll get much more out of your expensive coffee if you use a pour-over setup or a high-end coffee maker.) But it’s perfect for people who just want a decent pot of joe in the morning with minimal fuss.”

AmazonBasics 8-Sheet Cross-Cut Shredder

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Street price: $35; deal price: $30

It’s tax season, which makes it especially nice to see this recommended shredder fall to $30 from $35. Last week, we posted a slightly better deal at $28 but if you missed that price this is still a very viable discount. While we don’t recommend this model for people that do high-volume shredding, if you’re a casual user this is a good chance to save.

The AmazonBasics 8-Sheet Cross-Cut Shredder is the top pick in our guide to the best paper shredder. Séamus Bellamy and Makula Dunbar wrote, “If you occasionally use a shredder to safely dispose of bills, tax papers, checkbooks, credit cards, data discs, or other sensitive personal materials, we found that the AmazonBasics 8-Sheet Cross-Cut is your best bet. Most people don’t shred huge amounts of paper on a regular basis; they simply need something that can effectively and securely discard their personal information a few times per month. This AmazonBasics model works with minimal headaches. It’s impossible to jam if you use it as advised, you can push it to take 10 sheets of paper if you really want to, and it usually costs around $35. Given how seldom a shredder sees action, we think most people shouldn’t pay any more than the minimum amount for a reliable, competent device.”

MacBook Air (2018) 8GB RAM 256GB SSD

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Street price: $1400; deal price: $1250

The Apple MacBook Air (2018) with 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD is down to $1,250 in all three colors. In our guide, we praise this laptop for its well-rounded feature set, making it a good general purpose device for Apple users. We’ve seen better prices on the 128GB SSD version and better values on a version that offered 16GB of RAM, but if these specs offer the right mix of performance and storage for you, it’s a solid price. Also available from B&H.

The MacBook Air is our pick for the best all-around option in our guide to the best MacBooks. Andrew Cunningham wrote, “The best Mac laptop for most people is the 2018 MacBook Air. It’s fast enough for the things that most people use a computer for—browsing, working on documents, and light photo editing—and it has an excellent high-resolution screen, a great trackpad, enough battery life to last most people through an eight-hour workday, and a (relatively) reasonable price. The Air’s main shortcomings are almost all shared by other modern Apple laptops: the low-travel keyboard, a small number of homogenous ports (in this case, two Thunderbolt 3 ports) that may require the use of USB-C hubs or new cables, and a high price relative to Windows laptops with similar performance and features. But the Air’s light weight, solid construction, and industry-leading support still make it a good laptop, especially if you also own an iPhone or other Apple devices.”

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Re-engineering the Colorado River to Save the Grand Canyon

Re-engineering the Colorado River to Save the Grand Canyon

On weekday evenings, millions of workers return to their homes across the American Southwest and turn on their air conditioners, microwaves and televisions. From Tucson to Burbank, power needs surge. Meeting this demand begins at 5 or 6 A.M. inside the Glen Canyon Dam, the chip of concrete that plugs the Colorado River just above the Grand Canyon. At noon, an average peak of 14,000 cubic feet of water per second is churned through eight turbines, then released.

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Wirecutter’s best deals: Save big on Vizio P-Series F1 4K LED TVs

Wirecutter’s best deals: Save big on Vizio P-Series F1 4K LED TVs

This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. Read Wirecutter’s continuously updated list of deals here.

Tribit XSound Go Portable Bluetooth Speaker

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Street price: $33; deal price: $22 w/ code AVHTA36X

The black color of this affordable waterproof Bluetooth speaker has typically hovered at $33, but this is a great opportunity to get it for an exceptional $22 price when you both clip the on-page coupon and use code AVHTA36X at checkout. This sub-$22 price is a buck cheaper than the next lowest price we’ve seen for the XSound Go and makes it super cheap to snag one for yourself or as a gift.

The Tribit XSound Go is the budget pick in our guide to the best portable Bluetooth speaker. Brent Butterworth wrote, “If you want a great all-around portable Bluetooth speaker for about the cost of a tank of gas, the Tribit XSound Go is a terrific choice. Sonically, it’s a step up from anything else we’ve heard in this price range, with clearer sound and more bass than most competitors can muster. It’s easy to travel with, too: small enough to slip into a laptop bag or any suitcase. Plus, it’s IPX7-rated, which means it’s sufficiently waterproof to survive a half-hour swim in 1 meter of water.”

Crucial MX500 500 GB SSD

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Street price: $70; deal price: $58

Available for $58, this is the lowest price we’ve seen for the 500 GB SATA 2.5-inch version of this SSD. This capacity of the Crucial MX500, released at around $135, has seen its price drop steadily, typical of SSDs, but this drop is uncommonly good as we continue to see deep discounts on all of our SSD picks and the product category in general. Newer gen SSDs are starting to trickle out, but the MX500 is still more than sufficient for most people. Also available via B&H.

The Crucial MX500 500GB SSD is the runner-up pick in our guide to the best SSDs. Andrew Cunningham wrote, “The Crucial MX500 is just a little slower than Samsung’s more expensive SATA SSDs in most benchmarks, but most people wouldn’t notice the difference. It’s as good as or better than the rest of the competition, and it performs better when full or near-full than its predecessor, the MX300. It supports full-disk encryption, Crucial offers a five-year warranty on the drive for more peace of mind (three years is typical), and it comes in both 2.5-inch and M.2 SATA versions, but not the (older, less common) mSATA.”

iRobot Roomba 690

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Street price: $300; deal price: $250

At just under $250, this recommended robot vacuum is back down to one of the lower prices we’ve seen. While the iRobot Roomba 690 is a little bulkier than comparable robot vacuums, it is built to be easily repaired over time and includes features like WiFi and app connectivity, meaning you can use it with Alexa or Google voice commands. This price matches the discount we saw for it during Cyber Week.

The iRobot Roomba 690 is our recommended pick for a repairable bot with Wi-Fi in our guide to the best robot vacuums. Liam McCabe wrote, “If you’re bothered by the Eufy models’ missing Wi-Fi and short lifespans, check out the iRobot Roomba 690 instead. It’s another semi-random, bump-and-run model. But it’s meant to be repaired over time, at home—and iRobot has an excellent track record for keeping spare parts available for ages. So if you do the upkeep, the Roomba 690 should last long enough that you’ll save money compared with the Eufy robots. And the Roomba 690 can also connect to Wi-Fi, which allows you to control it with an easy-to-use app or Alexa voice commands. It also comes with a “lighthouse” that creates an invisible barrier, which is much more elegant than the Eufy 30 model’s bot-blocking magnetic strips. On the downside, the Roomba 690 is louder, bigger, more expensive, and not obviously better at cleaning.”

Vizio P-Series F1 55-inch LED TV

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Street price: $800; deal price: $650

Back down to the lowest price we’ve seen, matching prices we saw during Black Friday, the Vizio P-Series F1 55-inch is available for $650 from a typical price of $800. The 65-inch version of the same TV is down to $900 from $1200. Both are timely deals if you’re shopping for a new TV. Free shipping is available from Best Buy and it should arrive well before a certain pending sporting event. Free store pickup or ship to store is also available in many areas if that’s your preference.

The Vizio P-Series F1 line is the top pick in our guide to the best LCD/LED TV. Chris Heinonen wrote, “The 2018 Vizio P-Series F1 offers everything you need to enjoy a high-end TV experience today. The TV uses full-array local dimming, which produces superior contrast ratios for SD and HD content but also provides the best HDR experience on an LED TV. The LED panel has a native 120 Hz refresh rate, so films, TV programs, sports, and video games all look smooth, without excess judder or fake-looking motion interpolation. The preset calibrated image modes make it easy to get a good picture without an expensive calibration, and this TV has more HDMI inputs than the competition. Integrated streaming services and support for Alexa and Google Home control round out the essential features.”

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Could A Cryptocurrency Service Help Save Venezuela?

Could A Cryptocurrency Service Help Save Venezuela?

Venezuela’s government can’t seem to do anything right these days, so some enterprising folks have stepped forward to help the inflation-ravaged country.

Steve Hanke, hyperinflation expert, and professor of applied economics at Johns Hopkins University has teamed up with AirTM, a Mexico City-based blockchain-powered currency platform. Their goal is to get financial aid to beleaguered Venezuelans and they’ve named the  project “AirdropVenezuela.”

The initial target is to attract cryptocurrency donations totaling $1 million and then distribute the money to 100,000 people in Venezuela via the AirTM platform.

“In effect, we provide in effect a clearinghouse that allows for the exchange of bolivars for dollars and vice versa,” says Hanke who is now a member of AirTM’s board of directors. “This is also much superior to distributing physical cash because you don’t have to run the risk of driving your armored truck into the country.”

Armored cash-delivery vehicles are prone to get hijacked.

There’s a clear need for humanitarian aid in Venezuela. The South American country is suffering brutal hyperinflation leaving the population without access to basic necessities such as food and medicine. The annualized inflation rate hit a record high of 117,681% on January 10 according to estimates from Hanke. For reference, 100% annual inflation halves the spending power of money within a year. Venezuela’s current inflation makes the Bolivar worthless in a trice.

FILE: A bitcoin token sits next to the image of George Washington on a U.S. one dollar bill.  Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg Photo credit: © 2018 Bloomberg Finance LP© 2018 Bloomberg Finance LP

The result of the money being close to worthless is that Venezuelan stores are mostly empty of essential supplies.

While the country’s president Nicolas Maduro could solve the currency crisis in an instant by pegging the Bolivar to the U.S. dollar, he and his supporters haven’t so far been inclined to do so. That’s despite the fact that pegging to the dollar would almost certainly fix the humanitarian crisis afflicting the country.

Meanwhile getting aid directly to the country’s people is problematic because the socialist regime doesn’t allow for the free trading of the Bolivar at market rates. As part of that, the Venezuelan government has no desire to see private foreign exchange dealing inside its country.

That’s where AirTM comes in handy.

“In Venezuela, we don’t have a bricks-and-mortar Cambio, that would be illegal,” says Hanke. “Instead we have a Cambio in the sky.” Cambio is synonymous with a Bureau de Change, where small lots of currency change hands.

His reference to “a Cambio in the sky” is because the money can be distributed via the AirTM on-line platform. In other words, the money will be distributed through the ether or cloud.

Successful distribution of the target $1 million would also help pave the way to dollarize Venezuela, says Hanke. In other words, the AirTM platform could be used to prompt Venezuelans to use U.S. dollars in everyday transactions, so helping stabilize the economy which has been in freefall lately.

It is notable that in one of Zimbabwe’s periods of hyperinflation the populous spontaneously decided to use dollars rather than the Zimbabwe dollar which at the time had become worthless. Quickly Zimbabwe’s economy stabilized.

Hanke also foresees a future potential move by some humanitarian organizations to distribute aid to crisis-stricken areas in a similar way.

Crypto Boost

The move by AirTM could also be a boost for other all cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, which is perhaps the best known of them all.

One of the problems with Bitcoin and the other electronic currencies is that they don’t truly meet the grade to qualify as money.

For anything to be money it must act as a unit of account, a medium of exchange, and a store of value. So far, cryptocurrencies fail on the latter two conditions: They neither act as a widespread medium of exchange nor do they act as a store of value. Bitcoin values have crashed spectacularly since mid-December 2017 to $around $3,500 recently from close to $20,000 a little over a year ago.

However, this experiment by AirTM could help demonstrate crypto’s ability to be a widely used medium of exchange.

“You could now have the additional demand for cryptos for use as a medium of exchange versus what you have now which is only the speculative demand,” says Hanke.

In other words, if the Airdrop Venezuela project boosts the use of crypto in everyday transactions, then it could perhaps satisfy the second required attribute of all money.

“This experiment would demonstrate whether it could qualify and check that box,” says Hanke.

Data boost too

A further benefit of the AirdropVenezuela project is that by promoting the use of the platform it will help economists get a better gauge on the real free market exchange rate. The Venezuelan government has an official exchange rate and doesn’t allow the free exchange of Bolivars at a market rate.

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Dovish Fed Minutes Didn’t Save Crypto – Market Lost $11 Billion in 5 Hours

Dovish Fed Minutes Didn’t Save Crypto – Market Lost $11 Billion in 5 Hours


Highlights:

  • Federal Reserve is close to the end of neutralizing interest rates after December hike.
  • US stocks, forex instruments, and Gold extended gains Wednesday, but correcting Thursday.
  • Bitcoin, Ethereum, XRP and the rest of the crypto market react negatively.

Federal Reserve released the minutes of its December meeting which revealed that they would follow a wait-and-watch approach towards their interest rate hike plans. The US central bank suggested in December moderate rate hikes (up to 2.8 percent) but preferred to implement them only if warranted. The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) confirmed that their rates were close to the range of its long-term neutral interest rate – implying a pause in their hikes.

At the same time, the Fed highlighted that market tightening and global economic slowdown have made it difficult to assert future policymaking.

US Stocks, Gold Extend Gains – Forex Corrects

The pause of rate tightening cycle sent the US Dollar to its three-month low. The quoted instruments against the greenback naturally took the news well, with mainstream US stocks, forex pairs, and precious metals noticing an interim surge. The Dow Jones closed Wednesday at 91.67, up 0.39 percent, while the S&P 500 advanced 0.41 percent and the Nasdaq Composite Index rose by 0.87 percent. It was the fourth consecutive upside session for the said markets.

Gold price opened Thursday on a positive note. The spot price was up 0.2 percent at $1,289.50 per ounce as of 1200 GMT. US gold futures rose 0.4 percent to $1,297.20 per ounce.

The Forex market is now following a remedial course. The EUR/USD corrected lower towards 1.1500 from overbought levels while the GBP/USD also edged down at 1.275 from its morning opening rate. Poor Asian data hampered the Japanese Yen from benefitting from the dovish Fed minutes. The USD/JPY rate this Thursday established fresh weekly lows, now inside 107.80-107.75 area from 109.00-region.

Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple Drop; Tron Stable

The cryptocurrency market started Thursday with a $10 billion loss, erasing gains made during its recent upside swings.

Bitcoin Drops to $3,750

BITCOIN 1D CHART | SOURCE: COINBASE, TRADINGVIEW.COM

Bitcoin price established its intraday low towards $3,750 on Coinbase after failing to extend its gains above $4,000. CCN observed a Doji formation in the chart yesterday and feared a potential pullback as price confirmed its last attempt in its bearish pennant formation.

The US Dollar is still bullish and Bitcoin’s bid to become a safe haven is again challenged by a more dominant Gold. The digital currency looks to be correcting in the line of the global forex sentiment. It may very well execute the shorts in near-term and attempt another rally towards the psychological $4,000-level. In a bad scenario, bitcoin could extend its pullback action to form a double bottom situation near $3,100.

Ethereum Plunges Over 14%

The negative sentiment in the Bitcoin market has rippled through the alternative cryptocurrencies, with Etheruem following the trend with a 14 percent fall.

ETHEREUM 1D CHART | SOURCE: COINBASE, TRADINGVIEW.COM

The ETH/USD rate has fallen to $129.57 from its opening session at $150.92. Again, the drop could only be a correction after an extended upside course seen since mid-December. The pair is eyeing support at $112.84, breaking which could put it inside a double bottom formation scenario towards $80.41 – much like Bitcoin.

XRP Corrects 9%

RIPPLE 1D CHART | SOURCE: BITFINEX, TRADINGVIEW.COM

Ripple (XRP), despite its 9 percent drop on Thursday, continues to remain rangebound. It is now trading 1.92 percent up from its session low at $0.34417 while staying inside a giant descending triangle. XRP, more or less, looks less dependant on the price behavior of Bitcoin in long term and its future price action largely depends on the utility.

Bullish Tron in Minor Correction

TRON 1D CHART | SOURCE: BINANCE, TRADINGVIEW.COM

After rising close to 50 percent in a week, Tron is undergoing a natural downside correction from its overbought area. The TRX/USD rate has dropped 4.34% on a 24-hour adjusted timeframe, now trading at $0.027. The pair is likely to find some support around its 200-period moving average curve in red. A breakdown would put the same pressure on the 50-period moving average in blue.

In the same time, Bitcoin Cash and Litecoin have fallen close to 15 and 13 percent, respectively. Stellar is down 7.5%; EOS has dropped by 10%; Bitcoin SV is bearish after posting an 11 percent plunge.

Click here for a real-time Bitcoin price chart or here to review our latest crypto market coverage.

Featured Image from Shutterstock. Charts from TradingView.

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Wirecutter’s best deals: Save $100 on an Apple HomePod

Wirecutter’s best deals: Save $100 on an Apple HomePod

This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. Read Wirecutter’s continuously updated list of deals here.

Sengled Element Color Plus

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Street price: $70; deal price: $60

If you’re looking to get into multicolor smart bulbs but don’t have a lot to spend, this is a solid price for this recommended two-bulb kit with control hub. You’ll sacrifice a small amount of brightness and Apple HomeKit functionality versus our other picks, but these light bulbs are still app-controllable and a nice value proposition. The typical street price averages around $70, reflective of an $80 full price and regular sales at $60, including during this past year’s holiday season. We’ve only seen this kit lower on one occasion.

The Sengled Element Color Plus kit is our budget pick in our guide to the best smart LED light bulbs. Grant Clauser wrote, “Sengled’s Element Color Plus smart light system is a little like Philips Hue’s in that it uses a Zigbee mesh network and a small hub to connect the lights. Although the lights aren’t quite as bright as Hue’s and the colors appear a little less rich, the bulbs are considerably cheaper and work similarly to more expensive ones, but with fewer features. The app includes only a few basic schedules and routines, but you can integrate them with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant for voice control and to take advantage of all of the smart-home features of those systems. The bulbs are reliable and setup is simple, but they’re not as expandable as other systems.”

EatSmart Precision CalPal Bathroom Scale

calpal

Street price: $30; deal price: $21

Down to $21, this is the lowest price we’ve seen on this bathroom scale, discounted just in time to tackle your resolutions in 2019. While this model doesn’t offer some of the bells and whistles of smart scales (which we cover in a different guide), it’s notable because of how well it affordably does what it’s supposed to do—provide accurate readings.

The EatSmart Precision CalPal is the top pick in our guide to the best bathroom scales. Shannon Palus and Melanie Pinola wrote, “Our pick for best basic digital scale offers the essential features most people need in a scale—and then some. It’s comfortable to stand on, the backlit display is one of the largest available (3.5 inches), it has a 440-pound weight capacity, and it turns on and off instantly. Weight readings are accurate and sensitive, detecting weight changes as small as 0.4 pound when other scales couldn’t. The scale is backed by a confidence-inspiring two-year warranty, too. Also, although it’s a relatively inexpensive bathroom scale, the EatSmart CalPal offers a few more features than just your weight reading, including last reading and memory for up to four people.”

TP-Link Archer A7 Router

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Street price: $60; deal price: $48 w/ code EMCTUTW36

The TP-Link Archer A7 Router is available for a great price of $48 when you use code EMCTUTW36 at checkout. Typically priced around $70, this drop takes it a few dollars lower than typical deal pricing. We recommend this router for smaller spaces, and though it lacks band steering, we cite it as our favorite model under $100.

The TP-Link Archer A7 is the budget pick in our guide to the best Wi-Fi router for most people. Jim Salter and Joel Santo Domingo wrote, “The TP-Link Archer A7 is just what we look for in an inexpensive router. Although it doesn’t offer band steering, and its 5 GHz range is shorter than that of our top pick and runner-up, it’s a solid router that kept our test devices reliably connected. If you have a smaller space with relatively few obstructions, and you’re willing to use separate network names for your 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands, you can get almost the performance of a high-end router at about half the cost.”

Apple HomePod + 3 Months Apple Music

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Street price: $350; deal price: $250

Recommended as a high-performance wireless speaker in our review, the Apple HomePod is back down to $250, one of the better prices we’ve seen for it. Though it is less broadly compatible with music services than many of its non-Apple competitors, at this price with a bonus it merits more attention, especially if you live in an Apple household or aspire to have one. This deal includes 3 months of Apple Music, a $30 value.

The Apple HomePod is an option we recommend for Apple loyalists (if you understand its limitations) in our piece on it. Jon Chase wrote, “Apple’s HomePod is the best-sounding wireless smart speaker available, and you can control it by voice using Apple’s virtual assistant, Siri. But the HomePod is worth considering only if you’re an iPhone owner and a subscriber to Apple Music (or are willing to be)—don’t buy it if you want to keep streaming Spotify. It does a lot of things right, but because it also has a long list of flaws, we don’t believe it’s the best smart speaker for most people.”

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Tech isn’t coming to save us

Tech isn’t coming to save us

It’s easy to believe that something new is naturally better than what we’ve already got, with the exception of the second Darrin on Bewitched. It’s the Silicon Valley mind-set, that you’ve gotta move fast, break things and pay no attention to what’s come before. And it’s a problem.

It’s taken me 30 years to go from very fat to just quite fat, and this idea of the beginner mind is something I can sympathize with. I’ve tried every visualization technique, self-help book and fad diet on the market to know none of them work. There’s no oat drink, vibrating belt or meditation tour of Asia’s genocide hotspots that can cure the tedium of dieting.

These days, we’re all fad dieters looking for some technological magic bullet to save us from our drudgery. From climate change and global poverty to war and extremism, the world is collapsing in front of us. And we stare, slack-jawed, at our phones, watching as the world burns and the seas boil while everyone loses their damn mind.

But there’s more money to be made selling diet pills than vegetables, so there’s no technology company looking to fix our problems. We can hope that some California genius will create the solution to our woes, but it’s not going to happen. Even the sales patter is the same: Buy our Atkins Juice and drink yourself thin for $10.99 per month. We’re helping you move toward your dream and making the world a better place at the same time.

Trust me when I say that I bought a crate of that stuff for way too much money and it did not work. And it stank. The thing that works, and has always worked, is the slow, reasonable proposition of eating right and getting some exercise.

The tech world doesn’t agree, though.

“When we help more people move with fewer, fuller and more efficient cars, we can save fuel and improve air quality.” That’s Uber’s pitch about how great for the environment Uber is now that everyone can become a taxi driver. The company’s former CEO, Travis Kalanick, once wrote that cities that welcome Uber will be ones “where people spend less time stuck in traffic.”

Transportation experts disagree, with Bruce Schaller writing that ride-sharing “added 5.7 billion miles of driving” in just nine metro areas. The former New York official said that Uber and Lyft do little beyond clogging the already-full roads with yet more cars. “Deadhead” miles, where cars shuffle between paid rides, help exacerbate the problem. The EPA says that one mile of driving emits an average of 404 grams of CO2; multiply that by 5.7 billion and the problem becomes clear.

Uber and Lyft, the latter of which admittedly promised to offset the carbon of its trips, do nothing to help the problem they’re designed to cure. Another study found that, rather than coaxing car owners to ditch their wheels, ride-sharing sucks people away from walking, cycling and mass transit. Consequently, these companies’ pitch is akin to advising someone who is drowning that the only way to survive is to drink a gallon of saltwater.

But we already know that more cars won’t solve the problem of congestion or air quality. We always have. Take Amsterdam, where cycle-friendly planning and segregated lanes let 58 percent of locals cycle every day. And no tech company made that happen; it was pressure from individuals who organized themselves and made their voices heard that forced the change. Holland’s association with big oil means it’s hardly a green paradise, but its transportation policies are facing in the right direction.

If we want to affect real change for both our cities and the environment, we also need better public transportation. It’s something that not too many startups are attempting to tackle because there’s not too much money to be made in it. Talk to enough people about Hyperloop, on the other hand, and you can almost see folks willing it into existence just for something more exciting.

The lack of good public transportation mostly boils down to chronic underinvestment in our existing networks, which are slow and unreliable, dissuading more people from using them. One report believes that the American economy is poorer by $340 billion each year thanks to the perilous state of its transport. In New York alone, delays on the subway — a daily hazard — cost locals up to $389 million per year.

Is it any wonder that we’re lusting for a way to get between cities in a reliable and efficient manner without flying? This isn’t something that needs a whizz-bang technological solution if we simply bothered to put the work in: the tedious, analog, tried-and-tested option of maintaining and supporting what we already have. There’s a reason that countries like Switzerland, France and Japan have railways that are the envy of the world.

You can see this tension between old-fashioned infrastructure and tech-company trinkets over in LA. Elon Musk’s Boring Company dug an experimental tunnel in the city to demonstrate a new form of transit. The 1.1-mile tunnel was pitched as a form of private subway for cars and people, with both running on top of skates. But at the initial demo, the company merely showed off a Tesla equipped with bumpers that will keep it running in the middle of the track.

It’s early days, and the technology underpinning the tunnel may improve, but at this point it’s hard to see a future for it. After all, right now it’s yet another road for cars, just underground, rather than a solution to improving mass transit. Rather than tackle the problems with the existing system, it serves to reinforce them, unsurprising given that Musk owns a car company.

The same sort of thinking undermines the arguments for extracting atmospheric carbon dioxide to create fuel. Companies like Carbon Engineering are building systems that will hoover up CO2 from the air, bond it with hydrocarbons and create synthetic gasoline.The pitch sounds great: We’re pulling CO2 from the air! We’re turning it into cheap fuel! It’s good for the environment!

Synthetic fuels are a neat stopgap, but they’re little more than that, because they’re still a way to burn carbon, the thing we’re trying to avoid. Especially since we’re already well beyond the “last-ditch” limit of 350ppm, stopgaps aren’t going to cut it if we want to keep on living. Not to mention that synthetic fuels are a pretty inefficient use of energy and are only clean-ish if entirely run with renewables. It’s the same issue that you run into with hydrogen: Once you’ve generated the power, you’re wasting a huge amount of it to create liquid fuels.

For all of this, we’re getting further away from the common-sense solutions that we could use to avoid our impending ecological catastrophe. This isn’t a secret. We need better public transport that is both powered by renewables and good enough to discourage car use. We need to move away from coal and gas as ways of generating power in favor of nuclear, wind, solar and tidal. Oh, and don’t forget that the one thing that would really make a dent in our carbon emissions is better family planning.

And we know that no startup, no billionaire visionary, no titan of industry is going to help us get where we need to be. So it’s time to stop expecting them to do so and start acting in a way that’ll actually make a difference. I’m going to walk into 2019 not waiting for a magic wand that’ll enable me to fit into those size 32 jeans I mistakenly bought from H&M. I’m going to start doing things, and I’m expecting all of you to join me before we all die from our apathy.

Images: Getty Creative (“L” watermark by Koren Shadmi)

After training to be an intellectual property lawyer, Dan abandoned a promising career in financial services to sit at home and play with gadgets. He lives in Norwich, U.K., with his wife, his books and far too many opinions on British TV comedy. One day, if he’s very, very lucky, he’ll live out his dream to become the executive producer of Doctor Who before retiring to Radio 4.

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Wirecutter’s best deals: Save $100 on Apple’s 9.7-inch iPad (6th Gen)

Wirecutter’s best deals: Save $100 on Apple’s 9.7-inch iPad (6th Gen)

This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. Read Wirecutter’s continuously updated list of deals here.

Google Home Hub + 2 Google Home Minis

google

Street price: $180; deal price: $130

Available for $130, this Google Home Hub bundle allows you to get the Home Hub at the typical holiday sale price of $130 but includes 2 Home Minis, a $50 value. It’s a great way to jump into smart speakers and displays at a discount if you like the Google ecosystem.

The Home Hub is the Google Assistant capabilities with a display screen pick in our guide to Google’s line of Home devices. The Home Mini is our smaller, more affordable pick from the same guide. Of the Home Hub, Grant Clauser and Brent Butterworth wrote, “In October 2018, Google added the video-enabled Home Hub to its lineup. Like the Echo Show from Amazon, the Home Hub includes a smart display that can be used to view photos, recipes, and more, as well a new feature called Home View, a centralized visual command hub for all of your smart-home devices. Unlike the Echo Show, however, the Home Hub doesn’t have a built-in camera, so you can’t use it for video chats—although this might come as relief to people with privacy concerns.”

Of the Home Mini, Clauser and Butterworth wrote, “The company released the $50 Home Mini in October 2017. It’s similar to the Echo Dot, although it lacks an auxiliary audio output to plug it into another speaker. It can be paired to a better speaker over Bluetooth, however, and still has complete Google Assistant functionality.”

Jabra Elite Active 65t – Copper Blue

jabra

Street price: $190; deal price: $132

Down to $132 in Copper Blue from a street price of $190, this is the best deal we’ve seen to this point for these true wireless headphones, which had been on sale until $140 until earlier today (and are still $140 in the Copper Black). While we’ve seen their sibling, the Elite 65t (which we also recommend), slightly lower, those don’t offer quite the degree of sweat and moisture resistance as these gym-friendly earbuds.

The Jabra Elite Active 65t is the top pick in our guide to the best wireless workout headphones. Lauren Dragan wrote, “We love the Jabra Elite Active 65t because this pair has everything we want in a set of workout headphones and then some. The earbuds are comfortable, they stay put during even the most high-impact moves, they’re very sweat resistant, they have easy-to-use controls, they sound great, and they offer a battery life long enough for even marathon exercise sessions. Even better, they sound clear on phone calls, charge quickly, and come with an impressive two-year warranty against sweat and dust.”

9.7-inch iPad (6th Generation, 32GB) – Space Gray

ipad

Street price: $330; deal price: $230

Now $230 in Space Gray from Walmart and the same price from Amazon but with post-Christmas delivery, this is a great price on this recommended tablet. The 6th Gen iPad has a faster processor versus the 5th gen and also offers Apple Pencil support, a nice add-on for tablet artists or notetakers. This is the lowest price we’ve seen for the 6th gen and $20 less than the price we saw on and off during Black Friday and Cyber Monday Sales.

The 9.7-inch iPad (6th Generation, 32GB) is the top pick in our guide to the best tablet. Nick Guy wrote, “The things that have made all iPads great tablets—an unbeatable selection of outstanding apps, stellar hardware quality, long battery life, and unrivaled customer support—continue to make them the best tablets on the market. The 6th-generation iPad’s price is significantly lower than previous models’ prices, making it even more appealing and simplifying the decision between it and other iPad models. Although the iPad Pro and iPad mini models will be better for some people, the 6th-generation iPad is the best all-around value.”

August Smart Lock (3rd Gen)

August

Street price: $125; deal price: $100

Matching the previous best price we’ve seen, this smart lock is back down to a $100 from a street price typically around $125. The 3rd Gen August smart lock is ideal for renters or those hoping to avoid intensive DIY as it allows users to retain their existing deadbolt. Typically sales are brief, and while we’ve seen it at this price before, we’ve never seen it lower.

The August Smart Lock (3rd Gen) is the budget pick for an existing deadbolt in our guide to the best smart lock. Jon Chase wrote, “The August Smart Lock (3rd Gen) is an affordable choice if you want to use your existing deadbolt (which means you also get to keep your existing key). As with all August products, the instructions and setup process are almost delightfully friendly and thoughtful, with straightforward video instructions. The all-metal housing has reassuring bulk and heft, and the traditional thumb turn has a precise movement. This August is controlled solely by Bluetooth and a smartphone and is able to integrate only with Nest devices—unlike the widely compatible big sibling August Smart Lock Pro—which explains the steep price cut. With the purchase of a August Connect Wi-Fi bridge (buy them together and save some money) this August can then be controlled using Alexa or Google Assistant and accessed remotely when you’re not at home.”

Because great deals don’t just happen on Thursday, sign up for our daily deals email and we’ll send you the best deals we find every weekday. Also, deals change all the time, and some of these may have expired. To see an updated list of current deals, please go here.

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Wirecutter’s best deals: Save $40 on Sennheiser HD 600 headphones

Wirecutter’s best deals: Save $40 on Sennheiser HD 600 headphones

This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. Read Wirecutter’s continuously updated list of deals here.

TaoTronics TT-BH052 Wireless Earbuds

TaoTronics

Street price: $60; deal price: $43

These headphones are a relatively new addition to our collection of true wireless headphone picks. Usually selling for around $60, these are down to $43, not quite the lowest we’ve seen, but still a very solid price. While the performance of the TaoTronics TT-BH052 doesn’t match up to our top pick, with decent sound, track and volume controls, and sweat resistance, they are well worth a sub-$50 price tag.

The TaoTronics TT-BH052 wireless earbuds are the budget pick in our guide to the best true wireless headphones. Lauren Dragan wrote, “If you’d like to try out the true wireless experience but are hesitant to spend over $100, the TaoTronics TT-BH052 earbuds are worth considering. While they aren’t as seamless to use as our top picks and don’t sound quite as good, they provide a similar user experience as traditional budget Bluetooth earbuds without a cable running behind your head. Compared with our top picks, their battery life is a bit shorter and the charging case is a bit larger, but the case also doubles as a phone charger.”

Energizer Recharge Universal AA (Pack of Eight)

energizer

Street price: $18; deal price: $13 w/ clipped on-page coupon

Down to $13 for an 8-pack with clipped on-page coupon, whether you’re looking to get into the world of rechargeables or just stock up, this is a good opportunity to pick up some AA batteries at a nice discount. Often hovering around $18 for this quantity in recent months, this is a nice chance to save.

The Energizer Recharge Universal is our top AA pick in our guide to the best rechargeable AA and AAA batteries. Mark Smirniotis wrote, “The Energizer Recharge Universal AA batteries performed well at each step of our testing, from controlled measurements to fast-paced RC car racing. Like the other brand-name batteries we’ve tested, these Energizer batteries not only have their claimed capacity (about 1,900 mAh) but also lose very little energy when stored on a shelf—a little less than 2 percent per month on average. And throughout several years of long-term testing, they’ve performed well after dozens of discharges and recharges, and they do as good a job powering boring equipment like keyboards as they do cool stuff like robots.”

Logitech Z313 Speaker System

logitech

Street price: $35; deal price: $25 for Prime members

Already affordably priced at the typical street price of $32, the Logitech Z313 speaker system is now discounted to $25. Although this isn’t the lowest we’ve ever seen, it’s a solid deal, though this price is exclusive to Prime members. If you’ve been looking to beef up your computer’s sound, this is an affordable way to do so.

The Logitech Z313 Speaker System is the budget pick in our guide to the best computer speakers. John Higgins wrote, “Anyone looking to spend less than $50 on computer speakers will like the Logitech Z313 Speaker System. The sound quality is nowhere near what you can get compared with that of the Mackie CR3 or Edifier R2000DB pairs, but the system costs less than the latest Mass Effect release. The options are extremely streamlined, and the curved plastic look is reminiscent of computer speaker systems from the 1990s with a more modern aesthetic.”

Sennheiser HD 600 Open-Back Headphones

Sennheiser

Street price: $290; deal price: $250

While we’ve recently seen these headphones sell for upwards of $300, they’re on sale for $250 from an average street price of around $290. $250 is a new low price and a rare sale as we rarely ever see these headphones dip below the aforementioned $290 mark. This is the only significant discount we’ve seen in over a year, and while it could signal a dip in street price, it’s too early to tell.

The Sennheiser HD 600 is the mellower audiophile quality sound pick in our guide to the best open-back headphones under $500. Brent Butterworth wrote, “The Sennheiser HD 600 headphones almost couldn’t be more different from the HE400S. They use dynamic drivers—essentially miniature speakers—instead of the HE400S’s planar magnetic drivers. The HE400S model was brand new when we did this test, while the HD 600 has been around (although with a few changes) since the late 1990s. While the HD 600 has a mellower sound than the HE400S, we picked it for the same reason we liked the HE400S: Its sound has no annoying idiosyncrasies, and most of our panelists liked it and none hated it (not the sound, anyway). Overall, the HD 600 headphones are completely enjoyable to listen to, with a more relaxed sound than the HE400S model, that might appeal more to fans of jazz, folk, and classical.”

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‘Pest-controlling’ bats could help save rainforests

‘Pest-controlling’ bats could help save rainforests

A new study shows that several species of bats are giving Madagascar’s rice farmers a vital pest control service by feasting on plagues of insects. And this, a zoologist at the University of Cambridge believes, can ease the financial pressure on farmers to turn forest into fields.

There are few places in the world where relations between agriculture and conservation are more strained. Madagascar’s forests are being converted to agricultural land at a rate of one per cent every year and much of this destruction is fuelled by the cultivation of the country’s main staple crop: rice.

A key reason for this is that insect pests are destroying vast quantities of rice, leading local subsistence farmers to destroy even more forest to create new paddies. The result is devastating habitat and biodiversity loss on the island. But not all species are suffering. In fact, some of the island’s insectivorous bats are thriving, and this has important implications for farmers and conservationists alike.

Co-leading an international team of scientists, Ricardo Rocha from the University of Cambridge’s Zoology department Conservation Science Group, found that several species of indigenous bats are taking advantage of habitat modification to hunt insects swarming above the country’s rice fields. They include the Malagasy mouse-eared bat, Major’s long-fingered bat, the Malagasy white-bellied free-tailed bat, and Peters’ wrinkle-lipped bat.

“These winner species are providing a valuable free service to Madagascar as biological pest suppressors,” Rocha said. “We found that six species of bat are preying on rice pests such as the paddy swarming caterpillar and grass webworm. The damage that these insects cause puts the island’s farmers under huge financial pressure and that encourages deforestation.”

The study, published in the journal Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, used state-of-the-art ultrasonic recorders and molecular analysis to investigate the feeding activity of insectivorous bats in the farmland bordering the Ranomafana National Park in the southeast of the country.

The researchers recorded over a thousand bat ‘feeding buzzes’ (echolocation sequences used by bats to target their prey) at 54 sites, to identify their favourite feeding spots. This revealed that bat activity over rice fields was much higher than it was in continuous forest — seven times higher over irrigated rice fields, and sixteen times higher over hillside fields — which clearly shows that the animals are preferentially foraging in these human-made ecosystems. The researchers suggest that the bats favour hillside fields most because lack of water and nutrient run-off make these crops more susceptible to insect pest infestations.

The team next used DNA barcoding techniques to analyse droppings collected from bats captured within the rice plantations and nearby forest. All six species of bats were found to have fed on economically important insect pests. While the findings indicated that rice farming benefits most from the bats, the scientists also found pests of other crops, including the black twig borer (a pest of coffee), the sugarcane cicada, the macadamia nut-borer, and the sober tabby (a pest of citrus fruits).

“The effectiveness of bats as pest controllers has already been proven in the USA and Catalonia,” said co-author James Kemp, from the University of Lisbon. “But our study is the first to show this happening in Madagascar, where the stakes for both farmers and conservationists are very high.”

The researchers argue that maximising bat populations has the potential to boost crop yields and promote sustainable livelihoods. They are now calling for further research to quantify this contribution because Madagascar’s bats currently fall under game species legislation and are not actively protected in the country.

Bats comprise roughly one-fifth of all Malagasy mammal species and thirty-six recorded bat species are endemic to the island, making Madagascar one of the most important regions for conservation of this animal group anywhere in the world.

“Bats have a bad reputation in Madagascar because they are seen as a nuisance when they roost in buildings,” Rocha said. “The problem is that while these bats are benefiting from farming, deforestation is also denying them places to roost. With the right help, we hope that farmers can promote this mutually beneficial relationship by installing bat houses.”

Local people may have a further reason to be grateful to the animals. While bats are often associated with spreading disease, Rocha and his team found evidence that Malagasy bats feed not just on crop pests but also on mosquitos — vectors of malaria, Rift Valley fever virus and elephantiasis — as well as blackflies, which spread river blindness.

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Bloodhound supersonic car project shuts down

Bloodhound supersonic car project shuts down


Engadget

Efforts to save the Bloodhound supersonic car project from bankruptcy haven’t panned out. The team is shutting down after it was unsuccessful in securing the roughly £25 million (about $32 million) it needed from “potential and credible investors.” As a result, the company is now planning to return third-party gear and sell off assets, including the car — if you happen to have £250,000 ($318,000) sitting around, you could own a piece of automotive history. Don’t expect to break records, though. Driver Andy Green warns that you’d need “a few million” to have Bloodhound SSC live up to its full potential.

The shutdown isn’t surprising. The project was a private venture, and its success depended on finding investors, sponsors and donations. There have been instances where the Bloodhound team ran out of cash, only to be rescued by a sponsor. This time, however, it required a particularly large sum for its planned South African test run in late 2019. It would have been no mean feat to raise those funds, especially in light of global economic uncertainty and an era when an Instagram post can be a more effective ad than a car sponsorship.

There is a slim chance someone could buy the Bloodhound SSC vehicle and bring it to completion. However, it would be an expensive undertaking even with the money needed to buy the car and make it ready for supersonic travel. The new owner might have to recreate a large chunk of the Bloodhound team and accept that the project will likely cost them dearly, even if they can find additional backers to soften the financial blow.

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Wirecutter’s best deals: Save $50 on a Philips Hue starter kit

Wirecutter’s best deals: Save $50 on a Philips Hue starter kit

This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. Read Wirecutter’s continuously updated list of deals here.

Samsung 860 EVO 1 TB SSD

samsung

Street price: $160; deal price: $128

The Samsung 860 EVO, formerly our runner-up pick, is now the top pick in our guide to the best SSDs. This 1 TB drive on sale now costs less than what a 500 GB 860 EVO SSD cost at the beginning of the year. This reflects the steep decline in SSD prices over that period and ongoing coupon code deals we’ve seen at select retailers continue to drive the downward trend. We expect to continue seeing this pricing or better, with stock being the only concern this holiday season.

The Samsung 860 EVO is the top pick in our guide to the best SSDs. Andrew Cunningham wrote, “If we were upgrading a laptop or buying the primary drive for a desktop, we’d buy Samsung’s 860 Evo. It’s as good as or better than the Crucial MX500 in almost every metric: It’s a little faster, it consumes less power, it has much higher endurance, it comes in 2.5-inch, mSATA, and M.2 versions, and it has the same five-year warranty and encryption support—it’s your best option (and one of your only modern options) if you need an mSATA SSD. Most people won’t notice the differences between the 860 Evo and the MX500, and people who need something faster or with greater endurance should be looking at PCI Express SSDs like our upgrade pick. But the 860 Evo still offers an outstanding combination of performance, capacity, endurance, and price.”

Asus ZenBook 13 UX331UA

asus

Street price: $800; deal price: $706

Down to $706, this is only $6 more than the drop to $700 we saw for this laptop on Cyber Monday, and while we don’t know how long this deal will last, it’s unlikely to drop too much lower. The price of the ZenBook 13 UX331UA had stubbornly hovered around $800 much of this year, and while this drop could be reflective of a new gen on the horizon, the ZenBook 13 still has one of the best combinations of specs and build quality available at this price.

The Asus Zenbook 13 UX331UA is the top Windows pick in our guide to the best laptops for college students. Justin Krajeski wrote, “The ZenBook is also amazingly well-made for the price, with a powerful processor, a 1920×1080-pixel display, and a decent webcam—we recommend the UX331UA-AS51 configuration with an Intel Core i5-8250U processor, 8 GB of memory, and a 256 GB solid-state drive. But compared to the Dell XPS 13, its keyboard is less enjoyable to type on and its battery life is about two hours less. It also lacks a fast, versatile Thunderbolt 3 port, which will become more useful over the next few years as more accessories support the standard. But for around $800, it’s the best option for college students.”

Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance A19 60W 2-Bulb Starter Kit

philips

Street price: $130; deal price: $80

Aside from a rare, short-lived drop to $60 on Prime Day with Alexa voice-ordering, this is the lowest price we’ve seen for this set. With the approaching holiday season, this deal is a great chance to pick up a cool gift. We originally saw this kit at a full price of $150, which is still a price it hits with some regularity, but we’ve seen enough dips to $100 and $80 on sale in recent months to lower the street price to reflect the regular sales.

This kit is a two-bulb variant of the top pick in our guide to the best smart LED light bulbs. The Philips Hue Colored Smart Bulbs are also the instant ambience pick in our guide to our favorite gifts for 6- to 10-year olds. In our LED bulb guide, Grant Clauser wrote, “The Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance A19 bulbs are the best all-around smart bulbs you can buy. The Hue bulbs do everything their competitors do, but their wider product and app ecosystem allows for more flexibility and creativity than any other smart bulb. The third-generation Hue produces richer colors than the previous model, so reds will be a truer red, not just a deep pink. This means they’ve caught up with LIFX in terms of color accuracy, making them an even clearer choice.”

Harmony 650 Universal Remote

logitech

Street price: $39; deal price: $33

Down to $33 from a typical street price just under $40, while we’ve posted this remote a few times at this price, this is the first such deal we’ve seen for a few months. This is still the lowest price we’ve seen for the Harmony 650 new, so this is a solid time to grab this remote if you have infrared devices you want to control. Most of the $33 deals we’ve posted so far have been relatively short-lived, but hopefully this one will stick around for a bit.

The Harmony 650 is the top pick in our guide to the best universal remote control. Darryl Wilkinson and Grant Clauser wrote, “The Logitech Harmony 650 is the best universal remote for most people because it can coordinate the functions of up to eight components, is relatively simple to program with its MyHarmony software, and uses a smart, activity-based interface that simplifies control of your whole home theater. It can only control IR (infrared) devices—that’s most audio, video, and home theater gear—but it can’t communicate over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, so it isn’t compatible with some recent devices (Logitech’s Hub-based devices, which we’ll discuss below, are a better option if you need more than IR control).”

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LG drafts in its TV chief to save its mobile business

LG drafts in its TV chief to save its mobile business


LG

LG is shaking things up with a leadership change to its troubled mobile unit and the launch of two new divisions, dedicated to robotics and autonomous vehicles respectively. The company’s smartphone arm has suffered seven consecutive quarters of operating losses. Hoping for a revival, LG is handing the keys to the division to its home entertainment boss, Brian Kwon, who takes charge starting next month.

As a result, its current mobile chief (Hwang Jeong-hwan) will now shift all his focus to his other role as head of the company’s Convergence Business Development Office, while Kwon will also remain in charge of home entertainment.

“Mr. Kwon played a critical role in transforming LG’s TV, audio and PC business into category leaders,” LG sayid in a statement. “His knowledge and experience in the global marketplace will be instrumental in continuing LG’s mobile operations turnaround.”

The Korean electronics giant said the new units, called robot business centre and autonomous vehicle business task, were created to focus on strategically important sectors and will be overseen by its CEO.

LG’s robots are already interacting with travellers at Seoul airport and its autonomous shopping carts are heading to Korean supermarket chain, E-Mart. Meanwhile, the company has dabbled in self-driving car tech in collaboration with Here maps and also teamed with Mercedes on auto-braking back in 2014.

The reshuffle will see its separate robotics groups for its home entertainment business and material and production research bunched together. It added that the driverless vehicles unit will focus on mid-to-long-term investment and research. Following in rival Samsung’s footsteps, LG will also form a North America R&D Centre with a focus on researching AI for the US and Canada.

LG said the new structure will allow CEO Jo Seong-jin to hand over more of his daily responsibilities to CFO David Jung, freeing him up to focus on strategy and the company’s plans for the future.

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Google pulls gender pronouns from Gmail Smart Compose to reduce bias

Google pulls gender pronouns from Gmail Smart Compose to reduce bias


Jaap Arriens/Sipa USA

Gmail’s Smart Compose can save you valuable time when you’re firing off a quick message, but don’t expect it to refer to people as “him” or “her” — Google is playing it safe on that front. Product leaders have revealed to Reuters that Google removed gender pronouns from Smart Compose’s phrase suggestions after realizing that the AI-guided feature could be biased. When a scientist talked about meeting an investor in January, for example, Gmail offered the follow-up “do you want to meet him” — not considering the possibility that the investor could be a woman.

The problem is a typical one with natural language generation systems like Google’s: it’s based on huge volumes of historical data. As certain fields tend to be dominated by people from one gender, the AI can sometimes assume that a person belongs to that gender.

And while removing all gender pronouns may seem drastic, Google might not have had much choice. Product manager Paul Lambert said the company tried several solutions that kept pronouns, but none of them worked well. The only surefire way was to play it safe, he said. The restriction should affect less than one percent of Smart Compose suggestions, so the potential for headaches is relatively small.

The move isn’t surprising given Google’s attempts to be more inclusive of women and the LGBTQ community. At the same time, it’s also a defensive move for a company whose dependence on algorithms has caused trouble in the past. It had to tweak its autocomplete suggestions in 2016 when the search engine suggested anti-Semitic queries, for instance. If Google didn’t put limits on Smart Compose, there’s chance an everyday user could have encountered the problem and created much more of an uproar.

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