Snail Reader Concept Brings Braille to Voice Feature

9 05 2011

Braille was developed in 1825 and since then has been enormously helpful in allowing blind people to read. But there are limitations on it, such as the difficulty in going back and finding a previous passage to re-read.

Snail is a concept from Wonkook Lee for a Braille reader that can be carried anywhere and run over any Braille text to produce an audible “text-to-voice” effect. It’s basically a rolling wheel, with a contacting pressure-sensitive touchpad surface to detect the presence and patterns of raised Braille points. The device houses a speaker, but would also have Bluetooth connectivity for use with a headset for quiet reading when that is desired. To help recall what’s been read before, there is a recording and playback function.

In addition to the issues with finding previous passages, it also addresses difficulties in learning to read by touch and the slow pace that Braille reading often requires.

Are you blind, or do you know someone who is? Would this be a useful tool to make reading easier? Let us know in the comments.


Tablets and Phones Enable Easier Access to Home Automation

9 05 2011
iphone ipad enocean wireless home automation examples

No wires? No batteries? No bears? Oh my!

Some of the EnOcean lightswitch devices

iphone ipad solstice multimedia wireless home automation_devices

Did I leave the den open?

We may be seeing a new trend in home automation. As we know, Cali  Lewis loves the idea of home automation, but with full systems costing thousands of dollars and requiring complex installation it can be a difficult dream. Aside from expense, home automation is further complicated by human interfacing. Using the main controller in the house can be difficult, expensive and often proprietary. Recently, advancements in the consumer electronics world have begun to change the future of home automation installation and operation, with tablet computers and wireless devices replacing complex systems wired to a central unit. Some of the EnOcean lightswitch devices The first major improvement is in the home automation devices. These devices rely on wireless signals to go from piece to piece much like how an RF remote or your mobile phone can communicate data wirelessly. Each small unit is connected to one feature of your home automation. They act as masters and slaves and relay messages about whether the bedroom light is on or off, if the security system is armed, or the temperature of the jacuzzi. Plus, since 2006 they’ve been battery-free, using vibrations and changes in temperature to generate the small amounts of electricity needed to operate. The battery-free operation alone is pretty cool, but now they’ve added wireless transmission and sticky backs for easy installation! The second advance is the addition of everyone’s favorite home accessory, the iPad (or iPhone or iPod Touch). Imagine you’re at a movie and afterward your friend wants to go eat. Need a security light on outside? Pull out your iPhone, open an app and presto, light is on. Are you imagining it? Pretty sweet right? A number of home automation groups thought so too. Now instead of single (or multiple) access points at anchored locations around the abode costing upwards of $3,000 per panel, you can travel with your iPad or iPhone and access your home automation system! Did I leave the den open? It’s a crazy idea, but the cost of the panels alone edges many users out of the market for home automation, not to mention the high cost of wiring the devices within your house. With a $500 iPad and a few of the battery-free, wireless devices from EnOcean you could have home automation on the cheap and in any house! According to Denver based Solstice Multimedia via TipB, “The dual iPad control system costs roughly $5,000,” which is significantly cheaper than the proprietary screen systems of the past. These advances also make home automation a better deal for the environment than previously. With wireless devices, home automation installation doesn’t require the miles of cabling to connect everything in the house to the central computer. Additionally, the battery-free devices pull their power from the environment, meaning more efficient energy usage. Plus if you remember later you’d left a light on, you’ll have an app to turn it off! While home automation is still a luxury item for most homeowners, this is yet more evidence of tablet devices merging further into our lives and how technology can simultaneously be good for our lives and the environment. Very cool stuff. Here’s a video from EnOcean about using their technology to promote less energy usage, green buildings and overall cool and futuristic technologies…

Cloud Based Password Manager LastPass Hacked?

6 05 2011

LastPass is a cloud based password manager supported by many browsers. The service is claimed as the “Last Password You’ll Ever Need”. However, reports are going around the web about LastPass having a security breach.

According to the LastPass Blog, they noticed a particular abnormality which could be potential threat. As a precaution, users are forced to change their master passwords.

LastPass Blog:

To counter that potential threat, we’re going to force everyone to change their master passwords. Additionally, we’re going to want an indication that you’re you, by either ensuring that you’re coming from an IP block you’ve used before or by validating your email address. The reason is that if an attacker had your master password through a brute force method, LastPass still wouldn’t give access to this theoretical attacker because they wouldn’t have access to your email account or your IP.

Currently, the traffic to LastPass is overwhelming enough due to users changing passwords. If you have a LastPass account, I’d highly suggest trying to get yours changed as soon as possible. Despite being a threat or not,  these are YOUR passwords.

Password Strength

Create a strong password. Some websites have a security level indicator when creating an account. Especially make your LastPass Master Password different than the rest.

Update from LastPass at 4:30pm EST

For those who haven’t been prompted, and have continued to use LastPass without issue — we’ve judged the risk to be low if you’re using the same IP — we’re only raising the issue once that changes.

Finally if you have issues with password changes please email us at, we can revert you, or we can pull data from backups, but please try LastPass Icon -> Clear local cache first.

PCWorld followup with LastPass CEO at 8pm EST

PCW: What steps are you recommending users take now?

Siegrist: If you used a strong master password, even if anything had been taken, there shouldn’t be any cause for concern. If you used a weak master password, there might be a little more risk, but it’s kind of a one in a million kind of a risk based on the total amount of data that was transferred. If you used a weak master password, it’s probably wise now to replace it with a strong one and look at your most critical sites–your banking, your e-mail–and think about changing those.

With the Amazon crash a short time ago,  there’s some irony that LastPass is running into an obstacle. What does this mean for cloud based services?

Project Cafe or Wii 2? Nintendo Confirms E3 Reveal of New Console For 2012

5 05 2011

E3 (the Electronic Entertainment Expo) is always a big time of year for gaming news, and this year’s looking to be no exception. Apparently spurred by the Wii’s inability to surprise gamers, Nintendo has confirmed that they will be announcing a new console for release in 2012.

Details are of course pretty scarce, but speculation is plentiful. What we do know is that the new rig will feature HD graphics, making it more attractive to 3rd party developers. This is something Nintendo has a history of trouble with – their consoles have a reputation for being great for selling Nintendo titles and not so great for selling anyone else’s.

Even the name is uncertain at this point. There’s a lot of speculation and even assumption that Nintendo’s next console will be the Wii 2, but there’s no indication so far that that will end up being true. If it were true, it would fly in the face of Nintendo’s historical naming convention – they’ve never done a true numbered sequel to a console before. In the past they’ve done the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) to Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) and similar names for the Gameboy line; the only time they’ve hinted at numerical naming is the Nintendo 3DS, which followed the DS, DS Lite and DSi.

We’ll know more come E3 this summer, and when we know, you’ll know too. In the meantime, do you have any thoughts on the matter? Would you buy it if it ended up being an HD Wii? If not, what would it take? Let us know in the comments!

100 Terabit Connections Leave the Speed-Deprived Sighing With Envy

5 05 2011

The Japanese get all the most awesome stuff. This is an undisputed fact… well, at least an envy-inspiring trend. The latest example comes from not one, but two Japanese tech development teams who have created data links utilizing a single optical fiber to transmit more than 100 terabits per second.

The first team to report success was a team at NEC who reported squeezing 370 light pulses into the optical pickup of a fiber-optic connection, resulting in a data-sending rate of 101.7 Tbps.

The second and current record-holding team came from Japan’s National Institute of Information and Communications Technology. They reported reaching a whopping 109 Tbps by using a fiber with 7 light-guiding cores instead of the standard single core. Each core carried 15.6 terabits per second.

NEC’s Ting Wang believes that due to the complexity and cost of both techniques, the first implementations are likely to be at giant data centers like those run by Google, Facebook and, but that’s not stopping me from dreaming of the day I can plug directly into a connection that fast.

New iMacs Arrive with Thunderbolt and Sandy Bridge Processors

5 05 2011

We’ve had rumors that new iMacs would be arriving this week, sporting Intel Sandy Bridge processors, and this morning they showed up, looking the same on the outside, but with several new upgrades inside, including the new Thunderbolt data port.

As before, there are two screen sizes, 21.5-inch (1920 x 1080) and 27-inch (2560 x 1440). On the smaller machine you get a choice between a 2.7 GHz i5 processor or a 2.8 GHz i7, 4 or 8 GB of RAM and 1 or 2TB hard drives. There’s also an option for a 256GB solid state drive. You can pair up both a regular drive and an SSD, if you wish. Graphics are provided by an AMD Radeon HD 6750M or 6770M with 512MB. Prices for the 21.5-inch start at $1199.

For those with an appetite for more screen real estate and beefier internals (and the budget to cover them), the 27-inch offers 3.1 GHz i5 or 3.4 GHz i7 processors and adds a 16GB memory option. Hard drive choices are the same as the smaller model. The larger model also bumps graphics up to an AMD Radeon 6970M with 1 or 2GB options. The 27-inch models are priced at $1699 and up.

Both models add the new Thunderbolt data port (one on the 21.5-inch, two on the 27-inch) and a new HD camera for your FaceTime enjoyment.

The Game That Won’t Let You Look Away

5 05 2011

Games continually move to new levels of immersiveness. The goal of the designers and programmers is to put you into the world of the game as convincingly as possible. But you could always look away from the screen. Until now.

A group of three students at the University of Texas at Austin have developed a system that pairs a web cam with a moving pico projector and brings the result to a curved screen that puts the image wherever you look, with changing perspective. The camera follows the movement of the player’s head and the projector tilts and pans to place it where they are looking.

It’s just a prototype right now, but with refinement, it suggests an interesting future for a new level of interactivity in games.