Category Archives: Tech

5 must-have gadgets for camping enthusiasts

From around age 11 to 16, I spent almost every other summer weekend camping with my family. Whether it was on the campground or hiking trails in the state park, we spent tons of time around campfires or sleeping in tents. They’re some of my favorite memories, but there are some things I would change.

For instance, I spent a lovely night shivering in a wet tent, blankets and everything damp. I bathed in some stinky, spider-filled bathrooms. Dried my hair with a hand dryer. Drank some nasty instant coffee. Lost flashlights and ran out of lantern batteries. Enjoyed a late-night hike because we got lost on an unfamiliar trail (and the wonderful stepdad refused to turn around).

Plus, we didn’t have smartphones back then, so no matter how bored you got some days, only family was there to entertain you. There was no hand-held GPS, telephone, camera, etc., all-in-one. There were paper maps, and texting was still new. People still used beepers. So if you got lost? Better hope for a crappy signal or just keep walking a trail until you pop out somewhere. When it got dark, you sat around the campfire until bedtime because there was nothing else to do, no iPads, or Kindles, or games to play on your phone.

Kids these days, man. They just don’t know the struggle.

Don’t get me wrong.  Even if I could, I wouldn’t change the way we did things then. I cherish those memories and the time spent together. However, now as an adult with no kids, I will happily take advantage of the advances made since.

So in the spirit of making future camping memories a little more high-tech and pleasant, here are some gadgets I want to try on future trips. They may not fix all of the hiccups along the way, but a little tech sure can’t hurt.

5. Sunjack Camplight

Sunjack Camplight

Battery-powered lights were the thing back when I camped regularly, but not this type. Gone are the days of leaky D-batteries crusting up your lantern. With gadgets like the Sunjack Camplight, you can have USB-powered light at your disposal.

Features:

  • Chain together 3 bulbs with their USB female ports
  • 7-foot long cord with an on/off switch
  • Power with any USB source

Combined with the Sunjack power bank, you can light your campsite for up to 800 hours for one LED light. Heck, grab a power bank for your cell phone while you’re at it, and you’ll never need a flashlight or lantern for camping again.

Buy it: Amazon |

4. Camping Coffee Maker

Okay, so this one isn’t so hot on the technology, but if you’re a coffee-lover like me, it might as well be. For one, drinking instant coffee just isn’t my thing. I’m also not a percolator fan, and there aren’t many rechargeable coffee makers out there. But one thing I do have is a propane-powered camp stove, which provides two good options, both from Coleman.

Coleman Camping Coffee Maker

The cheaper option is the Coleman Camping Coffeemaker, which makes 10 cups. If you already have a propane stove to use, you can simply sit this one on the flame. Once the water starts to boil, your coffee will start a brewin’. In about 10 minutes, you’re ready to enjoy.

Buy it: Amazon | Coleman

Coleman QuikPot Propane Coffeemaker

The next level up is the Coleman QuikPot Propane Coffeemaker. Start your morning off right with 10 cups of coffee using the coffeemaker and a propane tank. The propane hooks right to it, and with the touch of a button, you’ll have a fresh cup of morning bliss in 18 minutes.

Buy it: BassPro | Walmart

3. iNiCE Rechargeable Pocket Hand Warmer + Charger

iNiCE Hand Warmer and Power Bank Camping Tech

Not everyone enjoys camping during warmer months. For those who prefer trips during cool fall nights (like me) or even winter, this multi-tool gadget might be perfect for you. It not only works to heat your chilly fingers but also has a flashlight and serves as a power bank to charge your phone or other gadgets (maybe even your camplight!).

Buy it: Amazon

2. Goal Zero Venture 30 Solar Kit

Goal Zero Venture 30 Solar Kit Camping Hiking

Camping or hiking into the great outdoors, beyond your typical campground? Don’t let your phone, GPS, or other battery-powered gear go dead. This solar kit can store energy and charge your devices. It’s weatherproof, light, and foldable, and you can even hang it off of your backpack to charge while you’re on the go.

Buy it: REI

1.  Goal Zero Yeti 400 Portable Power Station

Goal Zero Yeti 400 Portable Power Station Camping

Forget carrying solar panels, grabbing a bunch or power banks, or, dare I say it, going without electronics. The only portable power station you need is right here, with USB, AC, and 12V outputs. Power up to 7 devices at a time, including phones, laptops, cameras, small appliances, and lights. It charges via AC wall outlet in only 5 hours, and you can even chain it with outer 33Ah lead-acid batteries. Plus, it can serve as backup power for outages in the home, as it’s all electric—no danger of fumes, no need for gas.

Buy it: Amazon | Goal Zero

Google’s Project Fi: mixed bag, but worth a try

As a long-time Verizon customer, I always loved the great coverage in my area. But when I started working from home in 2015, I realized it was not cost effective when two out of three people on our plan barely used data. For a while I made calls over Skype on WiFi, but that, too, became a problem when I drove long distances or visited family or friends. How do I make calls in the middle of nowhere, no WiFi in range? Borrowing someone’s phone was a pain, and I didn’t want to have to worry about a pre-paid phone. Around that time I came across Google’s Project Fi and thought with a shrug, “Why not?”

What is Project Fi?

Project Fi is a wireless service from Google that is still in beta. If you’re fine with the company still working out some kinks, it’s worth your time to check it out.

There is no annual contract, and the basic cost for 1 line, 1 GB data is cheap. The first line is $20 for “unlimited domestic talk and text, unlimited international texts, Wi-Fi tethering to use your phone as a hotspot, and access cellular coverage in 135+ countries and destinations.” Data is a more expensive $10/GB (but you get credit each month for any you do not use in the month prior), and additional lines are $15. So, for $30/month, users can get 1 line/1GB, and if you use almost none of that data, it’s even cheaper. 

For the three lines on my plan, I pay $80/month to split 3GB data. This was a huge cut from Verizon, to which I paid $80 for two lines with 2GB data.

Project Fi

Many customers who travel out of the country love Fi because they say it’s great in other countries. Note that I haven’t tried this, but it is a common compliment toward the program. Instead of paying high prices for international calls, you can strictly choose to make and receive calls over WiFi or through Google Hangouts, which uses your data and is said to be cheaper than the costs associated with typical carriers. No matter where you are, the data cost never changes from the $10/GB price.

Here’s what Fi is not

Project Fi is not your typical wireless provider. It doesn’t even have its own network, instead opting to piggyback off of 4G-LTE Sprint, T-Mobile, and US Cellular networks, as well as allow calls over WiFi. How it works is simple: your phone will connect to whichever network has the best signal in your location, whether it’s T-Mobile or a WiFi hotspot.

It is not ideal for heavy data users unless you are in an area where you need to take advantage of network hopping. For instance, if you get no coverage from Sprint at home but great at work, and vice-versa with T-Mobile, Fi might be an option so you have cell service where individual networks have spotty coverage.

Fi is also not perfect.

One issue that pops up periodically when making calls over WiFi is an echo. While other networks are said to have good voice calls over WiFi, Google is still working out some kinks.

Sometimes the phone gets stuck with a network, which can be really frustrating when said network has crap signal where you are located. This fix is easy though. There are apps such as Signal Spy that allow you to see what network you’re on and force connect to a different network.

There have been issues with data billing for some users, and you must turn off all automatic downloads and updates so that they occur only over WiFi and you do not get a surprise bill. Also pay attention to any new apps you download and frequently use to be sure they aren’t data hogs. $10 per GB is fine for the first couple, but it gets expensive if you accidentally use a ton of data.

Project Fi also currently only supports a few phones: Nexus 5x, Nexus 6, Nexus 6P and Pixel models. Technically, you can order a data-only SIM and pop it in any smartphone; however, you will only be able to make calls over Google Hangouts, which uses your data.

So what’s the verdict? 

I’ve had Project Fi on three lines for over three months now. I traveled out of town, used calls over WiFi where I didn’t have cell signal and had an overall great experience. 

While in an area that normally has very weak or nonexistent cellular service, I used Google Hangouts to make and receive all calls over the home’s WiFi without an issue.

While traveling the past two weeks on photography assignment, my phone switched flawlessly between networks, giving me signal pretty much everywhere except miles out in the sticks, where I rarely got signal even with my previous Verizon service.

The biggest hurdle we had was getting used to Nexus phones instead of the iPhones we’d used for years. 

Don’t get me wrong. There are some hiccups in the system. Some customers have had issues with transferring numbers, billing, and signal strength. There are the well-known issues with the Nexus 5x boot loop (fingers crossed, we’ve had no issues!), and only one phone is available right now, the Pixel. But I think some of that is to be expected when you’re basically beta testing a new service. It is still called Project Fi, after all. 

Should you try Fi?

In the end, if you

  • could benefit from network hopping because of patchy service in your area,

  • use little data,

  • need a cheap option for phone calls just for when you’re out and about (hello, fellow work-at-homers or stay-at-home parents!), or

  • travel out of country often

Project Fi is an option for you.

Questions about Fi? Hit the comments section! 

Project Fi website (NOTE: This is not a referral link)

Project Fi on Reddit

VIDEO: This plane can fly how close to space?!

NASA’s ER-2 is a flying laboratory that cruises at nearly 70,000 feet over Earth–so high, the pilot can see the curvature of the planet!

While there is a similar high-altitude plane used for military operations (known as the U-2), ER-2’s flights collect scientific data from the Earth. According to NASA, the plane’s purpose is to “collect information about Earth resources, celestial observations, atmospheric chemistry and dynamics, and oceanic processes” as well as assist in “electronic sensor research and development, satellite calibration, and satellite data validation.” 

The ER-2 even flies over hurricanes to help weather forecasters collect data, and its ability to fly in the stratosphere lets it test NASA’s instruments before they’re sent into space.

Pilots have to wear pressurized suits because the plane reaches heights that cause altitude-induced decompression sickness (DCS), similar to that of divers rising too quickly from the depths of the ocean.

Read about a U-2 pilot’s experience with DCS at the Smithsonian’s Air & Space magazine. 

Check out Wired’s experience below as they tag along for a mission. 

 

Boston Dynamics’ new robot ‘Handle’ is fun to watch

On Monday Boston Dynamics released a YouTube video of its newest robot, “Handle.” Its cool agility will have you begging the company to see more tricks, and your mind will run wild with all the ways it could be used.


According to the YouTube description, “Handle is a research robot that stands 6.5 ft tall, travels at 9 mph and jumps 4 feet vertically. It uses electric power to operate both electric and hydraulic actuators, with a range of about 15 miles on one battery charge. Handle uses many of the same dynamics, balance and mobile manipulation principles found in the quadruped and biped robots we build, but with only about 10 actuated joints, it is significantly less complex. Wheels are efficient on flat surfaces while legs can go almost anywhere: by combining wheels and legs Handle can have the best of both worlds.”

It’s almost creepy watching it go, with its “arms” held back and “knees” constantly bent, and its agility would definitely make it an intimidating robocop, but boy, can that robot catch some air! 

Of course, the practical applications are important, too. With the ability to pick up 100 lbs, Handle very well could be the future of warehouse work. 

Technically, it’s copy-and-paste: AI learns to write code by combining pieces from different programs

Collaboration between Microsoft and University of Cambridge researchers has resulted in the creation of DeepCoder, an artificial intelligence system that can write code based on a database of existing code fragments.

DeepCoder works by synthesizing information from pre-built computer programs. The AI scans a list of code fragments and chooses the inputs and outputs to achieve the requested result. In other words, the system does what human coders do, choosing a piece of code to fit a specific programming need, and puts each piece together to create a final functioning program. 

The system was tested by completing simple challenges seen in programming competitions and can currently solve coding challenges up to approximately five lines of code. This may not seem like a lot, but DeepCoder can complete what would normally be tedious tasks in fractions of a second, which is a step up from its predecessors, and it gets faster the more tasks it completes and the more it learns which fragments of code work together and which do not.

Researchers state that this technology will be beneficial to both experienced and inexperienced coders because it can test code combinations much faster than humans as well as automate simpler coding tasks, enabling experienced human coders to work on more complicated tasks and laymen to build simple programs with ease. The system can also thoroughly and quickly scan a wider range of code to find combinations that humans might not otherwise consider. 

The hope is that technology such as DeepCoder will allow a higher rate of productivity and possibly one day allow people with no knowledge of code to input an idea and receive a program built by AI. 

A similarly named program called DeepCode was created in 2015 by Draper Laboratory  to find and correct bugs in software before their release by recognizing patterns in code. The system would scan for flaws in code patterns and suggest corrections for repair. Another system called Prophet was created by researchers at MIT to correct problems with code. In contrast to DeepCode, Prophet learned from past successful human patches and applied that knowledge to correct flaws in applications.

For more information, see the research paper DeepCoder: Learning to Write Programs.