The Wi-Fi Umbrella

purple rain wifi umbrellaSome people just have to be connected to the Internet at all times, but there are occasions when it’s difficult.  Sometimes, you need more of a signal than what your smartphone can provide.

If you happen to be walking down the street, and it happens to be raining, and you happen to be in need of a wi-fi signal, then the Purple Rain umbrella can help.

Purple Rain, cleverly named after a Prince song, is said to be, and probably is, the world’s first wi-fi capable umbrella.

That’s right – it’s an umbrella that can connect you to the Internet.

Purple Rain is really just a wi-fi hotspot.  As you’re walking down the street, you can discreetly press the button on the wooden handle, and the Purple Rain will automatically scan for hotspots wherever you happen to be.

Once it finds a hotspot, it will connect, and then it will pass that signal on to your smartphone or tablet via a private SSID signal, so no one can tap into your wifi.

purple rain wifi umbrellaThe Purple Rain has been designed so that it looks like, and works like, any other normal umbrella.  The ribs of the umbrella are part of the antenna, however, which gives Purple Rain additional ability to pull in signals in areas where reception may be weak.

The entire thing is waterproof, as you might expect (and demand) from an umbrella.  On days when it isn’t raining, you can always use it as a parasol to protect you from the sun.

Purple Rain also has a USB port in the handle, though I can’t find anything in the company’s press release that explains what, exactly, that USB port might be for.

The Purple Rain umbrella is handmade in the UK and includes a wooden handle, your standard press-stud tab for closing it.  The device is 36 inches long and has a 42 inch diameter.

The protective canopy is made from 100% polyester.

Despite the clever name, Purple Rain is available in other colors, though the Website didn’t mention any specifically.

The Purple Rain is designed to be capable of working with just about any wifi enabled device, regardless of operating system or platform.  It is, as they say in the business, “vendor-agnostic.”

The umbrella was said to be available for sale starting in late November, though the Website has not yet been updated to indicate whether it is currently available or not.  While the official launch date has passed, the Website is still asking you to preregister to be notified when it becomes available for sale.

Initial price was £49.99 or $50, but that was a Black Friday special that was said to be 50% off.  No word on current pricing.


Singsation Makes Karaoke Easy

singsationI’ll admit that karaoke isn’t my thing, but I have, on occasion, enjoyed watching other people do it.   It used to be (and still is, I guess) a thing that one had to do in bards or clubs, but thanks to a lot of new hardware, you can now do it at home.

That hardware has become easier to find, better in quality and more affordable, too.  Perhaps the latest entry in the home karaoke market is the Singation from 808 audio.

The Singsation is a portable microphone.  OK, we’ve seen those before.  But this one does a lot, especially for the suggested price of $49.99.

The Singsation is a wireless microphone that you can use to perform karaoke.  According to the manufacturer, it works with all video sharing sites and karaoke apps.  You can also stream your favorite songs wirelessly from your phone or tablet and use the built-in speaker to listen to music.

The built-in speaker is said to have “big” sound, and presumably, there is appropriate noise cancellation built in as well so that you don’t have any feedback problems.

To add a bit of visual appeal to your performance, the Singsation has a built-in series of special lighting effects.  In fact, there are 14 multi-color light models including party, pulse, chase and more.

Don’t have a large crowd to cheer you on?  Not a problem; the Singsation has built-in sound effects, too, including cheers and applause.

Can’t sing?  Don’t worry; there are also five built-in voice effects, including echo, baritone, and something that they call “alien.”

The Singsation is rechargeable via USB, and a cable is included.

You can also , if you must, use the Singsation as a public address system.  If you’re addressing the PTA or the local Chamber of Commerce, you might want to turn the “alien” effect and the light show off.

While the Singsation is new and was just introduced by 808 Audio, the company has been making audio equipment since 2011 and concentrates on creating high-quality gear that is available for purchase at an affordable price.

So far, the response seems to be favorable.  Over at Amazon, the Singsation has nothing but 5 star reviews, and they appear to have all come from actual customers, rather than from the usual paid trolls.

I’m sure that the Singsation will be a big hit this holiday season.  If you love karaoke or know someone who does, you might want to pick one up as a gift.

You can buy the Singsation at a number of places, including here.

Apple Finally Goes Wireless

wireless  chargerEver since the iMac was introduced, and through the ten year life (so far) of the iPhone, people have largely looked upon Apple as innovators.

People were shocked, for instance, when Apple removed the floppy drive from the iMac, thinking it was a bad move.  But people pretty much didn’t notice, and it wasn’t long before no one was including floppy drives in their computers anymore.

Apple then took the then-fairly-new smartphone and redeveloped it into the iPhone, and sold them by the millions.   People eagerly awaited the introduction of new models each year to see what sort of cutting-edge features that Apple was going to introduce.

But since the death of Steve Jobs in 2011, Apple hasn’t really been leading so much anymore.  The iOS shares the market with the Android operating system, and companies such as Samsung are often coming up with new and interesting features before Apple does.

iPhone XThat’s sort of what happened this week when Apple announced their two new versions of the iPhone – the iPhone 8 and the iPhone X.  (No one is yet asking what happened to iPhone 9.  Perhaps you could ask someone about Windows 9 while you’re at it.)

There are numerous new features in iPhones 8 and X (pronounced “ten”) but the one that everyone is going to like is the fact that they can both be charged wirelessly.  By making use of the Qi (pronounced “chee”) wireless standard, Apple now lets you get rid of charging cords, though you will, of course, still need a charging device.

Apple is hoping that a lot of public places, such as coffee shops, will have Qi charging stations available, so that people will be able to charge their phones while they are out and about.

That’s nice, and it’s great to see that Apple has eliminated a cord, rather than doing what they usually do – changing one.  The thing is, this isn’t a cutting-edge feature.  In the case of wireless charging, Apple is following, rather than leading.

Following?  Nokia introduced a smartphone that could charge this way in 2012, and Wikipedia says that there were more than 140 different Qi-chargeable phones on the market more than a year ago.

That article also says that more than 70% of the public was aware of wireless charging as a technology.  Well, they had to learn about it somewhere.  Where they didn’t learn about it was through their iPhone, because until now (and not even yet, as the two new iPhones aren’t yet on the market) you haven’t been able to use this technology with your iPhone.

There’s a lot of excitement about these two new phones, particularly the iPhone X, which has a bigger screen and built-in facial recognition software.  The X also comes with a thousand dollar price tag, so it’s going to be interesting to see how well it sells.

Given Apple’s history of sales of newly introduced phones, they’ll probably do just fine.  But it’s hard to get excited about paying $1000 for a phone that has “new” features that include technology that has been available in competing products for more than five years.


Affordable Laser Engraver

cubiio3D printers are all the rage these days, and that’s great if you want to build things.  Sometimes, artistically inclined people don’t want to build things as they want to decorate things.

That’s OK, too.  We like attractive things, and one great way to make anything more attractive is to engrave some sort of design on that.  Traditionally, that has been a difficult and expensive thing to do, but a new device called the Cubiio is likely to make it much easier and faster to do this.

Cubiio is a small cube, measuring 50mm on a side, that contains a laser and a small motor.  It also has a USB plug and a Bluetooth interface.  You can design your images using any software that can produce G-Code; the company recommends that you use Inkscape, as it’s free.

You can mount Cubiio to any camera stand, and connect to it by Bluetooth, USB or by inserting an SD card.  Then you put on your safety goggles (included), test it in preview mode, and then let it go.

It can engrave names, numbers, elaborate designs and more on a wide variety of materials – paper, plastic, wood, cardboard, fabric, felt, leather and non-transparent acrylic.  About the only thing Cubiio cannot engrave is metal.

cubiioCubiio even has a “batch mode” that you can use if you want to do more than one identical engraving at once, as you might if you were mass-producing something.

Safety is always a consideration when you’re using anything that has a laser, and Cubiio has that in mind.  Goggles are included, and the device has a password protection feature so that only authorized people can use it.

Motion detection will automatically shut Cubiio if anyone moves in front of it while it is working.  It also has built-in thermal protection to shut it down in the event of overheating.

The amazing thing about Cubiio is how such a functional device was able to be put into such a small form factor.  It’s small enough to fit in a purse or briefcase, meaning you can take it just about anywhere.

cubiio exampleDemand for Cubiio must be strong.  The device was introduced on Kickstarter recently with a $25,000 funding goal.  At present, with 32 days left to go in the campaign, more than $600,000 has been pledged.  That would suggest that the product will actually go into production.  Estimated date for shipping is November.

The things you can do with Cubiio are pretty unlimited, but the video on the Kickstarter site gives some great ideas – cutting elaborate designs out of paper, engraving personal items, engraving designs on furniture, engraving designs on leather clothes or accessories.

In all likelihood, people who use Cubiio will come up with more ideas for it and post them online, so in time, you’ll find even more use for this clever device.  At present, prices for the Cubiio start at $379, with additional options including the Cubiio Shield, which is a vented workspace for those who need to use it on a regular basis.

You can read more about Cubiio at Kickstarter.

The Dash Cam You Probably Need

cobra ip 200In today’s modern society, we spend a lot of time driving.  We probably spend more time driving than we should, and we certainly spend a lot of that time being distracted.

Accidents happen, and sooner or later, most of us will have an auto accident of some sort.  When that happens, your mind becomes a blur, and it can be difficult to remember what happened, and which car did what, and when.

Sorting all of the particulars of an auto accident out is a lot easier with the Cobra IP 200 dash cam.  With this clever gadget installed, you’ll be constantly recording whatever is in front of you while you’re driving.

The IP 200 mounts to your windshield with the provided suction cup mount and is powered from your car’s cigarette lighter or power adapter.  When the car starts moving, the camera comes on, and it records in a continuous stream of 3 minute segments.

These are saved to the included 4 GB micro SD card, and the Cobra can also detect an impact or a sudden acceleration.  That pretty much ensures that if something happens, the device will capture it on video so that you can see it later.

The device records continuously, and if the SD card gets full, the oldest segment that was saved to the disk is overwritten with new data.  You can also use a button on the dash cam to manually record video.

The unit is designed to point straight forward, so that it can capture license plate numbers.  That’s not all, though.  The IP 200 also has 120° field of “vision,” so it will also be able to record things that aren’t quite happening directly in front of you.

All of that video will be recorded in 1080P high definition, making sure that you’re getting all of the detail that you need.

An additional feature is the motion sensor, which can detect motion in front of your vehicle even when it’s parked and you’re not driving.  If motion is detected, the IP 200 will start recording automatically.

“Why would I need a dash cam?,” you might ask.   Accidents often happen suddenly, and often lead to lawsuits and litigation.  It’s very possible that, through no fault of your own, you could end up in an accident and be the plaintiff in an expensive and time-consuming lawsuit.

With the Cobra IP 200 dash cam, you would have video evidence of what happened in that accident and that might be sufficient to get you out of a lawsuit and save you thousands of dollars.

With the automatic motion sensor, you might be able to record video of someone vandalizing your car, or even another one that is parked nearby.

All of these are reasons why it might make sense to have a dashcam.  An even better reason is that the Cobra IP 200 is very affordably priced, with a retail price of about $60 or so.

At that price, it makes sense to have one, just because you never know when you might have an emergency.

You can learn more about the Cobra IP 200 at the company’s Website.



The Robot Weed Killer

tertillIf you have a garden, then you likely have weeds.  Weeds like to grow, and they’re very fond of the same sort of conditions that one finds in a garden – lots of light, lots of water, and lots of nutrition.

If you have a garden, then you’re going to have to deal with weeds, and frankly, that’s a nuisance.

You’ll have to pull them, or cut them, or use harsh chemicals on them.  Those methods all work, but they’re hard work, they’re expensive, and there’s that whole “Why do I want to put chemicals on my tomatoes?” thing.

That’s where Tertill can help.  Tertill is a gardening robot that was developed by the same people who developed the Roomba.  It’s a robot that routinely patrols your garden and looks for weeds to kill.

When it finds a weed, it uses a built-in string trimmer.   It finds it, cuts it down and moves on.

Even more impressive is the fact that Tertill has a method of sensing whether the plants its encountering are weeds or the important plants in your garden.  The determining factor is height, so this is a device that will work best if you start using it as soon as you plant.  Plants below a certain height get whacked.

Plants above that height are allowed to remain.   What about seedlings that aren’t yet tall enough?  Tertill comes with a collar that you can place around that plant that will cause the robot to ignore it.

It uses a similar sensor to determine the boundaries of your garden, though there are some rules about how you should set that up in order to ensure that Tertill doesn’t go roaming around your neighborhood unattended.

Tertill is solar powered, too.  That means that you won’t have to plug it in and recharge it.  You can just let it do its thing.  It will even stay charged on a cloudy day, though it won’t patrol your garden quite as often on days that aren’t sunny.

You can also control the Tertill via Bluetooth using your smartphone.  The information on that was a bit sketchy on the Tertill Kickstarter page, so I’m not really sure exactly what sort of control you’ll have over the thing with your smartphone.

The Kickstarter campaign was wildly successful, and the company raised nearly 300% of its funding goal.  That’s the good part.  The bad part is that the Tertill isn’t yet ready to ship, and likely won’t be for the better part of a year.

Still, they’ve got some pretty enticing deals on the Kickstarter site, so you can line up to get yours for the start of the gardening season for next year.

If you don’t like cutting weeds, and you don’t like using harsh chemicals, and you don’t like having to bring in your electronic products from out of the rain and you don’t like having to deal with recharging things, then you’ll love the Tertill.

You just need to set it up, protect the smaller plants in your garden, and let it roam around and do its job.

No more weeds.  And that is that.

Smart Watch? Traditional Watch? Why Not Both?

chronos smart watchWhen it comes to devices that tell time, we’re sort of at a crossroads these days.  While mechanical watches have certainly reached a high level of sophistication (and price!), the smart watch has come along to offer features that a traditional watch cannot.

Wristwatches have been a part of the daily wear of millions of people for about a century now, and they’ve reached a point where they can offer accurate time, the date, and sometimes even other features such as alarms and phases of the moon.

They cannot, however, let you answer your email, count your calories or let you control the music to which you’re listening.

These are features that you find in a smart watch, which are computer-controlled wristwatches that interface with your smartphone to give you some, but not all, of the functionality of your phone at the convenience of having it on your wrist.

Smart watches can also give you the time.

Some purists don’t like the idea of replacing a wristwatch with a small computer that will likely have to be replaced in a year or two and most smart watches don’t actually look very nice.

On the other hand, the best traditional wristwatches are things of beauty and works of both science and art.  They also look pretty good with a sport coat or a tuxedo.

What do you do if you can’t decide which one you want?

chronos smart watchNow you don’t have to.  A new device called the Chronos can give you the best of both worlds.  The Chronos is a small, very thin disk that attaches to the back of any wristwatch with a diameter of at least 31 mm.  It attaches via something called “micro suction,” so you won’t have to worry about magnets messing up your Citizen Eco Drive or your valued Breitling.

With the Chronos attached, you’ll get smartphone functionality in any watch you like, and you can move the device from one watch to another.

Among the functions Chronos offers:

  • Music control
  • Locate your phone by tapping your watch
  • Notification alerts – know who is calling or texting
  • Health data – count steps and calories and monitor fitness goals
  • Take pictures by using your watch to control your camera shutter.
  • Silence calls by using your watch to mute your phone.

The Chronos comes with a recharging stand, and the unit can recharge in just 30 minutes.  It will run for 2 days on a full charge.  You can charge it without having to remove it from your watch, which makes it convenient.

At the moment, the Chronos is compatible only with iOS phones, though the company Website says that the Android version will be coming soon.

At the moment, the Chronos is priced at just $99.  This device is a pretty clever idea, especially for fans of higher end watches.  While a few watch companies are trying their hand at smart watches, it’s pretty obvious that most of them are going to stay away from this trend for the foreseeable future.

Chronos gives you the opportunity to wear a high end luxury watch while still having the functionality of a smart watch.  That seems pretty smart to me.

Turn Any Appliance Into a Smart One

intelliplugThese days, everything is becoming smart, and the more things you can control from a single device, the better off you are.  You don’t have to remember lock combinations anymore, thanks to smart locks, and now, you can have a smart electrical outlet that will turn any device that you plug into the wall into a smart one.

Smart outlets have been around for a while, but so far, they’ve been expensive, unattractive and sometimes hard to use.

Intelliplug says they’re going to change that, with a soon-to-be-released device that’s small, attractive, easy to use and affordable.

The Intelliplug will allow you to control nearly any device that you plug into the wall.  Just plug the Intelliplug in, and then plug your device into the Intelliplug.  You can control the device via your smartphone using either Android or iOS phones.

Here are a few of the nice features about the Intelliplug:

  • Works with smart phones or wifi-enabled devices
  • Small enough that it will not block off adjacent plugs
  • App can control multiple Intelliplugs at once
  • You can set a timer or schedule to turn a device on or off as you like
  • Amazon Alexa compatible
  • AES256 encryption

The one thing I couldn’t determine about the Intelliplug is the load rating.  I don’t know exactly how large an appliance you can plug in.  In the demo, they show lamps and coffee pots, but those draw relatively little current.

On the other hand, the company creating the Intelliplug, cnct, says they’re trying to bring the thing to market through an Indigogo campaign.  Because of this, there’s an early bird special that will allow you to get a single Intelliplug for just $10, plus shipping.

The cnct app will be continually evolving, but the company promises that you won’t have to worry about compatibility.  As the software gets upgraded, your existing plugs will continue to work.  The Intelliplug also has a built-in on/off switch, just in case you want to turn your device on or off manually.

They also have upgrades, if you’d like to donate more money.  Their funding target is $25,000, which is relatively modest, and estimated delivery is just two months away.

Admittedly, not everyone is going to need this device, but it’s handy if you’d like to have lamps turn on and off at random times when you’re away.  It’s also good for starting a coffee pot when you wake up, rather than having it start at a preselected time via the built-in timer that most coffee makers have.

People will likely also come up with other clever uses for the thing.

You can read more about Intelliplug at the Indigogo site.

Beeline Helps You Stay on the Bike Path

beeline compassGPS has been great for navigation, and lots of us have such devices in our cars or use them with our smartphones to help us find where we’re going.  They’re a big help, and do a great job of keeping us from getting lost.

They’re not suitable for all applications, though.  When you’re riding a bicycle, for example, it can be difficult to manage either a GPS or a cell phone.  You generally need your hands to steer the bike, and taking them off of the handlebars to deal with a navigation device is just asking for trouble.

That’s where a new device called Beeline comes in.  Beeline is a navigation device or compass for your bicycle that mounts on your handlebars like you’d mount a bell.

The device pairs up with an app on your smartphone (either IOS or Android) .  You plan out your route on the app, and it communicates with the Beeline device.  What do you get on your display?

A simple arrow that points you in the direction that you need to go.   You can change routes or directions at any time, and the Beeline will show you in which direction you should be going.

Of course, there’s more information available if you need it.  The Beeline has a sharp, backlit display so that you can see where you’re going at any time of day or night.  There are also buttons on the display that will allow you to view the distance remaining to your destination, a clock to give you the time, and a speedometer to tell you how fast you’re going.

The Beeline can go up to 30 hours on a charge, and is easily recharged using the included USB cable.   It’s also shock and water resistant.

Beeline is one of a number of interesting devices that we’ve found recently that got their start as a Kickstarter product.

The Beeline attaches to your bike with an adjustable silicone strap, and is surprisingly affordable.  At $125 or so, it prices about the same as an entry level dedicated GPS device.

Based on  20-60 minutes of daily use, the company estimates that the device will last between one to three months between charges, so you won’t have to deal with constant recharging issues.

I ride a bike a lot, and I see a lot of interesting bicycle gadgets these days.  The Beeline seems like one of the more useful ones that I’ve run across lately.  I particularly like the simple arrow.  It simply tells you where to go, and often, that’s good enough.

No More Lost Combinations

noke bluetooth padlockThere seems to be a tendency these days to make everything wireless, whether it needs to be or not.   One can debate whether any particular item really needs wireless or Bluetooth capability, but rest assured – if the feature is added to an object, somebody will find it useful.

Thus we get the Noke (pronounced “no key”) padlock.  It’s a rugged padlock that’s suitable for either indoor or outdoor use.  That’s great.  We all need padlocks from time to time.

This one, however, is Bluetooth enabled, which allows you to open it from your smartphone.

This is where you have to have that internal debate with yourself about whether you actually need such a device in your life.  Most padlocks open in one of two ways – you either need to have a combination to open it or you need to have a key.

People often misplace keys, or they don’t have them nearby when they need to open the lock.  People frequently forget combinations and then forget where they wrote it down, leaving them with a lock they can’t open.

The Noke solves those problems by building a tough padlock that runs for a year on a common watch battery.  It’s suitable for either indoor or outdoor use.  And it can open automatically when your smartphone is nearby, saving you the trouble of doing anything at all to open it.

Of course, the Noke has more features than just that.  It’s IOS or Android compatible.  You can track your lock’s history.  You can share (and revoke) the ability for others to open the lock using their smartphones.

You can also set times or dates for when entry to others will be permitted, giving you a lot of flexibility regarding its use.

The Noke app also allows you to manage multiple locks at once, just in case you want to buy more than one.

The lock is build using hardened steel and boron, and has anti-shim technology, making it resistant to thieves.

What if the battery dies?  Not a problem; the Noke has a patent-pending “Quick Click” method of opening the lock manually using a provided access code.

If you’re interested in rugged security but you want something that will be easy to open when you need it to, then you might want to consider buying a Noke.  It runs about $60 and you can buy it at a number of places, including the project’s Kickstarter page.

The Noke was originally a Kickstarter project, and it turned out to be a wildly successful one.  They were looking for $100,000 in funding and ended up getting more than $650,000 out of the deal.