New ‘Silicon Valley’ season 5 trailer finds Pied Piper creating ‘new internet’

The Pied Piper team is headed back to the small screen in just a few weeks, and HBO has released a second trailer teasing the return of its award-winning series Silicon Valley.

Scheduled to premiere at 10 p.m. ET on Sunday, March 25, on HBO, the fifth season of Silicon Valley picks up where the previous season left off, with Richard Hendricks and the rest of the Pied Piper team attempting to give the world a “new internet.” The latest trailer offers a preview of the weird obstacles he’ll encounter as he attempts to navigate this new project with his eccentric team — which has gotten considerably larger since the season 4 ended.

HBO previously paired the announcement of the premiere date for season 5 of Silicon Valley with the first trailer for the award-winning series’ next story arc. The team’s ambitious new goal creates more than a little stress for lead actor Thomas Middleditch’s introverted CEO, Richard, who is shown having some trouble inspiring an office full of employees in the trailer. Also of note in that first trailer is the rise of Jian-Yang, who now appears to have taken over as the owner of the team’s former incubator office and living space.

Created by Mike Judge, John Altschuler, and Dave Krinsky, Silicon Valley follows a group of five programmers who create a startup company in California’s tech-savvy Silicon Valley. The series premiered in 2014 and went on to earn more than 30 Primetime Emmy Award nominations, and win two Emmy Awards over the course of its first four seasons. It has also received considerable praise from critics.

Along with Middleditch as Hendricks, the series’ regular cast includes Zach Woods, Kumail Nanjiani, Martin Starr, Josh Brener, Amanda Crew, Matt Ross, Suzanne Cryer, and Jimmy O. Yang (who plays Jian-Yang). Actor and comedian T.J. Miller (Deadpool) played a featured role in the first four seasons, only to depart before the fifth season.

Miller’s departure is likely to echo throughout the fifth season, as his character was a major part of the series up to this point. The actor’s exit from the series was initially credited as a mutual decision, with Miller himself suggesting he wanted to devote more attention to other projects — his burgeoning film career, the most likely culprit — but subsequent interviews revealed some friction between Miller and show producer Alec Berg. The fourth season (spoiler alert!) bid farewell to Miller’s character, Erlich Bachman, by leaving him stoned out of his mind in an opium den in Tibet.

Updated February 21, 2018: Added the new trailer for season 5.







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Interactive 3D Social Posts : facebook 3d posts

Facebook 3D Posts can Now Be Shared Through the News Feed

Facebook is looking for ways to increase users’ engagement with social aspects of the platform (as opposed to using it solely as a place to get news), and Facebook 3D posts are one of the ways that the social media giant is hoping to draw users in. As the name suggests, the posts allow brands to share 3D images of the products.

The 3D images on Facebook are fully manipulable with a cursor or touch (depending on whether one is viewing on desktop or mobile). As opposed to static, 2D images, the Facebook 3D posts let users see the product in question from any angle, a feature that would have obvious benefits for e-retailers in particular.

Facebook expects the 3D posts to not only improve the current experience on the platform but also to add to potential VR and AR experiences in the future.

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Rapper-Made Social Platforms : convoz

Chamillionaire Hopes to Better Connect Strangers with Convoz

The rapper Chamillionaire has developed a new social platform called Convoz, that’s virtually connecting people who share similar interests.

While the Internet serves as an effective tool for finding like-minded people, making face-to-face contact can be a difficult transition. To combat this, Convoz offers a place where real people can meet via video chat, presenting individuals with a safe, but more meaningful method of communication. The free app lets people upload a 15-second video, directed at other users. Users can receive who to respond to, and who to ignore. According to Chamillionaire, Convoz helps foster a deeper sense of connection between strangers, as he believes social media can often distance or isolate people.

Image Credit: Video chat via Shutterstock, Convoz

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LED-studded ‘electronic skin’ monitors your health, makes you look like a cyborg

In many ways, the future of healthcare will depend on “self care,” or patients caring for their own health using all technologies at their disposal. That might mean scouring the internet for nutrition facts about a meal, strapping a fitness tracker to your wrist before a jog, or reviewing a doctor’s recommendations based on a DNA test. Either way, people who take hold of their health will tend to live healthier lives.

Around the world, researchers are developing wearables to put power in patients’ hands and help them monitor physiological conditions, from heart rate to blood alcohol level.

This “electronic skin” display uses nanomesh electrodes to pick up on electrical signals from the heart.

Now, a team of engineers from the University of Tokyo has developed an ultrathin, breathable, and stretchable display that can be worn directly on the skin. This “electronic skin” display uses nanomesh electrodes to pick up on electrical signals from the heart, allowing it to monitor cardiovascular health and display data for the patient to view in real time via micro LEDs. The data can also be transferred wirelessly to a smartphone.

“Global aging is widely perceived as one of the most significant risks to global prosperity,” Takao Someya, an engineer and head of the University of Tokyo’s Someya Research Group, who developed the display, told Digital Trends. “In order to find the possible solutions to this pressing issue, home healthcare system in which people are responsible for their own health is getting more and more important. To build a home healthcare system, we need to foster age-friendly accessibility to information.”

Many of these wearable sensors are either relatively narrow in their ability to collect biometric data or else a bit bulky to wear, but the goal is to develop these wearable sensors to be broad in scope and practically unnoticeable to wear. The displays developed by the Someya Research Group fits into the “narrow but not bulky” category, in that it serves as an electrocardiogram but attaches unobtrusively to the skin.

“Our skin display can be nicely fitted on the skin due to its stretchability,” Someya said. “It exhibits simple graphics with motion including an electrocardiogram waveform measured with our skin sensors. It is the first stretchable display to achieve superior durability and stability in air. We have combined skin sensors with skin displays. Skin sensors realize comfortable, accurate, and safe data collections, [while] skin displays achieve natural, intuitive, and safe feedback.”

Moving forward, the researchers will work to refine the performance and reliability of their wearable, including increasing its resolution and aiming to make it full color. But, with these challenges complete, Someya sees devices like his ushering in more accessible and empowering healthcare.

Researchers want devices like these
to usher in a more accessible and empowering healthcare.

“Skin electronics will enhance information accessibility for the elderly people or people with disabilities, who tend to have difficulty operating and obtaining data from existing devices,” he said. “The current aging society requires user-friendly wearable sensors for monitoring patient vitals in order to reduce the burden on patients and family members providing nursing care. Our system could serve as one of the long-awaited solutions to fulfill this need, which will ultimately lead to improving the quality of life.”

Someday presented his findings last week at the American Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas.







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Blink XT One Camera System Review

There’s no shortage of home security cameras. From Nest’s line of indoor and outdoor cameras to Ring’s series of floodlight cams, it’s definitely a crowded market. These days, you can buy everything from a basic no-frills security camera to one with lots of bells and whistles, including a floodlight, siren, and high-resolution video, all rolled into one.

Blink, founded in 2008 and recently purchased by Amazon, has carved out space in the home security category with small, battery-operated cameras that you can put indoors or outdoors. They have their limitations, but depending on what you’re looking for, their cameras could be a great fit for your home, especially if you’re just getting started with home security products. The Blink XT camera ($130 on Amazon for a single camera and cloud storage) is Blink’s battery operated outdoor camera. So how does it measure up against the Arlo Pro 2s of the world? Read on to find out.

Simple appearance and set-up

The Blink XT comes in a simple box with simple packaging. In the box you’ll find the camera, a cloud storage hub called the Sync Module, a USB cable and power adapter for the Sync Module, two AA lithium batteries to power the camera, a security sticker, a user guide, and hardware that includes a mount, screws, and adhesive strips.

Rain flew in sideways, and temperatures dropped into the 20s, yet the camera worked without issue.

The camera is a small square, measuring about three inches by three inches, with the lenses in the middle. It’s very lightweight. It has a resolution of 720p and can capture 7.5 frames per second in low lighting, and up to 35 frames per second in good lighting.

The Blink XT works with the Blink app for either Android or iOS. Once you’ve downloaded the app, you can name your camera, receive alerts of movement detected, watch videos, and more. You can also watch live footage and customize your configurations in the app, such as how sensitive you want the motion activation to be, or how long you want your video clips to be.

We quickly and easily mounted it above our front door facing the porch, our driveway, and the street. In all, set-up was about as easy as it gets, as it took about 10 minutes to mount and position the camera, and get it connected to the Sync Module. Be sure to connect your camera to the app before you mount it, as you need to input the serial number located on the device before you can connect.

Kim Wetzel/Digital Trends

The camera is built for the outdoors, so it’s supposed to withstand rain, snow, and temperatures ranging from -4 degrees to 113 degree Fahrenheit. We had it in a covered area where rain flew in sideways from time to time, and temperatures dropped into the 20s, yet the camera worked without issue.

A lot to like

Once we got the device up and running and connected to the app, we found that there’s a lot to appreciate about this camera. It’s got a decent app, looks simple, and works as promised. Here are a few other things we liked about the device.

The camera works well–  if you’re in the market for a basic model

We found that we could rely on it to record motion pretty reliably. We received notifications every time motion was detected, although sometimes we’d be notified right away and sometimes there was a delay of up to 15 seconds. One thing we noticed that had nothing to do with the camera is how often a UPS or FedEx delivery person would leave a package on our porch without bothering to ring the doorbell (thanks a lot, UPS guy!). We tried to trick the camera by hiding in front of the porch and waving just a hand, but the camera reliably caught the movement each time and sent us a notification.

Blink XT One Camera System Compared To

It’s good the motion detection was reliable, because the device only records when it detects movement. Those recordings are called “Motion Clips,” and are viewable via the app. You can customize how long you want the clips to be once motion is detected, and it will continue to record if it continues to detect movement. You can always view live action through the app, but you can’t record live action while watching it.

You don’t have to pay extra for cloud storage

Not having to pay for access to your own video footage is a great perk.

Cloud storage is free. Yep, free – though it’s not unlimited storage. The Blink website says you receive 7,200 seconds of storage before new footage records over the old stuff. Not having to pay for access to your own video footage is a great perk for an inexpensive camera. For example, Ring’s cloud storage starts at $3 per month or $30 per year, while Arlo’s premium plans start at $99 per year.

It’s battery operated

This is a huge plus if you’re not into having unsightly power cords running down the side of your house. Having the ability to set it up and be wire-free just looks nicer and eliminates any concerns about the camera going black during power outages. We found ourselves admiring how tidy the device looked on its little mount above our front door without any cords connected to it.

blink xt one camera system outdoor banister

Not only is the camera free of anything weighing it down, but it takes AA lithium batteries to power it, which is convenient for obvious reasons. No expensive batteries or battery packs are needed to operate the XT. Blink claims all its cameras have a two-year battery life with regular usage. While we haven’t had the XT in our test home for that long, we have had the Blink indoor camera in our home for more than two years, and just received the first low battery warning on one of them. Only time will tell if the XT has the same capability.

It’s waterproof

While we mounted our Blink XT on a covered porched, we like that we could mount it on our garage door, or an exposed side of our house, and not worry about dealing with a dead camera later. We did leave it out uncovered in direct rain for a couple of days, and the camera had no problems.

This is where the ease of a cordless, battery powered device comes in. You can put it anywhere, even your forested backyard, in case you want to track Bigfoot.

The app is intuitive and easy to use

Once you connect to the app, control of the camera is simple. The app is laid out in an organized fashion. You can control just about everything – from how sensitive you want the camera’s motion detection sensor to be to whether you want to arm or disarm your camera at certain times. You can name devices, add additional Blink cameras (up to 10), and see low battery warnings. Multiple users can download the app and access information for your camera, so if you want your roommate or partner to have access, you can provide them the camera’s login information.

What’s not to like

While many will find quite a bit to like in the Blink XT, others might be left wanting more. For example, you’re not going to get stellar video quality with this device, nor will you be able to record live video footage.

Resolution/image quality is just Ok

If you’re seeking a camera with crystal clear imagery and resolution, this is not the camera for you. Night video, especially, doesn’t offer much clarity. The video is fuzzy even with porch lights on.

The daytime image quality of the Blink XT — especially in bright sunlight — will give you what you need. There’s a bit of a keyhole distortion with the image, but it’s still clear enough to see what’s happening outside your home.

Night vision is not spectacular, but good enough to tell you if it’s your mother or a stranger at the door (unless your mother is a stranger to you. In that case, you’re out of luck). If you’re looking for a crisper, clearer image, you might want to look to the Ring Spotlight Cam or the aforementioned Arlo Pro 2 or Nest Cam outdoor instead.

Limited smart home/Amazon Alexa integration

Amazon acquired Blink late last year, so we wouldn’t be surprised if deeper integration with Alexa arrives soon.

While the Blink XT boasts Amazon Alexa capabilities, those capabilities are currently limited to being able to tell Alexa to arm or disarm the camera only. Those with an Alexa device with a screen such as the Echo Show will not be able to view video clips from any of their Blink cameras on their smart devices. For example, in our test house we can view live footage from our Nest Cam directly on our Amazon Show, but not our Blink cameras. You also cannot watch live or recorded footage from a computer screen.

However, Amazon acquired Blink late last year, so we wouldn’t be surprised if deeper integration with Alexa arrives soon.

Cannot pan, tilt, or zoom via the app – you must do it manually

While you can do a lot with the app, don’t expect to be able to use it as a remote to zoom in on a potential bad guy lurking across the street. Unlike the Arlo Pro 2, which allows you to zoom a live stream using a pinching movement on your phone, there are no zoom capabilities on Blink XT, nor can you pan left or right. The mount has a little bit of flexibility but not much, so if you want to change the angle you’ll have to do it manually. That can be a challenge if you’ve already screwed in the base and find later that you need to move it.

Warranty

The Blink XT comes with a 30-day refund guarantee and a one-year limited warranty.

Our Take

This lightweight, battery operated camera is a great starter device for those seeking some additional security for their home. The fact that storage is free is a huge bonus. This could be a great device for renters who don’t want to bother with a significant amount of setup but would like some peace of mind. Just remember this is a basic, inexpensive outdoor camera.

Is there a better alternative?

It depends on what you’re looking for. If you need a fully integrated smart home camera with lots of bells and whistles, you might want to go with the Netgear Arlo Pro 2, or one of Ring’s many cameras featuring a floodlight and siren. If you want a truly inexpensive camera, you could shoot for the $80 Swann Outdoor camera, though that option isn’t wireless.

How long will it last?

There are a few reasons we think Blink has a strong future. First is our own experience: Our two indoor Blink cameras in one of our test homes have continued to work for more than two years without so much as a battery change. Second, Blink recently expanded into the home security market with the announcement of their $99 Blink Video Doorbell. Third, as we mentioned, Blink was acquired by Amazon, which means there could be some lasting partnerships between the two companies. We think Blink is here to stay and will continue to offer affordable home security products.

Should you buy it?

If you’re seeking an affordable, no frills, battery powered camera with free cloud storage, then buy the Blink XT camera. If you’re looking for a camera with more smart home integration, higher image quality and panning and zooming ability, go elsewhere.

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Your life on one drive? Samsung debuts 30TB solid state hard drive

Get G-Paid

For more and more people, tapping their phone to pay for those nacho fries is becoming just as normal as reaching for their wallet, and Google just made it even easier to e-pay. Google has rolled out Google Pay, their consolidation of the Android Pay and Google Wallet apps. It’s just for Android users for the moment – sorry Apple folks – and we’re sure in time Google will call it “G-Pay” just like everyone else.

G-Pay, er, Google Pay, can be used inside apps and on websites, and perhaps best of all, can be used to send money to individuals, like all those friends you lost that super bowl bet to, even if they don’t have Google Pay. You can also integrate rewards programs so you keep racking up those airline miles and gas pump points. Pretty much every major bank has signed on, but if you’re not sure if yours is included, check here for the whole list and tips for using G-Pay.

That’s a lot of cat photos

Remember when you heard those stories about “3D computer memory” and all those other seemingly science-fiction data storage advances? Yeah, not so science fiction-y after all: Samsung just announced their latest solid state hard drive and it’s ringing in at just a tick over 30 terabytes. In one drive. With no moving parts. The high-capacity drive is destined for internet server farms for the moment and has the romantic model number of PM1643.

The drive will also be available in the typical by-half sizes as well, like 15 terabytes, 7 terabytes and so on. Samsung says the memory device uses V-NAND technology with 64-layer, 3-bit 512-gigabit chips. No prices yet but probably not cheap, and we’re sure it won’t be long until it’ll be a Micro-SD card you just slip into your Galaxy S15.

Please please please don’t make a shower speaker

A job posting at Spotify is raising a few eyebrows. The market leader in music streaming is looking for an “Operations Manager” for a future hardware product. “Spotify is on its way to creating its first physical products,” the post reads, and goes on to say that they are hoping to create “innovative Spotify experiences via connected hardware.” As you can imagine, speculation is running wild. Are they going to make a smart speaker? Seems a bit late for that.

An iPod-like device? Maybe a Spotify smart watch? At this point, no one really knows, and that may include Spotify itself. But with an IPO in the works, the $20 billion company will be under pressure to expand and innovate outside of their core streaming business, so a whole line of Spotify smart light bulbs with built-in speakers could be on the way. If you think it’s the job for you, polish up that resume and get more information here.

We’ve got more news on our Facebook page and YouTube channel, and be sure to tune in to this week’s DT podcasts: Trends with Benefits (general tech shenanigans)  on Thursdays, and Between the Streams (movie and TV topics) every Friday.







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Bluesmart Cabin 22 Hands-on Review

The last thing we all need is another product to charge, so is adding smart luggage to the list worthwhile? Bluesmart, pioneers in the world of smart cases for techie travelers, launched the second generation of its connected suitcases, with a refreshed design and updated tech. This is the 22-inch Cabin model and as we’re testing it for a full review, we have some initial impressions.

Made from tough, waterproof polycarbonate, the design is very attractive with a molded, ribbed section on the upper-third that makes it look way more interesting than the typical suitcase.

The case can be tracked using using GPS, Bluetooth, and a built-in 3G SIM card.

There are plenty of handles, too. The telescopic handle is made from aluminum and has three height settings for convenience. Grippy, sturdy plastic grab handles are mounted on the top and the side of the case. On the bottom are four 360-degree spinning wheels for ease of movement. Bluesmart says they’re silent — we certainly can’t hear them rolling around on normal floor surfaces.

But it’s the smart features that are the reasons for buying this bag and Bluesmart has made some improvements. So, let’s dive deeper into them.

Bigger battery, global tracking

The hard shell Bluesmart Cabin 22 weighs 9.4 pounds, so it’s fairly heavy on its own even before you’ve filled it. The weight is due to the amount of tech that’s inside, including what may be its heaviest component: A 10,000mAh battery pack which powers the suitcase for 30 days, according to the company’s official specs. However, because the battery also charges your phone or laptop (there are two USB ports on the exterior), it drains its reserves much quicker than usual, so use it wisely. Despite its size, the battery takes 2.5 hours to fully charge using Bluesmart’s fast charging system.

The case can be tracked using the Bluesmart app, and its location is found using GPS, Bluetooth, and a built-in 3G SIM card — all powered by the same aforementioned battery. Don’t worry, this isn’t a case that requires a contract or monthly payment, as it’s all built into the cost of the case. The location updates only when the case is in motion, refreshing every 30 minutes. This means if the case goes missing, it can quickly be found (in theory, at least). The built-in lock (approved by the Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, in the United States) can be set to automatically activate when there’s ample distance between the app and the case, and the zippers can also be locked and unlocked using the app — or by simply pressing a button on the top of the case.

The 3G SIM ensures the case doesn’t need to be connected to Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to check in with the app either, and enables it to also send notifications with updates. The previous generation Bluesmart relied on Bluetooth only, which meant it was only effective within 30 feet; 3G allows for an almost anywhere connection. For us, it wasn’t entirely successful. We were alerted by the app telling us, “You’re leaving your suitcase behind,” when actually, it was safely in the trunk of our car. It also continued to do this when we arrived at home and moved the case inside. Notifications can be disabled in the app, thankfully.

We set up the app in a few minutes and because it’s registered to you using a unique digital personal identification number (PIN), no one else can use their app with your case, or vice versa. The location of the case shows up on a map and ours showed exactly the right address and location, down to an accuracy of roughly 100 feet. It happened quickly too, requiring only a few seconds to grab onto the signal. The app is simple, but the sign-up process wasn’t properly optimized for the iPhone X’s screen and therefore a pain for this particular user. However, the rest of the app worked perfectly.

It’s well made but do you need the smarts?

The Cabin 22 has a 38-liter capacity, complete with a small central pocket and two separators that can be used to compress everything inside to maximize space. There’s easily enough room for a long weekend; if you pack lightly or wisely, probably longer. This, plus the convenience of its carry-on size, means you can zip through the airport much quicker than you would with checked baggage.

As techies, we like the idea, but as practical travelers, it gives us pause.

As for the tech, we continue to wonder how useful it actually is. Because it’s mostly going to accompany you inside the aircraft’s main cabin, the chance of it being lost is minimal (unless you’re the absent-minded type). This makes us question how many will need the tracking feature — the main reason you’d buy smart luggage. Tracking makes more sense with Bluesmart’s 29-inch Check model, which you would have to check.

The case also has a built-in scale which allows the app to tell you how much it weighs after you’ve filled it. Again, this might be handy for the Check 29 but unnecessary if you’re bringing it onboard. And unless you’re packing bricks or a multi-volume encyclopedia, we doubt it would exceed an airline’s baggage check requirements.

Another issue we’re concerned with is the battery. Airlines recently put in place a policy that bans smart luggage with non-removable batteries. This was an issue with the original Bluesmart bag but thankfully, it’s removable in the new models. However, if it’s removed and there’s no power for the tracking system, wouldn’t that render the bag’s signature feature useless?

As with the first generation model, the Cabin 22 is expensive. It costs $450, which is a lot to spend for features you may not use. But, it’s incredibly successful Indiegogo campaign suggests there are plenty of people who think otherwise. We can see it being attractive to frequent travelers, especially those who make connections and need to ensure his bag is easily located, should he be required to check a bag. We should note that the 3G and GPS tracking system is an improvement over the previous Bluetooth system and since you aren’t paying additional fees for it, it justifies the price tag (similar tracking systems cost $100 or more, plus a monthly fee).

For those who maybe fly once or twice a year, owning any type of smart luggage would be overkill. However, there is value to having a trackable case outside of the airport and we like the idea of knowing if your case actually made it to your hotel room or cruise ship cabin.

Bluesmart Cabin 22 is strong, very well made, and very good-looking. It worked relatively well in our initial tests but we will report more and make a final verdict after we spend additional time with it. As techies, we like the idea but as practical travelers, it gives us pause. We liked the original Bluesmart enough to give it our Editors’ Choice but it was novel at the time — before there was competition and an airline ban. Let’s see if the concept continues to hold up.

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Hyperloop One joins HTT with its own hyperloop project in India

Hyperloop One test

There may be nothing as universally abhorred as horrendous traffic, so naturally, solutions for avoiding it are popping up throughout the globe. Last September, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) announced a new deal with the state of Andhra Pradesh in southeast India to build a hyperloop in the second-most-populous nation in the world. And now, Virgin Hyperloop One and the Indian state of Maharashtra are partnering to build a separate high-speed track between the cities of Pune and Mumbai, with a stop at Mumbai International Airport. And most exciting of all, this latest partnership comes with a pledge to actually build a working test track.

The announcement from Virgin Hyperloop One, the main competitor of HTT, heats up the already highly competitive race to transport folks from Point A to Point B in a more efficient manner than currently possible. But as it stands, it looks like the two companies are focusing on different regions of the country.

HTT has spent the last few months working with India’s economic development board, where it will look into various routes to connect the cities of Vijayawada and Amaravati. While the cities are only 27 miles apart, it takes commuters around an hour to travel between the two cities. A hyperloop could reduce that to just six minutes.

“The project will involve little over $200 million of investment and take a year or so to complete it once all the approvals and Right of Way were in place,” Krishna Kishore, CEO of the state’s economic development board, told Economic Times.

On the other hand, the newly proposed track between Pune and Mumbai would reduce the travel time of the 100-mile journey from over three hours to around 25 minutes.

India is by no means the only non-U.S. country looking for a tube-based transportation system. HTT is already in talks with South Korea, Slovakia, and Abu Dhabi to build hyperloops in those nations as well. However, seeing as we still have not completely perfected a working prototype of a hyperloop system anywhere in the world, it will still be awhile before any of these countries enjoy this kind of transportation.

Updated on February 20: Hyperloop One is also looking to build a Hyperloop in India. 







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Warm up with ‘Superhot’ and March’s other free Xbox Games With Gold

The weather is finally starting to warm up again in the United States, and that means you get to go outside and explore nature … or you can sit in front of your television and check out March’s free Xbox Games Game Gold. The selection Microsoft is offering in March is peculiar, to say the least, but it contains one of the most creative shooters of the generation.

For the entire month of March, Xbox One owners can claim and download Trials of the Blood Dragon, a bizarre mix of Ubisoft’s Trials series with the stand-alone title Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. It uses the 2D perspective of the former series, but with art direction, storytelling, and even the combat of Blood Dragon, resulting in one of the weirdest games we’ve ever seen. Critics didn’t go over the moon for the game, but fans of studio RedLynx should still find some fun in it.

From March 16 through April 15, Xbox One owners can also grab the first-person masterpiece Superhot. A shooter with a twist — time only moves when you move — the game tests your strategy and planning far more than your reflexes, and the combat moves you can pull off to take out a room full of enemies are incredible. Its narrative, which is largely told through IRC chat room logs, shouldn’t be ignored, either.

Xbox 360 players should keep their expectations slightly more in check. As with all recent Xbox 360 offerings, both games are playable on Xbox One, as well. From March 1 through March 15, the Brave video game will be available for free. It features the bow action you see in the Disney film, and actress Kelly Macdonald returns to voice main character Merida. If you have Kinect for Xbox 360, you can play special mini-games, as well.

From March 16 through the end of the month, Xbox 360 players can also grab Quantum Conundrum. A puzzle game designed by Kim Swift of Portal fame, it tasks you with rescuing your uncle by exploring his mansion — and messing with different dimensions along the way. Released in 2012, it will normally set you back $10.

Superhot is a great addition to the program, but we’re hoping Microsoft has something a little bit more exciting for April’s free games. Perhaps Forza Horizon 3 would be a good candidate?







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How to Blur a Background in Photoshop (Realistically) in Minutes

Background blur, often called “bokeh” after the Japanese word for blur, is generally associated with high-end cameras with wide-aperture lenses. The effect is popular for portraits, and is emulated — with some limitations — by the “portrait modes” now found on many smartphones. But even without a high-end camera or portrait mode, you can still create beautifully soft backgrounds in Adobe Photoshop.

Beyond simply granting you an ability you may have not had access to in camera, choosing to add blur in Photoshop can give you more control and flexibility over where the blur is applied and how it looks. The program includes a number of different tools to selectively blur the background of a photo, along with many options for controlling the type of blur. One of the easiest ways to go from blah to blur, however, is by using Photoshop’s field blur tool, which creates realistic background blur without requiring you to waste hours in front of your computer.

Before you get started

Photoshop includes a handful of different options to blur a background, with each option offering a varying level of control — and level of difficulty. After trying everything from detailed selections to a full-on depth map, the field blur tool offered the best, most realistic results in the least amount of time.

Bokeh is a tricky thing to try to imitate in Photoshop because true lens blur is based on many factors, including the focal length of the lens, the shape and size of the aperture, and distance from the subject. Of these, getting the effect of distance correct is perhaps the most important. In Photoshop, you have to tell the computer what objects are closest and farthest from the camera in order to get a blur that resembles the real thing and changes with distance — i.e., objects that are farther away from the subject should have more blur than objects that are closer. You could spend an hour creating a detailed depth map, but the field blur tool lets you approximate this with much less work.

We should note, Photoshop techniques are almost always more work than getting the effect in-camera, but the field blur tool will quickly imitate the bokeh of a more expensive lens. As you work, consider how the blur in a real image looks. A lens focuses on a tw0-dimensional plane in space, with everything on that plane being sharp. The level of blur increases with distance from the plane of focus — that is, either toward or away from the camera — but any objects that fall on the same plane as your subject should remain in focus.

How to blur a background in Photoshop

1. Open up the field blur tool.

With the image open in Photoshop, navigate to Filter > Blur Gallery > Field Blur. Inside the field blur window, you will choose what areas of your image to blur, while the blur tools on the right will control the amount and type of blur.

how to blur a background in photoshop firstpin

2. Set your first blur pin.

The blur pins tell Photoshop where to blur and how much. When you opened the field blur window, Photoshop automatically placed that first pin for you. Drag and drop that pin into the background, or the area the farthest from the focal point. On the right, drag the blur slider until you achieve the desired amount of blur. (You can also change the blur amount by clicking and dragging on the partial circle outside the pin.)

Since this first pin is the furthest point from the focal point, this pin will have the most blur. In the sample image, I used a blur of 100, but the numbers will vary based on the effect your are looking for. You can always go back and refine the blur of any pin simply by clicking on it.

how to blur a background in photoshop focuspins

3. Set a blur pin on the subject at zero.

When you first open the field blur tool, your entire image will be blurry. Set a pin directly on top of the subject by clicking on it, then dragging the blur slider all the way down to zero. You should now have a generally blurry background and a generally sharp subject.

Continue to place blur pins on the subject, setting each at zero, until the entire subject is sharp. Use as few pins as possible, but don’t worry if the background appears more sharp as you place pins.

4. Continue to refine the blur.

At this point in our sample image, the horse’s face was sharp and the background was blurred — but the rest of the horse’s body was just as blurred as the background. To fix this and achieve a more natural result, simply add more pins. Adjust the blur based on the distance from the original background point — objects closer to the background should have a blur closer to that original point (closer to 100, in our case) while objects closer to the subject should have a much lower level of blur (closer to zero).

Continue placing points and adjusting the blur until you every part of the image is blurred based on the distance from the subject. If this starts to interfere with the background blur, don’t worry — just place additional background points to ensure the background remains properly blurred. In our sample image, the background just to the left of the horse’s face was still a bit sharp, so we added another point there, setting it to the same blur value of 100.

5. Adjust the blur effects, if necessary.

Once you are happy with the placement and level of blur on the different distances in the image, you may (or may not) want to use the blur effects options, depending on your image. Here’s what each one does:

  • The “light bokeh” control will brighten the brightest points in the out-of-focus area to mimic lens bokeh. Avoid these controls if you don’t have point lights in the background. “Bokeh color” will adjust the color of those bright areas, while “light range” will adjust what tones are included in the bokeh effect.
  • The noise tab will restore any blurred noise in order to get the background to match the subject. If you are working with an image shot at a high ISO, for example, you’ll need to use this option so that the subject doesn’t have more noise than the background, which would look unnatural. Use the sliders to change the amount and the size of the grain to best match the grain in the subject. If there simply wasn’t any noticeable noise in your original image, you can leave this setting untouched.

Once you are happy with the level of blur, bokeh effects, and noise, click OK, and Photoshop will render the effect.

There are a number of of other ways to add blur in Photoshop, but the field blur tool is a great place to start. It offers flexible, realistic effects without requiring complex masks and depth maps.







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