Google makes moving music and videos between speakers and screens easier

Google today announced a small but nifty feature for the Google Assistant and its smart home devices that makes it easier for you to take your music and videos with you as you wander about the different rooms in your home.

‘Stream transfer’ as Google prosaically calls it, allows you to simply ask the Assistant to move your music to a different speaker, or — if you have the right speaker group set up — to all speakers and TVs in your home. All you have to say is “Hey Google, move the music to the bedroom speaker,” for example. In addition to your voice, you can also use the Google Home app or the touchscreen on your Google Nest Home Hub.

This will work with any source that can play to your Chromecast-enabled speakers and displays.

It’s all pretty straightforward — to the point where I’m surprised it took so long for Google to enable a feature like this. But maybe it just needed to have enough devices in peoples’ homes to make it worthwhile. “Now that millions of users have multiple TVs, smart speakers and smart displays (some in every room!) we wanted to make it easy for people to control their media as they moved from room to room,” Google itself explains in today’s announcement.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Apple’s iOS 13 update will make FaceTime eye contact way easier

Apple has added a feature called ‘FaceTime Attention Correction’ to the latest iOS 13 Developer beta, and it looks like it could make a big difference when it comes to actually making FaceTime calls feel even more like talking to someone in person. The feature, spotted in the third beta of the new software update that went out this week, apparently does a terrific job of making it look like you’re looking directly into the camera even when you’re looking at the screen during a FaceTime call.

That’s actually a huge improvement because when people FaceTime, most of the time they’re looking at the screen rather than the camera, since the whole point is to see the person or people you’re talking to, rather than the small black lens at the top of your device.

The catch so far seems to be that this FaceTime feature is only available on iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, which could mean it only works with the latest camera tech available on Apple hardware. That could be because of the new image signal processor that Apple included in the A12 processor which powers the iPhone XS and XS Max, which also provide improvements over previous generation phones in terms of HDR and portrait lighting effects.

It’s also possible with any updates or features that arrive in iOS beta releases that they could expand to other devices and/or vanish prior to the actual public launch of iOS 13, which is set for this fall. But here’s hoping this one remains in place, because it really seems to make a huge difference in terms of providing a sense of ‘presence’ for FaceTime calls, which is one of the core values of the Apple chat feature overall.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Zortrax makes high resolution 3D printing easier and cheaper

3D printers have come a long way since the early days of RepRap and DIY hacker culture. First they flew to great heights with companies like Makerbot and Formlabs who aimed to create a prosumer product for designers, educators, and makers and then they fell to the doldrums when they became commodity hardware. Many people believed the space was dead.

Now, however, the Polish 3D printing company, Zortrax, has released their Inkspire UV LCD printer, a $ 2,000 SLA printer that offers the speed and quality of resin-based printers with the fit and finish of a carefully-designed piece of hardware.

The Inkspire works by shooting a bright blast of UV light through photosensitive resin. The printer creates object layer by layer at a resolution and quality that you’d never achieve with traditional extrusion printers. The Inkspire is so precise it can print a 50x50x25 micro cube yet it can also build larger objects that look completely smooth.

Like other so-called stereo lithographic (SLA) printers, the resin is tricky to work with. The printer works with nearly any resin that cures under 405 nm wavelength length light so you don’t have to use Zortrax’s products. That said, the objects that come out of this printer are fairly difficult to “finish,” primarily because they stay sticky for a while until they finish curing in direct sunlight. The uncured resin itself is also quite sticky and messy so this printer definitely requires some sort of separate workshop with a slop sink and room for the printer and ultrasonic cleaner. You can use this in a home office or other enclosed space but you’ll want to keep the windows open and gloves on your hands.

That said, once the items are washed, cured, and dry they are almost indistinguishable from injection-molded parts.

The $ 2,000 printer comes with the print bed, a UV shield, and an optional ultrasonic cleaner – essentially an off-the-shelf ultrasonic cleaning vat that vibrates the objects in order to scrub them. Zortrax also includes their very powerful Z-Suite software. The software will automatically generate and slice the 3D objects, preparing them for printing. Because it prints in-reverse – the object grows out of the resin and hangs off of the build plate like a bat – each object requires a set of specialized supports that are easy to remove.

Zotrax’s solution is quite elegant. Because their resin is fairly innocuous it doesn’t require dangerous chemicals to finish and the curing process is quick and painless. The entire product is nicely packaged and the maximum build size is 2.9 x 5.2 x 6.9 inches.

This 3D printer is also much faster than you would expect, shooting out most smaller parts in less than an hour. Because the printer is so precise you can easily print multiple copies of the same object, creating a mini assembly line. You can also print large, solid objects that can stand up to much more abuse than FDM-printed objects.

Again, the Inkspire isn’t for the casual 3D printer user. Because the resin can get messy and the entire package requires good ventilation and access to water, this thing would work best in a design studio or workshop. That said, this is a desktop printer and you can easily leave it in an undisturbed corner and carefully take the finished build plate to a nearby water source for cleaning. It’s just a little bit harder.

SLA printers are powerful and Zortrax has made a truly usable and useful one. It’s fast, compact, and easy to use and it shows just how far the prosumer 3D printing market has come in a few short years.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Google makes it easier for cheap phones and smart devices to encrypt your data

Encryption is an important part of the whole securing-your-data package, but it’s easy to underestimate the amount of complexity it adds to any service or device. One part of that is the amount of processing encryption takes — an amount that could be impractical on small or low-end devices. Google wants to change that with a highly efficient new method called Adiantum.

Here’s the problem. While encryption is in a way just transforming one block of data reversibly into another, that process is actually pretty complicated. Math needs to be done, data read and written and reread and rewritten and confirmed and hashed.

For a text message that’s not so hard. But if you have to do the same thing as you store or retrieve megabyte after megabyte of data, for instance with images or video, that extra computation adds up quick.

Lots of modern smartphones and other gadgets are equipped with a special chip that performs some of the most common encryption algorithms and processes (namely AES), just like we have GPUs to handle graphics calculations in games and such.

But what about older phones, or cheaper ones, or tiny smart home gadgets that don’t have room for that kind of thing on their boards? Just like they can’t run the latest games, they might not be able to efficiently run the latest cryptographic processes. They can still encrypt things, of course, but it might take too long for certain apps to work, or drain the battery.

Google, clearly interested in keeping cheap phones competitive, is tackling this problem by creating a special encryption method just for low-power phones. They call it Adiantum, and it will be optionally part of Android distributions going forward.

The technical details are all here, but the gist is this. Instead of using AES it relies on a cipher called ChaCha. This cipher method is highly optimized for basic binary operations, which any processor can execute quickly, though of course it will be outstripped by specialized hardware and drivers. It’s well documented and already in use lots of places — this isn’t some no-name bargain bin code. As they show, it performs way better on earlier chipsets like the Cortex A7.

The Adiantum process doesn’t increase or decrease the size of the payload (for instance by padding it or by appending some header or footer data), meaning the same number of bytes come in as go out. That’s nice when you’re a file system and don’t want to have to set aside too many special blocks for encryption metadata and the like.

Naturally new encryption techniques are viewed with some skepticism by security professionals, for whom the greatest pleasure in life is to prove one is compromised or unreliable. Adiantum’s engineers say they have “high confidence in its security,” with the assumption (currently reasonable) that its component “primitives” ChaCha and AES are themselves secure. We’ll soon see!

In the meantime don’t expect any instant gains, but future low-power devices may offer better security without having to use more expensive components — you won’t have to do a thing, either.

Oh, and in case you were wondering:

Adiantum is named after the genus of the maidenhair fern, which in the Victorian language of flowers (floriography) represents sincerity and discretion.

Gadgets – TechCrunch