November 25, 2013
Thanksgiving dinner has long been an all-day affair. But, we’re living in very different times than the days of the earliest feasts, when just cooking meat on a spit over a fire took several hours.
There are now three professional football games airing throughout the day, social media correspondences to keep up with and an implied obligation to get everyone’s belly stuffed in time for the ensuing shopping rush known as Black Friday, which, each year, seems to infringe more and more on the holiday. Oh, who are we kidding? Perhaps a lot of us have simply just become so lazy that we’d happily activate any device that reduces even the most mundane aspect of the cooking process to a push of a button. Automatic stirrer? Yes, please. Thankfully, we’ve got you—and even those who are the worst procrastinators (you know who you are)—covered with this high-tech guide for preparing an efficient and delicious traditional meal.
Let’s start with the customary centerpiece, otherwise known as the Thanksgiving turkey. Baking a bird typically requires going through a tedious process of rubbing, basting and slow roasting. An alternative, gaining in popularity over recent years, is an outdoor method of deep-frying turkeys so that the meat comes out moist beneath a layer of dark, crispy skin. Whereas cooking a turkey in the oven can take upwards of six hours, a 10-pound turkey can be ready to serve in 35 minutes with this method. Deep-frying kits, however, are potentially hazardous pieces of equipment if not handled properly, a fact proven year after year by the thousands of fires resulting from accidental turkey explosions.
Waring’s Pro Turkey Fryer/Steamer ($250), one of the few indoor fowl-fryer machines, is a godsend. Hailed by Newsweek as the one indoor fryer that can “save your Thanksgiving,” the all-electric rotating system allows home chefs to deep-fry turkeys weighing up to 18 pounds by simply lowering the prepped poultry into an oil-filled stainless steel reservoir. Built-in safety features include a magnetic breakaway cord, a basket that stays cool to the touch and lid vents that release steam to prevent boilovers. After about an hour, you get an evenly cooked turkey that’s ready to eat. As an added bonus, the device features a steamer function for other occasions, such as clam bakes.
Besides the inherent trickiness of serving up a well-cooked turkey, properly pulverizing potatoes into a thick creamy paste has also proven to be somewhat of an art. Shortcuts like tossing potatoes into a blender produce a watery goop that barely resembles the fluffy handmade goodness that everyone’s expecting. Potato ricers work well, but they are quite laborious to use.
The Better Potato Masher ($59.95), sold through Hammacher Schlemmer, functions like a mechanized ricer. Using a rotating motor, pieces of chopped and boiled potatoes are pressed and pureed through a sieve all the while “preserving their starch granules, breaking up any lumps, and yielding a smooth, fluffy batch of this beloved comfort food,” according to the product description.
Gravy is one aspect of Thanksgiving prep that should be easy enough to make itself, except the part where you have to stir…and stir…and stir again. The Uutensil Stirr ($25) automatic pan stirrer will literally take that tedious aspect of human labor out of your hands. Just place the device directly over the pan as you mix in milk, cream, flour and other ingredients. Reviews of the first version weren’t very positive, with Apartment Therapy concluding that the device is incapable of consistently stirring anything beyond “a thin liquid.” Tests carried out on oatmeal and milky sauces showed that the gradual thickening of the sauce caused the Stirr to grind down to a halt. But, the company has since released a new and improved model, which should (hopefully) have worked out these kinks.
Whether you augment the main course with a side serving of pumpkin pie or a heartier choice, such as mincemeat pie, the Breville Personal Pie Maker can enure that your dessert is loaded up and made piping hot within a fraction of the recommended 45-minute duration it takes to oven bake it. Kind of a like a waffle iron for pies, the mini-pie machine comes with a precut dough cutter and tamping tool to press the unbaked crust to fit each of the four (4-inch in diameter) pie molds. After adding and sealing in the filling, you simply close and lock the lid and in about 8 minutes, your pies are ready to serve. You can check out a thorough review of the pie maker on the site Baking Bites.
Even after the cooking is done, don’t let the nuisance of popping that all-important bottle of wine foil your Turkey day celebrations. For that, there are a number of electric corkscrews on the market that promise less fiddling around with broken corks. Though various models seek to differentiate themselves by offering a few unique features, the underlying mechanism is the same. Just remove the foil cap, fit the device over the cork and, with a simple press of a button, the winding metallic spiral worms itself securely into the plug before gently extracting it. Press another button and the device recoils, automatically spitting out the cork.
Wine tool specialist Metrokane is selling a version that includes an LCD screen that shows how many uncorkings are left before having to recharge. But a comprehensive review of select products in the New York Times found that the company’s Rabbit Corkscrew still needed some work, as a test run required a maddening intervention they likened to a “hasty C-section” to get the device to release the cork. Other models, such as the Oster Wine Vacuum Corkscrew, they found, were much more reliable.
November 22, 2013
Let’s be honest, paying with change is a nuisance. Coins are heavy and cumbersome, and it’s nearly impossible to count them quickly. Some people think coins are such vestigial organs of an old payment system that there are campaigns to stop minting pennies and nickels altogether. As more and more people use credit and debit cards instead of cash, it appears as though coins will increasingly become a thing of the past—except for one Coin, which might completely change the future of how we pay for things.
Coin, a San Francisco-based start-up, announced its first product earlier this month—a credit card sized device that purports to simplify your life (and wallet) by acting as a kind of all-in-one card. With Coin, you can store up to eight different cards—from credit to debit to gift to loyalty cards—on a single device, and toggle between them using a circular button. Coin works just like any other card with a magnetic strip, and can be swiped or even inserted into ATMs.
To load various cards onto the Coin, users need to have a smartphone (currently the model works for iOS and Android mobile systems) and a Square-like attachment to swipe your cards, provided with a Coin purchase. After users download the Coin app onto their phones, they simply use the attachment to swipe their cards and then take a few pictures of the cards—the Coin stores the information, displaying the last four digits of the card number along with the expiration date and the CVV. The makers of Coin say that this makes Coin less susceptible to forms of credit card theft where people take pictures of a card, because the complete credit card number isn’t shown. You can still use your individual cards even after uploading them into Coin—something that might be useful at a bar, where you’d need to give the bartender a card to keep your tab open.
In the interest of security, Coin also sends out a low-energy Bluetooth signal when
the card is a certain distance from your phone. So, if you absentmindedly leave your Coin somewhere, you’ll receive a message alerting you. You can also configure your Coin so that if it loses contact with your phone for a period of time it deactivates. It’s a way to protect against your card being stolen or lost—and though some have worried that it’s a double edged-sword, since the times you find yourself without phone battery might be the most important times to have access to cash, Coin has added a security feature that deals with this issue. If your Coin deactivates for any reason (your phone dies, you lose your phone, etc.), you can unlock the card manually, by tapping a “Morse-code-like” password on a button.
Coin CEO and founder Kanishk Parashar
learned some key lessons from his previous start-up attempts, which centered around peer-to-peer payment apps that attempted to create seamless mobile payment experiences. Parashar found that even though the apps were fairly well received, it was too difficult to encourage users to pay in a way so outside of their normal habits.
“When we released these apps, we got decent traction, but a month or two in we weren’t getting any payments coming into the system,” says Parashar. He realized that there just wasn’t enough critical mass to inspire users to change their normal payment habits. “The existing solutions are already pretty good. [Any new product] needs to be able to interact with infrastructure that already exists,” Parashar explains.
So he went back to the drawing board and created Coin, which he thinks can more seamlessly integrate into the way we conduct transactions.
Some tech writers are concerned that by trying to integrate itself into existing infrastructures, Coin doesn’t go far enough. As Will Oremus at Slate writes:
To me, the only real problem with Coin is that it feels like a stopgap technology, like those CD-changer cartridges that were popular for a little while before everyone switched to mp3s. Replacing eight cards with one may lighten your load by an ounce or two, but is that enough to convince people to take the leap of faith involved in adopting a new payment system?
Over at The Verge, however, Ellis Hamburger praises Coin’s potential universal appeal. “It could end up being very useful for everyone from design nerds to moms and dads,” he writes, “because the value it offers is obvious: on the surface, it takes eight pieces of plastic and turns them into one piece of plastic.”
Coin isn’t the first product to combine multiple cards in one place; in 2010, Dynamics Inc. released a product known as Card 2.0, which worked much like Coin, allowing users to input multiple credit and debit cards onto a single device (Card 2.0 had no related app). Its release was met with much excitement from the tech community, and it won both the first prize and the people’s choice award at DEMO, a conference held in Silicon Valley for start-ups. But Card 2.0 didn’t quite catch on, because consumers could only obtain them through financial institutions.
When it came time to release Coin, Parashar made sure to cut out the middleman and market to individuals.
“First and foremost, we went directly to the consumer,” says Parashar. “When you try to change something that is core to a consumer, like paying for things, what you have to do is bring a full solution that replaces the way they did things. Basically, Coin is going to be a lifestyle, and I feel like that resonated with consumers.”
For the next few weeks, early-birds can pre-order a Coin for $50, before the price is raised to $100. Parashar estimates that early-buyers will recieve their Coins in summer 2014.
Parashar acknowledges that, as with any new technology, Coin will be subject to scrutiny, but he welcomes feedback as a way to improve the user experience.
“Anytime there is a new technology that comes into play, there’s always some level of scrutiny. A lot of new products come out and there’s always a lot of analysis about it. First and foremost, we need to technically meet challenges,” says Parashar. “The bottom line is that when you build a product that everyone loves, there’s going to be a good result.”
In a world where we’re being conditioned to touch screens, a team of MIT researchers is trying to get consumers to, ironically, think different. Imagine a computing system where users located in one location could gesture and these motions would generate various designs, shapes and messages in physical form in a completely different location. It would almost be like reaching into a screen and touching what you see on the other side.
Dubbed inFORM, the interface is comprised of 900 motorized rectangular pegs that can be manipulated using a kinetic-based motion sensor, like Microsoft Kinect. In the demonstration video, you can see how the pegs systematically rise up and take the form of a pair of fabricated hands to play with toys, like a ball, or page through a book. Much like those pinscreen animation office toys, with inFORM, entire physical representations of towns and landscapes can instantly emerge and evolve before your eyes.
“We’re just happy getting people to think about interfacing using their sense of touch in addition to touch screens, which are nothing but pixels and purely visual information,” says Leithinger. “You can now see it can be a lot more than that.”
Envisioned as a kind of “digital clay,” the PhD students originally developed the technology for practical applications, such as architectural modeling. While 3D printers can produce miniature replicas that take as long 10 hours to fully layer and dry, inFORM’s moldable flatbed can instantly model entire urban layouts and modify them on the fly. Geographers and urban planners could similarly produce maps and terrain models. There are potential uses in the medical field as well. A doctor, for instance, might review a 3D version of a CT scan with a patient.
The elaborate system is designed so that each peg is connected to a motor controlled by a laptop. But, the inFORM technology isn’t meant to be a consumer product—not yet at least. “What you’re seeing is the early stages of a completely different kind of technology,” says Leithinger. “So the way we put this interface together wouldn’t be cost-effective enough for the mass market, but there are lessons that can be learned to make something based on the idea of 3D interfacing.”
The creators also don’t want anyone to confuse inFORM with a similar nascent technology called telepresence, where a person’s movements can be transmitted remotely to a different location. Even though telepresence robots like the popular prototype Monty can be controlled from afar to pick up objects, they’re limited to limb movements and other attributes of the human form.
“Our system allows for a lot more improv than these other technologies, like generating an object that interacts with another in real time” says Follmer. “A telepresence robot may be able to pick up a ball, but it’s not as good at using a bucket to pick up a ball.”
As the pair explores the technology’s wide range of potential applications, they’re also aware of the current limitations. For now, the inForm interfacing only works as a one-way system, meaning two people in separate continents won’t be able to use their own 3D surfaces to simultaneously hold hands. It also can’t create complex overhangs where a portion of the formation juts out horizontally (think: the diagram in the game Hangman). For that, you’ll still need a 3D printer.
“It’s possible to make the interactivity touchable and real on both ends and so we’re definitely exploring going in that direction,” says Leithinger “We’re constantly getting emails from people telling us how the interface can be used to help blind people communicate better or for musicians, stuff even we’ve never thought about.”
Untold reams of paper, barrels of ink and reels of film have been used to analyze and pick apart every detail of the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas’ Dealey Plaza 50 years ago. But now there’s an entirely new way to examine the tragic event, made by Danish graphic designer Leif Sørensen: an interactive 3D diorama that shows the surrounding buildings and area, the path of each of Lee Harvey Oswald’s gunshots and the position of Kennedy’s car at these fateful moments.
Sørensen originally built the model for the Danish newspaper Fyens Stiftstidende to use in printed graphics, then uploaded it to the Sketchfab site, a platform for sharing interactive visualizations. “I thought it would be interesting to give people a feeling of what the place was really like,” he says. “A lot of people have seen maps, but this gives a little more feeling of the surroundings.”
He created the model using historic photos and maps, and used three straight lines to depict the three gunshots fired by Oswald from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. The green line represents a missed shot fired by Oswald—likely the first shot he fired, shortly after Kennedy’s limousine turned onto Elm Street, according to the Warren Commission, the body of Congressmen and other officials that investigated the assassination. The shorter red line shows the second shot, which hit the president in the upper back, passed through his body and hit Texas governor John Connally, who was sitting directly in front of him. The longer red line shows the third shot, which hit Kennedy in the head after his car had traveled a bit further down the street.
The model also shows a number of other key observers, including Abraham Zapruder, who inadvertently shot the most complete footage of the assassination (he’s shown in gray, standing on top of the curved concrete pergola structure) and Bill and Gayle Newman, who dropped to the grass near Zapruder to cover their children (shown in yellow, near the grassy knoll).
“Of course, we could have added many more people to the scene, and even more shots, but this is the official version, according to the Warren Commission’s report,” Sørensen says. “So we wanted to depict this as accurately as possible.”
Sørensen’s isn’t the only 3D model of the event—ESRI, the mapping software company, has also produced their own digital visualization, used in the video below:
November 21, 2013
For those who haven’t heard, there is such a thing as aquarium therapy. Watching fish, the evidence suggests, may reduce muscle tension, pulse rate and other symptoms of stress.
So you’d imagine that guests staying at the Manta Resort off the coast of Tanzania’s Pemba Island would depart feeling like a trillion bucks after soaking up the immersive panoramic views of exotic sea life made possible by the resort’s newly unveiled underwater hotel room. For $1,500 per room per night, visitors can sunbathe and stargaze on the upper-level sky deck, make relaxing use of the lounge on the water-level or descend down to the submerged chamber where they can cap the night by falling asleep atop a seabed surrounded by the nightlight glow of jellyfish and other bioluminescent marine creatures that swim by.
Anchored to the sea floor about 820 feet offshore at a remote location known as the “blue hole,” where a large number of densely-inhabited coral reefs encircle the floating structure, the resort’s “Underwater Room” is about as secluded as a vacation getaway can possibly get. For the building’s designer, Swedish architect Mikael Genberg, this hardly accessible locale is perfect in that the site meets all the delicate conditions necessary for such a complicated undertaking.
The 17-room hotel complex is situated on Pemba Island’s westerly coastline, facing toward the serene stretch of ocean that separates the island (population 300,000, with only a couple dozen tourists at any given time) from the mainland. Here, gentle tides barely ripple towards the beach, as the natural opening in the coral reef serves to break the waves. “The best places for something like this are usually lagoons,” says Genberg, who also designed Utter Inn, the world’s first underwater hotel room situated in a lake in Sweden. “Optimally, it should be where other people can’t really reach it.”
Identifying and securing such a “sweet spot” for these types of projects is often the most crucial part of the process. To date, the only other underwater hotels with ongoing vacancies (besides Genberg’s Utter Inn) are single rooms at Jules Underwater Motel in Key Largo and the Rangali Islands Resort in the Maldives. L. Bruce Jones, the developer behind an ambitious multimillion dollar proposal to establish an entire chain of five-star ocean floor dwellings, known as Poseidon Undersea Resorts, once offered a $10,000 reward for anyone who can pinpoint the perfect spot for his venture. Though the developers eventually settled on a chunk of land on one of the Fiji Islands, the project has stalled for reasons unknown.
But for as many ways as such a hard-to-reach region of the world turned out to be ideal, it also made the construction process quite challenging. After striking a deal with the hotel company, workers had to undergo the tricky task of shipping in all the various building materials from Sweden. Construction of the structure was carried out at a nearby yard and then towed to the site. Completing the Underwater Room, as Genberg described, was a two-year ordeal.
To ensure that operating a hotel room within the reef would remain an environmentally-friendly endeavor, Genberg noted that his team conducted “careful” studies to assess the likelihood of any detrimental impact on the surrounding ecosystem. Solar panels atop the roof deck are designed to supply 100 percent of the power needed, and the only people allowed onboard are guests and assigned resort employees. The real perk, he adds, is that the hotel will eventually become a coral reef, which makes it one of the few development projects that’s actually beneficial to the marine environment.
“If you take a close look at the exterior of the hotel room, you can see fish and other ocean life hiding in the structure,” Genberg says. “And there is already coral growing upon it. It’s like an artificial coral reef.”
Six guests have already stayed overnight in the underwater room, and the resort’s managing director, Matthew Saus, in summing up their reaction, described it as a sense of “awe.”
“You can hear dolphins when snorkeling around the room in the evening but we haven’t had a visit yet,” Saus told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Genberg, who had the honor of being the first person to sleep beneath the waves, felt being there has inspired him to ponder ideas for larger-scale projects, similar to the aforementioned Poseidon project and the proposed Hydropolis Underwater Hotel in Dubai.
“It’s a part of the planet not meant for us as humans to see,” Genberg says. “So I hope that it can give more and more people perspective on how fragile that world is.”