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Alexa crashed on Christmas Day – TechCrunch

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Amazon this morning said its Alexa devices were among the holiday season’s best-sellers, particularly the Echo and Echo Dot. But the influx of new users setting up their devices for the first time on Christmas Day appeared to be more than Alexa could handle. The service crashed briefly on Christmas, as thousands of new Alexa device owners tried to connect their Echo to Amazon’s servers around the same time.

The Guardian first reported the Alexa outage, which began around 10 AM GMT and led existing Echo owners to complain they were unable to use their devices for regular tasks like playing music or smart home controls, for example.

Others said they were unable to set up their device, despite not having any other internet or home Wi-Fi issues, which seemed to point to a server-side outage.

Amazon’s Twitter account noted the issues were isolated to Europe, saying at 8:43 AM EST (1:43 PM GMT): “Over the past two hours some Echo devices in Europe have had intermittent connections.” The outage was resolved by the time the account had responded, meaning it had only lasted a couple of hours.

An Amazon spokesperson also confirmed the outage to TechCrunch.

“For a short period yesterday morning we had an issue that intermittently impacted some Alexa customers’ ability to interact with the service,” the spokesperson said. “The Alexa service is now operating normally.”

Amazon declined to offer details on what caused the outage, or explain how it was resolved. Likely, it was related to the increased number of requests. The Alexa app shot to the top of the App Store and Google Play on Christmas — another signal that points to a large number of first-time Echo owners setting up new devices on the holiday.

The website Down Detector also spotted troubles with Alexa that impacted Europe, with a peak of 2,183 reports coming in at the height of the outage. The reports then tapered off a couple of hours later.

This isn’t Alexa’s first outage by any means, nor even its first this year. The service can become unresponsive at times, either due to server issues or overloads. In March, for example, the voice service went down even while the Alexa mobile app still worked.

And in September, Alexa went down across Europe, apparently related to an AWS outage in Ireland. That was followed by a U.S. outage the following month, which led the assistant to respond to requests with “sorry, something went wrong.”

Europe is a growing market for Alexa, with Amazon having introduced its smart speaker to Italy and Spain this June. Alexa’s other international markets include the U.K., Australia, India, New Zealand, Germany, Japan and Ireland.



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This enthusiast’s keyboard and trackball used to launch nuclear missiles

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There’s no telling what you’ll find on eBay—like an old keyboard and trackball originally dedicated to firing off nuclear missiles.

As detailed Tuesday by YouTube channel Pointless Tinkering, an enthusiast bought the keyboard off eBay simply because it “looked awesome” and had “some interesting buttons” saying things like “TRANSMIT,” “ABORT,” and “INITIATE.”

The keyboard and trackball were part of a larger control system for a nuclear missile silo command center. More specifically, the peripherals were part of a console used to launch Minuteman III missiles in the ’80s as part of the US Air Force’s Rapid Execution and Combat Targeting (REACT) program.

As explained by the Cold War history site Nuclear Companion and cited by Pointless Tinkering, “There is one stunning difference between REACT and the old Command Data Buffer (CDB). While the CDB had two separated workstations, in REACT, both crew are side by side. In other words, they operate in a single console with keyboard and trackball included.”

The keyboard has reed switches, which use magnets to actuate. Other parts include an Intel MD82510/B chip as a serial controller, an Intel 8051-family microcontroller, and RS422 communication chips.

After grabbing the keyboard and trackball from eBay and learning about their history, the enthusiast went to work, armed with tools like an Arduino Pro Micro (which eventually got fried) and a programmer for the microcontroller, which he acquired through Dromeda Research. He also repaired the trackball that stopped working after purchase and got both the keyboard and trackball to work with modern computers with a USB port.

“All that reverse engineering led to me creating this little interface, which has the Arduino Micro, which can emulate a mouse and a keyboard,” the owner said. There’s even custom software for the keyboard.

Of course, there’s no RGB lighting, but some keys actually do have LEDs.

Not quite RGB.

Pointless Tinkering also highlighted a “BIT key” that seems to reset the keyboard.

According to the video, both the keyboard and trackball work like regular PC peripherals, save for the Ctrl, Alt, and down keys, making the Nuclear Keyboard, as the video dubbed it, “very hard to use as a normal, daily driver keyboard.”

Pointless Tinkering said he would try to address any issues that pop up in a follow-up video. Despite its flaws, the Nuclear Keyboard is still a fascinating testament to the power of old tech and fresh minds.

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Luna Display lets you wirelessly use a Mac as second Windows monitor

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Enlarge / A 24-inch iMac used as display for a Windows 11-based Lenovo Thinkpad.

Sometimes you just need more screen space. You can always buy a portable monitor, but what if you could just use the systems already in your home—whether they run Windows or macOS?

Luna Display is a product by Astropad that lets you turn an iPad into a wireless second display. The $130 offering uses a dongle and works with Windows PCs and Macs. Its “headless” mode turns the iPad into the main display for a Mac Mini or Mac Pro.

Luna Display’s 5.1 update, announced this week, adds even more possibilities. The dongle can now be used with any Apple machine—not just an iPad—to provide a second display for your Windows PC or Mac.

An iMac used as wireless display for a MacBook.
Enlarge / An iMac used as wireless display for a MacBook.

You’re not limited to Apple’s desktops or laptops, either; Luna Display now supports adding a 4K or 5K screen to your PC as a second display. That means you could attach the 24-inch iMac with a 4.5K (4480×2520) resolution or a 27-inch iMac with a 5K (5120×2880) resolution to your Windows or Mac PC.

There are some caveats, though. If you plan to connect a 4K or 5K Mac, the machine has to be running at least macOS Big Sur. Any 5K screen connected to your Windows PC will be limited to a 30 Hz refresh rate, which is half the refreshes per second than what’s typical (60 Hz). If you’re using a Mac with Big Sur or later, the refresh rate is increased to 45 Hz. And if you’re “only” connecting a 4K screen, your refresh rate will be 60 Hz, whether the display is connected to a Windows or Apple system.

Other additions with the Luna Display 5.1 update include support for Apple’s Magic Keyboard and trackpad with a Luna Display-connected iPad. Again, this feature works whether the iPad is connected to a Mac or PC.

Note that to use Luna Display in general, you must have a system with Windows 10 64-bit, Build 1809 or later, or macOS 10.11 El Capitan or later as your main PC. The iPad must run iOS 12.1 or later, and you need either 802.11n Wi-Fi or an Ethernet connection.

With Apple and Windows historically living in such separate camps, it’s nice to see a product bring more platform agnosticism for those who aren’t completely committed to one side.

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Microsoft restores individual “default browser” setting in Windows 11 preview

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Aurich Lawson

It’s been a rough week for Microsoft’s Edge browser in the court of public opinion as users grumbled about the addition of a controversial “buy now, pay later” financing feature and another layer of pop-up messages that tries to dissuade users from installing Google Chrome. But Microsoft isn’t totally unresponsive to user criticism when it comes to Edge—the latest Dev channel Windows Insider build of Windows 11 restores a button in the Settings app for setting your default browser, something that existed in Windows 10 but is missing from the current stable version of Windows 11.

The change, originally spotted by developer Rafael Rivera, adds the default browser button to the top of the Settings app when you navigate to any browser in the “Default apps” section. The button automatically changes the default app for opening http, https, .htm, and .html files and links instead of making users change each of these associations manually (or relying on browser makers to build that capability into their browsers themselves).

For all the other file types that Microsoft Edge can handle, including PDFs, SVG files, and others, you’ll still need to change those associations manually and one at a time. But this is already how the default browser button worked in Windows 10, so it at least represents a reversion to the pre-Windows 11 status quo rather than a new hurdle to jump over.

Features being tested in the Dev channel builds of Windows are usually destined for the operating system’s next major servicing update, which for Windows 11 will happen sometime in the fall of 2022. Recent builds have begun to address some common complaints about Windows 11’s user interface changes, including tweaks to the Start menu and taskbar.

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