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Photography accessories for the shutterbug in your life – TechCrunch

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Looking for some gift ideas for the photographer in your life? Look no further. Though shooters amateur and professional tend to take care of their own needs pretty well, there are plenty of things you can given them that they’ll appreciate. But you might have to be ready to spend a bit — people don’t pick up this hobby because it’s so cheap.

USB-C Hub – $40-$60

A lot of the latest laptops are eschewing a variety of ports for more or only USB-C. Some like this trend, and some hate it, but one way or another you’ve got to deal with it. Photographers especially. This Vava hub has pretty much everything your average shooter needs, including old-type USB ports for legacy gear, an SD card reader, and a headphone jack for reviewing video. This one is $60 but there are bigger and smaller ones if you happen to know they use Ethernet, microSD, and so on. Just stay away from the bargain bin ones — you don’t want to mess around when it comes to carrying lots of power.

Hand strap – $10-$40

Everyone has a neck strap for their camera because they always come with one. But not everyone wants to use them — the included ones are cheap and even good ones can be annoying. A hand strap is a good alternative that adds a lot of security very simply. For a smaller camera like a mirrorless, a simple, high quality strap like Gordy’s is a good option. And for heavier bodies like DSLRs with big lenses, Peak Design’s Clutch is a solid one that works across many brands. Many camera manufacturers make their own as well, but we’ve found that Peak often makes meaningful improvements on suchstandard models.

Extra SD cards and a carry case – $30-40

A photographer can never have too many cards, and a good case never goes amiss, either. You can’t go wrong with Pelican when it comes to cases, even if $30 seems a lot to spend on a little plastic clamshell with foam inside. As for SD cards, 32 gigabytes is a nice safe number. Just make sure you stick to known brands like Sandisk and Kingston, and make sure it’s a “Class 10” card — lower numbers mean slower transfer speeds.

A year of Adobe – $120

This is a tough one. Lots of photographers use Lightroom and Photoshop, and it would be nice to be able to gift them a few months or a year’s worth of subscription to Adobe’s platform. But Adobe makes this so hard to do that we can’t actually figure out a good way to do it. Nevertheless, if you can figure out a creative way to go about this, your photographer friend will appreciate it. Adobe, if you’re reading this, make this work!

Microfiber wipes – $10-15

One thing you can never have too many of as a photographer is lens wipes. Some prefer the disposable type and/or a little air puff, but a pack of small microfiber ones will also be welcome, as they can be used for glasses, laptop screens, and everything else as well. They’re all pretty much the same and you can get a dozen small ones for less than ten bucks.

A decent bag – $100-400

waxed messengers 28

It’s amazing how often a photographer will spend a thousand bucks on a lens but have their gear sloshing around in some old backpack. A good bag helps keep your gear safe but also makes you a better shooter by making you organize, inventory, and keep things accessible. There are a lot of great bags to choose from out there, which is why we have Bag Week, but I’m partial to Ona for waxed and vintage style camera bags and Peak Design for a more modern, synthetic style.

Soft shutter release – $25

A soft shutter release is definitely a niche gift, but if you have someone on the list who shoots one of Fujifilm’s rangefinder-style cameras, or a Leica if they’re really fancy, a soft shutter release is an awesome, inexpensive stocking stuffer. The Match Technical Boop-O pictured above on an X-T3 camera adds a very nice, easy-to-squeeze ergonomic shutter control to the existing flat button. It screws into a hole that’s already built in to Fuji cameras that support this, including the X100-series and the X-T series cameras, to name just a few popular options. Stick-on soft shutter releases are also available for cameras that don’t have this mount built-in.

Portable lighting – $70-$500

If you think photographic lighting is just about on-camera flash, then you probably haven’t done enough experimenting with the variety of smart lightening accessories out there. Two great options are the Lume Cube line of products (Lume Cube Air pictured, left above) and the Profoto C1 and C1+. These serve different needs, but can both be used to help you do really fun stuff with both smartphone and dedicated camera-based photography. The price ranges vary, but Profoto’s offering is aimed more at pros who want portable lighting that approaches what you can get out of much more expensive studio setups, while Lume Cube is better suited to the action and drone photography set.

Gnarbox – $500-$900

Gnarbox 2.0 6This is definitely a gift reserved only for the people who merit big ticket purchases on your list, given its price. It’s also designed specifically to suit the needs of creative professionals, so it’s probably too much gear for most people. That said, if there is a pro photographer or videographer in your life who you really care deeply about, this is likely to be a gift that they’ll value – even if they already have one, since it’s the kind of gear where more = better. The Gnarbox provides easy SD backup and file management for photos and videos, so that you can keep shooting longer in the field and work with the files on the go. The 2.0 version is finally shipping, which offers SSD-based storage for much faster transfer and working speeds.

Mini tripod – $12 – $35

A mini tripod is a great addition to any photography kit, and there are a range of options available to suit different sizes and types of cameras, from smartphones all the way up to big DSLRs. The best value for money just might be the Manfrotto PIXI lineup, however, which itself comes in a range of options. The basic PIXI Mini Tripod is probably plenty enough for most, and can really help make sure that you get great travel shots and selfies while keeping your pack light. The PIXI EVO gives you a bit more flexibility with extendable legs for a bit more money.



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Apple and Google’s AI wizardry promises privacy—at a cost

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Since the dawn of the iPhone, many of the smarts in smartphones have come from elsewhere: the corporate computers known as the cloud. Mobile apps sent user data cloudward for useful tasks like transcribing speech or suggesting message replies. Now Apple and Google say smartphones are smart enough to do some crucial and sensitive machine learning tasks like those on their own.

At Apple’s WWDC event this month, the company said its virtual assistant Siri will transcribe speech without tapping the cloud in some languages on recent and future iPhones and iPads. During its own I/O developer event last month, Google said the latest version of its Android operating system has a feature dedicated to secure, on-device processing of sensitive data, called the Private Compute Core. Its initial uses include powering the version of the company’s Smart Reply feature built into its mobile keyboard that can suggest responses to incoming messages.

Apple and Google both say on-device machine learning offers more privacy and snappier apps. Not transmitting personal data cuts the risk of exposure and saves time spent waiting for data to traverse the internet. At the same time, keeping data on devices aligns with the tech giants’ long-term interest in keeping consumers bound into their ecosystems. People that hear their data can be processed more privately might become more willing to agree to share more data.

The companies’ recent promotion of on-device machine learning comes after years of work on technology to constrain the data their clouds can “see.”

In 2014, Google started gathering some data on Chrome browser usage through a technique called differential privacy, which adds noise to harvested data in ways that restrict what those samples reveal about individuals. Apple has used the technique on data gathered from phones to inform emoji and typing predictions and for web browsing data.

More recently, both companies have adopted a technology called federated learning. It allows a cloud-based machine learning system to be updated without scooping in raw data; instead, individual devices process data locally and share only digested updates. As with differential privacy, the companies have discussed using federated learning only in limited cases. Google has used the technique to keep its mobile typing predictions up to date with language trends; Apple has published research on using it to update speech recognition models.

Rachel Cummings, an assistant professor at Columbia who has previously consulted on privacy for Apple, says the rapid shift to do some machine learning on phones has been striking. “It’s incredibly rare to see something going from the first conception to being deployed at scale in so few years,” she says.

That progress has required not just advances in computer science but for companies to take on the practical challenges of processing data on devices owned by consumers. Google has said that its federated learning system only taps users’ devices when they are plugged in, idle, and on a free internet connection. The technique was enabled in part by improvements in the power of mobile processors.

Beefier mobile hardware also contributed to Google’s 2019 announcement that voice recognition for its virtual assistant on Pixel devices would be wholly on-device, free from the crutch of the cloud. Apple’s new on-device voice recognition for Siri, announced at WWDC this month, will use the “neural engine” the company added to its mobile processorsto power up machine learning algorithms.

The technical feats are impressive. It’s debatable how much they will meaningfully change users’ relationship with tech giants.

Presenters at Apple’s WWDC said Siri’s new design was a “major update to privacy” that addressed the risk associated with accidentally transmitting audio to the cloud, saying that was users’ largest privacy concern about voice assistants. Some Siri commands—such as setting timers—can be recognized wholly locally, making for a speedy response. Yet in many cases transcribed commands to Siri—presumably including from accidental recordings—will be sent to Apple servers for software to decode and respond. Siri voice transcription will still be cloud-based for HomePod smart speakers commonly installed in bedrooms and kitchens, where accidental recording can be more concerning.

Google also promotes on-device data processing as a privacy win and has signaled it will expand the practice. The company expects partners such as Samsung that use its Android operating system to adopt the new Privacy Compute Core and use it for features that rely on sensitive data.

Google has also made local analysis of browsing data a feature of its proposal for reinventing online ad targeting, dubbed FLoC and claimed to be more private. Academics and some rival tech companies have said the design is likely to help Google consolidate its dominance of online ads by making targeting more difficult for other companies.

Michael Veale, a lecturer in digital rights at University College London, says on-device data processing can be a good thing but adds that the way tech companies promote it shows they are primarily motivated by a desire to keep people tied into lucrative digital ecosystems.

“Privacy gets confused with keeping data confidential, but it’s also about limiting power,” says Veale. “If you’re a big tech company and manage to reframe privacy as only confidentiality of data, that allows you to continue business as normal and gives you license to operate.”

A Google spokesperson said the company “builds for privacy everywhere computing happens” and that data sent to the Private Compute Core for processing “needs to be tied to user value.” Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

Cummings of Columbia says new privacy techniques and the way companies market them add complexity to the trade-offs of digital life. Over recent years, as machine learning has become more widely deployed, tech companies have steadily expanded the range of data they collect and analyze. There is evidence some consumers misunderstand the privacy protections trumpeted by tech giants.

A forthcoming survey study from Cummings and collaborators at Boston University and the Max Planck Institute showed descriptions of differential privacy drawn from tech companies, media, and academics to 675 Americans. Hearing about the technique made people about twice as likely to report they would be willing to share data. But there was evidence that descriptions of differential privacy’s benefits also encouraged unrealistic expectations. One-fifth of respondents expected their data to be protected against law enforcement searches, something differential privacy does not do. Apple’s and Google’s latest proclamations about on-device data processing may bring new opportunities for misunderstandings.

This story originally appeared on wired.com.

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Amazon joins Apple, Google by reducing its app store cut

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Enlarge / The Amazon Fire HD 8 tablet, which runs Amazon’s Fire OS.

Apparently following the lead of Apple and Google, Amazon has announced that it will take a smaller revenue cut from apps developed by teams earning less than $1 million annually from their apps on the Amazon Appstore. The same applies to developers who are brand-new to the marketplace.

The new program from Amazon, called the Amazon Appstore Small Business Accelerator Program, launches in Q4 of this year, and it will reduce the cut Amazon takes from app revenue, which was previously 30 percent. (Developers making over $1 million annually will continue to pay the original rate.) For some, it’s a slightly worse deal than Apple’s or Google’s, and for others, it’s better.

Amazon’s new indie-friendly rate is 20 percent, in contrast to Apple’s and Google’s 15 percent. Amazon seeks to offset this difference by granting developers 10 percent of their Appstore revenue in the form of a credit for AWS. For certain developers who use AWS, it could mean that Amazon’s effective cut is actually 10 percent, not 15 or 20 percent.

But for some, it amounts to something more like giving the developer a coupon on a purchase of services from Amazon than actually putting more cash in their pockets. It leaves small developers who aren’t spending a bunch of money on Amazon’s services with a worse deal than they’d get on Apple’s or Google’s marketplaces.

As with Apple’s program—but not Google’s—the lower rate applies to developers only if they made $1 million or less in total (in this case, the numbers assessed are those from the previous year). Crossing that threshold will lead developers to pay the older, higher rate on all of their earnings. In contrast, Google always takes a smaller cut of the first million in a given year and then applies the bigger cut to revenues after $1 million without changing the amount it took from the first million.

The Amazon Appstore primarily exists as the app store for Amazon’s Android-based Fire OS software that runs on tablets. It’s also offered as an alternative App Store for users of other Android-based operating systems.

All three companies are facing various forms of regulatory scrutiny, and that scrutiny was likely a factor in Apple’s decision to cut the fees it applies to apps released by small developers on the Apple App Store. Google followed shortly afterward for its Google Play marketplace.

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Microsoft’s Linux repositories were down for 18+ hours

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Enlarge / In 2017, Tux was sad that he had a Microsoft logo on his chest. In 2021, he’s mostly sad that Microsoft’s repositories were down for most of a day.

Jim Salter

Yesterday, packages.microsoft.com—the repository from which Microsoft serves software installers for Linux distributions including CentOS, Debian, Fedora, OpenSUSE, and more—went down hard, and it stayed down for around 18 hours. The outage impacted users trying to install .NET Core, Microsoft Teams, Microsoft SQL Server for Linux (yes, that’s a thing) and more—as well as Azure’s own devops pipelines.

We first became aware of the problem Wednesday evening when we saw 404 errors in the output of apt update on an Ubuntu workstation with Microsoft Teams installed. The outage is somewhat better documented at this .NET Core-issue report on Github, with many users from all around the world sharing their experiences and theories.

The short version is, the entire repository cluster which serves all Linux packages for Microsoft was completely down—issuing a range of HTTP 404 (content not found) and 500 (Internal Server Error) messages for any URL—for roughly 18 hours. Microsoft engineer Rahul Bhandari confirmed the outage roughly five hours after it was initially reported, with a cryptic comment about the infrastructure team “running into some space issues.”

Eighteen hours after the issue was reported, Bhandari reported that the mirrors were once again available—although with temporarily degraded performance, likely due to cold caches. In this update, Bhandari said that the original cause of the outage was “a regression in [apt repositories] during some feature migration work that resulted in those packages becoming unavailable on the mirrors.”

We’re still waiting for a comprehensive incident report, since Bhandari’s status updates provide clues but no real explanations. The good news is, we can confirm that packages.microsoft.com is indeed up once again, and it is serving packages as it should.

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