11 ridiculous ‘smart’ gadgets that totally exist


quirky egg minderI write for a website called Tech Insider, so every day I’m inundated with emails and pitches for gadgets claiming to make life easier.

In recent years, some of these devices have evolved from an easy source of skepticism to things that are actually worth buying. The Amazon Echo is a genuinely useful assistant, and personally I’m all in on the energy-saving ways of smart lighting. Roombas, Nests, and WeMo switches have their virtues, too.

Other products — let’s just say it’s harder to see the mass appeal. Lately there’s been a wave of self-proclaimed smart devices that take the “things” part of “Internet of Things” very seriously. While I can’t totally dismiss them, sometimes they go past the point of utility and into the land of cynicism. (Or at least weirdness.)

To illustrate just how far the tech world is willing to go to make anything and everything connected, let’s look at a few of these things, all of which actually for real exist.

SEE ALSO: 10 awesome and weird iPhone accessories you probably need

Quirky Egg Minder

The Quirky Egg Minder solves a question as old as time itself: “Why can’t I connect my egg tray to the internet?”

Made in partnership with GE, this thing syncs with your smartphone and sends you push notifications when you’re on the verge of being eggless. LED lights on the tray itself tell you which of its 14 eggs nearing their expiration date.

It’s only $13 on Amazon at the moment, which isn’t so bad compared to some of the other gadgets here, though its user reviews have been pretty brutal thus far.

Hidrate Spark

The Hidrate Spark is one of a few “smart water bottles” that’ve popped up in recent years, most of which do the same thing: pair with a companion app over Bluetooth, then walk you through staying properly hydrated.

To be fair, the 24-ounce Spark does look nice, and the fact that it glows when you hit your thirst-quenching goals is cute. But paying $55 to be reminded to drink water might be a bit much, especially when you can already log this stuff with one of several free fitness apps.

Brita Infinity WiFi Connected Pitcher

Tech companies are all in on this water thing, apparently. The $45 Brita Infinity bills itself as “the future of hydration” — it works like any other Brita you’ve seen, only it can sense when its current purification filter has outlived its usefulness.

When it does, it’ll automatically order a new $6 filter from Amazon. (Brita teamed with Amazon’s Dash Replenishment Service for this one, if that wasn’t clear.)

As a neglectful Brita owner myself, I could actually see this being useful in the “I’m too lazy to be responsible anyways” way. It’s certainly good business for Amazon, too. Still, it’s hard not to find the idea of automated commerce being particularly, let’s say, thirsty.

See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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We Finally Know What Causes Volcanic Lightning


Volcanic lightning is one of nature’s most epic displays, but what exactly causes the phenomenon is a longstanding mystery. Now, by studying high-speed footage of electrified volcanic outbursts at Mount Sakurajima, scientists have arrived at an answer—and it points to a new method for predicting powerful eruptions.

Most of us are familiar with how lightning forms in thunderclouds, when negatively charged particles at the bottom of the cloud are drawn to positively charged particles on the surface of the Earth. Eventually, this electrostatic attraction can overcome the insulating properties of the air, producing a giant electric spark.

While similar in terms of its physical characteristics, volcanic lightning is different in the sense that it forms much closer to the ground within erupting volcanic plumes, and doesn’t necessarily propagate downwards. A team of researchers at Ludwig-Maximillian University in Munich have conducted a detailed study of volcanic eruptions at Japan’s Mount Sakurajima, one of the most active volcanoes on Earth, to figure out why.

Combining high-speed video footage of eruptions and acoustic measurements of Mount Sakurajima’s electromagnetic field, the researchers determined that volcanic lightning occurs due to the electrification of rising ash particles by magma. They further showed that volcanic lightning (top video) is generally restricted to the lower part of a developing ash plume—within a few hundred meters of the crater’s rim—where turbulent jets of magma produce a complex charge distribution. Only in one instance (bottom video) was lighting observed in the upper “buoyant” part of the plume.

“At Sakurajima as well as at other volcanoes the electrification seems to be primarily determined by the plume dynamics,” the researchers write in their paper, which appears this week in Geophysical Research Letters.

The study also revealed an unexpected correlation between the frequency of lightning flashes and the total volume of ash released. The amount of ash a volcano will spew out is hard to predict during an eruption, but not so for electrical discharges. “This is a parameter that can be measured—from a distance of several kilometers away and under conditions of poor visibility,” lead study author Corrado Cimarelli said in a statement.

This means that, eventually, scientists could start using volcanic lightning to predict the size of an ash cloud and issue early warnings about air quality following eruptions. Even if you don’t live in a volcanically active area, there’s cause to be excited about this: it means plenty more stunning photos of volcanic lightning to come.

[Geophysical Research Letters]

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Test-driving LELO’s ‘condom of the future’


I’m not proud of it. As someone who’s at high risk for HIV infection, I have a spotty relationship with safe sex. I came of age in the ’90s, when rappers like Salt-N-Pepa and Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes frequently spit rhymes about rubbers. I volunteered in a South African AIDS orphanage in the early 2000s and saw first-hand the effects of unprotected sex. I even had my own close brush with HIV infection nearly 10 years ago. And yet, I don’t always do the right thing.

NSFW Warning: This story may contain links to and descriptions or images of explicit sexual acts.

So when LELO, the luxury sex toy manufacturer, invited me to see its big breakthrough in condom technology, I jumped at the chance. Weeks later I found myself sitting across the table from the company’s founder, Filip Sedic, my hands covered in lube, attempting to tear apart perhaps the most ambitious prophylactic of our time.

Sedic strikes an imposing figure. He’s tall, built like a brick, dressed in a purple velvet jacket with a silk ascot tied around his neck. He speaks passionately and about STIs, contraception and pleasure in sometimes broken, though eloquent, English. He tells the story of HEX, a latex condom seven years in the making, the result of four years of radical R&D and three more overcoming regulatory hurdles. The final product, a high-design raincoat that takes design cues from the structure of graphene and suspension bridges, was born of frustration that shows on Sedic’s face.

"It’s a disgrace, that we in 2016, has STIs at all," Sedic says. "It’s diseases that should be already disappeared hundreds of years ago. It’s a very big contradiction for me that we are living now with digital watches and robots and computers and virtual reality and everything … and STIs. Come on, seriously. These things should not exist."

Eliminating STIs is a tall order, and one not likely to happen with a single leap forward in condom technology. The CDC estimates that there are more than 19.7 million new STIs in the United States each year, and 110 million sexually transmitted infections nationwide. But Sedic is optimistic that HEX will be "something people want to use, not have to use."

Sedic, a former product manager for mobile products at Ericsson, pinpoints the two biggest barriers to condom usage as he sees it: their tendency to break or slip (depending on how you’re endowed) and the universal truth that they make the motion in the ocean less pleasurable, no matter the size of the boat. His assertions are backed by a 2008 Kinsey Institute study of men attending an STD clinic that focused on challenges to correct condom use. The study found that 30 percent of respondents "experienced problems with the fit or feel of the condom," 31 percent had a condom break and 28.1 percent lost erections during condom use.

Sedic says his team explored "hundreds of different crazy ideas" before landing on a redesigned latex condom. Among them, using "electromagnetic force to kind of keep liquids separated and away." While Sedic won’t discount the wilder ideas, he says regulatory hurdles from multiple government agencies forced the team to think about more practical immediate solutions. The result is a latex condom that, aside from high-design packaging and a simple pattern, looks a lot like the condoms that occupy truck-stop vending machines.

It’s a simple, interior hexagonal lattice, also found in the superstrong, ultralight wonder material graphene, that sets the HEX apart from its competitors. That pattern, in theory, not only makes the condom stronger, but centralizes breaks to a single, small hexagon, whereas tears in standard condoms are not contained. It also creates an internal friction that makes slippage less of an issue, according to Sedic. That lattice work also allows LELO to use extra-thin latex inside the individual hexagons, presumably creating a more pleasurable experience.

As Sedic stretched and poked at "the condom of the future" with his massive hands, I wondered if it’s possible. Could something so simple really change the way I think of condoms? Will I one day WANT to wear a condom? And how am I going to get all this lube off my hands?

It’s one thing to try and poke a hole in a condom with a rollerball during a press briefing; it’s something else entirely to put one on and go to pound town. I’ve been sleeping with the same person for more than a few months and after a failed attempt at using condoms, we’ve had sex exclusively without them. I know his status and he knows mine. I’m also taking Truvada (aka PrEP), to reduce the risk of HIV infection, just in case.

But HIV is only one of many potential risks, and I’d prefer a solution that safeguards against as many as possible. I brought home a pack of 12 LELO HEX eager to find out how they stack up and gave them the old college try. Unfortunately, the condom of the future wasn’t the safe sex silver bullet I was seeking. I’d prepped my partner Saturday night, telling him about the condoms before we hopped in bed, but in the heat of the moment, I failed to reach for the shiny white square sitting just inches from the lube on my nightstand.

The following morning, my brain clear and my deadline for this story looming, I asked him to slide one on before our 7 a.m. romp. He did, but it didn’t stay on long. It didn’t break or slide off, but the third piece of the puzzle just wasn’t there. Like that 28 percent from the Kinsey study, things fell flat with the condom on. Of course sex without a barrier will always feel better than sex with one, but the HEX failed to deliver on its final promise for us. Pleasure is a tricky thing. What feels good to me may not feel good to you, and that’s why a one-size-fits-all solution to eliminating STIs is such a difficult proposition. Had I not had the added protection of regular testing and Truvada, I’d like to think things would have ended differently, but reason and desire are strange bedfellows.

For HEX to succeed it will have to overcome a number of obstacles, not least of which is public perception. The company’s enlisted a rather unusual celebrity spokesperson in Charlie Sheen, with the hope that his HIV diagnosis and subsequent endorsement of the product will persuade consumers to put aside preconceived notions of what a condom is. Even if it can tackle that hurdle, however, LELO will have to convince the world that it’s worth the very steep price. LELO is offering the condoms at a discount for the first 10,000 customers via Indiegogo and its own site, but it will eventually charge close to $10 for a pack of three at retail. With the abundance of free and cheap prophylactics on the market, that’s a high price to pay for what, to the naked eye, looks like just another rubber.

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Money Does Buy Happiness as Long as Purchases Fit Your Personality


While money may not be the key to happiness, it sure can help. A recent study suggests the trick is to be true to yourself.

The study, led by Sandra C. Matz at the University of Cambridge, and published in the journal Psychological Science, used data from more than 76,000 transactions, and found that purchases of material goods and services only made people happy when they were in line with people’s personalities. The researches even found the link between happiness and personality-fitting purchases to be stronger than the link between happiness and total spending and income. So it’s not about how much you spend or how much you make, it’s about spending what you have the right way. And the right way is to make purchases as a form of authentic self-expression. Buying things to fit in or go with the flow won’t make you feel content in the long run.

Money Buys Happiness When Spending Fits Our Personality | Psychological Science via Greater Good Science Center

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski.

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Meet the People Building a Medieval Castle Without Using Any New Technology


Two hours outside of Paris stands Guédelon, a castle that looks like it’s from the medieval period, but is actually being constructed right now. What’s more, the castle isn’t being built with new technology but instead with medieval techniques and materials. That means every stone, every tile, every single part of the castle is assembled as it would have been hundreds of years ago.

Construction started way back in 1997 and the castle is still not done; in fact, it’s supposed to take 25 years to complete. But it’s become a tourist attraction because, well, that’s what happens when people from the 21st century decide to go back in time and build something from the 13th century. It’s also pretty damn impressive

There’s an interesting BBC documentary on the archaeological experiment going on at Guedelon that you can watch here, and learn more about the castle here. Below is an overview of the project from Great Big Story:

Here’s that BBC doc:

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