iFixit finds dust covers in latest MacBook Pro keyboard

Apple released a refreshed MacBook Pro this week and top among the new features is a tweaked keyboard. Apple says its quieter than the last version and in our tests, we agree. But iFixit found something else: thin, silicone barriers that could improve the keyboard’s reliability.

This is big news. Users have long reported the butterfly switch keyboard found in MacBook Pros were less reliable than past models. There are countless reports of dust and lint and crumbs causing keys to stick or fail. Personally, I have not had any issues, but many at TechCrunch have. To date Apple has yet to issue a recall for the keyboard..

iFixit found a thin layer of rubberized material covering the new butterfly mechanism. The repair outlet also points to an Apple patent for this exact technology that’s designed to “prevent and/or alleviate contaminant ingress.”

According to Apple, which held a big media unveiling for new models, the changes to the keyboard were designed to address the loud clickity-clack and not the keyboard’s tendency to get mucked up by dust. And that makes sense, too. If Apple held an event and said “We fixed the keyboards” it would mean Apple was admitting something was wrong with the keyboards. Instead Apple held an event and said “We made the keyboards quieter” admitting the past keyboards were loud, and not faulty.

We just got our review unit and will report back on the keyboard’s reliability after a day or two at the beach. Because science.

You can now stream to your Sonos devices via AirPlay 2

Newer Sonos devices and “rooms” now appear as AirPlay 2-compatible devices, allowing you to stream audio to them via Apple devices. The solution is a long time coming for Sonos which promised AirPlay 2 support in October.

You can stream to Sonos One, Sonos Beam, Playbase, and Play:5 speakers and ask Siri to play music on various speakers (“Hey Siri, play some hip-hop in the kitchen.”) The feature should roll out to current speakers this month.

I tried a beta version and it worked as advertised. A set of speakers including a Beam and a Sub in my family room showed up as a single speaker and a Sonos One in the kitchen showed up as another. I was able to stream music and podcasts to either one.

Given the ease with which you can now stream to nearly every device from every device it’s clear that whole-home audio is progressing rapidly. As we noted before Sonos is facing tough competition but little tricks like this one help it stay in the race.

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Court victory legalizes 3D-printable gun blueprints

A multi-year legal battle over the ability to distribute computer models of gun parts and replicate them in 3D printers has ended in defeat for government authorities who sought to prevent the practice. Cody Wilson, the gunmaker and free speech advocate behind the lawsuit, now intends to expand his operations, providing printable gun blueprints to all who desire them.

The longer story of the lawsuit is well told by Andy Greenberg over at Wired, but the decision is eloquent on its own. The fundamental question is whether making 3D models of gun components available online is covered by the free speech rights granted by the First Amendment.

This is a timely but complex conflict because it touches on two themes that happen to be, for many, ethically contradictory. Arguments for tighter restrictions on firearms are, in this case, directly opposed to arguments for the unfettered exchange of information on the internet. It’s hard to advocate for both here: restricting firearms and restricting free speech are one and the same.

That at least seems to be conclusion of the government lawyers, who settled Wilson’s lawsuit after years of court battles. In a copy of the settlement provided to me by Wilson, the U.S. government agrees to exempt “the technical data that is the subject of the Action” from legal restriction. The modified rules should appear in the Federal Register soon.

What does this mean? It means that a 3D model that can be used to print the components of a working firearm is legal to own and legal to distribute. You can likely even print it and use the product — you just can’t sell it. There are technicalities to the law here (certain parts are restricted, but can be sold in an incomplete state, etc.), but the implications as regards the files themselves seems clear.

Wilson’s original vision, which he is now pursuing free of legal obstacles, is a repository of gun models, called DEFCAD, much like any other collection of data on the web, though naturally considerably more dangerous and controversial.

“I currently have no national legal barriers to continue or expand DEFCAD,” he wrote in an email to TechCrunch. “This legal victory is the formal beginning to the era of downloadable guns. Guns are as downloadable as music. There will be streaming services for semi-automatics.”

The concepts don’t map perfectly, no doubt, but it’s hard to deny that with the success of this lawsuit, there are few legal restrictions to speak of on the digital distribution of firearms. Before it even, there were few technical restrictions: certainly just as you could download MP3s on Napster in 2002, you can download a gun file today.

Gun control advocates will no doubt argue that greater availability of lethal weaponry is the opposite of what is needed in this country. But others will point out that in a way this is a powerful example of how liberally free speech can be defined. It’s important to note that both of these things can be true.

This court victory settles one case, but marks the beginnings of many another. “I have promoted my values for years with great care and diligence,” Wilson wrote. It’s hard to disagree with that. Those whose values differ are free to pursue them in their own way; perhaps they too will be awarded victories of this scale.

My favorite summer toy is the GDP XD emulator

People ask me all the time about my favorite gadgets and I rarely have any answers. I’ve been playing with stuff since 2004 and I’m pretty gadget-ed out. But this year I’ve finally found something that I really enjoy: the GPD XD, an Android-based gaming handheld that lets you play multiple emulators including an endless array homebrew and classic ROMS.

As an early fan of the Caanoo I’m always looking for handheld emulators that can let you play classic games without much fuss. The Caanoo worked quite well, especially for 2010 technology, and I was looking to upgrade.

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My friend bought a GDP and showed it to me and I was hooked. I could play some wonderful old ROMs in a form factor that was superior to the Caanoo and this super cheap, super awful 4.3-inch device that emulates like a truck.

The GDP, which has two joysticks, one four-axis button, four shoulder buttons, and a diamond of game buttons, is basically a Wi-Fi enabled Android device with a touch screen. It runs Android 7.0 and has a MTK8176 Quad-core+ processor and 4GB of memory. It comes with NES, SNES, Arcade, and Playstation emulators built in as well as a few home-brew games. You can install almost anything from the Google Play store and it includes a file manager and ebook reader. It also has a micro SD card slot, HDMI out, and headphone jack.

To be clear, the GDP isn’t exactly well documented. The device includes a bit of on board documentation – basically a few graphics files that describe how to add and upload ROMS and emulators. There are are also a number of online resources including Reddit threads talking about this thing’s emulation prowess. The original model appeared two years ago and they are now selling an updated 2018 version with a better processor and more memory.

GPD recently launched another handheld, the Win 2, which is a full Windows machine in a form factor similar to the XD. It is considerably more expensive – about $700 vs. $300 – and if you’re looking for a more computer-like experience it might work. I have, however, had a lot of fun with the XD these past few months.

So whatever your feelings regarding ROMs, emulators, and tiny PCs, I’m pleased to report that I’ve finally pleased with a clever and fun bit of portable technology.

Ledger finally has a good app for its crypto wallet

French startup Ledger has been working for a while on a brand new app to manage your crypto assets on your computer. The company is designing and manufacturing one of the most secure hardware wallets out there.

While it’s clear that security has always been the first focus of the company, the user experience has been lacking, especially on the software front. The company launched a new app called Ledger Live to handle everything you used to do with Chrome apps before.

That’s right, before today, the company relied on Google Chrome for its desktop apps. You had to install the browser first, and then install a new app for each cryptocurrency. There was also a main app to update the firmware. It could quickly become a mess.

Now, everything is centralized in a single app. After downloading and installing the app on Windows, macOS or Linux, you can either configure the app with an existing Ledger device or configure a new Ledger wallet.

The app first checks the integrity of your device and then lets you manage the device. You can upgrade the firmware and install apps on your Ledger Nano S or Ledger Blue from the “Manager” tab.

More interestingly, you can now add all your wallets to the Ledger Live app. You won’t have to switch from one app to another to view your wallets. When you click the add button, the app will try and retrieve existing wallets on your device. You can also generate a new set of keys (and a new wallet) from there.

Once you’ve added all your wallets, you can get an overview of your entire portfolio. The app gets historical pricing information from popular exchanges, such as Kraken and Bitfinex. You can also click on individual accounts to see how a specific cryptocurrency has evolved over time.

The portfolio interface looks like a Coinbase account. It’s well-designed and it’s a great way to get a quick look of your accounts.

Many Ledger users have been using tracker websites and apps. These services let you enter a cryptocurrency and the amount you own to get an overview of everything you own independently of the wallet.

Ledger’s new app partially replace tracker services. If you don’t need to check your balance from your phone, you can get enough information with the Ledger app. You can see your balance without having to plug your Ledger device.

The company is already working on new features. You’ll be able to view and manager ERC20 tokens in the future. So if you invested in a bunch of obscure ICOs, your tokens will be there too.

Ledger also told me that you could imagine an integration with decentralized exchanges eventually. This way, you would be able to send tokens to an address and get another set of tokens back on another Ledger-generated address. It would be a great way to exchange cryptocurrencies without signing up to a centralized exchange and leaving the Ledger app.

Apple releases new iPad, FaceID ads

Apple has released a handful of new ads promoting the iPad’s portability and convenience over both laptops and traditional paper solutions. The 15-second ads focus on how the iPad can make even the most tedious things — travel, notes, paperwork, and ‘stuff’ — just a bit easier.

Three out of the four spots show the sixth-generation iPad, which was revealed at Apple’s education event in March, and which offers a lower-cost ($329 in the U.S.) option with Pencil support.

The ads were released on Apple’s international YouTube channels (UAE, Singapore, and United Kingdom).

This follows another 90-second ad released yesterday, focusing on FaceID. The commercial shows a man in a gameshow-type setting asked to remember the banking password he created earlier that morning. He struggles for an excruciating amount of time before realizing he can access the banking app via FaceID.

There has been some speculation that FaceID may be incorporated into some upcoming models of the iPad, though we’ll have to wait until Apple’s next event (likely in September) to find out for sure.

Your next summer DIY project is an AI-powered doodle camera

With long summer evenings comes the perfect opportunity to dust off your old boxes of circuits and wires and start to build something. If you’re short on inspiration, you might be interested in artist and engineer Dan Macnish’s how-to guide on building an AI-powered doodle camera using a thermal printer, Raspberry pi, a dash of Python and Google’s Quick Draw data set.

“Playing with neural networks for object recognition one day, I wondered if I could take the concept of a Polaroid one step further, and ask the camera to re-interpret the image, printing out a cartoon instead of a faithful photograph.” Macnish wrote on his blog about the project, called Draw This.

To make this work, Macnish drew on Google’s object recognition neural network and the data set created for the game Google Quick, Draw! Tying the two systems together with some python code, Macnish was able to have his creation recognize real images and print out the best corresponding doodle in the Quick, Draw! data set

But since output doodles are limited to the data set, there can be some discrepancy between what the camera “sees” and what it generates for the photo.

“You point and shoot – and out pops a cartoon; the camera’s best interpretation of what it saw,” Macnish writes. “The result is always a surprise. A food selfie of a healthy salad might turn into an enormous hot dog.”

If you want to give this a go for yourself, Macnish has uploaded the instructions and code needed to build this project on GitHub.

Buckyballs are back

Years ago – six years ago, to be exact – a toy called Buckyballs came under attack by government officials intent on destroying fun. The Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the toys, which we noted were tiny rare earth magnets that were good for play but bad for a snack, because a few overzealous children swallowed one or two and found themselves in gastrointestinal distress.

The lawsuit against ZenMagnets, creators of Buckyballs, began as a “recall prior to record of injury,” something unprecedented in this space. That meant the company had to stop selling its magnets before anyone was actually injured, an odd position for a small company to be in.

Now, after six years of battle, Buckyballs are back. The company is now able to sell its biggest set, the Mandala and notes that the sets are not toys. They could cause intestinal pinching, writes the ZenMagnets team, and they recommend not leaving them around animals or small children. However, these odd and wonderful little toys are finally available for purchase. The kit now even comes inside a lockable box to ensure little hands can’t accidentally grab and eat them.

“We remain willing to work with the CPSC to develop the magnet safety standards for which we’ve already petitioned, and which will be more effective and reasonable than the all-ages, nationwide ban we succeeded in vacating in the Tenth Circuit,” wrote founder Shihan Qu. “As we’ve already been doing, Zen Magnets looks forward to providing not just the highest quality magnet spheres on the market, but also the safest in terms of sales methods and warnings. Now that the war on magnets is over, hopefully we can all focus towards the war on magnet misuse.”

“Magnets must be respected, but need not be feared,” he said. Truer words – besides these – were never spoken.

Next iPhone could be available in grey, white, blue, red and orange

According to a supply chain report, Apple is preparing to release three iPhone lines this fall. One, a 5.8-inch iPhone X with improved specs and lower price. Two, a new 6.5-inch iPhone X Plus with an OLED screen. And three, a 6.1-inch iPhone with Face ID, which is said to come in a variety of colors including grey, white, blue, red and orange.

Ming-Chi Kuo reports, via 9to5mac, that the 6.5-inch iPhone X Plus is said to take the $1000 price point from the iPhone X. This will cause the next iPhone X to be less expensive than its current incarnation. The colorful 6.1-inch iPhone will be the least expensive model with a price tag around $700. Information about storage was not included in the report.

The least-expensive iPhone is said to resemble the iPhone X and include FaceID though Apple might concede the dual-camera option to the higher price models. The analyst expects this $700 option to account for 55% of new iPhone sales and increase through 2019.

If the part about the colors is correct, Apple is set introduce a slash of color to the monochrome phone market. Currently, phones are mostly available in greys and blacks with most vendors offering a couple color options through special editions. That’s boring. Apple tried this in the past with its budget-minded iPhone 5c. Making its best-selling model available in colors is a distinct shift in strategy. It’s highly likely other firms such as Samsung and LG will follow the trend and push the smartphone world into a rainbow of colors.

500 Intel drones to replace fireworks above Travis Air Force base for Fourth of July

The Fourth of July will be a little different tomorrow at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, Calif. Instead of fireworks, 500 Intel Shooting Star drones will take to the sky to perform an aerial routine in honor of the holiday and the base’s 75th anniversary.

These are the same drones that preformed at Disney World, the Super Bowl and the Olympics.

One person controls the fleet of drones thanks to a sophisticated control platform that pre-plans the route of each drone. Intel engineers told me that the system can control an unlimited amount of drones. In the version I saw, the drones used GPS to stay in place and the drones lacked any collision detection sensors.

It’s an impressive show of technology. I was in attendance for the first show at Disney World and the drones are a wonderful alternative to fireworks. Sure, fireworks are a Fourth of July tradition, but they can’t do the things these drones can do, plus, because they’re much more quiet, more people can enjoy the show.