‘Smart’ Traffic Lights Could Cut Commute by 60%

Here is some good news for commuters and anyone who has a short traffic fuse. Someone has finally “built the better mousetrap” of the traffic light world, and it looks as if the days of spending over 165 hours a year sitting at red lights may be quickly going the way of the dinosaur.

In-Dash Traffic Lights

traffic lightThere are currently two developing ideas vying for the title of Traffic Savior. The first idea involves the elimination of traffic lights completely. Engineers would develop an in-dash system that would alert one vehicle to the presence of another. Using this advanced wireless communication technology, the system would be able to assess how much traffic is coming from any direction. Drivers who find themselves amidst the largest group of cars at an intersection would receive a green signal on their dashboards, giving them permission to proceed through the intersection. Those drivers on paths less traveled would be sent a red signal. Essentially, where the heavy traffic goes, the heavy traffic flows. Engineers working on this system will soon tackle implementation, real time simulation and detection of pedestrians and cyclists as well as a number of fail safes to prevent collisions.

SMART Signal

The other breakthrough making the rounds in traffic circles is SMART (Systematic Monitoring of Arterial Road Traffic Signals) Signal technology. This is a system that gathers data from different points across a traffic grid for real time analysis of travel time, stops and intersection delay. Engineers monitoring this data (again, in real time) can consider preset metrics that would signify a necessary change in red light duration. For example, a traffic light that consistently hosts a line of no less than 15 cars would have its green time extended by a few seconds to allow more vehicles to pass through. Once the line shortens, the engineers would set it back to normal with the flip of a switch. This is already gaining traction as there is similar technology in play at over 100 intersections in Minnesota and California.

The Bottom Line: Sanity

With this advance in communications technology, our time spent in traffic could be cut by as much as 60%. That means we’ll suddenly have an extra half-hour a day – multiply that by 365 days a year – to spend with our families, get work done, or enjoy the hobbies and pursuits that make us truly happy. Car drivers around the world deal with commutes to work, school and the like – making this commute shorter and less stressful would be heavenly. Can you imagine if long lines of stopped cars were a thing of the past?

traffic

The Bottom Line: Economic Uplift

Aside from the ramifications on everyone’s personal lives, Americans would be saving billions at the gas pump. In addition, if the city of Toronto, Canada is any indication (where gridlock costs an estimated $10 billion annually), getting people to work faster means macro-level economic uplift as well.

The Bottom Line: Shallower Carbon Footprint

Lastly, there’s a huge environmental aspect to this technology. Spending less time in traffic means, of course, less time with the engine running, and that means less carbon emissions from our nation’s city streets. This has some saying that the Smart Traffic Light just may be the next giant leap for mankind in regard to climate control.

Review: Tmart 8GB MP3 Player

I was recently given an 8GB Black MP3 Player from Tmart.com to review. I was eager to review the product, as I hoped to add another product to my list of “low priced products that get the job done well”. (I’ve never been one to appreciate the attraction of high priced MP3 players.)

Unfortunately, I found the product very disappointing, nearly to the point of being unusable. It has:

  • No actual manual/instructions
  • No volume control button
  • Difficult to read screen
  • Poor quality buttons that barely work
  • Difficult to navigate interface

The only positive item I note is that it does have a lot of storage space (about 7.5GB free space).

If you’re looking for a low-priced MP3 player, I recommend SanDisk’s Sansa Clip series. I’ve had my 4GB Sansa Clip+ for years and it works wonderfully (even in the rain). You can get one for about $40. It’s hard to beat that!

4K TV – What is it and Why Should You Care?

It’s hard to imagine there’s a TV with picture quality better than the HD we currently have available. And, as a relatively recent advancement to become widely adopted by the general public, it doesn’t seem like it’s time for a new technology to emerge yet. Cue 4K TV – the technology getting all the attention in the industry. What is it and does it mean an end to the standard plasma, LCD and LED TVs most of us have in our living rooms right now? Not quite. Read on to find out.

What is it?
4K refers to the level of high-definition resolution on a TV. 4K video has a resolution of 4096 x 2160 pixels, which is four times greater than 1080p, or 1920 x 1080 pixels, currently the best consumer high-definition resolution standard. 4k is also referred to as Ultra-High Definition, Quad High-Definition and 2160p.

While 4K isn’t yet common for the average consumer, a growing number of manufacturers including Sharp, Sony and LG have started, or are planning to start releasing 4K HDTVs in the near. Some are also currently producing 4K projectors and Blu-ray players that will convert to 4K. You might even already have one in your living room.

Why is it important?
Simply put, 4K provides the most stunning picture quality possible today. This is especially true for larger televisions since the larger the screen is, the more pixelated and less detailed the picture becomes. With 4K, however, the picture remains exceptionally more sharp and clear than 1080p on larger screens, even those bigger than 80 inches.

Until now, 3D TV was the up-and-coming technology that everyone in the industry talked about. This is particularly true as many TV companies began showing sets that ditched the pricey glasses in favor of cheaper versions. But, consumers have nonetheless been slow to jump on the 3D bandwagon, and TV makers have turned to 4K as the latest “next big thing.” And, with four times the resolution as the TVs most of us own now, it’s clear why – seeing is believing.

When can I get my hands on it?
So, now that you’re convinced about the wonder that is 4K TV, how can you get one in your own home? Well, that’s the rub. 4K content isn’t readily available to the general public yet, nor is there indication it will be any time soon. It’s unlikely the broadcasting industry will get behind a push toward 4k until it’s popular enough to make it worth their while. The extra bandwidth needed to provide 4K over cable, satellite or the Internet would likely require major infrastructure changes and costs similar those sustained when broadcasters were required to transition to DTV, and that alone is a deterrent. Also, Blu-ray discs don’t currently have the capability to house 4K resolution content, and extra disc layers would have to be added to allow enough space to accommodate a full-length film. So, the bottom line is, until a large number of people start buying 4K TVs and there is a great demand for content to become available, this technology is still several years away from being commonplace.

Cost is another major factor preventing this technology from becoming the rule rather than the exception. With price tags upward of $20,000, not too many average citizens are clamoring to replace their current flat-screen TV that works perfectly well at 1080p with the higher performing 4K.

What’s next?
Some industry leaders (Sony in particular) are “upscaling” content to 4K, and Hollywood studios are increasingly producing films using the technology. This means it is indeed out there and possibly on its way to becoming mainstream. However, with the cost and implementation issues a long way from being resolved, consumers shouldn’t hold their breath or get rid of their current TV any time soon. For now, continue taking the “wait-and-see” approach to 4K TV.

Post is sponsored by h.h. gregg.

Samsung Announces Galaxy S4 Zoom

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When cameras first turned up in cell phones there was more than a little skepticism from the technology market and mockery from photography aficionados. No one is really laughing at the concept anymore as smartphones have taken over the top spot on image sharing sites by a wide and ever-growing margin.  It’s become obvious that the camera people use the most is the one they have with them and the one they have with them is embedded in their phone.  It’s no surprise when convenience triumphs in the technology market.

If a little is good a lot must be better, right? That appears to be Samsung’s philosophy with the latest variation of the S4 Galaxy, called the Zoom, that takes smartphone photography to another level. One could argue the Zoom is more like a camera that makes phone calls and appears to be the second generation of the Galaxy Camera.

Like Batman’s nemesis Two-Face, the S4 Zoom is clearly a device of two minds. One side has a retracting 10x zoom in front of 1/2.3 in 16-megapixel image CMOS sensor, the other side is all S4 Android smartphone. The camera side includes extras like image stabilization, an actual in-camera flash instead of the anemic LED flashlight imitation on most phones and image editing software.

The marriage of phone and camera is further enhanced by some clever software tricks such as the ability to send someone pictures via MMS while on the phone with them without interrupting the call. Of course, there’s no guarantee who you’re calling will be able to view the photos without interrupting their side of the call, but one has to start somewhere.

Other features include dual-band N wifi, Android 4.2 and a 1.9-megapixel front-facing camera. The real devil will be in details like photo workflow, battery life and picture quality before I can pronounce the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom the holy grail of point-and-shoot photography but it is an interesting step in that direction all the same.

I could see the S4 Zoom replacing camera purchases for many people getting ready to go on vacation and it’s thin enough they’re not going to resent carrying it around when they get home. It does hint at some interesting possibilities for real-time applications involving photos and videos. My sense is this is going to be a niche model at best, but time will tell.

Quiet Launch For Lenovo’s Powerhouse Y510p

Lenovo quietly let slip the media powerhouse YP510p.  Stylish and versatile.

Lenovo quietly let slip the media powerhouse Y510p. Stylish and versatile.

I must confess that when IBM sold its laptop business to Lenovo, I had my doubts. ThinkPads had always been my go to choice for rock solid business production and selling off the vaunted brand left ripples of insecurity in IT departments everywhere.

I’m happy that Lenovo managed to not only carry on the ThinkPad tradition of solid reliability but over the years has extended the line in imaginative ways without sacrificing the quality of the name. It is a rare and largely unheralded successes in the technology industry.

Lenovo has continued to field some powerhouse beauties in its laptop line and recently let slip the IdeaPad Y510p with little fanfare.

The Y510p is powered by Intel’s new Haswell i7 2.4 Ghz quad core processor paired up with NVIDIA’s 750M GPU. If one GPU isn’t enough (is it ever enough?) the Y510p can accommodate a second 750M GPU in the Ultrabay slot. If you don’t need the second graphics card you can also use the spare bay for more drive storage or another fan for additional cooling.

lenovo-ideapad-y510p-laptop-keyboard

The YP510p features an Accutype backlit keyboard.

Boasting 5 hours of battery life the Y510p is geared toward users who still need big power on their desk for gaming, video editing and other high-powered multimedia tasks. The 15.6 inch LED display has a non-glare finish and the unit ships with a 720p HD webcam and dual microphones backed by Dolby Home Theater audio.

The Y510p is built to move a lot of data with USB 3 which is always on so you can continue to charge your phone or other devices, even the laptop is unplugged. The 1 TB of internal drive space is not blazingly fast but you can supplement it with a 24 GB SSD in the Ultrabay if you need more speed. Other upgrades available include substituting stock DVD drive with a Bluray/DVD drive.

Nice touches to the fit and finish include a brushed metal exterior and Accutype backlit keyboard. Base model starts at $989, Newegg has the model with 12GB of RAM and an 8GB SSD for $1,149.99.

All in all the Y510p is another example that Lenovo is doing a fine job carrying on the name and tradition of IBM’s laptop business.

Battery MythBusters: 6 Facts & Fictions About Batteries

We’ve all read or heard advice regarding batteries and how to keep them going as long as possible. But can you tell which advice is true? Here is a breakdown of a few of the most popular battery myths and what you should do to get the most from your batteries.

Myth #1: You should fully discharge a battery before charging.
battery levelWe’ve heard that fully discharging a battery can help to extend its life. This myth is false and stems from the days of NiCd batteries. A full discharge can actually harm the current lithium batteries. Recharging in smaller bouts is less taxing on a battery. However, a full discharge does aid the calibration system of the battery, which will better predict the remaining battery life. It doesn’t necessarily help the battery; it just gives you a better idea of when you’ll need to recharge the battery. It’s best to only recalibrate the system by completing a full discharge occasionally. Generally, partial charges are all that is necessary to be done.

Myth #2: Rechargeable batteries have a lower capacity than disposable alkaline batteries.

In photo: Sanyo Eneloop Rechargeable Batteries

In photo: Sanyo Eneloop Rechargeable Batteries. Rechargeable batteries are not weaker than disposable batteries.

The capacity of a battery depends on a lot of factors. In a high-drain electronic like a camera or laptop, rechargeable batteries will actually power the device a lot longer than alkaline batteries. While alkaline batteries may be listed as having a higher rating, they are designed for slow power use and drain a lot faster when subjected to high power needs.

Myth #3: Batteries experience a memory effect, which causes them to gradually hold less charge.
This myth comes from the old NiCd batteries, which were known for their memory retention. This no longer applies to newer batteries as they will not “forget” a full charge.

Myth #4: Batteries are worthless past their expiration dates.
You’ve probably seen a date on your batteries or their package. That little expiration date tells you the shelf life of the battery. The battery may start losing some of its efficiency by the time that date arrives, but it still has quite a bit of use left in it.

Myth #5. Putting a battery in a freezer can extend its life.
FreezerHeat can certainly impact the life of a battery. But what about cold? Can cooler temperatures make a battery last longer? This depends on the type of battery. The old NiMH and NiCd batteries would discharge quickly, and freezing them would drastically slow down the discharge rate. The new Li-Ion batteries have since replaced them, however, and do better when kept at room temperature. Alkaline batteries discharge at a rate the equivalent of a few cents per year when stored at room temperature. Storing them in a freezer isn’t going to make much difference unless you live in a very warm climate zone.

Myth #6: Your battery won’t lose its charge if it isn’t being used.
Even if you aren’t using the battery, it is still going to leak a little bit of charge between the terminals. If you leave your device plugged in for a long period of time without use, it could cause the battery to lose its ability to retain a charge. If you aren’t going to be using a battery for a while, the best thing to do is to leave it at a little less than half charge (40 %) and store it in a cool place. (The refrigerator is ok as long as the battery is free from humidity.)

Batteries won’t last forever. Eventually, they will run down for good. However, by keeping some of these points in mind, you can get the most out of your batteries.

About the author:
Steven Kellett is the owner of Electronics Warehouse, an ecommerce store that specializes in batteries and battery chargers.

Windows RT – It’s Dead, Jim

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According to Bloomberg and other sources Microsoft is cutting the price of Windows RT, though that may be a mute issue since few hardware manufacturers are planning on fielding an RT device.

Windows RT was supposed to be Microsoft’s answer to iOS but, like the Zune, it turned out to be a poorly implemented imitation. Microsoft gave RT a few Windows tricks, but the platform is incompatible with many big Windows software applications. Coders had to choose between Windows 8 and RT and that was not a difficult decision for most developers.

Hardware manufacturers are unloading their RT devices faster than AT&T is dumping the Facebook phone. HP and Samsung have dropped support and Acer’s CEO announced today the company is still deciding if they intend to offer an RT device, but definitely seem to leaning toward abandoning those plans.

While the Zune was a blunder Microsoft, and the rest of the tech community, could laugh off one wonders how many high-profile blunders the company can sustain and still stay relevant. The Redmond giant trying to compete with Apple always reminded me of your dad hitting on your college-age girlfriends; part sad, part creepy and a little uncomfortable.

In fairness to Microsoft, Windows RT may have looked like a good idea in the days when Android tablets were really expensive and online productivity apps were still in their infancy. These days cloud productivity has improved to the point many businesses started questioning the cost of Office, Android tablets dropped to the $200 price range and 64 percent of smartphones sold the first quarter of this year will be running some flavor of Android.  The domination of Android makes Windows RT look out of place and Microsoft appear out of touch.

All this culminates with news from the Wall Street Journal that Microsoft is now engaged in a massive reorganization starting with laying off 200 employees in various marketing divisions. As the era of big PCs comes to a close it’s going to be interesting to see if Microsoft can find its footing and a path forward in a rapidly changing technology market.

Google’s Moto X – The Spy In Your Pocket

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The success of Google Now has motivated the search giant to take the next step and launch a phone in head-to-head competition with Apple that will take predictive technology to a whole new and possibly creepy level.

If you remember Google bought Motorola and the new Moto X, slated to launch later this fall, is the first big product to come out of that marriage. Motorola head Dennis Woodside teased the crowd at D11 by announcing he had the phone in his pocket but wasn’t ready to show it off.

The phone, which will be made in Texas, will be loaded with a sophisticated array of sensors that will keep tabs on what the user is doing 24 hours a day. The Moto X will know if you’re in the car, walking, biking or out for a run and adapt itself to your activities.

The phone will also use contextual information to anticipate why you’re taking the device out and adapt itself to the situation. If you’re near a picturesque setting you might pull out your phone and discover the camera already activated. If it’s near mealtime you might find maps listing nearby restaurants specializing in your favorite foods and whether you’ve been there before.

Imagine a phone custom made to provide Google with a wealth of new data about your every move and that’s a glimpse into Moto X. What will be interesting is finding out if users want any company knowing that much about them. Any phone these days can be used to monitor your location and movements but an array of sophisticated new sensors sending a constant data stream combined with everything Google already knows about you is definitely some next level tech.

Sales figures after the phone is launched will tell us whether consumers are willing to trade privacy for convenience or if Google has ventured into territory their customers are unwilling to explore.

13 Great Smartphone Apps for Traveling Overseas

Heading overseas for a trip? Download some of these apps first to make your trip easier. (Note: Check with your service provider first to see how much overseas roaming will cost!)

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Phoning Home

Skype Mobile
http://www.skype.com/en/download-skype/skype-for-mobile/

  • Platform: iOS, Android, Windows Mobile
  • Cost: free

With a user-friendly interface and excellent Wi-Fi call quality, Skype Mobile’s video calling service can keep you connected with all of your friends and family. Skype to Skype calls are always free, but audio calls to landlines and cell phones are pay per call. Crystal clear audio and easy connections make this app a must have.

Locating Wifi on the Go

Wi-Fi Finder
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.jiwire.android.finder&hl=en
https://itunes.apple.com/en/app/wi-fi-finder/id300708497?mt=8

  • Platform: iOS, Android
  • Cost: free

This directory of a half-million Wi-Fi hotspots in 144 countries depends on user-submitted information, so you can bet it’s authentic since the people supplying the information are the same people using the app. Wi-Fi Finder maps out locations, signal strengths and signal availability. This apps works both online and offline, so you can find hotspots on the go! If you are using the app offline, the app can use your phone to make a call and then send you information on hotspots at your location.

Translating on the Go

Google Translate Mobile
http://www.google.com/mobile/translate/

  • Platform: iOS, Android, Windows Mobile
  • Cost: free

We are all familiar with Google Translate, but the mobile version can really be a lifesaver. It can be used in multiple ways: the screen can be shown to someone else to read/translate, attempts can be made to sound out specific words, and the app (in certain languages) can speak the translation for you.

No Roaming Charges

Fring
http://www.fring.com/

  • Platform: iOS, Android
  • Cost: free

Make voice over internet (VoIP) calls via Wi-Fi. Fring lets you use other VoIP providers on your smartphone or iPod Touch. Fring is known for its group chats/conference calling and is less prone to the crashing that sometimes occurs on Skype. Up to four people can sit in on a call at one time.

Dude, Where’s My Phone?

FindMyiPhone
http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/find-my-iphone/id376101648?mt=8

  • Platform: iOS
  • Cost: free

Apple has skipped the chip-in-your-keychain idea and gone straight to the smartphone. With this app, you can go to the nearest internet café and locate your phone by accessing your iTunes account. Then, from that remote location, you can either play a beacon sound, lock the phone or clear your data depending on the situation.

Where’s My Droid
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.alienmanfc6.wheresmyandroid&hl=en

  • Platform: Android
  • Cost: free

This 4.6 star app for finding your lost Android phone is the original “Find Your Phone” app for Androids. You can track your lost phone from anywhere by texting a magic word to it. Turn up your phone’s volume to hear the phone ringing, or if you’re too far away to hear it, you can locate your phone with GPS coordinates on Google Maps. To avoid unauthorized use of the app, you can create a white/blacklist of who can text the magic word, activate stealth mode so your incoming ‘magic word’ text isn’t visible and password protect your app.

The Change-Up

Hotelsbyme
http://www.hotelsbyme.com/

  • Platform: iOS, Android
  • Cost: free

Just in case your reservation falls through and you find out that the other rooms in your hotel are available on an hourly basis, this app allows you to book a room at the last minute based on location. It’s easy to use and provides great filters to sift through options by price, location, rating, etc.

The Add-On

Kayak’s app
http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/kayak-flight-hotel-search/id305204535?mt=8

  • Platform: iOS, Android, Windows Mobile
  • Cost: free

What if you need more than just a change in accommodations? What if you want to add another leg to your trip or quit your job and just wander around Europe for a month? Kayak can help you book flights, ferries, rental cars and any other means of transportation. It also stores the invoices to avoid the hassle of a printout.

Grease the Locals

Tipping Tips
http://www.snappapp.com/TippingTips/overview_en.html

  • Platform: iOS
  • Cost: $.99

What do you tip a concierge in Bermuda? A waitress in Japan? (Hint: you don’t tip in Japan!) This app can suggest, in detail, tips for over 100 localities around the world. It also features a built-in calculator that divides tabs into separate checks and a service rating system upon which to base your generosity.

Know Your Money Roll

Currency Banknotes
http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/currency-banknotes/id460777167?mt=8
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.currencyBanknote&hl=en

  • Platform: iOS, Android
  • Cost: $.99

This user-friendly currency converter can calculate more than 150 world currencies and provide images of the bills for easy spending – and to avoiding using a £50 bill to pay for a £20 item. There is a free version available for iOS and Android without the bill images.

XE Currency App
http://www.xe.com/apps/

  • Platform: iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows 7, Windows 8
  • Cost: free

This app provides an instant currency calculator and currency chart. The app tracks all world currencies and precious metals, providing you with live conversion rates. The app stores the last updated rates, so you can use the app when you’re offline. The currency calculator doesn’t require Wifi connectivity.

The Lifesaver

Find-ER
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/find-er-by-air-ambulance-card/id379300376?mt=8

  • Platform: iOS
  • Cost: free

Wherever you are in the world, Find-ER maps the route to the nearest hospital – via vehicle, foot or bicycle. The app can store emergency contacts, medical information and your doctor’s contact information that may be necessary to the hospital staff. Your insurance company back home and/or your doctor will want you to approve any medical care received overseas for your insurance to pay for it.

Hospital Finder
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.uknowapps.android.hospitalfinder&hl=en

  • Platform: Android
  • Cost: free

Use this app to search for hospitals in your local area all around the world. You can also store hospital information in the app before traveling. Should your phone be offline, you can find a hospital quickly regardless.

About The Author:
Chris Turberville-Tully works with ESA-ServicedApartments.co.uk. ESA provides vacationing families, businessmen and other travelers budget-friendly accommodations that include more spacious rooms than hotels, wifi, kitchentte and private laundry.

Image source: Mr. T in D.C. via Flickr Creative Commons