Pages

Friday, 30 September 2016

7 OF THE WORLD'S STEEPEST STREETS


wps74F4.tmp
7 of the world's steepest streets
By Matt Hickman,
Mother Nature Network, 27 September 2016.

Do you have reoccurring anxiety dreams that involve abrupt stalling, rolling backwards or brake failure?

Have you ever had a panic attack driving in downtown Seattle?

Well then, the seven roads that we're about to describe - among the steepest in the world - are perhaps the roads best not taken.

For everyone else - we're talking to you, confident motorists and undaunted cyclists - super-steep streets can be quite thrilling. (Take for example the top photo from Baldwin Street, which we will talk about more in the next entry.) Many of them are throwbacks to an era when urban planning was more loosey-goosey and grade limits didn't exist, no matter how formidable the terrain. Some are bona fide tourist destinations, others a bit more out of the way. Most, but not all, are residential and fully open to public traffic. And, most importantly, some boast stomach-sinking maximum grades of over 30 percent.

So, buckle your seat belts - or lace up your best walking shoes - we're in for a vertiginous ride.

1. Baldwin Street: Dunedin, New Zealand

wps18B8.tmp
Photo: Tristan Schmurr/Flickr

A major city on New Zealand's South Island, Dunedin is famous for its sizable student population, wealth of Victorian architecture, UNESCO-recognized literary pedigree and for having hills - lots and lots of hills. It's at Signal Hill in North East Valley, one of Dunedin's slope-y inner-suburbs, that you'll find this already-photogenic city's most Instagrammable landmark: a street that seems to shoot right up into the heavens.

Dead-ending in what's likely the world's most terrifying cul-de-sac, 1,150-foot-long Baldwin Street reaches a maximum grade of 35 percent, rising from 98 feet above sea level at its bottom to 330 feet above sea level at the top. While Baldwin Street's length is modest, its dramatically inclined nature has earned it the title of world's steepest residential street by Guinness World Records. However, there's typographical error-based controversy attached with this title as, supposedly, the street's grade in degrees was confused with its percentage grade, initially measured at 38 percent and later downgraded to 35 percent. Whatever the case, Baldwin Street is the real deal - a tourist magnet in which brave visitors limp away with photos of impossibly tilted abodes and incredibly sore calves.

The result of a London-based surveyor laying out Dunedin's neat grid system without taking into consideration the area's ultra-hilly terrain, Baldwin Street is home to two annual competitions: the Baldwin Street Gutbuster and the Cadbury Jaffa Race, a hugely popular event also known as the Running of the Balls in which thousands of red-shelled chocolate candies are hurled from the top of the street in the name of charity.

2. Canton Avenue: Pittsburgh

wps365.tmp
Photo: Dobie/Flickr

If you've ever visited or lived in Pittsburgh - enchanted land of funiculars and French fry-stuffed sandwiches - you're already probably well aware that it's a unique and, at times - depending on how you feel about bridges and hills - daunting town to get around. Boasting a terrain best described as super-vertiginous, it's to little surprise that Steel City - Steep City is more like it - is home to the most precipitous public street in America.

Located southwest of downtown Pittsburgh in the Beechview neighborhood is Canton Avenue, a public thoroughfare with a gulp-inducing grade of 37 percent. At a little over 200 feet long, the hilly section of Canton Avenue is significantly shorter than that of New Zealand's Baldwin Street, the street recognized by the superlative-bestowing folks at Guinness World Records as the being the steepest in the world. However, cobblestone-paved Canton Avenue is technically steeper than Baldwin Street by a grade of 2 percent. Furthermore, depending on whom you ask, Pittsburgh isn't just the steepest public street in the U.S. but on the planet.

While slowly slogging up the public staircase that flanks Pittsburgh's most arduous avenue is one thing, biking up the street itself is another. Just ask the brave cyclists participating in the annual Dirty Dozen, a hill-conquering 50-mile race around the 'Burgh in which Canton Avenue, recently featured in all of its extreme glory in Audi's Quattro Challenge campaign, serves as the grueling, spirit-breaking centerpiece.

3. Filbert Street: San Francisco

wpsB781.tmp
Photo: Goodshoped35110s/Wikimedia Commons

Say what you will about San Francisco in the 21st century (prohibitively expensive, smelly, overrun by tech bros, etc.), the City by the Bay has managed to maintain its striking good looks - good looks that involve some serious hills.

Most serious of them all is the calf-burning stretch of Filbert Street directly below the detour-worthy Filbert Street Steps and, above that, Pioneer Park and the art deco landmark, Coit Tower. With a maximum grade of 31.5 percent between Hyde and Leavenworth streets, this rather daunting stretch of concrete that travels up the side of Telegraph Hill isn't technically the steepest street in San Francisco. (In fact, a stretch of 22nd Street between Vicksburg and Church in Noe Valley is just as steep.) However, Filbert Street is often promoted as the steepest major street in the city. It's also one of the most tourist-y - if you were to stop and ask a local to be directed to the city's steepest street, they'd likely point you in the direction of Filbert Street. Or perhaps they'll mistakenly/dismissively send you two blocks over to the postcard-starring stretch of Lombard Street between Hyde and Leavenworth, which is more famous for its hairpin curves than its stomach-dropping incline. In fact, this exceptionally crooked part of Lombard Street is so overrun with visitors, a toll is being considered to help regulate traffic and placate frustrated area residents.

4. Eldred Street: Los Angeles

wpsF56C.tmp
Photo: Roy Randall/Flickr

While San Francisco and Seattle - both, like Rome, claim to have been built on seven hills - tend to get most of the attention in the steep street department, another West Coast burg, Los Angeles, is quietly home to decent handful of few breathtakingly pitched roadways that rank among the steepest in the world.

Located in the sleepy and affluent northeast LA neighborhood of Mount Washington, Eldred Street is so steep (33 percent grade) that it dead ends and continues as a wooden staircase, which connects it to the cross street directly above. Established in 1912, long before the city instituted its 15 percent grade limit for new streets, life on Eldred Street - a street that, gulp, climbs 219 feet in elevation - is, well, unique.

As the Los Angeles Times detailed in 2003, weekly garbage pickup is performed by modified garbage trucks. Mail delivery became non-existent after carriers threw in the proverbial towel - residents now must descend to the bottom of the hill to fetch parcels and letters. There have even been a number of tilt-and-roll incidents over the years. As for the poor drivers who inadvertently find themselves at the top of Eldred and are too terrified to turn around and come back down, the Times notes that those who reside along this perilously angled road keep a watchful eye out: "Eldred residents have been known to rescue unsuspecting motorists from the top of their street by volunteering to drive stranded, panic-stricken strangers' cars down for them." As one Eldred Street homeowner explains: "One thing you cannot do is get off the paved road if it's raining or wet. You'll slide sideways down the hill." He adds: "To live here, you learn what you can and can't do."

5. Baxter Street: Los Angeles

wpsB43A.tmp
Photo: Oleg./Flickr

Sure, Baxter Street, which runs through the ultra-hip east-side neighborhoods of Echo Park and Silvelake, may not be the steepest in LA. Both Eldred Street (33 percent grade) and a super-short stretch of 28th Street (33.3 percent grade) in San Pedro are listed by the city as being a touch steeper.

However, what Baxter Street boasts over its competition is length: This notoriously white-knuckle road laid out in 1884 goes on and on for blocks - with a grade of 32 percent, the steepest section stretches from North Alvarado to Allesandro Streets, parallel to equally as panic-inducing Fargo, Ewing and Duane streets - giving it what the Los Angeles Times calls "a roller coaster quality." Writes the Times of Baxter Street's stomach-dropping charms: "Unsuspecting motorists gasp when they reach the crest and discover the roadway in front of them has dropped out of sight and there is nothing but empty space in front of their car's hood."

Over the years, Baxter Street residents have witnessed head-on collisions, runaway cars and at least one perilously positioned school bus. The street is so infamous that it's earned a few Yelp reviews, including this one-star assessment: "...our little hybrid started sliding backwards and we almost died." Fargo Street, one street over and just as hellish, is home to a long-running annual bicycle climb hosted by the Los Angeles Wheelmen.

6. Waipio Valley Road: Honokaa, Hawaii

wps1C39.tmp
Photo: Wasif Malik/Flickr

Twisty, turn-y and altogether terrifying, Waipio Valley Road, on the northeast coast of Hawaii's Big Island, is the one outlier on this list in that it's not a fully accessible public road and there are no homes or business located along it it. In fact, only incredibly brave and experienced operators of four-wheel-drive vehicles are permitted to travel along this perilous - but, mercifully, paved - one-lane stretch through the lush Hawaiian rain forest. Rumor is, even local car rental companies forbid customers from attempting it.

Now for the numbers. As Stephen Von Worley of Data Pointed notes, the road begins at a scenic overlook and a whole bunch of warning signs - or where the "pavement dives into a giant gash." The under-a-mile descent itself is a cold sweat-inducing 900 feet down into the preternaturally beautiful Waipio Valley with an average grade of 25 percent throughout the entire ride. With extended sections of the mountainous road titled at 30 percent, at one point it reaches a maximum grade of 45 percent - yep, 45 percent. While the scenery is certainly stunning, we'd give this drive a hard pass given that even this video makes us anxious.

7. Vale Street: Totterdown, England

wpsBFF7.tmp
Photo: Sam Saunders/Flickr

The United Kingdom, particularly Wales and South West England, is home to a slew of superlatively slanted streets: Jenkin Road in Yorkshire, Jutland Street in Manchester, Keere Street in Lewes and, of course, Steep Hill in Lincolnshire, just to name a few. Most notable, however, is Vale Street in the hip 'n' hilly Bristol suburb of Totterdown. Often referred to the steepest street open to regular traffic in the U.K., Vale Street may be relatively short (only 600 or so feet) but its gradient is one for the record books.

So how steep exactly is Vale Street? That’s unclear, although most put the near-vertical bottom section of the street in the ballpark of 35 percent. Not too shabby at all. Flanked by 19th-century terrace homes and a staircase built into the concrete, Vale Street is closed off to automobile traffic once a year for one of Bristol's most unusual annual events: a community Easter egg roll.

Top image: House at Baldwin Street, Dunedin, New Zealand. Credit: Andy king50/Wikimedia Commons.

[Source: Mother Nature Network. Edited. Some links added.]

Thursday, 29 September 2016

INFOGRAPHIC: BUSINESS ETIQUETTE FOR MOBILE DEVICES


wpsA201.tmp
Business Etiquette for Mobile Devices - Infographic
By Orla Forrest,
Neon SMS.

We now use mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones abundantly in every facet of life, not least in the workplace. While the need to be mobile and contactable at any hour makes these devices essential, the lines governing their appropriate usage in the office can be blurred, and companies should set out clear guidelines as to what is permissible and what isn’t.

Although some workplaces may be stricter on mobile etiquette than others, the majority of guidelines regarding mobile device usage are common sense. Essentially, they should only be used in an office environment for office functions, and not as an excuse to indulge in personal pleasures.

http://www.neonsms.ie/blog/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/business-etiquette-for-mobile-devices-infographic.jpg


[Source: Neon SMS.]

10 INCREDIBLE STORIES OF SURVIVAL IN THE ARCTIC


wpsBC6A.tmp
10 Incredible Stories Of Survival In The Arctic
By Mark Oliver,
Listverse, 29 September 2016.

Few people choose to live in the Arctic, but those who do stay close to communities and shelters that can keep them warm and safe. There are a few unlucky souls, though, who have found themselves stranded alone in the barren wilderness of the Arctic. Many of them die, but some have struggled through incredible hardships - and survived.

10. Bruce Gordon Trained A Pet Polar Bear

wps5D5E.tmp
Photo credit: Return Of Kings

In 1757, Bruce Gordon was thrown overboard when his ship was smashed between two icebergs. He landed on a sheet of ice and watched as his crewmates disappeared into the ice floe.

When he found his ship, it was floating upside down. Polar bears were feeding on the corpses of his shipmates. Gordon sneaked aboard and lived on the upside-down ship, collecting supplies and feeding off the rations.

Polar bears harassed him regularly. After Gordon killed an adult bear with a carving knife, a baby bear stumbled aboard. Gordon took it in as a pet. He taught the polar bear to fish for him and to scare away other attacking bears.

In time, Gordon’s ice floe drifted all the way to Greenland. There, he found a group of natives, the first people he’d seen in years. They saw an excited, haggard man rush over to them - with his pet polar bear following behind.

9. Gareth Wood Was Attacked By A Killer Seal

wpsD742.tmp

In 1985, Gareth Wood and his group of polar explorers were forced to make their way across a thin layer of ice. They were terrified that the ice would crack under their feet. Instead, the ice erupted and a massive leopard seal came crashing through.

The animal closed its jaws around Gareth’s right leg and tried to drag him underwater. Gareth’s companions started kicking the seal in the eyeball with their spiked boots. Eventually, the seal released its grip and dove back under the ice. But the second Gareth got up, the seal jumped out and attacked again.

When Gareth finally got away, he had to hobble his way back to the hut using his ice axe as a cane. There, he got medical help - and survived.

8. Peter Freuchen Made A Knife From His Own Feces

wps2786.tmp
Photo credit: Vice

While traveling through Greenland in 1926, explorer Peter Freuchen was caught in a terrible blizzard. Unable to move through the heavy winds and blinding snow, he ducked for cover under a dogsled and waited for the storm to calm.

When he tried to move, he found he was buried under a thick layer of snow and ice. For 30 hours, he tried to claw and punch his way through. But it didn’t work. Desperate, Freuchen whittled his own frozen feces into a knife and used it to chisel his way through.

Freuchen then had to crawl for three long hours back to the base. His toes had already developed gangrene. So Freuchen amputated them using a pair of pliers and a hammer - and without anesthesia.

7. Bob Bartlett Walked Across The Ocean

wps94F6.tmp
Photo credit: Robert Bartlett

In early 1914, the Karluk had already spent five months trapped in an ice floe when an iceberg crashed into the ship and cut a 3-meter (10 ft) gash into the hull. Forced to abandon ship, the crew found themselves trapped on ice, unsure where they were or how to get home.

Captain Bob Bartlett sent out search parties, but they never returned. In time, Bartlett led the remaining group 128 kilometers (80 mi) to a nearby island for help. With his men too injured to go farther, Bartlett went the rest of the way himself.

Accompanied only by an Inuit hunter named Kataktovik, Bartlett spent 37 days walking 1,100 kilometers (680 mi) across frozen waters to Siberia. There, he found a Russian official who helped to arrange a rescue. By the time they found his crew, though, more than half had died.

6. Keizo Funatsu Got Lost In A Blizzard In A Wind Jacket

wpsF519.tmp
Photo credit: cathydemoll.com

Wearing only a light wind parka, Keizo Funatsu stepped outside his camp for a second in March 1990 to feed the sled dogs. While he was out, the wind became so heavy that he couldn’t see anything but white. There was a very real chance that he could freeze to death.

Funatsu tried to call for help but could barely hear his own voice. So he dug a ditch and hid inside, hoping it would keep him warm. Meanwhile, his colleagues had tied themselves together with a rope 105 meters (340 ft) long and walked in a circle, hoping Funatsu would see the rope. With Funatsu in his hole unaware, the rope passed right over his head.

In time, the storm calmed enough for him to hear someone yelling his name. Crying with joy because he had survived, Funatsu climbed out and rushed toward his colleagues.

5. Pauloosie Keyootak Survived The Arctic When He Was 62 Years Old

wps4C33.tmp
Photo credit: OutdoorHub

In early 2016, Pauloosie Keyootak and two family members had planned a snowmobile trip from Iqaluit to the neighboring town of Pangnirtung. This was the closest town to their home, and it was separated by 300 kilometers (190 ft) of frozen wilderness.

A snowstorm threw them off-track. When they realized that they were lost, they had already burned through too much fuel to turn back. All they had with them was tea, sugar, one sleeping bag, and a knife.

The family made a shelter out of ice. Then they tried to survive by moving to keep warm and hunting caribou with their knife.

Eight days later, a rescue party found them after covering an area of 9,000 square kilometers (3,500 ft2). Keyootak had accepted that he would die out there, so he broke into tears when he was rescued.

4. The USS Jeannette Spent Two Years In An Ice Floe And Then Sank

wpsD862.tmp
Photo credit: The Siberian Times

In the late 1800s, the USS Jeannette had spent nearly two years trapped in ice before the ice finally broke through the hull. The men evacuated the ship while it sank. Captain George W. De Long led his men to Siberia by walking across the great expanses of frozen sea.

They lost men along the way. But once in Siberia, De Long and his engineer, Melville, split the group into two parties to look for help. Melville and his group found Russian travelers who helped them reach civilization. Then they sent rescue parties to find De Long.

All they found was De Long’s journal, which listed the names of the men in his party and the dates on which they had died. None of De Long’s party made it. Of the 33 men who had started the journey, only 13 survived.

3. Bob Gauchie Spent 58 Days Alone On A Frozen Lake

wps3807.tmp
Photo credit: National Post

In 1967, Bob Gauchie was flying to Yellowknife when he got lost in a storm. With his plane running on empty, he had to land on a frozen lake miles away from civilization.

Gauchie survived alone in weather of -51 degrees Celsius (-60 °F), living off nothing but a box of frozen fish. At night, he and his plane were circled by wolves and ravens, which waited for him to die so they could peck at his meat.

When the wolves howled, Gauchie howled back. Slowly, he began to see them as the only company he had. In time, though, they moved on and Gauchie was hit with a horrible loneliness that he called the worst pain inflicted by the Arctic.

After Gauchie spent 58 days alone, a plane rescued him.

2. Ada Blackjack Survived Two Years Alone In The Arctic

wpsA940.tmp

Ada Blackjack was a young, inexperienced Inupiat woman. She had never left her home, learned to hunt, or built an igloo. Still, in 1921, she and four white men were chosen by explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson to set up camp on an Arctic island that Stefansson wanted to claim for Great Britain.

The group believed they could survive by hunting. But when winter set in, they began to starve. Three of the men went to get help, leaving Ada behind to care for a sick man. The men never returned, and the sick man died - leaving Ada alone in the wilderness.

Ada had to teach herself how to hunt to survive. She lived through harrowing experiences, such as having to flee from attacking polar bears. When she was rescued two years later, Ada was harshly criticized for letting the white men die.

1. An Inuit Man Escaped A Settlement On A Sled Made From A Dog’s Rib Cage

wpsA8.tmp

In the 1950s, the Canadian government forced the Inuit people to live in settlements. But some refused to go. One man was particularly insistent that he would live off the land as his people had before him. His family was worried that he’d get himself killed. They took away his tools to force him to come along.

Instead, the man made his own tools. Like Freuchen, he fashioned a knife from his own feces. This man, though, used it to butcher and skin a dog. He made a sled from the dog’s rib cage and a harness from its skin. Then the man tied his makeshift sled to a living dog.

His family watched in awe as he rode off into the wilderness on a rib cage sled with a feces knife tucked into his belt. For the rest of his days, the man lived in the wild.

Top image credit: DreamDareDazzle/Pixabay.

[Source: Listverse. Edited. Top image added.]

10 UTTERLY WONDERFUL TECHNOLOGIES YOU SHOULDN'T BUY YET


wpsBB64.tmp
10 utterly wonderful technologies you shouldn't buy yet
By Brad Chacos,
PC World, 28 September 2016.

Technology marches ever onward, becoming smaller, more powerful, and more revolutionary by the day. It’s all too easy to succumb to the madness as we’re deluged with daily tech news and tantalizing promises. Octa-deca-mega core processors! Cutting-edge displays you have to see to believe! Tech that makes everything from your coffee pot to your doorbell smart!

Relax. Take a breath. Think.

Yes, there’s amazing gear out there that will blow your mind if money is no object. But the cutting edge entails compromise, be it in the form of high sticker prices, bugs galore, and other issues. With that in mind, here’s a list of technology that absolutely rocks - but that you probably shouldn’t buy.

1. PC virtual reality headsets

wps273F.tmp

The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are finally here, but ignore all the headlines about how awe-inspiring and revolutionary VR headsets are - even though they’re all true. Being stalked by the legendary Alien or traversing the galaxy in VR will completely change the way you look at games, and VR has breathtaking potential outside of gaming, too. Heck, you don’t even need to spend a fortune to upgrade to a VR-ready gaming PC.

We’re still in VR’s early days, though. The games and experiences coming out tend to be short and more demo-like than full-fledged games, despite the premium prices many charge. Worse than that, the VR headsets themselves cost more than the PCs you need to power them. Sure, you can play VR games with a US$200 graphics card now, but the Oculus Rift itself costs US$600, and if you want to experience room-scale VR - the true spectacle - you’ll need to drop US$800 for an HTC Vive.

VR may very well change the world in due time, but for now, give it time to bake and become more affordable. In the meantime, phone-powered Google Cardboard or Gear VR headsets may scratch your VR itch, albeit much less convincingly.

2. Apple's iPhone 7

wps87EE.tmp

Don’t get me wrong. The iPhone 7 is the best iPhone ever, with more speed, a better camera, double the storage, improved water resistance, and a more vibrant screen. But as Macworld’s Susie Ochs discovered in her iPhone 7 review, it feels like an awkward in-between step separating the iPhone 6S and whatever Apple has planned for the device’s 10-year anniversary in 2017.

The new, Taptic Engine-powered Home non-button feels weird and provides no feedback when your phone’s powered off. It’s also capacitive, so you can’t use it with most gloves. The eradication of the headphone jack seems premature, because most headphones still rely on 3.5mm plugs - though they’re rendered useless if you’re listening to tunes and need to charge your phones at the same time. Even Apple’s own AirPods and Beats headphones with new W1 chips won’t appear until later this fall. “I can’t help feeling a little resentful when a piece of technology, in this case the iPhone 7, introduces a new problem that requires me to buy more technology to solve it,” Ochs wrote.

Bottom line? Unless the camera improvements are enough to overcome those annoyances for your particular use cases, it might be smarter to wait until next year to upgrade.

3. NVMe SSDs

wps171F.tmp

Oh wow: Non-Volatile Memory express (NVMe) SSDs like Intel’s recently released 750 series are scintillatingly fast. So fast, in fact, that most people’s PCs can’t possibly keep up. Yes, SSDs are becoming faster than the interfaces they use to talk with your computer.

To take full advantage of NVMe drives you need a similarly potent processor, like Intel’s deca-core Core i7-6950X - an enthusiast-class chip that’ll set you back a cool grand itself. On top of that, you’ll need an enthusiast-class motherboard that supports booting to an NVMe drive, or you’ll have to use all that speed for secondary storage alone. And considering that the 750 series SSD turbocharges file transfer speeds but fails to noticeably speed up boot times or application launch times, everybody but the most demanding media professionals should wait for NVMe tech both to mature and to drop in price.

4. Intel's Core i7-6950X

wpsA130.tmp

Speaking of the Core i7-6950X, Intel’s flagship desktop processor - its first with ten CPU cores - is an absolute behemoth. This beast chews through processes so fast that Intel had to create a new concept called “mega tasking” to sell the damned thing.

But you don’t need one. And not just because it costs US$1,700-plus to buy these chips. (Yes, you read that correctly.)

Intel’s monster packs far more firepower than regular PC users require. Unless you’re doing hardcore graphics or video editing, you’ll virtually never push all those cores to their full potential. The same goes for desktop Core i7 processors in general, being honest: Even intense games work just fine with a four-core Core i5 chip, a few CPU-bound edge cases aside. DirectX 12 may change that, and investing in a Core i7 CPU can be worthwhile in a gaming laptop, but most people will be A-OK skipping the high end and saving their cash.

5. Smart home stuff

wps3E14.tmp
Credit: Mark Moz/Flickr

Mike Brown, the editor of TechHive, PCWorld’s smart home- and entertainment-centric sister site, would no doubt give me the stink eye if he knew I was writing this. (Hi Mike!) And there’s a lot of benefits to be found in smart home devices, from your door unlocking as you stroll toward your house, to smart lights that change color to match the mood of the music you’re playing. And this smart smoker just seems awesome.

But as with VR, we’re still in the relatively early days for smart home gear - and that’s a bigger deal when you’re talking about your home’s core functions. People have found their heating cranked to 90 degrees thanks to software bugs. Worse, maybe, smart home devices are still engaged in a fierce standards war. There’s a decent chance that the fancy thermostat you buy won’t talk to your other home controls, for example. Even scarier still, security is often an afterthought for smart home devices - a risky prospect when your door lock and baby monitor are tied to the Internet. What's more, legions of hacked smart devices are acting as zombies in DDoS hacks of unprecedented strength.

Sure, buy a smart bulb you can control with your phone. Standalone products are fine, too. But in general, I’d suggest waiting for all of the kinks to shake out.

6. Smartwatches

wps7087.tmp

When Apple’s long-awaited Apple Watch launched, pundits rolled out the ol’ iPhone “this changes everything” line (ourselves included) despite the fact that Android Wear watches were performing similar tricks months prior. But in reality, while smartwatches enabled lots of cool little activities, the Apple Watch’s beautiful form was marred by frustrating function, as noted in Macworld’s original review. Android Wear devices suffered the same fate. They’re cool, but who really needs a watch that will be obsolete in a few years, especially when you still need your phone in your pocket to use the desirable ones?

Even after months of development and several OS updates, the song remains the same. Apple’s push for the Apple Watch Series 2 focused strongly on fitness uses - and you can find superb fitness trackers for far less than the Series 2’s US$369 starting price. Meanwhile, several prominent Android Wear smartwatch makers declined to roll out new versions for this holiday season, citing consumer indifference and not-quite-there technical needs.

If smartwatch makers are holding off on smartwatches, you know who else should? You. They’re nifty, but niche, and utterly superfluous for most people.

7. 4K anything

wpsB6E7.tmp

Don’t get me wrong: 4K screens look gorgeous. But when it comes to TVs, you either need to have an absolutely gigantic set or be sitting really close to see the difference over 1080p TVs, says noted display guru Dr. Raymond Soneira of DisplayMate. In standard TV sizes and 10-foot distances, 1080p and 4K look essentially similar. 4K TV prices are plummeting and many feature-filled sets are only available in 4K, so you might wind up with one anyway. But don’t pay extra for it! Plus, it's a hassle to find 4K shows to watch.

4K resolutions are much more noticeable when you’re sitting close, making 4K PC monitors a better buy - in theory. In reality, entry-level 4K displays start at US$350. And if you’re planning on gaming, a graphics card capable of powering all those pixels costs even more. PC World’s state of 4K gaming guide dives into the nitty-gritty details, but in a nutshell, it’s still far too expensive for the vast majority of people to consider.

8. USB-C and Thunderbolt 3

wps29F6.tmp

USB-C promises to become the “one cable to rule them all,” and Thunderbolt 3? It’s smokin’ fast. They’ll no doubt be great one day. But today, the picture’s muddier.

USB-C’s biggest problem is its designation refers to the connector shape, not what sort of performance the ports actually deliver. Some devices deliver pokey USB 2.0 speeds, some deliver USB 3.0, and some deliver speedy USB 3.1 speeds. Some blow up your devices. Heck, some USB-C ports even support Thunderbolt 3. As we detailed in our deep-dive into USB-C speeds, the only assumption you can make is that a USB-C port’s transfer speeds can vary from as low as 480Mbps to as high as 10Gbps.

Give this ecosystem time to mature, is what we’re saying. The same goes for Thunderbolt 3, which transfer massive amounts of data across USB-C - but again, only in devices that actively support it. And for now, trying to find Thunderbolt 3-compatible hardware is like trying to find needles in haystacks. (When you do, though, it’s amazing.)

9. Wireless display technologies

wpsCFCD.tmp

Getting music and video on your TV is easy. Google’s Chromecast and Apple’s AirPlay both rock. But beaming your entire PC or mobile device display to your TV? That’s a different story, because the two major technologies for doing so - Miracast and Intel’s WiDi - both utterly suck.

Finding technology that supports either is a headache, and even when you do manage to wrangle a compatible receiver and client device - figuring out whether your PC is WiDi-ready can be tricky - there’s a damned good chance it still won’t work, because Miracast and WiDi implementations are janky and unreliable. Don’t just take my word for it; Tom’s Guide found the same after extensive testing.

Displays will no doubt go fully wireless at some point in the future. For now, though, skip Miracast and WiDi. Chromecasts and AirPlay both support far superior screen mirroring capabilities - or you can just run an HDMI cord between your laptop and TV.

10. That cool new thing on Kickstarter

wps6345.tmp

Speaking of crowdfunding, you know that supercool, insanely radical hardware you saw on Kickstarter or Indiegogo? Don’t back the project unless you’re willing to potentially lose that money and get nothing in return.

Remember: Kickstarter isn’t a store. While physical hardware may be a reward for backers on certain projects, your donation isn’t a preorder or down payment. It’s the backing of an idea. You’re funding hope. You’re saying “This concept is cool and I want to help it hopefully become reality.” Even successfully funded projects fail frequently, however. If you’re just interested in a cool new gadget, wait to see if the project pans out and simply buy the object of your Kickstarter desire when (if) it hits retail.

[Source: PC World. Edited.]

10 INSANELY DIFFICULT LANGUAGES TO MASTER


wps8B00.tmp
10 Insanely Difficult Languages to Master
By Morris M,
Toptenz, 28 September 2016.

Hands up if you’ve ever dreamed of learning another language? Most of us love the idea of being able to hold a conversation in Spanish, or pontificate in German, or translate our Marvel Universe slash-fiction for appreciative Japanese audiences. But not all languages are born equal. For the native English-speaker, some are significantly harder to learn than others.

A few years back, the US government-backed Foreign Service Institute (FSI) did a breakdown of the most-common world languages, and how long it would take a full-time, native-English student to learn them. Here are the top ten hardest major languages they identified, from the ‘very difficult’ to the ‘so difficult they’ll make your head explode’.

(Note: we’re just gonna be looking at major world languages here, which means no click-based tribal languages, for example, and definitely no made-up stuff like Klingon.)

10. Finnish (Study Time: 1,100 hours plus)


The fact that Finnish is even around as a national language today is thanks to one guy: Johan Snellman. A philosopher and Finnish nationalist, Snellman was the guy who brought written Finnish out of the shadows of Swedish (which was seen as being more cultured at the time). Sadly, though, Snellman’s opening up of written Finnish didn’t make it any easier for the rest of us to learn. While Swedish will take you around 600 hours study time, Finnish will take almost double that.

Although Finnish uses a mostly Latin alphabet, bar the odd ä, it has some distinctly weird aspects that make it tricky for English-speakers. First, like German, Finnish is one of those languages where you can keep combining words into gigantic compound nouns that look terrifying on paper (such as the 61 letter “Lentokonesuihkuturbiinimoottoriapumekaanikkoaliupseerioppilas”). Second, the standard and spoken language are wildly different, which can be a real headache for learners.

Lastly, any language which can present you with the sentence ‘Vihdoin vihdoin vihdoin’ and tell you that each of those three identical words means something different (in this case: “I finally whipped myself with a birch branch”) is guaranteed to set a few heads exploding.

9. Estonian (Study Time: 1,100 hours plus)


The good news is that you’re hoping to study Estonian in 2016, rather than several hundred years ago. Why? Because back then, the script was written in runes. In other words, the sort of thing to have the casual learner quaking in their boots. Not that you should get too complacent, though. Estonian still remains a freakishly odd language by European standards.

One issue is the dialects. Despite being spoken by fewer than 2 million people, most of whom live in a country significantly smaller than West Virginia, Estonia has two distinct dialects, Northern and Southern. The Southern dialect is often different enough from the Northern one to potentially qualify as a whole new language. That’s before we get to the weirder regional offshoots like kirderanniku.

The thing you’re most-likely to notice, though, is the sheer number of vowels. There are 9 distinct vowel sounds in the language, and 36 diphthongs (made by joining two vowel sounds). By comparison, it’s generally agreed that English has between 8-10 significant diphthongs. To an English-speaker, an Estonian conversation can sound a lot like yodeling.

8. Georgian (Study time: 1,100 hours plus)


Georgian has a non-Latin alphabet. This makes it immediately intimidating. Reading it is daunting. Speaking is no easier. A whole bunch of Georgian words and phrases contain no vowel sounds whatsoever, so saying them makes you feel like you’re choking on something.

Finally, Georgian is a language that’s unusually dependent (for a country that is technically still in Europe) on stress, intonation, and rhythm. Change any of these three and your sentence can take on a new meaning entirely.

All of which combines to make Georgian a scary language for an English-speaker to consider learning. Luckily, it’s an agglutinative language; a language where all the sounds stay the same when you combine them together in words and sentences. This makes it easy(ish) to break down what someone is saying into digestible parts. No short cuts with the written alphabet though, we’re afraid.

7. Hungarian (Study time: 1,100 hours plus)


There’s a wonderfully odd story tucked away in the history of Hungarian. First widely-written down in 1000 AD, the language stumbled in the 18th century. The scientific revolution had arrived and Hungarian, a language based around concepts of community, countryside and family, turned out to be woefully inadequate for dealing with science-based concepts. So rather than importing foreign words, a bunch of Hungarian academics got together and made up reams of new words. In doing so, they single-handedly shook up the entire language.

They also made Hungarian into a language that is painfully difficult for English speakers to learn, at least if they want to learn it formally. Learning Hungarian properly involves dealing with six verb tenses (in English we only have two, which we combine with other words to create stuff like the ‘future imperfect’ or whatever). Thankfully, though, most ordinary Hungarians only use two. On the other hand, they use a heck load of idioms. This means Hungarian sentences always sound colorful, but can also sound like someone talking in code.

Then there’s the matter of cases. Hungarian has around 20 cases, as opposed to English’s three (subjective, objective, possessive). Interestingly, it’s possibly the only European language to have in-built patriotism. When you visit parts of the old Hungarian Empire, you are ‘on’ them. Anywhere else, you are ‘in’.

6. Mongolian (Study time: 1,100 hours plus)


It’s not often we say this, but thank God for the USSR. Prior to 1946, the written language of Mongolia was absurdly difficult for non-native speakers to even begin to decipher. Then the Soviets decided their Central Asian republic needed a more Russian outlook and pushed through a Cyrillic alphabet. So nowadays the language looks like what you see in the video above.

Obviously, for an English speaker, that’s still terrifying. And so it should be. Despite having only around 5 million speakers, Mongolian has a vast number of dialects so different that some think they should be classed as separate languages. On top of that, modern Mongolian tends to mix in Chinese words and ideas, which opens up a whole new frontier of difficulty. Then there’s the sheer alien quality of it. Like Estonian, it is a vowel heavy language. That means it can sound almost musical to English ears…but freakishly hard to replicate.

The good news is that English words and phrases are now starting to creep into modern Mongolian. So you may not be able to book a hotel room or plane ticket, but you’ll be able to order a skinny latte with ease.

5. Vietnamese (Study time: 1,100 hours plus)


If you’ve got to learn a difficult, but not insanely difficult language, Vietnamese might be a good bet. Spoken by 70 million people globally, it has more speakers than every other language on this list so far combined. It’s also probably the most unlike English. While its Latin script might mean Vietnamese looks more friendly than, say, Georgian, don’t be fooled. The use of tones in this language is enough to make even language-lovers’ heads explode.

Vietnamese has six tones, which can be applied to pretty much any word, and completely alter the meaning. So a sentence like ‘Ban ban bán bàn ban’ may look like pointless repetition, but actually translates as “Friend Ban sells dirty tables.” This is a big deal. If you mutter when you speak English to your boss, he’ll just assume you’re being sullen. Attempt to do that in Vietnamese and you might accidentally insult his mother.

Interestingly, Vietnamese is one of the easier languages in the region, in part due to French colonial influence, which gave the language its Latin script. Go wandering into other parts of East Asia, and you’ll find languages that make Vietnamese seem like a walk in the park.

4. Mandarin & Cantonese (Study time: 2,200 hours)


These are two of the biggest languages you can possibly learn. Spoken by upwards of a billion people worldwide, they’re as important and as far-reaching as English, Spanish or Arabic. They’re also insanely hard, so hard the FSI estimates it’d take you over 85 weeks of full-time study to get to an adequate level.

Mandarin, like Vietnamese, is tonal. Saying a word in a slightly different way can alter its meaning wildly. It’s also a language completely devoid of tenses. There’s no past, present or future. Instead, speakers can use a single syllable in a looong sentence to change its entire meaning, by passively suggesting time has passed. As an additional headache, it’s also a super-polite language. There are many ways to address people, depending on their relationship to you. Use the wrong one and watch all the goodwill in the room evaporate.

Cantonese is problematic, too. Putting a word in the wrong place in a sentence can completely change its meaning to a ridiculous/hilarious degree. Speakers also talk differently about a subject or object as a way of demonstrating how important it is to them. The only real advantage it has over Mandarin is that you pronounce each syllable of equal length, making talking ever so slightly easier. Oh, and of course, both use non-Latin script.

3. Arabic (Study time: 2,200 hours)


To an English speaker, the Arabic script is fascinatingly strange, like sinuous lines drawn in sand. Isn’t that all sorts of weird and romantic? It’s also difficult. In 2010, a study revealed learning to read Arabic is unusually taxing on the brain.

It’s not just reading, either. The most-common version of Arabic is Modern Standard Arabic, used across in 26 countries across North Africa and the Middle East by around 300 million people. Only English and French are official languages in more countries. However, Modern Standard Arabic is subdivided into so many different dialects that a non-native who learns one version won’t necessarily be able to understand another. This can be both confusing and highly frustrating.

As regards the quirks of the language, Arabic has a flexible word order, which means you can mix up your sentences and still make sense. On the other hand, listening to someone else talk can be confusing as heck. That’s before we even mention the 12 forms of personal pronouns.

2. Korean (Study time: 2,200 hours)


We’re used to seeing Korean written down as wonderfully alien characters. To English eyes, this looks difficult enough, but it’s actually even harder. Written Korean is all bunched together into syllable blocks. Getting used to combining them in a legible way is just one of the many challenges facing English learners of Korean.

One major issue is word order. In Korean, the verb usually comes last. The rest of the sentence is pretty fluid, meaning words can shift around in places and leave you feeling massively confused. Even harder is the crazy-level honorifics system, which requires you to use a whole different set of words and verb endings depending on how you socially stand in relation to the person you’re talking to. The not-so-good news? Get this part wrong, and you could wind up badly insulting someone. The good news? Young Koreans are starting to discard this aspect of their language entirely.

1. Japanese (Study time: Over 2,200 hours)


This is it. According to the FSI, Japanese is the hardest major language for English speakers to learn by a country mile. It’s like Korean on steroids, a language so infused with politeness that being anything less than a native speaker is to walk into a linguistic minefield. Forget to use the correct vocab or honorific word forms and watch everyone look at you like you’ve just pooped on their bedroom floor.

An additional complication is that Japan is an extremely high-context society. The most important things in a Japanese conversation may well be those left unsaid. In the same way that us native English speakers can tell when someone’s being sarcastic (even if they’re using dry British sarcasm), Japanese people can take a whole lotta meaning from the social cues surrounding what is said. As a non-native, picking up on these can be incredibly hard. It’s not a problem with the language itself, per se, but it’s still a massive pain in the backside.

That being said, spoken Japanese is no more difficult to learn than many other Asian languages. It’s written Japanese that’s the real killer. Japanese writing combines five different systems: kanji, hiragana, katakana, Arabic numerals and a smattering of the Latin alphabet. Japanese linguist Haruhiko Kindaichi once wrote, “I don’t think any other country in the world uses a letter system of such complexity.” We’re inclined to agree.

Top image credit: geralt/Pixabay.

[Source: Toptenz. Edited. Top image added.]