Wednesday, 31 December 2014


The Biggest Alien Planet Discoveries of 2014
By Mike Wall,, 29 December 2014.

This past year was a banner one for the field of exoplanet science, with the tally of known alien worlds doubling to nearly 2,000 by the end of 2014.

Here's a look at the top exoplanet discoveries of 2014, from the first potentially habitable Earth-size world to a staggering haul of 715 newly announced alien planets:

1. 'Earth's cousin'

Artist's concept of Kepler-186f. Credit: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech.

In April, scientists announced the discovery of Kepler-186f, the first known Earth-size planet that resides in its star's "habitable zone" - the range of distances that could support the existence of liquid water on a world's surface. [10 Exoplanets That Could Host Alien Life]

Kepler-186 and the Solar System. Credit: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech.

As its name suggests, Kepler-186f was found by NASA's prolific Kepler space telescope. The planet lies 490 light-years from Earth and is just 10 percent wider than our home world. Kepler-186f is not the elusive "Earth twin" that astronomers have long sought; the planet circles a red dwarf, a star smaller and dimmer than the sun. But Kepler-186f is a member of the family nonetheless, with its discoverers characterizing it as an "Earth cousin."

2. A habitable world next door?

Artist's concept of Gliese 832c. Credit: PHL @ UPR Arecibo, NASA Hubble, Stellarium.

Kepler-186f isn't the only planet found last year that might be capable of supporting life. A world called Gliese 832c is also potentially habitable - and it lies just 16 light-years away, a mere stone's throw considering the vast scale of the universe.

Astronomers found Gliese 832c, which also orbits a red dwarf, using three different ground-based instruments. The exoplanet is a "super Earth" at least five times as massive as Earth, its discoverers say. While Gliese 832c may be habitable, it could also resemble scorching-hot Venus, whose thick atmosphere has led to a runaway greenhouse effect.

3. 715 newfound exoplanets

Artist's concept of multiple-transiting planet systems, which are stars with more than one planet. Credit: NASA.

Exoplanet discoveries usually come in drips and drops, but in February, the Kepler team unleashed a torrent: Researchers announced the spacecraft had spotted 715 new alien worlds, nearly doubling the known population in one fell swoop.

More than 90 percent of the newfound planets are smaller than Neptune, and four of them are habitable-zone worlds less than 2.5 times the size of Earth, scientists said.

Researchers confirmed this huge haul of Kepler planets using a technique called "validation by multiplicity," which relies on probability and statistics rather than additional observations by other telescopes.

4. 'The Godzilla of Earths'

Artist's concept of the exoplanet Kepler-10c. Credit: David A. Aguilar (CfA).

Another headliner from 2014 is Kepler-10c, a planet about 17 times more massive than Earth. Such hefty worlds were thought to be primarily gaseous, but Kepler-10c is rocky.

Kepler-10c is therefore the first known member of a new class of exoplanets, the "mega-Earths." This "Godzilla of Earths," as one of its discoverers described Kepler-10c, orbits a sun-like star that lies about 560 light-years from Earth.

5. Gas dwarfs

Artist's illustration of a planet forming from the disk of gas and dust around a young star. Credit:
David A. Aguilar (CfA).

Just as rocky planets can apparently be much larger than previously thought, gaseous worlds can be surprisingly small. That's the conclusion of another 2014 study, which laid out the classification of "gas dwarf" exoplanets. [The Strangest Alien Planets (Gallery)]

After studying more than 600 newfound Kepler planets, the researchers determined that worlds less than 1.7 times the size of Earth are likely to be rocky, while those at least 3.9 times bigger than our planet are gaseous. Most worlds between these two extremes are probably "gas dwarfs," planets with rocky cores and thick hydrogen-helium atmospheres that never grew to the size of Saturn, Jupiter and other gas giants, the study found.

6. The first exomoon?

Artist's concept of a possible view of the exomoon (left) and a version of the system if it is actually a star and
planet. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Astronomers may have detected the moon of an alien planet for the first time in 2014, but we'll never know for sure.

The team used a technique called gravitational microlensing, which notes how a foreground object's gravity warps the light from a distant star when it passes in front of the star from Earth's perspective. The researchers saw one lensing event caused by a foreground object that could be one of two things: a free-flying "rogue planet" with a rocky exomoon, or a small star that hosts a planet about 18 times more massive than Earth.

Unfortunately, there's no way to follow up on the find, because microlensing events are random encounters. So the search for the first confirmed exomoon continues.

7. The first exoplanet of Kepler's new mission

Artist's concept of HIP 116454b. Credit: David A. Aguilar (CfA).

Kepler's original exoplanet hunt ground to a halt in May 2013, when the second of its four orientation-maintaining reaction wheels failed. But the Kepler team devised a way to stabilize the observatory using sunlight pressure, and in May 2014, NASA approved a new, two-year mission for the spacecraft called K2, during which it has been hunting for alien planets, supernova explosions and other cosmic phenomena. [Gallery: A World of Kepler Planets]

The first K2 exoplanet is now in the books. In December, researchers announced that Kepler had discovered a world called HIP 116454b, which is about 2.5 times bigger than Earth and lies 160 light-years away. It has a diameter of 20,000 miles, weighs 12 times as much as Earth and orbits its star once every 9.1 days.

However successful K2 turns out to be, the new mission won't approach the exoplanet tally Kepler racked up during its pre-glitch operations. Kepler's original mission netted nearly 4,200 planet candidates, nearly 1,000 of which have been confirmed to date. Kepler scientists expect about 90 percent of the candidates will turn out to be bona fide planets.

8. The oldest potentially habitable alien planet

Artist's concept of Kapteyn b. Credit: PHL @ UPR Arecibo, Aladin Sky Atlas.

Also this year, astronomers announced the discovery of Kapteyn b, a super Earth that orbits in the habitable zone of a red dwarf located just 13 light-years away from our solar system.

Kapteyn b is 11.5 billion years old, making it the most ancient known planet that may be capable of supporting life. To put that age into perspective: Earth is less than 4.6 billion years old, while the universe itself was born 13.8 billion years ago. So if life took root early in Kapteyn b's history, it has had a very long time to evolve.

9. Planets around every star?

Artist's concept of a young, red dwarf star surrounded by three planets. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Another 2014 study suggests that virtually every red dwarf in the Milky Way galaxy hosts at least one planet - and that at least 25 percent of these small, dim stars in the sun's own neighbourhood host habitable-zone worlds.

That translates to a lot of life-friendly real estate; red dwarfs make up at least 70 percent of the galaxy's 100 billion or so stars.

The team arrived at these conclusions after analyzing observations made by two instruments in Chile - the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) and the Ultraviolet and Visual Echelle Spectrograph (UVES). The results bolster previous findings made by researchers who looked at Kepler data, indicating that the Milky Way is teeming with billions of planets.

10. Earth-like worlds in two-star systems?

Artist's rendering of OGLE-2013-BLG-0341LBb (far right), orbiting one star (right) of a binary star system.
Credit: Cheongho Han/Chungbuk National University via NASA.

This year, for the first time, astronomers found a rocky planet in an Earth-like orbit around a single star in a two-star system.

The world, known as OGLE-2013-BLG-0341LBb, lies about 3,000 light-years from Earth and is likely too cold to support life as we know it (it circles a red dwarf). And it's not the first planet to be spotted in a two-star system, or the first one known to circle just one of a binary's two stars.

Artistic representation of OGLE-2013-BLG-0341LBb and its two parent stars. Credit: Cheongho Han/Chungbuk
National University via Sci-News.

But the discovery of OGLE-2013-BLG-0341LBb is significant, showing that rocky planets can form relatively far from their host stars even in two-star systems, researchers said. (Previously, it was thought that a nearby companion star might disrupt the planet-forming disk too much for this to occur.) Its existence suggests that habitable planets may be more common than scientists had supposed; half of all Milky Way stars exist in binary systems.

[Source: Edited. Some images added.]


Top 10 green concept cars of 2014
By C.C. Weiss,
Gizmag, 30 December 2014.

Not only was 2014 a great year for sports concepts, it was a great year for green cars. Environmentally friendly production cars like the Toyota Mirai fuel cell vehicle and Volkswagen Golf GTE made their debuts and numerous concepts provided a window into a cleaner commuting future, showcasing technologies that will get us from point A to point B without so much impact on the rest of the alphabet. Here are our favourite green concept cars from the year.

10. Mercedes-Benz Vision G-Code


One of the more fanciful green concepts of the year, the Mercedes Vision G-Code was a collaboration between Mercedes' Chinese and German design teams, penned to showcase new Sports Utility Coupé design language as well as forward-looking green technology. The purple-highlighted "SUC" uses a conceptual hybrid powertrain consisting of a front-mounted, hydrogen-fuelled turbo engine and rear electric motor. The traditional brake regeneration and plug-in charging systems are assisted by "multi-voltaic silver" paint, which harvests energy from the sun and wind, and a generator connected to the suspension system.

Mercedes makes it quite clear that the concept is more fantasy than R&D reality, saying: "The technical visions in the G-Code clearly incorporate quite fantastical aspects and by no means raise the claim of wanting to pave the way for specific future technologies to enter into mass production, unlike the research vehicles from Mercedes-Benz. But the G-Code describes ways that our grandchildren might one day consider the state of the art."

It would be easy to dismiss the G-Code as pie-in-the-sky science fiction after that statement, but the concept is the embodiment of a very real direction that electric-car research is taking. Some manufacturers and research entities feel that integrating energy storage into the vehicle's body shell will be a practical way of boosting capacity and range. Most recently, the Queensland University of Technology showed its body panel-integrated supercapacitors, and Volvo detailed similar ideas last year. It may not come in the form of "sun 'n wind" paint, but it seems that one day the car's body could be part of its energy storage architecture.

9. Citroën C4 Cactus Airflow


PSA Peugeot Citroën's Hybrid Air technology was one of our favourite green concepts of 2013. In 2014, this gas/compressed air powertrain teamed up with a host of aerodynamic improvements to create the Citroën C4 Cactus Airflow, which debuted at the Paris Motor Show.

Outfitted with bright accents and labels pointing out the aerodynamic upgrades, the Airflow concept uses active components like the shuttered Air Curtain wheels, adjustable front intakes and mobile air deflectors, along with fixed elements like the front bumper intakes, smooth underbody, extended rear spoiler and rear air extractor. With the help of the Hybrid Air powertrain, 220-lb (100-kg) weight loss and ultra-low rolling resistance tires, these aero solutions result in an estimated fuel economy of 2L/100km (117 US mpg).

8. Hyundai Intrado


Hyundai's biggest fuel cell statement of the year came with the launch of the Tucson Fuel Cell, but we're more excited about the next generation of its fuel cell SUVs. Revealed at the Geneva Motor Show, the Intrado shows a vision of a lightweight, aircraft-inspired fuel cell vehicle. The design relies on a carbon fibre frame for its foundation, with a suit of super-lightweight steel and a minimalistic, purpose-driven interior planted on top. That lightweight design allows the next-generation hydrogen fuel cell powertrain to stretch its legs for up to 373 miles (600 km) per fill-up, a marked improvement over the Tucson's 265 mile (426 km) range.

In terms of styling, chief design officer Peter Schreyer's debut isn't for everyone, but we like its clamp-like wheel arches, rounded hatchback and bushy sideburns. We're not sure that we'd choose to buy it over more subtle crossovers, but it did look good in Geneva.

7. Audi TT offroad


A different look for a green car (or any car really), the Audi TT offroad concept from this year's Beijing Motor Show uses its plug-in hybrid powertrain for a combination of on-road efficiency and off-road fun. To meet the challenges of the latter, Audi raised the concept's ground clearance and shortened up the overhangs. The concept features a 408-hp hybrid powertrain with a front-mounted 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder, rear-mounted motor and six-speed e‑S tronic transmission with integrated motor. Numbers like 0-62 mph (100 km/h) in 5.2 seconds, 123.8 mpg (1.9 L/100 km) and 31 miles (50 km) of all-electric range highlight its versatility.

In addition to a clean powertrain and off-road-aimed design, the TT offroad also shows off new technologies. The owner can forgo the hard plug should he or she choose, opting to charge the 12-kWh lithium-ion battery pack with the integrated wireless charging hardware. The concept also features intelligent intersection and traffic light monitoring systems. The driver stays engaged with Audi's virtual cockpit, while a trio of Audi Smart Display tablets gives passengers plenty to do on long rides.

6. Kia Optima T-Hybrid concept


At Paris, Kia joined the ranks of automakers intent on showing that "green" driving doesn't have to be "dull" driving. Its Kia Optima T-Hybrid features an electric supercharger that, in conjunction with a traditional turbocharger, adds both power and efficiency to the car's 1.7-litre CRDi turbo diesel inline four. The T-Hybrid's powertrain, which includes a mild hybrid drive backed by a 48-volt electrical system and zero-emissions stop-start system, is still under development, but Kia believes it could cut CO2 emissions below 100 g/km (from 128), boost fuel economy to 56 mpg (from 48), add 15 to 20 percent more power, and cut over a second off the Optima's 0-62 mph (100 km/h) time. That sounds like all win.

Kia wasn't the only automaker to show its work on electric forced air during the course of 2014; Audi also showed such a system on its RS 5 TDI concept.

5. Meyers Manx V


Interestingly enough, 2014 saw the debut of not one, but two sand-hungry electric dune buggies: the Manx V and the Venturi 407. Both are cool, eye-catching designs, but we have to give it to the Manx V on the 50th anniversary of Bruce Meyers' game-changing Meyers Manx buggy, a design that was one of the first to be included on the National Historic Vehicle Register. During its anniversary celebration, Meyers Manx Inc. debuted the Manx V, an all-electric buggy prototype with a classically influenced Manx tub powered with an 84-hp electric motor and 10-kWh lithium-iron manganese battery. The V includes a welded steel frame, unequal length A-arm front and rear suspension with coilover shocks, rack and pinion steering, an 8.55:1 rear axle ratio, and a rear regenerative braking system.

Meyers Manx plans to market the Manx V as either a kit car or a Neighbourhood Electric Vehicle (NEV) depending on local regulations.

4. Nanoflowcell Quant e-Sportlimousine


With gaudy numbers like 912 hp and 236 mph (380 km/h) , the Nanoflowcell Quant e-Sportlimousine was a candidate for our best sports car list, where it would have felt quite at home wedged between the Lamborghini Asterion plug-in hybrid and Volkswagen XL1. However, unlike those cars, the e-Sportlimousine showcases an all-new powertrain technology with loads of potential for eco-friendly commuter cars.

Debuted in Geneva, the concept car uses unique design language and crazy performance estimates to bring the story of Nanoflowcell's flow battery technology to life. Using a special formulation of ionically charged electrolytes and a power cell, the Swiss company believes that it can deliver 249 to 373 mile (400 to 600 km) driving ranges with fill-ups about as quick and easy as pumping gas. The concept car features supercapacitors for storing and releasing the electricity and four motors for an all-wheel drive that can allegedly deliver the driver to 62 mph (100 km/h) in just 2.8 seconds.

If all those numbers sound too good to be true, we're going to have to agree - at least until Nanoflowcell has something more concrete than a fancy show car and buzzword-filled presentation. Still, the e-Sportlimousine certainly gets us thinking about the future of an entirely different alternative powertrain technology...exactly what a forward-looking green concept car should do.

3. FOMM Concept One


An entirely different kind of green concept car, the Concept One from First One Mile Mobility (FOMM) earns its place on the list for sheer originality. Its green credentials come from its small electric city car build, but the real interesting part of the concept is its semi-amphibious capabilities. Unlike fully amphibious vehicles, the four-seat Concept One isn't designed to jump into a lake and troll around on a regular basis. Instead, its amphibious systems are aimed solely at emergency use, specifically for floating through flood zones caused by natural disasters like Japan's devastating 2011 tsunami. After the flood waters part, the owner will need to service the vehicle to get it back into everyday working order.

Two front 5-kW electric motors team up to deliver a driving range of 62 miles (100 km) and city-friendly top speed of 31 mph (50 km/h). In water, the tire treads and bladed wheels push the car forward. FOMM is still in the prototype stages and hopes to market the car in Thailand's flood zones as early as next year.

2. Audi A7 Sportback h-tron


While other fuel cell concepts of 2014 - take the Toyota Fuel Cell Sedan and Honda FCV (please) - are, shall we say, acquired tastes, the A7 h-tron quattro from last month's LA Auto Show demonstrates that fuel cell cars can be both efficient and pretty. Audi wired a fuel cell stack and 8.8-kWh lithium-ion battery into its A7 sportback, making a stylish fuel cell luxury plug-in. The "first performance fuel cell vehicle" gets close to 350 miles (563 km) from the electric power delivered via its 300 fuel cells and battery pack, offering a double serving of eco-friendly driving. The 228-hp AWD A7 h-tron won't put up much of a race against an ICE-powered A7, but its 7.9-second 0-62 mph (100 km/h) and 112 mph (180 km/h) top speed aren't shabby for a car that exhales only water vapour.

Alas, Audi has not said exactly when (or at what price) it plans to start putting keys in customers' hands, stating only that the technology is there whenever the "market and infrastructure are ready."

1. Renault EOLAB


The Renault EOLAB is a green concept designed to show how simple, realistic measures can combine to create huge fuel economy gains. The Paris show car reaches an estimated 235 mpg (1 L/100km) fuel economy by way of about 100 weight-saving, aerodynamics and powertrain-shrinking strategies. Specific examples include a steel/aluminium/thermoplastic/magnesium body shell, stripped down interior, and active, aero-optimizing air suspension system. The concept car is powered by a Z.E. Hybrid powertrain with a 75-hp three-cylinder engine and 40-kW electric motor. It weighs some 882 pounds (400 kg) less than the similarly sized Renault Clio.

Renault plans to introduce the EOLAB strategies into production gradually over the next decade or so, leading up to a production model based on the EOLAB concept.

[Source: Gizmag. Edited.]


Five Breaches To Your Privacy in 2014 That You Might Have Missed
By Philip Bates,
Make Use Of, 30 December 2014.

As you may know, 2014 hasn’t been a good year for privacy. An ever-increasing pool of people are interested in you.

Numerous publications revelled in the private lives of celebrities, but 2014 was also the year the spotlight shone on the general public. Can we learn anything from these breaches?

They say that if you don’t pay for something, you are the product. Here’s how your privacy was infringed upon in just 12 months…

1. The NSA


What Happened?

We all know our governments keep tabs on what we do, but it’s the extent of their interest in us that sometimes comes as a shock. Last year, we investigated PRISM, the National Security Agency’s surveillance program, and found out that even your emails aren’t private.

This year, it turns out that showing any interest in online privacy at all will get you on the NSA’s Watch List. And yes, because you clicked on this very article, your name is likely to be jotted down.

Your business is their business. It’s as simple as that.

Is It Still An Issue & What Can You Do About It?

It’s absolutely an on-going issue. Fortunately, while the NSA admits to collecting data on basically everyone, they only track a limited number of individuals who are clearly looking to break the law.

Except “suspicious activity” hasn’t been defined. It’s this grey area that makes so many people nervous.

We looked into bypassing PRISM and the like…and concluded that “you cannot escape international intelligence agencies.” Encryption will probably just get you higher up on the NSA’s list of people to watch. This is a scary world we live in.



What Happened?

Naturally, it’s not just the US Government checking up on our activities: the British Government decided to react against a ruling by the European Court of Justice in April, and halfway through 2014, the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill, nicknamed DRIP or the ‘snooping law’, was rushed through parliament.

DRIP forces Internet providers to retain data for up to 12 months, at odds with the European Convention on Human Rights. Information from your telecommunications is stored, ready for use by the government or service providers (for market research purposes) for 12 months - or even longer if the Powers That Be decide it’s worth keeping hold of.

Is It Still An Issue & What Can You Do About It?

This remains a very real concern for UK citizens.

Courts across Europe (including Germany, the Czech Republic, and Bulgaria) rejected mass data retention as unconstitutional, and even Labour MP, Tom Watson, argued that DRIP was “democratic banditry resonant of a rogue state.”

But it’s now too late to do anything.

Sure, some kicked up, but they were soon buried under column inches about ‘bigger news’ like Operation Yewtree. As ever, the spin was that, without DRIP, “innocent lives may be lost.” Mention terrorism and all sorts of things can be brushed under the rug - whether that’s so-called ‘Emergency’ powers, or occupational torture. With that outlook, it’s hard not to argue that an Act like DRIP is inevitable.

3. The Usual Suspects


What Happened?

Just how do they keep track of us all? Quite simply, we volunteer information about ourselves!

Most of us, for instance, use Google. It’s a great search engine. It also collects data on you. Google knows where you live, what you’re interested in, and can root through your Gmail. If that wasn’t bad enough, you’re very easy to profile.

Social networks do it too: using those social share buttons can reveal your online trail, but it’s not the sole seemingly-innocent activity that might be more trouble than it’s worth.

Tinfoleak is an effective way of scaring Twitter users by presenting an alarming amount of data about them, including where they live, interests (via hashtags), and how often they’re interacting with certain people.

Then there’s Facebook. The masses of photos some upload is astonishing. Perhaps this is a sign of our growing obsession with self, but it can also be submission of privacy - especially if your photo privacy settings aren’t monitored. The tagging ability can be particularly concerning. It’s easy to believe that Facebook is a spy in your household.

Is It Still An Issue & What Can You Do About It?

Services like Google, Facebook, and Yahoo are sure to monitor your behaviour throughout 2015 (and likely 2016, 2017, 2018…), just as they have in 2014. It’s these sorts of sites that have been sharing data with security-surveillance organizations.

You can’t really take full advantage without sacrificing a little privacy. You’re not powerless, however:  there are ways to protect yourself on Facebook, for instance; use private browsing (there are many benefits to that); enable privacy plug-ins; or switch to a search engine that doesn’t track you, like duckduckgo.

4. Heartbleed

wpsF8C3.tmpImage via IT Pro Portal

What Happened?
Quick update on #heartbleed: We’ve patched all of our user-facing services & will continue to work to make sure your stuff is always safe.
- Dropbox Support (@dropbox_support) April 8, 2014
This was a huge shocker back in April. Using https:// has always seemed safe, but it was discovered that there was a vulnerability in OpenSSL so-called-secure servers. Discovered by Google, in collaboration with Codenomicon, Heartbleed caused a lot of panic, egged on by overzealous media incorrectly shouting “virus!” from the rooftops.

As it exposed a major flaw in a large part of the Internet and wasn’t confined to one particular operating system, it’s perhaps one of the greatest threats to security, but also your privacy.

Popular sites affected by Heartbleed included Instagram, Pinterest, and WordPress, as well as Yahoo and Google’s email services. Mumsnet alerted its users that passwords and private messages might have been acquired by attackers, and many others were advising users to change their passwords (and create more secure ones).

Is It Still An Issue & What Can You Do About It?

Many sites issued statements either stating they’d not been victim to Heartbleed or that the vulnerability had been patched. But if you use the same password for different sites and haven’t changed them since April’s panic alert, third-parties might still have access to your details - maybe even your emails.

Mashable has a great list of services affected by Heartbleed, so make sure you check that out. Or for smaller sites, this is an excellent search tool that’ll likely put your mind at ease.

Otherwise, it’s a waiting game to find out what information has come from Heartbleed.

5. The Snappening

What Happened?

Launching in September 2011, there are now 100 million monthly active Snapchat users. The app lets you take a photo, add a caption, and send it to someone, only for it to supposedly be deleted seconds afterwards. That sort of service lends itself to some very intimate moments, as you can imagine.

Now, we don’t have to imagine. Those with dubious interests stumbled upon The Snappening, a large leak of images from apps similar to Snapchat, notably Snapsave. Early reports stated that up to 20,000 accounts had been breached (fortunately, the hack wasn’t as large as originally stated), with images appearing all over the net, but especially on 4chan.

4chan, of course, is the message board notorious for Celebgate, which saw nude photos of celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton hit the public domain; The Snappening is a similar breach of privacy, only to the general public.

There was a worrying amount of glee on show at the peepshow into people’s lives, but the big concern was that many images could be classed as child abuse photos. Snapchat admits that the majority of its users fall between the ages of 13 and 17.

Is It Still An Issue & What Can You Do About It?

They’re out there now, sadly. But we should all learn from this. We need to value our privacy more and be very careful with what we share and with whom.

And be extra attentive with services that save photos, whether they be Snapsave or even just social networking. Using the aforementioned Tinfoleak, you can even download every picture on a Twitter feed effortlessly.

Let’s Keep This Between You And Me

Privacy is something we should all hold dear, but on the Internet, it’s something we simply don’t get; it’s likely that 2015 will continue this trend, even if it is something that users really need to get a grip of.

Regarding DRIP, The Guardian columnist, Simon Jenkins satirically stoked the flames: “the innocent have nothing to fear. Only the guilty can object.”

If you have nothing to hide…

Top image credit: AFP via The Sydney Morning Herald.

[Source: Make Use Of. Edited. Some images added.]


The 7 Most Important Gadgets of 2014
Gizmodo, 30 December 2014.

Another year has gone by, bringing us one unit of time closer to a world of hoverboards and holodecks and Fifth Element haircuts. In that time we saw a lot of gadgets - perhaps too many - but good or bad, only a select few really mattered. Here's a selection, in no particular order, of the most important gadgets that showed up in 2014.

1. Moto 360


It's not the best smart watch, but the Moto 360 that proved these gadgets don't just have to be some ugly nerd toy. Of all the Android Wear smart watches, the Moto 360 has been the one to lust after, the prettiest of the bunch and probably the best-looking smart watch so far. More than any other of its breed, the Moto 360 is eminently wantable.

In practice, the 360's "flat tire" screen and less than amazing battery life held it back from being a total slam dunk, but it still set a new standard for smart watch design, and offers a lot of hope for how good these things could look just a year or two down the line.

2. Gear VR and the Galaxy Note 4


The true VR future isn't here yet, but its harbingers are arriving in force. Sure, Samsung's Gear VR seems like a glorified Google Cardboard from the outside looking in, but it's actually so much more, potentially the path to turning VR mainstream.

The first partnership between Oculus and a third-party hardware manufacturer, Gear VR shows off just how awesome phone-based VR can be. That is to say, more awesome than the original version of the Rift. On top of that, it shows a logical way forward for spec-crazed phones. With crazy screens and hella horsepower, your handset today is as powerful as any phone needs to be, but VR can give phone makers a way to keep pushing the limits of screen tech and processing power while giving us something legitimately awesome instead of just shittier battery life. And Gear VR proves it.

Honourable mention: Google Cardboard is also important for many of the same reasons, but Gear VR beats it out for inclusion on the list because Cardboard is still mostly a cheap, fun little trick whereas Gear VR is legit and could seriously affect the trajectory of a mammoth company.

3. OnePlus One


The OnePlus One is a fantastic debut phone from a previously unknown company. That's an accomplishment in and of itself. That the terrific 6-inch flagship is also cheap as hell is even wilder.

Google's Nexus line has traditionally been the place to go for great phones on the cheap, but with the Nexus 6 abandoning that tradition, the OnePlus One's ridiculously low US$300 starting price is all the more important. The OnePlus One is also one of the first phones to run the modified Android OS known as Cyanogenmod out of the box. This phone is innovating a lot of things all at once.

The catch, of course, is that this sucker has been nigh impossible to buy, and the OnePlus system of invites and pre-orders has been confusing and infuriating for the legions that have wanted to get their hands on this killer deal. OnePlus totally succeeded in creating a "flagship killer," and if it can put them out in quantity it could really shake things up.

4. iPhone 6


The iPhone 6 Plus is just another giant phone, but the bigger iPhone 6 is Apple's total abandonment of the whole "perfectly-sized for your thumb" thing. It means that the smallest, great, current phone you can get is now - the last hold-out of smallness - is 4.7-inches. That's mammoth compared to the largest phones of just a few years ago. If there's anything that suggests there's no going back to the compact phones of old, it's the iPhone 6.

On top of that, the addition of (limited) NFC in the 6 (and 6 Plus) is enabling Apple Pay, the most seamless phone-based payment system we've ever seen. That's great for the stores who adopt it, the people who use it, and everyone who uses the other services that will be forced to step up their game.

5. HP Stream 11


Chromebooks have driven the price of "laptops" down to absurdly low, ~US$200 levels, but the price you pay is giving up a proper operating system in exchange for a glorified web-browser. The HP Stream 11 throws that caveat out the window with Windows.

A great and dirt cheap little PC (with Microsoft's Office 365 included), the Stream 11 is a no-brainer for students, and great as a work machine you can afford to rough up. It's also putting the pressure on Chromebooks to crank up the build quality, and on other PC makers to shore up their budget offerings. The Stream 11 stands to kickstart a great new wave of cheap-ass computers.

6. Amazon Fire HD 6


The price of Android tablets hit US$100 a while ago, but the gadgets you'll find there are low quality, packed with bloatware, and just generally unrecommendable. Amazon's Fire HD 6 is different. It's good.

The HD 6 is a great budget buy for anyone who wants a tablet on the cheap, but the US$150 kids' version - which comes with free, no-questions-asked replacements for two years - is an insanely good deal for baby's first tablet. In one fell swoop, Amazon gobbled up the whole small, cheap tablet market.

7. Panasonic Lumix GH4


The ultra high-definition format is just making its way into consumer cameras, and the Lumix GH4 is the first system camera offering a solid mix of great 4K image quality, ease-of-use, small form factor, and all at a price that's not out of reach for young pros or upstart video makers. The GH4 proves that shooting in 4K doesn't have to be an expensive boondoggle for normal folks.

Bonus Gadget: PS4


It doesn't technically count, since it came out in 2013, but it really did work in 2014. Last year, we optimistically listed the Xbox One on a list like this. Since then, price pressure from the PS4 stripped the Xbox One of its pack-in camera and put Microsoft's optimistic living room future on indefinite hold. That, plus innovations like remote play on phones and TVs, plus the launch of a functional-but-not-quite-practical streaming game service, makes it an innovator worth mentioning in a way that the Xbox One no longer is.

[Source: Gizmodo. Edited.]