‘Anthem’ players are angry about long load times but there’s an easy fix

I started playing Anthem at the end of the week, just as the game came online for early access players on PC. And like a lot of other people, I discovered quickly that the load times are brutal.

Anthem is widely perceived as publisher Electronic Arts’ response to the success of Destiny. Both games are online-only outer space shooters that depend heavily on a sticky sense of progression and “live” in-game events to keep players invested.

But where Destiny launched in 2014 and has benefited enormously from a long timeline of updates and improvements, Anthem is fresh out of the gate. Stumbles are unavoidable. But this is a big one: within a few hours, it became clear to me that Anthem‘s two-to-three minute loading delays would eventually render the game unplayable.

It’s not the length of time on its own that’s bad. It’s also the volume of load screens in Anthem. They’re everywhere. Between quests. During quests. Before and after you access the Forge, Anthem‘s one-stop destination for changing up your equipped gear.

In every example, my load times stretched on for a minute or more. But I didn’t realize something might be up until I grouped up with some friends and jumped into a story quest. They all loaded in a good 30-45 seconds before I did, long enough that the quest was well underway (and they were long gone) by the time my avatar appeared in the game world.

When I pointed this out, my three squadmates immediately asked: “Wait, are you installed on an SSD?”

For those who might not be up on the latest PC abbreviation lingo, SSD is short for solid-state drive. This relatively young storage medium is smaller and more compact than the more traditional disk-based options. It’s also, notably, a whole lot faster.

I moved my Anthem installation to my computer’s Windows drive, which is an SSD. The process took maybe 10 minutes; I had to change Origin’s install destination to that drive, and then I was able to right-click Anthem inside the Origin client and move it. Simple.

Also, effective. After the move, Anthem‘s longest load times — the ones that pop up when you’re loading into a quest, basically — topped out at around a minute. Most of them are closer to 30 or 45 seconds. And hopping into or out of the Forge? Less than 10 seconds in both directions.

The longest loads in Anthem are still pretty long. But moving to an SSD shifted the game from “literally unplayable” to “OK I can deal with this.”

TL;DR Install Anthem on a solid-state drive, or move your existing installation over to one. If you don’t have one already and can afford it, buy one. Install all your games there moving forward. You won’t regret it.

(This is all presumably the case for the console version of the game as well, but it won’t be out until Feb. 22.)

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LG says it isn’t launching a folding phone

The first wave of folding phone announcements is nigh, with Samsung, Huawei, Xiaomi and others expected to show devices this month. But the one company I’d expect to join them — LG — says it’ll be sitting this one out.

Though LG is the same company that’s been wowing us with rollable TVs, it just told reporters that it’s “too early” to produce a folding phone.

Here’s what LG Electronics mobile and TV boss Brian Kwon said during a press conference in Seoul, as reported by The Korea Times:

“During the Consumer Electronics Show in January, LG introduced a rollable TV. This is an advanced technology one step ahead of foldable technology. We have reviewed releasing the foldable smartphone when launching 5G smartphone but decided not to produce it,” Kwon said.

”The market demand for smartphones is expected to be at around 1 million but LG’s main issue in smartphone business is to regain its market position. Considering this situation, it is too early for LG to launch a foldable smartphone. In terms of technology, we are fully ready to respond depending on consumers’ reactions (to foldable smartphones).”

It’s not quite clear from those translated statements whether LG has yet to even develop a folding phone, or just isn’t ready to launch one because the demand may not be there, but the latter seems likely. It’s pretty clear that bendy gadgets are still in the early stages, with little consensus on the best form factor — TCL is reportedly trying five different designs! — and lots of unanswered questions about how practical they’ll be in the real world.

And while LG has been submitting patent applications for foldables for years now, the company may indeed need to focus on its traditional smartphones first. LG appointed Kwon to be head of its struggling mobile division just last November, in an attempt to turn it around.

Speaking of LG’s traditional smartphones, there’s a pair of new flagship devices on the way. The Korea Times says LG has now officially confirmed that the 5G-enabled V50 ThinQ and LG G8 ThinQ will each be announced at the company’s press conference at Mobile World Congress later this month, with the V50 shipping between March and April.

VCs aren’t falling in love with dating startups

Some 17 years ago, when internet dating was popular but still kind of embarrassing to talk about, I interviewed an author who was particularly bullish on the practice. Millions of people, he said, have found gratifying relationships online. Were it not for the internet, they would probably never have met.

A lot of years have passed since then. Yet thanks to Joe Schwartz, an author of a 20-year-old dating advice book, “gratifying relationship” is still the term that sticks in my mind when contemplating the end-goal of internet dating tools.

Gratifying is a vague term, yet also uniquely accurate. It encompasses everything from the forever love of a soul mate to the temporary fix of a one-night stand. Romantics can talk about true love. Yet when it comes to the algorithm-and-swipe-driven world of online dating, it’s all about gratification.

It is with this in mind, coincident with the arrival of Valentine’s Day, that Crunchbase News is taking a look at the state of that most awkward of pairings: startups and the pursuit of finding a mate.

Pairing money

Before we go further, be forewarned: This article will do nothing to help you navigate the features of new dating platforms, fine-tune your profile or find your soul mate. It is written by someone whose core expertise is staring at startup funding data and coming up with trends.

So, if you’re OK with that, let’s proceed. We’ll start with the initial observation that while online dating is a vast and often very profitable industry, it isn’t a huge magnet for venture funding.

In 2018, for instance, venture investors put $127 million globally into 27 startups categorized by Crunchbase as dating-focused. While that’s not chump change, it’s certainly tiny compared to the more than $300 billion in global venture investment across all sectors last year.

In the chart below, we look at global venture investment in dating-focused startups over the past five years. The general finding is that round counts fluctuate moderately year-to-year, while investment totals fluctuate heavily. The latter is due to a handful of giant funding rounds for China-based startups.

While the U.S. gets the most commitments, China gets the biggest ones

While the U.S. is home to the majority of funded startups in the Crunchbase dating category, the bulk of investment has gone to China.

In 2018, for instance, nearly 80 percent of dating-related investment went to a single company, China-based Blued, a Grindr-style hookup app for gay men. In 2017, the bulk of capital went to Chinese mobile dating app Tantan, and in 2014, Beijing-based matchmaking site Baihe raised a staggering $250 million.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., we are seeing an assortment of startups raising smaller rounds, but no big disclosed financings in the past three years. In the chart below, we look at a few of the largest funding recipients.

Dating app outcomes

Dating sites and apps have generated some solid exits in the past few years, as well as some less-stellar outcomes.

Mobile-focused matchmaking app Zoosk is one of the most heavily funded players in the space that has yet to generate an exit. The San Francisco company raised more than $60 million between 2008 and 2012, but had to withdraw a planned IPO in 2015 due to flagging market interest.

Startups without known venture funding, meanwhile, have managed to bring in some bigger outcomes. One standout in this category is Grindr, the geolocation-powered dating and hookup app for gay men. China-based tech firm Kunlun Group bought 60 percent of the West Hollywood-based company in 2016 for $93 million and reportedly paid around $150 million for the remaining stake a year ago. Another apparent success story is OkCupid, which sold to Match.com in 2011 for $50 million.

As for venture-backed companies, one of the earlier-funded startups in the online matchmaking space, eHarmony, did score an exit last fall with an acquisition by German media company ProSiebenSat.1 Media SE. But terms weren’t disclosed, making it difficult to gauge returns.

One startup VCs are assuredly happy they passed on is Ashley Madison, a site best known for targeting married people seeking affairs. A venture investor pitched by the company years ago told me its financials were quite impressive, but its focus area would not pass muster with firm investors or the VCs’ spouses.

The dating site eventually found itself engulfed in scandal in 2015 when hackers stole and released virtually all of its customer data. Notably, the site is still around, a unit of Canada-based dating network ruby. It has changed its motto, however, from “Life is short. Have an affair,” to “Find Your Moment.”

An algorithm-chosen match

With the spirit of Valentine’s Day in the air, it occurs that I should restate the obvious: Startup funding databases do not contain much about romantic love.

The Crunchbase data set produced no funded U.S. startups with “romantic” in their business descriptions. Just five used the word “romance” (of which one is a cold brew tea company).

We get it. Our cultural conceptions of romance are decidedly low-tech. We think of poetry, flowers, loaves of bread and jugs of wine. We do not think of algorithms and swipe-driven mobile platforms.

Dating sites, too, seem to prefer promoting themselves on practicality and effectiveness, rather than romance. Take how Match Group, the largest publicly traded player in the dating game, describes its business via that most swoon-inducing of epistles, the 10-K report: “Our strategy focuses on a brand portfolio approach, through which we attempt to offer dating products that collectively appeal to the broadest spectrum of consumers.”

That kind of writing might turn off romantics, but shareholders love it. Shares of Match Group, whose portfolio includes Tinder, have more than tripled since Valentine’s Day 2017. Its current market cap is around $16 billion.

So, complain about the company’s dating products all you like. But it’s clear investors are having a gratifying relationship with Match. When it comes to startups, however, it appears they’re still mostly swiping left.

Use these tools to help visualize the horror of rising sea levels

By now, everyone knows: the climate is changing, sea levels are rising, and the crises are likely to happen sooner than expected. Still, it’s one thing to know, and another thing to really see these potential disasters. Luckily (or unluckily), there’s no lack of tools to help the apathetic develop a visceral sense of what could be at stake.

First, Information Is Beautiful has used data from NASA, Sea Level Explorer, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to create the aptly named “When Sea Levels Attack,” which shows how many years are left until major cities are underwater.

Graphic: Information is Beautiful

Next, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration offers a tool that helps visualize “community-level impacts from coastal flooding or sea level rise” up to 10 feet above average high tides. You can zoom in to a particular area, run different scenarios, and see what happens when the water goes one feet, two feet, 10 feet higher than normal.

Image: Sea Level Rise Viewer from NOAA

The Mapping Choices tool from Climate Central does essentially the same thing with an extra level of guilt because it shows you two scenarios and asks which sea level we will lock in.

Graphic: Mapping Choices

The EarthTime sea level rise tool goes one step further and shows not only different major world cities, but scenarios under the Paris Accord and you can watch the changes happen before your eyes.

Image: Sea Level Rise tool from EarthTime

And then there’s a new map that lets users peer 60 years into the future of North American cities. San Jose becomes like a city in LA County, and North Carolina will seem more Florida.

Image: Fitz Labs

If all that has you down, The New York Times has created an interactive that shows what different countries are doing to cut carbon emissions and how adopting each of those policies could be helpful for the US. It’s a much more hopeful view.

Pikuniku is a weird and whimsical adventure for the Switch

It can be difficult to find time to finish a video game, especially if you only have a few hours a week to play. In our biweekly column Short Play we suggest video games that can be started and finished in a weekend.

Pikuniku is hard to describe. Despite its simple, colorful aesthetic, there are a number of complex and subtle choices to how the game is structured, and how it plays that make it hard to categorize. It’s often an adventure game with platforming controls like Night in the Woods, while at other times it’s more of a puzzle platformer like Semblance. But the game’s charm comes from how earnestly silly it is, not just in its writing, but also in its gameplay.

[embedded content]

In Pikuniku you control what looks like a red oval with legs. They don’t really have a name, but everyone living in the village outside their cave fears them, calling them “the beast.” As the beast you’re able to run and jump around like you might expect, but you’re also able to kick and tuck your legs in to just be an oval. Both of these are necessary skills, allowing you to roll around as an oval or kick rocks and other things around.

The real star is the physics engine, which creates an inherent silliness and chaos that attempting to simulate things accurately can bring. The game never takes full advantage of the physics engine for any of the actual platforming or puzzle-solving in the game’s single player. Instead, it’s used for things that just feel fun to do: kicking rocks down hills, or knocking villagers off ledges. It does an especially good job at animating the beast’s legs, producing some delightful and silly effects. As they walk uphill, their legs extend to surprising lengths, or do a stutter step when they stop moving. It goes on just long enough to be awkwardly funny.

The only time the physics actually comes to the forefront of gameplay is during a one-on-one basketball-like minigame where you try to kick a ball into a basket while preventing the computer opponent from doing it. It’s also utilized in the game’s co-op mode, where two players each control an oval with legs (one red, one orange) and work together to navigate a number of puzzle platforming levels. You’re also able to run into, jump off of, or kick around the other player just to mess with them.

It may be hard to describe, but Pikuniku is a delight. There’s always something new to see or do, so many playful ideas that are introduced and then tossed aside. It’s a lot of whimsy crammed into a five-hour runtime.

Pikuniku was created by Sectordub. You can get it on Nintendo Switch, or Steam, Itchi.io, and Gog (for Windows, Mac OS, and Linux), for $12.99. It takes about five hours to finish.

I’ve used Dvorak for 10 years, and I’m here to tell you it’s not all that

In the world of technology, almost nothing is constant. The mainframe gave way to the desktop, which stepped aside for the laptop, which has been superseded by the smartphone as our primary computing tool. Company-wide emails are now Slack channel alerts. Even USB Type-A, which has clung to relevance for a quarter of a century, is gradually being supplanted by USB-C.

In this context, the resilience of the 146-year-old QWERTY layout is remarkable. Not only did it survive the transition from typewriters to keyboards, but it’s also survived the decline of the physical keyboard itself, as we do more and more of our typing on touchscreens. Yet despite its success, for the past decade I’ve opted to use the Dvorak layout, an alternative to QWERTY that was invented in the 1930s, and one that’s supposed to be a faster way to type.

Spend enough time on the internet and you’re bound to hear Dvorak discussed, normally in response to the supposed shortcomings of QWERTY. You might hear stories that the QWERTY layout was intended specifically to slow down typists working on traditional typewriters, because their machines would jam if two adjacent letters were pressed in quick succession. Another popular myth claims that the layout was designed to allow someone to type the word “typewriter” on its upper row, although it stops short of explaining why.

There’s not enough evidence to conclusively prove any of these stories. In fact, the real reason likely has to do with the formation of a typewriter cartel in 1893, which caused its members to standardize the QWERTY layout for their models. But the common thread throughout each of these origin stories is the idea that the QWERTY layout was designed for reasons other than pure typing speed. The stories might not have been true, but that didn’t stop my curiosity about the alternatives, which is how I became a Dvorak user in 2009. Now, 10 years after making the switch, I’m fairly confident it made me a faster typist, but not for the reasons you might expect.

Dvorak is the QWERTY alternative with the design argument that made the most sense to me. You can dispute whether it’s due to design or sheer historical accident, but it’s hard to deny that QWERTY places all the most commonly used letters of the alphabet at opposite ends of the keyboard. Of the five vowels, for example, QWERTY only places one of them on the middle home row where a touch typist’s fingers are supposed to rest. The others are on the row above, where your fingers have to reach to get to them.

In contrast, Dvorak tries to place the most common letters directly on this home row. All of the vowels are here, mostly directly beneath the fingers of your left hand. Then, the remaining letters are arranged so that you type words with alternating strokes of your left and right hand. The aim is to maximize speed by sharing the workload equally between your fingers on both hands.

You can look at the most common words in the English language to see how this works in practice. Of the top 10 words, seven of them consist of letters found entirely on the home row, and of these, four of them can be written without moving any of your fingers away from the keys that they rest on. Longer words require more movement, but these short words that tie everything together can be typed with minimal effort.

By 2009, I’d read enough articles about Dvorak to convince myself to give it a serious shot. At the time I was still in high school, so I rarely had to type anything too lengthy in a short space of time. Helpfully, I also had the kinds of time on my hands that only teenagers have access to. I probably wouldn’t have bothered at basically any other point in my life, but at the time the opportunity cost was minimal.

Unlike QWERTY, which I learned through years of hunting and pecking during frantic instant messaging conversations, Dvorak only really works if you learn to touch type. This means you place your fingers along the so-called “home row” on your keyboard, and train each finger to reach the keys it needs to in relation to its resting position. Technically, yes, you could rearrange the keys on a compatible keyboard to visually show you the layout (thus removing the need for touch typing), but without learning the technique you’re not going to see much benefit from the layout’s design.

So instead, I downloaded a touch-typing trainer, changed my Windows XP machine’s keyboard layout in the software settings, and got to work learning to touch type.

Ten years later, I can remember little about the process beyond the fact it was a pain. Blog posts that would have taken me a couple of hours to write on a weekend took me an entire afternoon, and the speed of conversations across every messaging service slowed to a crawl. A decade earlier, I had taught my grandparents how to gradually learn to use a modern computer. In 2009, I got a sense for what that must have felt like for them.

But I persisted, and by the time I was faced by the daunting task of writing an essay a week at university, typing using Dvorak felt as natural as hunting and pecking had done at school, with the added benefit that I could now keep my eyes on a book or lecture while I took down notes.

Although I type using Dvorak, my keyboard retains the QWERTY layout.
Photo by Jon Porter / The Verge

Eventually, yes, it made me a faster typist, but not for the reasons that I hoped it would. Dvorak made me faster almost entirely because it forced me to learn to touch type. For years I’d tried to do the same using a QWERTY layout, but when my old hunt-and-peck method was so easy to revert to I’d inevitably give up on touch typing when I needed to write something quickly. Dvorak was different. It forced me to learn to type properly, and eventually I did.

But outside of the advantages of learning to touch type, switching to Dvorak has brought some other benefits along with it. For one thing, my laptop is now a lot more secure. You can watch me typing in my password, but the mismatch of key labels and layout will confound you. Even if you knew the password, you’d have to translate the key positions from QWERTY to Dvorak to type it in. Then, if I’m ever stupid enough to leave myself logged in, it becomes a lot harder to do anything with my machine for anyone who’s not me. Mouse clicking only gets you so far.

Dvorak isn’t perfect, mainly because most computer interfaces have been designed around a QWERTY interface since their inception. For example, while on a QWERTY keyboard the adjacent shortcuts for Cut, Copy, and Paste can all be pressed with a single hand, Dvorak turns most of them into a two-handed affair. You eventually get used to it, but you won’t be able to copy and paste with your left hand while your right hand is on the mouse.

Outside of these instances, I mostly forget that I’m even using a “non-standard” layout. Occasionally, Windows will default me back to QWERTY and I’ll type nonsense for a couple of words before I realize and switch my layout back. Unless someone else uses my keyboard, I rarely register that everyone else uses QWERTY.

Switching to Dvorak isn’t something I’d recommend to anyone who can already touch type using QWERTY. There’s no conclusive evidence that it’ll make you faster, and learning is a pretty painful process if you need to type with even the slightest sense of urgency.

But if you’re part of a generation of people that never really learned to touch type using QWERTY and you’ve always just “gotten by” with four or five of your ten fingers, then making the switch is a pretty good way of forcing yourself to learn to type properly. It’ll still be painful, but simply by virtue of learning to touch type you’ll almost certainly end up typing faster.

To finish, I’d just like to address the questions that literally everyone asks me about using Dvorak whenever it comes up in conversation. Firstly, yes, I can still type on a QWERTY keyboard if the need arises. No, I don’t switch the keycaps around on my keyboard to Dvorak, that would look terrible and besides, I touch type. No, my stupid $150 WhiteFox keyboard is unrelated to my stupid decision to use Dvorak.

Finally, no, I don’t use Dvorak on my phone. Mostly it’s because you don’t touch type on a screen, so the layout wouldn’t offer any real benefit, but also having the vowels all spaced out with the QWERTY layout is an advantage rather than a hindrance on a comparatively small screen.

The golden age of dark web drug markets is over

In July 2017, federal agents took down the Alphabay marketplace, then one of the largest and most profitable sources for drugs on the dark web. At the time, it seemed like a messy end to the string of dark net takedowns that started with the Silk Road. But more than a year and a half after the takedown, federal agents are still making arrests in Alphabay cases, chasing down dealers who sold drugs through the site.

The most recent case came to a close this past week, when Canadian national Christopher Bantli pled guilty to selling fentanyl and other opioid analogues through Alphabay under the name “canadasunshine.” Bantli sold to a string of undercover DEA agents throughout 2015 and 2016, and was indicted under seal as early as September 2016. But he wasn’t arrested until January 2019, when federal agents were able to extradite him to the US for the recent plea. It’s unclear how agents located Bantli or whether they used information seized in the Alphabay takedown to do so.

Those cases are growing more common across the board. Even before the takedown, drug enforcement agents were able to take down individual vendors through targeted buys. That technique that only grew more effective as the sketchier bitcoin exchanges got shut down and agencies were able to prop up phony money-laundering operations in their place, generating even more leads.

By now, the playbook for taking down dark web drug dealers is pretty well established. A money-laundering sting in June implicated in 35 different vendors, but smaller cases have trickled in at a regular clip. A month after Alphabay was taken down, an alleged cocaine vendor was arrested in the central valley of California. Ten days later, six more were indicted in the same district. Two Brooklyn-based heroin dealers were sentenced that January. In March, a Stockton man was sentenced to eight years for buying unlicensed firearms through the market. The vendor arrests have gone on and on and on, long after the markets themselves have closed up.

When the Silk Road first came onto the scene, it seemed like law enforcement had been outsmarted. The combination of Tor and Bitcoin seemed like a safe, untraceable way to buy illegal goods. Even when feds took one site down, more would spring up in its place. Looking at all the illicit commerce being done each day, the markets seemed unstoppable.

But after a seemingly endless stream of vendor arrests, that model is less convincing. Instead of a new paradigm, dark web marketplaces now look more like a brief window where marketplace technology outpaced law enforcement’s ability to track it. But now law enforcement has caught up — and judging by the rate of indictments, they’re making up for lost time.

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Grow veggies indoors and shower more efficiently

At any given moment, there are approximately a zillion different crowdfunding campaigns happening on the web. Take a stroll through Kickstarter or Indiegogo and you’ll find no shortage of weird, useless, and downright stupid projects out there — alongside some real gems. We’ve cut through the fidget spinners and janky iPhone cases to round up the most unusual, ambitious, and exciting new crowdfunding projects out there this week. Keep in mind that any crowdfunding project — even those with the best intentions — can fail, so do your homework before cutting a check for the “gadget of your dreams.”

February 17

Peeqo — robot assistant that responds entirely through video clips

DT’s very own Luke Dormehl caught up with the creator of this gizmo earlier in the week. Here’s an excerpt from the full article: “Smart speakers are old news. If you really want to impress people with a question-answering smart home device, you’ll want to check out Peeqo, a new personal robot that’s just arrived on Kickstarter. As with devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo, Peeqo can respond to spoken word questions. The difference? It will respond to queries exclusively with a specially selected short video or GIF. Because, you know, it’s 2019 and nobody feels comfortable communicating the old-fashioned way anymore.

‘I first started on this project when I didn’t know how to code and didn’t even know the difference between a Raspberry Pi and Arduino,’ Abhishek Singh, Peeqo’s creator, told Digital Trends. ‘After becoming familiar with the basics, it eventually became part of my thesis [at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts’ Interactive Telecommunications Program]. After posting that build online, it instantly went viral, [making] it to the top of Reddit twice. I began getting hundreds of requests from people who wanted their very own Peeqo. After chatting with a bunch of them, it became clear that a DIY kit was the way to go.’  Peeqo’s kit offers everything you’ll need to build your very own version of the robot. According to Singh, no special tools are required, meaning that people without their own personal soldering iron can get in on the fun too.”

OGarden Smart — indoor gardening system

Indoor gardens are a dime a dozen these days. They come in all manner of shapes, sizes, and configurations — but almost all of them suffer from the same drawback: they simply aren’t big enough to grow anything but a few herbs. Sure, you can get bigger ones capable of growing more plants, but the vast majority of them are so big that they wouldn’t make sense inside a reasonably-sized apartment. OGarden, however, is a rare exception. Thanks to its clever circular design, it’s capable of cultivating a huge number of plants in a relatively small amount of space.

“OGarden Smart can grow up to 90 fruits and veggies at once, so you can enjoy an abundance of super fresh food,” the device’s creators explain on Kickstarter. “Automatic watering makes using OGarden Smart virtually effortless, and the automatic low energy consumption LEDs simulate the perfect amount of sunlight, offering optimal year round growth. By being able to grow a great amount of veggies and fruits easily from your living room, OGarden Smart is a way to eat produce sustainably that’s never been done before.  Effortless, easy and pleasant, the OGarden Smart easily upgrades your home and your grocery basket!”

Kammock Mantis — all-in-one hammock system

Here’s DT’s Kraig Becker with the scoop: “As the popularity of hammock camping continues to grow, the options for backpackers who have adopted the off-the-ground lifestyle continue to evolve and become more sophisticated as well. Take the new Mantis all-in-one hammock from Kammock. This new lightweight option, which just launched on Kickstarter, promises to deliver all of the shelter and amenities that come with a tent, along with the comfort that comes with sleeping among the trees.  Billed as delivering everything you need in one simple package, the Mantis not only comes with a full-sized hammock capable of supporting up to 500 pounds of weight, it has all of the extras you need for a good night’s sleep, too. That includes a rainfly and integrated insect netting, as well as tree-friendly straps and a built-in stuff sack for storage.

Kammock claims that it is perfect for all seasons, giving backpackers the ability to mix and match the various parts as needed to dial in the level of comfort they need to match the weather conditions.  The Mantis comes in two varieties, the standard model and the Mantis UL. In this case, the ‘UL’ stands for ultralight, as that version of the hammock tent clocks in with a trail weight of just under 2 pounds, including the rainfly. Meanwhile, the regular Mantis is no slouch in the weight department either, tipping the scales at 2 pounds, 8.5 ounces.”

Nebia 2.0 — ultra-efficient showerhead

Here’s a quick cut from the full article we published earlier in the week: “According to some studies, the average person spends somewhere around sixty hours per year in the shower. Over the span of a lifetime, that’s about 175 days. Despite how much time people spend in the shower, though, the basic technology hasn’t changed much in the past hundred years. A Silicon Valley, California startup called Nebia plans to change that.

Nebia has partnered with Moen to develop the Nebia Spa Shower 2.0. The company took customer feedback into account to produce a warmer, more efficient shower experience that simultaneously meets its goals of water conservation. Philip Winter, Nebia co-founder and CEO, said ‘We spoke with thousands of customers to determine the key features that could be improved. The result is a warmer and more powerful shower that sets a totally new standard — and still saves 65 percent of the water used by conventional showers.’”

Black 3.0 — world’s darkest paint

Remember Vantablack, aka the world’s darkest material? It’s such a deep shade of black that it absorbs 99.965% of light that strikes it. In other words, it absorbs all but 0.035% of the incident light that bounces off it, meaning your eyes basically can’t see it — you can only see the space around it, and then infer that there must be something occupying that eerie black void. It’s so dark, in fact, that when applied to a three-dimensional object or surface, Vantablack will make that surface appear two-dimensional. It traps so much light and prevents it from bouncing off the surface that, once applied, it’s nearly impossible to make out three-dimensional features.

Due to its neat properties and potential applications, there are a lot of people — including artists — who would love to get their hands on Vantablack. The only problem is that due to rights and licensing issues, it’s not available to just anyone. So, to alleviate this issue and bring super-dark materials to the creative community, UK creator Stuart Semple went out and made a paintable version. It’s not quite the same technology, and it’s slightly less absorbent of light — but with 98% light absorbency, it’s still the darkest paint you’ll ever lay eyes on.

Take an extra 15% off select VPNs this weekend

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A VPN can help keep your personal data secure.
A VPN can help keep your personal data secure.

Image: FAstest VPN

It’s no secret that there are a number of threats you could encounter when you go online — and no, we’re not talking about that one weird Reddit thread you wish you could unsee. Malware, viruses, hackers, and other innovative forms of attack all pop up, and if you’re like the average person you probably thoughtlessly use unsecured (a.k.a. free) WiFi connections all the time. 

Protect your personal data while you browse with a VPN, a tool/service that completely encrypts your location and cloaks your browsing behaviors. 

We’ve rounded up some of our top picks below — plus, plug in coupon code PREZDAY15 at checkout for an extra 15% off the sale price. 

If you’re looking for a comprehensive VPN solution, this is it: compatible across all your devices (including Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Smart TV, and your router), it includes a NAT firewall, ad blocker, anti-malware software and a strict no logging policy. Plus, it uses military-grade 256-bit AES encryption on all of its 100+ servers.

Usually, this robust VPN is $600, but you can get it from the Mashable Shop for $24.99

Put your mind at ease with this intuitive, powerful VPN. Enjoy completely uninterrupted browsing as you use a network of 34 server locations — and do it with total peace of mind as it encrypts all your traffic, all the time. Plus, it unlocks any geo-restricted content you might be trying to access if you’re abroad. 

Usually, this VPN is $1,000, but you can get it from the Mashable Shop for $34.99

Trying to protect not only your data but multiple people in your family? This VPN allows for an unlimited number of connections, meaning all your folks (and your friends) can enjoy connecting to 500+ torrent-friendly servers, with an unlimited amount of data. Plus, you can browse with blazing speeds anywhere, totally securely with military-grade AES-256-GCM encryption and IKEv2 and OpenVPN protocols. 

Usually, this lightning-fast VPN is $430, but you can get it from the Mashable Shop for $69

If you do P2P sharing and worry about security, use this highly-reviewed VPN to unblock and enjoy bufferless HD streaming of your favorite movies, TV shows, and sports events. Use it to connect to 450+ servers in 100+ locations worldwide. Plus it, comes with a proactive anti-hacking solution that blocks unrequested inbound traffic, exploits, and bad data packets.

Usually, this VPN/firewall combo is $1,254, but you can get it from the Mashable Shop for $49.99.

Not all VPN services commit to the same privacy practices — this utterly discreet VPN not only guarantees zero logs of your activity, it includes a Smart DNS component to avoid content restrictions and fully encrypts your traffic so hackers can’t access your data. Connect up to five devices to servers in 46+ countries, and enjoy unlimited bandwidth as you go. 

Usually, this private VPN is $450, but you can get it now for $34.99

Save big on home security products during Presidents Day weekend

Just to let you know, if you buy something featured here, Mashable might earn an affiliate commission.
Upgrade your home's safety with these awesome Presidents Day deals.
Upgrade your home’s safety with these awesome Presidents Day deals.

Image: Gryphon

If we had it our way, we’d hire Fluffy the three-headed dog to guard our houses and live in peace forever. Unfortunately, this is not the Wizarding World, and we have no choice but to resort to the second best thing — home security products.

In honor of Presidents Day, we’re offering deals on items that will protect you against intrusions of any kind. Whether you want to keep hackers from accessing your home network or need something to protect you from thieves, we’ve got you covered.

This heavy-duty door lock is designed to deter intruders — even if they’re as strong as the Incredible Hulk. Designed and tested by U.S. Special Ops veterans, it adheres to the base of your door and is apparently 10 times stronger than a deadbolt. Engineered with military-grade materials, a locking wedge absorbs the force should there be an attempted break-in. It’s not a hassle to activate it either. Just step on the foot pedal and let it take care of the rest.

Get it on sale for $114.74 (originally $182) with the code PREZDAY15.

Similar to the HAVEN Mech, HAVEN Connect also reinforces your door with a flexible locking wedge that pushes back on the intruder. The only difference is, this one can be controlled via the smartphone app. You can use it to monitor entries and exits, receive forced-entry alerts, and send digital keys to visitors when you’re away. It also employs DoD-level encryption to keep the HAVEN out of hackers’ reach.

Get it on sale for $296.65 (originally $349) with the code PREZDAY15.

Keep your medication, jewelry, and other valuable trinkets safe and sound with the iKeyp, the world’s first smart safe for personal items. Equipped with 24/7 security monitoring, it protects your belongings round the clock while still granting you quick access via the accompanying app, built-in keypad, or backup key. It alerts you whenever it’s opened, and blasts siren sounds if it’s tampered with. Requiring absolutely zero tools to set up, it features a patented expandable wing system that adjusts wherever you want to install it. Plus, it packs up for easy transport, allowing you to tote it around anywhere you go.

Get it on sale for $84.15 (originally $149) with the code PREZDAY15.

Not only do you need to be wary about your neighbors stealing your WiFi, but you also need to be vigilant about potential hackers that may want to intrude your network. Consider picking up the Gryphon router, which employs Intelligent Intrusion Detection when devices connected to your network starts acting suspiciously. It allows you to control your connection directly through the app, and it features a host of parental controls to keep an eye on the browsing under your roof. With coverage of up to 3,000 square feet and high-powered antennas, you’ll never have to deal with dead spots again.

Get it on sale for $195.49 (originally $249.99) with the code PREZDAY15.

What use is a security camera if a hacker can easily access your live feed? The iPM World IP camera offers complete video encryption to make sure your footage always remains private. It delivers 360-degree panoramic views so you can cover all the bases, and you can easily stream the footage from your smartphone. And with the infrared night vision, it manages to still keep an eye on your home even in low light conditions.

Get it on sale for $38.24 (originally $129.99) with the code PREZDAY15.

Ding dong! Who’s there? You don’t need to get up to find out who’s at your door. This innovative doorbell camera takes a snapshot each time someone rings the bell and shoots the image straight to your phone. Doing away with complex wires and setup instructions, all you have to do is stick it on to your door and it will watch your entry-way like a hawk.

Get it on sale for $42.49 (originally $79) with the code PREZDAY15.

We’re not condoning spying here, but if you absolutely must keep tabs on something (say, your child’s babysitter) without raising suspicion, this Lizacam USB charger with a built-in hidden camera is your best bet. Just plug it into a standard wall outlet like you would with any other charger, and it will pop the camera’s HD feed from your smartphone, tablet, or computer via WiFi.

Get it on sale for $38.24 (originally $129.99) with the code PREZDAY15.

Don’t want a double-duty charger? How about a double-duty Bluetooth speaker instead? This one is also equipped with a hidden camera so you can keep tabs on your space when you’re not around. All you would have to do is pair it to your router, and you can immediately access the feed from your phone. If you want to save the footage for later viewing, you can activate motion detection to save the recording to a microSD card. Of course, since it’s a speaker, it’s also capable of pumping out your favorite jams.

Get it on sale for $93.49 (originally $199.99) with the code PREZDAY15.

A lot of security cameras create unnecessary panic when they send you alerts that someone has broken into your home. The Oco utilizes a smart motion-sensing system that learns to cut down on false notifications. The camera sends a 125-degree wide-angle HD footage to your phone, but you can also opt to send it to the cloud for later streaming. You can also use it to communicate remotely with its two-way audio support.

Get it on sale for $67.15 (originally $89.99) with the code PREZDAY15.

If you don’t want to leave any spot in your home unchecked, this tilting camera delivers you the perfect viewing angle with pan/tilt controls. It saves every footage either locally or via the Cloud for quick and easy access, and it employs smart motion and sound detection to monitor any activity. With night vision built-in, you’ll never miss a moment even when it’s dark out.

Get it on sale for $109.65 (originally $169) with the code PREZDAY15.