Emirates promises VIP service for some fliers’ larger gadgets

Why it matters to you

If you’re flying to the U.S. from one of the airports affected by the ban, it’s good to know how different airlines are dealing with the issue.

Regulations imposed by the Trump administration last month meant that passengers flying from particular airports in the Middle East into the U.S. had to check any electronic devices larger than a smartphone.

This left many fliers having to decide between leaving their pricey laptop or tablet at home, or leaving it out of their sight when they boarded the plane and hoping it would be there, intact, at the other end. The rules were put in place in response to an apparent terror threat, though few details have been revealed about the potential risk faced by travelers.

Emirates is one of the carriers affected, and it has been quick to tell its customers not to worry about putting their gadgets in the hold for U.S.-bound flights.

The airline is now operating a kind of VIP service for larger tech items such as laptops, tablets, cameras, and portable DVD players that have to go to the hold for the flight. A video posted this week on YouTube highlights the new “electronics handling service” launched in response to the U.S. ban.

So instead of tucking your tech in between your socks and underpants inside your suitcase and hoping for the best, Emirates promises to “pack, label, and seal your devices” in the departure lounge, just before you board one of its U.S.-bound aircraft. The gear is packed and handled separately from other luggage, and is returned by staff in the baggage hall when you show your boarding pass and ID.

The video shows plenty of cardboard boxes, bubble wrap and labels, the clear message being that it intends to take care of your tech while it’s out of your hands, and return it to you in one piece when you arrive at your destination.

More: The 5 longest flights in the world make NY to London feel like a hop

Of course, that doesn’t solve the problem that for many people, it’s rather annoying to have to give up your tablet or laptop before you board. Understanding that some people need to work during their journey, the airline has started handing out Microsoft Surface tablets equipped with Microsoft Office to first-class and business-class passengers so they can complete important tasks at 36,000 feet.

Available for free on all non-stop flights from Dubai to the U.S., passengers are able to “download their work on to a USB which can be brought on board and plugged into the devices to continue working seamlessly.”

We’re not sure how comfortable customers will be with working on a device that they have to hand back at the end of a flight, but for some it could be a useful solution until the ban is lifted.

Runtastic’s new Runtasty app serves up healthy recipes for all-around fitness

Why it matters to you

Getting fit is as much about what you put into your body as what you demand out of it, and a new app from Runtastic helps you address both these issues.

You can run all you want, but as fitness experts will tell you, that’s only half the battle when it comes to realizing your dream physique. The other half, of course, lies in your eating habits. And now, one company is trying to tackle both sides of the coin. Meet Runtasty — described as “your training plan’s best companion and your healthy cooking solution” — from Runtastic, the running, cycling, and fitness GPS tracker. So once you get done keeping tabs on your workout, you can easily pay heed to what you’re putting into your body.

The new app (free on both the Google Play Store and the App Store) promises to be “packed full of quick, simple, dietitian-approved recipes that require very minimal ingredients.” Looking to dispel the notion that a diet has to be limiting, Runtasty claims to be able to satisfy even the most persnickety of eaters with a wide range of food options.

MoreMellow is a new take on sous vide cooking and is available for pre-order

For the last few months, Runtastic has actually been posting some of the recipes you can find on Runtasty on YouTube and its social media channels. But now, they’re all aggregated in a single, easy-to-access space. Within the app, you can find easy-to-prepare recipes that take a number of restrictions and preferences into consideration. Each recipe comes with video instructions for a true step-by-step experience, and you can find other how-to videos for useful skills like how to properly cut an onion or how to cook a perfect steak.

Recipes can be filtered by 23 categories, which include options for gluten-free eaters, high-protein seekers, and folks on the run (meals ready in 15 minutes or less). And when you find one you love, you can easily save it in the app for quick access the next time you’re in a pinch. Better still, all recipes are free and available in English, German, Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese, so you’re taken care of no matter what your mother tongue may be. So if you need some help in the kitchen, you may want to download the free Runtasty app today.

A new guitar is 30% lighter thanks to multiple weird tricks


Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could make a lighter guitar, they didn’t stop to think if they should. As TC’s resident guitar lover I have to take all the high-tech in git-fiddles I can get. To wit, I present the Enlightened Collection of electric guitars. These guitars, made by Michael Kelly, are 30 percent lighter than standard solid-body guitars, but promise solid sound out of a slimmer package.

The key is how Kelly essentially skeletonizes the guitars and uses far lighter materials for the pickups, rods and machine heads. The most notable difference is in the body. These guitars have been carefully drilled through in order to remove a few pounds of wood weight with no structural compromises. It’s an interesting move to be sure.

The guitars start at $479 and come in multiple styles. All are solid-body pieces and all work just like regular electric guitars. I plugged in a model they sent me to test and found it on par with any mid-level electric, but it was definitely lighter and easier to handle. He is shipping the guitars in June.

Could Kelly have made this whole thing out of carbon fiber and goose down? Probably, but I think the sound here is superior to other odd electrics I’ve seen over the years. The only other ultralight guitar I’ve seen worth its weight in fresh strings are the RainSong carbon fiber models.

Do you need a lighter electric guitar? Probably not. However, it’s nice to know someone has your back if you, say, don’t want to lug a heavy piece of pine around from gig to gig or if you’re looking for something a little more portable and easier on the arms. I, for one, welcome our ultralight guitar-making overlords.

Spotting sockpuppets with science


If you’ve ever ventured into the comment section of a website or spent any time on forums or social media, you’ve probably encountered sockpuppets, fake accounts controlled by a single person — though it’s possible you didn’t know it at the time. New research may help ID these overeager commentators automatically, which is good news for engendering sane discussion across the web.

Srijan Kumar from the University of Maryland led a team in statistically analyzing everything about sockpuppet accounts, from how they write and interact with each other to the user names with which they’re registered. Their findings were presented this week at the World Wide Web Conference in in Perth.

The data came from sites that use Disqus as a commenting platform; the company provided “a complete trace of user activity across nine communities that consisted of 2,897,847 users, 2,129,355 discussions, and 62,744,175 posts.”

They found some aspects of sockpuppets that are interesting on their own, but also helpful in identifying them. The accounts tend to be active around the same time and in the same threads, but seldom start new discussions. Their user names vary widely, but the account emails are often almost identical. And they have certain linguistic characteristics that set them apart from normal users: more “I” and “you,” and generally worse grammar. And they’re mostly focused on current affairs:

By measuring these (and dozens more) factors, the team was able to identify whether an account was a sockpuppet or not about two thirds of the time — but more interestingly, it was 91 percent accurate in determining whether two accounts belonged to the same “puppetmaster.”

In the illustration at top you see a visualization of the comments at AV Club; blue dots are users and red ones are sockpuppets, which tend to cluster together because of their more frequent interactions. They’re also more central because of their greater activity than ordinary users.

It’s quite a distance from an automated sockpuppet unmasker, but this data (no doubt shared in kind with Disqus in addition to being published) should help moderators and admins make more informed decisions when trying to make sense of the chaos that is online discourse. Soon it might even be safe to read the comments… well, probably not.

If you’re curious about the other aspects of sockpuppetry unearthed by the study, you can check out the full version of the paper here — apart from the statistics, it’s quite readable.

Jay Z’s catalog has been pulled from Apple Music and Spotify

Jay Z’s extensive catalog of solo music has been pulled from Apple Music and Spotify. In a statement to The Verge, Spotify said the removal of some of Jay Z’s catalog was done “at the request of the artist.”

The two leading streaming services no longer have any of Jay Z’s solo work, with only features and his projects with R. Kelly and Linkin Park remaining on the services. This is the third time Jay Z’s content has been pulled from the streaming services — after Tidal launched Jay Z removed his debut album, Reasonable Doubt, from all streaming services except for Tidal. Last year, Jay Z’s Blueprint series was removed from streaming services as well.

It’s pretty late in Tidal’s run to be restricting his entire catalog to the service, as Jay Z could’ve done this when Tidal launched to give it a nice jump start. Surprisingly most of Jay Z’s catalog is available on Google Play Music, with Reasonable Doubt, and the the Blueprint series as the glaring omissions.

At this point, if you want to hear Jay Z’s solo work, it’s probably time to sign up for Tidal. We’ve reached out to Roc Nation and Apple Music for comment.

Peter Fenton is leaving Twitter’s board of directors


Benchmark partner Peter Fenton, who had been on Twitter’s board since 2009, will not seek re-election after his term expires in 2016 according to a new filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

To be sure, Fenton was expected to depart the company’s board once his term expires according to reports going back to when Twitter was searching for a permanent CEO. Twitter, at the time, was going through a lot of turmoil and big changes at the top were to be expected as the company finally settled on co-founder Jack Dorsey as its new CEO.

“Peter Fenton, whose term expires at the upcoming annual meeting of stockholders, will not stand for re-election at the mutual agreement of the Board and Mr. Fenton,” the company said in the filing. “The Company and the Board are grateful to Mr. Fenton for his years of service.”

Since then, Twitter has added former Facebook CTO Bret Taylor to its board and former Googler Omid Kordestani. With Twitter in peril, all eyes were searching for major changes at the top, and with Dorsey came multiple rounds of layoffs. But since then, Twitter still has seemingly not righted the ship.

Also in the filing: former CFO and now COO Anthony Noto received compensation of $23.8 million in 2016. Noto took over as COO of the company in November last year.

We reached out to Twitter for additional information, and will update the post when we hear back.

This is how Elon Musk gets in the holiday spirit

Tesla's newest software update might make Easter egg hunting a lot easier.
Tesla’s newest software update might make Easter egg hunting a lot easier.

Image: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The Easter Bunny has a gift for Tesla owners: a simple way to find Easter eggs hidden in the electric car’s interface.

That’s at least what Tesla CEO Elon Musk hinted at with a tweet Friday.

He said a “feature” was coming soon that would bring “one touch access” to all the discovered gems (no word yet on what that “discovered” caveat means — are there even more Easter eggs?!) Alongside his coy message, Musk shared a picture that included a sketch pad, a Christmas ornament, and a planet labeled “Mars.” These all refer to known features hidden in the car’s software.

Just last week Musk showed us how to transform the car’s touchscreen console into a sketch pad (really just an old-school version of Microsoft Paint) to draw farting unicorns and the like.

Earlier hidden gems included being able to turn your car into a Christmas light show with flapping doors and fill your car’s dashboard screen with a Mars landscape.

But there was also an Easter egg icon, and that coupled with Musk’s sneaky “discovered” language, makes us think there are more fun features to come. Happy egg hunting!

WATCH: Giant robot arm mounted on a truck can build a brick house in 48 hours

Fitbit Alta HR fitness tracker review

Not much can be said about fitness trackers that hasn’t already been written. The wrist-worn wearables record your steps, calories, and other metrics to help you to lose your love handles — or at the very least, feel less guilty about the leftover pizza you had for breakfast.

Fitbit’s the undisputed king of these trackers, shipping 5.7 million devices in the second quarter of 2016 and capturing 25 percent of the global fitness market. But even incumbents can’t afford to rest on their laurels. That’s where the Alta HR, Fitbit’s newest tracker, comes in.

Fitbit’s Alta HR improves upon last year’s Alta with sleep-tracking and heart rate-monitoring features — all in a slim, compact frame. We came away impressed by the device’s accuracy when tracking heart rate. While we wish the body was waterproof, and the display was a little easier to activate, we think the Alta HR is one of the best fitness trackers you can buy at its price point.

Compact frame, dim screen

It’s near impossible to tell the Alta HR apart from its predecessor, and that’s a good thing — both are among the thinnest, sleekest fitness trackers we’ve used.

The Alta HR boasts a stylish aluminum body with tapered symmetrical edges. On top sits a curved screen with thick black borders, and underneath is a PurePulse heart-rate sensor and three-pin charging port.

It’s one of the thinnest, sleekest fitness trackers we’ve used.

Fitbit claims Alta HR is one of the smallest wearables on the market with continuous heart-rate tracking, and that seems likely — it’s tiny. The company said it shrunk the internal tech by 25 percent to make room for the optical heart-rate monitor, and the smallest model – the unit we reviewed — measures a mere 0.61 inches (16mm) wide.

The Alta HR’s wristbands are interchangeable, with alternative options available in elastomer, leather, and metal. But unlike last year’s Alta, which used a prong closure to secure the tracker around your wrist, the HR’s band adopts an adjustable watch-like buckle that’s much easier to fasten. It’s also a lot more comfortable to wear all day — I tended to forget I was wearing it.

That being said, there’s definitely room for improvement.

The Alta HR’s monochrome OLED screen isn’t touch-sensitive — instead, tap the screen to cycle through statistics screens, call and text message notifications, and activity reminders. Unfortunately, it’s too dim to read in direct sunlight, and isn’t very responsive.

Sometimes, I had to tap the screen multiple times to get the Alta HR to wake up, and usually a few more times to cycle between stats. The problem is mitigated somewhat by the Fitbit companion app, which lets you specify which stat you see when you lift your wrist. But it’s frustrating nonetheless — especially during a run or workout when tapping the screen can be a quick way to glance at missed notifications.

The band isn’t as skin-conforming as we would have liked. Even at the tightest setting, we had a tough time ensuring the Alta HR’s heart-rate tracker stayed in contact with the wrist.

More: Fitbit upgrades its software with new social features and personalized workouts

Sadly, the Alta HR also isn’t waterproof. Unlike Fitbit’s Flex 2, it won’t track your laps or strokes. It’s a feature we would like to see trickle down into all fitness trackers, as sportier devices have the tendency to get into contact with water more often than other devices.

Accurate heart-rate tracking

A heart-rate sensor isn’t the Alta HR’s only headlining improvement — there are quite a few features it inherited from the pricier Charge 2. The Alta HR can track daily activity, monitor heart rate, steps, calories, distance, and can automatically recognize exercises. It can track movement and heart rate while you sleep, and can provide insight on the efficacy (or inefficacy) of your workout routine.

Fitbit pegs the accuracy of Alta HR’s heart-rate tracking to within 6 beats-per-minute, with a margin of error less than 6 percent. In our testing, it stayed well within that range.

SmartTrack automatically records walks, runs, cycling sessions, elliptical routines, and more.

Unlike the wildly inaccurate Pebble 2, the Alta HR was consistently spot on. A sedentary afternoon at the office had it hovering around the low 60s, and a sweaty session of virtual reality gaming got it to the 140s. It responded quickly to ramp-ups in activity, reporting a new BMP within a few seconds of high-intensity sessions.

Perhaps more impressive than the Alta HR’s heart-rate tracking is SmartTrack, the auto-recognition feature that Fitbit introduced last year. It automatically categorizes walks, runs, cycling sessions, elliptical routines, and broader activities like “sports” and “aerobics” after a session. In our testing, the Alta HR’s tracking had no trouble differentiating a treadmill session at the gym from a walk to my apartment. It even suggested an appropriate category — aerobics — for the aforementioned VR session.

It’s a key feature, mainly because it’s impossible to manually start a workout on the Alta HR — you have to wait until you’re done exercising and log workouts in Fitbit’s smartphone app. If most of your routines are stationary or on machines, that could get frustrating.

The Charge 2’s workout profiles aren’t available — you won’t get tracking settings for running, biking, Zumba, or intervals, for example. There’s no GPS and altimeter as well, which makes outdoor runs a little harder to track — you don’t get a route map at the end of each session, or a step-climbing metric. It’s also missing the Charge 2’s guided Relax sessions, the two- and five-minute visualizations that prompt you to breath and slow down your heart rate.

Fitbit justifies these omissions with improved software.

The Fitbit app, which has been updated to support the Alta HR’s tracking features, hasn’t changed all that much since that last time we reviewed it. The home screen shows basic stats like the number of steps you’ve taken, the distance you’ve walked, the calories you’ve burned, the minutes you’ve been active, and the number of days you’ve exercised in a given week. Scroll down a little and you’ll see your heart rate in BPM and your weight.

Fitbit makes liberal use of charts. Tapping on the Steps graphic pulls up a bar graph of activity, with a line indicating your daily goal. An Exercise tab breaks your activities into zones like “cardio” and “fat burn,” and shows the total number of calories you expended. And the Heart Rate section charts your BPM over time, and compares your cardio fitness to others in your age group.

More: Living with diabetes? Fitbit and Medtronic can help

Relatively new additions include the Challenges and Guidance tabs. The Challenges tab packs location-based activities like “Weekend Warrior” (a two-day session of high-intensity workouts), and “Jogging in NYC” (a three-mile run in Manhattan).  The Guidance tab, meanwhile, offers workouts from Fitbit’s Fitstar app.

Sleep insights

Sleep tracking is the other new feature. Two new sections, Sleep Insights and Sleep Stages, show how well you’re sleeping each night. A graph breaks your sleep into four stages — Awake, REM, Light, and Deep — and estimates how much time you’ve spent in each.

The screen is too dim to read in direct sunlight, and isn’t very responsive.

Fitbit said the Alta HR uses a combination of heart rate and movement data to determine how long you’ve in each sleep stage. During the different stages, your heart rate variability — the interval of time in between heart beats — changes, and so the Alta HR continuously records it throughout the night. The data’s plotted on a colorful graph that shows the previous night’s info, your 30-day average. and sleep stats from Fitbit users of the same age and gender.

Sleep tracking seemed accurate in our testing. During one particularly restless evening, the Alta HR recorded each hour of disrupted sleep — 2 a.m., 5 a.m., 6 a.m., and 7:30 a.m. It showed that I’d slept for a total of six hours, and 20 percent of that time was spent in Light sleep. The app said most people my age and gender spend a lot longer in that sleep stage than I did. Good to know, but what can I do with this information?

That’s where Sleep Insights come in. They’re in-app cards that give suggestions on how to improve your night’s sleep by drawing correlations between activities that might be negatively — or positively — impacting resting hours. If you sleep 20 minutes longer on the days you run four miles than on the days you don’t, for example, you’ll get a card about it.

My insights tended to be vague. The Fitbit app told me that I could set a “bedtime reminder” to help me go to bed at a consistent time, and observed that I woke up earlier than usual one morning. This feature requires quite some time to collect enough data to be useful. Pending more testing, we’ll have to give it the benefit of the doubt.

Week-long battery

Fitbit estimates the Alta HR’s battery at about a week, and that’s roughly in line with what we saw. After four days with heart-rate monitoring enabled, active sleep tracking, and brisk walks in New York, the Alta HR’s battery meter settled at 35 percent — more than enough to last a full week.

Warranty information, availability, and pricing

The warranty covers product defects up to two years from the purchase date — or you can return the Alta HR within 45 days if you’re not happy with it.

The Fitbit Alta HR is available from Fitbit.com, Amazon, Walmart, Bed Bath & Beyond, and other retailers for $150. It comes in blue, fuchsia, coral, black. Two special edition colors, 22k soft pink gold and gunmetal black, start at $180.

Fitbit Alta HR accessory bands come in metal ($100), leather ($60), and elastomer ($30) styles.

Fitbit Alta HR Compared To

Our Take

The Fitbit Alta HR is an impressive fitness tracker at its price point. It may lack a few bells and whistles found on its pricier counterparts, but the Alta HR’s compactness, the accuracy of its heart-rate tracker, the smart activity recognition, and the robustness of its sleep tracking make up for its shortcomings.

Is there a better alternative?

Garmin’s Vivosmart HR+ and Samsung’s Gear Fit 2 are excellent alternatives that both throw in GPS for $30 more at $180, but they’re not as stylish or compact as the Alta HR. The $80 Misfit Ray and $100 Fitbit Flex 2 can record swim sessions, but they lack heart-rate monitors.

The DT Accessory Pack

For folks looking to put $150 toward an activity tracker, it’ll come down to use case: If you’re a frequent swimmer, the Flex 2’s the obvious choice. If you can’t live without workout profiles, want relax sessions, and a GPS, go for the pricier Charge 2. If you want a lower-profile wearable that’ll track your sleep, record your activity, and won’t stick out like a sore thumb, the Alta HR’s the fitness tracker to buy.

How long will it last?

The Alta HR should last at least a few years if properly cared for. Fitbit is generally good about updating old products, sometimes going so far as to bring new features to older models. And accessories like bands and charging docks keep it fresh.

Should you buy it?

Yes. If you’re a casual athlete looking for a no-frills, stylish way to track your sleep and daily activity — and don’t care about GPS — the Alta HR is one of the cheapest and slimmest fitness trackers with a heart rate sensor, and benefits from Fitbit’s ever-improving ecosystem of accessories and software. Simply put, it’s one of the best everyday activity trackers we’ve tried.

Weekly Rewind: Flying taxis, cheap shipping container homes, and more

A lot can happen in a week when it comes to tech. The constant onslaught of news makes it nigh impossible for mere mortals with real lives to keep track of everything. That’s why we’ve compiled a quick and dirty list of this week’s top 10 tech stories, from everything you need to know about AT&T’s unlimited plans to how you can watch the NFL on Amazon — it’s all here.

‘Thursday Night Football’ is coming to Amazon Prime next season

Amazon scored a deal with the NFL to stream 10 Thursday Night Football games during the upcoming season. The news, confirmed to Digital Trends via email, is a serious blow to Twitter, which secured the rights for the same coverage last season. This time, however, Amazon outbid not only Twitter, but also YouTube and Facebook. The retail giant paid a reported $50 million to take the prize — that’s $40 million more than Twitter’s payout last year.

Read the full story here.

Spotify vs. Apple Music: Which service is the streaming king?

When it comes to subscribers, the undisputed king of on-demand streaming music is Spotify. The Swedish-born service helped pioneer the current market and has tens of millions more paid users than the competition, not to mention millions more free users. But Apple Music, known for its high-level exclusive releases and full integration into Apple’s popular iOS system, is the hottest service on Spotify’s heels. Apple’s streaming service has shown impressive growth in its audience since its inception, so which is better?

Read the full story here.

Has Intel turned into a virtual reality film studio? We found out

Few companies have been as integral to bringing the future to computing for as long as Intel. Now the technology conglomerate is putting its chips where the films are, acting as a sort of “tech whisperer” to help filmmakers create in virtual reality. Does this mean Intel, and other companies that power VR films, are becoming de facto movie studios? assisting moviemakers in acheiving their look is nothing new to Intel. The company provided processing technology to Dreamworks Animation in 2008, for instance. If you thought 2009’s Monsters vs. Aliens looked cool, you can thank Intel.

Read the full story here.

Think inside the box with these tricked-out shipping container homes

Do you have an inordinate amount of shipping containers? Are you trying figure out what to do with all them? In the unlikely event that the answer to this question is “Yes,” you’ll be pleased to learn that they’re far more practical than you may have imagined. And if you answered in the negative, then good news! You can grab yourself a decent size shipping container for just over $1,500.

Read the full story here.

NASA’s retiring EO-1 satellite changed how we see Earth with these stunning photos

Last week, NASA retired one of its greats — the Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite. Initially commissioned for the agency’s New Millennium Program, EO-1 proved to be the satellite that could. Its one-year mission nearly extended to 17 years. EO-1 was never meant to be such a star. In fact, its original purpose was to test and refine technologies for future Earth imaging. It was launched on November 21, 2000 with 13 new technologies, three of which had never been tested. Many of the most stunning images were capture by the Advanced Land Imager (ALI).

Read the full story here.

Bernie Sanders is now a podcast

Vermont senator and former presidential nominee Bernie Sanders’ talk show, The Bernie Sanders Show, is now available to stream as a podcast on iTunes. There are three available episodes, dated March 27th, 28th, and 29th. Episodes are also available on the senator’s site.

Sanders’ show has primarily lived on Facebook until now. The show touts itself as a way to “stay informed on the political revolution,” and promises to focus on how the senator and others “are fighting back against the Trump administration and its efforts divide us up.” Guests include Rev. William Barber, a North Carolina political leader; famous science guy Bill Nye; and director and playwright Josh Fox. Other activists, journalists, policymakers, “visionaries,” and “revolutionaries” will be featured on the show.

In the wake of the election, Sanders has continued to vehemently disagree with President Trump’s administration. In addition to publicly speaking against many of the president’s policies and actions, he’s even printed out Trump’s tweets to bring to Senate discussions.

“Election days come and go, but political and social revolutions that attempt to transform our society never end,” the show’s description reads.