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Is The Amazon Astro As Creepy As It Looks?

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By now, you have probably heard of Astro. Announced this week, Amazon’s robot companion is currently the first thing you see when you go to their website. It has also been all over the tech blogosphere, earning surprisingly positive coverage, with headlines like this one on CNET: “Amazon Astro could be the robot we’ve been waiting for.” When coverage has been negative, it has primarily questioned the usefulness of the device: WIRED writes, “Amazon’s Astro Is a Robot Without a Cause.” Only Gizmodo had the gall to speak truth to power, summing up the Amazon Astro as such: “What If Wall-E but Evil.”

If you are somehow unfamiliar with Astro, here is “his” introductory video:

A few thoughts: To start, this is a great ad. I could totally relate to the main character lady in the video, expressing skepticism being won over the first time Astro delivered her a beer. Like Amazon’s initial Echo products, initial reluctance can be overcome by the simple tasks made easier. Major privacy issues aside, who doesn’t love when Alexa tells you the weather outside or who won last night’s game? Even if these aren’t revolutionary capabilities, you do get used to them. Seven years after the Echos were first announced to public uncertainty, they are now commonplace in American homes.

That seems to be the point of Astro as well. The robot’s functions are rather limited. It can do anything an Echo can, plus of course move around. (This is how it can deliver beers, though it does not seem that this model is able to physically remove said beers from the mini fridge). In moving around, Astro maps the floor plan of your house. Oh, and it has a camera, in theory so you can “check in” from an app on your phone when you are out. Given all the news stories over the past year of people hijacking Zoom calls, this seems less than ideal. But at some point you may just have to give up and acknowledge you are at the mercy of Big Tech. In other words, you have to Learn to Stop Worrying and Love the Surveillance. If someone wants to spy on you—be it a multinational government, the U.S. government, or Russian pranksters—they already have the means to do it. Adorable little Astro isn’t going to change that one way or the other.

I do not endorse this resigned conclusion per se, but it is certainly the one that Amazon wants you to reach. The main purpose of the Amazon Astro is to get American consumers comfortable with voluntarily putting a roving camera in their homes. (This is also the purpose of the Ring flying drone camera, which has yet to take off, perhaps because it is about a million times more sinister-looking than Astro). Amazon can then easily gather more information on consumer behavior, then use that information to sell you more things. This is the charitable interpretation of why a large retail company would want you to introduce mobile spyware into your living quarters. Other, more dubious reasons invoke references to Skynet and “The Terminator” franchise.

So, should you get the Amazon Astro? Probably not, but for the record I do not think this is anything near as creepy as Moxie, the “Social Support” Robot. I do wish it was a bit more impressive. Amazon is obviously leaning into the Jetsons connection—their robot resembles Rosie and is actually named Astro! Then, how come it doesn’t vacuum? Rosie was always vacuuming! Robotic vacuums are genuinely useful. Luckily (or unluckily, depending on how you look at it), Amazon promises (or threatens) that, “This is our first robot, not our last robot.” I’ll let you decide for yourself how you feel about that.

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How To Join The Metaverse With An Oculus Quest 2

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We have written about Oculus products (including the Oculus Quest, the Oculus Quest 2, and the Oculus Go) several times over the years, so it is bittersweet to see the brand be retired. Bitter because I’ll always have found memories of using an Oculus VR headset, sweet because the rebrand to “Meta” means that the company formerly known as Facebook believes in the technology so much that it will continue to launch the products directly under its own name.

No one knows yet exactly what the so-called “metaverse” will work, and if they say they do they are lying. I expect even Mark Zuckerberg himself would admit if pressed that he is currently thinking in the broadest of (Henri Rousseau-esque) strokes. But one thing we do know is that Oculus headsets will be at the center of it—at least at the beginning until everyone is implanted with a VR chip at birth or whatever.

With that in mind, if you want to be an early adopter of the metaverse, you need an Oculus headset. Future iterations are going to be called Meta headsets, and presumably they will offer more of the real-world applications that Zuckerberg promises. Until then, the Oculus Quest 2 will have to suffice.

Photo via Amazon

Oculus Quest 2 — Advanced All-In-One Virtual Reality Headset — 128 GB — $299

To date, the primary function of a VR headset is gaming. The Oculus Quest 2 is the best tech has to offer in this regard. However, it also offers several proto-metaverse applications, such as virtual concerts and even a virtual meeting space called Horizon Workrooms. Its latest feature is called Horizon Homes, which attempts to give you a virtual space where you can socialize with friends and family. Where was this 20 months ago at the start of the pandemic lockdowns?

When it comes to the metaverse, Facebook—excuse me, “Meta”—is just getting started. You can choose to wait and see if this is all a hilarious flop like New Coke, or you can choose to jump on the bandwagon and reap the benefits as soon as possible. Creepy as it may seem, the metaverse has its advantages. For one, there is no doubt that virtual Travis Scott concerts are safer than the real thing.

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Can’t Wait For The Apple Cloth? Try These Alternatives

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As you may have heard, Apple’s most popular product these days is not one of their highly anticipated new releases. Sure, people are buying the iPhone 13 Pro and the newest MacBook Pro and maybe even the new AirPods 2 (if they have the ears for it). Right now the hottest selling item is the brand-new $19 Apple polishing cloth. It is in such high demand that even if you order today, you won’t be able to get yours until after Christmas.

Photo via Apple

Polishing Cloth — $19

I am fully keyed into the Apple ecosystem. (Devices I own: iPhone, AirPods Pro, MacBook Air, Apple Watch). So I totally get the desire to let Tim Cook’s company separate you from your money. But waiting 10 weeks to get a cloth just because it has the Apple logo on it seems rather cultish. And it does not help you clean off your screens until 2022. In the meantime, here are some actually available polishing cloths to hold you over until the New Year:

KUZY CLOTH:

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Kuzy Microfiber Keyboard Cover Cloth Ideal Screen Cleaner for MacBook Pro 13 15 16 inch and MacBook Air 13 inch, Microfiber Cleaning Cloth for Electronics, Laptop Screen Protector Cloth, 1pc — $7.95

UPPERCASE CLOTH:

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UPPERCASE GhostBlanket Screen Keyboard Imprint Protection Microfiber Liner and Cleaning Cloth 13″ Compatible with MacBook Pro 13″ Macbokk Pro 14″ and MacBook Air 13″ — $9.95

XTHEL CLOTH:

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Xthel Microfiber Cleaning Cloths for Electronics (6 Pack) – Cleans Lenses, Glasses, Screens, Cameras, iPad, iPhone, Eyeglasses, Cell Phone, LCD TV Screens and More — $5.99

MAGICFIBER CLOTH

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MagicFiber Microfiber Cleaning Cloths, EXTRA LARGE PACK — $12.99

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Why Are People Buying Tungsten Cubes?

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In a world turned topsy-turvy, the weirdest things are gaining value. Just look at the ongoing craze for NFTs. You will have to go to a different website to get an explainer on exactly what those are, and I guarantee you that you will not find one with a satisfying answer as to why people pay millions of dollars for them. The latest internet trend, however, is tungsten cubes. While practically as useless as the aforementioned digital tokens, at least tungsten cubes are tangible. To figure out if you should buy one, let’s start by answering a few questions.

Photo via Amazon

The 4″ Tungsten Cube – Biggest Size

What is tungsten?

If you know anything about tungsten, it is that it is the metal used to make lightbulb filaments. Depending on your recollection of high school chemistry, you may also remember that its chemical symbol is “W,” from the German “Wolfram.” During World War II, the Wolfram Crisis involved the Allies’ attempt to keep Spain from exporting tungsten to the Nazis.

What is a cube?

A cube is a 3-dimensional solid with six square sides. But you knew that already.

What is the deal with tungsten cubes?

The qualities that make tungsten ideal for lightbulbs also makes them attractive cubes. Tungsten has the highest melting point and highest tensile strength of all metals. This gives cubes made out of tungsten a unique heft. Watch the videos about tungsten cubes on Twitter or TikTok, and you will notice this is a recurring theme. Tungsten cubes represent a sort of durability not found in other kinds of cubes out there. Also, it should be noted that people like cubes. The tungsten spheres are nowhere near as popular.

Should you buy a tungsten cube?

If you collect cubes, then the answer is yes, absolutely you should buy a tungsten cube. Although more expensive than, say, an aluminum cube or a magnesium cube, it is also more impressive.

If you do not collect cubes and would prefer to spend your hard-earned cash on something other than a minuscule inanimate object made out of a metal you’ve barely heard of, then no, you should not buy a tungsten cube. Just promise me you don’t go buying an NFT instead.

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