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Boutique PC Builder Launches ‘No GPU’ Boxes to Cope With Video Card Shortage

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A boutique builder has launched a new lineup of “no GPU” enthusiast PCs, specifically intended for gamers who already have a video card but need to buy everything else. So far, only one company that we’re aware of has taken this step, but several recent stories have implied GPU availability is getting worse, not better. This may be the beginning of a trend.

I’ve been a gamer long enough to remember the introduction of 3D video cards. For the past two decades, “gaming” and “GPU” have been practically synonymous, but they weren’t always. Prior to the introduction of consumer-level 3D accelerators, performance in the 3D renderers of the day (Ultima Underworld, Doom, Quake, various flight simulators) was entirely dependent on CPU performance.

I suspect one reason AMD survived the x86 desktop CPU wars of the mid-1990s, where companies such as IDT and Cyrix did not, is the floating-point unit on chips like the K6 and K6-2 was powerful enough for modest gaming. Other manufacturers could only compete with Intel in integer workloads and their designs were limited to low-end budget rigs. So long as Intel dominated both integer and floating-point math, it could dominate gaming.

Then came the era of 3D acceleration, powered by Voodoo, TNT, and Rage. Intel MMX, introduced in January 1997, was meant to be the beginning of a new era of 3D rendering in which SIMD units inside CPUs would accelerate video games. Instead, video cards and GPUs became the predominant driver of gaming performance. Even today, when integrated graphics are better than they’ve ever been, GPUs are considered a requirement for any computer intended to game above minimum detail levels and settings. Under normal circumstances, taking the GPU out of a boutique system wrecks it for its intended purpose.

The UK boutique, FiercePC, claims that these systems “will not boot up” without an external GPU, but only two of the systems use an “F”-class Intel CPU that lacks an integrated GPU. The third is a Core i7-10700 and the motherboard for this system (Asus TUF B460-PLUS) features an HDMI port. FiercePC may have disabled the integrated GPU by default, but a UEFI reset would restore it.

The point of buying a boutique PC is that you’re paying for convenience and some degree of customization. This very much includes not having to install core components yourself. Selling a platform absent the GPU implies GPU prices are rising, even for OEMs. This would make sense, given that multiple companies like MSI and Asus are planning to increase prices as availability drops. Gamers know that integrated graphics aren’t intended for gaming, and there’s not enough variance in integrated GPU configurations to build a product stack out of in the first place. Selling the systems in a “BYOG” configuration lets FiercePC avoid throwing a card in at all, and it dodges the negative associated with selling a high-end boutique PC that depends entirely on its iGPU.

The out-of-control prices on eBay imply few gamers are buying Ampere or RDNA2 at anything approaching MSRP. If more companies copy FiercePC on this and start offering gaming systems without GPUs, it’ll be a further indication of how choked the market is. It’s not a good sign for a gaming PC builder to start shipping systems without the signature component that defines a gaming PC.

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Indonesia locates black boxes of plane that crashed into sea with 62 onboard

Indonesian authorities on Sunday located the black boxes of the Sriwijaya Air jet that crashed into the sea soon after taking off from the capital, Jakarta, as human body parts and pieces of the plane were retrieved.

The Boeing 737-500 with 62 passengers and crew was headed on a domestic flight to Pontianak in West Kalimantan on Saturday before it disappeared from radar screens four minutes after takeoff.

Indonesia National Transport Safety Committee (KNKT) chief Soerjanto Tjahjono said the locations of Flight SJ 182’s two black boxes had been identified.

“Hopefully, we can retrieve them soon,” said military chief Hadi Tjahjanto, without giving an estimated time frame.

The search will continue into the night, a search and rescue official said, but efforts will be limited to sonar scans by boats.

There were no clues yet as to what caused the crash — the first major air crash in Indonesia since 189 passengers and crew were killed in 2018 when a Lion Air Boeing 737 Max also plunged into the Java Sea soon after takeoff from Soekarno-Hatta International Airport.

Even before the latest crash, more people had died in air cashes in Indonesia than in any other country over the past decade, according to Aviation Safety Network’s database.

Body parts, clothing retrieved

Pieces of wreckage were brought to Jakarta’s port by rescuers, including the plane’s altimeter radar, emergency chute and a piece that was suspected to have come off the bottom part of the plane’s tail, KNKT official Nurcahyo Utomo said.

One twisted piece of metal was painted in Sriwijaya Air’s blue and red colours. Authorities said they came from a depth of 23 metres near a group of islands off the Jakarta coast.

Indonesian authorities said they had also retrieved body parts and clothing.

Police asked families to provide information such as dental records and DNA samples to help identify bodies.


Indonesian Navy divers take part in the search for the crashed Sriwijaya Air passenger jet in the waters off Java island, Indonesia, on Sunday. (Achmad Ibrahim/The Associated Press)

The plane had 12 crew and 50 passengers on board, all Indonesians, including 10 children.

President Joko Widodo, speaking at the palace in Bogor, expressed “deep condolences” over the disaster and urged the public to pray that the missing people could be found.

Distraught relatives waited in Pontianak, about 740 kilometres from Jakarta, for news of their loved ones. At Jakarta’s main airport, a crisis centre was set up for families.

“We feel powerless, we can only wait and hope to get any information soon,” Irfansyah Riyanto, who had five relatives on the flight, told reporters.

A sudden descent

Tracking service Flightradar24 said the aircraft took off at 2:36 p.m. local time (0736 GMT) and climbed to reach 10,900 feet within four minutes. It then began a steep descent and stopped transmitting data 21 seconds later.

There were no immediate clues on what caused the sudden descent. Most air accidents are caused by myriad factors that can take months to establish, safety experts say.

A Transport Ministry spokesperson said air traffic control had asked the pilot why the plane was heading northwest instead of on its expected flight path seconds before it disappeared.


The pilots had decades of experience between them, with the flight captain reported to be a former air force pilot, according to his LinkedIn profile.

The Sriwijaya Air plane was a nearly 27-year-old Boeing 737-500, much older than Boeing’s problem-plagued 737 MAX model. Older 737 models are widely flown and do not have the stall-prevention system implicated in the MAX safety crisis.

“We are in contact with our airline customer and stand ready to support them during this difficult time,” Boeing said in a statement. “Our thoughts are with the crew, passengers and their families.”

WATCH | Authorities investigating after Indonesian plane goes missing:

The plane, a Boeing 737-500 carrying 62 people, was on a 90-minute flight from Jakarta to the provincial capital on Borneo when it dropped off radar. The Indonesian navy says the co-ordinates have been found and given to all navy vessels in the area. 2:35

Founded in 2003, Jakarta-based Sriwijaya Air group flies largely within Indonesia’s sprawling archipelago. The budget airline has had a solid safety record, with no onboard casualties in four incidents recorded on the Aviation Safety Network database.

In 2007, the European Union banned all Indonesian airlines following a series of crashes and reports of deteriorating oversight and maintenance since deregulation in the late 1990s. The restrictions were fully lifted in 2018.

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ESRB Game Ratings Will Now Call Out Loot Boxes

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Many of today’s biggest games feature loot box gameplay mechanics that critics claim are little different than gambling. Now, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) has announced it will take loot boxes a bit more seriously. Going forward, titles that rely on these microtransactions will get a special warning on the label right next to the main ESRB rating. 

Microtransactions are nothing new in gaming. That idea stretches back to the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, which tried to upsell gamers on cosmetic horse armor for $ 5. While gamers mocked Bethesda for the move, this would become a common element of game monetization in the intervening years. Today, popular games like Overwatch, Star Wars: Battlefront, and FIFA have leaned heavily on randomized loot boxes to make publishers more money. You can’t just buy the modern equivalent of horse armor in these games. You have to open random crates until you get the stuff you want. 

The ESRB already included a notice of “In-Game Purchases” on its rating labels (added following the Battlefront 2 fiasco), ensuring parents knew which games encourage kids to spend more money. The new labels will include another line that reads “(Includes Random Items)” on games with loot box mechanics. Many gamers and developers believe that additional warning is necessary because of the way random loot boxes prime players to spend more money. It’s like spinning a roulette wheel — just one more spin, and maybe you’ll hit the jackpot with a rare piece of equipment or character. 

To get the new enhanced rating, a game needs to offer digital items for purchase with real money. The rewards also need to be obscured from the player before purchase. If either of these criteria is not met, the game doesn’t get the loot box warning. For example, a game might have randomized loot rewards, but it’s fine if you can only earn them by playing the game rather than spending money. On the flip side, games could have the option to buy things with real money, but they’d only get the “In-Game Purchases” label provided the rewards are not random. That could include things like expansion packs, new levels, and equipment. 

The new labeling system will help parents make smarter choices, but it could be a boon to under-informed gamers, too. You might be fine with a game that lets you spend money, but the pseudo-gambling mechanics of loot boxes are another story. You won’t have to research the monetization system of every game — just look for the “random items” rating and you’ll know there are loot boxes.

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Iran sending black boxes of downed plane to Ukraine, report says

Iran is sending to Ukraine the black boxes of the Ukrainian passenger plane that its military accidentally shot down this month, Tasnim news agency reported on Saturday.

The Iranian authorities are also prepared for experts from France, Canada and the United States to examine the data from the boxes, the semi-official news agency said.

All 176 people aboard the plane were killed when Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 was shot down on Jan. 8 shortly after takeoff from Tehran en route to the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.

“With the use of the expertise of the countries of France, Canada and America we will try to read the [flight data recorder] in Kyiv,” Hassan Rezaifar, a director in charge of accident investigations at Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization, was quoted as saying by Tasnim.

“If this effort is unsuccessful then the black box will be sent to France.”

The black boxes will not be read in Iran, Rezaifar said, according to Tasnim.

Fifty-seven of the dead were Canadian. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has been pressing for a full investigation into the plane downing, said on Friday that Iran should send the black boxes to France for analysis.

France was one of the few countries with the ability to read the flight and cockpit data recorders from the jet, which were badly damaged, Trudeau told a news conference in Ottawa.

Iran has faced a deepening crisis abroad and at home over the plane disaster, with authorities taking several days to announce that its military had accidentally shot the plane down.

The downing occurred as Iran was on high alert for possible retaliatory action following its strikes on Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops.

Those strikes were in revenge for the U.S. killing of top military commander Qassem Soleimani in a drone attack in Baghdad on Jan. 3.


(Joan Dymianiw/CBC)

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Canada to get access to black boxes from downed Ukrainian airliner

Officials from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada say Iran is giving Canadian investigators access to the “black box” flight data recorders from downed Ukrainian International Airlines Flight PS752, but Canada’s role in the investigation beyond that remains unclear.

“The TSB will … deploy a second team of investigators with expertise in aircraft recorder download and analysis once we confirm where and when this activity will take place,” said TSB’s Kathy Fox today during the TSB’s first public update of its efforts to participate in the crash probe.

While Iran’s request that Canada lend its expertise to the work of downloading and analyzing data from the flight recorders is a positive sign, Fox said, Canada remains in the dark about what else Canadian investigators might be allowed to see.

“In this investigation, and I want to be clear about this, we do not yet fully know what the scope of our role will be,” she said.

Fox said that when a plane crash is being investigated by another country, Canada usually is entitled only to visit the accident site, receive copies of information released by the country investigating the crash and get a copy of the final investigation report.

Giving Canadian investigators access to the flight data recorders is more than international law requires, Fox said.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau called Iran’s decision to give Canadian experts access to the recorders “very, very significant.”

“Yes, Iran admitted to shooting down this airplane but we want to know exactly what happened on the airplane in the last seconds,” Garneau told CBC News Network’s Power & Politics today.

“We know that after the strike occurred, the airplane went into a turning pattern. We don’t know exactly what was going on on board.”

Transportation Safety Board Chair Kathy Fox says that the Iranian Air Accident Investigation Bureau has shown signs of allowing TSB investigators to participate in the analysis of the black boxes from flight 752. 1:16

Canada also is being given access to the crash site and will be allowed to examine the wreckage, which has since been moved to another location.

The investigation is being overseen by Iran’s Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau, said Fox — which means that all decisions regarding access to the investigation must must be approved by Iran.

“In this case, especially because 57 of the passengers on the aircraft were Canadian, it is our hope that the TSB will be allowed to bring more of its expertise to a thorough and transparent investigation,” said Fox.

While Canada does have expertise in analyzing flight and data recorders, Fox said, it doesn’t have experts trained to investigate cases involving planes shot down by missiles. She said she is hoping Dutch officials who do have expertise in that area will be invited to consult.

Lessons not learned

Officials from the Netherlands participated in a multi-country investigation that included investigators from Australia, Belgium and Malaysia after a Russian missile took down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, killing 298 people, in July 2014. 

The plane was flying from Amsterdam to the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down near the village of Hrabove in the Donetsk region of Ukraine. More than 190 of those killed were Dutch.

Fox was asked today if the world went far enough in implementing the recommendations in the Dutch report on the destruction of MH17.

“If you look at the reality of the situation, the answer is no,” she said.

Transportation Safety Board Chair Kathy Fox says that the black boxes from Ukrainian International Airlines flight 752 are still in Iran and have been damaged, but that they may be moved to a site that will allow investigators to analyze them. 1:27

Fox cited a warning included in that report — that in countries where there is “ongoing armed conflict,” officials cannot be counted on to bar commercial airliners from the airspace on their own initiative.

“They recognized, when this report was issued, that there were still potential gaps. And unfortunately, we’re seeing the results of that.”

Garneau said that the decision to keep Iran’s airspace open to commercial airliners after the missile launch was Iran’s alone.

“Obviously … Iran decided to deploy its defence batteries at the same time aircraft were continued to be allowed to take off — both before and after flight 752. It brings into question, why was the airport, why was the airspace open and why was this allowed to happen?” Garneau told Power and Politics host Vassy Kapelos.

Canadian officials in Tehran

Earlier today Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said the first wave of TSB’s team will be “fully in place in Tehran” by tonight, but Iran has yet to promise Canada the access to the evidence it has requested.

The plane crashed Wednesday after it was struck by a surface-to-air missile launched by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, an action Iran has blamed on “human error.”

It went down just minutes after taking off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport, and only hours after Iran had launched a ballistic missile strike on two military bases housing U.S. and Canadian troops in retaliation for the U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

Canada has about 500 troops in Iraq; some were moved to Kuwait in recent weeks in response to the ongoing volatility on the ground. About half of those Canadians are with the NATO training mission, while the others — including up to 250 special forces members — are involved in the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition.

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed that there were Canadian personnel present at one of the two bases targeted by the Iranians when the attack occurred.

Iranian authorities initially blamed the crash on a mechanical failure. On Saturday, after Trudeau said he had intelligence suggesting the plane was shot down by Iran, officials in Iran admitted their country’s military accidentally shot the plane down.

Trudeau and Champagne have been pushing for full access to the crash investigation. Iran’s civil aviation authority has said that it’s following international rules and will allow other countries to participate in its investigation.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau on the news that Canada will get access to the black boxes from the downed Ukrainian airliner. 9:06

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Canada to get access to black boxes from downed Ukranian airliner

Officials from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada say they’re still not sure how much of a role Canadian investigators will play in the Iran-led investigation of the crash of Ukrainian International Airlines flight PS752 last week.

“In this investigation, and I want to be clear about this, we do not yet fully know what the scope of our role will be,” said TSB official Kathy Fox today.

Fox made the remarks this afternoon during the TSB’s first public update of its efforts to participate in the crash probe. CBC.ca is carrying the briefing live.

“In this case, especially because 57 of the passengers on the aircraft were Canadian, it is our hope that the TSB will be allowed to bring more of its expertise to a thorough and transparent investigation,” said Fox.

The investigation currently is being overseen by Iran’s Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau, said Fox.

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said the board’s team will be “fully in place in Tehran” by tonight, but Iran has yet to promise Canada the access to evidence it has requested.

The plane crashed Wednesday after it was struck by a surface-to-air missile launched by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, an action Iran has blamed on “human error.”

It went down just minutes after taking off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport, and only hours after Iran had launched a ballistic missile strike on two military bases housing U.S. and Canadian troops in retaliation for the U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

Canada has about 500 troops in Iraq; some were moved to Kuwait in recent weeks in response to the ongoing volatility on the ground. About half of those Canadians are with the NATO training mission, while the others — including up to 250 special forces members — are involved in the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition.

Pushing for access

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed that there were Canadian personnel present at one of the two bases targeted by the Iranians when the attack occurred.

Iranian authorities initially blamed the crash on a mechanical failure. On Saturday, after Trudeau said he had intelligence suggesting the plane was shot down by Iran, officials in Iran admitted their country’s military accidentally shot the plane down.

Trudeau and Champagne have been pushing for full access to the crash investigation. Iran’s civil aviation authority has said that it’s following international rules and will allow other countries to participate in its investigation.

But the role Canada is being offered by Tehran amounts to the bare minimum required by the international legal convention on aviation accident investigations — and at this point does not include active participation in the crash probe.

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The Best Women’s Clothing Subscription Boxes: Trunk Club, Gwynnie Bee and More

The Best Women’s Clothing Subscription Boxes: Trunk Club, Gwynnie Bee and More | Entertainment Tonight

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Bring More Tech (and Amazon Boxes) Into the Garage With a Smarter Opener

Most every premium garage door brand these days has a Wi-Fi remote that lets you check the status of your garage door from your smartphone and open or close the door remotely. Increasingly, Wi-Fi remotes tie into home control services including Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant and let you monitor who comes in and when. They all beat the old clip-on open-close remotes that attach to your car’s sun visor. Some do more than others.

After researching what to do to improve the garage of our 40-year-old house with 20-year-old openers, I decided the best technology to control garage access is the Chamberlain myQ Smart Garage Hub.SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce It’s a $ 50 device that connects virtually any opener of the past 25 years, regardless of brand. If your opener needs replacement, you can get the same myQ technology built into many openers from Chamberlain and sister company LiftMaster, which sells the practically identical WLED Belt Drive Wi-Fi Garage Door Opener (click to read PCMag’s full review of that model). The best feature of myQ is the Amazon Key partnership, which lets Amazon deliver packages inside the garage and monitor the delivery person with a video feed.

Read on for more on how to decide on a smart garage door opener — and if you’re game, how I also updated the rest of my garage, which cost a heck of a lot more than $ 50.

Ryobi’s traditional belt-drive opener, with a twist: power backup using a Ryobi power tool battery.

Choices in Garage Door Operators

Wi-Fi lets you control your garage door from anywhere. Some of the companies that have Wi-Fi operators, the industry term for a garage door opener, include:

  • Chamberlain / Liftmaster / Merlin (same company: Chamberlain Group)
  • Craftsman / Sears
  • Genie
  • Mighty Mule
  • Ryobi (a slick design lets you attach a Ryobi One+ portable tool battery to the opener for battery backup; see photo above)
  • Skylink

The cheapest operators, such as the Skylink Atoms AT61611 ($ 125), won’t have Wi-Fi. There are Wi-Fi-equipped openers for $ 175 and up that let you control and monitor the garage door remotely. If Wi-Fi is not built-in, there are more than a dozen third-party adapters that make virtually any opener accessible from the web or smartphone. These adapters work via wired or wireless signals to the opener, and by Wi-Fi to your home access point; they may require a sensor on the door.

Remote software lets the happy homeowner see a package delivered, safely, inside the garage. And the UPS person doesn’t worry about being chased back into their truck by a protective canine. In real life, the process is pretty much foolproof, and you quickly stop worrying about the safety of the stuff in your garage.

Choices in Garage Door Software

Third-party remote Wi-Fi openers (used here in the industry sense) comprise software and hardware that open the operators (the physical motor and drive chain/belt or gearing). They all can control the doors from afar. That means you can manually open the door for a service person, a neighbor, or non-driving idiot family member who again forgot the house keys (consider a keypad door lock).

Many Wi-Fi openers work with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant/Google Home, the incredibly useful IFTTT (If This, Then That) protocol, Apple HomeKit, and Samsung SmartThings. They typically show door status (open, closed) on your phone, and e-mail or text you when the door opens or closes. They may automatically close the door at a set time at night in case someone left it open. Most use the 2.4-GHz frequency of your access point or router, not 5 GHz.

Most vendors include a list of operators that aren’t compatible. Beyond that, don’t expect them to work with garage door openers — sorry, operators — pre-1993, which is when the Consumer Product Safety Commission mandated automatic reversers. In the 1980s, about five children a year were killed by automated garage doors that closed on them. No more, and nobody seems to complain the government is too intrusive.

Opener software (and necessary hardware) include:

Alcidae Garager 2, $ 130.SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce It’s a 1080p Wi-Fi camera with night vision and two-way audio that attaches, typically, to the bottom of the garage door operator. There’s remote opener software. You can stream audio/video to your phone or tablet. If you want stored video you can recall, up to seven days worth, that’s $ 5 a month. Select clips can be stored. The Garager 2 works with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

Chamberlain myQ, part of many Chamberlain/LiftMaster garage door operator systems, or $ 50 as a module, the Smart Garage Hub,SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce for most any brand made 1993 or later. myQ is easy to set up, and that alone is enough to recommend it. You can open or close the garage door from anywhere (same as any other Wi-Fi opener system), a family share system that lets three others also open/close/monitor the garage doors and control up to 16 myQ accessories, typically in-house lights using wall-plug modules. myQ is compatible with Apple iOS and Android, Google Assistant / Google Home, and IFTTT (If This, Then That).

myQ supports Amazon Key for delivery inside your garage door. Oddly, support for Amazon Alexa has been lacking although some third-party workarounds have been published. Chamberlain has abandoned, at least for now, the $ 1 a month subscription fee for IFTTT. Some installations will also need the myQ Home Bridge ($ 70) to work with Apple HomeKit and Siri voice control if the system doesn’t have built-in WiFi.

Garadget WiFi Smart Garage Door Controller, $ 80.SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce It’s easy to install and avoids most wires by using a laser sensor pointed at some reflective tape on the garage door. It is compatible with, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, IFTTT, and SmartThings, among others (remember the Pebble smartwatch?).

Genie Aladdin Connect, $ 55.SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce It’s useful for multi-door garages, includes hardware for one garage door and supports up to three, and if your house has four or more, you can probably afford to pay someone to create a way to control that many.

Gogogate2, $ 140.SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce One controller supports up to three garage doors. It works with Apple and Android devices, supports third-party cameras, and uses IFTTT apps to expand its functionality, including for voice control. Setup is more complex than, say, myQ. It wires into an existing operator and uses a sensor mounted to the garage door.

Nexx Garage Remote Garage Door Opener, $ 100,SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce that has a difficult setup offset by a simple-to-use app, customizability, and compatibility with both Amazon Alexa and Google Home / Assistant, as well as Samsung SmartThings and others. It can be programmed to open automatically when the car approaches the garage. You must run a low-voltage wire to a garage door-sensor.

Amazon Key for Garage: Packages delivered inside your garage, protected from the weather and the odd thief, with delivery information via the Chamberlain/myQ app. $ 100 shop jack, left, stands in for the author’s hoped-for $ 5,000 post lift.

Amazon Key: myQ’s Best Feature

If you want packages delivered inside not outside, hassle-free, look into the Amazon Key apps, part of the Amazon Prime subscription.

For inside-the-house delivery, Amazon Key for Home, you need a smart lock kit from Kwikset, Schlage, or Yale. (Note Amazon agreed to three partners.)

For in-trunk delivery, you need Amazon Key In-Car, a 2015 or newer General Motors vehicle with OnStar, or Volvo with On Call telematics, and a currently active telematics subscription.

For Amazon’s in-garage delivery system, Amazon Key for Garage, there is currently one compatible technology, the myQ / Smart Garage Hub system, either as a $ 50 module (a physical hub) attached to any brand of compatible operator, or integrated in a $ 200-$ 500 Chamberlain / Liftmaster operator, and for video with the Amazon Cloud Cam (Key Edition) camera, which adds $ 120. Many, but not all, Amazon packages are eligible, and occasionally I found in testing Key delivery took one day longer than normal two-day Amazon Prime. Key for Garage is in 50 cities and their extensive surrounding areas as of mid-2019 (complete list).

As for security: You have to believe (and should) that your driver is not going to rip you off – really, is anybody looking to grab a broken lawn chair, a 350-pound snowblower, or smelly hockey gear kept outside the living area? As a practical matter, a delivery person wouldn’t last long stealing things, just as a hotel maid wouldn’t because a theft pattern would quickly show up (one package a month lost on each of 10 driver routes, 10 packages a month on the 11th route). If you’re a little (if not a lot) paranoid, Key for Garage is nice versus Key for Home because you might like that access is to the garage only and then you can deadbolt the access door to the house.

So far over two months, the Amazon Key for Garage system has worked perfectly for me. We get a notification delivery is about to happen. The package shows up, in the garage. We get a notification delivery took place, and when. With the Cloud Cam, we can see the delivery taking place. After you see this happen two or three times, you’re satisfied it all works according to plan. The Cloud Cam sends you a snap of the delivery and lets you watch event clips of the past 24 hours.

Premium storage, three plans, for 3-10 Cloud Cams and 7-30 days storage runs $ 7-$ 20 a month extra. You cannot currently swap in a non-Amazon video camera, although you could rig a third party camera that captures every garage-door-open event, working outside the Amazon Key app. I found after the first two weeks that the UPS guy was going to deliver, he did, the video was boring, and no packages got wet.

It would be nice, in our opinion, if Chamberlain/LiftMaster extended the garage access app to more vendors than Amazon. The company won’t comment on how long Amazon has Chamberlain locked into an exclusive, or vice versa. But, says Jeff Meredith, Chamberlain’s president and COO, “It’s not hard to imagine a garage being configured for things like home delivery – [a garage] equipped with reserved shelving for various sized packages and a refrigerator to accommodate online grocery purchases, which are set to quadruple between 2018 and 2023.”

Currently, the myQ app allows access by the homeowner plus three guest accounts that don’t have to share passwords. Additionally, the outdoor keypad can be programmed for a controlled number of accesses using an assigned code. Meredith said, “A dog walker, nanny, service person, realty agent, neighbor, extended family or delivery person … could all benefit from myQ.” For that, you might want a dozen limited-access guest accounts.

The Chamberlain Group is the major player in garage door openers (it also does access systems), but there’s big and then there’s big: Chamberlain’s parent, the privately held Duchossois Group, has an estimated $ 2 billion in revenues; Amazon is two orders of magnitude larger at $ 232 billion. If Chamberlain remains with Amazon exclusively, makers of competing garage door systems could partner with Walmart, Costco, Sears, pharmacies, or grocery delivery services that Amazon doesn’t own.

A wall-mount garage door opener, here the LiftMaster 8500W, and torsion springs on a shaft over the garage door header. It frees up space over the car for, say, a big storage rack. Yes, Marie Kondo would weep that you’re not throwing old stuff away.

How I Made a $ 50 Project Become Much More Expensive

Integrating myQ and Amazon Key into our garage was part of an ongoing garage and outdoors automation project with multiple outdoor cameras (brands TBD, see David Cardinal’s in-depth article on outdoor security cams for details), smart lawn sprinklers (Racchio), water leak sensors and auto shutoffs (product TBD), and outdoor lighting (Samsung SmartThings controls). Here’s what I did.

I went the new-opener route. I also added ultra-quiet rollers, weatherstripped the doors, and bought wall-mount openers for a cleaner design and had internal battery backup. And I had the two operators professionally installed because I also wanted the doors and rails tuned up, but mostly because you shouldn’t DIY a torsion bar spring installation. All told, it cost me about $ 2,000 rather than $ 50.

This garage-improvement project was launched because I wanted to fully use a two-bay, two-door garage equipped with ancient openers, doors that didn’t keep out the winter cold, a garage filled with one bay of junk, and lots of promise because the inside ceiling rises to 11 feet, enough to allow (until you price them) a shop lift for working on a car. The 160-pound wood doors banged and clanked on the way up or down. The safety reversers sometimes reversed when nothing was in the way.

The full project – in my plans – started with an epoxy or terrazzo-look floor ($ 1,000-$ 7,000), and it required shot blasting or diamond-grinding the existing surface for proper adhesion ($ 500-$ 1,000). There would be two new doors ($ 250 to $ 5,000 apiece, with really nice wood Craftsman-style doors matching the house at least $ 2,000 apiece). See video below to understand some of the hassles of DIY floors, starting with learning that your concrete has already been sealed and learning the top layer of concrete has to be ground or bead-blasted off.

The garage door operator would mount to the side of the door frame opening and drive a shaft running above the door header, eliminating the drive chain/drive belt above the centerline of the car. New tracks for the rollers would follow the sloped 4-in-12 pitch of the ceiling, allowing for a shop lift ($ 2,500 – $ 10,000) in one bay and overhead storage in the other. Ideally, the garage door openers would integrate battery backups in case town power failed and so did our backup generator.

I’d add more lighting in the ceiling, additional AC outlets in the wall, a gas-heater for work on wintry days, and a couple of speakers for music. Finally, a 240-volt transformer ($ 500-$ 1,000) would go in to charge the EVs and plug-in hybrids I test. Once there’s 240 volts in the garage, you can bring in a bigger air compressor.

Reality hit hard. Even $ 10,000 wouldn’t do the full job and “in my plans” became “in your dreams.” New, architectural-series doors were scaled back to the existing doors plus $ 250 of weatherstripping and insulation. The old floor remains, and even if I chose later to DIY the epoxy painting (carefully) to save money, the surface prep is hot, noisy, and dusty — one of those jobs you want to job out. The two-post shop lift became a $ 150 two-ton Harbor Freight compact jack, but don’t laugh: In the past year, I saw two professional race shops with HF jacks, okay? I also added four jack stands and wheel chocks.

As for the openers, the myQ technology was the bang-for-the-buck and ease-of-use winner. Because the existing openers were 20-plus years old, I opted for new Liftmaster openers, $ 500 apiece, with jackshaft drive (attaches directly to the torsion bar roller), integrated battery backup, keypad remote, and one each wired and wireless in-the-garage remote controls. With this opener, there’s no center drive rail, and later I can install the door rollers in a custom metal track that follows the ceiling. That would allow the future shop lift, and in the meantime, the garage looks a little more open. The follow-the-ceiling roller tracks can be added later.

The myQ app works well. I would like the option to the status of both garage doors on one screen, rather than one screen per door. I’d also prefer to get open-close messages as texts, not e-mails. Otherwise, it’s fine.

What Makes a Garage Door Opener Worth $ 500?

The top-of-the-line Liftmaster opener deadbolts the door every time it closes.

The operators I chose for my garage doors are currently about $ 500 street, the LiftMaster 8500W (photo right; Chamberlain equivalent, RJO70). It has Wi-Fi and myQ built-in. The wall-mount design frees ceiling space, so you can put a storage rack hanging down between door rails. It’s quiet. The mechanism actually slows the last foot of travel for a softer, quieter touchdown.

An electronic deadbolt auto-engages when the garage door is shut. If the power is out, the integrated battery opens the door, helpful for people who don’t always carry house keys or forget them. Each 8,500W operator comes with four controllers: an outside keypad, an inside wired switch (usually installed next to the door), an inside wireless switch (usually next to the house entry door), and a visor-mount wireless receiver. An included LED ceiling light (quite bright) mounts near any electrical outlet (typically the one used by the old ceiling-mount opener) and is wirelessly controlled.

To see your package being safely delivered, you have one choice: the Amazon Cloud Cam, $ 120.

If You Want to Do It Yourself

The LiftMaster 8500W operator (opener).

You can add-on adapters that bring Wi-Fi-control-from-anywhere to existing openers. myQ is about as easy as it gets. What’s especially nice is that this is one of the few instances in tech you can retrofit new technology to an existing product without having to buy a whole new device.

With modest skills, you can DIY install a new garage door opener – operator — with Wi-Fi if it uses a drive belt or chain, which is the most common type. A torsion spring opener calls for a professional installer; the spring needs careful tensioning and if it lets go, you could be hurt or killed. (This is not the usual abstract profession-drive-closed-course warning. That spring is dangerous.) If you put in a new chain- or belt-driver operator, not torsion-bar, with the springs running parallel to the horizontal tracks, make sure the springs have a safety cable running through the middle and if not, add one, because really old springs can break apart.

If the garage is under a bedroom, you want the quietest operator. In order from high to low in quietness and price, the preferred operator is:

  • Wall-mount operator with torsion spring (quietest, costliest).
  • Ceiling mount with belt drive.
  • Ceiling mount with chain drive (least quiet, cheapest).

But: If noise is the problem with a current opener, first replace any existing steel-wheel rollers with ball-bearing nylon rollers, at most $ 25 for a 10-pack, the number you need for a typical four-section door. Also, replace the pulleys (two per door). Or, get a garage door tune-up for $ 50-$ 100. A door that doesn’t close square to the ground makes noise. That alone, squaring the door, plus nylon rollers, made a significant difference with 20-year-old Craftsman belt-drive openers in our old house.

Read up if you’re thinking of doing this yourself. If you want affordable, effective, and simple-to-install, you’ll probably find a myQ system is the way to go, especially if you’re a frequent Amazon shopper. You only need to automate one garage door, which means $ 50 for the myQ Smart Garage Hub (MYQ-G0301) or $ 200 belt-drive operator with Wi-Fi/myQ integrated such as the Chamberlain B550. You should also spring for a new set of nylon rollers.

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EA: They Aren’t Loot Boxes, They’re ‘Quite Ethical’ ‘Surprise Mechanics’

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Back in 2017, EA managed to single-handedly slow the infection of loot crate mechanics taking over AAA games. Star Wars Battlefront II went from a new hoped-for sequel to a towering heap of bantha fodder in a matter of weeks once gamers discovered exactly what kind of loot system EA had designed.

Not only was Battlefront II’s progression almost entirely chained to loot crates, but there was also virtually no way to earn anything specific to the class or game types you actually wanted to play. Loot crate rewards were completely randomized, unlike in previous games, where playing a class and/or using specific abilities typically earned you experience in that class or improved your skills. There was no guarantee that the loot you received would even be related to the game modes you wanted to play, which meant you might spend 8 hours in starfighter dogfights and receive only infantry upgrades.

Players who refused to play the loot crate game and wanted to collect heroes instead were still screwed; pre-launch estimates suggested it could take 40 hours to unlock a single hero. The company initially doubled down on virtually every aspect of its hated strategy, before Disney literally intervened at the 11th hour to prevent the game from swan diving into the Death Star’s reactor core. Even after EA removed the pay-to-win model hours before the game launched, overall sales were below expectations.

Given this kind of history, you might expect EA to be a little humble when testifying in front of a government panel investigating whether loot crates are dangerously close to prohibited in-game gambling mechanics. You would be wrong. According to the company that turned the phrase “loot box” into a curse word, its blatant attempts to wring the player base like a dishrag are “surprise mechanics.” And they’re “quite ethical” according to EA.

Battlefront-Pic

Not pictured: Ethics

Now, in fairness, calling something a “surprise mechanic” does not imply anyone will enjoy the surprise they are receiving. One of the differences between being a child and an adult is that children expect to receive surprises like toys, candy, or a trip to McDonald’s, whereas adults expect to receive surprises like medical bills and home appliance failures.

I was, for example, quite surprised last month when I took my car for routine maintenance and my mechanic informed me the oil had gone missing. As “surprise mechanics” go, that one was a doozy. On her way to pick me up from the AMD E3 event, my fiancée was surprised by a deer striking the rear driver’s side quarter panel of her car. Sadly, the deer didn’t drop any alternative currency or rare items, unless you count fur and excrement among your most valued possessions. (Who am I to judge? Have you seen EA crafting requirements lately?)

battlefront

Most heroes were initially going to be locked behind significant grinds to even play them.

According to Kerry Hopkins, VP of Legal at Electronic Arts, loot boxes are most comparable to Kinder Eggs, Hatchimals, or LOL Surprise. When asked if it considered loot boxes to be ethical, Hopkins replied:

We do think the way that we have implemented these kinds of mechanics – and FIFA, of course, is our big one, our FIFA Ultimate Team and our packs – is actually quite ethical and quite fun, quite enjoyable to people…

We do agree with the UK gambling commission, the Australian gambling commission, and many other gambling commissions that they aren’t gambling, and we also disagree that there’s evidence that shows it leads to gambling. Instead we think it’s like many other products that people enjoy in a healthy way, and like the element of surprise.

(Hopkins’ testimony can be seen here, starting at 15:43:15.)

It’s entirely predictable that EA would try for this kind of dodge, but arguing that loot boxes are equivalent to simple “surprise” toys like Kinder eggs ignores huge, practical differences in how loot boxes are implemented in games.

Obviously the details can vary depending on how the game is structured, but locking core components of gameplay, necessary upgrades, or rare items required to compete with upper-tier players behind random mechanics that require players to buy an unknown number of loot crates for real money (or to grind for that same currency at painfully slow rates as an incentive to spend money) is not remotely equivalent to handing a small child a surprise toy. That’s before we address the question of resale markets or the idea that rare skins you can get from loot boxes may have a substantial cash value. In games with an accessible resale market, the idea that loot crates aren’t gambling gets even harder to defend. The goods inside may be virtual instead of physical, but that’s irrelevant to the question of whether or not they have value.

The idea that players engage with these mechanics because they love them, however, doesn’t survive first contact with the enemy. Loot boxes come in basically two flavors: “Bonus” or cosmetic content that you don’t really need to interact with in any way to play or beat the game, and necessary power-ups, skills, or items that are functional requirements if you don’t want to grind for an insane amount of time. Purely cosmetic loot boxes that you buy at a regular rate with the currency you earn easily don’t really push many people’s buttons. Original BFII-style loot distribution that chains your entire progress through the title to random unlocks are loathed by virtually everyone. 

The idea that EA has designed these systems to provide Kinder Joy-style bursts of dopamine out of an innocent desire to do good for humanity is a joke. Whether they are formally ruled equivalent to gambling or not, loot crates are a financial profit center. It’s no accident that EA debuted the system that it did in BFII after first promising to overhaul how it monetized its open-world multiplayer combat titles — it intended to replace money from sales of DLC with money from sales of loot crates. It designed its entire game loot system around loot crates for this exact reason.

The only good thing about the Battlefront II debacle is that it seems to have scared other publishers from following suit. The degree to which loot boxes represent gambling is a difficult question that may well vary from game to game. The idea that EA was simply attempting to deliver a little fun and joy to its players with some innocent “surprise mechanics” doesn’t deserve the paper it isn’t printed on.

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Amazon’s New Robot Can Pack More Than 600 Boxes Per Hour

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Amazon has installed new robots in its facilities that can pack hundreds of objects per hour and has considered rolling the technology out across its factories. The robots can wrap packages inside boxes it custom-assembles to fit each item. While the robots cost over a million dollars each, Amazon expects to recover the costs within two years.

A new report claims that Amazon has considered rolling out the machines at dozens of warehouses, removing an estimated 24 positions with each rollout. Reuters notes that Amazon is interested in cutting humans out of the warehouse process altogether to save on labor costs, but that the task of picking items out of bins remains too difficult for robots to perform in a cost and time effective manner.

Amazon has a tricky path to navigate here, as Reuters notes, between positioning itself as a potent employer — one towns are often glad to woo, since Amazon warehouse jobs can be relatively high-paying — and the back-breaking impact of the work. Stories about the physical difficulty of working at Amazon, its extensive use of temp agencies, the punishing schedule company employees are expected to work, and the limited help available to employees who are injured on the job have exploded in recent years, as Amazon warehouses have become more common.

Amazon-Warehouses

“We are piloting this new technology with the goal of increasing safety, speeding up delivery times and adding efficiency across our network,” an Amazon spokeswoman said in a statement. “We expect the efficiency savings will be re-invested in new services for customers, where new jobs will continue to be created.”

Amazon has said that it won’t fire workers to replace them with robots. Instead, it simply won’t hire more workers as robots come online, and intends to transition workers who already perform these roles into other jobs. The machines, which are built by the Italian firm CMC Srl, can pack 600-700 packages per hour, or four to five times the rate of a human. The idea of transitioning workers into different roles as opposed to replacing them is one of the ways that automation can transform employment without annihilating jobs, or can even create employment opportunities in other ways. If robots are deployed in factories, for example, this creates work in robot repair that didn’t previously exist.

This does not mean, however, that fears of the danger mass automation could pose to conventional employment is without merit. Over the past 50 years, American society was transformed as high-paying, blue-collar, unionized jobs were replaced by low-paying, non-unionized service work. Real wages for those in the middle-income quintile have scarcely budged in 40 years. The number of people on disability rolls has exploded, in part due to the greater physical toll factory labor takes on the human body compared with office work, and in part because, when a factory closes and lays off workers in their mid-50s, the overwhelming majority of those people are not going to secure jobs as entry-level programmers. The job retraining programs launched and championed by the United States over the past 40 years were not effective in eliminating or even substantially reducing the problems they were intended to address. Where worker retraining has been effective, it has tended to be in specific markets or situations that haven’t mapped well to the entire country.

A 2016 report on the success rate of these programs released by the Department of Labor found that the “availability of WIA-funded training did not increase earnings or employment in the 15 months after random assignment.” There was some weak evidence for improvements in these trends at the very end of the 15 month period that might become more apparent in a longer study; a 30-month study was said to be underway in the 15-month evaluation. But regardless, the data on how helpful existing worker training programs are all points in the same direction: They aren’t. The reasons why range from the specific social and geographic conditions in each individual training center to broader issues that work against the concept. Three issues, in particular, stand out:

  • People who need training may not be aware the opportunity exists or may not qualify for it.
  • Available courses may not match the needs of local employers.
  • Simply retraining people to perform a different job does not require an employer interested in that job to offer an acceptable wage.

There are myriad other factors that can impact the success of these programs as well. Spending on job retraining has fallen for years, and these programs may be intrinsically (if inadvertently) designed to better suit the needs of white-collar workers as opposed to blue-collar ones. It’s a complex topic you can spend a literal lifetime studying, but given the impact automation is expected to have on the workforce over the coming decades, it’s going to be something we have to address. Even if you don’t believe the estimates that 40-50 percent of jobs could be replaced by automation, it doesn’t take a 40-50 percent job replacement rate to upend an economy or society. We’re still grappling with the long-term impact of the loss of high-paying blue-collar jobs from decades ago, and that affected a significantly smaller percentage of the total working population.

In short, Amazon’s decision to deploy superhuman packing robots is both a logical extension of our decades-long shift to automation and a symptom of future problems on the horizon when we haven’t dealt super-well with the problems automation has created already — not from the perspective of maintaining overall class mobility and providing a path into the middle class, anyway. Amazon is neither solely responsible for the problem nor its solution, but we’re going to need better solutions than we’ve fielded to date if experts are correct about the scope of the disruption headed our way.

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