MUSE S GEN 2
If your plans for a new you in 2022 stretch to taking up meditation, this beautifully engineered brainwave-measuring headband from the acclaimed Toronto brand Muse, which is owned by InteraXon, would be an ideal tutor.
Their new Muse S (Generation 2) is also sufficiently comfortable and robust to wear overnight, and, aside from mindfulness training, it can help achieve better sleep by monitoring brain metrics, even playing sleep-inducing soundscapes, which Muse calls (and we slightly wish they wouldn’t) “digital sleeping pills.”
Muse has been around since 2014 and rather owns the space for what goes under the snappy head “neurofeedback-assisted technology-supported meditation training.” They link on their Web site to some encouragingly high-quality academic research seeming to show that their devices can improve users’ focus, attention, and mental well-being.
The company, which grew out of the University of Toronto, has a hatful of academic advisers from leading educational institutions, including Stanford and Harvard Medical School. The mental-health campaigner Representative Patrick J. Kennedy is also on the advisory board.
The first Muse headbands were a little awkward, like a pair of glasses without lenses, which took EEG readings from the forehead and also placed a clump of electronics behind each ear. They took a bit of patience to wear correctly and were a little fragile.
The original Muse is still available, but the new version is much easier to wear—a truly beautiful bit of precision engineering encompassing fabrics, plastics, electronics, sensors, and an incredibly powerful magnetic clasp at the back of the head. The price, $400 plus a non-obligatory subscription for various extras, may disturb some people’s meditative state, but can probably be justified on quality grounds.
The Muse method is as it was in 2014, although the system has evolved and expanded. The headband’s seven EEG brain sensors combine with an optical heart-rate-and-breath-detection system, a gyroscope, and an accelerometer to provide a comprehensive readout of your brain activity and state of physical relaxation. This is transmitted to your phone and the highly detailed Muse app, which tracks at quite a granular level the progress of your meditation (or sleep).
Through headphones or a wireless sound system (neither is included), you hear an audio representation of your state of calmness or otherwise, translated into the sounds of weather or, alternatively, the sea. Should a distracting thought buzz into your mind, the weather/ocean gets noisier, then, as you calm down, it instantly sounds more gentle and summery, with a reward of birdsong when you are fully tranquil.
If you like, there are guided meditations, soothingly voiced in gentle Canadian tones, or you can pilot yourself toward the ultimate goal of thinking about nothing at all for a few minutes or up to an hour.
As we have noted here before, videoconferencing is here to stay, and while it may be supplemented in the coming years by more face-to-face meetings, even actual business trips, it’s probably safe to say online will henceforth be the way most work meetings, and a lot of social interactions too, are done.
This is not just to facilitate working from home; co-workers having video meetings with one another while in the same building might be an interesting quirk, but a video meeting itself is no longer unusual. It is part of the culture—just as basic phone calls suddenly seem laughably 2019.
The camera and microphones on modern laptops are good for videoconferencing, but if, as so many of us now do, you hook your closed laptop up to a bigger screen (or two) to make it more like a desktop setup, you’re going to need a Webcam. And if you have bought one of these in the past two years, you will know some are pretty poor, with smeary video quality and unpleasant audio—both being oddly dispiriting whether it’s a work call or personal.
For our money, this above-average-priced Logitech 4K camera with noise-canceling microphones, auto light correction, a privacy shutter, adjustable field of view, and autofocus is far and away the best you can get.
Whether you use Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, Google Meet, or this column’s favorite, BeaconX, you’ll be rewarded for using the Logitech Brio by gloriously sharp picture quality and clear audio.
The clincher is the Webcam-control software Logitech introduced only in the past few weeks, Logi Tune; so be sure to download it. It gives you a simple, pull-down control panel to alter all the video-quality variables and to optimize the picture (at least from your end) for whichever conferencing system you use.
Despite the initial shock when you encounter it, the Birds Aren’t Real movement is, thankfully, a canny hoax rather than the worst example yet of misinformation insanity.
It posits—as a sophisticated joke against conspiracy theorists—the idea that the U.S. government has wiped out birds, and that every winged creature you see flying around is a spy drone that recharges on power lines.
For those of us who believe birds are real—yes, yes, we the sheeple—this wonderful video bird feeder, from lovely Slovenia in the former Yugoslavia, is a delight.
Already a winner of a 2022 CES Innovation Award, Bird Buddy is a feeder box equipped with a high-resolution camera and microphone. When a bird lands for breakfast, Bird Buddy will alert you on your phone, identify its species using A.I. software in the cloud, photograph and record your visitor, and send you the photos and sounds. It will even send you a notification when it’s low on birdseed.
Bird Buddy is on pre-order now and attracting worldwide interest, so be prepared to wait a few months for delivery, but by summer you should have your avian photo booth up and running.
There sometimes seems to be no limit to the ability of tech (along with crowd-funding) to make the most left-field ideas work—things no corporation would dare try. Bird Buddy is one of the most subscribed Kickstarter and Indiegogo projects ever, with almost $12 million now raised by nearly 50,000 backers; that’s more than 200 times the funds Bird Buddy set out to raise.
We are slightly concerned, however, that a member of the Bird Buddy team, their Chicago-based co-founder, goes by the name, uh, Kyle Buzzard. Birds are real, sure, but can Kyle Buzzard be?
FLARE AUDIO E-PROTOTYPE
Is it possible that among the best—perhaps even the best—in-ear headphones you can currently buy are 3D-printed in tiny numbers in a village on England’s south coast, by a minuscule company founded in 2010 by a former firefighter?
We believe so. The new E-Prototype model by Flare Audio in Sussex sounds astonishing. They are one of the occasional audio products that make you want to re-listen to all the music you know.
E-Prototypes are wired only—very trendy currently, as Bluetooth is considered a bit passé by audiophiles. And they look pretty much homemade, which is fair because they pretty much are. Flare has more than two million Facebook followers, 90,000 on Instagram, and ships to 186 countries, but the entire workforce comprises about 20 people in their warehouse and offices just back from the beach.
But even sound professionals are amazed by them. In a testimonial on the company’s site, Tony Visconti, who has produced for David Bowie, T. Rex, and Iggy Pop, says of E-Prototype, “I’ve been looking for earbuds like these ever since they were invented.” Chris Kimsey (Rolling Stones, Duran Duran, Yes) says, “I cannot take these off! I am hypnotised by the sound coming from E-Prototype.” Julian Lennon is another fan of the almost cult-like brand.
The product’s designer is Flare’s founder, a self-taught audio genius who left education at age 15 without qualifications and admits to being “almost certainly on the spectrum.” Davies Roberts drifted from job to job as a young man before spending 13 years in a local firehouse and D.J.-ing nights. E-Prototype was his two-year coronavirus project.
“I believe we have achieved a kind of hyper-realism with these earphones,” Roberts tells us. “We are finding that when you listen to almost any recording with them, you are actually hearing more than the artist and the producer heard when they were recording the track.”
It’s an extravagant claim, but even now, as the first E-Prototypes are being delivered, the online reviews on audiophile sites are suggesting they are indeed a breakthrough. We think you too may find hearing is believing.
Based in London and New York, AIR MAIL’s tech columnist, Jonathan Margolis, spent more than two decades as a technology writer for the Financial Times. He is also the author of A Brief History of Tomorrow, a book on the history of futurology