It is almost impossible to explain to anyone aged 35 or under how difficult it was as late as the early 1990s to understand the Internet.
E-mails were not a problem to take on board, but when the World Wide Web began to flourish and names such as Amazon and Google first became known, it was exceptionally difficult to comprehend. Many said it was a passing fad. People who left their jobs to work on the new Internet thing were regarded as eccentric.
We would say we are in a similar 1995 mindset now regarding the still misty and deeply esoteric world of the metaverse, blockchain, Web 3.0, and NFTs.
If you’ve been left flat-footed by the whole NFT business in particular and are struggling to understand why the ownership of an NFT is actually valuable and important, this new electronic picture frame from a New York start-up, Lago, should help clear the fog.
Put simply, the company’s Lago Frame turns NFTs from an obscure, abstract entity (just like a Web site was in the 1990s) into art you can hang on your walls.
Lago Frame is expensive, at $4,500, plus add-ons, such as a high-quality audio system and a gesture detector to display works of art with audible or kinetic content. The frame has been built from the ground up with $4.2 million of investment.
Despite the price, Lago co-founder Dan Merritts claims the company has buyers who have purchased as many as 10 to turn their home into a living gallery.
“We set out to bring the metaverse home by helping people show and display NFTs on their wall just like they would a traditional piece of art,” Merritts tells AIR MAIL. “What that does is allow us to connect an NFT you may have purchased to the Lago system, to authenticate and know the provenance, so it’s not just something you downloaded from the Internet.”
The Lago system brings a Spotify-like functionality that helps you to find and view for yourself authenticated NFTs within a growing community of collectors. Your recommendations are based on what you have previously bought, or what a trusted curator you follow has recommended.
The community extends from collectors, connoisseurs, and curators, who are the taste-makers in the eco-system, to creators or artists around the world “minting” (and there’s a new phrase, for many) NFTs.
The beauty of the system, Merritts says, is the way it democratizes art creation. “The system levels the playing field for artists in emerging countries,” he says. “We have artists minting NFTs in Indonesia and sub-Saharan Africa, and getting the access an artist in New York would have to a Chelsea gallery.” He cites a young creator in East Java, Della Permana, who he says is gaining connoisseur collectors without leaving his village.
The 33-inch Lago Frame is designed to be something more than a TV, which is, Merritts says, how many NFT owners currently view their collection. So the frame has a matte screen, electronics adapted to show art even in a sunny room, and comes in six frame styles. If you want to display your NFTs in a fancy, antique-looking frame, Lago can take bespoke orders.
NFT collecting may stir distant memories of stamp or baseball-card collecting for some.
“Absolutely, a lot of the same physical analog mechanics are similar to collectibles,” Merritts says. “You want to bring people over to your house and show them this cool thing you have. They ask if they could buy it from you if you can show it’s real. And, of course, with NFTs, the provenance layer is built in, so you know it’s not a fake.”
WATERROWER PERFORMANCE ERGOMETER
Peloton was a well-known beneficiary of the coronavirus, and then, with the pandemic’s fading, it began to falter.
Many reasons are given for the company’s recent financial woes, from the reopening of gyms to a coincidental series of unfortunate P.R. incidents, including—hardly Peloton’s direct fault—characters on And Just Like That… and Billions dying after Peloton workouts.
We would add three other reasons for Peloton’s stumble. One is that the $44 monthly subscription, frankly, hurts.
Another is that, as a result of the fortunate timing of its rise, Peloton will always, unfortunately, remind many people of the pandemic.
But, perhaps most of all, while Peloton is great for building leg muscles and not bad for cardio, when you come away from even a tough ride, the entire top half of you feels distinctly under-exercised.
In one of those spooky algorithmic episodes that have almost supplanted “psychic” incidents in the modern world, Instagram seemed to detect this growing feeling that Peloton was no longer doing it.
Ads started coming up for a Rhode Island–based rowing-machine company, WaterRower, and their curious wooden machines, which simulate rowing in water by means of a patented WaterFlywheel. This is a series of paddles which rotate in a sealed polycarbonate bath, looking a bit like an early washing machine.
A few things about WaterRower suggested, however, this was less of a technology story and more of an eccentric-contraption story. The company has been going since 1988, and is well-established in many countries; the machines are handmade in New England from sustainable Appalachian woods; and they don’t require an electrical outlet.
But a few claims about WaterRower were very interesting indeed. One such was that rowing on the machine exercises every large muscle group—84 percent of muscle mass. Another was that, as we learned after contacting the company, they have a teched-up version of WaterRower, the Performance Ergometer, released last year, with Peloton-like connected features, such as being able to race live with friends or strangers anywhere in the world—but with no subscription.
A visit to the showroom was in order. Where, within 10 minutes, we decided it was quite ingenious and on the Christmas-gift-to-self list.
The rowing action is an absolute delight, uncannily like being on a boat in water, with even the sound of the oars pulling through water distinctly river-like.
The SmartRow app, which uses your smartphone or tablet to connect to the WaterRower by Bluetooth—rather than a built-in screen, as with the Peloton—is excellent. And the price, similar to Peloton but at least $1,000 less than the competing Hydrow Rower, is a great value.
Additionally, while it’s a huge machine when in use—more than seven feet long—it tips up for storage, thus taking up a small-enough footprint to be wheeled into a closet or apartment corner.
Netgear Orbi Quad-Band WiFi 6E Mesh System
When it comes to the speed, quality, and security of Internet, this columnist believes firmly in using a hammer to crack a nut. Almost any price can be justified, we feel, to ensure an unbroken torrent of deluxe megabits pouring forth for the foreseeable future as fast as current science allows.
Unless you live in a massive house filled with dozens of people constantly online using multiple devices, you really don’t need router-meister Netgear’s latest home Wi-Fi system, which we believe to be the most advanced and expensive ever offered.
But even at up to $2,000 for a 12,000-square-foot home, Netgear’s new Orbi Quad-Band Mesh WiFi 6E System RBKE963 (snappy name, folks) seems a reasonable investment, because it should be many, many years before it needs to be upgraded. If ever.
The Orbi will waft up to 10.8 gigabits per second—a speed you can’t even get in the U.S. yet—to as many as 200 devices in every corner of a home, and probably its grounds outside too. Smart parental controls are included, and for an extra $100 annually, you can subscribe to Netgear’s Armor cyber-security system.
To put that 10.8 Gbps into perspective, the U.S. average download speed is well under 200 megabits per second, a tenth of this Netgear model’s capacity, and, in reality, 5 Mbps will serve most household purposes. So having Wi-Fi capable of handling downloads thousands of times faster than an already decent average is future-proofing in spades.
In our item on Lago in this edition, we looked at framing. This tech start-up is into farming. Automated, vertical, indoor farming, that is.
Willo Farm grows salad greens in warehouse-size facilities in California and Arizona. They grow produce vertically, in towering 24-foot-high stacks, picked and packed by robots.
Consumers can commission a crop, monitor its growing online—still photos and time-lapse images included—and then have it delivered within 24 hours to anywhere in the U.S.
Willo Farm uses aeroponics (growing in air misted with water), which is a stage beyond hydroponics, in which the plant’s roots live in water. There is a school of thought that aeroponics is harder to do but better.
Willo Farm’s co-founder, Sam Bertram, says the aim is to bring crops that are arguably cleaner and purer than organic into people’s kitchens.
“The idea is that the produce you receive has never been breathed on or touched by another human being, or been in contact with pests or even the natural pesticides which organic crops can be treated with,” says Bertram. “Aeroponic growing makes for more oxygenation, hence higher quality and faster growth.”
The salad greens the consumer receives span from spinach, arugula, kale, and basil to more specialty varieties like joi choi brassica, rosie pak choi, and onion microgreens.
By getting the produce from harvesting to customers’ refrigerators at speed, Willo Farm says everything in your delivery box should last up to 18 days.
Berries are coming, Bertram adds. And there will be more farms around the U.S. and the world as, for obvious reasons, they prefer, ideally, to deliver within 30 to 50 miles of a farm.
If you are commissioning Willo Farm crops, you have the choice of 20 or 42 side-salad boxes. They are expensive, but, Bertram says, “people pay for premium cosmetics, so why not for premium food? We are supplying the highest-quality produce on earth.”
We had a family in New York try Willo’s $100 Welcome Harvest Box. They confirm that it was very nice salad indeed, although comprising rather small quantities and shipped in a lot of plastic.
Our trialists felt it was not dissimilar to the organic produce they buy locally, but that the idea of produce grown in the purest of conditions may well be what catches on.
Salad connoisseurship may always be a niche area. But for children, at least, being able to see their vegetables online growing remotely could encourage them to eat the stuff.
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