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Covid 19

Why crypto regulation is a double-edged sword

Did you know Hard Fork is taking the stage on Sept 30 and Oct 1? Together with an amazing line-up of experts, we will explore the future of crypto during TNW Conference 2021. Secure your ticket now!

Cryptocurrency regulation has become inevitable, and many people in the industry say they would welcome clearer rules.

Proponents argue that regulatory clarity will legitimize the sector, reduce financial risks, and support product development. Uncertainty, meanwhile, would stall market growth, stifle technical innovation, and scare off potential investors.

Naturally, they want regulation on their own terms. Trading platform Coinbase, for instance, is currently preparing a draft federal framework for consideration by lawmakers.

It’s not unusual for regulators to request input from the tech sector. But that doesn’t mean they will create rules that the industry desires.

“It’s the classic cliche of a double-edged sword,” Lane Kasselman, the Chief Business Officer of crypto company Blockchain.com, tells Hard Fork.

“We’ll end up with really clear regulation in the US, UK, and EU that gives us a little bit of what the crypto industry wants, and probably creates some frameworks that we don’t really love and have to innovate around.”

Kasselman is nonetheless among those calling for permanent regulation. While many crypto firms historically preferred to stay below the radar, he says, the more mature ones now need new frameworks to grow their businesses.

He highlights two other forces that are accelerating the drive for regulation: growing awareness of potential consumer harms, and regulators recognizing that the industry is maturing.

Kasselman saw a similar evolution while he was working on regulatory campaigns and frameworks at Uber:

Regulators tend to wait to see if an industry becomes mature enough and they actually need to take action. Government moves slowly everywhere; they wait for a certain level of maturity.

Lane Kasselman, Chief Business Officer, Blockchain.com, is speaking at TNW Conference 2021.
Kasselman previously worked with California Governor Gavin Newsom and former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

In comparison to the EU and UK, Kassleman says regulatory progress in the US has been slow.

One of the reasons is that government agencies disagree about how to classify crypto. Some want to treat it as a commodity, while others argue that it’s a security or a property.

The reality is that the industry doesn’t neatly fit into any individual bucket.

“Saying crypto is like saying banking; it means so many things,” says Kasselman.

That’s not the only way in which crypto resembles traditional banking. The two are becoming increasingly intertwined. And as they become more integrated, the rush to regulate crypto will only accelerate.

Lane Kasselman is speaking at TNW Conference 2021 on September 30th and October 1st. He’ll be joined by 150 other amazing experts who will share their latest insights from the world of business and tech.

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Covid 19

Become a Google ad master with this marketing growth hack training package

TLDR: The Premium Google Ads and Marketing Growth Bundle offers a roadmap for crafting Google ad campaigns that achieve the reach any business wants.

Google serviced more than 2.5 trillion searches in 2020. That translates to a still staggering 6.9 billion searches each and every day. The most visited website on the planet, many experts believe that astronomical volume will only increase, potentially eclipsing an unfathomable 10 trillion searches annually by the end of the decade.

Considering those gargantuan numbers, it’s clear why Google Ads and their equally vast advertising network are one of the most high-profile marketing opportunities available to a business. From a multinational conglomerate to a local mom and pop storefront, the opportunities that Google presents to hyper-target and reach a specific audience are staggering.

In The Premium Google Ads and Marketing Growth Bundle ($29.99, over 90 percent off, from TNW Deals), even first time ad buyers can get a grasp on the power of the Google advertising machine and learn how to turn that reach in service of their business or message.

Over 9 courses including almost 40 hours of intensive training, this coursework can help make the entire Google ad experience clear, starting with basic training like Introduction to Google Ads and the Google Analytics course. 

With knowledge fashioned for the first-time digital marketer, these courses explain the types of ad campaigns available through Google and the mechanics of getting your first one off the ground successfully. Meanwhile, the Google Analytics walkthrough will help you determine exactly how well your ads are doing, explaining the tracking and performance tools available in this uber-powerful reporting platform.

Further courses go even deeper into the Google ad experience. Google Trends For Insane Growth for Your Business and Brand gets into using Google Trends, a robust tool for handling comparative keyword research and tracking event-triggered spikes in keyword search volume. Google Tag Manager for Developers explores how to quickly and easily manage analytics scripts, remarketing pixels, click tracking software, and any other software that requires JavaScript tags on your website. And Marketing Analytics in Google Data Studio takes users inside how to turn your results into informative and easily shareable customizable dashboards and reports.

There’s even a course in optimizing all those reports. With the tactics presented in the Ultimate Google Ads Training 2021: Profit with Pay Per Click, users learn how to boost their profitability on the world’s most used advertising platform.

All the training found in The Premium Google Ads and Marketing Growth Bundle is an $1,800 value, but right now, this complete package is on sale now for considerably less at just $29.99.

Prices are subject to change

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Covid 19

If you’re ready to get flying for the first time this quadcopter drone might just be the perfect pick

TLDR: This 4K camera drone is a brilliant choice for novice fliers, including nifty flight capabilities and a brilliant camera to handle all your drone tasks for business or pleasure.

From surveillance to aerial photography to filmmaking, there’s no shortage of uses for a nimble drone. But while some models are packed with loads of specializations and other high-end bells and whistles that can run hundreds or even thousands of dollars, other current models are built for ultimate reliability.

And especially for a novice pilot just getting comfortable behind a drone controller, some of these baseline drones still carry all the functionality most pilots are looking for, while remaining easy to use and capable of surviving unfortunate learning moments behind the stick.

That makes aircraft like this quadrotor drone from Ineedmeone ($99.95, 75 percent off, from TNW Deals) such a great purchase for a first-time flyer, stacked with all the important drone features, yet simple enough for beginners to jump in and get comfortable quickly.

Any drone is most accurately judged by how well it flies, and this drone has the goods to impress. WIth a six-axis gyroscope, a headless body mode and easy controls, it’s simple for a first timer to connect their phone, grab the controllers, and get up in the air quickly. In fact, this model is also equipped with ultra-convenient one-key takeoff and landing features, while get the craft airborne or back down on the ground safely with a single button press.

Meanwhile, this drone is also capable of serving up some majesty as well, courtesy of the on-board 4K HD quality camera. When synced to a smartphone or tablet, this craft can record and stream gorgeous 4K images back to your device to enjoy  impressive detail as well as a truly real-time first-person viewing option that feels like the next best thing to actually being up there.

This unit also comes with gesture control abilities for snapping the perfect selfie with a simple hand gesture.

Plus, this aircraft comes with a rechargeable battery that can keep you up in the air for up to 25 minutes on a single charge.

The S32T HD 4K Single-Camera Drone is regularly $410, but as part of this sale, fliers can get one now for 75 percent off at just $99.95 while this deal lasts.

Prices are subject to change

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Covid 19

Unagi packs pothole-dodging smarts into its hot new escooter

Did you know SHIFT is taking the stage on Sept 30 and Oct 1? Together with an amazing line-up of experts, we will explore the future of mobility during TNW Conference 2021. Secure your ticket now!

We’ve longed for a time when our transport is not simply just connected, but actually smart and intuitive. Well, that time might be here, thanks to Unagi. This week, they showcased their latest escooter, the Model Eleven, a successor to the Model One.

While the escooter is available at a cheaper price without AI, its inclusion makes it a powerhouse.

ADAS comes to two-wheel mobility

The Model Eleven is the only two-wheel consumer vehicle with an integrated advanced driver-assistance system (ADAS) sensor. It detects objects in your periphery and warns of spending collisions and dangers. According to the company’s CEO, David Hyman,

The scooter literally sees potential collusions and warns its rider.

This is great for rider safety. Further, Model Eleven knows the difference between a stoplight, stop sign, person, car, or inanimate object. It provides both audio and visual warnings via the embedded audio system and display.


The Unagi Scooter Eleven integrates voice-activated google turn-by-turn instructions into your ride.

The escooter also features voice-activated turn-by-turn instructions. There’s also the opportunity to listen to music via Bluetooth. The rider receives an alert if the escootergets moved and can also activate a remote kill switch via the app in case of theft.

What I like most about the ADAS system is that it pivots the use of AI. Currently, micromobility companies are deploying the tech to reduce bad rider behavior, but this offers rider-assistance in not only good behavior but also rider safety.

Seriously sleek escooter design

the Model Eleven escooter is available in a range of colours
The Model Eleven escooter is seriously stylish.

Besides its intuitive capabilities, this is an escooter with serious design chops.

It owes its style to industrial design legend Yves Béhar.Béhar is the founder and principal designer of Fuseproject, an industrial design and brand development firm. He’s previously designed motorcycles, a surfboard, as well as work for PUMA, General Electric, Jawbone, and many more. According to Béhar:

Public transport in the urban landscape is being transformed. As designers, we have an opportunity to create a solution that is specifically designed for a city landscape. We designed the Unagi scooterto be high-performance and safe, durable and beautiful, lightweight, and ergonomic. Ultimately, we want this electric scooter to be our go-to for urban mobility.

Model Eleven is made almost entirely of long carbon, including the handlebars, stem, and platform. This helps a whole lot with weight reduction. The escooter weighs in at an ultralight 14.5kg (32lbs), while other full-suspension scooters weigh over 20kg (45lbs).

An elastomer-based suspension system makes it easy to ride over tough terrain like cobblestones and potholes. This is a great advantage, especially in cities that lack the ideal infrastructure for safe scootering.

The Model Eleven Scooter folded
The Model Eleven scooter folds for easy portability and storage.

Model Eleven runs on a dual-motor system, with each motor delivering 250W of power for a total of 1,100W. The battery is removable and swappable, reducing the problem of range anxiety.

According to Hyman, the company is especially proud of the dual-motor design and “incredible torque,” providing “unmatched acceleration plus superior hill-climbing capabilities.”

Unagi has worked on the escooter since August 2019 and plans to begin shipping in September 2022. Model Eleven retails $1,690USD with the ADAS on crowdfunding site Indiegogo.


Do EVs excite your electrons? Do ebikes get your wheels spinning? Do self-driving cars get you all charged up? 

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TikTok’s algorithm is helping ‘psychics’ exploit Gabby Petito’s death

Opportunistic, predatory human beings claiming to be ‘psychics’ have taken their scams to TikTok in order to exploit the tragic murder of Gabby Petito. And the algorithm’s giving them a boost.

File under: Absolutely disgusting.

Up front: 22-year old Gabby Petito, a travel influencer, recently went missing. Their case reached the public spotlight due to scrutiny over another person’s involvement and is currently an ongoing homicide investigation.

As is usually the case in high-profile homicide investigations, so-called ‘psychics’ have come out of the woodwork to try and capitalize on human trauma and make a few bucks peddling their millennia-old scam.

In the modern era that means they’re all over social media hawking their horrific schemes. And, on TikTok at least, they’re getting a boost from the algorithm.

As of the time of this article’s publishing, typing the words “medium” (an alternate term for psychic) or “psychic” into the app’s search window brings up auto-completed recommendations for Gabby Petito.

a screenshot demonstrating the Tik Tok algorithm auto-completing "Gabby Petito" in searches for psychics

a screenshot demonstrating the Tik Tok algorithm auto-completing "Gabby Petito" in searches for psychics

Background: TikTok has nearly a billion active monthly users. It’s content-surfacing algorithms rely on a combination of popularity and subject-weighting to determine what terms are listed as suggestions when users enter queries.

Because these systems are black box AI, there’s no way to know exactly why the algorithms choose a term or why they choose one topic over another.

But we can make some educated guesses. It’s almost certain that a large volume of people are searching for “psychic” and “Gabby Petito.” And, because a significant number of people apparently insist on believing in absolute poppy-cock such as the existence of psychics, that makes sense.

Plus, Insider covered it earlier today (hat tip), so there’s probably a bump of people searching for gee whiz reasons who don’t legitimately believe in psychics.

The problem: Normally, rational people are better off ignoring these “psychic” huckster-clowns. But in situations like this, they’re outright dangerous and harmful.

As Insider’s article points out:

Many psychics aren’t spreading awareness about the facts of Petito’s case, but rather claiming to have insight into details that are yet to be uncovered. And even when their theories are baseless or proved to be untrue, they keep going — to the tune of millions of views.

Quick take: What kind of dumpster-fire of a human being knowingly concocts and spreads lies and misinformation about an ongoing homicide case?

No psychic, in the history of human existence, has ever contributed to the solving of any criminal case by supernatural means. Only harm can come from spreading these made-up untruths.

Not to mention the sheer disrespect for the victim and their loved ones.

The fact that TikTok‘s algorithms are propagating this dangerous nonsense clearly demonstrates the network either doesn’t recognize the potential for harm done by these “psychics,” or it doesn’t care.

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Covid 19

A love letter to the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones

Everyone has a contrarian side. At some point you must’ve seen something loads of people loved and had the immediate reaction of “well, not me.”

And, like most human experiences, some people suffer from contrarianism more than others. I, for example, am fucking awful.

Let’s take the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones as an example. Over past iterations, the range has been routinely touted as some of the best mid-range headphones on the market. And that meant one thing to Mr. Contrary Ass over here: I stuck my nose up at them.

“Oh,” I’d say to anyone who’d listen in the five seconds before they walked away, “I prefer to get my over-ear headphones from a dedicated manufacturer.”

This meant companies like Sennheiser or Master & Dynamic or Bose. In other words, organizations solely focused on high-end audio gear — not a broad range of price points and tech products.

I’d tried the Sony WH-1000XM4 and never thought they were bad, they just didn’t appeal to me.

Then, after being urged to give the headphones another spin, I began living with them. And all I can say is I was wrong. Oh I was wrong.

sony wh-1000xm4 travel guide headphones
I made this picture of the WH-1000XM4, rather than taking a photograph, because I’m wearing my headphones and you can’t make me take them off.

When it comes to mid-range headphones (basically anything around $300-500 in my mind), it’s a game of compromises. Do you value battery life? Sound quality? Noise-canceling? You can find a product that thrives at each of these tasks.

But I’ll put my hand on whatever religious book you favor most and state that Sony‘s WH-1000XM4 are the most well-balanced headphones I’ve tried. The build quality is fantastic, the battery is beefy, and they’re light and comfortable to wear.

But it’s the small details that really get me.

They still have an aux cable. The companion app is fantastic and endlessly adjustable. And they have touch controls that actually work.

Look, in my opinion all headphones should have actual buttons. Touch controls are fiddly and don’t always work — but the WH-1000XM4 are some of the few headphones where using them isn’t a fucking nightmare.

Another detail that gets me all hot-and-bothered is the case. Oh, that sweet, protective case.

sony wh-1000xm4 case
Look, I told you, I’m not taking my headphones off. But here’s another picture I made.

The WH-1000XM4 fold away into a flat container and I can’t tell you what a joy this is. They take up almost no space when packed away. There’s even a neat little slot for the aux cable and a flight adaptor. It’s perfect for traveling — whether it’s to work or abroad.

And that is where I think the true joy of the WH-1000XM4 is found: they’re true lifestyle headphones.

Other cans in this market segment can do some things better. For example, I prefer the sound of the Sennheiser Momentum 3 and AirPods Max are amazing if you’ve got a lot of Apple devices.

But nothing has the all-court game of the WH-1000XM4.

These headphones do everything to a consistently excellent standard. Whether I’m listening to lossless files with the Chord Mojo, Marantz CD6007 player, or simply using Bluetooth on my phone, the sound is amazing. There are a gamut of useful features (like a mode where you put your hand over the earcup so you can talk with someone) and they’re comfortable enough to wear all day.

Are they perfect? No. But while there are some things I’d change (proper buttons! longer battery! lower price!), none of them are deal breakers. Simply, the WH-1000XM4 are the best cans I’ve tried for going about my daily business in the city.

All this leads me to one point: I’m happy I was wrong about the Sony WH-1000XM4. I’m glad I’ve had my stupid contrarian face rubbed in the dirt. In fact — I’m elated by it.

Because if I didn’t eat my own filthy words, these gorgeous headphones wouldn’t be part of my life. And that just wouldn’t do.

Did you know we have a newsletter all about consumer tech? It’s called Plugged In – and you can subscribe to it right here.

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Bird opens its app to local bikesharing operators in 5 cities — for free

Did you know SHIFT is taking the stage on Sept 30 and Oct 1? Together with an amazing line-up of experts, we will explore the future of mobility during TNW Conference 2021. Secure your ticket now!

In June, Bird expanded its micromobility services by adding to its escooters a fleet of shared ebikes. The company launched its first dedicated Bird Bike along with the “Smart Bikeshare Program” that allows local shared ebike and emoped providers to integrate with the Bird app. 

At the time, Bird had only partnered up with the Italian emoped operator ZigZag, but as of Wednesday the company has rolled out free public bikeshare integration with multiple cities.

Bird bikeshare program
Bird’s escooter and ebike. Credit: Bird

Local bikeshare service providers in Oslo (Oslo City Bike), Austin (Metrobike Austin), Los Angeles (Metro Bike), San Antonio (SA Bikeshare), and Milwaukee (Bublr Bikes Milwaukee) will be able to feature their bikesharing programs directly in the Bird app.

Notably, Bird’s integration with public bikeshare services is completely free of charge for cities and local operators.

How does it work?

It’s fairly simple.

When riders search for vehicles in the Bird app, they’ll be able to also see public bike stations in their proximity along with the number of bikes currently available at each. 

Then they only need to tap the respective icon, which will take riders to the local app. From there they can rent a bike within a few minutes.

Bird bikesharing program
The blue icon represents the available Oslo City Bikes, and the winged icon the Bird Bikes. Credit: Bird

Why is Bird aiming for public integration? 

The company says that it’s focusing on working together with, and not against, existing mobility services. That way it can actually promote multimodal electric mobility “without monopolizing transportation options or competing with local businesses.”

Admittedly, that’s an admirable purpose and a model of complementing micromobility options would further discourage the dependence on cars.

At the same time, no company is planning its strategy without expecting to turn a profit. And given that the global bikesharing market’s worth is expected to reach $21.3 billion by 2030, the stakes are indeed very high. 

Bird may not be asking for money to display the vehicles of local providers alongside its own, but there’s still a couple of significant advantages that could return the investment.

First up, the collaboration with other operators enables the company to have a multimodal presence without requiring to hugely expand its own fleet or to add other forms of micromobility vehicles.

Plus, Bird can get a much larger quantity of valuable data to identify traveling patterns and needs, which could be very useful for future models and expansion plans to other cities.


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The rise of online learning is a chance to remold universities

As any universitystudent, lecturer or tutor can attest, the pandemic has turned learning and teaching upside down. So it’s important we understand what happens for students when their learning shifts online with little to no warning.

Since 2020, there’s been a growing body of important research into the impact of online learning for educators. But the student voice, which is essential to informing good design and facilitation of online learning, has been largely unexamined.

Our Student Online Learning Experiences (SOLE) research project aims to rectify this and give voice to those who are, arguably, at the heart of the COVID-19 education crisis.

The study uses data from nearly 1000 survey responses from students across all eight New Zealand universities. Through a combination of online questionnaires, individual and focus group interviews, we explored their experiences of online learning during the pandemic in 2020.

Challenges and benefits

Students are not a homogeneous group and online learning is not the same for everyone.

Our research shows that, even in so-called normal times, students face multiple challenges, such as access to technology and online resources, financial hardship, family responsibilities and challenging study environments. The pandemic has exacerbated these challenges.

A lot of my family members got [made] redundant, and they lost their house. There were 11 people staying in my house. I couldn’t study. I was also working at the same time. I had to pick up more shifts to help. Working more hours and trying to study on top of that was hard […] My house was always loud […] it was just hard for me.

Among the challenges, however, there were some benefits. More than half the students acknowledged not having to travel and having the flexibility to learn at their own pace and place was positive.

Being able to cut out travel time has given me pretty much three hours of extra study time in a day. The flexibility has enabled me to fit [study] around my daily life. It reduced stress and anxiety. I feel more in control of the work that I do. I definitely work better when I feel like I have to take charge of my own learning.

They also appreciated “being able to access learning materials at any time and the ability to pause and continue” at their own pace. Students also reported they were able to “balance the children, household and study much more effectively”.

Support and communication key

Though many students felt less motivated and less focused, they became more used to online learning. They discovered they could leverage the good aspects of remote learning when they had the right support or knew where to get help, such as financial assistance, extensions, and disability support.

Some students found online learning took them a lot longer to process and engage with.

When it comes to posting something online, I like to make it perfect. Check my grammar, check my punctuation, and see if it makes sense. It’s like [a] mini assignment […] And then a tiny post might take forever for me to write, whereas in class we just have to say it.

However, most students also said regular updates and clear communication were key to helping them learn online by reducing the sense of isolation and distance.

It was good to see students/lecturers talking about their daily life before the online live lecture starts. This gave a sense of “interaction” rather than being talked at in campus lectures where I usually felt a bit of distance from lecturers.

Open-book versus closed-book

Our study also highlighted the need to rethink university assessment practices.

In the face of ongoing demands of family, work, and lockdown life, many students found it challenging to sit an exam at a specified time.

They preferred time-based assessments (in which students complete an open-book exam or another type of assessment task within a specified time frame), rather than online exams at a fixed time.

One respondent questioned whether universities were “assessing students in a way that’s actually effective and beneficial for their learning”.

Asked what they would like to see continued in future course design and teaching, a majority preferred open-book exams “that assess the application of knowledge as opposed to a stressful closed-book memory test”.

Such an approach might also help minimize problems with cheating and academic integrity in the online environment.

What do students say we should do?

Fundamentally, we need to get to know and consult with the students we work with and understand their needs and circumstances. We need to provide choice and negotiate learning possibilities, including such things as:

  • design more flexible and inclusive learning experiences (for example, allow students to choose from a selection of times to complete assessments)
  • develop student skills and competency online, provide video tutorials, allow time to experiment and have fun, give feedback and encouragement along the way
  • establish opportunities for students to give and receive self, peer, and teacher feedback
  • foster social learning and social presence online by nurturing relationships and creating opportunities for group interaction
  • provide opportunities to participate in class or online workshops (post-pandemic), maximizing the benefits of blended learning
  • inform students about the full range of support available and clearly communicate priorities for learning.

Better design, better learning

As pandemic conditions become the new normal, educators need to move beyond Zoom, Teams, and video lectures to create inclusive learning environments. Using the Universal Design for Learning framework would be a good place to start.

Equity and diversity should be front of mind when we transition to blended, flexible, or online modes of study. As one of our respondents aptly put it, we must

[…] recognize inequities and students who may have all kinds of difficulties accessing online learning, who may have physical disabilities that make online learning difficult, who may be having to take care of people.

Above all, we must listen more closely to those whose lives and learning are most affected by these changes — students.

You can read the full SOLE report here.The Conversation

Article by Dilani Gedera, Teaching and Learning Manager, Auckland University of Technology; Ashwini Datt, Curriculum Development Manager, University of Auckland; Cheryl Brown, Associate Professor of e-Learning, University of Canterbury; Dianne Forbes, Senior Lecturer in Digital Learning, University of Waikato, and Maggie Hartnett, Senior Lecturer in Education, Massey University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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This digital ruler can handle accurate measurements over almost any surface, including curves

TLDR: The Rollova 2.0 Digital Ruler slips into your pocket and springs to life to measure over any surface, even curves, with just a simple roll.

While the wooden ruler is best remembered as the stereotypical corporal punishment weapon of choice for catholic school nuns, its place in 2021 society is quickly fading into the rearview mirror of history. Who still uses a foot-long piece of wood to measure off inches, centimeters, and other short increments of distance these days?

In the coming years, we’ll probably be able to instantly assess those types of measurements right through enhancements like the ocular implants in our eyeballs. Until that day comes, we’ll just have to settle for steps beyond the wooden ruler — like the Kickstarter darling, the Rollova 2.0 Digital Ruler ($76.95, 13 percent off, from TNW Deals).

Like everything else in our modern world, measurement has gone digital — and this compact, highly-portable electronic ruler makes it incredibly simple to measure short distances easily. That includes gauging over surfaces that would seem mostly impossible with a stiff conventional ruler, like over curved or fixed objects that don’t lend themselves to easy measurement.

At just about 2 inches across, the Rollova 2.0 is about the size of a poker chip. But this pocket-friendly gadget is a designer or craftsmen’s best pal, letting users just roll the ruler over the object or surface and get precise readings on length, width, height, and all those important details.

Crafted with a full stainless steel body, this minimalist tool includes a 1.2-inch OLED screen that displays your findings in either imperial or metric units. The rubber wheel and rugged frame roll effortlessly over your targeted surface, measuring all the way up to 83 feet over almost any terrain, including fabric, metal, wood, and more. It’ll even save your last 99 measurements in its internal storage.

Just pop in a traditional coin-type lithium battery and the Rollova 2.0 can sit in standby mode for up to 2 years, ensuring it’s always ready to jump into action when needed.

RIght now, buyers can save almost $15 off the price of this next-gen measuring tool by picking up the Rollova 2.0 Digital Ruler now at 13 percent off its regular price at just $76.95. Or get a two-pack of Rollovas for even more savings, only $136.99.

Prices are subject to change

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Covid 19

China owns the factories — now they’re building the world’s best cars

Europeans and other western nations have dominated automotive excellence for over a century. Whether it is the satisfying thud of the door closing on a Volkswagen from Wolfsburg or the beauty of a Ferrari from Modena, these brands are iconic – and very lucrative for their manufacturers. When we think of reliability, the Germans, and latterly the Japanese, have had it sewn up. But if you rest on your laurels, an upstart will soon be chasing at your heels.

The Chinese are not exactly upstarts in the traditional sense: it’s more than a decade since they surpassed America to become the most prolific car-makers in the world. But despite reaching that milestone in 2008, China’s cars were still mostly clones of cheap western vehicles.

Now, however, China is arguably producing the best cars in the world, and on track to dominate auto manufacturing. How did this happen, and will the west be able to regain its crown?

Advantage, Beijing

The center of excellence in car manufacturing moved from Europe at the turn of the 1900s to the US with the growth of Detroit as the world’s auto powerhouse. The 1980s and 1990s saw Japan and South Korea surge ahead, only for Europe to rise again in the early noughties as Volkswagen dueled Toyota to be the number-one manufacturer by output.

Each continent has added its own flavor along the way, from innovation in safety in Europe to volume production in the US to lean manufacturing in Japan. It was Toyota’s manufacturing systems that saved German-owned Porsche when it was facing dire business conditions in the 1990s, for instance.

China has gradually built its auto-making capabilities during these different eras. It originally began making Soviet-designed utility vehicles under license in the 1950s, before its state-owned companies reached similar arrangements in joint ventures with western manufacturers like General Motors and Volkswagen in the 1980s. This produced cars that were far better designed and more sophisticated, and soon China’s roads were becoming choked with western clones.

The Beijing rush
The Beijing rush. Credit: Alamy

But if that steadily elevated China to number-one world carmaker by output, it can now go one better. The goal for any automotive nation is to produce vehicles of outstanding quality at the lowest possible price, simultaneously delighting the owner with innovative features and good design.

Vehicle quality is both about simple reliability and also what we would describe as build quality: how well the vehicle is finished, the uniformity of the paint finish, how well the different panels on the body align, and even – as Volkswagen made famous – the sound the doors make when they close.

Japanese and Korean vehicles have dominated reliability, while build quality has been the preserve of the Germans for mass-manufactured cars, and British names like Rolls-Royce and Bentley at the luxury end (ironically both are owned by the Germans).

China is now a major threat on both fronts, having had the advantage of maturing most recently: as each new nation learns to produce vehicles at scale, they benefit from all the learning and technical developments that have gone before. Incumbent nations would have to start from the ground up to unlock these benefits, which is an enormous upheaval and expense. Many US car plants were built in the 1950s or even before, for instance.

China is also well placed to build cars for the right price. It still pays relatively low wages and has millions of skilled workers steeped in the nation’s strong manufacturing culture. Skilled workers are vital to reducing automotive costs because they make vehicles that need fewer adjustments or rebuilds.

The Tesla gigafactory in Shanghai: five down, 1,995 to go. Xinhua/Alamy
The Tesla gigafactory in Shanghai: five down, 1,995 to go. Credit: Xinhua/Alamy

China also has excellent shipping links, with many auto factories close to Shanghai, the world’s largest shipping port. This includes Tesla’s gigafactory, one of the largest facilities in the world, capable of producing around 2,000 cars daily. Getting the product out, shipped and with the customer quickly reduces costs because manufacturers get paid sooner. Also crucially important is China’s huge components supply-chain, which is already a large exporter of car parts to other nations. This all adds up to huge economies of scale that don’t exist anywhere else, and are difficult to replicate.

Changing of the guard

Admittedly, some Chinese vehicles in the past decade have not had the design or performance expected by western buyers, so have not sold in enough volumes in Europe to worry the establishment. Yet this is changing rapidly. Start-ups like Polestar (owned by Volvo) are building vehicles that combine excellent build quality and the safety features, design and performance that western buyers demand. Sales of the Polestar 2 electric SUV have actually outpaced the Tesla Model 3 in Sweden and Norway at times, albeit the Model 3 is still the bigger seller overall.

Comparing vehicles that are built both in the west and China is particularly illuminating. Tesla’s Model 3 and Model Y cars are both built in the US and China, and owners in Europe have reported that the Chinese versions are better. I hear that their all-important panel gaps are tighter, and fewer trips to the repair shop are required.

Polestar and Tesla both have very modern factories and are fully electric. Both are designed in the west, as is BMW’s iX3, another fully electric SUV built in China for export back to Europe. Like Polestar and Tesla, the iX3 is taking advantage of China’s supply chain in EV batteries, among other things.

The Nio eT electric sedan being unveiled in Shanghai. Xinhua/Alamy
The Nio eT electric sedan being unveiled in Shanghai. Credit: Xinhua/Alamy

Yet Chinese-designed and built vehicles are not far behind in their design (if not equal), and starting to invade European markets. Xpeng is one Chinese start-up that only produces electric vehicles. Having sold well in China, it is making its first moves into Europe via Norway with its G3 model. Reviews of this compact SUV by the established auto press have been good. Meanwhile, Nio is another Chinese manufacturer making great strides in becoming a global name in pure electric vehicles.

It is early days for these entirely Chinese-designed cars to take on the establishment, and there is always the possibility that geopolitics upsets progress, but it finally seems that all the ingredients are there. The next revolution in automotive is replacing petrol and diesel vehicles with electric. With all of China’s advantages, it could yet lead this shift, and finally become the home of the best cars in the world.The Conversation

Article by Tom Stacey, Senior Lecturer in Operations and Supply Chain Management, Anglia Ruskin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.