Review: Google’s Pixel 3a Is the Best Low-Cost Smartphone You Can Buy

Turns out, not everyone wants a fancy smartphone. The latest and greatest might be catnip for the early adopters among us, but for someone who wants a phone that just works, spending thousands of dollars can be overkill. Even half a grand might seem like a lot for something you’ll probably accidentally drop in a river, leave behind in a taxi or simply get bored of after a few years.

So what’s a budget-conscious smartphone shoppers to do? Google thinks its new Pixel 3a smartphones — more affordable versions of the company’s flagship Pixel 3 and 3 XL smartphones — are the answer. While the cheaper Pixel phones don’t have all the features you might want in a smartphone, they nail the basics and come with an awesome camera to boot — maybe that’s what the “a” stands for.

At first, the $399 Pixel 3a and larger $479 3a XL look virtually identical to the more expensive Pixel 3 line, but the differences become apparent when you pick them up. The 3a ditches the Pixel 3’s glass exterior for a more affordable plastic one, for instance, but it still has a fingerprint sensor. Other changes include uninspiring stereo speakers as well as single front-facing camera, compared to the two on the Pixel 3. The 3a makes up for those tweaks by adding a much-needed 3.5mm headphone jack, in addition to a USB-C port. One unfortunate side effect of the new design: the 3a’s slightly larger body makes it a few millimeters too tall for any Pixel 3 cases. Meanwhile, the Pixel 3a’s 5.6-inch OLED screen lacks top-end features like HDR support, but its high-resolution display and vibrant color reproduction makes streaming video and games look great.

The Pixel 3a’s sacrifices become more apparent inside the device, highlighting the differences between the affordable and the opulent when it comes to smartphones. Enticing yet non-essential features like wireless charging and the secondary wide-angle selfie camera are gone. The lack of wireless charging means some of Google’s own accessories, like its Pixel Stand, won’t work with the 3a. And you won’t get any waterproofing, a feature found on more expensive devices. You will, however, be able to enjoy fast-paced games and apps thanks to its capable mid-range processor and 4GB of RAM. As for actual storage, 64GB is your only option (sorry, hoarders). While it might not sound like much, if you’re using the 3a to take photos, you can store them for free in Google Photos without taking up any extra space. And besides, you’re probably streaming all your content anyway.

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Google smartly makes up for some of those hardware drawbacks with some pretty incredible software. Take, for instance, the Google Assistant, which is getting smarter all the time. Using Call Screen, the Pixel 3a (along other Pixel smartphones) can redirect incoming calls to a text message-like interface where the caller’s voice is transcribed, letting you respond with a list of preset messages designed to handle spam calls or tell someone you’ll call them back. It’s one of many useful features Google’s machine learning and voice assistant efforts are bringing to the table that make using your voice assistant a little less awkward.

The Pixel 3a’s real ace in the hole is the single rear camera. Nearly identical in quality to the Pixel 3’s much-loved camera, the stunning images and extra features commendably make up for the device’s shortcomings. Every camera feature from the Pixel 3 — from time lapse shooting to portrait mode — is present. That includes Night Sight, which produces incredible low-light images that blow the competition out of the water, and is reason enough to consider the Pixel 3a. When using Night Sight, you’ll hold the phone still for about 5 seconds while it takes multiple images, then processes and combines them using machine learning to create a sharper, brighter image than would otherwise be possible. It’s the coolest thing to happen to smartphone cameras since manufacturers decided two lenses were better than one.

That the Pixel 3a is this good underscores a fact that smartphone makers would perhaps rather keep quiet: The benefits you reap from spending big bucks on a flagship device are marginal at best. Unless you really need the best of the best, a cheaper option is typically enough. Google in particular deserves credit for working smarter rather than harder, using a better voice assistant and smarter camera to compensate for lesser hardware.

Of course, there are plenty of other cheap smartphones to choose from, and they’re getting better every year. Motorola’s low-end Android smartphones are regularly priced under $300, and Nokia’s foray into the Android smartphone market has led to some gorgeous-looking smartphones with decent enough cameras at a similarly low cost. These phones are certainly capable, though they won’t run graphically intense games or take as impressive photos as the Pixel 3a. And this being a Google phone, it’ll get the latest Android updates as soon as they’re available.

While the threshold for “inexpensive” depends on the thickness of one’s wallet, Google’s Pixel 3a is worth every penny, especially when compared to the competition. You’ll definitely find cheaper devices running Android, many of which have equally large and garishly bright displays, or boast similar internal specs like RAM or storage space. But none can hold a candle to what the Pixel 3a offers: an up-to-date operating system that keeps users at the forefront of Android’s latest developments, a quality camera that can conquer darkness, and a price point less likely to break the bank.

Write to Patrick Lucas Austin at

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Capture better video on your smartphone with this sub $100 gimbal

If you’re thinking about trying to improve your video shooting skills, but you aren’t ready to invest in stepping up to an expensive DSLR camera, then a gimbal might be right up your alley.

With a gimbal like the Freevision Vilta-SE 3-Axis Smartphone Gimbal Stabilizer, you’ll be surprised at how one relatively low-priced accessory can make so much of a difference in your video quality.

For under $100 ($89.10, to be exact) with promo code: DAD10, this TNW Deal is a low cost, yet hyper effective way to see immediate results in your videos.

Gimbals primarily help eliminate the jitters and jerkiness when you shoot handheld phone video. With the Vilta, your footage benefits from its core stability algorithm technology, resulting in shots with all the sweep and fluidity of a Hollywood production.

While the stabilization alone makes the Vilta worth the investment, the unit is also packed with several added features to improve and simplify your shooting. The zoom-focus wheel allows you to easily adjust focus, tighten up or widen out with a quick dial.

A button press switches between landscape and portrait modes effortlessly, while the accompanying Vilta app expands your video palette to include slow motion, time lapse, panoramic and POV modes. It’s also super compact, which makes it a perfect travel accessory.

You can try out the Vilta SE now for just $89.10 — or step up to Freevision’s larger gimbal, the Vilta M and save $20 at only $116.10 with promo code: DAD10.

Like this deal? Check out Vault — you’ll get four premium tools, including NordVPN and Dashlane, to supercharge your online security. Enter code VAULTONE to try it out for just $1!

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This girthy penis is buried deep inside the Ethereum blockchain (NSFW)

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How Democrats Are, and Aren’t, Challenging the Trump Economic Record

Acknowledging the boom, and then a quick pivot to other issues or a nuanced argument on what personal economic well-being means.

Neil Irwin


Senator Elizabeth Warren campaigning last weekend in New Hampshire. The overall economic numbers “don’t reflect the experience of most Americans,” she said. CreditRobert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

NASHUA, N.H. — Ask Democratic candidates for president how they would challenge President Trump’s boasts about the economy, and the initial response tends to be less an attack than a concession.

“The overall numbers about G.D.P. or the stock market are great,” said Elizabeth Warren after a town hall here last week, before discussing long-term wage stagnation and health care costs.

“Yes, we are at a moment of stability, and we’re at this moment of expansion,” said Amy Klobuchar at an economy-themed talk at Dartmouth, before saying that made it a good time to address inequality and climate change.

“So Donald Trump is elected in the last two years — and I will confess, even he couldn’t screw up the momentum,” said Michael Bennet on “Meet the Press,” before mentioning housing, health care and higher education costs.

This speaks to the fundamental challenge that the eventual Democratic nominee is likely to face next year: an economy that is easily the strongest in two decades, with an unemployment rate at 50-year lows. How does a Democrat answer Mr. Trump’s inevitable claims that he has done more for the economy than any president ever?

Economists have some perfectly good rejoinders, which Democratic candidates for the presidency and many of their supporters are happy to articulate when asked.


Amy Klobuchar at a campaign event this month.CreditWin Mcnamee/Getty Images

In particular, since Mr. Trump’s inauguration, the United States has experienced more a steady continuation of an expansion underway for the last seven years of the Obama administration than a meaningful acceleration of growth.

Tax cuts and spending increases have fueled the recent good times, raising the budget deficit and implying a slowdown could occur as those effects wear off. And while wages have started to grow a bit faster — 3.2 percent over the last year, versus 2.6 percent at the time of the 2016 election — they are not rising nearly as fast as they did during other prosperous periods in recent decades.

But these kinds of nuanced arguments are usually not the stuff of campaign rallies. And if the overall economic numbers remain strong, the Democratic nominee will be looking for a pathway to defeat Mr. Trump that is distinctly different from those taken the last two times an incumbent president lost. Historically, when a president seeks re-election, it amounts to a referendum on the state of the economy.

The last two one-term presidents were undone by economic slowdowns; they battled jobless rates of 7.4 percent (George H.W. Bush) and 7.5 percent (Jimmy Carter) on Election Day. The unemployment rate currently stands at 3.6 percent.


Michael Bennet at an event in Washington.CreditYuri Gripas/Reuters

Moreover, voters appear to be more positive about the economy than they have been in many years. In polling by Gallup this spring, the share of Americans who described the economy as “excellent” hovered near its highest levels since 2000, and only 13 percent of Americans mentioned economic issues as the nation’s most important problem.

That helps explain why the candidates are avoiding frontal assaults on the economy. Most prefer to change the subject to longer-term problems than to get wrapped up in debates over the Obama economic record or budget deficits.

“The challenge that Trump could run into in 2020 is that people don’t measure the quality of their economic life in the jobs numbers they see,” said Jacob Leibenluft, who worked in the Obama White House and was a senior policy adviser on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. “If you look at what Trump has done from a policy perspective, there’s very little to suggest that he’s addressed the acute problems that people feel in their economic lives.”

Indeed, Democratic base voters — like those who showed up at campaign events recently in New Hampshire — tend to latch onto problems deeper than what macroeconomists normally talk about when evaluating the economy.

“Unemployment isn’t much of a problem, but I know many people here in Nashua who are extremely poor,” said Robyn Robison, 58, at a campaign event for Senator Warren. “They’re working for 50 hours a week to make the rent payment and basic utilities and don’t have anything left over to save for the future. Meanwhile, the tax cuts went to Fortune 500 companies and the wealthiest people.”

That view aligns with how Ms. Warren and other candidates have cast their economic arguments — not so much litigating the state of the near-term economic cycle as making the case that something deeper has gone wrong in recent decades that Mr. Trump has done little to fix.

Speaking with reporters, after acknowledging the overall numbers are “great,” she said: “But they don’t reflect the experience of most Americans. Go around a room like this and for most people wages haven’t gone up in a generation. And yet the cost of housing, the cost of health care, the cost of child care, the cost of sending kids to college has all gone through the roof.”


Joe Biden at a campaign event in Philadelphia last weekend.CreditMark Makela/Reuters

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Joe Biden has chosen a strategy of attributing much of the economy’s strength to the Obama administration in which he served as vice president.

“I know President Trump likes to take credit for the economy and the economic growth and the low unemployment numbers,” Mr. Biden said at a rally in Philadelphia. “President Trump inherited an economy from the Obama/Biden administration that was given to him, just like he inherited everything else in his life.”

That matches the views of many Democratic voters.

“Trump inherited a good economy,” said Walter Hoerman, a pediatrician who lives in Portsmouth N.H. “He never talks about a particular policy he’s done that has helped because he hasn’t really done anything but this tariff stuff.”

“The stock market is fine, but that’s about it,” said Dr. Hoerman, who was attending the Rockingham County Democrats Clambake last weekend where Senator Warren spoke.

Sabina Chen of Pelham, N.H., is a small businesswoman, the owner of a microelectronics manufacturing company that employs 14 people. “It’s been a good couple of years for us — I was able to give my folks bonuses this year,” she said at a gathering for Senator Klobuchar in Salem.

But she then began listing ways that the Trump administration has either made things worse or failed to make them better. “Our health care costs are high, and our health insurance program is not great,” she said. Tariffs resulting from the administration’s trade wars are on track to increase costs of many of her raw materials in the months ahead, she said, which could prove a strain on business.

Moreover, “I’d like to see more investment in education so that my work force is prepared to come in and work at a skilled level,” Ms. Chen said. “As a small-business owner, we can see things that are good for us now, but what are the things we need to continue?”

Democrats are already making more direct criticisms of Mr. Trump’s failure to deliver on some of the economic promises of his 2016 campaign: He has not produced a much better, cheaper health care system, nor made huge investments in infrastructure.

If the economy wobbles between now and Election Day 2020 — something the escalation of the trade war with China could make more possible — expect more of those head-on attacks, and less willingness to concede that the overall economy is doing pretty well.

Neil Irwin is a senior economics correspondent for The Upshot. He is the author of “How to Win in a Winner-Take-All-World,” a guide to navigating a career in the modern economy. @Neil_Irwin Facebook

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Facebook says it’s shipping new Portal hardware in the fall

Facebook’s Portal devices may still have plenty of privacy questions lingering around them since launch, but that hasn’t swayed the company’s dedication to bringing more video chat hardware to market.

Onstage at Vox Media’s Code Convention, Facebook’s VP of AR/VR Andrew Bosworth shares that sales of the existing hardware were “really good,” but more interestingly let fly that there would be new form factors of Portal hardware coming to market in the fall of this year.

Most signs point to this device being the “Ripley” device that popped up in Portal firmware code late last year. Cheddar had reported that the camera device would attach to the top of a TV and pipe the video feed to its screen. This cuts down on the need to have a wholly dedicated video chat device and allows Facebook to put their hardware in more central locations in people’s homes.

There is of course the possibility that Facebook has even more form factors up their sleeves, but this seems like a potentially low-cost option that would make a lot of sense for them to get out there.

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Images of some travelers stolen in data breach, Customs and Border Protection says – Fox News

Photos of some U.S. travelers were recently compromised in a data breach, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced Monday.

The federal agency said license plate images also were exposed in the attack.

A CBP spokesperson told Fox News that initial reports indicated the traveler images involved less than 100,000 people in vehicles leaving and entering the U.S. through one land border port of entry over a period of a month and a half. The spokesperson would not elaborate as to exactly where that port of entry was located but added that no other identifying information was available.

In a statement sent to Fox News on Monday, a CBP spokesperson said, “On May 31, 2019, CBP learned that a subcontractor, in violation of CBP policies and without CBP’s authorization or knowledge, had transferred copies of license plate images and traveler images collected by CBP to the subcontractor’s company network.”


The spokesperson continued, “The subcontractor’s network was subsequently compromised by a malicious cyber-attack,” adding that CBP networks and databases were not compromised. The spokesperson did not identify the subcontractor.

No passport or travel document pictures were compromised in the data breach and no images of airline passengers were involved, the spokesperson added.

The agency “alerted members of Congress,” according to the statement, which added that CBP was working closely with other law enforcement agencies and cybersecurity entities, as well as its own Office of Professional Responsibility, to investigate the incident.

“CBP will unwaveringly work with all partners to determine the extent of the breach and the appropriate response,” the spokesperson said.

“Initial information indicates that the subcontractor violated mandatory security and privacy protocols outlined in their contract,” according to the statement, which added that none of the data has been identified on the internet or Dark Web to date.

“CBP has removed from service all equipment related to the breach,” the spokesperson said, adding that the agency was monitoring all CBP work performed by the subcontractor.


“CBP requires that all contractors and service providers maintain appropriate data integrity and cybersecurity controls and follow all incident response notification and remediation procedures,” the statement said. “CBP takes its privacy and cybersecurity responsibilities very seriously and demands all contractors to do the same.”

The spokesperson told Fox News that CBP will take additional appropriate actions once the investigation is complete and will continue to look out for any unauthorized leaks of information.

The data breach came as the agency has moved to expand its biometric data collection through facial recognition exit technology at airports.


“This incident further underscores the need to put the brakes on these efforts and for Congress to investigate the agency’s data practices,” Neema Singh Guliani, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, told Fox News.

“The best way to avoid breaches of sensitive personal data is not to collect and retain such data in the first place.”

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5 Jobs for Animal Lovers Looking to Make Extra Money (60-Second Video)

If you’re an animal lover, consider these low-cost side jobs to make extra money.

1 min read

Do you love animals? Do you love extra money? If so, Entrepreneur contributor Grace Reader suggests these five side hustles to keep you close to your four-legged friends.

  • Pet photographer: If you have a digital SLR camera and know how to use it, you can become the Annie Leibovitz of the canine world.
  • Pet sitter: Starting a pet-sitting service requires little in startup costs… but you do need credentials.
  • Pet clothing designer: Designer hoodies for dogs? Kitty couture? The entrepreneurial possibilities for pet clothing are vast indeed.
  • Pet-matching expert: Ready to swipe? These apps help people connect to shelters, boarders or other animal owners for pet playdates.
  • Pro pooper scooper: It doesn’t sound like the most glamorous job, but if you don’t want to do it, neither does anyone else.

Start putting that business together meow.

Watch more 3 Things to Know videos here!

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5 Jobs for Introverts Looking to Make Extra Money (60-Second Video)

If you’re thoughtful and independent, these low-cost side gigs could help you make extra money.

You’re thoughtful. You’re independent. You’re not alone. Introverts make up an estimated 50 percent of the U.S. population and are valuable leaders, thinkers and innovators. Here are five side hustles from writer Carolyn Sun that are perfect for this personality type.

  • Transcriptionist: This job has a lot of autonomy, is great for independent thinkers and can be done remotely.
  • Archivist: This work hits a sweet spot for anyone who loves history, organization and research.
  • Truck driver: This could be a dream job for someone who enjoys driving, the open road and diner food.
  • Technical writer: As naturally deep thinkers, introverts who have a good understanding of technology make great technical writers. Think software user guides, FAQs and job aids.
  • Social media manager: This job requires a lot of time online and not much interaction that isn’t on the computer — perfect for an introvert.

Good luck out there.

Watch more 3 Things to Know videos here!

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How to Check if Your Hard Drive Is Failing

Windows: I recently had a suspicion that something was up with my hard drive. Spending a little time to figure out what was going on—and to confirm nothing bad was actually happening—saved me $200+, or the cost of the shiny new 6TB HDD (or speedier 2TB SSD) I was contemplating ordering off Amazon.

Testing your hard drive’s capabilities sounds like a thrilling way to spend an afternoon, but don’t let my sarcasm fool you. It doesn’t take that long to run a few tests, and it’s actually refreshing to confirm that everything is working as well as it did back when you purchased your years-old drive (or PC). And, of course, saving money by not buying an unnecessary upgrade is the best feeling of all.

The symptoms

I use a few SSDs in my desktop computer, save for a single 3TB hard drive that holds all of my games, drive backups, Nine Inch Nails bootlegs, and other gigantic files. For a few weeks now, I’ve noticed that Steam updates for various games on this drive—heavier hitters like Stellaris or The Elder Scrolls Online—have been struggling to do, well, anything. Downloads would crawl along, even though I have a pretty beefy Internet connection. Progress bars for patch installations would appear to stall for an hour.

Worse, running any kind of Steam update for one of these beefy titles would slow down anything else I wanted to do with that hard drive. No backups. No file transfers. No drive-space analysis. Zilch.

While this sounds like a Steam issue—or, at least, an issue of how updates for certain titles are deployed—I was concerned that my hard drive was finally starting to go bad on me. I didn’t hear the dreaded click of death, but I was getting annoyed enough by the terrible performance that I started contemplating how much it would cost to upgrade to a faster HDD or big-ass SSD once and for all.

Before pulling the trigger, I wanted to run a few tests to see if my hard drive was really to blame, though.

Chkdsk is your friend

The first and simplest thing you can try is to use chkdsk to look for file system errors—assuming you’re not encountering serious stability issues with your drive (or the aforementioned click of death). You’ll want to do more than this to get a full picture of your how your drive is doing, but running chkdsk is a great first step to see if something is off.

Pull up File Explorer, right-click on a drive, and click on Properties. Click on the Tools tab, and click on “Check” under the “Error checking” section.

Illustration for article titled How to Check if Your Hard Drive Is Failing

Even though Windows probably hasn’t found any errors with your drive’s file system in its regular scanning, you can run your own manual scan to be sure. This shouldn’t take very long, but I wouldn’t trust the progress bar—mine sat on “20 seconds remaining” for longer than that, but didn’t take more than a minute or so to complete.

This process runs a simple read-only “Check Disk,” or “chkdsk,” scan of your drive’s file system. You can get a little wilder if you have some extra time to kill. Pull up a Command Prompt with elevated privileges by searching for “Command Prompt” in the Start menu, and then right-clicking and selecting “Run as administrator.”

Then, at the command prompt, you’ll want to type in ‘chkdsk, followed by the drive letter you want to scan, as well as either /f (to have Windows automatically fix any file system errors it finds) or /r (to have Windows scan the entire disk surface for bad sectors, which could take a lot of time, but is more applicable to your actual hardware.)

If you had to restart your system to run chkdsk, don’t forget to look for the results in Windows’ Event Viewer—that can help clue you in if something about your drive merits a deeper investigation.

Get S.M.A.R.T.

This acronym, short for “Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology,” represents a little system that’s built into every drive you buy. It tracks and records various data points about your drive, which you can use to look for warning signs at any point. The caveat here is that viewing a SMART report will give you a lot of data that you might not understand, but there are (thankfully) plenty of apps that can demystify the numbers and provide tangible advice.

First, let’s take a look at a typical SMART report. For this, I’m using the free app HDDScan, which makes it incredibly easy to see what’s going on with your drive:

Illustration for article titled How to Check if Your Hard Drive Is Failing

Screenshot: David Murphy

In this case, if you’re seeing lots of green, that’s good—there are no measured values that are far beyond the “this could be a problem” point. If you’re seeing yellow, then the measured attributes might indicate you have an issue with your drive. And if the little icon is red, then your results for that particular test are abnormal, and you should dig a little deeper into what that particular measurement might mean.

You could also just take Backblaze’s advice from 2016 and focus on five measurements that the company uses to determine if any of its (many) drives are about to surrender to the great unknown:

  • SMART 5 — Reallocated Sectors Count

  • SMART 187 — Reported Uncorrectable Errors

  • SMART 188 — Command Timeout
  • SMART 197 — Current Pending Sector Count

  • SMART 198 — Uncorrectable Sector Count

Though remembering these different SMART statistics will be tough, knowing the values you’re looking for is easy: anything above zero. Make sure you aren’t getting thrown off by the “value” or “worst” columns in HDDScan. What you should actually be looking at is the raw code. Yes, it’s in hexadecimal. However, if all you see are zeros on a line, that means zero (go figure)—and that’s the value you want to see for those five attributes if all is going well.

Transfer some data—or a lot of data

There are plenty of ways you measure whether your hard drive performs well at its two most critical tasks: reading and writing data. This could be something as simple as dragging and dropping some files between your drive and a faster one and seeing if it takes a lot longer than you expected—minus all the other factors that can affect that process. (I’m trying to keep this simple.)

You can also use any number of apps to evaluate your drives’ performance via synthetic benchmarks. They won’t be indicative of the exact performance you’ll always see in everyday use, but they’ll give you a good sense of how your drives might be performing—if something is struggling, you’ll know real quick.

While the aforementioned HDDScan can run various read and write tests on your drives, I’m a bigger fan of HD Tune. It’s simple, easy, and has a lovely graphical readout of your drive’s performance. The basic version of the app is free to use, and that’s all you’ll likely need (even though you’ll only be testing read performance, not write performance).

To get started, load up the app, pick your drive, and click “Start.” You’ll start to see your average transfer rate—with min, max, and average values—as well as your drive’s access time (how long it takes your drive to actually start transferring data, which is more a measurement of its mechanical characteristics than anything else) and burst rate (how fast data travels from the drive’s cache).

Illustration for article titled How to Check if Your Hard Drive Is Failing

Screenshot: David Murphy

I was a little curious as to why my drive’s burst rate is lower than its average transfer rate, which made me think I have some kind of motherboard misconfiguration (unlikely) or HD Tune is screwing up (possibly). To double-check these figures, I gave another drive benchmarking tool a shot: CrystalDiskMark.

Illustration for article titled How to Check if Your Hard Drive Is Failing

Screenshot: David Murphy

That’s a pretty decent result for a sequential read and write. The rests of the tests are incredibly low, but that’s likely due to the fact that they’re attempting to read and write tiny 4KB files all around the drive—a technique that mechanical hard drives don’t do very well with, especially the slower 5,400RPM drive I’m testing.

CrystalDiskMark doesn’t report a burst rate, so I had to turn to the HDTach utility, which is so old that it only worked in Windows 10 when I ran it in compatibility mode for Windows XP SP3. The measured burst rate was more favorable in HDTach; since it’s finally higher than the transfer rate, I feel a bit better knowing that I wouldn’t have to go crawling around my motherboard’s BIOS to see if anything was wrong.

Illustration for article titled How to Check if Your Hard Drive Is Failing

Screenshot: David Murphy

Even though HDTach and HD Tune disagreed with CrystalDiskMark in terms of the drive’s average read and write performance—the former two apps had much higher scores than the latter—my main purpose for running these benchmarks was satisfied. If the drive was truly having issues, there’s a chance I’d see catastrophic performance errors. Anything north of 100 MB/s is likely pretty good, but just to confirm this, I also ran a quick UserBenchmark test.

Illustration for article titled How to Check if Your Hard Drive Is Failing

Screenshot: David Murphy

These results validate my thinking: my hard drive is running decently. Could it have faster results? Sure. Do I know why it doesn’t? No. But these results indicate that the drive is performing better than roughly 73 out of every 100 results UserBenchmark receives, which sounds pretty great to me.

What about Steam?

While I probably could have deduced that Steam’s update process was to blame for all of this from the get-go, testing my mechanical hard drive was a good exercise to go through nevertheless. (I plan to upgrade it at some point, but it’s not a high priority at the moment.)

Illustration for article titled How to Check if Your Hard Drive Is Failing

Screenshot: David Murphy

As for Steam, the solution there was simple—I limit downloads to only run from midnight to six a.m. I then let ‘em chug overnight if I ever have anything huge to grab. I can also run updates manually if I’m going to be stepping away from my computer for an extended period of time. It’s a much more elegant solution than trying to process a multi-gigabyte update while I also need to use my hard drive for, you know, regular stuff.

I still want that $200+ SSD, though.

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These Johns Hopkins students are slashing breast cancer biopsy costs

Over 2 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018. And while the diagnosis doesn’t have to be a death sentence for women in countries like the United States, in developing countries three times as many women die from the disease.

Breast cancer survival rates range from 80% or over in North America, Sweden and Japan to around 60% in middle-income countries and below 40% in low-income countries, according to data provided the World Health Organization.

And the WHO blames these low survival rates in less developed countries on the lack of early detection programs, which result in a higher proporation of women presenting with late-stage disease. The problem is exacerbated by a lack of adequate diagnostic technologies and treatment facilities, according to the WHO.

A group of Johns Hopkins University undergraduates believe they have found a solution. The four women, none of whom are over 21-years-old, have developed a new, low-cost, disposable core needle biopsy technology for physicians and nurses that could dramatically reduce cost and waste, thereby increasing the availability of screening technologies in emerging markets.

They’ve taken the technology they developed at Johns Hopkins University and created a new startup called Ithemba, which means “hope” in Swahili, to commercialize their device. While the company is still in its early days, the women recently won the undergraduate Lemelson-MIT Student Prize competition, and has received $60,000 in non-dilutive grant funding and a $10,000 prize associated with the Lemelson award.

Students at Johns Hopkins had been working through the problem of developing low-cost diagnostic tools for breast cancer for the past three years, spurred on by Dr. Susan Harvey, the head of Johns Hopkins Section of Breast Imaging.

While Dr. Harvey presented the problem, and several students tried to tackle it, Ithemba’s co-founders — the biomedical engineering undergrads Laura Hinson, Madeline Lee, Sophia Triantis, and Valerie Zawicki — were the first to bring a solution to market.

Ithemba co-founders Laura Hinson, Madeline Lee, Valerie Zawicki and Sophia Triantis

The 21-year-old Zawicki, who grew up in Long Beach, Calif., has a personal connection to the work the team is doing. When she was just five years old her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, and the cost of treatment and toll it took on the family forced the family to separate. “My sister moved in with my grandparents,” Zawicki says, while her mother underwent treatment. “When I came to college I was looking for a way to make an impact in the healthcare space and was really inspired by the care my mom received.”

The same is true for Zawicki’s co-founder, Triantis.

“We have an opportunity to  solve problems that really need solving,” says Triantis, a 20-year-old undergraduate. “Breast cancer has affected so many people close to me… It is the most common cancer among women [and] the fact that women in low resource settings do not have the same standard of diagnostic care really inspired me to work on a solution.”

What the four women have made is a version of a core-needled biopsy that has a lower risk of contamination than the reusable devices that are currently on the market and is cheaper than the expensive disposable needles that are the only other option, the founders say.

We’ve designed a novel, disposable portion that attaches to the reusable device and the disposable portion has an ability to trap contaminants that would come back through the needle into the device,” says Triantis. “What we’ve created is a way to trap that and have that full portion be disposable and making the device as easy to clean as possible… with a bleach wipe.”

Ithemba’s low-cost reusable core-needle biopsy device

The company is currently in the process of doing benchtop tests on the device, and will look to file a 510K to be certified as a Class 2 medical device. Already a clinic in South Africa and a hospital in Peru are on board as early customers for the new biopsy tool.

At the heart of the new tool is a mechanism which prevents blood from being drawn back into a needle. The team argues it makes reusable needles much less susceptible to contamination and can replace the disposable needles that are too expensive for many emerging market clinics and hospitals.

Zawicki had been working on the problem for a while when Hinson, Lee, and Triantis joined up. “I joined the team when the problem was presented,” says Zawicki. “The project began with this problem that was pitched three years ago, but the four of us are really those that have brought this to life in terms of a device.”

Crucially for the team, Johns Hopkins was fully supportive of the women taking their intellectual property and owning it themselves. “We received written approval from the tech transfer office to file independently,” says Zawicki. “That is really unique.” 

Coupled with the Lemelson award, Ithemba sees a clear path to ownership of the intellectual property and is filing patents on its device.

Zawicki says that it could be anywhere from three to five years before the device makes it on to the market, but there’s the potential for partnerships with big companies in the biopsy space that could accelerate that time to market.

“Once we get that process solidified and finalize our design we will wrap up our benchtop testing so we can move toward clinical trials by next summer, in 2020,” Zawicki says.

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Here’s What Eating Processed Foods for Two Weeks Does to Your Body

Ultra-processed foods—the kinds made irresistible by sugar, fat and salt—are ubiquitous in the U.S., making up as much as 60% of the average American diet. But a small, intensive new study published in the journal Cell Metabolism shows that their low price and convenience comes at a cost to health.

When people ate a highly processed diet for two weeks, they consumed far more calories and gained more weight and body fat than they did when they ate a less processed diet—even though both diets had the same amounts of nutrients like sugar, fat and sodium.

It wasn’t a shock to find ultra-processed foods weren’t healthy—other research has linked them to a higher risk of cancer and obesity. What was unexpected was that sugar, fat and salt didn’t seem to be what was driving people to overeat. “I was surprised by the results,” says Kevin Hall, lead author of the study and senior investigator at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases at the National Institutes of Health. “It’s the first trial that can actually demonstrate that there is a causal relationship between something about ultra-processed foods—independent of those nutrients—that cause people to overeat and gain weight.”

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In the study, 20 healthy adults lived for a month in a lab, where all of their meals and snacks were prepared for them. The two meal plans were either highly processed or unprocessed, and everyone ate one—then switched to the other—for two weeks at a time. (Foods like canned ravioli, chicken nuggets, bagels and diet lemonade comprised the ultra-processed diet; the unprocessed diet had salads, scrambled eggs, oatmeal and nuts.)

Both diets contained nearly identical nutrient profiles, with the same amount of sugar, fat, sodium, fiber and more. But the meals had very different effects. When people ate a highly processed diet, they ate about 500 more calories per day than they did on the less-processed diet. They also gained about two pounds over the course of two weeks on the ultra-processed diet—and lost about the same amount on the unprocessed diet.

They ate faster, too, which could be one reason why they gained more weight. “Ultra-processed food tends to be softer, which makes it easier to chew and swallow,” Hall says. “One of the theories is that if you’re eating more quickly, you’re not giving your gut enough time to signal to your brain that you’ve had enough calories and that you’re full and to stop eating. By the time the brain gets that signal, it’s too late—you’ve already overeaten.”

People’s hormones also changed depending on how processed their meals were. Even though people said they felt equally full and satisfied on both diets, the unprocessed diet led to an increase in an appetite-suppressing hormone called PYY and a decrease in the hunger hormone ghrelin. “Both of these hormonal changes that took place, for reasons we don’t fully understand, tend to support our observation,” Hall says. On an unprocessed diet, “people spontaneously reduce their calorie intake, leading to weight loss and body fat loss, without them having to count calories or even intentionally do so.”

Avoiding ultra-processed food isn’t easy, especially financially. In the study, the ingredients for the unprocessed meals cost about 40% more than for the ultra-processed foods, Hall says. But the study provides the latest proof that cutting down on processed foods may be worth the extra price and effort.

Write to Mandy Oaklander at

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