Tivic ClearUp at the Pepcom show in San Francisco. A real game changer. Photo by Marcus Siu.

Article by Marcus Siu

I vividly remember my very first personal bout with allergies. I was sitting in a movie theater for the highly anticipated movie, “Topsy Turvy”, which was getting lots of buzz. Unfortunately at the time, I was also suffering from post nasal drip, which I had never experienced before. As I sat among the full capacity crowd, I was doing my best to suppress my cough to not disturb them, but failed. There were times that I was so disruptive that I imagined the crowd probably wanted to throw me out of the theater for disturbing them every time I had an abrupt cough attack. After the movie ended, I was never happier to leave the theater as I ran into the men’s room just to clear out my throat as though I was gagged. This was not symptoms of a simple flu or a cold, but sinus allergies, which I never thought I would ever get.

For the next twenty years, I have suffered annual seasonal allergies from the late part of April and lasting thru August. During this usual three to four month span, I was completely miserable and had very little energy. It affected my productivity at work as well as my physical mental state. I just wanted to be able to go through life without the usual runny nose, congestion, and exhaustion that came from allergies. For a few years, my allergies worsened and even resulted in me having a bronchial infection which needed anti-biotics for treatment, as I would be coughing 24/7 non-stop for six to eight weeks. Before they were OTC, I used to take medical prescriptions of claritin, allegra, flonase, and codeine every single day, as well as local honey, which I heard was a good way to fight allergies. I also heard about neti pots, but felt that would be too intrusive for me to take as the idea of blowing water out of my nose didn’t sound quite appealing to me.

Last year, I attended the Pepcom show in San Francisco at the end of May. Though, weakened by my seasonal allergies, I was still a trouper and attended the show. I randomly stumbled at the Tivic booth and asked about their new product, though my interest and focus is with personal entertainment technology. When I heard that the product was for allergy sufferers providing instant relief by just gliding the ClearUp across the face, I was very skeptical. I was given a five minute demo and for some reason, my allergies were gone for the evening… with just one treatment. It really surprised me that my allergies last summer didn’t return. It was as though a wizard waved a magic wand and removed my allergic symptoms .

The following January of this year, six months later, Tivic was present at CES Unveiled in Las Vegas. At the booth, I asked if I could obtain a review sample for myself that I could use so I can post a review online. Little did I realize, at that point, Tivic was garnering positive reviews and accolades everywhere. Tivic Health was named an CES 2020 Innovation Awards Honoree. In addition, Time magazine recently called Tivic’s ClearUp as one of the ten greatest inventions for 2019. It was also featured in “Last Gadget Standing” as one of the finalists.

As my allergies returned for the year in late April, I decided that I would go ahead and buy one for myself instead of paying the pharmaceutical companies for OTC products, such as flonase and benadryl, just because I didn’t want to keep injecting drugs into my body. As I started feeling the allergies worsen within the first week, luckily the product arrived at my doorstep during the first week in May, which was perfect timing.

After charging the Tivic ClearUp that just took a few hours, I started using it about four to five times a day for the first ten days or so, about once every four hours using the lowest of the three settings. There is no real strict schedule that is mandatory, which is great, since it’s one less thing you need to worry about. When symptoms arose, such as congestion or a runny nose, I used it on the spot and it would relieve those symptoms fairly quickly…within 30 minutes.

There were times when I would wake up in the middle of the night with my head stuffy and a nasal drip making me cough. That’s when I would reach for the Tivic for a five minute session and within five to ten minutes I would find myself sleeping peacefully again. In the past, I would get up and go to the kitchen to make green tea to mix it with lemon and honey, or perhaps eat raw garlic…anything to relieve my throat and stop it from coughing. However, that would take well over an hour and disrupt my sleep pattern. Not te case anymore.

I have been using ClearUp to relieve my allergies for about three weeks now, about three to five times a day. I am happy to report, I have not been using it for a few days, as my allergies have subsided after three weeks. The product had pretty much dissipated my allergies, though you can tell that some days I was a little more congested on certain days for the first week or two from the sound of my voice. This was the shortest allergy season I have ever had.

My regular lifestyles activities were never affected, as well, unlike the past twenty years taking allegra, flonase, and cough syrup. It freed me from using benadryl, which make me nod off and want to go to sleep. It also freed me from using flonase, which most people don’t know is a steroid, which is very unhealthy.

I also love it’s portability and the fact you can take it anywhere. It comes with a nice blue zippered pouch that has two compartments; one for the ClearUp and the other for the usb-c charger. The charge lasts quite awhile, as I have not even needed to charge the ClearUp for a second time yet.

So how does this work?

Besides being 100% drug-free with no chemical side effects and being FDA cleared and clinically proven, it is so simple to use. You just push a button, choose a level of how powerful the treatment you want and basically circle around from the bottom of your cheekbone toward the nose and below the brows in a “c” fashion around the face. If it vibrates, it has found a location spot to treat the area and applies microcurrent waves at a very low level electrical current to relieve sinus pain. Usually there are about seven to ten areas which need treatment and it takes a total of five minutes.

The Tivic ClearUp is designed to provide temporary relief of sinus pain associated with allergic rhinitis. For me, it seemed that it had gotten rid of my allergies, but once in awhile, my head might feel a little stuffed with my nose getting runny and I would go ahead to go in for a treatment. My allergies are seasonal, but it also helps all-year around allergy sufferers who suffer from sneezing, congestion, runny nose, watery eyes, itching of the nose or roof of the mouth, coughing and sinus pain.

This is a truly innovative product. This is a product that I truly believe in and testify that it is a game changer. It’s non-evasive and chemical free. If you want to control your allergies, you will not regret this purchase. It will help you live your life during the allergy season rather than suffering during it with OTC drugs that come with its unwanted side effects.


Box contents of Tivic ClearUp. Photo courtesy of Tivic Health.
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Noerden at the Showstoppers booth in Las Vegas. Photo by Marcus Siu.

To those of us with an active lifestyle and always on the go, one of the most basic and essential items that we constantly carry around with us is the “water bottle”. Whether it’s made of plastic or stainless steel, we take it with us everywhere we go; in the car, to the beach, to the gym, to the mountains; you name it. To some people, forgetting to bring their water bottle is like forgetting to bring your car keys.

However, with all numerous “grab and go” handling it gets, no one really thinks about how disgusting and filthy the water bottle and its contents inside can get. Whether it’s in a gym bag full of dirty sweatpants and smelly socks, inside a humid locker room, or just on top of a park bench surrounded with smog and pollution in a big city; it is usually in an environment that is far less than ideal.

Even worse is when people refill their single use disposable plastic water bottle over the course of many days and leave it in the sweltering heat in their car at extreme temperatures. Unfortunately, this is typical usual occurrence that I see all the time.

If you look at the Internet of Things universe there are plenty of “smart” devices just about everywhere you look. Smart-TV’s, smart-watches, smart appliances, but not many companies have ever come up with a “smart-bottle”.

Noerden’s “LIZ” Smart Bottle – 12 oz size. P[hoto by Marcus Siu.

Noerden, a maker of smart watches from Paris, came up with a brilliant concept of putting a self-cleaning “smart-bottle” on the market. They have been primarily selling them in Europe and have recently introduced their products to America in January. This indigo-go start-up company was recently at CES and the ShowStoppers Show in Las Vegas promoting their “LIZ” line of “smart” bottles.

As I was walking past various vendor displays at the ShowStopper’s event, these award winning minimalist designed “smart-bottles” certainly caught my attention. They were displayed next to Noerden’s line of smart-watches, so out of curiosity, I had to stop and ask their reps to find out what made these bottles so “smart” and what makes them any more distinguished from other water bottles.

After all, to call it a “smart” bottle may be a stretch of the imagination. Sure, they looked “smart”, but there are no other devices or networks or via different wireless protocols that actually connect with it. It does not connect to Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or even the internet. It doesn’t operate through an app or connect to any devices.

However, after the presentation I was given, I was convinced you can call this a “smart-bottle”, because these bottles have an integrated UV sterilization function, hydration reminders and a temperature indicator all rolled into one…all without using an app.

Noerden’s smart watches and smart water bottles on display at Showstoppers! Photo by Marcus Siu.


After charging “LIZ” with it’s magnetic cable dock for a few hours, I discovered that the real brains of this smart water bottle was really in its “smart-lid”. To turn the power on, you press and hold the center of the lid and the LED indicator light will then flash white quickly. (To turn off the power, press and hold the center of the lid and the LED indicator light will then flash white once indicating that the smart bottle is off.)

Once the power is on, by tapping once on the smart-lid, the LED indicator will blink on the “smart-lid” in the color corresponding to the beverage’s temperature range: blue for cold, yellow for warm or red for hot. If the temperature is above 60°C/140°F the light will be red (hot). If the beverage temperature is between 36.5 and 60°C / 98°F to 140°F the light will be yellow (neutral). If the beverage temperature is below 36.5°C/98°F, it will turn blue (cold). – If the water temperature is over 60°C/140°F the UV function will not work and the lid’s indicator light will flash red to indicate the temperature is too high for sterilization.

By tapping twice on the responsive smart lid, it starts the UV sterilization process. There is a 278 nano-meter UV-C light in the bottle that destroys up to 99,9% of harmful viruses and odor-causing bacteria by breaking down their DNA and rendering them harmless as little as 5 minutes. The LED indicator will stop flashing when the sterilization is complete.

Noerden’s flashing blue light during sterilization process. Photo by Marcus Siu.

However, don’t think you can just go and fill LIZ from any water source, like an open stream by the mountains. Water out in the open still needs to be filtered. Filtering and sterilizing are two different processes. Like previously stated, water sterilization kills viruses & bacteria, whereas filtering water removes other substances such as heavy metals or fluoride.

In addition, the LIZ water bottle will also remind users to drink every 2 hours thanks to its smart hydration reminders. Of course, you can just power it off to save on battery life, which can last up to a month with 1 UV sterilization a day.

However, LIZ can only sterilize water. Its sterilization system is not compatible with dark colored liquids since the UV-C light cannot penetrate dark beverages. Therefore it won’t sterilize Gatorade, Cola, tea or coffee, or beer. If you prefer other beverages besides water after a sweaty workout, then this smart-bottle is not for you. But if you are dehydrated after a tough workout, then you know that there is nothing more thirst quenching than pure water.

Additionally, acidic and/or bubbly beverages can damage stainless steel over time and is not recommended to have those on a regular basis unless you rinse and clean the bottle quickly immediately after use.

The only other beverage it doesn’t support is milk.

I found out that “LIZ” is not actually named after a person, but three middle letters in “steriLIZation”.


Besides being an aesthetically well designed product, the real value here for the active health conscious consumer is for the sterilization feature. Sterilization would be perfect for using in “sketchy” places with questionable water quality, including at home.

There are days when I feel I shouldn’t be using a public water fountain because of all the possible germs there are, so I end up dehydrated and nearly dying of heat exhaust. Of course, I’m exaggerating, but I would prefer to wait until I get to a store that sells bottled water then risk getting sick. Schools are atrocious for water fountains to stay away from. Who knows what these mischievous delinquents possibly might do to them. Probably sticking pens in the spouts to control their aim on getting certain victims wet. I just don’t want to chance it, though I would feel quite safe with sterilizing the water with LIZ, if I knew the water was filtered.

Restaurants, where you can self-serve and pour your own water would fare perfectly. Most likely, these businesses change their filters regularly, so their tap water would be up to standard for their own customers. I would just fill the tap water and have it sterilized in LIZ, rather than drinking it as regular tap water straight out of the cup.

The LIZ manual states that you would only need to charge the battery once a month, but that’s given you just use if for one sterilization per day. I would think that some days you would want to drink more water and would need to sterilize a few times a day, especially when dehydrated. If this is the case, plan to charge more frequently.

The only other issue I encountered with LIZ was when I overfilled water past the inner line in the bottle. I pressed twice to sterilize it, but the LED indicator from the smart-lid flashed red four times and the UV went into safe mode. That confirmed that I went past the fill line and needed to empty some of the water remove the lid to let dry off. The manual indicated that I should wait about ten minutes, which seemed about right. Live and learn.


1.) Aesthetically pleasing. Well designed and constructed.

2.) Great for people who live in an area with questionable water quality.

3.) Great for people who want to sterilize water at places besides their home.


1.) No “real” scientific way of knowing if sterilization is really working.

2.) Wish the magnetic cable when charging could be more slip proof.

To those who aspire to or have an active healthy and environmentally healthy lifestyle and truly believe that water is “life”, then you need to “contain life” in one bottle. Then this bot is for you.


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Movie theaters around the country may need to change the “Now Playing” signs to “Now Streaming”. Photo by Marcus Siu.

Article and photos by Marcus Siu

It’s 6pm on a Friday night in the East Bay at the historic landmark Orinda Theater, just 15 miles east of San Francisco. With its impressive luminous flashing neon lights on its marquee displaying a spectacular view to those who pass along Highway 24 at night, it gives pride and joy to the citizens of Orinda to have its city name in glittering lights, as not many intimate cities in the Bay Area can claim.

Outside, underneath the retro ceiling before the entrance doors of the theater, newly installed neon lights bounce off eye-popping colors onto the reflective glass cases that display the movie posters of Hollywood’s latest offerings; “Emma” “Onward”, and “Call of the Wild”. Cars full of movie going customers are coming from all different directions from the East Bay while the percolating sounds of the popcorn machine make noise non-stop in the lobby at the concession stand getting ready for the crowds.

You would think this would be a typical Friday movie night for this majestic theater, but it is quite the contrary. No movies are playing at any of its three auditoriums. Nor are there any customers inside the lobby that are normally filled with crowds waiting in line at the concession stand or hanging out at Cine Cuvée, mingling in groups at its attached wine bar.


Tonight’s event is called “Movie Night In”, an ingenious promotion posted on social media from the theater’s Facebook page, where for a mere $20, customers can get a large bag of fresh popcorn, a box of “official” movie theater red vines, and either a bottle of quality wine or four beers that are normally sold at the theater and wine bar. Best of all, customers need only drive up to the curb where theater owner, Derek Zemrak, would personally deliver their orders straight to their car, just like a the old carhop waiters did in the the 60’s. The promotion is in response to the “shelter in place” order by the county that forced all movie theaters to close its doors in mid-March around the country due to the COVID-19, more commonly known as corona-virus.

Of course, with the “Movie Night In” promotion, customers still needed to provide their own entertainment at home. Despite this, it seems just bringing a few goodies from the local movie theater can certainly make the evening more enjoyable, even if the participants are just stationed in front of the TV right in their own living room on a La-Z-Boy sofa or recliner.

Unfortunately, with the building’s high astronomical rent and utilities due each month, Zemrak was forced to close the theater and lay off his entire staff.” At least they can get unemployment…you can’t make money on zero revenue”, Zemrak noted.

Though “Movie Night In” generates a very small fraction of income, it has now become a regular Friday night ritual for some of the patrons. Some customers have gotten used to the idea. Still every little bit helps. “Not too many people realize how expensive it is to operate and rent a movie theater. People see the movie theater and don’t even think anything about how expensive it is to operate”, Zemrak said.

“We just need to sell a thousand $25 gift cards and we’ll be fine”.

The majestic Orinda Theater’s landmark neon lights.


Ironically, the movies that had to immediately cease playing at the theater at the time of the “shelter in place” order came into effect are now streaming on VOD (video on demand). While not all of the theaters were forced to shutdown in the country before the federal government stepped in at the time, NBC Universal announced that its own movie studio Universal Pictures and specialty label Focus Features would be releasing their films in theaters and on-demand simultaneously. This was the path taken by the studios to help salvage their box office gross for their current lineup of their theatrical releases if all theaters were forced to close, which it did.

Instead of watching “Emma”, “Onward”, and “Call of the Wild” in movie theaters, moviegoers can now only watch them only on VOD . It seems as streaming services, such as Disney Plus, VUDU and Amazon Prime, overnight has made the “home movie going experience” much more exclusive to the audience as they “shelter in place”.

In addition, NBC Universal is planning to launch a brand new upcoming streaming service called Peacock in mid July. This will make it much easier for Universal to release theatrical movies and stream it at the same time, if they ever decide to. They could completely eliminate or reduce the “theatrical window”, which is typically 72 to 76 days for most movies before it reaches home video or VOD. Nonetheless, the ease of home viewing could continue to be destructive for movie theaters, big or small, struggling to stay afloat in an age of shrinking theatrical window dates, let alone the dreaded, coronavirus. If movie studios decide to follow Universal’s suit, then all movie theaters will be in peril; the movie theater chains, like AMC and Cinemark, as well as the small independent theaters, like the Orinda.

“If you look at the business model that’s the way to go… there’s no question, go streaming…but it’s not the right thing to do to movie theaters”, Zemrak explains. “I would have never expected Universal to be the first studio to do that”.

“If Disney, Universal and Paramount decide to go streaming at the same time… the general population are going to stay home”, Zemrak said.

“The chain theaters are in more jeopardy than independent theaters because independent theaters show art films, foreign films – stuff that you can’t see…so if Disney decides to go streaming the same day the theatrical release is..”, Zemrak continued, “….you have a better shot with the independent and foreign films than the blockbusters.”

“It’s going to be really interesting in the next three months to see really what happens when the theaters reopen – how studios are going to say we’re going on streaming – if that’s the case corporate theaters like AMC and Cinemark – they’re screwed, whereas we can we can survive because we have art films.”

As an independent movie theater owner at the Orinda, Zemrak is also responsible for its film programming, as well as musical and special events. With so many movie theater chains around the area, he prefers to concentrate not so much on obtaining big Hollywood blockbusters for the theater, but the non-mainstream gems that mature audiences will resonate with. One such film was “Parasite”, which was one of Zemrak’s prime choices that he selected to play at the theater immediately after it had won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film in early January and before the Oscar nominations were announced. At that time, it was not a wide release film and played a record run for 12 straight weeks at the theater and turned into an unexpected blockbuster due to the Oscar buzz and year-end awards it received, including winning “Best Picture” at the Academy Awards, the first foreign film to ever accomplish this, which Zemrak rightly predicted after the nominations were even announced and even putting his reputation on live radio.

Just like there is an audience for seeing films on the big screen, there is also an avid audience for watching movies at home. Unfortunately, the more streaming movie studios do, it becomes more and more destructive for movie theaters. It becomes a balancing act when it comes to satisfying both the studios and theaters.

“I’ve been talking to all of the independent film distributors because they’re doing things with movie theaters, to say “stream your things online and we’ll give you 40% of the take!”, Zemrak added. “That sounds good but here you have a brick and mortar building and the sub studios are saying we’ll give you money to go streaming. It’s opposite of what your base product is…but if all the major studios are going to go online and stream…movie theaters are dead.”


Zemrak also noted another major obstacle for movie theaters: the generation gap between the older and younger audiences. Whereas baby boomers want the big screen experience, the younger “i-phone mp3” generation of movie goers are content to watch the latest movies on their mobile device and be done with it. It’s about instant gratification.

“So it’s like you have this crossroad of people… this complete divide of people who say I’m passionate about supporting a theater”, Zemrak continues. “If I’m passionate about supporting a theater, I’m going to support an independent theater. I’m not gonna go the Regal, the IMAX or the Luxe. I’m going to go to an independent theater because that’s what I remember. I remember going to these movie theaters that are special whereas the younger generation have no connection whatsoever to a movie theater.”

“It’s not about the Cinemark with the recliners and the comfort of the room, it’s what I want to reminisce about when I used to go to the movie theater. It was something special – like the Roxy, the Castro, the Orinda Theater. I can go and feel something from my past and go to see a movie. That’s what it’s about…but the other generations – the Generation X and the Generation Z (millennials). – they’re not going to go to the movies. They watch it on their tablets, on their iPhones, and watch it at home.”


As “Movie Night In” comes to a close for the evening, Zemrak was pleasantly surprised at the number of incoming online orders for movie gift cards. In these difficult times for small businesses, there is still a glimmer of hope and encouragement from local supporters who actually care, but unfortunately, COVID-19 will still lead the economy into a recession for the majority of businesses, at least in the short term.

Once the pandemic is over however, theater owners will have a difficult time to entice moviegoers to return, especially with the older crowd who are highly susceptible to the COVID-19 virus. Perhaps, the social distancing of six feet from another may still need to be enforced for awhile and the addition of a Hazmat suit until we discover a new vaccine for COVID-19 and will become the new norm. If this were the case, Zemrak believes it would completely eliminate the need for reserved seating, but given the alternative, I believe people will strongly prefer being six feet apart than being six feet under.

Regardless of the outcome, there are lots of moviegoers who absolutely can’t wait to leave their homes and rush into movie theaters. They want the option of being able to dream and escape to the movies when needed. If they can’t do that, it might as well be the end of Western Civilization, as we know it.

However, it’s the major Hollywood studios, like Disney, that would really like to see the dreaded COVID-19 to come to an end immediately. Disney’s lineup for 2020, like most movie studios, has a string of global blockbusters for the entire year and has recently announced an upcoming June 6th release date with “Mulan” which was originally postponed from March due to the pandemic. With the newly revised June 6th release date and the ever increasing number of COVID-19 cases around the world, it may seem overly optimistic by the studio…but when you wish upon a star – your dreams come true.

If anyone knows how to put people back into movie theaters, it’s magical world of Disney.

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RSA Conference 2020 at Moscone Center San Francisco, CA. Photo by Marcus Siu.

Article and photos by Marcus Siu

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of General Motors, Mary T. Barra, gave a keynote onstage at the Moscone Center in San Francisco at the 2020 RSA Conference addressing the future of GM’s autonomous vehicles, as well as the company’s ongoing cybersecurity challenges they will face within the rapidly growing autonomous technology.

When automobiles were produced on mass scale over a hundred years ago, Barra explained, they had re-shaped our physical environment and gave us freedom.  If you were around during the bleak thirties growing up during the Great Depression or living in the Dust Bowl, you probably wouldn’t have thought that this could be possible.

However, over the years, the automobile has also given us unintended consequences, as well: crashes, pollution, and too many hours of our lives driving our cars.  One stat that really stands out is that according to the World Health Organization, more than 1.3 million people die each year in traffic accidents across the globe, and according to the NHTSA – National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 94 percent of crashes are caused by human error.

“Advanced technologies such as all-electric autonomous vehicles are poised to alleviate these challenges.  More importantly, in contrast with today’s data age, autonomous vehicle’s (AV’s) will continue to improve people’s lives.”, Barra remarked.

As cybersecurity becomes ever so important with each and every new device, perhaps its biggest challenge is to defend cyber attacks against autonomous vehicles since people’s physical lives will continually be at stake.   We’re not just talking about the typical hacker trying to take total control of your computer at home, such as in ransomware, but a more of a terrorist hacker that not only will be compromising your data from your vehicle, but also possibly endangering all the passengers in your vehicle.

“There are virtually no industries today that are not vulnerable to cyber-attacks and the auto industry is no exception.  We are bringing to market technologies and features that are radically changing what vehicles can do for people and to improve their lives.  At the same time customers are bringing more devices into the vehicle and expecting seamless integration.  Part of our job is to ensure that our customers and their data are always safe secure and private.  Privacy is an extension of security that we fiercely protect.”  

Barra mentioned AUTO-ISAC, (Information Sharing and Analysis Center), which provides automakers collectively, including GM, to create and share best practices for the entire industry as opposed to individual automakers defending themselves alone.  The industry acts as a united front to collaborate and share best practices rather than invest cybersecurity as competitive advantage for each automaker.  

“Collectively, we incorporate strong security measures into every phase of the vehicle development process and is this group knows all too well the threat landscape is continually evolving with sophisticated attacks specifically designed to circumvent even the most robust defense systems.  Our enterprise defense strategy has to be integrated and multilayered because when a cyber criminal only needs to be affected oncewe must get it right 100% of the time.”


By 2039, General Motors’ vision is to create a world with zero crashes, to save lives; zero emissions, so future generations can inherit a healthier planet; and zero congestion, so customers get back a precious commodity—time.  Technology is a key enabler to achieving this vision by developing connected, electrified and autonomous vehicles that will help us get there.

“It’s not a pipe dream.   We know it’s achievable.”…for our customers it means providing the safest product and the strongest cybersecurity possible will also giving them greater convenience better accessibility and all while doing it at it affordable cost.”

“Technology is a key enabler to achieving this vision by developing connected, electrified and autonomous vehicles that will help us get there….before consumers invest their trust in us, they want to be assured that AV’s will operate safely and securely every time without being hacked by outside forces.”

We have nearly 500 men and women including penetration engineers, cryptologists, mathematicians, data analysts, program managers and true hackers. We’re developing in depth defense modern touring in detection and incident response capabilities that we continually test, rework and refine”.

A critical cyber breach involving any one AV car company will be an incident that affects everyone in this space.  It could severely undermine the consumer confidence in this type of mobility and even delay the industry’s ability to share these benefits with customers and society


Cruise car in Hayes Valley, San Francisco
Cruise car in Hayes Valley, San Francisco. Photo courtesy of Cruise.

GM acquired Cruise in 2016, a self-driving car company headquartered in San Francisco, where they have been test driving through one of the most challenging cities to drive autonomously.  Since their acquisition, GM has allowed them to remain responsible for both technology and commercialization, giving Cruise independence in order to avoid the pitfalls common when technology startup is acquired by a big corporation.

In addition, GM re-engineered their vehicle development process to include cyber security from the earliest stages of vehicle design with multiple layers of protection to defend the vehicle and its systems.  GM will also introduce the first vehicle models with our new vehicle intelligent platform (VIP) this year, which supports new EV technologies, active safety systems, over the air updates, 5G networks and enhanced cyber security protections

Barra acknowledged the critical need for cybersecurity jobs that would need to jump from 1.8 million to 4 million by 2022, and emphasized that women and minorities continue to be severely under represented in the engineering fields. 

With GM’s outreach, they have encouraged nearly 300,000 young students and teachers across the US, to pursue such rewarding careers.  Two years ago, working with the Society of Automotive Engineers, GM introduced a new interactive student cybersecurity challenge and curriculum teaching them how digital information is transferred and protected in their every day lives as well with opportunities in STEM careers in mobility.

This is why it’s important for the automotive industry to work together to secure a strong enterprise-wide cybersecurity posture and why STEM education and careers will be even more critical in the coming years.

“If we want to cultivate young people to be part of our future we need to invest in theirs.”, Barra explained, as she came to a close with her keynote. 

“It’s a crucial time for the auto industry but it’s also an incredibly exciting time.”

Just like a futuristic vision of the 1939 World’s Fair, it will be a fascinating ride for all of us to see how the AV revolution will unfold.

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The LG OLED wave greets visitors at the LG Electronics booth at CES 2020 in Las Vegas. Photo by Marcus Siu.

Article and photos by Marcus Siu

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, a new wave of amazing generation of TV’s have been washed ashore in Las Vegas at the CES 2020 (Consumer Electronics Show) from the biggest global TV manufacturers.  Despite the fact that the majority of consumers still don’t own a 4K UHD-TV set, TV manufacturers rolled out their 8K TV’s at CES 2020.   LG Electronics, Samsung Electronics, Sony, and even TLC had their 8K sets featured prominently on display at their booths and press conferences.

Improvements in TV display technology over the past several years have been rapidly accelerating as fast as never before.  It was only five years ago when 4K UHD-TV’s first became available to consumers.  After being accustomed to watching standard HDTV’s over the years and that fact that there was hardly any 4K content to play or stream, the mass majority of the public was reluctant to adopt to it initially.

Now more than a third of all households who own a HDTV have a 4K HDTV with the number expected to jump to 50% this year.  Initially thought of as a niche market, 4K UHD-TV’s have finally been embraced by the mainstream and is expected soon to be the new future-proof TV standard. 

Walking through the floors at CES, it doesn’t take much of a genius to realize that the next generation of TV’s that only used to be only envisioned in futuristic science fiction movies are just stunning, gorgeous, and jaw-dropping technical marvels to gaze at.

What’s truly amazing is that the manufacturers all use different display technology ranging from MicroLED, Mini-LED, QLED, and OLED.  With the latest breakthroughs in display technology demonstrated at CES 2020, the TV’s of the future were what dreams are made of that were made into reality.

However, dreams like this don’t come cheap, but if you have at least a spare $60,000 to a few hundred thousand dollars to spend, here is your dream come true.


Two years ago at CES, LG Electronics, the pioneer of OLED-TV introduced a prototype of the OLED W, (The “W” stands for “Wallpaper”).  It was truly an amazing and ground breaking revolutionary technology that was able to keep the pure picture quality of OLED technology with the darkest blacks and brightest whites within its micro thin bezel frame just 2.57mm thick.


LG Signature OLED R rollable TV’s on display at the LG Press Conference in Las Vegas for CES 2020. Photo by Marcus Siu.

LG Electronics expanded their OLED R line, which was briefly introduced last year at CES 2019.  (The “R” stands for “Rollable”).  Think of these as a portable “UHD-TV in a box” in which the screen rolls up from a long rectangular cabinet that also serves as it’s own soundbar.  When in use, the display rolls up through motorization and rolls back down when not in use.  It’s like an all-in one projector and screen all rolled into one. 

This year, they have created yet another revolutionary product which may even disrupt the need for movie projectors and movie screens in the future, just like how digital cameras eliminated the need for film cameras.

The latest version of the new LG OLED R line prototypes were shown, which is the exact reversal of the first model.  Rather than being put on a flat surface, like a table, the cabinet/soundbar could be mounted upside down from the top of the ceiling like a mounted movie screen.  If you want to watch, with a press of a button, the screen will roll down from the ceiling and roll back up when you are done.  Even with this compact feature, you still get the best OLED quality with absolutely no loss in picture quality. 

Luckily for consumers, they should be available this year.  However, the price isn’t going to be cheap. Rumors are that the TV will be starting at $60,000.00.


An attendee at the SDC19 at the San Jose Convention Center looks at Samsung’s Wall that measures 146″ and is expandable to 292″. Photo by Marcus Siu.


For those who want to buy a TV and make it a permanent fixture in their living space,  you can buy “The Wall” TV by Samsung.  Available in sizes from 75 inches up to 292 inches, it’s the biggest TV display you can buy today, and the only set on the market to offer.  There are two versions of the wall; one at 146″ and the other at 292″.

Samsung’s microLED technology, which uses super-fine LEDs instead of OLED or traditional LED delivers many of the benefits you’ll find in OLED, including perfect blacks and eye-popping colors, but the set also boasts 1,600 nits of brightness, which is brighter than today’s OLED sets.  More importantly, unlike OLED, MicroLED promises zero burn-in issues.



Thanks to modular technology, you can make it as big as you want. Size does not matter. Samsung at CES 2020 in Las Vegas. Photo by Marcus Siu.

The 146-inch size might seem random, but it’s actually just tall enough to be able to cover most home walls from the floor to the ceiling.  Because The Wall is made up of borderless tiles, the modular design allows additional tiles to be added, making this even-bigger version of The Wall possible. Of course, if you live in a castle, you can double or triple that measurement, or just make it custom made.  Size does not matter…if you have a deep wallet.

Just like Lego blocks can be built on each other, Samsung has the capability of building it’s displays on top of each other without any bezels showing.  No borders or boundaries; just pure continuous gorgeous displays. Looking up close, I did not see any irregularities and the image looked seamless.  In fact, it can blend into your living space, such as a white wall display that looks like a white wall when not in use.

When not in use, even though it wasn’t designed to turn off, “The Wall”, can blend in as part of your living space.  You can make it part of the wall or you can change it into artwork or even a masterpiece painting by a world renowned painter, such as Renoir.  The main point is that it doesn’t look like one massive giant TV that is showing up as an eyesore that domesticated wives are accustomed to with home theater type husbands.  The wife will be much happier for it.

However, Samsung hasn’t put a price tag on this, but considering the 98″ Class Q900 QLED Smart 8K UHD TV is tagged at $59,999.99, you will probably need to take out a second mortage on your home for the 292″ model, if you have to own one.


Samsung shows off it’s 292″ inch “Wall-TV” at CES 2020 in Las Vegas. Thanks to modular technology, you can make it as big as you want. Size does not matter. Photo by Marcus Siu.


Always thought of as the pioneering innovator of TV’s, Sony Electronics had surprised everyone at this years CES press conference by literally changing gears and announcing they are going into the electric car business by introducing their Vision S electric car prototype.

Surprisingly there was hardly any news concerning the TV side of Sony’s business except that they would be selling smaller sized OLED TV’s as little as 48″, which there is a definite need for in the marketplace.  This is good news for consumers as OLED prices have come down to earth in price, thanks to the mass adoption demand for them, as well as the growing competition with LG and other brands from China who have announced they are selling in the US in the new year.  Vizio plans to come out with their first OLED TV, as well as an OLED line from Phillips, Konka and Skyworth. 


Sony’s 98″ X1 Master Series 8K HDR at the Sony booth at CES 2020 in Las Vegas. Photo by Marcus Siu.

In the meantime at their booth, Sony displayed their latest flagship X1 Master Series, featuring the 8K Sony 98″ X1 which has already been selling at retailers listing for a mere $70,000.00.  They also had the smaller 85″ line on display which retails at a more reasonable $13,000.00.

Obviously, very few of us can afford this new technology right now, but the real point here is that we have reached this point in technology and that it’s here with us to stay.

Who knows?

One day when they figure out how to mass produce these MicroLED TV’s, we all may be able to afford a Wall-TV in our home without having to take out a second mortgage.

It’s certainly in my dreams…

Below is the impressive LG OLED Wave video at CES 2020.  The colossal LG OLED Wave was made up of 200 – 55-inch LG OLED digital signage screens (128 convex and concave and 72 flat). Measuring 20 feet high and 82 feet wide, the exhibit gave CES attendees an immersive experience.  Me included.


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Greetings from the Pepcom Holiday Spectacular Show in San Francisco. Photo by Marcus Siu.

Article and photos by Marcus Siu

It’s that time of the year again, when the holidays suddenly comes storming around the corner, just like the early brave seasonal shoppers on a Black Friday.  Regardless of the of weather, nothing will be in the way for the most hardcore shoppers,  However, for most of us, even if it’s just a little cold outside or dark outside, we will be happy just to stay warm inside and shop online.  Unfortunately, the drawback is is that you may not be able to observe and physically handle the item firsthand, if you’re not familiar with the product.

Luckily, that wasn’t the the case for me when I attended the recent annual Pepcom “Holiday Spectacular” show in San Francisco.  The show for journalists covers a plethora of new products with the latest in gadgetry among the many very high tech and start-up companies.  There were some very unusual items at the show, as well as some very fun and practical items.  It’s a great time where the press can ask questions about all of the products, as well as handling them up front to see how good the products were.

Here are a few standouts that caught my attention.



Aura ‘s lineup of digital and analog frames. Cookies not included. Photo by Marcus Siu.


How often do you have friends or family attending events and taking lots of photos that you hope they would eventually share with you?  Being an avid photographer, I take photos all the time but eventually hear complaints from friends that I never share them with them.  Not that I am selfish, but to download them and then to store them on flash drives and not knowing when I will see them again can be a problem.  Or perhaps, I just don’t want to bother uploading my photos on a dropbox account after I get back.  In reality, I just forget.  Regardless, I am bad about sharing photos with friends and family, if they request it.

Now Aura Frames has figured out a good way to share the images and right into their own picture frames. They help people get photos off their phones or devices directly onto their Aura frames within seconds, right on top of the mantle that it is sitting on thanks to their app.

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You can also share photos on any network frame in seconds with their app no matter how big a family or your network of frames are.  What makes these frames “smart” is that the app uses Alexa and Google Integration, as well as an AI powered smart photo curation – facial recognition software so it identifies everyone in the photo.

In addition, there are different types of stylish frames to choose from from classic, wood and mason frames.  Best of all, these frames are just plain gorgeous, with high resolution display and touch bar sensors to swipe left to right or up and down.

Besides sharing photos digitally, Aura has a print subscription service for people who prefer to have something held in their hands, as well.  Many people would prefer physical photos.  Especially premium quality prints that you can show immediately to your visitors, whether it’s on the fridge or in the frame.  These would be a better fit for someone like Grandma and Grandpa or any “old school type” who prefer not to exchange decades of old photo albums for digital photos on Facebook.

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You can choose an Aura analog frame box that holds up to a 60 5X7 photos, and Aura will print five photos a month and send it anywhere you wish.  Sending photos of  the grandchildren five times a month would be a perfect reason for subscribing to the service, especially if you they live too far away to see them regularly.




The Whistle booth at the Pepcom show. Photo by Marcus Siu.


Dog owners rejoice!

Do you ever wonder where your dog is when you aren’t there with him (or her)?  That’s the number one common concern for dog owners.  Perhaps you needed to hire a dog walker that you didn’t quite trust 100% and wanted to monitor the dog’s whereabouts and activity.  Perhaps, the dog walker was too lazy and you wondered if the dog got his daily exercise around the neighborhood?  Through the use of the Whistle app, you can find the location of your dog, but also his activities.

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Not only does it track the dog 24/7 with real time location tracking with accurate precision using Google maps on your smartphone, but it’s also a health wellness monitor that tracks the dogs’ sleeping patterns, and bad habits, such as licking and scratching that is also tracked by the app.

Just like a Fitbit, it also monitors the calories burned, total minutes being active and even resting.  The app also shows the pet’s daily trips history, as well as notifications of the dogs’s activity goals which you can set on the app.

Even dogs need to monitor their daily work out…




Lynq is a little gadget that you can clip on your clothes or bag that tells you how far and in what direction other people are without any data connection needed. Photo by Marcus Siu.


Here’s a typical scenario.  You are at a Burning Man Festival and you have to go to the bathroom which is a pretty far distance away, but you don’t want to lose your spot in the crowd because you are very close to the front of the stage with an endless sea of people in back of you.

Reluctantly, you turn to your group and excuse yourself for the long walk to the facilities. After you relieve yourself, you attempt to return to where you were, but now you are lost.  You grab your cell phone, but there is no service because the cellular network is too congested.  Even if there was service, you probably wouldn’t be able to hear anything anyways.

So, what do you do?  How do you go back and find your friends with all those people there?

LynQ is a GPS tracking device that can be used within a three mile radius.  Once paired, you can set the home base.  If you get separated from someone or a group, you will be able to find each other through the arrows and distance from the display.  No need for a cellular signal, maps or even monthly fees.  It can track multiple people, up to 12 and is mainly for outdoor use.  It also has a three day battery life.

Not only would this be perfect for a group of two or more for any outdoor activities, such as skiing, hiking, and of course, music festivals, it would also be perfect to keep on your wandering children (or even dogs) when going to see the fireworks at the beach, or parades in the city or at any park.  Even kids would find the one-touch operation fairly simple to find their way back to their parents or home base.

Another great benefit is that you will receive notifications if they wander off from the safe zone that you can set yourself.  This device can be a potential life-saver.

Home New

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Justin Denizen, the SVP of Mobile Product Marketing at Samsung at SDC2018 in San Francisco a year ago. Photo by Marcus Siu.

Article and photos by Marcus Siu

After months of teasing about their foldable phone in conjunction with last year’s MCW (Mobile Congress World) show in March, Samsung unveiled their new revolutionary “Infinity Flex” at their keynote address in San Francisco the following November at the Samsung Developer’s Conference – SDC2018.

Continuously accomplishing evolutionary improvements year after year and creating new industry standards with each smartphone release, Samsung have simply outdid themselves by re-imagining the design of the smartphone of tomorrow, thinking way outside the box of that could only have been imagined in science fiction movies.

“We’ve been living in a world where the size of your screen can only be as large as the device itself,” remarked Justin Denizen, Samsung’s SVP of Mobile Product Marketing at the Opening Keynote at SDC2018 in San Francisco. 

“The Infinity Flex Display is the foundation for the smartphone of tomorrow…Infinity Flex represents the biggest leap forward in mobile display technology in the last decade…together with one UI, it lays the foundation for a new platform.” 


Sally Hyesoon Jeong, VP, Head of Framework R&D Group, Mobile Communications addresses the crowd at SDC2019 in San Jose, California. Photo by Marcus Siu.

After announcing that the “Infinity Flex” would be in production in April 2019, there were some initial production hiccups after the company had sent devices to various outlets for review.  Many reviewers were reporting that their phones were breaking down in just a few days, but one of the main reasons was that some reviewers peeled off the screen protector thinking it was supposed to be removed, when it actually was one of the innovative layered components that protected the device that should not have been removed.

Even with a warning on the instructions not to peel the layer off, many reviewers did not read the literature in the box.  However, since reviewers are a microcosm of consumers, Samsung needed to redesign and extended the layer so it would make it a permanent part of the phone.

In regards to the other issues,  Samsung made additional quality improvements and refined the design further nearly six months later, addressing those initial issues that have disappeared.


Developers get a first hand look at the new Samsung Galaxy Fold at the SDC2019 booth in San Jose, California. Photo by Marcus Siu.

Pioneering innovation in mobile display technology has been a main force why Samsung has been the favorite among Android smartphone users over the years as they continue to make things even better than you would think would be impossible to improve on for the consumer. Ten years ago, Samsung introduced Super AMOLED smartphones in 2010 and continued to improve the technology today to Quad HD Super AMOLED, used in the bezel-less Galaxy Edge.  Now that they are in the Infinity Flex age, they continue advancing and have created a new form factor of foldable smartphones. 


BEFORE PHOTO: The Samsung Galaxy Flex is a smartphone. Photo by Marcus Siu.

The Infinity Flex Display, and the phone itself has a tablet-sized screen that can be folded up to fit into a pocket.  When folded, the view-able screen measures 4.6 inches. When unfolded, the device has a 7.3-inch display, about the size of a tablet screen. 


AFTER PHOTO: The Samsung Galaxy Flex is a tablet. Photo by Marcus Siu.

It’s difficult to fathom how this could be entirely possible given the physical and its dimensional characteristics.  How is this possible to bend and fold a smart-phone as though it was a leather wallet that you can put in your back pocket?

Samsung basically re-imagined the way smartphones are made .  They substituted the protective cover glass and replacing it with a composite polymer that is flexible and tough yet durable.  They also came up with a unique adhesive that improves the elasticity of the component layers (cover window (PI), shock-absorbent film, ultra thin polarizer, flexible layer and backplane).  Finally, they invented a new polarizer, reducing the thickness by 45%.  All these factors would reduce the thickness of the phone in order for it to be folded and unfolded repeatedly hundreds of thousands of times, creating a new form factor, opening a new dimension with the Infinity Display technology.


New folding designs are in the works at Samsung. Phones do not need to be folded vertically, but can be folded horizontally. Photo by Marcus Siu.

As a side note, the Opening Keynote at SDC2019 also teased a new unnamed concept design of that of a traditional flip phone, much like those styles of Nokia and Motorola used in the early days of cell phones.  The “clam-shell” foldable phone allows the device to fold width wise instead of lengthwise.

With the creation of the Samsung Fold phone, there will be endless possibilities to this newly created form factor which will continuously flourish and develop into a new era. 

To Infinity and beyond!




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THX and EVOO Announce New Lineups of Ultra Slim, Convertible 2-in-1s, and Gaming Laptops


THX showed up at the latest Pepcom show in San Francisco announcing their THX certified Intel-powered EVOO devices featuring their THX® Spatial Audio technology and Tuned by THX™ displays enhancing the user experience of movies, music, streaming video and games. Photo by Marcus Siu.

Article and photos by Marcus Siu

After purchasing a brand new TV or laptop, how many consumers out there do you think actually go through the trouble to calibrate and fine-tune the colors of their display to get the finest picture possible?  Probably not many.

The majority of users don’t even think about adjusting the display settings on their monitors or laptops, and just leave the factory default settings alone.   It never crosses their minds that they actually need to adjust and balance the settings if they want a better picture with better contrast or crisper and brighter colors.  The fact is, most of the companies simply do not calibrate their displays they package.

THX, known for the certification of movie auditoriums, as well as home theaters, car audio systems, and gaming consoles has just recently branched out to include personal mobile devices.  The latest lineup of THX certified EVOO devices were on display at the Pepcom show in San Francisco, which come pre-calibrated and tuned by THX engineers, who spend countless hours, guaranteeing the consumer get the best in sound and picture possible right out of the box. 

This is a big win for the consumer.

However, the really impressive news is that the EVOO gaming laptops will feature multi-dimensional sound utilizing “spatial audio”, where the sound not only surrounds you not only from the front, rear and sides, but also above and below you…basically a 360 degree field.  You can experience this through the built-in speakers from the laptop or just using headphones.  If you are a gamer or movie watcher, you cannot get better than this for a total immersive experience from any other mobile device.  If you prefer, you can always set it down to “stereo”.

The THX slogan of “the audience is listening” now can probably come out with a more updated slogan” “the audience is immersing”…


TV display shows before and after THX calibration as well as several laptops at the THX booth at the Pepcom show.   Photo by Marcus Siu

Here is their original press release that contains more detailed information.

San Francisco, Oct. 17, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — THX Ltd., renowned for the certification of world-class cinemas and consumer electronics, today announced new lineups of powerful, attractive, cost effective EVOO devices designed for those with mobile lifestyles, and for gamers. The new EVOO Gaming laptops, expected to be available in November on Walmart.com, will feature THX Spatial Audio technology for immersive audio that enhances audio localization from headphones and from the device’s built-in speakers, as well as displays that have been Tuned by THX to provide vibrant colors and crisp visual contrast, vastly improving both the audio and video playback. In addition, five new EVOO lifestyle devices for people with mobile lifestyles, including ultra slim laptops and 2-in-1 convertible laptop-tablets, feature Tuned by THX displays that enhance the TV, movie viewing and streaming experience, and are available now on Walmart.com.

“We are pleased to help bring to market these exceptional new EVOO devices. With the EVOO Gaming laptops, gamers experience spherical multidimensional audio, putting them at the center of the action in video games, movies, streaming video, and music,” said Jason Fiber, senior vice president and general manager, mobile products, THX Ltd. ”Adding to this, our THX engineers worked diligently to calibrate the displays so the devices will offer a quality viewing experience with brighter, clearer colors and vibrant, focused contrast.”


EVOO Gaming Laptop (EG-LP6w 17.3”) with THX® Spatial Audio and Tuned by THX™

EVOO Gaming Laptops – THX Spatial Audio and Tuned by THX: EVOO, a private-label electronics brand sold on Walmart.com, today announced three new Intel-powered EVOO Gaming laptops optimized for dedicated and new gamers. The EVOO gamer will have the option of enjoying THX stereo as well as THX Spatial Audio to experience three-dimensional audio immersion. This means the player may become fully immersed in an authentic game experience that transports them into the computer game environment with true-to-life acoustics that allows them to accurately locate enemies, avoid dangers, and detect threats with the precision and pin-point accuracy of advanced audio positioning. THX Spatial Audio may also help reduce ear and brain fatigue by moving sounds perceptibly farther away from the player in order to encourage mental sharpness enabling longer playtime. Recognizing that great content needs exceptional graphics, the EVOO Gaming laptops also feature displays Tuned by THX, resulting in a compelling and accurate viewing experience. THX engineers spend countless hours testing, tuning and adjusting a myriad of display parameters in order to provide exceptional, crisp display color and images for the best possible video experience from the time it is taken out of the box.

These three performance-series EVOO Gaming laptops, expected to be available in early November, include:

  • a 17.3-inch full HD screen with an Intel i7 9th gen processor, 16GB/1TB and Nvidia RTX 2060 ($1599 MSRP),
  • a 15.6-inch full HD screen Intel i7 9th gen processor, 16GB/512GB, and Nvidia GTX 1660ti ($1299 MSRP), and
  • a 15.6-inch full HD screen with an Intel i7 9th gen processor, 16GB/256GB, and Nvidia GTX 1650 ($1199 MSRP).


EVOO Lifestyle Laptop (TEV-C-116-1 – 11.6”), Tuned by THX™


EVOO Lifestyle – Tuned by THX: Five new EVOO Lifestyle devices announced today include displays that have been Tuned by THX for a better viewing experience, perfect for watching TV shows, movies, and video streaming.  Specifically, the EVOO Tuned by THX devices come with a custom viewing mode that mimics displays used by Hollywood and TV professionals.

These EVOO laptops are designed for the busy person on the go–great for home, travel, and work. They are available in multiple screen sizes, form factors, colors, and each is powered by an Intel processor.  Prices range from $199.99 to $399.99, available now on Walmart.com, and include:

  • an 11.6-inch Ultra Slim laptop (Windows 10s 4GB/32GB),
  • a 14.1-inch Ultra Slim Elite Series laptop (Windows 10s 4GB/32GB),
  • two 11.6-inch 2-in-1 convertible touchscreen laptops, a standard and the Elite Series with Microsoft Office 365 and a touch screen (Windows 10s 4GB/32GB), and
  • an 11.6-inch 2-in-1 convertible touchscreen tablet (Windows 10s 4GB/32GB).

“We are thrilled to have THX and Intel, two bold, innovative, respected brands, as EVOO partners. Combined, we will enhance both the entertainment experience and computing performance of these new EVOO ultra-sleek slim lifestyle laptops and tablets, and new gaming laptops,” said Rodney Rad, from the EVOO product team. “EVOO is pleased to expand our offering of unparalleled quality at attainable price points across our product mix with these new consumer electronics devices.”

For further information about Tuned by THX and THX Spatial Audio integrated into EVOO products please visit www.thx.com/evoo. The EVOO Lifestyle devices are available now, and the EVOO Gaming laptops are expected to be available as soon as early November. To purchase EVOO products, please visit https://www.walmart.com/evoo.

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When Mojang, the maker of the world’s best selling game, Minecraft, which has sold 176 million units globally, announced they were going to release the Super Duper Graphics Pack during E3 2017, fans were ecstatic and highly anticipated playing the popular game with enhanced visuals with a new look for the nearly ten year iconic game.

Originally planned for release in fall 2017 as an optional add-on, would have added “dynamic shadows, lighting that streams through fog, movement in leaves and grass, new textures for mobs and villagers, directional lighting, [and] edge highlighting.”

Unfortunately, the company had to cancel their project because the pack proved too technically demanding to implement as planned because it wasn’t performing well across different platforms.

“There was a lot of enthusiasm for Super Duper from inside and outside the studio – but unfortunately, we aren’t happy with how the pack performed across devices. For this reason, we’re stopping development on the pack, and looking into other ways for you to experience Minecraft with a new look.

Well, luckily for Minecraft fans, that time has come as their is another option to obtain their game with enhanced visuals that they were planning on.  Even better visuals than they ever imagined, and Mojang has great imagination.

Here are two demonstration videos.

Through Windows 10 PC’s and laptops, using Nvidia GEForce RTX GPU’s, they can obtain a free update that will utilize real-time ray tracing from it’s graphics hardware.

Minecraft with RTX will refit the entire game with path tracing, a form of ray tracing featuring incredible levels of detail, affecting almost every pixel of every scene. You’ll see lifelike lighting, reflections and shadows, plus so much more, exemplifying the power of ray tracing and demonstrating why game developers like Mojang and Microsoft are working together with NVIDIA to enhance upcoming blockbusters with ray tracing.

This will dramatically change it into a new immersive experience rendering the realism of it’s environment for the viewer, even with it’s original Minecraft’s pixelated and blocky design that makes it so charming to everyone of all ages.  Gamers of Minecraft will never want to go back once they have experienced live ray-tracing with Minecraft.

Below are a few examples in the Minecraft environment using an interactive RTX-off RTX-on demo.






What’s more exciting is that this is just the start of the RTX gaming revolution.  This will be the new industry standard for new video games.   Here is a video of 10 upcoming games with ray tracing:

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Sama pictured in September 2016, in the bombarded east of the city with a placard in response to US presidential candidate Gary Johnson’s infamous gaffe “What’s Aleppo”                                          Courtesy of PBS Distribution

FOR SAMA is both an intimate and epic journey into the female experience of war.
A love letter from a young mother to her daughter, the film tells the story of Waad al-Kateab’s life through five years of the uprising in Aleppo, Syria as she falls in love, gets married and gives birth to Sama, all while cataclysmic conflict rises around her.

Her camera captures incredible stories of loss, laughter and survival as Waad wrestles with an impossible choice – whether or not to flee the city to protect her daughter’s life, when leaving means abandoning the struggle for freedom for which she has already sacrificed so much.

The film is the first feature documentary by Emmy award-winning filmmakers Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts.

Director, cinematographer, and activist survivor of “For Sama”, Waad al-Kateab.                        Courtesy of PBS Distribution.

Article by Marcus Siu

The documentary,”For Sama”, seems to have all the right elements for a classic Hollywood love story.  A young and optimistic college co-ed shows up at a peaceful anti-government demonstration protesting for human rights at the local University.  There she meets a young doctor among a group of friends, who shares the same passion for life as she does.  They fall in love, get married in a joyous wedding ceremony, move into their very first home and immediately become proud parents to an adorable beautiful baby girl named “Sama”.

Sounds perfect, right?  Not quite.

We need to rewind back to 2012 when Waad al-Kateab was a young co-ed college student majoring in Economics at the University of Aleppo, where she joined thousands of anti-government protesters at a peaceful demonstration.  As the demonstration evidently became more violent, with the increasing tension between the demonstrators and the authoritarian Syrian government led by President Bashar-al Assad, she began to document footage on her mobile phone.  From that day on, she started to record on a regular basis.

Hamza, Sama and the staff of al-Quds hospital, which Hamza set up in 2012 in east Aleppo.     Courtesy PBS Distribution.

Among with her activist friends, she meets her soon-to-be husband, Hazma, who works as a doctor at the Al-Quds hospital that he set up in Aleppo.  She moves in with him there along with the rest of the medics and became part of his “family”.  This enabled her to gain access to film at to the hospital that would normally would be off limits for any other outsider.

While her camera documented much death and destruction, there were numerous scenes of heroism at the hospital, as well.  Many lives were saved, including a pregnant woman with her unborn baby.  The unconscious woman is brought into the hospital where the medics quickly do a cesarean to attempt to save her baby.  When the baby is removed, he is also unconscious and not breathing, but after what seemed like endless perseverance in trying to resuscitate him, he is revived.  This scene also reflects al-Kateab’s unwillingness to give up on hope.  Any other filmmaker would have stopped the camera in a matter of seconds assuming the baby was dead, but instead al-Kateab’s camera continued to roll.

In addition to having direct access to the hospital, al-Kateab was able to document what it was like for children to be growing up and living in times of war.  She follows the group of schoolchildren who are being transported and directed by female teachers into small classrooms located in the basement of buildings that provide a dual purpose for a conducive learning environment, as well as a protective bomb shelter.  Many of the children shared their hatred for the Syrian government regime and leader.

When the children return home to their rubble piled neighborhood, they discover the remains of a school bus left standing with its smoked blown exterior shell and its steel interior.  In it we see a boy spinning its still intact driving wheel pretending to be the bus driver as the other boys play in the back as though they were at a local neighborhood playground.  A little girl watches them and speculates the bus was blown up by cherry bombs.  In between the Russian air strikes, the children are given cans of different colored paint from the adults who encourage them to paint the exterior of the bus just for fun, though other children may have preferred jumping in the man made pond in between all the rubble.

In a heartbreaking scene, a little boy is standing overhead a ledge on the third story of his home overlooking the devastation all around him.  He is deep in thought but is holding back his tears as much as he can.  Al-Kateab asks why he is sad and he answers that he is a “little” disappointed that his friends his own age have fled from the city but he still prays and forgives them for abandoning him.  Some of his friends and their family have been killed by bomb attacks and knows it can happen this can happen to him at anytime, as well, but his family has chosen to stay put since they have no other place to go.

Waad al-Kateab filming the ruins of a building destroyed by bombing in besieged east Aleppo, October 2016.                                                                                                                          Courtesy of PBS Distribution.

Not everything Waad al-Kateab captures is about loss and devastation from the war, but joy and happiness from of her own personal life and milestones.  There are intimate scenes sharing her declaration of love to Hazma; sharing jokes and good times with her friends; celebrating her wedding ceremony; and gleaming with joy in front of the mirror pregnant with Sama.  Perhaps the most poignant scene in the movie is when we see a close up Sama peacefully sleeping, with her mother softly and lovingly repeating her name until Sama responds by cracking a little smile without opening her eyes.

War is no place for anyone, but certainly not for children whose childhoods were taken away from them with no say in the matter.  Sama was born in January of 2016 during the last and most violent year for the battle of Aleppo.  That was the same year that the government regime and its allies resorted to every imaginable atrocity to crush the rebels including bombing the last remaining hospital.  The rebels are besieged and witness attacks by chlorine gas, cluster and barrel bombs, and massacres of women and children.

Waad, Hamza and Sama look at graffiti they painted on a bombed-out building, protesting against the forced exile of the civilian population of east Aleppo by forces of the Syrian regime and their Russian and Iranian allies, December 2016. Courtesy of PBS Distribution.

Both Waad and Hazma al-Kateab lost friends and narrowly escape death themselves at the hand of snipers, airstrikes and barrel bombs, scenes all captured on camera.  During that time, Waad continued to struggle with the personal choice of abandoning Aleppo to protect Sama or her freedom in which she strongly believes in.  “For Sama” is not just a love letter to her daughter, but also a document that will help comprehend the world that she grew up in; where children just like her are immune to the wartime sounds and destruction around them and accepts it as part of life.

Recipients of the “Golden Eye” at the Cannes Film Festival for “For Sama”, al-Kateab, along with her collaborating director, Edward Watts, have created a deeply riveting, intimate and personal film.  Responsible for structuring her personal story from the many hundreds of hours of footage, Watts contributed to the cohesiveness in the first person narrative in which the audience can easily relate and sympathize with.  It also puts faces onto the innocent victims of Syrians, of which approximately 500,000 people were killed in the country where 11 million people were seeking refuge or were replaced internally between 2012 and 2017.

This film not only shows the intimate and epic journey into the female perspective of war, but also it shows it as more of a more human one, as well.  This is essential viewing for all.

Opens July 26th, 2019 in Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco.

Director Edward Watts. Courtesy of PBS Distribution.

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