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The latest JBL Flip 6 portable speaker looks almost identical to the Flip 5. That’s certainly true for the outside appearance and design. However, JBL has a tradition of making small but powerful improvements that make their speakers some of the best Bluetooth speakers on the market. 

We’ve used the new Flip 6 for a month to see what has improved and if it’s worth paying the $130 for the new model. Read our complete JBL Flip 6 review to find out.  

Table of Contents

JBL Flip 6: First Impressions and Specs

As you can see from the pictures, the Flip 6 isn’t a groundbreaking invention but instead a solid addition to the JBL’s lineup of portable Bluetooth speakers. In addition to its beautiful design, the Flip 6 boasts dual bass radiators that ensure outstanding bass performance. You can feel them pulsing on each side of the speaker when you play music. 

One significant improvement that every outdoor enthusiast will appreciate is the official IP67 waterproof and dustproof rating. This makes JBL Flip 6 water-resistant and dust-resistant and a perfect companion for any beach trip or a pool party (the speaker also floats). Speaking of parties, there’s also a new companion app that allows you to adjust the equalizer settings to take the sound to the next level. 

Dimensions: 17.8 x 6.8 x 7.2cm

Weight: 0.5kg

Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.1, USB-C port

Water & dust resistance rating: IP67

Outer power: 20W RMS for woofer & 10W RMS for tweeter

Battery life: 12hrs of music playing time

Colors: black, gray, blue, light blue, red

Price: $130. 

The Flip 6 is another excellent example of portable JBL speakers capable of blasting loud and high-quality sound while also not taking a lot of space. You can put it on any surface and don’t have to worry about dust, sand, or water, thanks to the IP67 rating. It’s worth mentioning that Flip 6 is still just a wireless speaker. There’s no voice assistant integration, no mics for conducting phone calls, or an aux input for wired listening. However, the Flip 6 makes up for it by providing powerful audio performance and robust bass. 

Design and Unpacking

The Flip 6’s design is on-brand, with the JBL logo now in all big letters, centered on the speaker’s body. When you feel the speaker, you’ll notice the textured accents here and there: for example, both the logo and the passive bass radiators now have a metallic feel. 

The power button, Bluetooth button, and the USB-C charging port are all in the same places as the Flip 5. However, the panel that they’re on is now smaller compared to the predecessor. 

There’s an adjustable strap that makes it easier to pick up the speaker, hang it or carry it with you. There’s also a small added rubber foot underneath the main panel that ensures your speaker’s stability so it won’t roll off your desk. It’s a more elegant solution than the larger rubber panel on the Flip 5. 

The rubber Partyboost button, buttons to control volume levels, and the multifunction button for playback and track navigation are located in a separate line on the speaker’s fabric jacket. The multifunction button only allows you to skip tracks forward and not backward. Other than that, you have all the functionality you need on this control panel. 

What’s in the Box

JBL Flip 6 comes in a stylish signature box with a magnet lock. Here’s what you’ll find inside the box: 

JBL Flip 6 Bluetooth portable speaker

A silicone wrist strap

USB-C charging cable 

Quick Start Guide

Safety instruction

Warranty card 

In the quick start guide, you’ll find all the information you need about setting up and using your Flip 6. If you have a specific question about the functioning of Flip 6, you can address the Support on the official JBL website about it. 

Audio Quality & Features

Don’t be fooled by the Flip 6’s compact size. This speaker can deliver volumes loud enough to fill not just your living room but even an outdoor space where there are no walls for the soundwaves to bounce from. The Flip 6 achieves this thanks to the dual passive radiators and a racetrack-shaped woofer—responsible for the low frequencies and midrange—they help deliver decent bass and mids. At the same time, a separate tweeter—responsible for the high frequencies—ensures there’s no sound distortion at high volumes.

If we’re talking numbers, the dynamic frequency response range of JBL Flip 6 is 63-20k Hz, with the output power of 20 W RMS for the woofer and 10 W RMS for the tweeter. 

If you don’t know how to read those numbers, no worries. Here’s the takeaway: JBL Flip 6 performs equally pleasant no matter what kind of music you throw at it. You can expect strong bass lines, rich vocals, clear rap sequences, and smooth but clear instrumental melodies from this speaker. 

If you want to step it up and boost the sound even more, you can use the JBL Partyboost feature to pair your Flip 6 to a compatible speaker (or several speakers, up to 100 actually) in a party (or mono) mode to create a wall of sound. So if you have any of the compatible JBL speakers like JBL Charge 5, a Flip 5, or an Xtreme 3, you can sync them together and truly get that party started.

You can enter the Partyboost mode by pressing the Partyboost button on the control panel or via the JBL Portable mobile app. And if you have 2 Flip 6 speakers, you can use the same button to pair them and play your music in stereo mode. 

App and Connectivity 

The JBL Portable app (previously JBL Connect) for Android and iOS unlocks more features that allow you to control your JBL speaker. Turn on your Flip 6 and run the app to pair your devices. From the app, you can turn on the Partyboost mode, access the user guide, turn the feedback tone on and off, use the Equalizer, and install software updates to ensure your speaker’s stable performance and long lifespan. 

The app is simple and user-friendly, just like the speaker itself. In the Equalizer, you get to tweak Bass, Mid, and Treble. You can also use the app to change the name of your Flip 6 to a custom one. 

Pairing your Flip 6 with a smartphone or other speakers is quick and easy, thanks to the Bluetooth version 5.1. You can also pair the speaker with two devices at once and take turns playing music with your friends. 

Battery Life 

JBL claims that the Flp 6 lasts for 12 hours of playback, which we found accurate during testing. When you want to top up the battery, the charging time from zero to full is about 2.5hrs, and you can use the included USB-C charging cable. 

Flip 6 vs. Flip 5

If you’re a JBL user looking to upgrade your portable speaker from Flip 5 to Flip 6, you’re probably wondering if it’s worth it since the speakers look alike. Here are the main differences between the two speakers that will help you decide.

Flip 6 uses a more recent Bluetooth version (5.1 over 4.2 in Flip 5) and provides better connectivity.

IP67 is a stronger waterproof and dustproof rating than the IPX7 in Flip 5. 

Flip 6 features a significant improvement in sound quality, making it a more suitable speaker for big outdoor gatherings.

Flip 5 is cheaper than Flip 6 ($110 vs. $130). 

Should You Buy the JBL Flip 6?

If you already own a Flip 5, you might want to wait for the next generation to make the upgrade feel more substantial. However, the Flip 6 will make for a great pairing speaker for your Flip 5 if you want to use them in Partyboost mode. 

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Is Buying Instagram Followers Worth It?

Is buying Instagram followers worth it?

The prevalence of social media pressures its users to be follower-driven.

For instance, the idea of being popular on Instagram (given the opportunities it presents) can pressure people to grow their followers in all ways and means.

This may include methods like purchasing fake followers from various websites and services.

However, is buying Instagram followers worth the money or is it just a scam?

This article explores the ins and outs on fake followers for you to determine whether you should buy them or not.

Without further ado, let’s get right into the answer.

Table of Contents

1. Is buying Instagram followers worth it?

3. What happens when you buy Instagram followers?

4. Advantages of buying Instagram followers

5. How much do Instagram followers cost?

6. Alternative to buying Instagram followers

7. Follow for follow restrictions

8. Final thoughts

Is buying Instagram followers worth it?

The short answer is ⁠— no, buying Instagram followers is not worth it in the long run.

Here’s why.

Buying Instagram followers is not only unsafe, but it also kills your engagement rates.

Buying Instagram followers literally means that you’re accepting fake followers into your account.

So don’t be persuaded by websites and services that tell you about all the positive things about purchasing followers because they are untrue.

Hence, if you’re looking to purchase fake followers; think again because you’ll definitely regret it in the future.

Buying Instagram followers will stir up a lot of problems in your account (in the present and the future).

So if you’re thinking of buying them on impulse, stop and read the next few pointers!

Buying Instagram followers kills your engagement rates

Buying Instagram followers will decrease your engagement rate by a chunk (depending on the number of fake followers you have).

This is because fake followers do not engage on your posts.

Here’s an example.

Prior to purchasing followers, an account has 1,000 followers and a 10% engagement rate.

After purchasing 1,000 followers, the account now has 2,000 followers.

This means that the account’s engagement rate is now diluted to 5%.

Engagement rate is the most important metric on Instagram and purchasing fake followers will negatively affect it.

You can have a ton of followers; but if your post has little to no engagement, your account is worthless.

Any service that claims they sell ‘real’ followers or provide ‘organic’ growth is a fraud. Do not trust them!

There are countless of people getting scammed by these websites and services because what they claim isn’t true.

You’re not going to get real followers and organic, sustainable growth. Instead, you’re going to get fake followers and a customer support team that doesn’t respond to your queries.

Do keep this in mind if you’re looking to buy followers for your account.

Fake followers are very obvious

It’s very easy to tell if someone bought fake followers on Instagram.

Firstly, fake accounts do not have a profile picture.

Secondly, the username of a fake account is either a random mix of letters and numbers which does not make any sense.

Lastly, a fake account have little to no posts on their feed.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of an account with real followers vs an account with fake followers.

Real Followers vs Fake Followers

As you can see in the picture, it’s very easy to tell between real Instagram accounts and fake ones.

So, the next time you see someone’s followers dominated with accounts with no profile pictures, senseless usernames, and doesn’t have a single post on their feed, then you know that they bought followers.

Buying followers is also a drastic solution to boost your self-esteem on Instagram.

It may work well in the beginning, but people tend to be very inquisitive on Instagram and they will find out that you bought fake followers based on your follower list or engagement rate soon enough.

It violates Instagram’s Community Guidelines and Terms of Use

Since the early days of Instagram, fake accounts are consistently being removed so this does not come as a surprise.

In fact, Instagram is consistently improving their AI so that it detects fake accounts better. Sooner or later, fake accounts might be a thing of the past.

So before you consider buying fake followers, you’ll have to be prepared to lose whatever that you bought.

In other words, buying followers is a waste of money because they will eventually be removed from your account.

Moreover, your account might be permanently suspended from Instagram.

Brands will not want to work with you

Brands will not want to collaborate with you if you bought fake followers.

This is because your engagement rate is either really low or fake.

If you bought followers, they might suspect you of buying likes as well. This will negatively affect your credibility.

No brand will want you to endorse their product or service because your audience is a bunch of fake followers.

So, if you’re looking to become an influencer on Instagram, buying fake followers is out of the question.

What happens when you buy Instagram followers?

If you’re curious about what happens after you buy Instagram followers, this section is for you.

Here is a compiled list of reviews from real people that have purchased fake followers from various websites and services.

These reviews are adapted from TrustPilot.

1. Upleap

These are the reviews from real people who tried Upleap (an Instagram growth service operated in Malaysia).

Absolute Scam! I’m with my lawyer now. They lie about everything, they don’t even send proof if the social media guys actually exist. They even fake numbers on the dashboard. STAY AWAY. Even on the internet, you can find articles that this is a SCAM! Every good rating here is a fake. They fake the ratings. 

Source: TrustPilot

Terrible, I was skeptical at first so I tried out the free trial. I was kicked out of my account immediately and they changed my password. I had to contact Instagram for ages and I tried to contact Upleap but had no reply whatsoever.

Source: TrustPilot

These guys are scammers. I signed up and nothing happened. Apparently, my account manager Cayley Wong has been assigned to my account and will personally help grow my Instagram account. Please, stay away from this mob. It’s a waste of time and money. 

Source: TrustPilot

What happens if you purchased one of Upleap’s plans:

Firstly, you’ll get a dedicated account manager, which is not a real person. Secondly, the followers you’re going to be getting are very sketchy-looking (with no more than 3 posts, less than 150 followers, and a following of over 6,000).

Lastly, the numbers on the dashboard are fake, they might change your Instagram password and you will get zero engagement from the followers that you got.

2. Simplygram

Some of the most recent reviews from people who tried Simplygram (USA based service)

Waste of money and cause of embarrassment on social media. Almost all of the followers are bots or fake accounts with nasty pictures, looking like accounts from India or the rest of Asia. I ended up blocking thousands of them after noticing the garbage that I received as followers.

Source: TrustPilot

Signed up for a free trial. They claimed that they will not charge me after my trial ends. A week later, £164.20 is taken from my account. Stay clear of these people.

Source: TrustPilot

I normally do not write reviews like this, but this is incredibly bad. Their marketing is great, but the followers are not genuine. Also, I tried to email them five times to cancel my subscription but got NO replies. I also had to contact my bank as they said I have weird transactions, and I had to close my card details for new ones. Not sure if these two go hand in hand, but they very much could be. So do not give them your card details! Used this site expecting a real social media manager, but that’s not the case.

Source: TrustPilot

What happens if you purchased one of Simplygram’s plans:

Once you start your free trial, they will automatically charge you after it ends and there is no refund. The followers you’ll be getting are fake ones from Asia that will not give you any engagement.

To make matters worse, they will not reply to any of your emails.

3. Instazood

Here are the reviews from Instazood (an Instagram growth service based in Georgia).

It’s trash. When it worked it was great, but It only worked like 1/4 of the time. And that’s not something you want from a service you have to pay for. Their support is almost unreachable, and if they do respond, you’ll just get standard answers. It doesn’t support Paypal, and Credit card payment only works sometimes.

Source: TrustPilot

Really really useless. They kept sending me emails to add accounts but my account was always there. I sent so many emails with zero replies from them. Waste of time and money. Very complicated system too.

Source: TrustPilot

The product doesn’t work anymore. I’ve been waiting for a refund. I keep getting told that it’s coming because they are waiting for somebody to return to process it. They are happy to take your money but provide no service after. Don’t be tempted. It simply doesn’t work. They keep saying that my refund is one week away but I’ve been waiting 7 weeks. Liars.

Source: TrustPilot

What happens if you purchased one of Instazood’s plans:

Their product does not work because of the latest Instagram algorithm changes. Their customer service is poor and if you request a refund, they will not give it to you.

Additionally, your account may have a high chance of being suspended from Instagram as their algorithm is getting better and better.

Summary: What happens when you buy Instagram followers?

Here’s a quick timeline portraying what will happen when you buy Instagram followers.

1. After you’ve purchased Instagram followers, your followers will start to rise.

2. Consequently, your engagement rate will be diluted (e.g. from 10% to 5%).

3. A few days later, Instagram’s AI will remove the followers that you have bought.

4. Instagram will eventually remove all your fake followers.

5. You’re back to the same number followers as before.

Advantages of buying Instagram followers

After purchasing Instagram followers, your followers will rise, then fall dramatically in the next few days until you’re back to square one.

If you don’t care about your engagement rate, buying Instagram followers is for you.

Buying Instagram followers is not worth your time and money.

Not only are you diluting your engagement rate, but your account may be permanently suspended.

So the next time you’re thinking of buying Instagram followers, think twice.

How much do Instagram followers cost?

Here’s a compiled list of various websites/services selling fake followers.

WebsiteCostUpleap $39 to $99 monthlySimplygram $69 to $199 weeklyInstazood $11.99 monthlyKicksta $49 to $99 monthlyBuzzoid $12.99 for 1k followersFamoid$15.95 for 1k followersStormlikes$12.99 for 1k followersiDigic$12.95 for 1k followersViralrace$12.99 for 1k followersSkweezer$12.99 for 1k followersBuildmyplays $29.99 for 1k followersInstapromote$12.95 for 1k followersKrootez$19.99 for 1k followersMrinsta$40 for 1k followersInstaboostgram$12.75 for 1k followers

Price breakdown:

Buying followers cost approximately $13.00 for 1,000 followers. Other growth services charge anywhere between $40 to $199.

Based on the prices, buying fake followers and growth services are quite expensive.

It’s not worth your money because your followers will be removed by Instagram’s AI a few days after you made your purchase.

Alternative to buying Instagram followers

Instead of buying Instagram followers, you can utilize other alternatives like joining follow for follow groups.

Fundamentally, follow for follow groups are places where you can self-promote your Instagram link.

You can also find and follow others in your niche and send them a direct message on Instagram that you came from the respective community to get a follow back.

These groups are safe and does not violate Instagram’s Terms of Use or Community Guidelines.

You can grow 10 to 20 quality followers a day using one.

Here’s how:

Post your Instagram link on Followchain. Make sure to include a short description of yourself or the content that you post (this is to let others know your niche).

You’ll be able to know who followed you from Followchain by checking your direct messages on Instagram.

You can also find people and content to follow on the home page of Followchain.

Make sure to send them a direct message that you came from Followchain (otherwise they wouldn’t know)!

Once you’ve sent the direct message, the user will typically follow you back within 24 hours. If they don’t, just unfollow them.

Now that you followed someone in your niche, your engagement rate will increase because the user is more likely to be genuinely interested in your content.

It’s important to only follow people within your niche as it will not only increase your followers, but your engagement rate.

After all, engagement is the most important metric on Instagram.

Repeat this process as many times as you like to grow your Instagram audience.

Follow for follow restrictions

The only restriction to be aware is that you may get action blocked if you repetitively follow or direct message others.

To prevent being action blocked, make sure to follow and direct message others in intervals of 5 to 10 minutes.

In addition, you should not send the same direct message repeatedly because Instagram’s AI will think that you are a bot. Instead, send different variations of a direct message.

Here’s a full guide on how to fix and prevent the action block.

Final thoughts

Buying Instagram followers will decrease your engagement rate drastically. It also violates Instagram’s Terms of Service and Community Guidelines.

If you want to grow your Instagram followers, you’re better of trying to grow it organically or utilize follow for follow groups (which are free to join).

Author: Lim How Wei. Lim How Wei is the founder of Followchain, a community that simplifies growth and networking for Instagram users. Feel free to follow him on Instagram.

Ipad 10 Vs Ipad Air 2023: Which One Is Worth Buying?

Finally ridding itself of the home button and similar other features, the iPad’s transformation makes it much more at par with iPad Air 5 (2024). However, the recently released iPad Air 5th generation (2024) comes with impressive upgrades too. 

The new “budget” iPad is more expensive than its predecessor, jumping from $329 to $449. This means that you’re only $150 away from an iPad Air 2023. The price difference can complicate the purchasing decision if you’re weighing these two options.  While the two seem nearly identical, they have stark differences that you might miss out on. Below is an iPad 10 vs. iPad Air 2023 comparison to help you decide.

iPad 10 vs iPad Air 2023: Design 

Aluminum body with flat edges.

Uniform thin bezels around the display.

Power button Touch ID at the top.

USB-C charging port.

12 MP Wide camera at the rear and 12MP Ultra Wide front camera.

While both rock the same cameras, a significant difference is that the FaceTime HD camera of the iPad (10th generation) has been repositioned on the right edge (when held vertically). This is handy for video calls, ensuring that you look straight at the person you’re talking to. Meanwhile, the iPad Air retains its front camera at the top of the display.

iPad Air 2023iPad 10th genDimensions247.6 x 178.5 x 6.1mm248.6 x 179.5 x 7mmWeight461g477gColor optionsSpace gray, Starlight, Pink, Purple, BlueYellow, Pink, Blue, Silver

iPad 10 vs iPad Air 2023: Display

Regarding display, both the 10th-generation iPad and iPad Air 2023 have a 10.9-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit multitouch display, offering a 2360×1640 resolution at 264 ppi. Both have a Liquid Retina Display with True Tone technology and a maximum brightness of 500 nits.

Additionally, iPad Air delivers more vibrant greens and reds with its wide color display (P3) compared to the iPad (10th gen)’s traditional sRGB.

iPad 10 vs iPad Air 2023: Hardware and specs

The most significant difference between the iPad 10th gen vs. iPad Air 2023 is the chip. Let’s take a look at some other specs as well.

The new iPad runs on the A14 Bionic chip, which offers a 6-core CPU, 4-core GPU, and a 16-core Neural Engine. This gives it a massive leap from its predecessor in terms of performance, with a 20% boost in CPU speed and 80% faster speed with double the neural engine core.

The iPad Air, on the other hand, runs on the M1 chip, offering the same 16-core Neural Engine but with an 8-core CPU and GPU. However, iPad Air comes with 8GB RAM and Media Engine on board which will be extremely helpful if you’re using your tablet for heavy work, like video editing.

As mentioned above, both tablets offer the same 12MP wide camera with ƒ/1.8 aperture, digital zoom of up to 5x, and Smart HDR 3 for photos. They also provide the same video recording features.

In terms of storage options, both offer 64GB and 256GB options and 5G connectivity on cellular models. Both devices also support Nano SIM and eSIM.

The battery performance of both handsets is also at par, offering up to 10 hours of surfing on Wi-Fi or 9 hours on cellular data. 

Accessories

If you’re an Apple Pencil user, then this difference may be a deal breaker for you. For starters, the budget iPad only supports the first-generation Apple Pencil, which means that you might need to buy an adapter to be able to pair and charge it. 

The first-generation Apple Pencil is heavier and longer. It also has a cap that needs to be removed when charging. Most importantly, it doesn’t magnetically snap to the side of the iPad. That said, if you heavily rely on an Apple Pencil for note-taking or illustrations, or want to use the Apple Pencil 2, then you may want to get an iPad Air instead.

Both support external keyboards. The iPad Air works well with a Magic Keyboard and its own Smart Keyboard Folio, while the iPad (10th generation) works seamlessly with its Magic Keyboard Folio.

The keyboards themselves have different strengths. The Magic Keyboard Folio is ideal for those who enjoy using function keys and sports a versatile two-piece design that lets you attach the Folio magnetically to the tablet’s smart connector. Meanwhile, the Magic Keyboard’s floating cantilever design gives you the perfect viewing angle and has backlit keys for more comfortable typing.

Software

Both devices will run on the new iPadOS 16, offering a similar experience across the board. However, the iPad Air has Stage Manager, which is ideal if you use your iPad alongside your Mac.

iPad 10 vs iPad Air 2023: Price

The price may be a deciding factor for some people, so let’s get on with it. Both come in Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi + Cellular and 64GB and 256 storage options.

VariantsiPad Air 2023iPad 10th gen64 GB, Wi-Fi$599$44964 GB, Wi-Fi + Cellular$749$599256 GB, Wi-Fi$749$599256 GB, Wi-Fi + Cellular$899$749

Which iPad should you get? 

Answering this question can be challenging at first, but stacking up the two side by side should help you see nuanced differences between the iPad 10 specs and the iPad Air.

The iPad 10th generation and the iPad Air 2023 share many similarities, including the display, camera, storage, connectivity, and design. However, the two differ in peripheral support. This is essential if you intend to use an external keyboard and an Apple Pencil. 

So to sum it up, if you’re after a tablet for basic use and money is a significant factor, go for the iPad 10. 

However, if you’re after performance and multitasking capabilities (and the extra $150 isn’t a concern for you), I’d tell you to go for iPad Air 2023. What’s more, since it’s powered with the M1 chip, it may be able to get the upcoming features that may not be available to the A14-powered iPad.

Read more:

Author Profile

Rachel

Rachel loves anything Apple —from iPhones, to Apple Watches, to MacBooks. She is also a medical writer and a ghostwriter for various publications.

Why Astrophotography Is Worth The Trouble

Mixed Results

My first attempt at Jupiter [left] demonstrates why it’s a tricky first target–the brightness of the planet against the darkness of space casts a wide dynamic range for the novice to capture. But it’s possible, as a photo taken with the same camera provided by the SBIG folks shows [right].

Astrophotography is hard. Astronomically hard. Everything has to be perfect. Your telescope, with camera attached, must track your target in precise synchronization with the rotation of the Earth. It can’t shake. It can’t even vibrate. You have to nail your camera’s exposure settings or you’ll be rewarded with an incoherent mess. Your targets are often so dim you can’t even see them until after the image has been made, so focusing is a nightmare.

So why try? Because it makes the entities floating in the vastness of the universe much more real than any Hubble wallpaper on your computer desktop can.

Those images, as spectacular as they are, don’t capture personal experience. Marvelous photos have been made of Yosemite, Monument Valley, and the Grand Canyon, but people still trek to see them in person. Similarly, astronomy—for me—is best experienced first-hand. No shot of Saturn, Jupiter, the Orion Nebula, or the Whirlpool Galaxy from the Hubble can equal–intellectually or emotionally–my own experiences at the eyepiece. The scenes, when delivered by nothing more than a few layers of precision-ground glass, are reality. Saturn is an actual object, floating in the blackness of space. Star clusters sparkle like diamonds on black velvet. Everything has scale, depth, and context. They’re actual things, not abstractions. And far from making me feel like I’m an insignificant little nothing–unlike, say, watching an episode of Entourage–I actually feel like I’m part of something spectacular. Capturing images myself would be an extension of that first-person experience. I want to record these things, and share them, as I see them.

Astrophotography is a black art of the first order, and, frankly, I suck at it. Every one of my previous efforts over the last 10 or so years has ended in frustration, usually after sitting stock-still next to my scope for hours, shivering to death on fantastically cold nights. Fortunately, though, technology may finally be catching up with my own incompetence. The digital revolution swept amateur astrophotography a decade ago, and new cameras are more powerful and much easier to use than they were when CCD’s first crashed in from outer space back then. You can now shoot the universe with everything from consumer DSLR’s to $100 “planet cams” to ultra-sensitive, ultra-expensive CCD cameras that come with cooling fans, cryogenics, and finely tuned sensors. You also have exceptionally capable image-capturing and processing software that allows you to better control the camera and pull out the hidden details in these usually very dark shots. So with this in mind, I decided to finally commit myself to conquering my demon, to making an astro-image truly worth showing off.

My SBIG Camera

I turned to one of the leaders in the astro-photo biz, the Santa Barbara Instrument Group, or SBIG. They sent over an ST-4000XCM, a 4.2 megapixel color camera with an integrated cooling fan–this minimizes visual “noise” in your images that an overheated sensor can cause–and a built-in autoguider. This technology helps compensate for minor errors in your telescope’s alignment, which is critical when you start taking exposures longer than a minute or so. Essentially, the autoguider analyzes the view, locks on to specific stars, and makes constant adjustments to the telescope to keep everything in alignment. You won’t have images with stars burning streaks across the frame–they’ll remain fine points.

My Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope

Having been an avid telescope consumer my entire adult life–I have, like, nine–I had a good head start in terms of the rest of the basic equipment. One of my scopes happens to be great for astrophotography. It’s a computerized, 8-inch aperture Schmidt-Cassegrain from Celestron. (Schmidt-Cassegrains use a combination of mirrors and lenses to cram a lot of focal length and aperture into a compact tube. And the more aperture you have, the more light, and detail, you can bring in.) I’m able to align the motorized mount so that it can track smoothly, and I’ve got the super-sturdy mount option to minimize the shakes.

The Camera Mounted

One my first night, my target was Jupiter, which is positioned nicely in the sky right now–fairly low on the horizon and centered along the ecliptic in the early evening. After spending about an hour installing and experimenting with SBIG’s CCDOPS software, I wired everything up to the scope. The computer recognized the camera and began pulling in data about its temperature and various other parameters that I’ve yet to fully comprehend. Before I attached the camera, I’d centered the scope on the planet, and she looked beautiful through the eyepiece–three moons visible, nice detail in the cloud bands. When I took the eyepiece out and put the camera back in, the image on my laptop showed barely a hint of yellow blob. Since the eyepiece and camera focus at different points, the crisp view was long gone. The CCDOPS software solves this with a Focus function–it takes a steady stream of quick images so you can make adjustments between each shot. Within a few minutes, I was pleased to see a much more defined yellow blob. It was obviously overexposed, but I figured the camera would help me tame the shot in good time.

Finally, I started grabbing images. I tried exposures from 1/30th of a second down to 1/60th and up through a full second. Each time the image came back looking roughly the same. I also tried the software’s Planet Master function, in which the computer takes over and tries to grab the best shots in a rapid sequence. I had no better luck. This, however, I’d anticipated. It was my first night with an extremely sophisticated and complicated camera. I was just going to learn its rough functionality and then dive in with the manual once I’d had some degree of familiarity with it. So I packed it in, sent my shot to Michael Barber, an engineer at SBIG, and cracked open the book. Within a few minutes, Michael got back to me. I’d assumed that my shot was badly out of focus, but I was actually just being too ambitious. “That shot’s actually pretty well focused,” Barber told me. “The problem with planets is the great dynamic range and the brightness. The exposure is too long and the planet is saturated and burned out. You need to shorten the exposure time for Jupiter.”

A glob? No problem–globular clusters are among my favorite sights. These clusters of tens of thousands of stars are fascinating targets. You can stare at M13 in Hercules for hours and watch it unpack more and more individual stars as your eyes adapt to the sight. The next night, I went straight for Hercules.

My Shot of the M13 Cluster

My luck improved. I focused the camera and started experimenting with exposures. I tried three minutes, two minutes, 60 seconds, and 45 seconds. Each time, I got something that actually looked something like my view at the eyepiece. There are clearly still problems with my technique–the image still needs a few focus tweaks, and I suspect that there are settings I’m not familiar with that will help refine my shooting. But it’s my first successful, coherent astrophotograph. It’s a fine image, if I do say so myself–thanks to some contrast adjustments to darken the background–but it’s still a first try from a CCD novice, and it doesn’t quite capture the experience the way I want it to. Plus, I haven’t even scratched the surface of this camera’s capability–there are plenty of other features that can enhance my imaging, and plenty of ways I can tweak the image on the computer to get the best possible results.

Next, after some further schooling, I’ll go back to Jupiter, try M13 again, and then, hopefully, go intergalactic.

Is Stumbleupon Worth Another Look?

What is Stumbleupon and what are its benefits?

StumbleUpon is another way of finding & consuming content online, just as Twitter, LinkedIn news, Facebook sharing / likes & Google do.

Since web users are likely to use a number of tools as way of finding and sharing information, StumbleUpon may be worth a look. [Editors note: by chance as we published this, a new report suggested that StumbleUpon sends more traffic to US websites than Facebook. I’d have to say treat this caution – this is only for sites with Statcounter installed, which won’t be representative of larger sites].

If your audience is active on StumbleUpon, then it makes sense that your business is active on StumbleUpon. During this blog post I’ll cover, what StumbleUpon is, who uses it, why & how your business can be active on the service.

Here’s an intro to the scale of StumbleUpon which shows its scale

What is StumbleUpon?

The users of StumbleUpon

Taking a look at stats from the Google AdPlanner shows a fairly balanced range of demographics, suggesting it may be applicable for a range of companies.

Advantages of StumbleUpon

The part I like most about StumbleUpon is how it uses :

Your interests (initially what you tell it and then over time by what you read & share)

Your peers interests

Popularity of content within its network

to deliver content you will find interesting. For a long time now it has said it has “humanised” the internet. This is certainly its attraction, but at the same time it’s open to abuse by businesses people & businesses.

Very USA orientated (for now)

My experience with traffic from StumbleUpon is that it has very high bounce rates

Its another service to manage / find content like Google, Twitter, RSS managers, Facebook can all perform similar services, I (personally) don’t see an edge

If you don’t connect / follow the peers the recommendations tend to be weak (this means your friends have to use it as well to get the most from it)

Does StumbleUpon help SEO efforts?

It will play a small part yes. Only because:

It will improve your “social score” as you are active in a large & credible social network

It increases links to your website (this is the smaller of the two benefits & almost negligible)

However, to make the most of StumpleUpon from a search perspective you need to make sure you are feeding it amazing content that people share & like otherwise it is likely to fail from both a traffic referring & SEO enhancing point of view. StumbleUpon is like similar forms of inbound links in the sense that it proves to Google your business is alive & active which is key but it also forces you to consider how you are going to create amazing content to share which is what Google (& other search engines) are actually after.

How would you use StumbleUpon as a business?

Brand building, traffic growth & new inbound links

To find related content to share with users (be of value to your customers) or create your own content from

1. Brand building…

StumbleUpon creates another way to share content & therefore create new traffic opportunities. Though ensure you consider that the better & more relevant the content the:

More likely it will be viewed (brand exposure)

More likely it will generate traffic to your website

More likely it will be to be shared & liked (influencing the two items above & your social score in search engines such as Google)

2. Find content

If you have configured StumbleUpon properly & you are following brands, people & topics each time you login you should see a lot of new relevant pieces of content. This generates two opportunities, if you deem it useful, valuable or entertaining you should share it with your user base through any tools relevant (StumbleUpon, Twitter, LinkedIn, email). You have instantly been valuable to that user base & helps keep / boost your relationship with them. The second thing you could do is create a similar piece of content for your own web properties with your spin on it, or with additional information etc. As long as you don’t copy it like for like its a good way to find inspiration for you own content.

3. To find partners for business

With a system giving you content based on your preferences and that of your peers it will become a great source for finding some of the best online partners for your business. The sites you are presented with are deemed the most relevant to you and have been “voted” by your peers as good sources. With the right thought & filtering a lot of the sources could be turned into new business opportunities for your business. This could be that you could feature as a guest writer on their website or vice versa. It may even open up opportunities for websites to become affiliates for your business etc.

Advertising in StumbleUpon

Users stumble the best of the web, finding sites that reflect their interests and friends by simply hitting a button in their browsers or on their mobile devices. With Paid Discovery, your URL becomes part of that stream. The user is eager to engage with new and exciting content, making your product’s discovery a welcome experience in the eyes of a Stumbler.

Is A Vpn Worth Getting?

Privacy is increasingly a concern for everyone. You may think that the sites you visit, the products and services you buy and what you watch and download are all private. But they’re not. Your internet service provider knows where you go online and in some countries, particularly the US, this information can even be sold for marketing purposes.

It doesn’t have to be like this, though. A VPN makes your web browsing private (unlike the ‘private’ mode in your web browser) by using encryption so your ISP, the government and anyone else cannot know what you’re up to.

These days, VPNs are seen as an essential security tool which will – along with antivirus – help to protect you.

Why it’s worth getting a VPN 1. A VPN helps stop trackers

Using a VPN hides your IP address. This is a bit like your physical address, but for your internet connection, and it allows those website trackers to do their job.

When you connect to a VPN, your real IP address is replaced by one belonging to the service, making it much more challenging to track your activity.

2. A VPN stops your ISP from selling your data

Normally when you connect to the internet, your data goes via your internet service provider in a readable format. Not all data, but things such as your web searches, the URLs of the websites you visit and more.

When you connect via a VPN that information is encrypted so your ISP cannot read it, which means it cannot be sold on to companies which will then try to sell products and services to you.

3. A VPN gives extra security online

The same encryption gives you extra security online which your antivirus software doesn’t deal with. It helps to prevent hackers from stealing your login details, and other confidential data.

4. A VPN lets you access blocked websites and videos

One of the most popular uses for a VPN service is to get around regional blocks. Let’s say you want to watch BBC iPlayer but you don’t live in the UK. Even if you register for an account, you’ll just get an error when you try and watch anything saying that iPlayer is only for UK residents.

But if you connect to a VPN server in the UK, your IP address is replaced with one from the UK and you can watch content as if you were physically in the UK.

5. A VPN adds security to public Wi-Fi

If you’ve ever connected to free Wi-Fi on public transport, at a hotel or in a café, you might not have had to enter a password. That’s nice and convenient, but very bad for security.

When Wi-Fi isn’t password protected, there’s no encryption, and this means emails and messages you send could be seen by others. Again, a VPN adds that layer of encryption which stops criminals from stealing your identity and other sensitive information.

6. Most VPNs can be used on multiple devices

Aside from a minority of services, VPN providers allow you to connect several devices to the service at the same time. This is ideal for families, or simply anyone who wants to use a VPN a lot.

What a VPN cannot do

It doesn’t make you anonymous online

Contrary to the claims that some VPN services make, a VPN doesn’t necessarily hide your identity. Despite changing your IP address and encrypting your data, if you log into a website with your username and password, that site will know who you are. If you log into Facebook and post something, this information will be linked to you, regardless of whether you use a VPN or not.

Similarly, if you use Google search while signed in to your Google account (or signed in to Chrome) then Google knows who you are and what you’re searching for.

VPNs don’t stop malware

Although some VPNs have ‘antimalware’ features, these don’t replace proper antivirus. They usually warn you of dangerous websites, but don’t actively protect your device from attacks.

Be wary of free VPNs

Yes, free VPN services exist. But in general they are very limited in their capabilities and in some cases are gathering and selling your data. They can do this because when your data reaches the VPN server it is decrypted in order to be sent on to the website you want to visit.

Therefore it’s crucial you use a trustworthy VPN service, as it has access to your data.

Recommended VPN services

Though we have rounded up a handful of free VPN services, we would still recommend paying for one. This is primarily because of the limitations of free services, but also because you can pick a trustworthy provider that operates secure servers that will keep your data safe.

And since you’re still reading, you probably want to know which VPN service is best.

Currently, NordVPN is at the top of our list of the best VPN services. It offers a great all-round package which doesn’t cost much per month and offers thousands of servers around the world along with excellent speeds. It has also been audited twice to show that its no-logs policy works and that it doesn’t collect or store any information about its users on its servers.

Another option is Surfshark, which is cheaper still. Like NordVPN, it offers WireGuard as one of the encryption methods, and this makes it one of the quickest VPN services around. The last thing you want is for your internet connection to run slowly because you’re using a VPN.

Both services offer apps for all popular devices and operating systems including Windows, macOS, Android, iPhone, iPad, Amazon Fire TV and more. They’re also reliable at unblocking popular streaming services such as iPlayer, Netflix, Disney+ and others.

Related articles for further reading

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