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26
Jul

Facebook’s first wave of original TV shows is almost ready


Based on previous reports about Facebook’s ambitious original programming plans, the social network was supposed to launch its first shows in June. Well, July is almost up, and we’ve yet to hear about them, because they aren’t quite ready yet. According to Bloomberg, Facebook’s new Video section is finally going online in mid-August “after several false starts” if everything goes well this time. 1 Hacker Way has reportedly been asking partners to turn in the first episodes of their projects, but some of them are taking longer than expected and might even cause further delays.

Facebook hasn’t confirmed the project’s launch yet, but it hasn’t exactly been keeping its efforts a secret either. In 2016, it hired CollegeHumor co-founder Ricky Van Veen, who admitted that the company is exploring funding video content, including “original and licensed scripted, unscripted” shows. It also hired former MTV executive Mina Lefevre who worked on Teen Wolf and Scream to lead its efforts in creating original programs.

The social network has reportedly teamed up with several media companies to conjure up both short inexpensive shows and bid-budget productions. We can apparently expect the more inexpensive offerings to be similar to decently produced YouTube videos and the premium ones to be more like legit TV series. Bloomberg says Facebook isn’t trying to compete with Netflix or HBO, though, so something on the same scale as Game of Thrones is probably out of the question.

Source: Bloomberg

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26
Jul

Softbank’s robot army grows with a stake in Roomba’s owner


Softbank may be best known as one of Japan’s top phone carriers, but their recent behind-the-scenes investments make it clear they want something more. Bloomberg Technology reports that the Japanese company has invested in iRobot, the manufacturer of the robot vacuum Roomba, with a stake of less than 5 percent. iRobot recently reported strong second-quarter results.

This isn’t the first robotics company that Softbank has put some money into. Just last month, the phone carrier purchased Boston Dynamics from Google, along with all of its robots. Softbank also has found success with its companion robot, Pepper. While we had mixed results in our interactions with the companion robot, it appears that Pepper is actually helping drive sales at physical retail locations.

This latest investment by Softbank confirms that it really is one of the most interesting tech companies out there. So many Japanese companies stagnated because of advances in technology that they simply couldn’t keep up with (such as the switch from film cameras to digital). It’s clear that Softbank is determined to future proof itself as much as possible, and it thinks that future lies in robots. It’s only a matter of time before we have to start calling it “the Japanese robotics giant” instead of “phone carrier.”

Source: Bloomberg Technology

26
Jul

The best game consoles and accessories for your dorm room


Not all of your college fun will involve keggers or games of ultimate frisbee. As the weather gets colder, you might have difficulty tearing yourself out of your dorm, in which case your entertainment options are limited: Host an in-room dance party, Netflix and chill or settle in for a little gaming. In addition to our favorite consoles (no, we couldn’t choose just one), we’ve selected a handful of accessories and must-have titles for our back-to-school guide. Enjoy, and may you do a better job making friends with rival fanboys in real life than you do online.

Source: Engadget’s 2017 Buyer’s Guide

26
Jul

Adobe’s ‘Playful Palette’ makes color mixing artist-friendly


Artists work with real paint by mixing groups of colors on a palette, making for natural blending and color combinations. That’s a far cry from Photoshop-type color pickers, which let you grab specific colors but not combine them. Adobe Research has come up with a solution called the “Playful Palette” that gives artists the best of both worlds. It lets you create “blobs” of paint you can blend for gradients and gamuts, while allowing non-destructive edits, infinite history and other digital benefits.

To use it, you start with a standard color picker and create blobs of different colors, based on complementary, shades, analogous or other color theory (using Adobe’s Kuler color picker, for instance). The blobs can then be mixed by dragging them together, and also edited, moved, resized or deleted. “While simple, this representation allows an artist to easily construct and edit complex color gamuts,” Adobe’s team says in the video below.

Then, colors can be picked from the resulting blobs, just as artists would do with a physical paint palette. Unlike on a real artists easel, however, “Playful Palette can be rearranged at any time because color mixing is non-destructive,” says Adobe.

As such, the system lets artists hone in more easily on color choices. For instance, attacking a subject like a bowl of fruit, you may have a style, like dramatic or realistic, in mind. That can affect your choice of colors: “The fruit could be saturated with dramatic violet shadows and stark highlights, or more realistic, with brown shadows and subtle hues of pink,” the paper notes. Knowing that, an artist could get those blobs ready ahead of time and focus on a specific palette.

Adobe isn’t the first to dream of a better color picker — Corel’s Paint Shop Pro includes an advanced color mixer, for instance. However, Adobe Research’s concept is perhaps the most like a physical color palette. There’s no word on whether this will make it into Photoshop CC or its new cloud photo editor, but Adobe will present a paper on it for Siggraph 2017, so we may hear more then.

Via: Dezeen

Source: Adobe Research

26
Jul

Girl Scouts adds STEM badges for robotics and computer science


The Boy Scouts have been in the headlines recently for all the wrong reasons (they’ve since distanced themselves from the politics within the president’s speech), but the Girl Scouts are doing something right. They’ve added new STEM badges for robotics, computer science and engineering.

The badges include Engineering: Think like an Engineer, which they can earn by participating in design challenges, and Robotics, which allow them to design their own robots. They can also score a Mechanical Engineering badge through such activities as building and testing roller coasters and an Outdoor STEM: Think Like a Citizen Scientist badge by undertaking a citizen science project. The Computer Science: Think Like a Programmer badge allows girls to understand how programmers solve problems.

While girls often show an early interest in STEM fields, they often decline to pursue those paths for myriad reasons, including a lack of encouragement and support. Last year, Netflix and the Girl Scouts teamed up to encourage young girls to seriously consider STEM fields as a career option. In June, the organization introduced cybersecurity badges, which will make their debut in the fall of next year. This is just the latest step in the Girl Scouts ensuring that their young members have exposure to many different fields, not just the ones that are considered traditional paths for young women.

Source: Girl Scouts

26
Jul

TSA requires separate screening of devices larger than a phone


We’ve been hearing for months that the TSA might increase domestic airport security measures this summer (they’ve already done so for international flights coming into the US), and now those procedures are here. The TSA is requiring “travelers to place all electronics larger than a cell phone in bins for X-ray screening in standard lanes.” This program has been tested at 10 domestic airports and is now being implemented across the country.

TSA Acting Administrator Huban A. Gowda specifically mentions laptops, tablets, e-readers and handheld game consoles as being subject to extra scrutiny. It’s important to note that they don’t specify size here; as phones get larger and tablets get smaller (not to mention laptops), it’s unclear what devices the TSA considers “larger than a cell phone.”

While this doesn’t take effect immediately (the TSA notes that the program will be rolled out in coming weeks and months at domestic airports), you should plan on all electronics larger than a cell phone that are in your carry on bags being screened separately the next time you fly. It’s important to note, though, that TSA Precheck passengers will be exempt from these extra security measures. If getting through airport security with minimal hassle is your top priority, then now’s the time to shell out for this extra service.

Via: The Verge

Source: TSA

26
Jul

Silicon Valley’s sudden obsession with making TV shows


Just as channel-surfing was replaced by binge-watching, so is “Netflix and chill” about to give way to something newer and less-romantic. Facebook and Snapchat are racing to claim their shares of the television pie, and in the process they could shake up the very definition of “TV.” Their plans are still foggy, but it’s clear that mobile and social television is the next big silicon valley obsession.

Leading the charge is Snapchat, which so far has the most well-thought-out approach. The company has already launched several shows within its app, and has specific guidelines for what content should look like. Episodes typically run between three and five minutes long, and presented in a vertical, fullscreen format. Snapchat’s head of original content Sean Mills told Engadget that the company thought carefully about how people use their phones and that it had taken time to observe its users’ behavior before coming up with a slate of shows. “We’ve learned a bunch of things about how people tell stories to their friends and some of our media partners have learned about how to create content,” he said.

The company’s findings taught it how to keep its audience engaged, especially now when so many things are vying for our attention. “You have an audience that has a thumb hovering over the screen,” Mills said. “There’s not really a lot of time for slow builds and establishing shots.” By design, Snapchat’s shows have plots that move at breakneck pace so that people don’t get distracted by an incoming alert or message.

That attention to behavior has paid off. Its political commentary show Good Luck America, which began as an experiment to learn what viewers like, has seen its audience grow by more than 50 percent since its first season. The company says GLA now reaches about 5 million average unique viewers per episode.

And for with good reason: Snapchat shows are easy to watch while waiting for a bus or a train, or let’s be real, on the toilet. I don’t have to flip my phone to landscape mode, and each episode is the perfect length for a quick break. I especially enjoyed Phone Swap, which sets up blind dates for couples, during which the pairs are made to go through each other’s phones. It’s just the type of reality TV drama I live for.

Like your friends’ Snaps, these episodes are temporary and only last for about 48 hours before disappearing into the ether. But that won’t be the case forever. Mills said the company is considering creating scripted TV, and perhaps even offering full seasons that are always accessible. Right now, though, the focus is on refining the format as the team continues to work in an experimental phase.

For Snapchat, it’s not about repurposing existing material to fit your phone’s screen. “We’re reimagining what mobile television should look like,” Mills said. That means the company may run into some challenges along the way. For instance, it’s currently not easy to keep track of upcoming shows on Snapchat. But Mills and his team are aware of the problem. “You’ll see a bunch of changes happen over the course of the next year that will address some of that stuff,” he said. Mills didn’t elaborate on what those updates would bring, but a schedule for upcoming shows is an important first step in improving awareness. Personally, I would love to know when to expect the next episode of Phone Swap instead of having to remember or chance upon the clip when I open the app.

Despite the challenges it faces, Snapchat’s experiments so far have been more inventive than its competitors. For example, Apple’s efforts have been far less creative. Its debut original is a reality show called Planet of the Apps. The first episode is free on Apple Music for now, but you’ll have to subscribe to watch the remaining five. Like typical TV shows, each episode runs roughly 50 minutes (although it feels longer). Apple hasn’t bothered to try anything different here. The most creative part of POTA is an eye-catching escalator that’s a spin on an “elevator pitch”. Apple is continuing to play it safe with its next series, the already-popular Carpool Karaoke, the next season of which is set to premiere next month.

Facebook is keeping mum about its plans for original content. We’ve heard the social network is willing to shell out big bucks for Hollywood-quality programming, that the episodes will vary in duration and that it may be embedding videos and TV shows into your news feed. It may even be working on a streaming TV app. Beyond that, though, Facebook’s strategy remains an enigma.

However, there are benefits for users to watching TV shows on Facebook. We already take to the social network to share our views on latest episodes, and that sense of community could make for an even more engaging viewing experience. At VidCon last month, Facebook’s vice president of product Fidji Simo said her team learned from the current Live video service that when video is paired with social functionality, it allows people to bond over video content in a way that the company hadn’t seen before.

It also makes sense that the social networks want to invest in original content. After all, their video platforms are already rife with brands and personalities broadcasting their own streams. Scripted, scheduled programming could not only let users watch on their own time, but also keep them on the apps longer. Creating exclusive, unique TV shows can also attract new users — a strategy that has worked well for Netflix. In fact, according to Snap, “shows are drawing a huge, highly engaged audience — and we’re just getting started.” Apple is no doubt looking for the same subscriber boost that quality original content can bring.

Given the huge amount of money each company is throwing behind scripted programming, made-for-social TV is undeniably the next frontier. Who will dominate the market remains unclear, but regardless, it looks like our social media feeds will soon be home to a lot more than just cat photos and photos of our friends’ babies. And that’s a good thing.

26
Jul

Meizu Pro 7 has a tiny selfie screen on its backside


It’s been a while since a Meizu smartphone last caught our attention, but in a twist of fate, the freshly announced Pro 7 flagship series manages to pack some surprises. Most notably, these devices are the work of legendary design studio, Frog, and they feature a tiny 1.9-inch 240 x 536 (307 ppi) AMOLED touchscreen on the back. This display lights up automatically when you flip the phone over, and it serves as a weather clock, a simple notification area, a music player and a mirror for taking selfies using the main camera. As silly as it sounds, this may actually be a more practical implementation than the “Second Screen” on LG’s V series plus its more recent Q8.

The Pro 7 is in fact the first line of Android smartphones to pack MediaTek’s updated 10-core tri-cluster chipset, the Helio X30. There’s not enough real-life data to suggest how wide of a performance gap there is between the Helio X30 and, say, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835, but on paper, MediaTek’s done a good job catching up with its main rival. The silicon is based on the more advanced 10nm process for better efficiency, and it features newer ARM cores, a more powerful GPU plus a faster Cat 10 LTE radio.

Meizu is offering the Pro 7 in two flavors: the namesake base model comes with a 5.2-inch 1080p Super AMOLED screen, and the Pro 7 Plus features a 5.7-inch Quad HD Super AMOLED screen which also happens to be brighter — 430 nits instead of 350 nits. Both versions come with the same set of cameras: a 16-megapixel f/2.0 front camera, plus a 12-megapixel f/2.0 dual camera on the back (based on Sony’s IMX386 sensors with 1.25 um pixels; one for capturing color and another for just black and white).

Presumably, you’ll want to use the dual camera in conjunction with the tiny screen for better selfies, especially if you want bokeh or take advantage of the dual tone LED flash. That said, the front camera also offers a low light mode which combines four pixels into one to boost light sensitivity — very much like ASUS’ implementation which I first saw on the PadFone Infinity (A86). The good old beautification mode is there as well.

Both models come in at 7.3 mm thick, but the Pro 7 Plus packs a larger 3,500 mAh battery — an extra 500 mAh than its smaller sibling. The Plus also features Meizu’s new mCharge 4.0 fast-charging tech, which uses a high-power charger at 5V and 5A. With this feature, a depleted Pro 7 Plus can reach 67 percent charge in just 30 minutes.

Sticking to its roots as a former MP3 player manufacturer, Meizu is throwing in a dedicated audio DAC, Cirrus Logic CS43130, into both the Pro 7 and the Pro 7 Plus. And yes, they still feature the conventional 3.5 mm headphone jacks, leaving your USB-C port available for more important uses such as charging and data transfer. As you’d expect, the phones support lossless music formats like FLAC and APE out of the box.

The company also unveiled its very own triple-driver in-ear headphones dubbed Flow. These are crafted by Japanese designer Kosho Tsuboi, and they claim to have superior audio performance thanks to the tuning done by the Institute of Acoustics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Alas, neither Pro 7 models come bundled with Flow; you’ll have to spend another 599 yuan (about $90) for a pair.

As the phones themselves, there are four prices. The Pro 7 with 4GB of LPDDR4X RAM and 128GB UFS 2.1 storage is asking for 3,380 yuan (about $500), though it also has a more affordable option featuring the mid-range Helio P25 chipset and just 64GB of slower eMMC 5.1 storage for 2,880 yuan (about $430). Color options include black, gold and red.

The higher-end Pro 7 Plus with 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage costs 3,580 yuan (about $530), or you can opt for the 128GB version for 4,080 yuan (about $600). The color options are slightly different here: you get matte black, space black, amber gold and crystal silver, though the 128GB version is only available in matte black or space black.

All four variants will be available for purchasing on August 5th, but since there’s no word on global availability just yet, you’ll have to get help from a China-based friend.

Via: Engadget Chinese

Source: Meizu (Chinese)

26
Jul

Google Launches ‘Trusted Contacts’ Location Sharing App on iOS


Following an Android launch last December, Google recently announced that its location sharing app, “Trusted Contacts,” is out now on the iOS App Store [Direct Link]. The company described the app as a way for users to get together in everyday situations, as well as in emergency scenarios where they can let friends and family know that they’re safe.

Now that the app is on both Android and iOS, cross-platform location sharing is available so you can keep track of any friends and family members no matter if they own an iPhone or Android smartphone, so long as they’re also using Trusted Contacts. Similar to the Android app, the iOS app supports offline use, showing those who can see your location where you were last before you went offline.

Google highlighted a few features on the Trusted Contacts App Store page, including integration with Google Maps and its “Share Location” feature that launched in March:

  • Add your closest friends and family as trusted contacts.
  • Allow trusted contacts to request your location. If everything’s fine, you can deny the request. If you’re unable to respond, your last known location is shared automatically within a custom timeframe (works even if you’re offline or your phone is out of battery).
  • Proactively share your location if you feel unsafe or find yourself in an emergency.
  • Integration with Google Maps location sharing, so you can easily enable permanent location sharing with selected contacts and find them directly within Google Maps.

Location sharing is a popular, and controversial, feature of many apps nowadays. Most recently, Snapchat launched the “Snap Map,” which lets users share and update their location on an animated map any time Snapchat is open. Likewise, Facebook Messenger launched “Live Location” earlier this year, letting friends send their location to one another directly within text conversations.

Tag: Google
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26
Jul

TSA Implementing New Screening Procedures for All Electronics ‘Larger Than a Cell Phone’


The United States Transportation Security Administration today announced stronger screening procedures for carry-on electronics, and will require all devices larger than a cell phone to be placed in bins for X-ray screening when going through standard screening lanes.

The TSA already requires laptops to be removed from carry-on bags and placed in a separate bin with nothing above or below, and it appears this will now expand to devices like iPads and portable gaming consoles.

According to the TSA, extensive testing and successful pilot programs have been going on at 10 airports, which has led the administration to expand the measure to all U.S. airports “during the weeks and months ahead.”

“Whether you’re flying to, from, or within the United States, TSA is committed to raising the baseline for aviation security by strengthening the overall security of our commercial aviation network to keep flying as a safe option for everyone,” said TSA Acting Administrator Huban A. Gowadia.

“It is critical for TSA to constantly enhance and adjust security screening procedures to stay ahead of evolving threats and keep passengers safe. By separating personal electronic items such as laptops, tablets, e-readers and handheld game consoles for screening, TSA officers can more closely focus on resolving alarms and stopping terror threats,” said Gowadia.

The TSA has found ways to “improve screening measures” by using “quicker and more targeted measures to clear the bags,” but requiring more bins is bound to slow down screening procedures.

The new rules are already in place in the following airports: Boise (BOI), Colorado Springs (COS), Detroit Metropolitan (DTW), Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International (FLL), Logan International (BOS), Los Angeles International (LAX), Lubbock Preston Smith International (LBB), Luis Muñoz Marín International (SJU), McCarran International (LAS) and Phoenix Sky Harbor International (PHX).

There’s one way to get around the rules — a TSA Pre membership. Customers who are enrolled in TSA Pre and using TSA Pre lanes will not need to remove their laptops or other electronic devices.

Tag: TSA
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