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Insurers increasingly use apps and drones instead of agents

Hobbyists aren’t the only ones using the phone and drone cameras to explore the world in new ways, as insurance companies are increasingly opting for “virtual” or “touchless” handling of claims. The Wall Street Journal cites the 2017 Future of Claims Study survey by LexisNexis Risk Solutions (PDF) which found that 38 percent of insurers don’t send employees out for physical inspections in at least some situations. One story mentioned says that Lemonade Insurance settled and paid out a claim in just three seconds using the AI bot connected to its app.

Companies like DJI are tweaking their drones for property surveying that works for construction and insurance, while auto insurance companies are leaning on self-service apps to make estimates. According to the WSJ, this is a part of rising customer satisfaction with insurance claims over the last few years as measured by JD Power. It’s also something I unexpectedly got a closer look at earlier this year when I ran into a deer.

Using my insurance company’s app I sent in pictures (including the one shown above) the next day and within a few hours had an estimate that I could take to repair shops. It didn’t do much to speed up the process, unfortunately, as part shortages kept my car in the shop for over a month. Also, my photos of the outside of the car didn’t reveal the damage to internal parts like the radiator and turbo mount, which may have caused more back and forth later, but weren’t much of a factor in how much time the repairs took. It was more convenient than needing to arrange an appointment with an agent, but it still shows that some things are better done by an expert.

Source: Wall Street Journal, LexisNexis (PDF)


Don’t let the tech you love stress you out


You really can have too much of a good thing.

A side effect of having the world at your fingertips is information overload. With every gadget and gizmo connected to each other, you can literally find any information you need with just a few clicks or taps or swipes. That’s pretty amazing and a fine way to make the world a better place with all the understanding and critical thinking it brings. But we’re not computers, and it’s easy to get overloaded.

My phone can tell me whatever stupid thing some politician said this morning (as well as the stupid things everyone else had to say about it) or how the next phone we’ll be buying is missing a headphone jack or might not have 3D touch or that World of Warcraft gold is worth more than Venezuelan currency. It can also tell me what a great time friends had at the park or that the movie I wanted to see really sucks according to some guy I don’t know who is paid to tell me movies suck. Then it gives me an avenue to add to the noise and voice my level of approval and/or astonishment about it all.

My phones tells me what I need to know as well as a ton of stuff I don’t.

This is great stuff. Whether we find it all informative or entertaining, or both, it’s pretty cool to be part of a worldwide discussion about politics or movies or World of Warcraft gold and its economic impact. But eventually, we all get stressed because it becomes too much. This can and will have an effect. We’ve all seen that person we know have a spectacular meltdown over the dumbest shit. Sometimes, we’ve been that person melting down. Everyone has a breaking point when the noise becomes more than we can filter. But there’s an easy way to break the cycle.

The power button.

We can’t get away from stress. It’s easy to say that these are stressful times and things will get better, but that’s a lie. Times have always been stressful and we’ve been told things will always get better, but that ain’t happening. Tomorrow will bring new problems and worries to go along with them, and we’ll always have good reason to be concerned about the world around us. People in the U.S. are worried about health care and people in Venezuela are worried about economic collapse and people in Syria are worried about getting killed. These are important issues we all should be thinking about and discussing, and if you’re directly affected it’s natural to be afraid. It’s also natural for anyone to feel hopeless or compassionate or angry. Or a mixture of the three.

Just don’t get so consumed from the sidelines that you stop making things better. And when the unimportant noise tries to suck you in, know when to say enough is enough and turn it off for a while.

Information can be addictive. So can the technology that delivers it. Do yourself a favor and shut it all down once in a while. Facebook will still be there when you come back.


The beginning of augmented reality [#acpodcast]

This week, Daniel Bader and Jerry Hildenbrand are joined by VR expert Russell Holly to talk about Moto Z2 Force reviews and several other newly announced Moto phones. Thanks to some recent leaks, we know even more about the Galaxy Note 8 and upcoming LG V30.

A major topic this week is the ASUS ZenFone AR. Russell guides us through the device and where Asus along with Tango fit into the Augmented Reality world. Also discussed is Apple’s ARKit, and how hot does your phone get in a heavy duty case?

Show Notes and Links:

  • Moto Z2 Force review
  • The Moto E4 Plus is a cheap phone with a 5000mAh battery
  • Where do the Moto G5S and G5S Plus fit into Motorola’s phone lineup?
  • This is the Galaxy Note 8
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 8 specs
  • This is the LG V30
  • ASUS ZenFone AR comes to Verizon for $650
  • Where do Asus and Tango fit into the world of augmented reality?
  • Apple ARKit – What you need to know

Podcast MP3 URL:


Virgin Galactic conducts a ‘dry run’ for rocket-powered flights

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo (official name VSS Unity) has just completed its sixth test glide. The reusable spaceplane still has between two to nine more staged glides to go before the aerospace company moves on to rocket-propelled tests. But this one is special because it serves as a dry run for actual rocket-powered flights. It flew with the configuration a powered flight will have, carrying propulsion components onboard, along with 1,000 pounds of water to simulate the weight of fuel casing.

Similar to the previous tests, Unity’s mothership VMS Eve carried it up to 40,000 feet in the air before dropping it. Unlike previous tests, though, SpaceShipTwo didn’t jettison the water ballast this time, giving the company a chance to gather data on how the vehicle performs when landing with a heavier weight that’s centered towards its rear.

All looks good so far. Today we are landing at a heavier landing weight & center-of-gravity towards the back of the vehicle #SpaceShipTwo

— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) August 4, 2017

Touch down! Another smooth landing for VSS Unity. In VSS Unity today were pilots Dave Mackay and CJ Sturckow #SpaceShipTwo

— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) August 4, 2017

If you’ll recall, Unity is Virgin Galactic’s second SpaceShipTwo spacecraft. The original vehicle tragically broke up mid-flight in 2014, sending it plummeting into the Mojave Desert. According to an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, one of the reasons why it crashed was because a co-pilot deployed its feathering system — a process of moving the plane’s wings to increase drag during re-entry — too early. Unity still uses the feathering system, but it has additional safety features to prevent another crash.

Once the vehicle is ready for primetime, Virgin plans to use it to carry paying passengers to suborbital space. In fact, it already has an impressive customer list, including Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks and Lady Gaga.

Via: SpaceNews

Source: Virgin Galactic


Neil Young prepares a giant online archive for his music

Neil Young has come a long, long way since he dismissed streaming music services. The singer-songwriter has unveiled plans for a huge online archive of his work that, naturally, will tie into his streaming music service (Xstream Music). The focus is on a timeline that highlights his music from 1963 onward, complete with playback and a “Filing Cabinet” that offers video, memorabilia and other content attached to each song. Think of it as an album box set with very, very extensive liner notes.

It’ll even indulge the audiophiles Young has courted for years. The archive will guide users when they’re shopping for and setting up their streaming music equipment. Yes, Young is determined to help you experience “Piece of Crap” the way it was intended.

The artist doesn’t say when you can expect the archive to launch. However, this might raise the bar for musicians’ official pages when it does arrive. Many artists’ pages tend to focus on promoting the album du jour, or else give you a top-level overview of their legacies. Here, Young is filling in at least some of the context normally supplied by fan sites and Wikipedia editors. It probably won’t have the full story, but it could give you a reason to visit a musician’s page beyond shopping for official merch.

Via: Pitchfork

Source: Neil Young Archives


HomePod Firmware Possibly Reveals Apple Watch With LTE and 4K Apple TV With HDR10 and Dolby Vision

iOS developer Guilherme Rambo‏ has discovered a reference to a 4K HDR display mode in the HomePod’s firmware, lending credence to rumors of Apple testing a fifth-generation Apple TV capable of streaming 4K resolution video.

HomePod doesn’t have a display, and iOS devices lack the resolution for native 4K playback, so the discovery likely pertains to the Apple TV.

Rambo also discovered strings kCADisplayModeDolby and kCADisplayModeHDR10, suggesting that a 4K Apple TV could support both the Dolby Vision and HDR10 color formats for high-dynamic-range video.


— Guilherme Rambo (@_inside) August 5, 2017

Apple has also listed select movies as 4K and HDR in iTunes purchase history, at least in Canada and the United Kingdom. The content is still only playable in standard definition or HD, which varies from 720p to 1080p, but Apple could be preparing to offer iTunes content in 4K HDR for its new Apple TV.

Another developer Jeffrey Grossman‏ also spotted a possible reference to an Apple Watch with LTE support. The string, which refers to GizmoPreservingeSIM, lends credence to a report yesterday that claimed Apple Watch Series 3 models will feature cellular connectivity for use without a paired iPhone.

After the earlier Apple Watch LTE rumors, I took another look at the HomePod firmware and found this (Gizmo is the codename for Apple Watch)

— Jeffrey Grossman (@Jeffrey903) August 5, 2017

The relevant bit of that string is the mention of a SIM, as the Apple Watch Series 3 would presumably have an embedded SIM card if it had cellular connectivity. Another string mentions GizmoRadioBundleIdentifier, which could refer to the Apple Watch Series 3’s cellular radio, reportedly to be supplied by Intel.

For those unaware, in 2015, The New York Times reported the Apple Watch was codenamed Gizmo internally.

Inside Apple, members of the team that worked on the watch product, code-named Gizmo, say it was a difficult engineering challenge.

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Last week, Apple seeded an over-the-air firmware file for the HomePod, revealing that it will run a slightly modified version of iOS. The pre-release software is said to correspond with iOS 11.0.2, and it contains references to several unreleased features that would normally be redacted before a public release.

The firmware contains a payload that can be unpacked into a filesystem using a few developer tools, giving anyone skilled enough the ability to search through thousands of strings in the software using Terminal commands and disassembly apps like Hopper. For the past eight days, that’s exactly what’s happened.

Since the HomePod firmware is based on a full iOS stack, many discoveries have been made not only about the smart speaker, but also potentially about the so-called iPhone 8, Apple TV, and Apple Watch.

Thanks to the HomePod firmware, we know that that the iPhone 8’s front camera may record 4K video at 60 FPS, and that its infrared facial recognition capabilities may work with Apple Pay. The firmware also revealed a glyph of an iPhone 8 with a full-front display with a notch at the top for the earpiece and sensors.

As for the HomePod itself, it’s been discovered that the smart speaker’s multi-color LED waveform visible when interacting with Siri measures in at 272×340 pixels. HomePod also appears to have 1GB of RAM, and some of the speaker’s sound effects were found buried in the firmware.

HomePod doesn’t launch until December, so the firmware was likely released by accident, under the identifier AudioAccessory1,1.

Related Roundups: Apple TV, tvOS 10, Apple Watch Series 2, watchOS 3, watchOS 4, HomePod
Tag: 4K
Buyer’s Guide: Apple TV (Don’t Buy), Apple Watch (Neutral)
Discuss this article in our forums

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Gear Up: Consider Kingston memory cards for your phones, tablets, drones, cameras, and more

Despite the fact that phone makers have steadily increased the internal storage capacity of phones, there a many devices on the market which still offer support for external media. And, why not? Just because we can back files up in the cloud doesn’t mean that we actually have to do so. No, sometimes we like to keep a local copy which can be transferred from device to device.

It’s not just phones that utilize memory cards either. Consider that digital cameras, drones, Wi-Fi security cameras, and other digital products, too. In other words, you should have some external storage to rely on.

Kingston, a prominent player in the memory card business for decades, has a number of solutions which you may want to consider if you’re in the market for storage. Whether you need something extra to back up some photos, or a high-capacity card for recording 4K video in a drone, there’s something for everyone.

We’ve been sent a few sample cards from Kingston and have used them in a variety of devices over the last few weeks. Each of what we received were 64GB capacity; however, you can purchase cards from 4GB all the way up to 2TB.

Before picking out a card, though, consider what it is that you might be doing with it. Are you just using it for storing pictures from your phone? Will you be recording HD video or 4K footage? Not all 64GB cards are the same.

Take for instance the two cards we were provided: Gold Series and UHS-I Speed Class 3 (U3). Each has their own intended uses, but you can always work downward. In other words, the higher “class” cards can do everything that the lower ones can. Think of this as how a Bluray player can also read DVDs and CDs.

In this case, the Gold Series offers read speeds of 90MB/s, or the same as the UHS-I Speed Class 3 (U3). However, the write speed for the former is 45MB/s while the latter is nearly doubled at 80MB/s. What does this mean? It means you can take burst photos and write to the memory card much faster.

Why does speed matter? Let’s just drill this down to pictures on a smartphone. Image sizes have gotten increasingly bigger over the years. Snapping a full-resolution picture today is often around 16-megapixels or 20-megapixels. Take photo that uses 3MB and it’s not that big of a deal. But, when you want to capture a whole string of them in a row, you’ll want to pound out ten pics without thinking.

Now, think of HD security cameras, a GoPro, or drone pulling in gorgeous 4K clips from the sky. And this is just today’s technology and needs. Do yourself a favor and future-proof yourself with the largest and fastest storage cards you can afford.

Why Speed Matters

Here’s what Kingston says about speeds on memory cards.

  • Long buffering – when you press the shutter and the camera takes the shot but then it freezes until the data is fully written to the card.
  • Corrupted video – video cameras might produce corrupted video files if the card speed is too slow or the camera may downgrade the video to match the speed of the card. This could turn full 1080p HD video into a video with much lower resolution.
  • Shortened clips – when a camera has a higher writing speed than the Flash card, the camera will pause and the video clip will abruptly end once the speed limit of the card is reached.
  • Burst shooting – many cameras have a burst mode feature where one press produces a repeated series of photographs; this allows users to capture fast-moving events or subjects like pets and children. If the card writing speed is too slow, burst mode setting will not work.

We’ve thoroughly enjoyed using the Kingston cards in our devices. Actually, let’s rephrase that; we’ve not even noticed that we’re using external media for capturing content. In fact, we have to remind ourselves that our phone or camera is writing to a microSD card. When you have the right card it’s a simple matter of set it and forget it. Such has been the case with both of these cards.

Where to Buy

If you’re looking to make a microSD card purchase, head to Kingston’s website to learn more and buy. Additionally, you can find its cards at a variety of retailers, including both online and in-store. Here’s a quick link to Amazon, Newegg, Best Buy, and Walmart.


Google creating Snapchat Discover competitor called Stamp

Why it matters to you

If you’re a fan of the Snapchat Discover feature, this should brighten your day. Google is working on their own version, called Stamp.

Google was reportedly looking to buy Snapchat for a whopping $30 billion early last year. Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel apparently wasn’t very interested in making a deal, so it never happened. In 2013, there was even a rumor that Google was trying to buy Snapchat for $4 billion, just after Spiegel declined an offer from Facebook. Now it looks like Google will be more than ready to compete by taking a page from Snapchat’s book.

Both the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg are reporting that Google is about to launch something similar to Snapchat Discover. For those that don’t know, Snapchat Discover is a designated area within the Snapchat app where users can skip to a new story or ad with the swipe of their finger. The upcoming Google product will echo this, with articles popping up in a magazine-like design. It will apparently be called Stamp.

“The success of the open source AMP project is down to the constant collaboration with publishers that involves working early on upcoming features,” Google said in a statement released on Friday, August 4. “We don’t have anything to announce at the moment but look forward to sharing more soon.”

For Stamp, the “ST” stands for Stories, while the “AMP” stands for the Google Accelerated Mobile Pages initiative. AMP, much like Facebook Instant Articles, allows the loading of online news stories to go at a much faster speed. In terms of testing with publishers, Stamp is in the early stages. WSJ suggests, however, that we could see Stamp in Google Search and/or other Google apps as early as next week. The publishers include CNN, Time, Vox Media and The Washington Post.

If this feature does move beyond Google Search and into other Google apps and publisher’s websites, this could mark a very key difference between Stamp and Snapchat Discover. Since the latter supports stories through its own app. Snapchat has developed some cool features to set itself apart from the rest of the competition, like the Snapchat Spectacles. Google, meanwhile, continues to advance its tech and products, making things more convenient for consumers. Stamp being the most recent example.


Amazon relists Blu smartphones after ‘false alarm’

Blu’s unlocked Android phones are back on Amazon after a “false alarm,” the company told Engadget. The online retail titan pulled down all Blu models from its website a couple of days ago. It cited “security concerns” after security firm Kryptowire reported that the manufacturer is still collecting user data and sending it to a server in China. Blu admitted last year that the third-party software it used to push software updates collected unauthorized messages, call logs and contacts. However, it refuted the new report that its phones still collect sensitive information.

In a statement, the company said that any data its devices still collect is merely “standard for OTA functionality” and “does not affect any user’s privacy or security.” Amazon must have been convinced of Blu’s explanation:

Hey BLU fans! After a false alarm, BLU devices are now back up for sale on Amazon. #BoldLikeUs #Amazon

— BLU Products (@BLU_Products) August 4, 2017

The brand’s models seem to be back, though Blu’s entry in the Amazon Prime Exclusive list is still missing. Amazon told Tom’s Hardware that it has resumed selling Blu phones after talking it out with the company, but it will pull them down again if it receives info “that could potentially impact [its] customers’ experience.”

Source: Blu smartphone (Twitter)


Google employee’s anti-diversity screed enrages coworkers

For all the talk of improving diversity in technology companies and getting employees to treat each other with respect, it’s clear that there’s still a long way to go. Motherboard has learned that a Google staffer infuriated many of his coworkers after publishing a viral document attacking the company’s purported “ideological echo chamber.” He contended that women had low representation in software engineering due to biological differences (because they prefer people more than things, he claims), and said that the company should drop attempts to include different cultures and genders to instead focus on accommodating conservative social views.

While the “vast majority” of Google employees are against the ideas in the document, the unnamed author was reportedly encouraged enough by the minority of positive responses that he pointed this out to women and claimed to be a hero by offering to protect the “vulnerable.”

We’ve asked Google for comment, although the company hadn’t responded to Motherboard’s requests as of this writing. However, it’s hard to see the tech giant simply ignoring the document. While it’s one thing to object to diversity initiatives, it’s another to do so in a way that clearly discriminates against women and minorities. Imagine if you were a woman engineer asked to work with a man who believes your entire gender is inferior at the same task — would you feel welcome? Probably not. Accordingly, women have considered leaving the company just to get away from sexism that they see going unpunished.

As the employees themselves point out, the Google incident reflects a broader problem with discrimination at tech companies, particularly against women. Like we’ve seen at Uber and Tesla, women still run into toxic cultures that limit their opportunities, subject them to harassment, and frequently ignore (or even retaliate against) complaints. Even pro-diversity companies like Google have been accused of having systemic pay gaps. In other words, it’s not enough to hire more diverse workers. Companies also need to institute fundamental culture shifts that prevent discrimination from festering behind the scenes, creating a hostile environment for anyone who doesn’t fit into a specific cultural group.

Via: Motherboard

Source: Twitter (1), (2), (3), (4)

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