From dark matter to UFOs, outer space is full of mysteries. One such mystery has surrounded RZ Piscium, a star that’s been acting pretty weird by dimming unpredictably. Astronomers said it appeared to be winking. But a new study made have cracked the code and, as it turns out, RZ Piscium’s winks aren’t come-ons. They’re more likely signs the star has been eating planets for lunch.
“Our observations show there are massive blobs of dust and gas that occasionally block the star’s light and are probably spiraling into it,” said Kristina Punzi, a doctoral student at the Rochester Institute of Technology who worked on the research. “Although there could be other explanations, we suggest this material may have been produced by the break-up of massive orbiting bodies near the star.”
As astronomers have observed the blinking star over the years, they’ve recorded its strange behavior but have struggled for a sure explanation.
In the new study, Punzi and her colleagues suggest that RZ Piscium is surrounded by dense pockets of gas and dust, which dim the star’s light as they orbit it. The astronomers think these blobs of matter might be remnants of rocks that have collided while orbiting the young star, in a chain of reactions that has leveled them to dust. Were the star young, these clouds may be expected to coalesce into planets.
But this explanation wasn’t conclusive. In fact, another explanation suggested the star is actually older than our own and has been devouring its planets as it matures into a red giant. In other words, the dust clouds are table scraps from dead planets.
After analyzing RZ Piscium’s X-ray output and lithium makeup (both higher in younger stars) Punzi and her colleagues determined it’s around 30 million to 50 million years old. That’s relatively young. But other measurements suggest the star is also too old to be orbited by so much gas and dust, unless that matter is the remnants of dead planets. So the researchers settled somewhere in between.
“Most sun-like stars have lost their planet-forming disks within a few million years of their birth,” said Ben Zuckerman, an astronomy professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. “The fact that RZ Piscium hosts so much gas and dust after tens of millions of years means it’s probably destroying, rather than building, planets.”
A paper detailing the research was published in the Astronomical Journal.
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Voice recognition plays a big part in making our homes and the products in them smarter, and in the same way we are pushing through that period of adjustment needed to confidently interact verbally with a device, the technology behind it is also changing. It has to deal with different languages, accents, and voice characteristics to function reliably. SoapBox Labs, a speech recognition company, is an expert in children’s voices, and has been working on solving the problem of devices recognizing kids when they speak.
The result is a new Application Programming Interface (API) for developers to use inside everything from connected toys and VR games, to the Skills that power the Amazon Echo. Soapbox Lab’s API is made specifically to recognize children aged between four and 12 years old, picking up on their unique voices, their tendency to shout instructions, and the speech patterns of someone so young.
Wondering if there is much of a difference between children and adults speaking the same language? The vast majority of voice recognition systems available now were built for adults, by adults, and using speech data collected from adults. SoapBox collected speech data from children, then used its expertise in voice recognition to create custom algorithms and speech models that power the interface.
SoapBox Lab founder and CEO Patricia Scanlon Ph.D told Digital Trends: “Young kids are wildly unpredictable in their speech behaviors. While our team previously had significant experience in speech recognition for adults, building our platform specifically for kids over the past few years was a continuous challenge. It is like dealing with a completely different language!”
Uses beyond interactive toys
Where will SoapBox’s API be used? The most obvious place would be inside smart, connected toys. Kids would soon lose interest in a toy that promised to listen and respond to commands, but failed to catch what they said because the voice recognition was adapted from a program designed for adults. SoapBox’s system could effectively turn the toy into another child, in tune with what other kids say, and has the ability to converse rather than solely react to commands.
Beyond interactive toys, SoapBox Labs sees great potential in schools and learning tools. Scanlon continued:
“We were motivated to build this technology as parents ourselves and realize this technology will play a big part in our children’s lives. We want to make that experience safer, more enjoyable, and [more] engaging for them. Our technology can not only voice-enable home devices, games, and toys for kids, the same underlying technology can also enable personalized learning for reading and language tutors.”
SoapBox Labs founder and CEO Patricia Scanlon
This is important, and gives SoapBox Lab’s voice system a real higher purpose. The system has an assessment tool inside, providing real-time feedback on reading, literacy, and language. Built into tutoring apps, the API could be used in classrooms and other learning environments.
Helping voice controlled devices better understand children is great when whatever it is they’re talking to is designed for them; but not so good when they decide to ask Alexa to deliver all those newly released Lego sets and charge it to your credit card. SoapBox is well aware of the problem, and its technology can be used to help avoid this situation.
“Our technology can be used to detect kids’ voices and direct their commands to a dedicated and safe voice interface just for kids,” said Scanlon, “This can be part of an existing home device ecosystem or app, allowing kids to only access specific skills, and the device to respond appropriately to kids’ voices.”
SoapBox Lab’s cloud-based API is available for developers to use now, and Scanlon is particularly interested in hearing about projects that have a “real social impact,” with the possibility of offering free use of the platform in the right cases. We can expect to see the first products with SoapBox Lab’s voice recognition launch during the first three months of 2018.
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As much as the world of cryptocurrencies might be riddled with uncertainties, you can always count on them to surprise you. Just as bitcoin seemed poised to break through the $20,000 mark after weeks of explosive growth and a year of surprising upward inclination, the original cryptocoin is going through its biggest crash in quite some time and the other cryptocurrencies have been dragged downhill with it.
Although bitcoin has existed for the better part of a decade, its stupendous growth in value of close to 2,000 percent in 2017 really propelled it into the mainstream and perhaps that should have been the writing on the wall for those who now lament huge losses on social media. When mainstream publications and those far removed from the deeply complex technological core of cryptocurrencies start talking about investing, the bubble has to be closing in on critical mass.
Other fingers have been pointed at the likes of bitcoin cash, an alternative coin that has seen rumors of insider trading swirl about it in recent weeks. Most notably, largescale exchange Coinbase announced it would introduce trades of the cryptocurrency just hours after it hit a historic high.
No matter who, or what is to blame for this latest downturn though, the fact remains that there are now many struggling to figure out what to do with their swiftly dwindling-in-value cryptocurrency. Bitcoin slumped more than 30 percent in the past couple of days and some of the other most popular alternative coins like litecoin and ethereum have tumbled right along with it, dropping in some cases by as much as 25 percent in the last 24 hours alone.
The general consensus among those who have seen this all before though, is to “hodl,” a deliberate misspelling of “hold.” Often also considered as an acronym as “hold on for dear life,” the idea is that these slumps are expected and that confidence in cryptocurrencies as a future economic model that go beyond a quick cash-grab, means they will soon recover. Indeed, bitcoin has traditionally fallen in value in short periods of time before steadily creeping back upward again.
While nobody can predict the future and certainly not when it comes to bitcoin and its contemporaries, there are millions of people involved in their mining, trading and ‘hodling.’ That alone should suggest none of them are about to be worth nothing. It may take time for them to recover, but it’s certainly possible that before long this latest slump will just be one of many on a road to new highs.
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The Apple Watch charging cable is long, and can be quite annoying to carry around. It gets unraveled in a bag or case, and ends up resembling a very white noodle that gets tangled up in everything. The Apple Watch requires daily charging, as does your iPhone. A battery pack with cables for both is an irritation we’d rather avoid on weekends away. In our UGreen 2-in-1 Portable Apple Charger review, we take a closer look at a convenient solution to this problem.
UGreen’s charger completely removes the need for any cables by having its own built-in Lightning charging cable for your phone, and a magnetic charging disc for the Watch. Inside the battery pack is a 4,400mAh cell, which in our tests charged our iPhone X up to maximum, and topped the Watch up from around 40 percent, with still enough juice inside to add more to either later on.
It has a built-in Lightning charging cable for your phone, and a magnetic charging disc for the Watch.
UGreen said it will charge an Apple Watch eight times over, or will take an iPhone 8 to full, with enough for a second 50 percent charge. In other words, we easily relied on the UGreen charger during a night away from home, as it could charge up both devices to full capacity, without the need to take any other cables or charging paraphernalia. You may get battery anxiety relying on it for two nights though.
That’s a solid benefit and a strong reason to buy the UGreen charger if you own both the iPhone and the Apple Watch. What about the battery pack itself? It has an oblong shape with rounded end pieces, and is covered in that familiar soft-touch material we find on many battery packs. It’s pleasant to hold, has plenty of grip, an the build quality is great. It’s as long as an Apple iPhone X, twice as thick, and weighs 141 grams, so it’s not light. But it’s nowhere near as annoying to carry around as the Apple Watch charging cable.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends
The charging system is Made For Apple certified — specifically the magnetic disc and the small Lightning cable stored in the body. It extends out just a few centimeters to neatly charge up your phone, without being a trip hazard. UGreen’s protection systems help avoid over-current, over-voltage, high temperatures, or short circuits. The body is also made of flame retardant material. During our tests the battery pack never went beyond slightly warm, just as you’d expect. On the top of the body are four LED lights. A single light indicates 25 percent charge capacity for the internal battery. A button on the side starts the charging process when you plug devices in. Finally, there is a MicroUSB port on the side to charge up the pack itself.
It’s strictly for Apple owners. There is no USB-out charging port to plug in another cable even if you wanted to; so if you have an Android Wear watch and an iPhone, don’t buy this. For Apple Watch and iPhone owners, we think this is an excellent product with a real problem-solving benefit — it’s great not having to take the silly Watch charging cable with you ever again. UGreen sells the 2-in-1 Portable Apple Charger through Amazon, where it costs $60 in the U.S., and 60 British pounds in the U.K.. At the time of writing there is a $5 off coupon available through Amazon in the U.S., making the deal more attractive.
We’ve tried other Apple Watch chargers like the Kanex GoPower that still need a cable for the phone, dual charging docks, and liked products such as Twelve South’s Time Porter, which keeps the cable and other Watch accessories organized. UGreen’s 2-on-1 Portable Apple Charger solves a travel charging problem we’ve endured on several occasions in a way other products have not.
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While Google Home Max takes a poke at Sonos’ top-shelf speakers, it’s merely a product. Sonos is a system.
You can’t help but look at Google Home Max — the large, $400 version of Google Home — and come to the conclusion that Google is sticking its nose where Sonos has been for years.
That’s not to say that Google hasn’t done well in the realm of wireless music. Its Chromecast protocol made it ridiculously easy to “cast” music to any compatible speaker, or a speaker affixed with an inexpensive Chromecast Audio dongle.
But Chromecast and Sonos are not the same thing. It’s not meant to be Sonos. And it isn’t Sonos. That’s not the fault of the Google Home Max, which is a perfectly capable speaker and a great entry into the Google Home line. Conversely, Sonos — even in its new “open” incarnation — isn’t Chromecast. It’s way more of a closed loop, with purpose-built hardware married to a software experience that looks to bring together all sorts of audio services.
No, Chromecast isn’t Sonos. Neither is Google Home. And it’s not trying to be Sonos. But maybe it should, if only just a little. And here are three reason why:
See Sonos at Amazon See Google Home Max
Changing speaker groups on the fly
From left: Changing speakers in Sonos, Cast targets in Google Play Music, and groups in the Google Home app.
I have five Sonos speakers in my house. Sometimes I want them all to crank together. Sometimes I don’t. What I don’t want to have to do is create separate virtual groups for every possible combination, which is what I have to do for Chromecast targets in the Google Home app.
No, Sonos does this better. You just open the app, tick the checkboxes for the speakers you want active in a current group, and that’s it. (Or just toggle “everywhere” to blast everyone.)
And you can do this on the fly. You don’t have to start and stop what you’re listening to or switch from the music app to some other controller app.
And that leads us to …
One app to rule them all
I was never really a fan of the Sonos app until it got a major revision this fall. But the overall idea is great, and that has more to do with Sonos as a system, really.
Sonos brings multiple music sources under one roof. A whole lot of music sources. (Not just music, actually.) Consider:
Apple Music. SiriusXM. Google Play Music. Amazon Music. Pandora. Spotify. Tidal. TuneIn. Deezer. I Heart Radio. Pocket Casts. Slacker. Stitcher. … You can find the whole list here. And it’ll easily do locally sourced music, too, such as on a home server.
All of those music services — searchable — in a single app. I don’t use Apple Music, but my wife does. So we have her account tied in, alongside my Google Play Music account, for starters. Don’t expect the Google Play Music app to ever pull in other music services. (And as a competing service, it really shouldn’t. Sonos, on the other hand, is selling hardware.)
And it’s not just a single mobile app we’re talking about. Sonos also brings the experience to native desktop apps — something Google never really does. That’s an oversight it should at some point rectify. But it’s also something I wouldn’t hold my breath for.
Huge gaps in speaker quality
From left: Sonos Play:1 ($150 at Amazon), Sonos Play:3 ($250 at Amazon), and Google Home ($129 at Google).
Google Home Max competes nicely with the Sonos Play:5. It’s a good, high-end speaker, even though the Play:5 wins out in my ears. Not by a whole lot, but enough that it’s noticeable when the two are side by side.
Where Google falls off is on the low end of the category. The original Google Home can’t hold a candle to the Sonos Play:1, or the newer Sonos One, which has Amazon Alexa built in and will support Google Assistant sometime in 2018.
This has led to some interesting changes at the end of 2017. The original Google Home, which started its life at $129, can now be had for about $80. The Sonos Play:1 is now down to $150. And the Sonos One is $200.
Google Home just doesn’t have anything near the quality of Sonos’ entry-level speaker. And given the price of the OG Google Home, I’m not sure it can.
See Sonos at Amazon See Google Home Max
- Google Home review
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Google Store Best Buy Target
Why is this happening? TuneIn won’t say.
For a lot of folks, TuneIn has been the go-to app for listening to music, podcasts, sports, news broadcasts, and even audiobooks in one single location. Unfortunately, starting January 15, 2018, one of these things will no longer be supported.
When you open the TuneIn app and select an audiobook that you’d like to listen to, you’ll now see a message saying “Audiobook content will no longer be available on TuneIn after January 15th.” For whatever reason, though, the listing of TuneIn Radio Pro on the Google Play Store is still advertising audiobooks as one of the main features of the app.
After being discovered by Android Police, TuneIn issued a statement confirming the removal of audiobooks without actually addressing why. Instead, the company says that it hopes you’ll enjoy “other premium content like 24/7 live streaming and commercial-free news with MSNBC, plus all the music channels and lie sporting events throughout the holidays.
TuneIn’s been offering audiobooks since August of 2015, and while I’ve personally never used the service, I’d definitely be a bit irritated if I was a paying subscriber.
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Amazon keeps growing its smart home arsenal.
Back in 2014, a young startup by the name of Blink hit the scene with a smart home security camera that promised to be affordable, truly wireless, and filled with the most important features. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, Blink followed up this initial release with more advanced security cameras and even a smart video doorbell. Now in late December of 2017, Amazon’s officially purchased the company.
The acquisition was announced on Blink’s website, and although it hasn’t been disclosed how much money Amazon paid for Blink, the fact that it’s already been acquired just three years after launching its Kickstarter is mighty impressive.
Blink says it’ll continue to support its products and customers and that nothing will be changing right now, but it remains to be seen whether or not this continues a year or two down the road. Blink could keep selling products under its own name, or we could see its tech migrated into Amazon-branded hardware.
Either way, it’ll be interesting to see what comes of this deal as we exit 2017 and move on throughout the new year.
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The compact PowerPort 10 will keep all your devices charged at a great price.
Amazon is currently offering the Anker PowerPort 10 60W 10-port USB Wall Charger for just $27.99 when you enter promo code XMAS2133 at checkout. This deal saves you $12 off the item’s regular price, bringing it down to its lowest price ever.
This USB wall charger features 10 ports that can charge up to 2.4 amps per port or 12 amps overall. With its powerful 60 watt output, you can rest assured while charging multiple devices that it can get the job done. Best of all, it’s a huge space saver and is super compact.
You’ll also receive an 18-month warranty with your purchase, though I doubt you’ll need it as reviewers on Amazon left this product with a stellar 4.8 out of 5 star rating after almost 1,500 reviews.
See at Amazon
Knowing what to look for before you buy will make you happier and can save you money — which also makes you happier.
Whether you’re buying your first Chromebook or upgrading from an older model, you need to know what to look for before you part with your cash. Really, most purchases are this way — especially electronics of any sort. We can help you figure out which Chromebook features are right for you so you can be an informed buyer.
If you’re not yet sure that Chrome OS will work for you, go cheap.
Before you begin, you should set your budget. Thankfully, a fully capable and future ready (if not future-proof) model can be had for well under $300 if you don’t want to go for the top-shelf. And realistically, you don’t. Chrome OS runs really well on hardware that might not have enough “oomph” for another operating system. In fact, there’s a good chance your phone will have more cores, be clocked higher and have more memory than a Chromebook that can do everything it’s intended to do. That’s not to say you won’t benefit from having a more premium model with better specs, but it’s certainly not necessary.
And that makes the first thing on our buyer’s checklist easy: if you’re not yet sure that Chrome OS will work for you, go cheap.
One of the top-selling Chromebooks on Amazon (and a pick for “Amazon’s Choice”) is the Acer Chromebook CB-3. It sells new for $178 (as of December 2017). And while it’s not the nicest laptop you’ll ever see, it has a great IPS screen and runs the very latest version of Chrome OS. And runs it pretty well. You will see things get bogged down a little if you’re trying to do too much at one time, but a browser session with a handful of tabs open or a few Chrome apps or documents open won’t be a problem at all. It’s a perfect way to see how Chrome will handle doing the things you want it to do.
Amazon is also a great place to look for refurbished models that still carry a full warranty. I have seen Chromebooks for as little as $99 for Amazon Prime accounts, and any of them would be a good way to try a taste of Chrome OS so you know if you’re ready to spend a little more.
See at Amazon
If you’re already sure you want a little better hardware or are looking forward to Android apps, you still don’t have to spend a lot of money. But you do need to know what to look for.
Android apps will change how we use a Chromebook.
Android apps are going to change how we use a Chromebook. Adding almost 2,000,000 apps to one of the fastest and safest operating systems available will also make it one of the most capable for many of us. Don’t expect to run specialty programs like Adobe Photoshop or a CAD program, but for things like light video editing or 3-D drawing, you’ll find a handful of apps that can handle the task. Chromebooks weren’t designed for folks who need to use a high-end desktop or laptop. But most of us don’t need a high-end desktop or laptop and will be served well with a Chromebook. If Android apps are going to be important to you, here are a few things you need to look for.
- Make sure it’s on the list. You’ll find a list of Chromebooks that will be able to run apps from Google Play. Existing models will be listed if they’re going to support them. For newly-announced models, ask someone about Android apps before you buy. You can ask us — if we don’t know, we’ll find out.
- More storage is better. This goes without saying, but we are saying it anyway. Chromebooks were designed as a cloud-centric device. Because of this, many don’t come with a lot of storage space. Android apps can change how much you’ll need. Consider some games for Android (which will play just fine on your Chromebook) are up to 2GB or more in size, and you’ll see why. You can store a lot of data or documents or photos on the SD card, but apps will go to the actual device storage. Ideally, you’ll want 64GB or more, but 32 can work if you’re not interested in any games.
- Know how you plan to use it. Some of us want a convertible model that we can use like a tablet. Others want a traditional clamshell-style. Spending a little more to get something you’ll find more useful is worth it. Screen size comes into play here, too. If you’re on the go a lot, you might want an 11-inch model. Or the 14-incher would be better for your desk. Think about how you’ll be using your Chromebook before you buy one.
- Get a model with a touchscreen. Using a touchscreen for “normal” computing kinda sucks. Editing something in Google Docs or writing a long email just isn’t designed for touch input no matter the platform. That’s why the people who make tablets also make keyboard covers. But that changes when you add in apps originally designed for a phone. They are built for a great experience when poking and swiping with your finger, and that translates well from a 5-inch screen to a 13-inch screen. While you can use the trackpad for most any of it, it’s just not as good.
- How much memory do you need? That’s determined by what you plan to do. A model with 2GB will be enough to have a few tabs open in the browser as well as an app or two running, but if you’re the power-user type you’ll want to go with 4GB. The video experience benefits from more memory, too. A 1080p video on YouTube or Google Play Movies can get a little stuttery with 2GB, but 720p runs great.
- How premium do you want to go? Every other item on this list can be had in a sub-300 dollar Chromebook. You can also spend $1,000 on a Pixelbook. The $300 model will handle most anything you throw at it, but the Pixelbook just feels better. I won’t toss a silly car analogy in here, but only you know how much a nicer look and feel is worth. Of course, more expensive models tend to have nicer displays and smoother trackpads, too.
You’ll have to decide which Chromebook is best for you, but we can toss a couple recommendations out. The Lenovo Flex 11 is a great buy. $280 gets you a Chromebook that not only does everything a pricier one will, but is built for the education market, which means it’s ultra-rugged and has a spill-resistant keyboard.
See at Lenovo
If you’re ready to go all-in with Chrome and don’t mind spending a little more, The Samsung Chromebook Plus or the ASUS Chromebook Flip C302 are what I consider the best Chromebooks for the money available today. Buy the Samsung if you want a digital pen, buy the ASUS if you want more storage. Either way, you can’t go wrong.
Samsung Chromebook Plus at Amazon
ASUS Chromebook C302 at Amazon
Of course, new Chromebooks are coming out all the time and something coming up may be even better. You can keep up to date on our Best Chromebooks page, and keep an eye out for our reviews. And as always, the forums are a great place to learn more about anything Chrome.
- The best Chromebooks
- Should you buy a Chromebook?
- Google Play is coming to Chromebooks
- Acer Chromebook 14 review
- Join our Chromebook forums
Time to give lossless streaming a shot.
Tidal might not be the most popular streaming service on the block, but for folks that appreciate lossless high fidelity audio, it’s still one of the best options around. Just in time for the holiday season, Tidal has a couple big announcements to hopefully get more folks to make the jump from Spotify, Google Play Music, etc.
First off, Tidal finally has an Android TV app that’ll allow you to listen to songs, watch music videos, concerts, and quite a bit more. The app also made a debut on Apple TV, and this marks the first time Tidal’s expanded its app to any smart television platforms.
Shortly after this, Tidal also announced that it’d be launching a 12 day free trial of its service on Christmas Day, December 25. Tidal already offers a 30-day free trial when signing up, but the difference here is that you’ll be able to listen for 12 days without having to enter your credit or debit card info. Just listen to the music, enjoy it, and don’t worry about having to cancel so you don’t get charged.
All users will have access to Tidal HiFi for lossless high fidelity streaming, and during this 12-day promotion, Tidal says it’ll be launching new original music videos, documentaries, and interviews.
Pandora Android TV app gains Premium support, refreshed UI, and more