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16
Apr

Budget TV service Philo now streams on Amazon and Apple devices


Philo may have started out as a streaming service for students in collaboration with universities, but the company has its own full-fledged consumer streaming service now. And the dev team is in the process of expanding the devices on which Philo is available; starting this summer, CNET reports, the cheap streaming service will have apps for both Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV devices.

The streaming service, which is supported by smaller cable channel companies like AMC and Discovery, has survived because of its impressively low subscription fees. It undercuts even its cheapest rivals with a $16/month price. Of course, that means that the offerings on Philo are limited. There are no sports channels (or big cable channels that have a lot of sports on them), news networks or local affiliates.

Instead, Philo counts smaller cable channels like Comedy Central, The Food Network and TLC among its offerings. The company is also now supporting TV Anywhere authentication with all of its apps except for OWN. According to CNET, that support is coming soon. TV Anywhere allows users to log into standalone apps, rather than solely viewing the content through the provider — in this case, Philo. Cable networks’ apps often provide extra bonus content that can’t be found on third-party streaming services.

Philo’s audience isn’t as broad as Hulu’s or YouTube TV’s, as a result of its skinny cable bundle. However, at such a low price, it’s a great option for budget-conscious consumers who love these second-tier channels.

Source: CNET

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16
Apr

‘Future Flowers’ blossom at an ancient Japanese shrine


When thinking of Japan in spring, you’ll no doubt picture the annual cherry blossom celebrations taking place around this time of year. That custom, known as Hanami, goes back thousands of years and originally centered around plum, not cherry, blossoms. With that in the background, Danish floral designer Nicolai Bergmann presented Hanami 2050, a digitally-enhanced flower exhibition at the historic Fukuoka / Dazaifu Tenmangu Shinto shrine.

Bergmann created Hanami 2050 to coincide with the festival, while using the blossoms and their pink colors as a strong theme. He made digital loops called “Future Flowers” in collaboration with Japanese design firm OneSal. They are displayed on screens integrated into the physical foliage on display. Buds emerge from the main flower, then sprout new flowers fractally like organic, extraterrestrial fireworks.

The Fukuoka / Dazaifu Tenmangu Shinto shrine in Japan’s southeast hosted flowering shows in 2014 and 2016, but Bergmann wanted to try something new this year. “We wanted to surprise visitors and show them something they’ve never seen before,” said Bergmann. “This time it’s completely, utterly new: A vision of ‘Hanami’ in 2050.” That’s where the digital part comes into play, adding a future-forward twist to the pink-hued flower exhibitions and pink-fabric-wrapped temple arch.

The temple is an apt choice for the digitally-enhanced flower displays. It’s supposedly built on the grave of Michizane, a gifted poet who composed odes to plum trees, and a plum tree inside the shrine is supposedly the first to blossom in Japan each year. Generally, the blossoms start arriving around April 7th, but thanks to global warming, they have been coming earlier and earlier each year.

Via: Colossal

Source: Onesal

16
Apr

The upgraded Nokia 6 is available for purchase in the US and UK


The second-generation Nokia 6 was announced in China in early January, and now it’s finally made its way stateside. The affordable mid-range phone carries an MSRP of $270 for the 32 GB version. It’s currently available at Amazon.com and Walmart.com.

The Nokia 6.1 sports an octa-core 2.2 GHz Snapdragon 630 and comes in two varieties: 3 GB of RAM with 32 GB of storage or 4 GB of RAM with 64 GB of storage. It can also accommodate a MicroSD card of up to 128 GB. Its 5.5-inch display has a 1,920 x 1,080 resolution and it sports an onboard rear camera if 16 MP. The front-facing camera is 8 MP. The phone runs on Android Oreo and has a 3,000 mAh battery.

The phone is also available in the UK through the retailer Carphone Warehouse, which apparently has the Nokia 6 (2018) as an exclusive. It will cost you £229 for a SIM-free version of the 32-GB phone.

Source: Android Central

16
Apr

Panasonic SC-GA10 review: A smart speaker that fails to stand out


Alexa and Google Assistant have been taking over homes for a few years now, so it’s probably easier to name the companies that haven’t made a smart speaker. The options are seemingly endless. Audio gear that harnesses a virtual assistant comes in all shapes and sizes, with some making big claims about the quality of sound they get out of such small devices. Panasonic is doing just that with its $250 SC-GA10; however, the company’s promise of “premium hi-fi sound” failed to make a lasting impression.

A lot of smart speakers are round, cylindrical affairs, but Panasonic chose to go the boxy route with the SC-GA10. The speaker’s cube shape isn’t novel, but it’s different enough from a lot of the popular options (Echo, Google Home, etc.) that it feels somewhat unique. Sure, it’s rather plain, but I kind of like that. The GA10 blends in easily on a shelf, thanks to its unassuming aesthetic.

Panasonic offers two color schemes for the SC-GA10: a mix of black and silver or white and silver. Both of those varieties are pretty standard fare for smart speakers. The SC-GA10’s look is simple, with some Panasonic branding on the front and power and auxiliary jacks around back. There are also a few white lights on the front edge: one stays lit when the speaker is on, while others light up in a row whenever Google Assistant is active. Other than those few items, this speaker is basically a box that looks a bit like a miniature tower speaker.

As with many speakers, not just the smart ones, Panasonic put all of the physical controls up top. While this is the most convenient position, the height of the SC-GA10 poses some issues. All of the onboard controls are on a touch panel on the top of the speaker. There are controls for power, volume, muting the microphone, play/pause and several input options.

So far so good… until you try to make any tweaks when the speaker is sitting at eye level (or above) — like on a shelf. Unless the SC-GA10 is sitting in a spot where you have a full view of the top, you really have no idea what you’re tapping. Play/pause is pretty easy to remember because it’s alone in the center, and I quickly learned the location of the volume controls, but there are no raised dots or anything to let you know which of the features you’re close to. This may seem like a small thing for some people, but for me it was frustrating.

Sure, this is a voice-controlled speaker, and most of the time I just used spoken cues. For things like volume adjustments, though, I prefer to make the change manually rather than rely on Google Assistant. A lot of smart speakers, like Google Home and the Sony LF-S50G, solve this with gesture controls. There can be a bit of a learning curve with those as well, but you don’t have to worry as much about where you place those speakers, since you don’t really need to see the top. As frustrating as the gestures were on the LF-S50G at first, I found myself wishing the Panasonic SC-GA10 had them.

When it comes to smart speakers, there’s a range of sound quality. While most aim to simply get the job done, others offer impressive audio in a compact device. Sonos One is a perfect example of the latter. With the SC-GA10, Panasonic promises “premium hi-fi sound” and tosses the word “supreme” around. But I found the sound to be mostly just… fine. It will certainly fill the void if you’re looking for a smart speaker, but if all you’re after is voice control, there are more affordable options, like Google Home Mini, Echo and Echo Dot. Even the Sonos One is $50 cheaper, and it offers both Alexa and better sound quality.

The Sony LF-S50G and the Panasonic SC-GA10.

While the audio on the SC-GA10 is crisp and clear, the EQ tuning is where Panasonic lost me. Across a range of genres, the sound lacks dynamics: the midrange is overemphasized, without the necessary amount of bass or treble. I noticed it most with bass-heavy genres like hip-hop. The low end is just muddy and lacks the punch or depth other speakers offer. At higher volumes, the EQ blends together and the overall audio quality is noticeably worse. There is a Panasonic app where you can make EQ tweaks, but in my experience, it didn’t offer much help. I’ll admit Sonos has spoiled me a bit, but the sound was noticeably better on the Sony LF-S50G too. With the claims Panasonic was making about the SC-GA10’s audio chops, I expected it to at least be comparable to the Sonos One. Instead, it’s just okay.

Despite the clothlike material wrapping the entire top of the unit, the SC-GA10 isn’t a 360-degree speaker. Two tweeters are angled to the sides, and there’s a single subwoofer, but the sound is beamed entirely out of the front. Other smart speakers blast tunes in all directions, but even though Panasonic’s smart speaker looks like it does the same, that’s not the case.

Of course, audio is just one piece of the equation here. Google Assistant is the main reason to consider the SC-GA10. I’m happy to report that the smart features, like voice control, work just fine for the most part. There were times when it had trouble picking up my commands, but that was rare and usually happened when the speaker was blasting music at a considerable volume. My wife had trouble with the speaker hearing her spoken queries more often than not, but I had far less trouble. Of course, my voice was programmed into the Google Home app, but that didn’t make a difference on other speakers I’ve tested. (The Sony LF-S50G even reliably understood my three-year-old.) Most of the time, though, the SC-GA10 picked up my voice cues without issue. And thanks to the Google Home app, setting up the speaker takes only a couple of minutes.

At $250, the SC-GA10 is at least $50 more than a lot of its competition. If you’re looking for Google Assistant alternatives, Google Home is $129, and Sony’s LF-S50G is $200. The Sonos One currently works only with Alexa, but at some point it will also work with Assistant for $50 less than the SC-GA10. And of course, Amazon has a bunch of options at various price points if you don’t have a virtual assistant preference. Again, in terms of overall sound, Sony and Sonos are better options.

With all of the other options on the table, Panasonic’s SC-GA10 is a tough sell. Unless you really want touch controls on your smart speaker or just like the look of it, there are cheaper and better-sounding devices to consider. I’ll admit I like the design of the SC-GA10, but when it comes to audio gear, you can’t make decisions based on looks alone. Sure, Google Assistant does an admirable job here, but the mediocre sound quality and high price make this one of the less compelling additions to the smart speaker heap.

16
Apr

ZTE faces revived US export ban over false statements


When the US Commerce Department slapped ZTE with $1.19 billion in penalties for illegally shipping telecom gear to Iran and North Korea (and making false claims about it), it offered a reprieve: it would suspend a seven-year export ban as long as the Chinese company honored an agreement and didn’t break the rules again. Apparently, ZTE might have blown its chance at a break. Department officials have revived an order banning ZTE from exporting US products after accusing the company of lying about punishing those involved in the scandal.

The Commerce Department claimed that “all but one” of the ZTE staffers named in its letters got their full 2016 pay bonuses despite promises to the contrary, and that the expected letters of reprimand weren’t issued until March 2018 — a month after officials asked for information. ZTE acknowledged that it had made false statements, but said it was taking corrective actions (including bonus cuts for 2017) in addition to an ongoing “internal investigation.” American officials weren’t buying it, however. They saw this as the latest in a “pattern” of lying from ZTE, and that the company’s confession was just an attempt to minimize the consequences of its actions.

The ban lasts until March 13th, 2025, and could have serious consequences for ZTE’s business. While it’s a Chinese company, some of its products may depend on American parts. This won’t necessarily affect its phones as much as you’d expect (Qualcomm processors are typically manufactured outside of the US), but it may have to scramble to find alternatives to any component built within American borders.

We’ve asked ZTE for comment. However, it’s doubtful the company will be happy. On top of the existing penalty and the threat of a resurrected export ban, ZTE was facing an FCC proposal that would effectively cut it off from dealings with the US government — if it wasn’t already convinced the US hated its guts, it is now. With that said, the allegations are particularly damning if true. They suggest that ZTE was willing to risk massive penalties just to avoid punishing a handful of people, even knowing that it was facing close scrutiny.

Source: Commerce.gov

16
Apr

Tesla may be purposefully undercounting worker injuries


In a report published today, Reveal details evidence that Tesla has been undercounting the injuries sustained by workers at its Fremont, California factory. Over the last couple of years, injury rates at the factory have been higher than the industry average, but for 2017, the company reported a sharp drop in injury rates. The reductions brought Tesla in line with the rest of the industry, but Reveal’s investigation, in which it conducted interviews with more than three dozen current and former employees and reviewed hundreds of pages of official documents, suggests that the company has been mislabeling work injuries.

By law, the company has to report any injuries sustained on its property that result in missed work, job performance restrictions or medical treatment beyond first aid. But according to Reveal’s findings, the company has frequently labeled such injuries as “personal medical” cases, meaning they don’t have to be reported. “I saw injuries on there like broken bones and lacerations that they were saying were not recordable” said one safety professional. “I saw a lot of stuff that was like, ‘Wow, this is crazy.’”

Former managers claimed that they had pointed out a number of safety issues to their superiors. Many of those, however, were dismissed. For cases like using more yellow or posting more signs to denote areas that require extra caution, higher-ups said Elon Musk didn’t like those things. Same for wearing safety shoes.

For its part, Tesla has denied the claims, saying it tallies injuries accurately, provides adequate training and is very concerned with workers’ safety. “Anybody who walks through our doors into this factory is our responsibility, and we care about them,” Laurie Shelby, Tesla’s VP of environment, health and safety, told Reveal. “I have a passion for safety and it’s about caring.” In a statement to Reveal, Tesla said that the report was “an ideologically motivated attack by an extremist organization working directly with union supporters to create a calculated disinformation campaign against Tesla.”

You can read the full report here. We’ve reached out to Tesla and we’ll update this post if we receive more information.

Via: CNBC

Source: Reveal

16
Apr

VW will debut cars with autonomous parking in 2020


Automakers are fond of experimenting with self-parking cars, but VW intends to make it a practical reality. It’s promising that vehicles in the company group (which includes brands like Audi, Bentley, Porsche and Lamborghini) will start including autonomous parking as of 2020. The system will only be available in “selected” parking garages at first, but it relies on pictorial guiding markers that are theoretically usable in any garage.

The system will arrive in two phases. At first, cars with autonomous parking will be guided to a separate area so they don’t have to deal with the unpredictability of human drivers. Later, VW is promising to enable “mixed” parking where autonomous and piloted cars share the same areas. And yes, the company ultimately wants support in outdoor parking lots.

It’s not certain just which cars get first dibs, but any model with driverless parking will have an “active surroundings recognition system” that can include cameras, radar and ultrasound. We wouldn’t be surprised if this arrives in luxury brands first due to costs, but it’s more likely a question of when the features reach more affordable brands than “if.”

In a sense, this is what you can expect for self-driving features in the near term. Full autonomy might be several years away for VW and numerous other brands, but you don’t need that for parking. You’re not on public streets, and the vehicle only has to deal with a limited set of challenges in ideal conditions (there’s no snow or rain inside, after all). And for many drivers, that might be enough. The pressing concern isn’t so much relinquishing complete control as it is eliminating the more painful aspects of driving, and that includes hunting for free parking spaces. Instead of roaming around a garage for minutes on end, you could leave your car at the entrance and focus on reaching your actual destination.

Via: Autoblog

Source: Volkswagen

16
Apr

Alibaba is the latest Chinese internet giant to test self-driving cars


China’s Alibaba Group has been testing its own autonomous vehicle technology, the South China Morning Post reports, and is looking to hire an additional 50 self-driving vehicle experts. Alibaba’s rivals Baidu and Tencent have also been working on autonomous technology and last month, Baidu received the go-ahead from the Chinese government to begin testing its technology on Beijing roads. Tencent reportedly sent one of its autonomous vehicles for a ride on a Beijing highway earlier this month.

According to the South China Morning Post, which is owned by Alibaba, the company has been conducting regular road tests of self-driving vehicles and has the capability to perform open road trials. It’s looking to develop Level 4 autonomous technology, meaning that under certain conditions, the car can operate on its own without human involvement. Alibaba has previously formed partnerships with SAIC Motor and Dongfeng Peugeot Citroen to equip cars with its AliOS operating system.

Via: South China Morning Post

16
Apr

Former iPod Chief Tony Fadell Believes Apple Should Tackle Smartphone Addiction


Tony Fadell, who was instrumental to the creation of the iPod, believes Apple should tackle the issue of smartphone addiction.

Tony Fadell, second from the left, alongside Steve Jobs and other Apple executives following the original iPhone announcement in 2007
In an editorial with Wired UK, the former Senior Vice President of the iPod division said Apple can solve the problem at the software level by “empowering users to understand more about how they use their devices.”

“To do this, it should let people track their digital activity in detail and across all devices,” said Fadell. “You should be able to see exactly how you spend your time and, if you wish, moderate your behavior accordingly.”

Fadell said his solution would essentially be like a digital scale to monitor time spent in apps, web browsing, and other tasks:

We need a “scale” for our digital weight, like we have for our physical weight. Our digital consumption data could look like a calendar with our historical activity. It should be itemized like a credit-card bill, so people can easily see how much time they spend each day on email, for example, or scrolling through posts. Imagine it’s like a health app which tracks metrics such as step count, heart rate, and sleep quality.

He added that Apple could also let users set their device to a “listen-only” or “read-only” mode, but it’s unclear how this would differ from Apple’s existing Do Not Disturb mode, which can be enabled when an iPhone is locked or unlocked.

Fadell believes Apple is “particularly well-placed to tackle this problem,” and that implementing these tools wouldn’t be difficult.

Fortunately, it appears that Apple is already working on improved parental controls similar to what Fadell outlined. More specifically, Bloomberg News reported that iOS 12 will feature “new features for parents to better monitor how long apps are being used for by kids and their overall screen time.”

In January, Apple confirmed it is working on “even more robust” parental controls following pressure from investors to do more to curb smartphone addition. The new controls would likely extend to the Mac and other devices.

Fadell’s editorial was first published in the May-June issue of WIRED magazine, as part of a series of articles about “Apple’s next move.”

Tag: Tony Fadell
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16
Apr

Apple’s Latest Machine Learning Journal Entry Focuses on ‘Hey Siri’ Trigger Phrase


Apple’s latest entry in its online Machine Learning Journal focuses on the personalization process that users partake in when activating “Hey Siri” features on iOS devices. Across all Apple products, “Hey Siri” invokes the company’s AI assistant, and can be followed up by questions like “How is the weather?” or “Message Dad I’m on my way.”

“Hey Siri” was introduced in iOS 8 on the iPhone 6, and at that time it could only be used while the iPhone was charging. Afterwards, the trigger phrase could be used at all times thanks to a low-power and always-on processor that fueled the iPhone and iPad’s ability to continuously listen for “Hey Siri.”

In the new Machine Learning Journal entry, Apple’s Siri team breaks down its technical approach to the development of a “speaker recognition system.” The team created deep neural networks and “set the stage for improvements” in future iterations of Siri, all motivated by the goal of creating “on-device personalization” for users.

Apple’s team says that “Hey Siri” as a phrase was chosen because of its “natural” phrasing, and described three scenarios where unintended activations prove troubling for “Hey Siri” functionality. These include “when the primary users says a similar phrase,” “when other users say “Hey Siri”,” and “when other users say a similar phrase.” According to the team, the last scenario is “the most annoying false activation of all.”

To lessen these accidental activations of Siri, Apple leverages techniques from the field of speaker recognition. Importantly, the Siri team says that it is focused on “who is speaking” and less on “what was spoken.”

The overall goal of speaker recognition (SR) is to ascertain the identity of a person using his or her voice. We are interested in “who is speaking,” as opposed to the problem of speech recognition, which aims to ascertain “what was spoken.” SR performed using a phrase known a priori, such as “Hey Siri,” is often referred to as text-dependent SR; otherwise, the problem is known as text-independent SR.

The journal entry then goes into how users enroll in a personalized “Hey Siri” process using explicit and implicit enrollment. Explicit begins the minute that users speak the trigger phrase a few times, but implicit is “created over a period of time” and made during “real-world situations.”

The Siri team says that the remaining challenges faced by speaker recognition is figuring out how to get quality performance in reverberant (large room) and noisy (car) environments. You can check out the full Machine Learning Journal entry on “Hey Siri” right here.

Since it began last summer, Apple has shared numerous entries in its Machine Learning Journal about complex topics, which have already included “Hey Siri”, face detection, and more. All past entries can be seen on Apple.com.

Tag: machine learning
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