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26
Apr

Tile brings video and voice to its trackers with help from Comcast


Tile’s Bluetooth trackers help people keep tabs on their keys, wallets and other items they don’t want to lose, and today the company is making it a little easier for some to keep track of their important objects. Tile is teaming up with Comcast so that Xfinity customers with an X1 Voice Remote can simply ask where their item is. All they’ll have to do is say something like, “Xfinity Home, find my wallet,” or, “Xfinity Home, where are my keys?” And the last known location of the Tile associated with that object will be displayed on their TV screen.

This is the first time Tile has offered this type of video and voice control with its trackers. “Tile is creating a world where everyone can find everything that matters,” Tile CEO Mike Farley said in a statement. “With the smart home being central to so many consumers’ lives, we are thrilled to be partnering with Comcast. Together, we are bringing greater peace of mind to Xfinity customers in their home, providing a streamlined experience for them to quickly locate their things no matter where they are.”

Earlier this year, Tile announced that it would be teaming up with companies such as Bose, Samsonite, Boosted and Propeller Health to integrate its tracking technology into headphones, luggage, skateboards and inhalers, among other items. Tile also extended the range of its trackers with its Tile Pro line, models from which can respond from up to 200 feet away.

At launch, only Xfinity Home customers with an X1 Voice Remote can use the new function. You’ll just need to add Tiles through the Xfinity Home app. Comcast says the feature will be extended to all Xfinity internet customers later this year.

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26
Apr

House sends key music royalties bill to the Senate


Today, the Music Modernization Act passed the House of Representatives in a unanimous vote (there were no negative votes, but 16 representatives did not cast a vote). The bill still needs to be passed by the Senate, but considering the overwhelming support in the House, it seems like a safe bet that the MMA will become law soon. This comprehensive bill reforms the way the music business works in four different ways.

The biggest change is that it creates a publicly accessible database to identify who owns a song. This will make it easier for publishers and artists who own songs to get paid royalties, and it will also give those using a composition a blanket license to use it, as long as they pay the necessary royalties and fulfill reporting requirements.

The other changes include updating the statutory rate to reproduce a song to reflect market rates and assigning a random district judge from the state of New York to adjudicate rate disputes. The legislation also allows sound recording royalty rates to be taken into account when considering performance royalty rates for songwriters and composers.

This bill was created through a compromise between digital services, songwriters, music publishers, artists radio and more. As a result, it enjoys broad support across the music industry. “Digital streaming services have saved the music industry, delivering consumers better experiences and better value, and growing revenue for creators,” said Chris Harrison, the CEO of the Digital Media Association, in a statement. “The MMA will ensure fans and artists can take full advantage of streaming to create, discover, and enjoy the music they love.”

Source: Billboard, House of Representatives

26
Apr

HD vinyl is a promise, not a product


Günter Loibl thinks vinyl needs an update. Two years ago he filed a patent for a new way to make records, using lasers (rather than a traditional cutting lathe) to pack the grooves tighter and add 30 percent more usable space. Thanks to the laser, it’s actually better for the environment too. The promise is records with longer playing times, more dynamic range and extra amplitude. Supposedly you can even enjoy the benefits of “HD vinyl” albums on the turntable and needle you already own.

On paper, this all seems like a win-win. But there’s a problem: This isn’t the first time someone promised an upgraded listening experience, and music collectors tend to be a skeptical bunch. Vinyl lovers have less to complain about lately too, thanks to advances in pressing technology that make new records sound pristine, free from the format’s pops and crackles.

You won’t be able to buy an album on HD vinyl until next year, at least, and once you can, it’s going to cost quite a bit more than a traditional album. Loibl’s company, Rebeat Innovations, doesn’t have any test pressings yet for proof, and won’t until at least this August. Still, Loibl wants you to trust him. “Be a little patient and let me convince you,” he said.

Rebeat is working with an established turntable manufacturer to design what Loibl calls a reference turntable for enthusiasts. It’ll cost anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500 and will probably launch on Kickstarter. Eventually, you’ll be able to buy needles and cartridges tuned specifically for the format for around the same price as a standard ones. But, he stressed that you don’t need the special equipment to hear HD vinyl’s benefits, which only fuels skepticism.

The heart of HD vinyl is a change to the manufacturing process. Traditional record pressing goes like this: A musician sends the vinyl mastering studio a recording, and from there it’s cut into a soft lacquer disc using a lathe. That master is then sent to a pressing plant where it’s electroplated with nickel, a toxic process with environmentally hazardous byproducts. That metal master is separated from the lacquer and becomes the “father” disc, and rather than grooves, it has ridges. The master is then electroplated again, producing the “mother” disc, which is then used to create the stamping disc. The stamping disc, as you might guess, is used to stamp out records from pucks of PVC plastic.

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Timothy J. Seppala

HD vinyl skips a few of those steps, supposedly shaving a few weeks off manufacturing time. Music is fed into CAD software where it’s converted into a 3D map of bumps and grooves. That data is etched into a ceramic pressing plate using a laser. Since HD vinyl eliminates the need for electroplating, the promise is faster production and reduced pollution. Switching a pressing plant over will hypothetically be as easy as swapping out a nickel plate for a ceramic one. It’s a little like direct metal mastering, a technique introduced in the ’80s. But that uses copper. Ceramic is harder than both that and nickel and the promise is that the last pressing will sound as good as the first.

However, there’s still a step missing from the HD process: inspection. Traditionally, as a master is cut, there’s a microscope pointed at it. This gives an engineer an idea of how a record will sound, and allows them to see if there are any deformations that’d cause a skip or the needle to pop off. That doesn’t exist yet for HD vinyl. The plan is to design an emulator so engineers can “hear” what the audio data sounds like as it’s transformed into a virtual groove. But right now it’s just a plan, and a huge obstacle for Loibl.

Speaking of grooves, a mastering engineer can use the extra space to make the record sound better by increasing the amplitude and dynamic range or add extra playing time. For example, they might choose 20 percent more playing time to fit more songs on one side, and then add five percent more dynamic range and amplitude. Or, an “HD remaster” of an album could keep the same track listing, but have a third more dynamic range.

“If we can get more runtime with higher quality, without having to go double vinyl, that’d be a huge benefit.”

Metal Blade Records’ Ryan Williams is most intrigued by the promise of extra playing time, because with many metal albums most of the dynamic range has already been squeezed out. “If we can get more runtime with higher quality, without having to go double vinyl, that’d be a huge benefit,” Williams said.

Currently, you can put around 22 minutes of music on each side of a record without hurting sound quality. And moving to a double LP drives up the price and potentially lowers sales. HD vinyl promises an extra six minutes per side, possibly resurrecting the tracks lost from an album recorded for CD.

Time is easy to measure, though. Sound quality? That’s something you need special equipment to examine, and without any test recordings you have to take Loibl at his word. Williams said that it’s easy to make people think a recording sounds better just by playing it half a decibel louder. But a spectrograph is like a lie-detector for audio and isn’t susceptible to such parlor tricks.

Viryl Technologies thinks it’s the perfect candidate for Loibl’s test pressings. Since 2015, Viryl has installed nearly 40 of its fully-automated Warm Tone presses around the world, each one capable of pumping out 1,000 records in an eight hour shift. Some of the best-sounding new albums in your collection were probably made on its machines.

But because it hasn’t heard the technology in action, marketing manager Alex DesRoches said that Viryl is taking the same cautious wait and see approach that everyone else is. “Really, all I can say is it’s got potential.”

The same was said about the trio of formats that fought for audiophile souls in the early 2000s. During the compact disc’s twilight years, Sony and Columbia partnered on Super Audio CD (SACD), which held over four times the data of a standard CD. DVD Audio offered albums in 5.1 surround sound, and High Definition Compatible Digital (HDCD) from Microsoft used a specific encoding technique to squeeze better sound from a standard CD. Each boasted higher fidelity, longer playing times and/or backwards compatibility, but none of them had mainstream success.

Loibl says he could barely tell the difference switching between SACD and standard CDs. But he promises, perhaps dubiously, that, “even somebody without golden ears will immediately recognize the [HD vinyl] audio quality.”

Even if it does sound noticeably better though, HD vinyl might still have trouble winning people over. Avid music collector and studio musician Scott Wozniak is intrigued that he wouldn’t need to buy new hardware, but told us, “If I wanted higher quality, or silence, I would listen to a CD.”

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It wouldn’t shock me if it turned out a year from now that this guy was full of shit and he ran away with the money.

Scott Wozniak

“It wouldn’t shock me if it turned out a year from now that this guy was full of shit and he ran away with the money,” Wozniak said. It’d take a demo station at the record store 15 feet from his apartment or listening to an HD record at home on equipment he’s familiar with to be convinced. “It’s still a needle rubbing on a piece of plastic … I just can’t imagine [HD vinyl] being that much better to make it worth the extra expense.”

That extra expense is a major hurdle for HD vinyl. Limited production capacities for the ceramic pressing discs means there will be a sizable premium, but Loibl predicts it will drop to about $5 within two years thanks to economies of scale (Rebeat will be the ceramic disc’s exclusive manufacturer).

Of course HD vinyl is targeting a niche within a niche. Some are buying records today just because it’s trendy. They’re looking for the cheapest way in, so they head to Target and buy an $80 Crosley all-in-one record player. That isn’t who HD vinyl is for. “They have [vinyl] because it’s cool, but they don’t care about the music or audio quality,” Loibl suggested.

But for people with huge record collections and good stereo equipment, there’s no promise that HD vinyl won’t go the way of SACD. (Or, for everyone else, that the vinyl resurgence is more than a fad.) Metal Blade’s Williams said that a lot of audiophiles are skipping physical media altogether in favor of lossless downloads from Bandcamp or the artists themselves.

“HD doesn’t necessarily mean high definition.”

HD vinyl didn’t get its name because it exceeds a CD’s 44.1kHz and 16-bit depth the way a FLAC (free lossless audio codec) file can, but because it was the working title and Loibl couldn’t come up with a better, copyright-free name. The term doesn’t actually pertain to a set of mastering and recording standards. “HD doesn’t necessarily mean high definition,” he said. Instead an HD record could be a heavy duty pressing made for DJs, high dynamic range for audiophiles and high density for longer records.

Rebeat has “very positive signals” from all of the major record labels, according to Loibl, and interest from “hundreds” of mid-sized imprints and indies. None of them have come out and endorsed the format publicly, however, and a lack of content is partly what killed previous HD formats. He recently raised $4.8 million in startup capital, and none of it came from the music industry. Which, hypothetically, means labels and pressing plants won’t feel compelled to pick sides. Though, neither Viryl or Metal Blade necessarily buy Loibl’s theory that industry funding would cause a format war.

Loibl designed the process because record labels complained about the six-month gap between making an order and it being available in stores. He thinks record labels will jump on board because it’ll be a way for them sell their back catalogs once again on yet another format. He thinks pressing plants will make the leap because it’ll save them headaches and help them go green, too. Loibl also expects people will automatically buy HD vinyl because it’ll supposedly sound better. He even audaciously estimates he’ll have 95 percent market share by 2025, something that everyone interviewed for this piece said will take at least five years longer.

Loibl has dealt with apprehension every step of the way and understands why people are cautious. He knows that at this point he’s offering a promise, not a product. Like every other entrepreneur with millions in his back pocket, though, Loibl is a true believer because he has to be. He’s convinced that HD vinyl is going to be the next big thing, but now he has to persuade the rest of the extremely skeptical world.

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Timothy J. Seppala

Image credits: Timothy J. Seppala (All)

26
Apr

Dropbox’s Paper documents app now supports custom layouts


Dropbox has been pushing out a bunch of updates to its core products over the last few weeks, and its collaborative document-building service Paper is the latest to get some major tweaks. As of today, Dropbox is adding the ability to build Paper templates and share them with an entire organization, if you’re working in a big business setting. Whether you’re in a large company or just using Paper solo, templates should make it a lot easier to re-use layouts that you’ve built.

If you have a Paper document you’ve been using that you want to turn into a template, Dropbox says it can do that with just a few clicks — that spares users the pain of having to go through and strip out all the content before saving it. Naturally, you can also build a template from scratch and include placeholder text so that people know what to fill in. Dropbox is also including the option to make templates read-only or make them editable by other members on a team.

In addition to custom templates, Dropbox is also adding some pre-made templates for all Paper users. That’s a smart idea, because Paper is such a blank slate on its own — it can be a little daunting to figure out just what it can do beyond just recording simple text like Google Docs. There’s a good amount of customization beneath the surface, and having some pre-built templates for new users might make it easier to start exploring the app. Those templates will be available through both the web and mobile apps as of today, and Paper users can start building their own forms today as well.

26
Apr

Fake Mark Zuckerbergs tried to scam Facebook users for cash


A number of Facebook and Instagram accounts have been parading as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg, tricking vulnerable individuals into sending large amounts of money in order to collect bogus lottery winnings, the New York Times reports. The newspaper describes multiple cases wherein Facebook users were contacted by fake accounts claiming to be Facebook executives offering hundreds of thousands of dollars in supposed winnings. In many cases, the “winners” were asked to send hundreds of dollars in iTunes gift card redemption codes or even thousands of dollars in cash — delivery fees required for collecting the lottery funds.

The New York Times found 205 Facebook and Instagram accounts pretending to be Zuckerberg or Sandberg and at least 51 were running lottery scams. Following the publication of the report, Facebook had removed all of the noted accounts. A company spokesperson told the newspaper that spotting such accounts isn’t easy, adding, “We want to get better.”

Fake accounts, though not allowed by Facebook, are a persistent issue for the company and a tactic used by Russian groups to spread political discord during the last US presidential election. Zuckerberg was questioned about fake accounts during his recent Congressional hearings. “This is an important issue and fake accounts, overall, are a big issue, because that’s how a lot of the other issues that we see around fake news and foreign election interference are happening, as well,” Zuckerberg said in a response to questions from Congressman Adam Kinzinger (R-IL).

Source: New York Times

26
Apr

Disney’s ‘Force Jacket’ prototype allows you to feel every VR punch


We’re only starting to take advantage of all that AR and VR can offer. Now, the challenge is to make the experience immersive, engaging your entire body in whatever your brain is perceiving. That’s just what Disney is working on with the Force Jacket.

Up until this point, any feedback your body receives during AR and VR is in the form of vibrations and touching a handheld device. The Force Jacket allows for an array of airbags and sensors to provide sensation over the entire upper body though applications of force and high-frequency vibrations. Users can feel touching, squeezing, punching, hugging and even the sensation of a snake moving across the body thanks to this jacket.

This type of jacket could really revolutionize the way people interact with VR. Imagine if you could feel every punch or every bullet in a first person shooter. It has interesting and, frankly, fantastic implications for the future of the technology and the immersive reality it can provide.

Now, I realize that the Force Jacket is in the very early stages of development. But I can’t help but thinking that because this is a Disney project and it’s a “Force Jacket” — can you see where I’m going here? It’s screaming for Star Wars branding, is all I’m saying.

Source: Disney

26
Apr

Nintendo Labo review: A labor of love


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Over the last week, I’ve spent more than 20 hours folding and assembling cardboard, and I’ve learned a few things. One: You don’t want to follow exactly in my footsteps. And two: Nintendo’s Labo is ingenious. It’s something few other companies could have produced and turns the Switch into so much more than a game console: With Labo, it’s an engine powering a whole new world of DIY creations. The only downside? Building Labo kits can be a pretty huge time sink. But for some, that might be a good thing.

Always be creasing

Nintendo is launching Labo with two offerings: A $70 Variety Pack, which includes the piano, motorbike, fishing rod, RC car and house Toy-Cons; and an $80 kit that lets you step into the shoes of a giant robot. At the most basic level, Labo kits are just cardboard shells. Inside each box, you’ll find stacks of thick sheets, along with a handful of other components like stickers and string. These really are do-it-yourself toys — you won’t actually be able to play anything until you put in the build time.

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Aaron Souppouris/Engadget

Like any good Nintendo game, you start out by learning the basics: You get instructions from your Switch, punch out the required pieces, crease them just so, and connect notches. That’s the vast majority of the Labo experience. Of course, things get more complicated for larger kits, but you’ll never stray too far from those core skills. It’s the same principle at work in a Mario game. Things may get harder, but ultimately you can beat them with what you learn in the first few levels.

While you could just jump straight into the Labo Robot Kit, the Variety package is the smarter choice, since it offers more to do, and a gentler learning curve. It also features the simplest Labo project, the RC Car Toy-Con, which should take you around 10 minutes to build. It’s nothing more than a piece of cardboard folded up so it can hold two Joy-Cons. You can move it around remotely from the Switch using the HD rumble vibration feature.

Sure, that might not seem exciting, but it gives you a glimpse at Labo’s real secret: unlocking crazy new uses for the Switch’s hardware. Plenty of kits use HD rumble in some form, but they also take advantage of the accelerometers and gyroscopes in the controllers. Most interestingly, Labo finally puts the right Joy-Con’s infrared sensor to good use. It can track motion, gestures and distance, and it’s something almost every Labo kit relies on. With the piano, for example, it tracks the movement of white stickers behind the keys to figure out what you’re pressing. And with the robot, the IR sensor measures the placement of the backpack’s pistons, which is how it moves your giant robot arms and legs on the Switch’s screen.

That all might sound complex, but Nintendo makes the process of building Labo kits relatively painless. The Switch’s on-screen instructions are clear and precise, and it’s also pretty obvious that Nintendo’s copywriters are having a lot of fun. The tone of their language is breezy and approachable — at one point while building the motorbike Toy-Con, the instructions reminded me to fold in one obscure notch by saying “don’t forget about this guy.” That goes a long way towards making the build experience less of a slog. You can use the touchscreen to get a better view every step of the way, by either panning around the 3D models of the pieces or zooming into a specific section. Both are helpful if you’re having trouble getting some pieces to connect.

The actual construction process is straightforward, but I quickly learned that the main obstacle with Labo is time. You’ll have to devote at least two hours to every kit, and more if you’re helping a kid along. It took me three and a half hours to put the bike together, and that’s not particularly complex. The fishing rod, which features a unique crank and string mechanism, took around four hours, and the piano another three.

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Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

The Labo robot kit feels like a boss battle — it’s incredibly complicated and took close to five hours to finish. Of course, I wasn’t diving into Labo in an ideal way. I was pushing myself to complete as many kits as I could for this review. I’d imagine many consumers would treat Labo like a huge jigsaw puzzle or model kit — an ongoing project that you enjoy at your leisure. I could see parents and kids devoting a weekend to a single Labo kit, giving them ample time to actually play with it later in the week.

I found something almost meditative about the Labo building process. There’s something relaxing about sitting in a comfy spot and creasing cardboard for hours on end. And once you’re done, you have a creation you can be proud of.

Cardboard gaming

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Aaron Souppouris/Engadget

Your reward for completing each Labo kit are small games tailored to their cardboard hardware. Some are relatively simple, like the virtual race track you can play with the Motorbike. It’s a fun proof of concept, thanks to accurate motion controls, but it didn’t hold my attention for too long. The track is pretty simple, and your only goal is to collect as many balloons as you can. You can also build your own tracks, which is where I think most Labo owners will spend more of their time.

I had a lot more fun with the Labo fishing game. The rod is a joy to use and it’s one of the few games to use the Switch in a vertical orientation. It all goes a long way towards making you feel like you’re actually fishing. Once again, the motion controls shine, letting you adjust your virtual reel by moving physically. It does a surprisingly good job of recreating the feeling of sitting on a dock and waiting for a bite to come in. And you’ll know when you get one, thanks to the HD rumble Feedback.

I’m no musician, but I was impressed by the versatility of the Toy-Con piano. It only has thirteen keys, yet it’s enough for you to create a few tunes. The “Toy Piano” mode technically offers 1 ½ octaves, allowing you to reach 10 notes with the pitch toggle. A few accessories also let you turn the piano notes into a gleeful chorus, a bunch of meowing cats, or groaning old men. It’s weird, but kids will love it. (I imagine parents might get annoyed, but that’s easily solved with a pair of headphones.)

The more advanced “Studio Piano” mode covers five octaves, but they’re even tougher to access with the flimsy toggle button. You can also record tunes there, but since I’m not even a piano novice, I didn’t spend much time in that mode. I was surprised Nintendo didn’t have any piano tutorials available with the Toy-Con — it’s the perfect way to teach first-timers the basics. (Engadget’s Aaron Souppouris disagrees, since even basic child keyboards let you use multiple octaves easily.)

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Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

I also had a blast with the Robot Toy-Con, which is really more of a exo-suit. It’s made up of a large backpack, two foot straps, two arm control straps (which you simply grip onto) and a visor for head-tracking. The backpack is the real brains of the kit: It houses the pistons and strings that are used to track your virtual robot’s movement. Once I got everything no (which, admittedly, was a bit of a struggle), I was able to virtually traverse a city as a giant machine, smash buildings and punch enemies into oblivion. You move by taking large steps, and punch by pulling the arm straps forward.

It’s the one Toy-Con that works best with the Switch docked, since you’ll want to see your carnage on a big screen. You can also customize your robot, as well as battle a friend in a versus mode. Just a word of warning: If you’re very tall or have wide shoulders, there’s a chance the backpack might not fit.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to complete the Toy-Con house. It’s basically Nintendo’s modern spin on a dollhouse, with the Switch at the center. Inside lives a virtual pet that you can feed and interact with (and if you’re feeling mischievous, you can lift the house up and watch them bounce off the walls). You can also change the time of day, fill the house with water, and lull your pet to sleep using a few blocks, which plug into the side of the Toy-Con. By mixing and matching those accessories, you also unlock a few mini-games to play with your pet, like bowling and jump rope. Based on my time with it at the Labo preview event, it seems less intriguing than the other Toy-Cons, but it could be fun for kids who can’t handle complex motion controls.

Labo has tons of untapped potential hiding in the Toy-Con Garage, an advanced area that lets you build your own fun. You could, for example, create a makeshift electric guitar using the Joy-Cons, or change how the existing Toy-Cons work, using a simple interface. I didn’t have much time to explore the Garage, but it seems genuinely useful, especially once you get bored of the built-in Labo games. It could also be a useful tool for schools to teach rudimentary programming concepts.

Looking ahead

I wouldn’t be too surprised to see Nintendo make more Labo games for these Toy-Cons eventually. It only makes sense, since owners will eventually be hungry for more content. The company has also given us a glimpse at a few other Toy-Cons in Labo’s launch video, including a racing wheel, shotgun and camera. There’s no word on when those will arrive, but they’d clearly be a great way to rekindle interest during the holidays.

Since I’ve had less than a week with the kits, I don’t have a sense of their durability. But I was surprised by how sturdy they felt. Who knows what they’ll look like after a few months of heavy use, though. Nintendo has wisely made Labo sheets and accessories available at its online store, so you’ve got an option when you inevitably step on a Toy-Con. At $70 and $80, the Labo kits aren’t exactly cheap, but they’re in line with similar DIY toys, like Mattel’s Kamigami.

Wrap-up

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Kris Naudus/Engadget

While I had my doubts early on, Nintendo managed to deliver something truly unique with Labo. After getting us off our couches with the Wii, and bringing the power of console gaming anywhere with the Switch, Nintendo has now given us the tools to build our own gaming experiences.

26
Apr

Alexa will soon have a memory


You’d be forgiven for thinking that Amazon’s Alexa was an amnesiac: it can’t remember important long-term info, or even that you started talking to it a few moments ago. Soon, though, it’ll be considerably less forgetful. Amazon’s Ruhi Sarikaya has detailed a string of upgrades to Alexa that promise more natural conversations, particularly about familiar subjects. Most notably, Alexa devices in the US will soon have a memory: you can tell the voice assistant to remember an important fact (say, a friend’s birthday) and bring that up later.

You also won’t have to use Alexa’s hotword every time you ask a follow-up question, much like Google Assistant. In the US, UK and Germany, the helper will soon answer secondary questions more naturally: if you ask “how’s the weather,” you can ask “how about this weekend” afterward. Amazon is also using its deep learning know-how to allow follow-ups that span across categories. If you ask “how’s the weather in New York City,” for instance, you can ask “how long does it take to get there” — Amazon will know you’re still talking about NYC even though you’ve switched from weather to traffic.

Amazon is also addressing one of the common gripes for voice assistants: that need to mention a third-party skill by name to use it. In the next few weeks, Alexa will use machine learning to find the relevant skill on its own. If you ask how to remove an oil stain from your shirt, Alexa will call up the Procter & Gamble skill to walk you through removing that unsightly mark. It’s going to be limited at first, and could be annoying if it points you to the wrong skill, but it beats having to discover a skill in order to try it.

Sarikaya readily admitted that there are plenty of challenges left, not the least of which is helping Alexa choose from “tens of thousands” of Alexa skills. Remember how researchers recently created a skill that could listen in to conversations? And we’d add that voice assistants are still a long, long way from their sci-fi counterparts — they may deliver the right answers, but they don’t truly understand you. Still, this could go a long way toward eliminating the awkward, robotic conversations you frequently experience today.

Via: TechCrunch

Source: Amazon Alexa Blogs

26
Apr

Someday, every piece of a person will be replaceable


In the past half decade, medical science has made tremendous advances in reproductive organ transplant techniques. In the span of just four years, we’ve seen the first successful penile transplant, the first child born from a transplanted uterus, and as of Monday, the world’s first full male genital transplant surgery. During the 14 hour marathon operation, a team of doctors from Johns Hopkins University grafted the penis and scrotum from a donor cadaver onto a US military member who had had his own genitals destroyed during his service in Afghanistan.

What’s even more wild is that this isn’t just a state of the art medical procedure, it’s par for the course on terms of transplant technology. “Transplants are a very exciting field right now, very exciting time and there’s a lot going on,” Dr. Jonathan D’Cunha, Associate Professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery and Chief of the Lung Transplant Division at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, told Engadget. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s general urinary transplant or lungs or heart or liver, kidney, they all have different aspects or components to them which we’re trying to push the field further and further.”

D’Cunha cites the recent development of Ex Vivo Lung Perfusion (EVLP) technology, which is used to prevent donor lungs from swelling during transport, keeping them viable for longer periods of time.

“Many patients who are waiting for lungs or can’t get a lung transplant because the donor supply is so limited,” he said. “So we’re always looking to improve things and expand the donor pool and new technologies are under development by many investigators to try to achieve this goal.”

Typically, when a set of donor lungs become available D’Cunha’s team first assess the organ’s quality through the United Network for Organ Sharing system, Donor Net, and by reviewing medical imaging data like chest X-rays, CT scans or the bronchoscopy. UPMC will often then send out a team of specialists to inspect the donor organs in person “which is an expensive process,” D’Cunha points out, “but nevertheless, that’s the best way.”

For questionable quality donor lungs, “that’s where EVLP helps you in the assessment because you can harvest those lungs and bring them back to your institution, pump them, see how good they are, and decide whether to use them or not,” he continued. But even with this advantage, D’Cunha explains that only around 20 percent of potential organ donations end up actually being used but that figure could likely be increased through a combination of technology and old fashioned outreach.

“Having the time to assess [donor organs] properly and make good judgments so you have a good patient outcome is absolutely critical,” D’Cunha said. “Additionally, what the future may hold with things like Ex Vivo Lung Perfusion is the opportunity to even repair or intervene on lungs to make them better.”

Turns out that the efficient transportation of an organ across the country isn’t the most difficult part of its inter-person journey. “The biggest challenge, of course, is what the transplant comes to experience in the post-transplant care,” Dr. Ron Gill, Professor of Surgery and Immunology at the University of Colorado, Denver and president of the American Society of Transplantation, told Engadget. “Unfortunately, with any kind of transplant, any kind of tissue or organ transplant from one person to another, the immune system recognizes as foreign.”

“Since the 1980s we’ve used non-specific chemical immune suppression,” he continued. “Basically, you inhibit the immune system globally in hopes that you’ll keep from rejecting the transplant.” That could soon change with the next generation of targeted therapies. “Instead of just suppressing the immune system, it’s essentially guiding it,” he said. “Because we know that the immune system essentially can be taught to accept new tissues as the being self,” a process known as immunotolerance.

Of course, we could simply endaround the immune system entirely by leveraging stem cell and bioprinting technologies. We just have to wait for them to become commercially viable, is all. “We talk about something as complex as an actual organ,” Gill said. “Or a kidney, like actually growing a kidney from a person’s own cells, that’s a real challenge.”

Despite the potent possibilities promised by regenerative medicine, the field of study is still very much in its infancy. First developed in the mid-1990s, these techniques have to date only been used in a handful of transplant operations. In 2008, for example, a team of researchers from the Hospital Clínic de Barcelona successfully seeded a decellularised segment of donor trachea with a patient’s own stem cells before implanting it into the patient himself. And, in 2014, a Japanese septuagenarian became the world’s first recipient of cells derived from induced pluripotent stem cells when surgeons grafted a tiny sheet of retinal pigment epithelium cells into her eye to counter the effects of age-related macular degeneration.

So until those methods fully mature, we’re going to have to rely on the existing organ donation infrastructure, though that too has been decimated by the implementation of transportation safety standards like seatbelts and bicycle helmets. To increase the viable donor pool, “I think that getting more awareness and more people signed up for organ donation is the number one thing we can do to ensure that we’re just getting more opportunities,” D’Cunha said.

“The area to change in the future is living donor transplantation. For a long time we’ve not only been relying on cadaveric donors but also living donors for kidneys and that’s extended now into liver transplants,” Gill continued. “So that expands through the expansive number of transplants that can be done, because we know numerically the biggest problem with transplantation isn’t even the transplant. It’s the waiting list.”

“I think that education, awareness, potentially even changes in policies towards organ donations,” D’Cunha said, “those are all things which really could have a huge impact on how lungs and other organs are allocated to patients in need.”

“If you think about it, if you had 100 patients who passed away and you could only use 20 lungs out of those 100 patients, for example,” he continued. “If you could increase the number of donors to 200, all of a sudden you’re talking about 40 lungs, which is double the number of lungs.”

Coincidentally, April is Donate Life Month.

26
Apr

Award-Winning Cablewings Add Power Cord Storage Back to Your Mac’s Charger


German company brezzl today announced it is now accepting pre-orders for its Cablewings cable management solution for Apple power adapters.

Cablewings
Cablewings are small plastic pieces that attach to an Apple power adapter and have small spikes that can hold a wrapped up power cord. They are compatible with Apple’s USB-C power adapters for all 2015 and later MacBook and 2016 and later MacBook Pro models, and they also work with Apple’s iPad and iPhone chargers.

The product is inspired by Apple’s older Mac power adapters that used to have pop-out cable holders. Apple’s latest USB-C power adapters for MacBooks no longer have this feature, as the power cord is no longer affixed to the charger.

Apple’s previous Mac power adapters with pop-out cable holders
Cablewings are a simple but useful product, especially for those who travel, and recently received a 2018 Red Dot Design Award in Germany. They are a rather pricy $18 each or available in a two-pack for $30 in the United States, with prices varying in other countries. Orders are estimated to begin shipping in June.
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