Magic Leap One launch a mixed bag after years of promises

Magic Leap calls itself a “spatial computing” company, but it produces what most people call augmented or mixed reality experiences: hologram-like objects projected into three-dimensional space. Modern smartphones offer a primitive version of mixed reality, and headsets like Microsoft HoloLens offer a more advanced version for industrial and professional use.

CEO Rony Abovitz claimed that Magic Leap’s hardware will “transcend what can be contained in a physical product.” He announced the company with a 2012 TedX talk in which he donned a full space suit and spoke for 30 seconds. Today, he won’t even confirm it was him in the suit.

The Magic Leap One Creator Edition is aimed at artists and developers, but Abovitz stresses that it’s a “full-blown, working consumer-grade product,” not a prototype. AT&T will even offer demos to customers in some of its stores later this year. “We think it’s at the border of being practical for everybody,” says Abovitz. “Our whole thing with Magic Leap One is, we want people to realize this is what computing should look like — not [laptops], not TVs, not phones.”

The Magic Leap One is a three-piece system that includes a headset called Lightwear, a small wearable computer called the Lightpack, and a handheld controller.

Like every mixed reality company, Magic Leap eventually wants to make a normal-looking pair of glasses that can be worn everywhere. For now, the headset is only guaranteed to work indoors, and it includes Bluetooth and Wi-Fi antennas, but no mobile data options. AT&T has already committed to selling a future version with wireless data plans, though, and Abovitz says you can use the current version “at your own risk” outside.

Still, Magic Leap is one of the best (if not the best) pieces of mixed reality hardware on the market today. But after all of Magic Leap’s descriptions of its unique hyper-advanced light field technology, it didn’t feel categorically different from something like HoloLens — which was released two years ago, and has a second generation on the horizon. I’m not convinced Magic Leap’s photonics chip is practically that different from other mixed reality waveguides, or that Magic Leap is doing something other companies couldn’t replicate.

But instead of showcasing the strength of its possibilities, my Magic Leap One app demos kept highlighting the weaknesses of its technology. I could imagine replacing my television with a virtual screen, but not one that clips in half when I’m not staring straight at it. I kept forgetting where I’d placed small virtual objects in a room. Full-room experiences, like the beautiful underwater seascape of Tonandi, always felt clearly artificial. The issue wasn’t just technical limits, it was apps that didn’t seem designed to work well within those limits.

So unless Magic Leap is deliberately holding any big projects for a consumer release, I’m not sure what its internal studios and partners have been doing with several years and virtually unlimited funding, and why it wouldn’t showcase more of their work during the Magic Leap One’s big debut.

Why it’s hot

With nearly every big tech company making a play for mixed reality, it’s an area ready for disruption. Early adopters are ready for a big step forward, but at over $2.2k, it’s not clear that Magic Leap One will really meet that need for everyone. With the failure of Google Glass, what will it take for a mixed reality hardware to be widely adopted?

Read more at The Verge:

Tech workers take action

Workers in technology and innovation are standing up for what’s right and putting companies like Microsoft and Google in a position to make choices between profit and progress.

Just last week, Microsoft employees brought into sharp focus the overlap between Silicon Valley’s leading lights and the Trump administration’s cruelest abuses, when they released an open letter calling on their company to cease work as a contractor for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. According to the workers, Microsoft had a $19.4 million contract to help ICE develop its surveillance operations with data-processing and artificial-intelligence technology.

[…] the rebelling workers objected to any link to the agency that is ripping apart immigrant families and imprisoning refugees: “As the people who build the technologies that Microsoft profits from, we refuse to be complicit. We are part of a growing movement, comprised of many across the industry who recognize the grave responsibility that those creating powerful technology have to ensure what they build is used for good, and not for harm.”

Other companies including “Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Thomson Reuters, Motorola Solutions and Palantir all have active contracts with ICE, according to a public records search conducted by NBC News.”

 executives got a similar disruption earlier this year when employees learned of its partnership with the Pentagon on “Project Maven,” an effort to weaponize artificial intelligence. Google’s contract for the project, which involved “using machine learning to identify vehicles and other objects in drone footage,” according to Gizmodo, was folded into a broader set of corporate-federal “partnerships” aimed at enhancing agencies’ cloud-computing systems.

Why it’s hot

Lots of people are feeling powerless as we watch horrible acts of violence and bigotry tear families and communities apart. These workers taking action and calling out their own companies speaks to a sense of communal responsibility to stand up for what is right over what is profitable.


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Facebook launches gameshow platform with interactive videos

Some are saying Facebook’s latest interactive video polling features look familiar…

Facebook Gameshows

Rather than build its own HQ trivia competitor, Facebook is launching a gameshow platform. Today the company announced a new set of interactive live and on-demand video features that let creators add quizzes, polls, challenges and gamification so players can be eliminated from a game for a wrong answer.

“Video is evolving away from just passive consumption to more interactive two-way formats,” Facebook’s VP of video product Fidji Simo tells TechCrunch. “We think creators will want to reward people. If this is something that works with Insider and Confetti, we may consider rolling out payments tools.”

Why it’s hot

Facebook claims this latest move is an attempt to make videos more interactive for the sake of its users’ mental health, it seems more likely that the company is banking on the popularity of games like HQ to avoid a repeat of recent video failures. Allowing any creator to make an interactive video, Facebook seems to be hoping that partners like BuzzFeed will bring large audiences to the new feature.

Snap launches developer kit

Snap Kit lets developers like you integrate some of Snapchat’s best features across your platform — and lets your community share their favorite moments from your app with their friends, and Snapchatters across the world!


Why it’s hot

Snap understands that other apps are copying its core functionality. Rather than sprawling out and trying to make its own product even bigger, the company is attempting to keep itself in the center by disseminating the functionality and making it something anyone can add to their product.

Tech gossip roundup

After Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp, the two teams seemed to have difficulty merging culturally, with the founders of WhatsApp expressing concerns over the potential commercial applications of their platform versus the maintenance of user privacy. Even more telling in the wake of the founders’ public split with Facebook is that the campus itself became a place of tensions between the two teams. According to WSJ,

Some Facebook staffers considered the WhatsApp unit a mystery and sometimes poked fun at it. After WhatsApp employees hung up posters over the walls instructing hallway passersby to “please keep noise to a minimum,” some Facebook employees mocked them with chants of “Welcome to WhatsApp—Shut up!”

A sign in WhatsApp’s offices at Facebook headquarters. Some Facebook employees mocked WhatsApp with chants of ‘Welcome to WhatsApp—Shut up!’

Why it’s hot

Charged contributor Owen Williams has the tl;dr on this situation

Both WhatsApp founders have now left the company, and Facebook is getting what it’s always wanted: a way to monetize the product with its 400 million active ‘Status’ users…

Read the story about WhatsApp, and how it attempts to paint the founders as exasperated by losing a billion over resigning early, then consider the naiveté of selling your company to a advertising giant and being surprised when it wants you to monetize it with ads.

A surprise came early this week for the tech world and even employees of GitHub, with the news that the code repository had been sold to Microsoft. Few people even seemed to know that the company was up for sale, but it seems that the company that brought us both stable software for decades, as well as ironic icons like Clippy, narrowly beat out Google, Atlassian, Amazon, and Tencent for the chance to print their own Octocat stickers.

Williams notes in this week’s Charged:

it was almost a fire-sale price, in which no cash directly changed hands. The company was losing a lot of money, and it appears it decided pursuing acquisition actively was a better idea than trying to IPO.

While most people are excited about Microsoft’s track record for supporting software for decades, a few couldn’t resist the temptation to joke about the behemoth’s occasionally less-than-stellar product design track record.

Why it’s hot

Much of the code that powers what we know as the internet lives in GitHub, so the future of the platform is a hot topic for many developers, designers, and product teams. It seems that Microsoft has every intention of maintaining the service, but the future is relatively unknown at this point.


Microsoft announces new adaptive Xbox controller

Microsoft announced a new video game controller on Thursday, aimed at gamers with mobility limitations. Larger buttons and joysticks and an ecosystem of peripheral devices that plug directly into the game pad enable gamers with a variety of abilities to create a system that works for them and can be customized for any game they play on the platform.

The Xbox Adaptive Controller is the most flexible adaptive controller made by a major gaming company.

Made with the help of a community of disabled gamers, this system of controllers is an important step to opening up gaming to a wider community.

Patient Jonah Karpman, left, watches as Mike Luckett of Warfighter Engaged plays during Craig Hospital's gaming night.

Why it’s hot

Microsoft retail learning specialist Solomon Romney was born without fingers on his left hand and was an early tester and adopter of this new technology. To him, the new device is about inclusion.

Growing up, he was always “the other, the person on the outside, the one who’s different.” Even as an adult, he struggles with being around children, whose blunt observations can sting. A sense of belonging was something he craved but never had. Talking about what it means to have a device created for gamers like him, Romney becomes emotional, his eyes welling.

“It goes to the core of everything I am, everything I’ve grown up with, everything I’ve experienced,” he said. “It’s nice when a person considers you. It’s unbelievable when a company does it, when a company thinks about you, designs something for you.

“All of a sudden, I’m not the person on the outside.”


Is it illegal to cheat at video games?

While the legality of creating or distributing cheats or modifications to competitive video games has been explored through different lawsuits, a recent court case against a 14 year old explores a different aspect of cheating in video games.

In Epic Games v. Rogers, defendant C.R. (whose name has been redacted once it was discovered that he was a minor) is being sued by Fortnite studio Epic Games “for live-streaming himself using a cheat he found online and then linking out to it in the YouTube description box.”

“C.R. has a YouTube channel with over 8,000 subscribers. One day, he was live-streaming a demo of a Fortnite cheat when Epic issued a takedown. When YouTube took his video down, C.R. belligerently posted a second video in protest.”

From Epic Games v. Rogers

C.R. then created a new YouTube account to live stream the cheat again. This new video got taken down, prompting C.R. to file a DMCA counter-notification over the first video.

“i did noting rong this strike is all wrong i was modding in a video game that isnt against youtubes TOS Why was i striked!!!!”

It was probably this counter-notice that kicked off the unlikely lawsuit to begin with. The way that DMCA counter-notices work is that YouTube will keep the content offline for 10 days, but if the copyright claimant — in this case, Epic Games — files a legal action, YouTube has to continue to keep it offline. And that’s exactly what Epic Games did, before even realizing they were going after a 14-year-old. […]

By playing Fortnite without his mother’s permission, technically speaking, C.R. is outside of the EULA. But also technically speaking, playing Fortnite without being covered under the EULA might be a digital trespass, or worse, computer fraud and abuse. That might sound wild and ridiculous in a world where minors are almost certainly clicking through EULAs without their parents’ permission, but the whole underage internet exists on the precarious legal fiction that all these teens are being supervised by their parents, who are bound by these contracts that no one is actually reading.

But, minors can still get sued for copyright infringement, so this is interesting but irrelevant.

Epic Games is claiming that C.R. violated copyright law by modifying his version of Fortnite with a downloaded mod and then again violated copyright law by live streaming the game on YouTube.

Why it’s hot

Video game mods on YouTube are hugely popular, with series like Polygon’s “Touch The Skyrim,” “in which one host installs a bunch of weird mods on Skyrim and the other host plays through haplessly while trying to figure out what the mods do.” But the 1998 copyright decision Micro Star v. FormGen found that user-created levels within Duke Nukem were derivative works. While streamers might have a case for claiming fair use for something like “Touch The Skyrim,” the player versus player (PvP) mechanics of competitive games like Fortnite mean that mods can really harm the company’s profits. Epic Games is going after players create or distribute cheats for Fortnite, making in clear that they view cheating as a serious threat to their business. Some of the other defendants, however, have not responded with the same level of grativas.

It’s possible that C.R. would not have been sued if he hadn’t fought the DMCA notice or… doxed an Epic Games in-house lawyer… but “while everyone else who was caught in Epic’s shotgun blast of lawsuits late last year has either settled out or defaulted in court, C.R. is the last one remaining, defiantly posting videos as recently as two days ago.”

Read more at The Verge

Asking for gender identity or sex on forms

When asking for gender identity or sex on forms, it’s easy for designers and marketers, especially cis designers and marketers, to revert to binary options, or to conflate assigned or biological sex with gender identity. Luckily lots of people have written articles and guides to help with asking questions to help ensure that data captured is quality and that users feel confident in responding. Below are 7 tips for being more inclusive in gender forms from UX Collective writer Sabrina Fonseca.

  1. Give a reason for asking.
  2. Be clear about who is receiving this data for safety and privacy purposes.
  3. Make it optional or provide an “prefer not to say” option.
  4. Include options for “gender nonconforming”, “genderqueer”, or “questioning” responses.
  5. Ask for pronouns to make things simpler to parse, or just an open field.
  6. Allow for custom or complicated answers if you require more detailed information.
  7. Think about if it is really crucial to the information you are capturing.

Bonus: internationalization applies to questions of gender as well, as some cultures have their own labels and pronoun guidelines to follow.

Why it’s hot

Gender diversity inclusion is work. It requires thinking, training, researching, testing, testing, testing, iterating, and keeping up with labels. But it’s worth pursuing it as gender fluidity is likely to become a more and more widely accepted concept in our society. Trans & GNC people and their allies want to see organizations take action rather than just say they’re supportive. Accommodating for people’s different choices is part of that. So making a small change like this can be beneficial to your target audience, they will appreciate your effort and desire to listen, even if the first attempt is not perfect. – Sabrina Fonseca

Read more at UX Collective,, and Mailchimp

The latest Instagram influencer feud is noteworthy but maybe not for the reasons you think…

On Tuesday, the Instagram account of Miquela Sousa — also known as @LilMiquela, a 19-year-old Brazilian-American model, singer, and Instagram personality with almost a million followers — appeared to have been hacked by a blonde, pro-Trump troll named Bermuda, or @BermudaIsBae.

Why does this matter? Well, neither of them are real people. Both Miquela and Bermuda are computer generated avatars, created by anonymous users.

Lil Miquela, is a Brazilian-American model and singer from Los Angeles and has over 1 million followers on Instagram. She’s also on Tumblr and Twitter and has two singles on Spotify.

She’s thought to be a composite of a real woman and digital renderings, giving her postings an uncanny nature. She posts photos of herself with real people, wearing real clothes given to her by high-fashion brands like Chanel, Proenza Schouler, Supreme, and Vetements.

Fashion magazines including King KongV, and Paper, have all photographed her, and she now has her own press agents, who coordinate photo shoots as well as the gifting/borrowing of designer clothes.

Bermuda on the other hand, is a pro-Trump account with 50k followers (up from 2k before taking over Miquela’s account). Lil Miquela on the other hand, has openly supported immigrants’ rights and organizations like Black Lives Matter. The given cause for the hacking, however, is that Miquela is not being forthcoming enough about her identity. Keep in mind, neither of these people are real.

Naturally, there are a lot of theories out there, including that this is a sign the world is going to end today. (Still here!) Bermuda decided to “hack” Lil Miquela when she reached 2,222 followers. Lil Miquela was born on April 22, which is Sunday. Will Lil Miquela finally reveal herself (or himself/themselves) two years in? The timing feels right. And it feels particularly relevant to have a Trump troll responsible for the leak. Our main question right now, though, is whether or not Bermuda and Lil Miquela are actually colluding.

Why it’s hot

In spite of being one of the most ridiculous things on the internet this week, this Black Mirror style beef has people on the edge of their seats. These accounts, which might be working together to drum up more drama and prestige for themselves, demonstrate how blurred the line is between real and fake online. These accounts use digitally rendered people to make real money, from real brands. It also shows how political tensions can be hijacked by brands to increase visibility and capitalize on the internet’s insatiable lust for Drama.

Read more at The Cut

Neuroscience and the thoughts and minds of dogs

A scientist looking at how dogs think and relate to humans has trained about a dozen dogs to lie inside of fMRI machines and receive different stimuli. The result is a look inside the minds of dogs that indicates that their mental processes might mirror our own in more ways than previously imagined.


A dog undergoes training, learning how to rest its head on a pad without moving, so that scientists can scan his brain

A dog undergoes training, learning how to rest its head on a pad without moving, so that scientists can scan his brain. Photo by Helen Berns

As part of their first paper published on the work in 2012, they trained dogs to recognize two different hand signals: one that meant the animal would be given a piece of hot dog imminently, and one that meant no hot dog. As they hypothesized, the first signal triggered elevated activity in an area called the caudate nucleus, which is rich in receptors for dopamine (a neurotransmitter involved in the sensation of pleasure). In humans—and in dogs, the research indicated—caudate activity is related to the desire to have something that causes pleasure, and the satisfaction involved in obtaining it.

Subsequent tests showed that sensing familiar humans through sight and scent triggered similar reward receptors in dogs’ brains, possibly indicating the feeling of emotion similar to human emotion.

A dog in an fMRI, receiving one of the hand signals

A dog in an fMRI, receiving one of the hand signals

Why it’s hot

Pet owners already think of their animal friends as more than simply property, and are more likely to consider them members of the family than in previous generations. If studies like these can show that dogs truly feel emotions similar to humans, it might have implications for public policy and cultural sentiment.


Open Bionics’ Hero Arm is very cool

Open Bionics recently announced the upcoming launch of Hero Arm in 2018. The company has been working since 2014 to bring a new generation of bionic assistive devices that are affordable, comfortable, powerful, and stylish. Hero Arm is the result of that work; the world’s first medically certified, 3D printed bionic hand that will be available for upper limb amputees over the age of eight. The technology is fully open source, and they even have a robotic hand available for researchers to purchase and use for R&D.

Hero Arm responds to the muscle movements of the wearer’s upper arm, articulating individual fingers to perform the desired action. It features removable and customizable covers, meaning that wearers can create covers with colors and styles that suit their personality.

This technology is launching this Spring in the UK, and is slated to arrive internationally later this year.

Why it’s hot

Technological advancements are often intended for the already-elite, so companies developing solutions for disadvantaged users is always refreshing and good. Hero Arm does a great job at destigmatizing prosthetics by turning them into super powers. They’ve even partnered with Disney to create Marvel, Star Wars, and Frozen themed covers, bringing bionics fully into the mainstream.

“And the Grammy goes to… Lo-Fi Hip Hop Anime Chill Beats To Study and Relax To”

“Lo-fi Chill Beats Study Mix refers to a series of playlists featuring ambient trip-hop and hip-hop beats, often created for the purpose of studying or relaxing. They often feature noted producers such as Nujabes and J Dilla.”

You can find these mixes on Soundcloud, Spotify, and most popularly, YouTube, where they’ve become associated with anime and video game visuals, prompting a stream of memes and parody versions.

One of the most popular instances of this trend is ChilledCow’s live stream (above), which features different artists’ music. Users tune in and out as they like, and the comment stream is always full of appreciative fans from around the world.

Why it’s hot

Often times our goal with experiences is to engage and immerse the user, but this trend speaks to the other role of online experiences, which is to interact more passively with the user and even calm or relax them. Chillwave, ASMR, slow TV, and other trends speak to our need to slow down, chill out, and maybe relax or study.

Strangers looking at the moon is beautiful and pure

Filmmaker and space enthusiast Wylie Overstreet took his telescope onto the streets of Los Angeles to show strangers the moon, and recorded their reactions with his creative partner Alex Gorosh. They created a lovely short film about the process.

Why it’s hot

There are a couple of things that this film brought to mind. The first is how we engage people in experiences. Overstreet’s simple invitation of “Would you like to look at the moon?” is simple and enticing. He does not go into details about his telescope or astronomy, but allows people to see for themselves, untainted by anyone else’s expectations.

The second lesson is about demystifying science and technology and bringing it to people within the context of their everyday lives. The unexpected view of the moon, which is easily Googleable, elicited awe from the people in the film because it gave them a direct connection between the moon in the sky and the moon they were seeing. How can we aim to bring that feeling to people through digital experiences?

AI takes over an online knitting community

The latest in a series of irreverent AI projects by humorist and technologist Janelle Shane is interactive and focused around the online knitting community Ravelry.

Shane trained a type of neural network on a series of over 500 sets of knitting instructions. Then, she generated new instructions, which members of the Ravelry community have actually attempted to knit.

While Shane admits that she cannot understand the output of the neural network, but the devoted users of Ravelry have the necessary knowledge to put the instructions to the test.

The human-machine collaboration created configurations of yarn that you probably wouldn’t give to your in-laws for Christmas, but they were interesting. The user citikas was the first to post a try at one of the earliest patterns, “reverss shawl.” It was strange, but it did have some charisma.

Reverss Shawl, by Ravelry user citikas

Why it’s hot

We already rely on neural networks to do various code-based tasks for us, but few instances of artificial intelligence have crossed the digital-physical barrier quite like this one. Knitting instructions are like code, and while the neural network doesn’t understand how each bit of code relates to a physical stitch, the human knitters were able to interpret the code and make decisions about how to handle inconsistencies.

One user, bevbh, described some of the errors as like “code that won’t compile.” For example, bevbh gave this scenario: “If you are knitting along and have 30 stitches in the row and the next row only gives you instructions for 25 stitches, you have to improvise what to do with your remaining five stitches.”

The creations of SkyKnit are fully cyborg artifacts, mixing human whimsy and intelligence with machine processing and ignorance. And the misapprehensions are, to a large extent, the point.

OK and here are the rest of the projects, which are hilarious.

The SkyKnit design “fishcock” as interpreted by the Ravelry user BellaG

An attempt to knit the pattern “tiny baby whale Soto” by the user GloriaHanlon

Read more at The Atlantic

Chrome Music Lab makes music education fun and accessible

Google recently released Song Maker, the latest web-based music tool from Chrome Music Lab. All of the previous tools in Music Lab have been intended to demonstrate and visualize concepts like chords and oscillators. In “Song Maker,” users can create music with drums and melody and have the power to change instruments, adjust the tempo, and set the key. Even with little to no music training, it’s easy to make fun little songs in no time at all. It’s also compatible with MIDI keyboards.

My favorite one to play with is Kandinsky, inspired by artist Wassily Kandinsky, where each shape you draw becomes a sound in your masterpiece.

Kandinsky inspired masterpiece

Why it’s hot

These are great examples of interactive demos that aren’t too open ended to be fun. I could (but definitely did NOT) waste a ton of time making little tunes, giving Google my time and attention and probably training a neural network or two for them.

Read more about Song Maker on Pitchfork, and play around with the full suite of tools on Chrome Music Lab

Improved AI-powered photo stylization

A team of students and researchers has developed an improved algorithm for stylizing the content of one photo using another photo as a style reference. According to the research paper, “experimental results show that the stylized photos generated by our algorithm are twice more preferred by human subjects in average. Moreover, our method runs 60 times faster than the state-of-the-art approach.”

Previous methods at automated photo stylization have focused on matching color statistics and while they “[show] impressive performance for artistic style transfer (converting images to paintings), [they] often [introduce] structural artifacts and distortions (e.g., extremely bright colors) when applied to the photorealistic image style transfer task.” The new method, diagrammed in the image below, involves two discrete steps, stylizing and smoothing. The styling step (F1) maps the content photograph (Ic) to an intermediate image (middle) with the style of the style photograph (Is). The second smoothing step (F2) then removes artifacts and anomalies introduced by the first step, producing a more photorealistic result (right).

Why it’s hot

While there are certainly some Black Mirror-ish implications that come along with the ability to manipulate images to create fake photorealistic photos, this development is also an exciting move in our understanding of neural networks and accommodating for their limitations. It’s exciting to think of the creative possibilities of bringing new life to old photographs and possibly, eventually, movies?

Read the full report and see more amazing examples

What your smart devices are telling companies about you

A Gizmodo reporter set up a smart house using countless gadgets to connect as many appliances to the internet as possible. Her mission was to find out what it was like living in a house where everything was only a voice command away.

At the same time, her colleague set up access to her home’s router, receiving all of the information each device was sending to her internet service provider.

What they discovered is two-fold. The first is that a shocking amount of information is sent, unencrypted, from smart devices. This includes shows watched on Hulu, the images of suggested Netflix content, whether your motion-activated camera has been triggered recently, and whether your smart lightbulbs have come on or been adjusted.

The second is that setting up this type of house on one’s own is a burdensome task. The author buys two separate coffee makers before realizing that a third would have been better suited to her setup. Countless notifications from robot vacuums, coffee makers, security cameras, and more made her anxiety skyrocket, and that was before she even realized how much that data was being shared.

Why it’s hot

It’s exciting to imagine a world where everything in your home works in perfect harmony and effortlessly takes care of your domestic needs, but the reality is that most people only have a couple of smart devices in their homes and don’t take full advantage of the suite of possibilities. When we design smart interactions, we should be mindful of the mental and emotional toll that things like notifications, alerts, alarms, and pings will have on users.

I thought the house would take care of me but instead everything in it now had the power to ask me to do things. Ultimately, I’m not going to warn you against making everything in your home smart because of the privacy risks, although there are quite a few. I’m going to warn you against a smart home because living in it is annoying as hell.

A new study uses smartphones to measure the effect of nature on mood

It’s probably not surprising to hear that people with access to natural surroundings report better moods. But a new study entitled “Urban Mind: Using Smartphone Technologies to Investigate the Impact of Nature on Mental Well-Being in Real Time” brings up two interesting points: the fact that this effect doesn’t not immediately stop once exposure to nature ends, and the way in which this data was obtained.

To determine the connection, researchers used a smartphone app called Urban Mind that pushes short surveys to recipients at different intervals throughout the day. Users who accept the notification can geo-tag their location, and then answer several questions about their immediate surroundings. There’s a delay button if you’re busy, but the notice times out after 30 minutes.

Users were asked questions like “Are you indoors or outdoors? Can you see trees? Can you see the sky? Can you hear birds singing? Can you see or hear water? Do you feel in contact with nature?” and asked to photograph or record audio of their surroundings.

Two a half hours later–about when the next assessment ping arrived–it appears that all of those classic natural associations still had a substantial mood-lifting effect. On days when check-ins showed that people got a little dose of nature beforehand, they stayed in better spirits for longer periods of time. Among people with higher traits of impulsivity, those effects were magnified even more.

Why it’s hot

Because this study was performed on a smartphone app and participants were selected on social media, it was very non-inclusive. But initial findings like this from small-scale research could help unlock behavior that is harder to observe under strictly-controlled studies. Creating an app for research is a heavy lift, but it could point to meaningful discovery for larger impact later on.

Read more on FastCompany

Square Cash explains bitcoin in a way I can finally understand

Although the idea of a blockchain is simple enough – a ledger that securely tracks a list of events or records – the idea of cryptocurrency is slightly more complex. Where does it come from? Why does it have value? How does someone buy it? What do you do with it once you have it?

Thankfully, Square’s Cash understands this struggle and has launched an explainer on Bitcoin with language that even a child could understand. Called “My First Bitcoin and the Legend of Satoshi Nakamoto”, the page introduces brief explanations of cryptocurrency and the blockchain with illustrations of adorable creatures and wobbly parallax interactions. It answers all of our burning questions, and sticks the landing by encouraging readers to buy their first slice of cryptocurrency using Cash.

Why it’s hot

Unlike lengthy explainers that dive too deep into the nitty gritty of bitcoin mining, blockchain technologies, and secure storage methods, this colorful and friendly page covers a truly introductory view of cryptocurrency. From here, a user could chose to dive deeper into any one area, use Cash to jump into purchasing with both feet, or just feel confident nodding knowingly when Bitcoin comes up in conversation.

Learn more at Cash

Posted in CX

Silicon Valley billionaires drinking bacteria-laced puddle water

For over three years, people living in Flint, Michigan have not had access to clean drinking water.

Water fountains in Flint, Michigan

Most of us take for granted the fact that the water that comes out of our kitchen faucets and water fountains is free of disease-causing bacteria and contaminants. For some, however, the inclusion of fluoride in our clean and safe drinking water is not evidence of a government providing a modicum of preventative dental care, but of mind control. For these few, there is a solution in raw water.

What is raw water? Simply put, it’s “unfiltered, untreated water bottled directly from springs and streams”. In other terms? It’s dirty water. This is what Dr. Donald Hensrud, the director of the Healthy Living Program at the Mayo Clinic, said about raw water:

“Without water treatment, there’s acute and then chronic risks,” Dr. Hensrud said, including E. coli bacteria, viruses, parasites and carcinogenic compounds that can be present in untreated water. “There’s evidence all over the world of this, and the reason we don’t have those conditions is because of our very efficient water treatment.”

Untreated water from Live Water is packaged for shipment

Untreated water, like these bottles from Live Water, should be discarded after a few months, founder Mukhande Singh (né Christopher Sanborn) said: “If it sits around too long, it’ll turn green.”

Drinking unprocessed and unfiltered water is not new. According to the New York Times, “The crusade against adding fluoride to public water began in the 1950s among Americans who saw danger in the protective measures that had been adopted over decades to protect the populace from disease and contamination.” But now this fringe conspiracy theory is entering mainstream grocery stores and health food chains, thanks to Silicon Valley startups, including, Doug Evans, founder of the defunct juicing company Juicero. He is joined in his fervor against fluoridated water by Alex Jones, founder of the right-wing website Infowars, who long argues that fluoride was added to water to make people more docile.

Why It’s Hot

Silicon Valley and startups are celebrated for innovation and problem solving, but there is an increasing awareness at the bubble formed by these communities of privilege operating with little oversight and regulation. As we move forward with new ideas and creative problem solving, we must think about the ethics of our actions and work.

The Daily Beast article sums up why this is so important:

Every year, 2 million people die worldwide because of waterborne diarrheal diseases due to lack of safe drinking water. No doubt the 1 million victims of Yemen’s cholera outbreak would have given anything to turn on a tap and know what was coming out wouldn’t sicken or kill them. Citizens of developed nations like the United States have such plentiful access to safe drinking water that we think nothing of using it to bathe and wash, as well. There is no example of blinkered, mindless privilege more sickening, both literally and figuratively, than having access to such a huge societal good—but deciding you’re better off without.

Read more at the Daily Beast and New York Times

This sticker can fool AI vision systems

Researchers have generated imagery that can fool AI vision systems, like those on self-driving cars, into thinking they see something. While this technology has been around for a while, researchers at Google recently developed a method for printing these images on stickers.

Unlike other adversarial attacks, they don’t need to be tuned based on the image they’re trying to override, nor does it matter where they appear in the AI’s field of view. Here’s what it looks like in action, with a sticker that turns a banana into a toaster:


Although adversarial images can be disconcertingly effective, they’re not some super magic hack that works on every AI system every time. Patches like the one the Google researchers created take time and effort to generate, and usually access to the code of the vision systems they’re targeting. The problem, as research like this shows, is that these attacks are slowly getting more flexible and effective over time. Stickers might just be the start.


Why it’s hot

As we rely more on AI with access to vision systems to unlock our phones, drive our cars, open our doors, and more, vulnerabilities of such systems will become apparent. As will all emerging technology, there are risks of misuse and neglect, but there are also brilliant computer scientists and information security professionals working to keep us from living episodes of Black Mirror. The more we understand about their work, the safer we become and the easier their jobs become as well.

The world of Assassin’s Creed Origins included an archeological discovery before it was discovered…

Catch up on the exploratory mode in Assassin’s Creed Origins in this post from Betsy

In early October of this year, a new discovery was announced in the Pyramid of Giza. “Scientists had discovered a previously undetected open space in Egypt’s 4,500-year-old Great Pyramid of Giza.” [Kotaku]

The discovery was made possible through the unlikely intersection of archaeology and particle physics. By making meticulous measurements of muons—elementary particles that rain down on Earth from deep space and are capable of traveling through solid objects—researchers were able to characterize the densities within the pyramid, revealing the presence of an empty space that measures at least 100 feet (30 meters) in length. [Gizmodo]

The void in the Pyramid of Giza as featured in Assassin's Creed Origins

The void in the Pyramid of Giza as featured in Assassin’s Creed Origins

But before November, this space–which researchers specifically avoid referring to as a “chamber” or other architectural-sounding term, preferring instead to call it a “void”–was merely a “disputed theory by French architect Jean-Pierre Houdin about how the entire pyramid was built.” [Kotaku]

So how did it get into a video game that released the same month? Assassin’s Creed developers worked closely with historian Maxime Durand to create the latest iteration of the popular franchise. According to Durand:

“We have long believed that Jean-Pierre Houdin’s theories about the inner ramps and royal circuit with two antechambers inside the Great Pyramid are probably the most credible, which is why we decided to use them in the game, […] We were betting on the fact that these secret locations inside of the Great Pyramid would probably be discovered in the near future, so we wanted to allow players the chance to visit them in advance.”

Origins’ depiction of a room that would have been used for turning the heavy blocks as they were dragged up long straight internal ramps and stacked to continue building the pyramid from the inside out.

“Origins’ depiction of a room that would have been used for turning the heavy blocks as they were dragged up long straight internal ramps and stacked to continue building the pyramid from the inside out.” – Kotaku

Why it’s hot

Including the void in the game experience allows users to explore speculative history. While the entering the pyramid is optional, the developers put an tempting side challenge inside, encouraging players to explore and learn more about what the interior might have looked like. Most importantly, perhaps, this fortunate inclusion has given the news of the discovery a second audience in players eager to explore the latest discovery in a way that would otherwise be impossible.

Learn more about the feature in Assassin’s Creed Origins at, and read more about the discovery of the void at

Chobani rebrands in an attempt to outpace the competition

In an attempt to stay ahead of the curve, distance itself from similar products, and shake the potentially negative implications of association with it’s manufacturer, multinational food-production corporation Danone, yogurt and snack brand Chobani announced a rebrand late last month. The new look is more abstract, colorful, and painterly, eschewing photos of fruit and perfectly white packaging in favor of colorful illustrations and bone packaging.



Why it’s hot

The new packaging and illustration style is already visible on the website, but many key elements retain the old branding and typography. This pastiche creates a jarring view of a company transitioning, attempting to find its place in a market where some consumers are wary of big food brands. A redesign this big could prove a challenge, “eliminating a shelf appearance that shoppers are already accustomed to.” Whether shoppers will be swayed by a bright color palette and playful abstractions is yet to be determined.

New, cutting-edge technology lets you… call a website on your phone.

Ok, so maybe it is not on the forefront of new technology, but artist Marc Horowitz’s new website makes wonderful use of existing and familiar technology to bring the experience of a guided museum tour into a new light.

A conceptual artist, Horowitz felt his work needed additional context to be fully appreciated, but did not want to go the traditional route of adding lots of text or creating a video for his portfolio. Instead, created an experience that is part audio tour, part podcast, and part interactive website.

At first glance, HAWRAF’s design looks like a pretty standard portfolio. There are tabs at the top, with images below that represent 32 projects dating all the way back to 2001. But the designers, inspired by the audio tours you’ve probably experienced at a museum or gallery, added another element of interaction. In big block text at the top of the website, it says, “Call 1-833-MAR-CIVE.” When you do, you can hear the artist himself tell you stories about each project by simply dialing the reference number below each image.

As an added bonus, users can choose to read the descriptions rather than dial in, making the experience not only unique, but also accessible for the hearing-impaired.

Why it’s hot

As brands and agencies scramble to adopt bleeding edge technology and embrace the latest trends, it’s worth remembering that existing tools and technology can still be harnessed in interesting and new ways. Fitting the experience to the needs of the brand and the user will always result in a more useful and lasting experience than something ill-suited but fashionable

Learn more at or on

D&D is cool now, just maybe not in the way you’d expect

Published in 1974 and long used as a shorthand for kids that got shoved in lockers, Dungeons & Dragons has found a new uprising in popularity, in no small part thanks to online platforms like Twitch, YouTube, and podcasts.

What was once relegated to basements and the back of boardgame stores is now front and center in online culture and beyond, as evidenced by the popularity of the D&D-loving crew of Stranger Things. Much like a Netflix show, D&D has become wildly popular as performance art, a spectator sport of liveplay gaming. And the genre of role-playing games (RPGs) have been gaining popularity at an incredible pace in the past few years, with D&D having its most profitable year ever in 2016, and being on track to pass it in 2017.

According to [Nathan Stewart, senior director of Dungeons & Dragons], the total unique hours of D&D liveplay content on Twitch have doubled every year since 2015. These are mostly grassroots productions, but Stewart says the Dungeons & Dragons team is now “aggressively” investing in the scene as well, filling its official Twitch channel with more than 50 weekly hours of liveplay programming…

The programs on D&Ds Twitch channel intentionally span locations and demographics. “We’re trying to show a pretty diverse group of people playing D&D,” Stewart says […] “It’s a value of the company. We want people to feel accepted and welcome in our groups.”

Force Grey is a popular livecast that has featured movie stars, comics, voice actors, and writers and is led by voice actor Matthew Mercer. The episode below is the first of a series starring Chris Hardwick, Shelby Fero, Ashley Johnson, Jonah Ray, and Utkarsh Ambudkar.

Why it’s hot

At the core of most of these shows is a group of friends playing a game and having fun together. It’s collaborative and cooperative in a way that the rest of the world often isn’t, and online platforms provide viewers a window into that space.

For more videos, podcasts, and interviews, visit The Verge or Polygon

Sideways dictionary is like a friend who knows more about technology than you…

…and is really good at explaining it in fun, and sometimes weird, analogies.

This project, a collaboration between The Washington Post and Google’s Jigsaw, offers users the chance to look up technology and information security terms like “Blockchain” and “OAuth” and have them explained without technical jargon or nerdy derision. For instance, “Machine Learning” is described as:

It’s like the game Pictionary. If you have to draw a sheep, you don’t spend three days crafting a photo-realistic, intricately textured representation of a particular breed. You sketch the basic defining characteristics – fluffy body, four legs, head – and hope your team-mate isn’t overly literal. 

Users can add analogies and up-vote existing examples they found interesting or helpful. So if “It’s like the Berners Street hoax that took place in London in 1810” doesn’t immediately help you understand “DDoS Attack,” then maybe “It’s like 20 sumo wrestlers trying to get through a revolving door at the same time” will make more sense.

Why it’s hot

Knowing more about technical terms helps when information security is on the line, and Sideways Dictionary ensures that anyone can start from wherever they are in technical know-how. It might not teach you the ins and outs of how to use a VPN to protect your credentials, but it will at least make sure you understand that a “Virtual Private Network is like Harry Potter and his Cloak of Invisibility.”

Honda shows off a cute and high-tech food stand

At this year’s Tokyo Motor Show, Honda debuted what they call “’a unique form of electric mobility” that was “born to make each person’s ideas and dreams come true.” Its “use is limited only by the imagination.’

Or in other words, it’s a self-driving cooler with LED eyes.”

RoboCas, a cooler-shaped robot with a a telescoping awning

Hello, RoboCas

But Honda has big dreams for this little friend, imagining uses from food vendors to family beach holidays. Honda imagines people using it to open cafes or curry shops wherever they may roam. RoboCas “can follow people in its unique, cute way, bringing happiness and joy to everyone,” the company says. There’s also a Windows tablet stuck on the back, if that helps.

A mobile food vendor prepares her cafe while a man and child sit at a table, ready to order

Could RoboCas change the way mobile food vendors set up shop?

Learn more at the Verge

UPS dog Facebook page is good for our hearts and good for their business

UPS has been all over social media thanks to an effort by some of the drivers to bring some cheer into everyone’s life.

Sean McCarren, who has been driving for UPS for 17 years, started UPS Dogs five years ago for himself and other UPS drivers to share photos of dogs (and cats) that they meet during their rounds. Many drivers carry treats for their four-legged customers, some of whom have learned that the arrival of a big brown truck means snacktime.

Why it’s hot

Although the page is not officially associated with UPS, the company is making it known that they approve of spirit of the group, telling BuzzFeed News, “It’s a good example of the relationships our employees build with their customers, two- or four-legged!”

According to MRM’s Associate Director of UX, Spike McCue, “This is a great example of using digital to humanize clients by focusing on small pieces of their day to day work. We should be looking for opportunities to identify these relatable moments and highlight them”

Ok here’s another dog…

Learn more at UPS DogsNylon | BuzzFeed

Machine learning as film critic

While identifying a Wes Anderson movie is probably something many moviegoers could do without complex AI, the creator of a new machine learning program called Machine Visions is hoping he can learn more about what makes an auteur’s works distinct.

[Yannick] Assogba uses four of Anderson’s films as source for his project — The Life AquaticThe Royal Tenenbaums, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Moonrise Kingdom — from which he extracts a frame every 10 seconds, for a sample of 2,309 frames in total.

Assogba investigates color and recurring motifs in Anderson’s works, drawing out themes from the machine learning much faster than a human would be able to watch and process the images.

The Life Aquatic pixel grid

Each frame that the program analyzed from The Life Aquatic is displayed as a single pixel in this grid

Why It’s Hot

Machine visions not only provides an interesting way to look at film and cinematography through the lens of technology, it provides a detailed and accessible framework for starting to understand machine learning. By introducing people to machine learning through art and pop culture, Assogba gives both technical and non-technical people a reason to explore further.

“It can suggest similarities and juxtapositions for a human to look at, some are ones we would find ourselves while others might be surprising or poetic because of imperfections in the algorithms and models.”

Learn more  i-DMashable | Machine Visions

Google is working on a Snapchat Discover competitor

“According to a new report from the Wall Street Journal, Google is working on its answer to Snapchat. It’s called Stamp — a portmanteau of “stories” and “AMP,” the acronym for Accelerated Mobile Pages, Google’s quick-loading web articles…” according to an article in NYMag from early August.

Refinery29 on Snapchat Discover

The latest update, according to an article in Variety, is that Google has started paying publishers to create content for the platform and could be pushing content live as early as this month.

From what we know, Stamp is essentially a slideshow format, likely heavy on images and short videos, and similar to Snapchat Discover or Instagram Stories.

Stamp stories would appear within mobile search results, but could also get integrated directly into publisher websites. Apparently, Google has no plans to sell its own ads against this content at launch, but instead is letting publishers keep 100% of their ad revenue.