“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 Kotaku.com, and read more about the discovery of the void at Gizmodo.com

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 1833marcive.com or on fastcodesign.com

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.


Ikea acquires TaskRabbit

Both Ikea and TaskRabbit have confirmed that the Swedish retailer has acquired the gig-economy startup in a deal on Thursday. According to recode:

TaskRabbit had already struck a pilot partnership with Ikea around furniture assembly in the United Kingdom and also had marketed its workers’ ability to put together Ikea items in the U.S. and elsewhere.

The heads of TaskRabbit and Ikea Group: Stacy Brown-Philpot (left) and Jesper Brodin

The heads of TaskRabbit and Ikea Group: Stacy Brown-Philpot (left) and Jesper Brodin

Why it’s hot

Ikea has already shown that it wants to get serious about digital innovation with the launch of it’s Ikea Place AR app. TaskRabbit’s firm ties to Silicon Valley – with its CEO Stacy Brown-Philpot, a former Google exec and a board member at HP Inc. – will mark a larger step into tech space for Ikea.

Learn more: https://www.recode.net/2017/9/28/16377528/ikea-acquisition-taskrabbit-shopping-home-contract-labor

Ikea makes use of Apple’s ARKit

With the release of iOS 11 on Tuesday, many developers are trying to incorporate Apple’s ARKit in ways that are fun and useful for users. Ikea released their AR solution, Ikea Place, on Wednesday, allowing users to try out furniture and decor in their own space.

Ikea previously released a Catalog app with a similar 3D visualization tool, but the UI was tiny and it required the physical paper catalog for it to work properly. It’s also questionable how accurate to scale its 3D products were, whereas Ikea Place is supposed to display furniture scale with 98 percent accuracy, in addition to lighting and shadows.


Learn More At The Verge | Learn More At Wired

NASA’s Cassini probe ends its 20 year journey

The Cassini space probe vaporized early in the morning on Friday, September 15, as it hurled itself into Saturn’s atmosphere and broke apart, losing connection to the NASA team monitoring it. This was as planned, in order to protect planetary system from potentially harmful microbes the probe might carry from Earth.

Still, it was an emotional time for everyone involved, as many have been working with this spacecraft for decades. Launched in 1997, Cassini traveled seven years through and across 2.2 billion miles of space to reach Saturn. It then spent more than a decade whirling around the planet and flying close by the many moons in the system, gathering data and making discoveries that many at NASA never even expected. Perhaps Cassini’s biggest revelation was the fact that Enceladus has a global ocean underneath its crust, one that could be habitable. The vehicle has also taught us much about the unique nature of Titan, showing that the moon has lakes and rivers of methane on its surface

Scientists still need to decode the data sent from Cassini, and it could be years before we understand exactly what the probe saw.

Why it’s hot

Even non-scientists are enraptured by the end of Cassini’s journey, getting caught up in the emotion of destroying a probe after 20 years of exploration. Capturing people’s awe at our universe and shared experiences like this is a powerful way to tell a story.



Slime, a once-forgotten relic of 90’s kids television programming, is back. Since 2015 Google reports an 800 percent increase in searches for slime, the hashtag #slime appears on 3.5 million Instagram posts, and slime searches on Etsy have increased 9,000 percent since October 2016. A YouTube search for “slime ASMR” returns more than 50 videos with over a million views, all of them uploaded within the last year.

So.. what’s the deal with slime?

People report that playing with slime has a therapeutic effect, both because of the feel and the crackling or squishing sounds it produces. Slime ASMR videos highlight these sounds, letting viewers experience neck tingles in a less messy form.

Why it’s hot

Slime has become a huge industry in the past few years, with some YouTube artists earning as much as $200,000 per month from sponsorships for their slime videos. Relaunched franchises like Ghostbusters and Teenage Ninja Turtles have also highlighted the return of slime. With the reemergence 90s trends and aesthetics, where else might slime appear?

Learn more: New York TimesThe Verge

ASMR: Sounds and Videos That Feel Good

ASMR was once a YouTube niche trend, but now it’s appearing in museums and ads, and funding creative empires. KFC was one of the first brands to capitalize on this phenomenon, but others will likely follow suit.

But what is ASMR?

ASMR or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, is a sensation triggered by soft sounds like whispering, hair brushing, or page turning. Not everyone feels ASMR, but those who do describe a tingling sensation in the base of their skull or the back of their neck. The trend emerged on YouTube in 2008 and shows now sign of slowing down. According to Co. Design,

As of [August 2017], there are over 9 million ASMR videos on YouTube. According to Google’s internal data, ASMR grew over 200% in 2015 and continues to grow consistently. […]


The term ASMR is pseudo-scientific; there hasn’t been any major academic research yet on this subject. Early adopters of ASMR would compile clips of “tingling triggers”—the rustle of trees in nature documentaries, for example, or the sound of typing in a commercial. Bob Ross, the famously ‘fro’ed host of 1990s instructional painting videos, turned out to be a popular source of ASMR found footage. As the community grew online, people began making their own videos. Since ASMR triggers can be different person to person, DIY videos offer up a spectrum of different scenes and scenarios. Some are made of tightly cropped shots of hands popping bubble wrap, crinkling paper, or scratching rough surfaces. Others feature ASMRtists—mainly women—speaking directly into the camera, usually at a whisper (for some, intimate attention triggers ASMR). Still others feature role play and fantastical settings, giving narrative context to the sounds that provoke ASMR feelings. […]


[B]y and large, most people in the ASMR community consider it to be more about relaxation and self-care. Many watch the videos to ease anxiety, insomnia, or depression. Even people who don’t feel the tingling sensation can find the videos therapeutic.

Why it’s hot

ASMR’s is not simply growing in the fringes of the internet. The power that this experience gives artists and others to connect with audiences in a physical and visceral way is bringing it fully into the mainstream. IKEA is one of the brands quick to capitalize on the trend, releasing an ASMR audio version of their traditional catalog.

Read more at Fast Co.

What the eclipse can teach us about science

While people across the country are racing to find safety glasses and make last-minute travel arrangements, scientists are making other preparations. These are just some of the natural phenomena that will tested with the help of this week’s solar eclipse:

Einstein’s theory of relativity

Einstein’s 1915 theory says that massive objects should warp the shape of space itself by a noticeable amount. Something like the Sun should bend the light from the constellations behind it, making the stars look as if they’ve moved over a teeny bit.


Learning more about the sun’s corona

The sun’s corona, “the bright, high-energy plasma blasting off the Sun’s surface” is the source of space weather, as well as energy particles that “can cause wild auroras, harm satellites, or potentially even swap votes in voting machines should they hit electronics in the right place.” A special telescope, which blocks out most of the sun for the viewer, is used to observe the corona, but eclipses allow scientists to get more precise images of the corona itself. Scientists will be observing the corona from the ground as well as from hot air balloons.

Plant and animal behavior

Unexpected darkness in a plant or animal’s habitat could allow scientists to study their reactions. Many plants and animals behave differently in the run-up or wake of natural disasters, will they show any new behavior during the eclipse?

The effect on weather in different climate zones

“The eclipse will be passing over several different ecosystems, including forests, farmland, and prairies.” Professional scientists, as well as citizen scientists, are preparing to record the temperature throughout the eclipse in St. Louis and the surrounding area.

Why it’s hot

There’s still much about the world we have yet to learn, and a natural phenomenon like the eclipse gives us a unique perspective to measure and observe. It’s something to be excited about that isn’t horrible!

To see other experiments, and to learn how to set up your own for the eclipse, see the full article at Gizmodo

Augmented reality without glasses

Diagram of artificial lense

Artificial lens diagram via techcrunch.com

Six months ago, Omega Ophthalmics did a small trial of seven patients outside of the US. Their goal was to test for adverse effects of a surgery similar to lens replacements that often accompany cataract removals. The difference? Rather than replacing the cloudy lens with a normal artificial lens, surgeons instead implanted a lens that could be used for augmented reality, interactive sensors, or drug delivery.

Why it’s hot

Although widespread adoption of this technology is unlikely in the near future, scientists, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists hope that there is a market for such implants in an aging population that wants to be independent for longer. Whether this small trial is successful may pave the way for larger trials to test additional possibilities and risk.

Learn more at TechCrunch.com

Flawless live translation technology might be closer than we think

iTranslate has launched a new app, called Converse, that seeks to speed up live translations and make the process more human and enjoyable. The simple interface is designed to be used without having to stare at your screen. With no clunky interface to grapple with, and over 40 languages automatically recognized by the system, anyone can quickly start translating themselves and others to be better understood.

Why it’s hot:

Converse brings translations to users in a way that is human-focused rather than technology focused. While other companies have attempted live translations, setting up and accessing these programs is usually too complicated to do in the heat of the moment. By making the software more accessible, people are more likely to use it.

Why it’s maybe not:

Because this app is so new, there are still some kinks to work out. Language and localization is notoriously difficult (think early Siri trying to understand Scots), and some of the translation algorithms just aren’t quite there yet. This seems to be the universal story for translation programs, even iTranslate’s other eponymous app.

Read more here https://www.theverge.com/2017/8/3/16076084/itranslate-app-real-time-translation

Figma adds collaboration to the product design process

While some digital product designers are still using Illustrator or Photoshop to design interfaces for screens, a battle has begun to design the next generation of product design tools. Sketch has captured a large portion of the market as a tool that is easy to adopt and master, but other vendors have their sights set on bigger and brighter futures.

Figma is an interface design tool that combines product design functionality with feedback, collaboration, and prototyping. It is built especially for digital product designers, taking into consideration device constraints, accessibility, and even production needs.

Why it’s hot…

Rather than switching file types and relying on email, Slack, or annotations, imagine being able to work side-by-side with other members of your team – designers and non-designers alike – in one file to get a project production-ready. Additionally, Figma works across devices and operating systems, meaning that everyone can use the device they want and still have access to the same files. Think Office 365 or Google Docs, but for product design.

Showing code from designed screens [via figma.com]

Adobe and other large vendors are trying to implement similar collaborative capabilities in XD and other programs, but Figma has the added benefit of starting from scratch, without legacy product dependencies. It will be exciting to see how they use this momentum to carry them forward.

Learn more at https://www.figma.com