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.

https://www.theverge.com/2017/9/15/16308334/nasa-cassini-spacecraft-saturn-titan-enceladus-dive-destruction

Slime!

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