Music Piracy: The Extraterrestrial Threat

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I’m taking a week off from producing a full podcast, and am instead presenting what I hope will be a fun Thanksgiving road-trip accompaniment.

It’s an audibobook excerpt. But since it’s the very start of that audiobook – and as it’s read by the flat-out brilliant comedian/actor John Hodgman – there’s no need to hear the rest of the thing to enjoy this standalone hour-plus of playfulness. In other words, this is truly not intended as an advert for a long-ago book! But if you find the nature of the content awkward, by all means skip it. Otherwise, you can hear it by searching “After On” in your favorite podcast app, or by clicking right here:

The excerpt is from my novel Year Zero. Which was, of course, a literary exercise. But it was also a sort of primal scream therapy – intended to purge the demons still haunting me after years of imploring the music industry to allow me to launch the Rhapsody music service, which was the main product of a company I founded called Listen.com.

For those who don’t go back that far, Rhapsody was the first online music service to get full-catalog licenses from all of the major labels, as well as hundreds of indies (before even Apple). We were also the forerunner to Spotify, in that we were the world’s first unlimited on-demand streaming music service. Eventually, RealNetworks bought us out, then later sold half of the service to MTV. More recently, in a strange, ironic twist, Rhapsody was renamed … Napster.

For those interested in the birth of online music, and/or in copyright-related lunacy, I discuss those matters in a brief intro and longer outro to the excerpt. Or you can skip that, and just listen to the tale of a vast, alien civilization. One so into American pop music that they accidentally commit the biggest copyright infringement since the dawn of time – thereby bankrupting the entire universe. Yup. That is seriously the premise my first novel. And here’s a fun little trailer that we put together back when it debuted:

YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NfVtpYrddM

Though it’s (obviously) a highly playful story, Year Zero is also a serious critique of things that I deem badly broken about intellectual property law. For some context, I discussed a particularly odious law, which also features in the book, in this TED talk a few years back (it’s brief and will hopefully make you laugh).

If you enjoy listening to Hodgman tackle this madness a tenth as much as I do, this episode should be an hour-and-change well spent. Enjoy!

ESP8266 Home Monitor Is Stylishly Simplistic

See the original posting on Hackaday

It’s often said that “Less is More”, and we think that the chic ESP8266 environmental monitor posted by Thingiverse user [bkpsu] definitely fits the bill. Dubbed “Kube”, the device is a 3D printed white cube with an OLED display in the center, which [bkpsu] says was designed specifically for the approval of his wife. Weirdly, she didn’t like the look of bare PCBs on the wall.

Inside, things are a little more complex. The Kube uses the NodeMCU development board, and a custom breakout that [bkpsu] designed to interface with the display and sensors. For temperature and humidity monitoring, the …read more

12 great gifts for photography lovers

See the original posting on TechCrunch

 Camera lovers love cameras, that’s for sure. But they also love accessories and add-ons to help them either take better pictures, take more pictures, edit those pictures, or share them for the rest of the world to see. You can get a lot of neat gifts for the photographer in the family or friend group once you starting thinking outside the camera body. These are just some ideas at a range… Read More

GE launches $50 hub to connect its Bluetooth smart lights to Alexa and Google Assistant

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GE’s been making some really simple and accessible smart lights called C by GE for the past two years, and today, the company is announcing its first big upgrade to the system. It’s a hub, called the C-Reach, that connects C by GE lights to Wi-Fi so that they can be controlled by Alexa or the Google Assistant.

The device costs $50 on its own, but GE will also sell it bundled with pairs of bulbs at a discount — $65 for two “Life” bulbs (which have a single color option) and $85 for two “Sleep” bulbs (which have three color options).

The C-Reach hub is a useful addition to the product line that starts to make it a lot more capable — if also a lot more expensive. The strength of C by GE bulbs has always been that they’re really easy to get…

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Amazon’s all-new Echo goes (RED) for a limited time

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 The new Echo is a better looking device than its predecessor, thanks in large part to its various fabric coverings. Now, there’s a new option for the outer shell: A PRODUCT(RED) special limited edition. The fabric outer comes in red, appropriately enough, and $10 of the purchase price (of $99.99, same as any other Echo) will go toward (RED)’s work fighting AIDS through the Global Fund. Read More

Illustrations from the best picture books of the year

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Every fall, New York City’s Society of Illustrators puts on this hidden-in-plain-sight gem of an exhibit. The Original Art Exhibit displays original illustrations from a selection of the best picture books of the year.

Not only do you get to view the original paintings, drawings, and even sculptures that were used to illustrate these books, but the books themselves are on display so you can see how they appear in the finished product.

As an adult who loves art and kids’ books, this is a blast for me. But it’s just about the best art exhibit you can take a kid to. Because paintings in an art museum can seem abstract to a kid, but these pictures are used to tell amazing, exciting, and/or funny stories, in a format they’re intimately familiar with.

And kids get a sense of how picture books are made. They don’t sprout up on library and bookstore shelves fully formed; they are made by real people’s imaginations and hands, using tools just like the ones kids use to make art.

My kids loved (and my nieces currently love) to find the books and the pages that match the original artwork on the wall. And we’ll make a list of their favorites and I’ll order them from the library — in a couple of weeks we have a stack of great picture books they have a personal connection to.

This year’s exhibit is great once again, and runs through December 30.


Above is the contribution of the great Adam Rex, who painted the covers of my two kids’ books (so far), the EMU Club Adventures series.

Honor’s 7X looks to offer reduced bezels at a reduced price

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Huawei’s Honor sub-brand has announced its newest midrange device, the Honor 7X, which serves as the successor to last year’s Honor 6X. Like the 6X, which served as a cheaper option below the Honor 8 (Honor’s 2016 flagship), the 7X is a more budget-minded alternative to this year’s Honor 9 flagship.

But while the 6X stood out from other budget phones by offering a dual-camera system usually found on high-end smartphones, the 7X is hoping to make an impression by going bigger, with a 5.93-inch “Fullview” display to evoke the reduced-bezel designs of flagships like the Galaxy S8 or iPhone X. The Honor 7X also offers a fingerprint reader and an entirely metal shell, which are both nice additions.

Of course, the 7X is still a…

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Swift code will run on Google’s Fuchsia OS

See the original posting on The Verge

A few days ago, there was a flash-in-the-pan controversy over Google “forking” Apple’s open-source programming language Swift. After a few minutes of speculation over whether Google was going to make its own special flavor of the language for its own purposes, Swift’s creator Chris Lattner (who now works at Google) helpfully clarified the situation:

Google just wanted its own working copy of the code so it could make changes and then contribute them “upstream” to the official Swift repository. No funny business.

What’s more…

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This $800 Alexa-powered robot isn’t human-sized, and that’s wrong

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Chinese robotics company Ubtech has launched Lynx, the first humanoid robot with Alexa built in. It does everything Alexa can, like setting reminders and playing music through the speakers in its “ears,” plus a few extra features. There’s a Surveillance Mode that will have Lynx take and send a 30-second video to the companion app on your smartphone if it detects any sound or movement via its infrared chest sensor. And the Avatar Mode lets you see and speak through the robot’s camera and microphone, so you “don’t miss another event again by sending Lynx in your place!” It costs $800.

Image: Lynx

The above photo was the first time I saw Lynx, and I was extremely disappointed to find out that Lynx is only 20 inches…

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The Amazon Echo now comes in red to benefit (RED) and fight against AIDS

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Amazon’s second-generation Echo has the benefit of easily swappable shells, and today the company announced that it’s releasing a red version of the smart speaker to benefit (RED) and its fight against AIDS.

Other than the unique color, the (RED) Echo is identical to the regular version. The only difference is that for every (RED) Echo sold, Amazon will donate $10 to the charity. Plenty of tech companies have teamed up with (RED) in the past to release special versions of their products. Apple has famously released numerous iPods and accessories over the years to support the charity, including a red iPhone 7 earlier this year.

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17 gorgeous gifts for your tech-savvy gal pals

See the original posting on TechCrunch

 We’re back again with one of the most loved gift guides in all of tech — the one made just for the ladies. This year, the trend is towards gifts both beautiful and functional, and we’ve got a few suggestions you may want to add to your holiday shopping list. From sleek chargers to digital decor, here are some of the best gifts for gal pals who’ve been good to you all year. Read More

In ‘Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire,’ virtual reality finds a new hope

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 While I stood anxiously atop a floating platform on my way to what felt like certain doom, I paused to remember my mission as I felt the pulsing heat of the lava planet Mustafar rising up from below me. With the fate of the galaxy in the hands of me and my new friends, I raced through corridors of the base, fighting waves of Stormtroopers, and coming face-to-face with pure evil. As my… Read More

Watch the pitch reel for Jim Henson’s cyberpunk muppets TV series

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In 1987, Jim Henson produced and directed this pitch reel for Inner Tube (aka IN-TV), a cyberpunk, culture-jamming series that just wasn’t meant to be but did inform The Jim Henson Hour’s MuppeTelevision segments. From Jim Henson: The Biography:

At the heart of IN-TV was a clever concept; each week, a live guest star would get sucked into the television set and would have to work his way back out again, usually by moving from one bad television channel to another. It was a fun idea, giving Jim an opportunity to satirize the seemingly endless parade of upstart cable channels and lame public access shows that were common in the early days of cable.

(Muppet Wiki and r/ObscureMedia)

Medieval city plan generator

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The Medieval city generator does just that, with the right balance of abstraction and detail to give your imagination space to put it to good use. (previously)

This application generates a random medieval city layout of a requested size. The generation method is rather arbitrary, the goal is to produce a nice looking map, not an accurate model of a city. Maybe in the future I’ll use its code as a basis for some game or maybe not.

Click one of the buttons to create a new city map of a desired size. Hover the mouse pointer over a building to see the type of the ward it belongs to. Press and hold SPACE to see all ward labels.

Toy Town is a 3d-visualizer for this generator. One day it may become a separate native application or a part of the generator, or both.

Acetone Smoothing Results in Working Motor

See the original posting on Hackaday

Here’s something only ’90s kids will remember. In 1998, the Air Hogs Sky Shark, a free-flying model airplane powered by compressed air was released. This plane featured foam stabilizers, wings, a molded fuselage that served as a reservoir, and a novel engine powered by compressed air. The complete Sky Shark setup included an air pump. All you had to do was plug the plane into the pump, try to break the pressure gauge, and let the plane fly off into a tree or a neighbor’s rooftop. It’s still a relatively interesting mechanism, and although we’re not going to see compressed …read more

A cheap way to use Amazon Alexa

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At $20, the Eufy Genie Smart Speaker With Amazon Alexa is the least expensive hands-free Alexa speaker I know of. I got my first Alexa device last year (a Dot) and my family uses it many times a day to listen to podcasts, get NPR news briefings, weather forecasts, audiobooks, latest bitcoin price, word definitions, Wikipedia entries, kitchen timer and more. I don’t have this particular item, but I ordered one for upstairs.

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