Who the hell was the holographic anime star singing on Letterman? Let us explain

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Hatsune Miku has recorded countless hit songs, appeared in many top-selling video games, and helped launch a social media service built entirely around her popularity. She appears on train liveries, in taxi cabs, and in commercials for Domino’s pizza. And you’ve probably never heard of her.

That’s okay, because Hatsune Miku is not a real person — not in the traditional sense of reality. Miku is a piece of software, a Vocaloid, who can be manipulated and modified to sing the songs of her music production team, but also the music created by her millions of fans. She is the closest the world has to an open source celebrity.

Earlier this year, I put together an introductory video for people new to the Miku phenomenon. With the virtual…

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Apple iPad event: what to expect from next Thursday’s announcement

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It’s barely even been a month since Apple last got up on stage to unveil new products, but it’s already time for another presentation. So what are we expecting this month? It’s looking like most of Apple’s biggest announcements for the year have already passed, meaning we’re expecting far more modest updates this month. Still, Apple has plenty ready to show off: new iPads, a new iMac, and the next version of OS X.

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Google launches a much better Hangouts app for your desktop

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Using Hangouts on the desktop is about to get way better. Today Google revealed a new Hangouts Chrome App for Chrome OS and Windows that always keeps conversations quickly accessible alongside whatever else you’re working on or doing on a PC or Chromebook. If that sounds a lot like Facebook Messenger’s Chat Heads, it’s because that’s pretty much exactly what this is: Chat Heads on the desktop — but with Hangouts instead of your Facebook conversations. Google is promising a “streamlined” design that won’t get in the way or prove bothersome when you’re trying to get work done; it’s also possible to toggle off the persistent view entirely by the sounds of it.

There’s no need to have a browser running, as the new Hangouts Chrome App is…

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The Big Future: Can we bring animals back from extinction?

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What if extinction isn’t the end? What if we could take animals from the past — mammoths, goats, anything that’s gone extinct — and bring them back to life in the present day? There’s a new movement afoot among scientists that thinks we could do it, thanks to new breakthroughs in DNA sequencing. Of course, it won’t be easy, and there are plenty of skeptics who think it’s impossible. In the first episode of The Big Future, Ellis Hamburger breaks down what we know, what we’re still figuring out, and what it means for the mammoths of the future.

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Skype’s new design on Windows and Mac focuses on messaging

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Microsoft’s Skype client has traditionally focused on video and voice calls, but with the rise of mobile it has started to shift to target instant messaging. Skype took over MSN Messenger, and recently picked up some updates to improve its unreliable chat experience across multiple devices. Today, Microsoft is bringing a fresh look to Skype for Mac and Windows. If you’re familiar with the new Skype for iPhone interface, then this latest version of Skype for desktop will look and feel very similar.

There’s a new bubble-style chat design, alongside thumbnail pictures of contacts and big bold icons for chat and video / audio calls. It’s a lot more consistent with the overall look of the mobile clients for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone,…

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In a head-to-head quiz, Google Now crushes Siri and Cortana

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There is nothing sweeter than pulling out your phone, asking it a question, and getting back the one obscure piece of information you need to settle a debate or win a drunken bet. Smartphones from Google, Apple, and Microsoft all offer a personal assistant who claims to be flush with knowledge drawn from around the web. But when it comes to providing useful answers, a new study shows there is a clear choice when you’re stumped and need to phone a friend.

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Microsoft says it’s fully committed to Surface as it reveals future accessory support

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When Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella dropped the company’s “devices and services” focus earlier this year, many questioned whether the software maker would continue to create Surface tablets. A brief mention of Surface Pro 3 by Nadella in his email to all employees appeared to back the tablet, but it wasn’t totally clear Microsoft was committed. Nadella wants to enforce that today. “Microsoft is putting its full and sustained support behind the ongoing Surface program as one of a number of great hardware choices for businesses large and small,” says Nadella in a new statement on the company’s Surface blog.

The clear messaging appears to be aimed directly at businesses that might be questioning Microsoft’s long-term plans for hardware….

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HTC is lost, and this blind camera isn’t helping

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“The smartphone is just the overture of HTC’s grand opera.”

Phones are now cheaply made commodities, and the company that makes them the sole focus of its business doesn’t survive long in the modern world. Motorola, Nokia, and Palm were all sold off to richer conglomerates, Sony Ericsson was reabsorbed into Sony, and BlackBerry is just hanging on by the resilient thread of its enterprise services. Until yesterday, HTC was the last holdout as an independent smartphone maker, but now it too is embracing the winds of inevitable change.

Having tried and failed to build profitably unique features into its phones, HTC is now moving beyond them with new software and cameras that are compatible with the iPhone as well as Android. The goal with…

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You’re not using Twitter’s best feature enough: block people

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Social media is best experienced when maintained like a bonsai tree. You must know which branches to let grow in your digital life, and which to cut.

Over the past three months, I’ve become a master of Twitter’s most bonsai feature, the block button. The function of the block button isn’t as simple or blunt as blocking someone from your digital life. According to the social media company, when you block an account on Twitter it can no longer:

  • Add your Twitter account to [its] lists
  • Have [its] @replies or mentions show in your mentions tab (although these Tweets may still appear in search)
  • Follow you
  • See your profile picture on [its] profile page or in their timeline
  • Tag you in a photo

Twitter uses the pronoun “their” in…

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Amazon says ‘Transparent’ is a hit, and season two is on the way

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Since it first made a move into original programming, Amazon has tried its best to match Netflix’s string of critically acclaimed and binge-worthy shows like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. But nothing’s worked — until now. Thanks to Jill Soloway’s Transparent, Amazon says it’s finally produced a hit of its own. With a cast led by Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent became the top-ranked series on Prime Instant Video soon after debuting on the service, Amazon announced today. Reception has been so strong that the company has already greenlit season two.

And once they start watching, viewers are sticking around for more than one episode.  Nearly 80 percent of all viewers watch two or more episodes of Transparent in the same day, a…

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Moto Hint review: is there a future for the Bluetooth headset?

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I knew I shouldn’t expect it to be like Her — but I kind of expected it to be like Her.

When I first took the Moto Hint out of its package, picked up the walnut-sized headset, and put it into my ear, I tensed waiting for something amazing to happen. Some new life force would enter my universe, a sentient voice in my head providing conversation and information while I went about my life. I’d ask it questions; it would provide directions and feedback and Giants scores; we’d be friends.

A…

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Sprint to finally shut down its WiMAX network late next year

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Sprint’s first foray into 4G wireless service was with WiMAX, a different kind of technology than the LTE service that every other major carrier would invest in. As history would show, WiMAX proved to be more of a burden than a benefit to Sprint, and the company switched gears to deploy an LTE network and stopped offering WiMAX phones for sale back in 2012. This week, Sprint confirmed to Fierce Wireless that it will be turning off the last vestiges of its WiMAX service on or around November 6th, 2015, giving it about 13 more months of life before the lights go out.

The time frame for the shutdown was orignally reported by Android Central this past weekend, which unearthed an internal Sprint memo detailing the company’s network plans….

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Apple tops Best Global Brands report again as tech continues to dominate

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Interbrand has released its Best Global Brands rankings for 2014, and once again, the list of 100 firms is topped by technology companies. Apple, valued at $118.9 billion, sits in the top spot, just ahead of Google at a price of $107 billion. Of the 100 firms on the list, 13 operate in the tech sector, and five of those are in the top ten — in addition to Apple and Google, IBM and Microsoft take the fourth and fifth slots in the rankings, while Samsung comes in seventh. Coca-Cola still appears in third place, bumped to a bronze medal after Apple and Google ended the drink empire’s 13-year reign at the top of Interbrand’s list last year.

These giant tech corporations easily beat out entertainment giants such as Disney and MTV, car…

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Apple is now the fifth largest PC maker in the world, says IDC

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Apple is now the fifth largest PC vendor in the world, according to a new report. The Mac maker displaced Asus from the global top five in the International Data Corporation’s latest quarterly PC shipment report, a study that says the worldwide PC market contracted slightly in the second half of 2014.

While the global PC market declined, the -1.7 percent year-on-year contraction was “a sizable improvement” over IDC’s original forecast of -4.1 percent. It also shows something of a stabilization in the global PC market: in Q3 last year, IDC said worldwide shipments declined -7.6 percent after they were forecast to fall almost -10 percent.

The top five companies — Lenovo, HP, Dell, Acer Group, and Apple — saw solid year-on-year growth in…

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Ads are coming soon to Snapchat, CEO Evan Spiegel says

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As was reported in August, advertisements are finally about to come to Snapchat. Evan Spiegel, the company’s co-founder and CEO, made the announcement today at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit. “People are going to see the first ads on Snapchat soon,” he told Katie Couric, who moderated a discussion with him and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. “We think they’re pretty cool.”

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Screenshots, themes, and backgrounds coming to Xbox One

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Xbox head Phil Spencer has confirmed that Xbox One owners will eventually be able to take in-game screenshots and customize the look of their console’s dashboard. Speaking on the Inner Circle podcast, Spencer said that “themes and background pics are things we’re working on,” and also noted that the ability to take in-game screenshots, something he had been “beaten up over,” will also be added in the future.

Microsoft’s newest console has already received a number of monthly updates that have added a host of features that weren’t present at the console’s launch, including a new media player, better SmartGlass functionality, and external hard drive support. Spencer’s planned UI additions would presumably be bundled as part of a future…

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Droid Turbo user manual leaks before Verizon has even announced it

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It’s now a certainty: the Droid Turbo is coming, and likely very soon. The phone’s entire user manual has popped up on MotoFirmware.com before Motorola and Verizon have even had a chance to announce their new Droid flagship. Based on what’s in the document, Droid Turbo will feature a 5.2-inch “ultra high-definition” display (likely QHD), a 21-megapixel rear camera, and “high-capacity long lasting battery.” Basically, it’s the supercharged Moto X with a better screen and vastly superior battery we were expecting. It loses out on the Moto X’s good looks (and the built-in capacitive buttons are an odd design choice), but thankfully includes Motorola’s best software features like Moto Voice, Moto Assist, and Moto Actions. The manual also…

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The all-female ‘Ghostbusters’ reboot just found its writer

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The third Ghostbusters film is finally moving forward with a new, all-female squad, and the production is bringing on the writer behind another successful female-led comedy to create its script. Katie Dippold, who wrote The Heat and previously wrote for MadTV, is going to be creating the script to the rebooted Ghostbusters film alongside its director, Paul Feig. Feig too has had a lot of success with female-led comedies, having directed The Heat and the major hit Bridesmaids.

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