Marc Levoy on the Balance of Camera Hardware, Software, and Artistic Expression

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A major focus of any smartphone release is the camera. For a while, all eyes were on the camera’s hardware — megapixels, sensors, lenses, and so on. But since Google’s Pixel was introduced, there’s been a lot more interest in the camera’s software and how it takes advantage of the computer it’s attached to. Marc Levoy, former distinguished engineer at Google, led the team that developed computational photography technologies for the Pixel phones, including HDR+, Portrait Mode, and Night Sight, and he’s responsible for a lot of that newfound focus on camera processing. An excerpt from the wide-ranging interview: Nilay Patel: When you look across the sweep of smartphone hardware, is there a particular device or style of device that you’re most interested in expanding these techniques to? Is it the 96-megapixel sensors we see in some Chinese phones? Is it whatever Apple has in the next iPhone? Is there a place where you think there’s yet more to be gotten?

Marc Levoy: Because of the diminishing returns due to the laws of physics, I don’t know that the basic sensors are that much of a draw. I don’t know that going to 96 megapixels is a good idea. The signal-to-noise ratio will depend on the size of the sensor. It is more or less a question of how big a sensor can you stuff into the form factor of a mobile camera. Before, the iPhone smartphones were thicker. If we could go back to that, if that would be acceptable, then we could put larger sensors in there. Nokia experimented with that, wasn’t commercially successful.

Other than that, I think it’s going to be hard to innovate a lot in that space. I think it will depend more on the accelerators, how much computation you can do during video or right after photographic capture. I think that’s going to be a battleground.

Nilay Patel:When you say 96 is a bad idea — much like we had megahertz wars for a while, we did have a megapixel war for a minute. Then there was, I think, much more excitingly, an ISO war, where low-light photography and DSLRs got way better, and then soon, that came to smartphones. But we appear to be in some sort of megapixel count war again, especially on the Android side. When you say it’s not a good idea, what makes it specifically not a good idea?

Marc Levoy: As I said, the signal to noise ratio is basically a matter of the total sensor size. If you want to put 96 megapixels and you can’t squeeze a larger sensor physically into the form factor of the phone, then you have to make the pixels smaller, and you end up close to the diffraction limit and those pixels end up worse. They are noisier. It’s just not clear how much advantage you get.

There might be a little bit more headroom there. Maybe you can do a better job of de-mosaicing — meaning computing the red, green, blue in each pixel — if you have more pixels, but there isn’t going to be that much headroom there. Maybe the spec on the box attracts some consumers. But I think, eventually, like the megapixel war on SLRs, it will tone down, and people will realize that’s not really an advantage.

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Lenovo Releases First Fedora Linux ThinkPad Laptop

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Today, Lenovo has released a ThinkPad with Red Hat’s community Linux, Fedora. ZDNet reports: First in this new Linux-friendly lineup is the X1 Carbon Gen 8. It will be followed by forthcoming versions of the ThinkPad P1 Gen2 and ThinkPad P53. While ThinkPads are usually meant for business users, Lenovo will be happy to sell the Fedora-powered X1 Carbon to home users as well. The new X1 Carbon runs Fedora Workstation 32. This cutting-edge Linux distribution uses the Linux Kernel 5.6. It includes WireGuard virtual private network (VPN) support and USB4 support. This Fedora version uses the new GNOME 3.36 for its default desktop.

The system itself comes standard with a 10th Generation Intel Core 1.6Ghz i5-10210U CPU, with up to 4.20 GHz with Turbo Boost. This processor boasts 4 Cores, 8 Threads, and a 6 MB cache. It also comes with 8MBs of LPDDR3 RAM. Unfortunately, its memory is soldered in. While that reduces the manufacturing costs, Linux users tend to like to optimize their hardware and this restricts their ability to add RAM. You can upgrade it to 16MBs, of course, when you buy it for an additional $149. For storage, the X1 defaults to a 256GB SSD. You can push it up to a 1TB SSD. That upgrade will cost you $536.

The X1 Carbon Gen 8 has a 14.0″ Full High Definition (FHD) (1920 x 1080) screen. For practical purposes, this is as high-a-resolution as you want on a laptop. I’ve used laptops with Ultra High Definition (UHD), aka 4K, with 3840×2160 resolution, and I’ve found the text to be painfully small. This display is powered by an integrated Intel HD Graphics chipset. For networking, the X1 uses an Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX201 802.11AX with vPro (2 x 2) & Bluetooth 5.0 chipset. I’ve used other laptops with this wireless networking hardware and it tends to work extremely well. The entire default package has a base price of $2,145. For now, it’s available for $1,287. If you want to order one, be ready for a wait. You can expect to wait three weeks before Lenovo ships it to you.

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Nvidia’s RTX 3090 Demo Emphasizes the Absurdity of 8K Gaming

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Jeff Grubb, writing for VentureBeat: One of the things I would like you to associate with me is a skepticism of 4K gaming. I play in 4K on my PC using a 32-inch monitor that I sit a few feet away from, and that is great. But outside of that scenario, the 2160p resolution is wasted on our feeble human eyes — especially when it comes with a sacrifice to framerate and graphical effects. And yet, I admit that Nvidia’s marketing got to me when it showed gamers playing 8K games using the new RTX 3090. The idea of gaming at such fidelity is exciting. One of the elements that makes exploring 3D worlds so enthralling are the details, and — well, you can get a lot of that at 4320p. But 8K gaming is still, of course, absurd. And the lengths that Nvidia had to go to show it off is evidence of that.

In its RTX 3090 promotional video, Nvidia had a number of livestreamers and influencers sit down to experience gaming at 4320p. The results seemed to impress everyone involved. The participants provided a lot of gasps and exclamations. But to get that reaction, the event had those influencers sitting just feet away from an 80-inch 8K LG OLED. And it takes something that extreme to get even the minimal benefits of that resolution. Even at 80 inches, you’d have to sit within 3 feet of the panel to notice a difference in pixel density between 4K and 8K. Now, I’m not saying I don’t want to play games this way. I’d love to try it. And if I had an unlimited budget, maybe I’d dedicate a room in my manor to something like this. But even then, I would know that is silly.

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Meet the $3,300 Edition of the Galaxy Z Fold 2

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An anonymous reader shares a report: If you’re going to spend $1,000 on a phone, you might as well spend $2,000. And honestly, if you’re going to spend $2,000, why not just go for it and spend $3,300? That seems to be a chief guiding principle behind the Samsung Galaxy Fold Z 2 Thom Browne edition — a handset for those who want the priciest mobile device you can buy — and then some. Samsung has been partnering with the high-end American fashion designer for a couple of devices now. The Z Fold 2 edition follows the release of the Thom Browne Galaxy Z Flip, which also cost an additional $1,100 over the price of the standard foldable. Further justifying the device’s cost is the inclusion of a Galaxy Watch 3 and the Galaxy Buds Live — neither of which ship with the standard Fold Z 2. And perhaps even more importantly, it’s something you can lord over the heads of your slightly more frugal friends who only shelled out for the regular Fold.

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Twelve Years Later, Apple Is Still Trying To Erase Mac.com Email Addresses

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Apple is steadily removing references to the old @mac.com and slightly less old @me.com addresses from its support documents. AppleInsider reports: It used to be that if your email addressed ended in @mac.com, you were telling the world that you are an Apple user. Now while it’s only that part of the world which is extremely geeky, you’re actually telling them that you were an Apple user on or before July 9, 2008. This email address was once championed by Apple as part of its iTools service back in 2000, and if you still have one, you have some bruises from the days of iTools, .Mac, and MobileMe before you got to today’s iCloud. If your email ends in @mac.com then you got it somewhere between 2000 and 2008. If it ends in @me.com, you got it during the briefer opportunity between then and 2012. To be exact, you have still got an @mac.com address because you had it and were actively using it on July 8, 2008, plus you kept your MobileMe account and – there’s more – you moved to iCloud before August 1, 2012.
[…]
Your Apple ID is tied to an email address and Apple gives you some flexibility about this, because it recognizes that we sometimes lose access to a previous address. You can change the address associated with your Apple ID and there’s a current support document about how and why you might do that. For some years, though, that page has said you’re out of luck if you want to change to an @mac.com or @me.com address. You can’t do it unless you somehow already have that address associated with your account. And then in late August 2020, even that helpful information is gone. That same support page still lists what you can do with third-party email addresses. But gone are any references to @mac.com and @me.com.

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Lenovo Yoga 9i Gets Rid of a Traditional Touchpad and Slaps Leather on Its Lid

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Lenovo announced the new premium Yoga 7i and Yoga 6 two-in-ones earlier in the month and now it’s pulled the wraps off the top-of-the-line Yoga 9i. The Yoga 9i two-in-one and Yoga 9i Slim laptop (called the IdeaPad 9i Slim in North America) replace the Yoga C940 and Yoga S940 (IdeaPad S940). From a report: Being the most premium of the premium Yoga lineup, the Yoga 9i — available in 14- and 15.6-inch versions — gets all the fun extras and is made from the nicest materials. For 2020’s 14-inch model that includes an optional lid upgrade with black leather bonded to its aluminum chassis. It “begs to be touched,” Lenovo panted. It’ll also have an edge-to-edge glass palm rest with an encased touchpad that uses haptic feedback, allowing for a much larger touchpad area. There’s also a new ultrasonic fingerprint reader that’ll work even if your finger is slightly wet, such as after you wash your hands — which we’re all doing a lot more of these days, right?

The Yoga 9i will also have a new keyboard with “soft-landing dome-design keypads” that promises a more comfortable, bouncier typing experience, which is saying something since the C940’s keyboard was already more comfortable than most. Its updated soundbar hinge will have improved audio, which, like the keyboard, was already pretty great. You can also expect enhancements to everything from screen options to ports (Thunderbolt 4!) to improved cooling to the tip of its included active pen for a better feel when writing on the screen. Most of these features, including the leather cover, carry over to the Lenovo IdeaPad 9i Slim laptop. The IdeaPad also gets a sensor that automatically adjusts its keyboard’s backlight for your room’s lighting conditions as well as a kill switch for its webcam. (The Yoga 9i has a physical privacy shutter for its webcam.) […] The 14-inch Yoga 9i with the metal lid will start at $1,399 or $1,699 for the leather lid. The 15-inch Yoga 9i will start at $1,799. All three are expected in October. The IdeaPad 9i Slim is expected in November starting at $1,599.

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Windows 95 Released a Quarter Century Ago

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New submitter bondman writes: Windows 95 was released a full quarter century ago today, on August 24th, 1995. Long gone, nearly forgotten? I’m surprised to not have come across a retrospective article yet. I’ve linked to the Wikipedia article. As for me I still haven’t grown to re-like The Rolling Stones “Start Me Up” yet. I got so sick of hearing it with all the pre-launch and post-launch hype, as the song was tied heavily to the Win 95 launch event. Microsoft paid the Stones a princely sum to use it. I still remember how exciting it was to see the full-length, full-screen video included on the installation CD-ROM, “Buddy Holly” by Weezer. Mind-blowing to watch a whole music video on your computer. Crappy resolution by our standards today, and a very limited palette to my memory. But as I said, amazing in the day. Windows 95 had many fans and many critics. At the time, I recall it as an exciting OS (or GUI on top of DOS, if you prefer). PC users were riveted to all the magazine and other media coverage pre-launch. I remember it fondly (with all the obligatory respect due Mac OS, the Amiga, and all the other early GUIs of course).

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‘DiceKeys’ Creates a Master Password For Life With One Roll

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Stuart Schechter, a computer scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, is launching DiceKeys, a simple kit for physically generating a single super-secure key that can serve as the basis for creating all the most important passwords in your life for years or even decades to come. Wired reports: With little more than a plastic contraption that looks a bit like a Boggle set and an accompanying web app to scan the resulting dice roll, DiceKeys creates a highly random, mathematically unguessable key. You can then use that key to derive master passwords for password managers, as the seed to create a U2F key for two-factor authentication, or even as the secret key for cryptocurrency wallets. Perhaps most importantly, the box of dice is designed to serve as a permanent, offline key to regenerate that master password, crypto key, or U2F token if it gets lost, forgotten, or broken.

Schechter intends for most DiceKeys users to only ever roll their set once. After shaking the keys in a bag, the user dumps them into their plastic box, then snaps the lid closed to permanently lock them into place. The user then scans the dice box with the DiceKeys app — currently a web app hosted at DiceKeys.app — that accesses their laptop, phone, or iPad camera. That app generates a cryptographic key based on the dice, checking the barcode-like symbols on the faces to ensure it interpreted the dice’s characters and orientation correctly. Despite the current version of the DiceKeys app being hosted on the web, Schechter says that it’s designed so that no data ever leaves the user’s device. Thanks to the different numbers and letters on each key face as well as the dices’ orientations, the resulting arrangement has around 196 bits of entropy, Schechter says, meaning there are 296 different possibilities for how the dice could be positioned. Schechter estimates that’s roughly as many possibilities as there are atoms in four or five thousand solar systems.

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AI Can Make Music, Screenplays, and Poetry. What About a Movie?

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Want a movie where a protagonist your age, race, sexuality, gender, and religion becomes an Olympic swimmer? You got it. Want a movie where someone demographically identical to your boss gets squeezed to death and devoured by a Burmese python? Your wish is its command. From a report: Want to leave out the specifics and let fate decide what never-before-imagined movie will be entertaining you this evening? Black Box has you covered. After you make your choices — and of course pay a nominal fee for the serious computational heavy lifting necessarily involved — your order is received at Black Box HQ, and an original movie will be on its way shortly.

Black Box converts your specifications into data — or if you didn’t ask for anything specific, a blob of randomly generated numerical noise will do — and the creation process can begin. That first collection of ones and zeros will become a prompt, and will be fed into a type of A.I. called a transformer, which will spit out the text screenplay for your movie through a process a little like the autocomplete function on your smartphone. That screenplay will then be fed into a variation on today’s vector quantized variational autoencoders — neural nets that generate music, basically — producing chopped up little bits of sound that, when strung together, form an audio version of the spoken dialogue and sound effects in your custom movie, plus an orchestral score. Finally, in the most challenging part of the process, those 90 minutes of audio, along with the screenplay, get fed into the world’s most sophisticated GAN, or generative adversarial network. Working scene by scene, the Black Box GAN would generate a cast of live action characters — lifelike humans, or at least human-esque avatars — built from the ground up, along with all of the settings, monsters, car chases, dogs, cats, and little surprises that make it feel like a real movie.

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‘Real’ Programming Is an Elitist Myth

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When people build a database to manage reading lists or feed their neighbors, that’s coding — and culture. From an essay: We are past the New York City Covid-19 peak. Things have started to reopen, but our neighborhood is in trouble, and people are hungry. There’s a church that’s opened space for a food pantry, a restaurant owner who has given herself to feeding the neighborhood, and lots of volunteers. […] It’s a complex data model. It involves date fields, text fields, integers, notes. You need lots of people to log in, but you need to protect private data too. You’d think their planning conversations would be about making lots of rice. But that is just a data point. The tool the mutual aid group has settled on to track everything is Airtable, a database-as-a-service program. You log in and there’s your database. There are a host of tools like this now, “low-code” or “no-code” software with names like Zapier or Coda or Appy Pie. At first glance these tools look like flowcharts married to spreadsheets, but they’re powerful ways to build little data-management apps. Airtable in particular keeps showing up everywhere for managing office supplies or scheduling appointments or tracking who at WIRED has their fingers on this column. The more features you use, the more they charge for it, and it can add up quickly. I know because I see the invoices at my company; we use it to track projects.

“Real” coders in my experience have often sneered at this kind of software, even back when it was just FileMaker and Microsoft Access managing the flower shop or tracking the cats at the animal shelter. It’s not hard to see why. These tools are just databases with a form-making interface on top, and with no code in between. It reduces software development, in all its complexity and immense profitability, to a set of simple data types and form elements. You wouldn’t build a banking system in it or a game. It lacks the features of big, grown-up databases like Oracle or IBM’s Db2 or PostgreSQL. And since it is for amateurs, the end result ends up looking amateur. But it sure does work. I’ve noticed that when software lets nonprogrammers do programmer things, it makes the programmers nervous. Suddenly they stop smiling indulgently and start talking about what “real programming” is. This has been the history of the World Wide Web, for example. Go ahead and tweet “HTML is real programming,” and watch programmers show up in your mentions to go, “As if.” Except when you write a web page in HTML, you are creating a data model that will be interpreted by the browser. This is what programming is. Code culture can be solipsistic and exhausting. Programmers fight over semicolon placement and the right way to be object-oriented or functional or whatever else will let them feel in control and smarter and more economically safe, and always I want to shout back: Code isn’t enough on its own. We throw code away when it runs out its clock; we migrate data to new databases, so as not to lose one precious bit. Code is a story we tell about data.

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Reviewer Calls Linux-based PinePhone ‘the Most Interesting Smartphone I’ve Tried in Years’

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A review at the Android Police site calls Pine64’s new Linux-based PinePhone “the most interesting smartphone I’ve tried in years,” with 17 different operating systems available (including Fedora, Ubuntu Touch, SailfishOS, openSUSE, and Arch Linux ARM):

There’s a replaceable battery, which is compatible with batteries designed for older Samsung Galaxy J7 phones. It’s good to know that even if PinePhone vanished overnight, you could still purchase new batteries for around $10-15…

There’s a microSD card slot above the SIM tray, which supports cards up to 2TB in size. While it can be used as extra storage, just like the SD slots in Android phones and tablets, it can also function as a bootable drive. If you write an operating system image to the SD card and put it in the PinePhone, the phone will boot from the SD card. This means you can move between operating systems on the PinePhone by simply swapping microSD cards, which is amazing for trying out new Linux distributions without wiping data. How great would it be if Android phones could do that?
Finally, the inside of the PinePhone has six hardware killswitches that can be manipulated with a screwdriver. You can use them to turn off the modem, Wi-Fi/Bluetooth, microphone, rear camera, front camera, and headphone jack. No need to put a sticker over the selfie camera if you’re worried about malicious software — just flip the switch and never worry about it again…. For a $150 phone produced in limited batches by a company with no previous experience in the smartphone industry, I’m impressed it’s built as well as it is…

I look forward to seeing what the community around the PinePhone can accomplish.

A Pine64 blog post this weekend touts “a boat-load of cool and innovative things” being attempted by the PinePhone community, including users working on things like a fingerprint scanner or a thermal camera, plus a community that’s 3D-printing their own custom PinePhone cases. And Pine64 has now identified three candidates for a future keyboard option (each of which can be configured as either a slide-out or clamshell keyboard):

I feel like we have finally gotten into a good production rhythm; it was only last month we announced the postmarketOS Community Edition of the PinePhone, and this month I am here to tell you that the factory will deliver the phones to us at the end of this month… I don’t know about you, but I think that this is a rather good production pace. At the time of writing, and based on current sale rates, the postmarketOS production-run will sell out in a matter of days…
While I have no further announcements at this time, what I will say is that we have no intention of slowing down the pace now until February 2021 (when Chinese New Year begins)…

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What Makes Some Programming Languages the ‘Most Dreaded’?

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O’Reilly media’s Vice President of Content Strategy (also the coauthor of Unix Power Tools) recently explored why several popular programming languages wound up on the “most dreaded” list in StackOverflow’s annual developer survey:

There’s no surprise that VBA is #1 disliked language. I’ll admit to complete ignorance on Objective C (#2), which I’ve never had any reason to play with. Although I’m a Perl-hater from way back, I’m surprised that Perl is so widely disliked (#3), but some wounds never heal. It will be interesting to see what happens after Perl 7 has been out for a few years. Assembly (#4) is an acquired taste (and isn’t a single language)…

But he eventually suggests that both C and Java might be on the list simply because they have millions of users, citing a quote from C++ creator Bjarne Stroustrup: “there are only two kinds of languages: the ones people complain about and the ones nobody uses.”
Dislike of a language may be “guilt by association”: dislike of a large, antiquated codebase with minimal documentation, and an architectural style in which every bug fixed breaks something else. Therefore, it’s not surprising to see languages that used to be widely used but have fallen from popularity on the list… Java has been the language people love to hate since its birth. I was at the USENIX session in which James Gosling first spoke about Java (way before 1.0), and people left the room talking about how horrible Java was — none of whom had actually used the language because it hadn’t been released yet…
If there’s one language on this list that’s associated with gigantic projects, it’s Java. And there are a lot of things to dislike about it — though a lot of them have to do with bad habits that grew up around Java, rather than the language itself. If you find yourself abusing design patterns, step back and look at what you’re doing; making everything into a design pattern is a sign that you didn’t understand what patterns are really for… If you start writing a FactoryFactoryFactory, stop and take a nice long walk. If you’re writing a ClassWithAReallyLongNameBecauseThatsHowWeDoIt, you don’t need to. Java doesn’t make you do that… I’ve found Java easier to read and understand than most other languages, in part because it’s so explicit — and most good programmers realize that they spend more time reading others’ code than writing their own.

He also notes that Python only rose to #23 on the “most dreaded” languages list, speculating developers may appreciation its lack of curly braces, good libraries, and Jupyter notebooks. “Python wins the award for the most popular language to inspire minimal dislike. It’s got a balanced set of features that make it ideal for small projects, and good for large ones.”

“And what shall we say about JavaScript, sixteenth on the list? I’ve got nothing. It’s a language that grew in a random and disordered way, and that programmers eventually learned could be powerful and productive… A language that’s as widely used as JavaScript, and that’s only 16th on the list of most dreaded languages, is certainly doing something right. But I don’t have to like it.”

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A Covid-Friendly Wearable Shocks You With 450 Volts When You Touch Your Face

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A reporter for Medium’s tech site OneZero recently spotted an especially bizarre ad on Instagram:
The ad features a GIF of a person wearing a Fitbit-style wristband, with the text “Eliminate Cravings.” Across the frame from their hand sits a giant slice of cake. As the person reaches towards the cake, the wristband turns red and zaps them with electricity. You can tell it’s zapping them because the whole frame vibrates, and little lightning bolts shoot out of the wristband, like in an old-school Batman movie. All that’s missing is an animated “POW!”

At first, I thought it must be either a joke or a metaphor…

Nope. It turns out the Pavlok is exactly what the ad suggests: a Bluetooth-connected, wearable wristband that uses accelerometers, a connected app, and a “snap circuit” to shock its users with 450 volts of electricity when they do something undesirable. The device costs $149.99 and is available on Amazon. The company says it has over 100,000 customers who use the device to help kill food cravings, quit smoking, and to stop touching their face… I immediately saw two fundamental truths at the exact same time. Firstly, the mere existence of an automated self-flagellation wristband is proof that we’ve reached Peak Wearables. And second, this is the perfect device for Our Times…

Pavlok’s founder says he came up with the idea for the company after paying an assistant to slap him every time he went on Facebook…. Through a Chrome extension, it can also (Doom scrollers rejoice) automatically punish actions like spending too much time on Facebook, Twitter, and other potentially time-wasting websites. It can zap you when you open too many Chrome tabs — a use case I’d love to recommend to several programmer friends… But perhaps the most relevant feature for today’s world is the ability to program the device to shock you every time you touch your face. This is something which humans do alarmingly often — up to 16 times per hour. The practice has been implicated in spreading coronavirus, or at least contaminating face masks and leading to wasted PPE…

Pavlok may sound bizarre, but it’s just the logical extension of an overall trend toward using tech to tweak and prod our brains into new ways of thinking… Pavlok acts as the metaphorical stick to these apps’ carrots, giving you the option to beat your brain into submission instead of just tweaking it.

In 2016 Mark Cuban called Pavlok “everything but a legitimate product” in what was probably one of the least-success Shark Tank appearances ever. But Medium’s reporter seems convinced it’s the appropriate response to this moment in time. “I only need to look at Twitter to feel that I’m being jolted awake with a powerful electrical shock…
“The real thing feels kind of appropriate.”

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Ask Slashdot: How Should College Students Approach This Academic Year?

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Long-time Slashdot reader goombah99 wonders how college students should approach this next academic year.
First, should defer their next academic year? Even universities opening their dorms are still limiting their dining facilities to take-out box lunches and offering most of their classes online. (Though some give students a choice of online or in-person classes). Yet despite the new rules, “Some universities are sticky about deferrals, requiring medical excuses, or else re-application for majors and scholarships. Others are more generous.”
And that’s just first decision students are facing:
If you chose to attend online, would you opt to be in the dorms — or in your parent’s house or your home town? What would you be losing (or gaining) by that choice, compared to socially distanced in-person?

For a real-world example, the original submission asks what’s the best strategy for a CS major taking just one or two classes online. “Take a freshman core course? Take a super hard foundational upper level course like Algorithm’s and Data Structures? Or take a simpler class like Intro to Object- Oriented Programming in Java. Which of these benefit the most from having in-person study buddies and labs with in-person TAs?”

Utimately the original submission asks what it is that makes college transformative — the classes, or being there (and living on-campus) in-person? “For me, I recall not even knowing all the possible majors when I attended, and it was networks, chance, new friends and upperclassmen who were how I learned what I wanted to pursue… What does one lose by remote learning and why, either academically or socially?”
Share your own thoughts in the comments. How should college students approach this academic year?

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Apple Launches Public Beta of macOS Big Sur, Its Biggest Desktop OS Update in Years

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The public beta of macOS Big Sur, the next major release of Apple’s Mac operating system, is now available. From a report: The new update brings a big visual overhaul to macOS while also adding a number of brand-new enhancements. If you’re thinking about installing the macOS Big Sur public beta, be warned that it’s still, well, a beta. That means you could experience some unexpected bugs, and software you rely on may not work with the new OS just yet. Before you install Big Sur, make sure all of your important documents are backed up somewhere safe, and if at all possible, you should only install this on a secondary Mac. But if you do roll the dice and install the Big Sur beta, you’ll immediately see that it looks much different than previous versions of macOS, as Apple has made significant design changes across the entire operating system. Windows have a whole lot more white, for example (unless you’re using dark mode, in which case, there’s still a lot of black). Apple’s app icons have received a major facelift and are now rounded squares, like iOS’s app icons. And the menu bar is now translucent, blending into your wallpaper.

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Here’s Exactly How Inefficient Wireless Charging Is

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News outlet OneZero crunched the numbers on just how inefficient wireless charging is — and the results are pretty revealing. From the report: On paper, wireless charging sounds appealing. Just drop a phone down on a charger and it will start charging. There’s no wear and tear on charging ports, and chargers can even be built into furniture. Not all of the energy that comes out of a wall outlet, however, ends up in a phone’s battery. Some of it gets lost in the process as heat. While this is true of all forms of charging to a certain extent, wireless chargers lose a lot of energy compared to cables. They get even less efficient when the coils in the phone aren’t aligned properly with the coils in the charging pad, a surprisingly common problem. […]

To get a sense of how much extra power is lost when using wireless charging versus wired charging in the real world, I tested a Pixel 4 using multiple wireless chargers, as well as the standard charging cable that comes with the phone. I used a high-precision power meter that sits between the charging block and the power outlet to measure power consumption. In my tests, I found that wireless charging used, on average, around 47% more power than a cable. Charging the phone from completely dead to 100% using a cable took an average of 14.26 watt-hours (Wh). Using a wireless charger took, on average, 21.01 Wh. That comes out to slightly more than 47% more energy for the convenience of not plugging in a cable. In other words, the phone had to work harder, generate more heat, and suck up more energy when wirelessly charging to fill the same size battery. […] The first test with the Yootech pad — before I figured out how to align the coils properly — took a whopping 25.62 Wh to charge, or 80% more energy than an average cable charge. Hearing about the hypothetical inefficiencies online was one thing, but here I could see how I’d nearly doubled the amount of power it took to charge my phone by setting it down slightly wrong instead of just plugging in a cable.

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LastPass Will Warn You If Your Passwords Show Up On the Dark Web

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LastPass is updating its Security Dashboard with a feature that provides an overview of all your accounts, highlighting any passwords that could pose a security risk. The password manager is also introducing dark web monitoring, although it will require you to be a paid LastPass subscriber. Engadget reports: If you already use LastPass and the Security Dashboard sounds familiar, it’s because it builds on the Security Challenge functionality LastPass developer LogMeIn added in 2010. As before, grading is a major aspect of the interface. When you first navigate to the Security Dashboard, you’ll see a score of all your logins, followed by a breakdown of passwords that are either old, inactive, weak or reused. You can click or tap on a problematic password to change it, and LastPass will automatically take you to the webpage where you can update your login information. LogMeIn hasn’t changed how the app calculates the overall score it gives to each user. But one significant improvement the Security Dashboard brings over the Security Challenge is that you don’t need to manually run it each time you want to see the security of your online accounts. The score and steps you can take to improve your online security are there each time you visit that part of the software’s interface.

With today’s update, LogMeIn is also introducing dark web monitoring. When you enable the feature, LastPass will proactively check your online accounts against Enzoic’s compromised credentials database. If it detects an issue, it will notify you through both email and the app. Dark web monitoring is available to LastPass Premium, Family and Business subscribers. The dashboard, by contrast, is available to all LastPass users.

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The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra Has Lasers, Plays Xbox Games, And is Just Massive

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Samsung today unveiled two Galaxy Note 20 models — the Note 20 (which starts at $999) and Note 20 Ultra (which starts at $1,299) — arriving later this month on August 21. Both Note 20 smartphones come with an S Pen, but there are some major differences. Notably, the screen and the cameras are a little bit different. From a report: The smaller Note 20 has a 6.7-inch display with flat edges and the larger Note 20 Ultra has a 6.9-inch 120Hz screen with curved sides. Curved glass has long been a signature design on Samsung phones and it looks like the company is at least considering a change. But the one thing I’m most excited for is the Note 20 Ultra’s 108-megapixel camera. This is the same image sensor on the S20 Ultra with one important change: a laser sensor that enables faster autofocusing. In other words: Samsung says it has fixed the S20 Ultra’s autofocusing issues on the Note 20 Ultra. I’ll test that out soon enough to verify the claim, but for now, here’s everything else you need to know about the Note 20 phones.

Expand to a TV with DeX: In addition to plugging your Note 20 into a laptop or monitor to turn it into a desktop-like computer experience with DeX mode, Note 20 users can wirelessly connect to a TV with Miracast support. Samsung says all of its 2019 and newer smart TVs support the wireless DeX mode. Smarter Windows integration: Samsung’s growing partnership with Microsoft is yielding even tighter synergy between its devices and Windows 10. Samsung says Windows 10 will let you run multiple Note 20 apps simultaneously later this year and has better drag-and-drop support between devices.
Xbox Game Pass Ultimate: If you’re a gamer, you’ll be able to stream over 100 Xbox games directly to the Note 20 phones with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. This feature doesn’t go live until September 15.
Ultra-wideband: Like the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro, the Note 20 phones have an ultra-wideband chip inside. Samsung says UWB will allow people to share files to another UWB-supported device by pointing them at each other. UWB can also be used to unlock smart locks (for homes or cars).

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Stet!, the Hot New Language Game

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The game Stet!, a spinoff of the book “Dreyer’s English,” is an excellent way to prepare for a copy-editing test and pairs well with a gin-and-tonic. Mary Norris, writing for The New Yorker: Nerdsday fell on a Tuesday this year, and I invited a friend over for a doubleheader: a round of Stet!, the new language game based on “Dreyer’s English,” followed by an episode of Mark Allen’s “That Word Chat,” a homespun Zoom talk show for editors, lexicographers, linguists, and others of the inky tribe. My friend was Merrill Perlman, who writes the column “Language Corner” for the Columbia Journalism Review, where her biographical note says that she has “managed copy desks across the newsroom at the New York Times.” Although retired from full-time journalism, she continues to teach and serves on the board of ACES: The Society for Editing. Nitpickers by profession, we ran into a problem right away. The instructions for Stet! suggest that you “play with three or more players” (is that redundant?), and we had been unable, during the pandemic, to scare up a third nerd. The game of Stet! comprises two packs of cards with sentences on them, fifty of them Grammar cards with indisputable errors (dangling modifiers, stinking apostrophes, and homonyms, like horde/hoard and reign/rein) and fifty of them Style cards, on which the sentences are correct but pedestrian, and the object is to improve the sentence without rewriting it. There are trick cards with no mistakes on them. You might suspect that there is something wrong with (spoiler alert) “Jackson Pollock” or “asafetida” or “farmers market,” but these are red herrings.

If you believe that the sentence is perfect just as it is, you shout “Stet!,” the proofreading term for “leave it alone” (from the Latin for “let it stand”), which is used by copy editors to protect an author’s prose and by authors to protect their prose from copy editors. The game involves some role playing. If you use only the Grammar cards, the dealer is called the Copy Chief, as in “The Copy Chief shuffles the fifty Grammar cards.” If you mix in the Style cards, the dealer is the Author, the players are Copy Editors (you can almost hear an author muttering, “Everyone is a copy editor”), and the deck is huge. I got the impression from the size of the cards, which are bigger than those in a tarot pack, that authors and copy editors have large, masculine hands. I personally wear a small-to-medium-sized disposable nitrile glove and could not riffle the deck with any kind of flair (or is it “flare”?). The sporting element in Stet! is slapping your hand on the carefully sanitized table when you spot the mistake or mistakes. Points are awarded based on the number of errors planted in a sentence. Most have just one, some have two, and there are a few three-pointers. Penalties are assessed for missing mistakes, but none for introducing an error, a cardinal sin in copy editing. (Perhaps the instructions could be refined to add a slap on the hand for this.) It takes five points to win a game, and the game goes fast. I won the first round handily, mostly because my opponent, the Copy Chief, kept forgetting to slap.

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Google Announces Pixel 4a and Pixel 4a 5G

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Google today unveiled two Pixel smartphones. First is the $349 Pixel 4A, which is available for preorder now and will ship on August 20th. And second, there’s the Pixel 4A 5G, which will cost $499 and also ship sometime this fall. From a blog post: With the same incredible camera experiences from Pixel 4 and a redesigned hole-punch design, Pixel 4a brings the same features that have helped millions of Pixel owners take great shots. HDR+ with dual exposure controls, Portrait Mode, Top Shot, Night Sight with astrophotography capabilities and fused video stabilization — they’re all there. The Pixel 4a comes in Just Black with a 5.8-inch OLED display. It has a matte finish that feels secure and comfortable in your hand and includes Pixel’s signature color pop power button in mint. Check out the custom wallpapers that have some fun with the punch-hole camera. In addition to features like Recorder, which now connects with Google Docs to seamlessly save and share transcriptions and recordings (English only), Pixel 4a will include helpful experiences like the Personal Safety app for real-time emergency notifications and car crash detection.

Pixel 4a also has Live Caption, which provides real-time captioning (English only) for your video and audio content. New with the Pixel 4a launch — and also rolling out for Pixel 2, 3, 3a and 4 phones — Live Caption will now automatically caption your voice and video calls. The Pixel 4a has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G Mobile Platform, Titan M security module for on-device security, 6 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage with an even bigger battery that lasts all day1. […] This fall, we’ll have two more devices to talk about: the Pixel 4a (5G), starting at $499, and Pixel 5, both with 5G2 to make streaming videos, downloading content and playing games on Stadia or other platforms faster and smoother than ever. Pixel 4a (5G) and Pixel 5 will be available in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Germany, Japan, Taiwan and Australia. In the coming months, we’ll share more about these devices and our approach to 5G.

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