Microsoft today launched Soundscape, a new iOS app that aims to give people who are blind or visually impaired a greater awareness of their surrounding by using 3D cues.
It’s worth stressing that the app isn’t about replacing guide dogs or canes. Instead, it’s all about enriching people’s perception of their surroundings. A guide dog can’t tell you that your favorite store is right around the corner if you’re in an unfamiliar city or what street you are on, after all. With the app, users can set audio beacons for destinations and landmarks. Using GPS and the built-in compass in the phone, the app then generates its spatial audio cues. The mapping data is provided by OpenStreetMap.
“Obstacle avoidance is not the problem, we have a dog, a cane and our blindness skills for that,” said Erin Lauridsen, Access Technology Director, LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco in a blog post today. “The gap is knowing where things are and being able to decide what’s of interest.”
The app offers three modes: ‘locate’ tells you where you are, ‘around me’ calls out four points of interest around you and ‘ahead of me’ provides the names of five landmarks in front of you.
If some of this sounds familiar, that’s probably because Microsoft has been working on this project for quite a while now. Back in 2014, the team was working with Windows Phone handsets and was experimenting with bone-conduction headsets. At the time, Microsoft was also hoping to use sensors and beacons in cities to provide additional information like bus arrival times. Today, Windows Phone is no more and the requirement of using a bone-conduction headset has been removed, but the general idea behind Soundscape has always remained the same.
If you want to see the app in action, take a look at this video (and put on headphones to get the spatial audio effects).
Climate change is causing the season to start comparatively earlier the further north you go, say scientists
The Arctic spring is arriving 16 days earlier than it did a decade ago, according to a new study which shows climate change is shifting the season earlier more dramatically the further north you go.
The research, published on Friday in the journal Scientific Reports, comes amid growing concern about the warming of Greenland, Siberia, Alaska and other far northern regions, which have recently experienced unusually prolonged and frequent midwinter temperature spikes.
The authors from the University of California, Davis, based the study on temperature records and 743 previous phenological studies looking at timings of bird migrations, flowers blooming and amphibians calling. The results showed a curve, with spring events occurring earlier further north of the equator.
Spring is arriving earlier, and the Arctic is experiencing greater advances of spring than lower latitudes, said lead author Eric Post, a fellow of the John Muir Institute and polar ecologist at UC Davis.
Over the past 10 years, this means the end of winter will come about a day earlier in Los Angeles, but two weeks earlier in the Arctic. The authors say the northward increase in the rate of springtime advance is roughly three times greater than indicated by previous studies.
This underlines how pronounced climate change is in the Arctic, where temperatures are rising twice as fast as the global average and ice fields are rapidly shrinking.
The warming trend has been unusually apparent in recent weeks. Although the sun has not reached the high Arctic since October, temperatures has been above freezing for 61 hours more than three times the previous record at Greenlands northernmost weather monitoring station.
Martin Stendel, lead scientist of the Polar Portal and a senior researcher at the Danish Meteorological Institute, said temperatures in the central Arctic have been 4C warmer than average this winter. In February, several regions were 10C above historic norms. Despite fluctuations, he expects this trend to continue.
Think of waves on the beach. Some are high, some are low. Thats the weather. But in the background the tide is coming in. Thats climate change. Even though the waves havent changed their properties, they come closer and closer to your feet, he says. The consequences would include increased melting of the ice sheet, less sea ice, thawing permafrost both on land and under the sea, less snow and more rain even in winter.
The weather has appeared out of joint seasonally and geographically. As much of northern Europe was hit by blizzards and chills, the Danish media joked that residents should visit the Arctic special forces base at Daneborg because it is warmer there.
The handful of troops at the base are used to spending months in cold and darkness. The first day the sun doesnt come up you think Wow, one member told Greenland Today in 2015. The water and the rivers stop running because they freeze. The fjord freezes too, so there are no waves or swells that lap at the shore. The small birds fly south so there is no birdsong. Only the ravens overwinter. And then a thick layer of snow comes that muffles everything even more.
On some patrols, they encounter blizzards that last for days and temperatures as low at -51C.
But there is increasingly frequent respite in the form of warm foehn wind. This abrupt warming and drying of moist winds as they pass over ice-masses or mountains is commonly seen in the Alps. Similar phenomenon are the Chinook or snow eater of the North American Rocky Mountains; the Zonda of the South American Andes; and the Helm wind of the English Pennines.
February has seen such warmth arrive with unprecedented frequency.
One member of the Arctic Patrol described the effect as surreal. Outside, the dogs lie on their backs boiling and we dance around in our underwear enjoying it, until the cold returns.
I don’t have a “Dog Mom” bumper sticker on my car, but I sure do love my pups. My two dogs have been my constant companions for almost a decade. They have top-of-the-line dog beds, toothbrushes, and even health insurance.
The LINK AKC smart dog collar is ideal for a dog owner like me. It’s a handsome leather collar that is by far the most luxurious accessory my dog has ever donned. While it functions as a location tracker, the collar and its companion app are meant to function as a one-stop resource for All Things Dog.
You can turn a light on your dog’s collar, track their activity, take pictures of fun adventures, and keep track of their vet and medical records. The one problem? The collar is the most effective if your dogs, like mine, rarely leave your side.
Big Dog, Big Heart
When you open the package, the collar has three separate components. There’s the gorgeous, tawny leather collar; the tracker, which clicks into the collar; and a home base, which is charged via a USB cable.
You can select the collar in sizes ranging from nine inches for an extra-small, to 25 inches for a extra-large. However, the tracker itself is pretty big. It curves to fit your dog’s neck and measures five inches long, and you can’t select a smaller tracker size. My 70-pound cattle dog mix doesn’t notice it, but it would be huge on a smaller pooch.
To get the full use of the collar, you need to sign up for a subscription plan on the app, which works on both Android and iOS phones. It’s $10 per month, and cheaper if you sign up for one or two years. With the app, you can activate the (incredibly bright) built-in LED light, train your dog to come, or lay off smaller dogs by activating an annoying beeping sound.
You can check your pet’s location in relation to the plugged-in home base or track their activity and set goals for each day. Based on my dog’s breed and size, the AKC suggested 48 minutes of activity per day. If you’re going out for a walk or to the park, you can push the red “Start Adventure” button, which will keep a GPS log of your journey and let you take pictures with your phone's camera so you can remember your fun times together with geolocation included.
In the app, you'll also find a Records tab, which is really just a note-taking function that lets you store info about immunizations and check-ups, and a temperature alert. You can set both low and high air temperature thresholds, and the tracker will alert you if the collar detects extremes in either direction.
In testing the collar, I had some problems with this feature, however. The Pacific Northwest in the winter boasts mild winter weather. Even with the alerts set to the highest low setting and the lowest high setting, I was unable to get the alert to trigger unless I put the tracker in the fridge. But it would be a useful thing to have if there was an emergency and I needed to leave the dogs in the car (which I would never do! Don’t do that!)
The tracking unit uses Bluetooth to track if your dog is home or away. If your dog ventures out of a pre-programmed zone away from the tracker's included charging cradle, the app sends you an alert. Naturally, the cradle needs to be plugged in to keep a Bluetooth connection with the collar.
This would be great if it weren't for one tiny problem: Bluetooth range is shockingly poor. Whenever my dog moved more than fifteen feet away from the charger, the app alerted me that she was away. Since we have a dog door and she can go freely in and out, this started to get pretty dang annoying. Sometimes, the tracker alerted me that she was away, when she was actually napping in the next room.
Battery life is also a bummer. I asked the LINK team about this, since I found it suspicious that it only took a half-hour for the LEDs to indicate a full charge. They told me that it normally takes 60-90 minutes to completely fill the battery. Even when my tracker reported a full charge at 2 PM, by 9 that night the tracker warned me that it already had a low battery.
The constant "away" notifications might have contributed to draining the battery. When the dog goes out of Bluetooth range, the tracker searches for Wi-Fi; if the dog leaves both the Bluetooth and the Wi-Fi zone, it prepares to start GPS tracking over AT&T's cellular network. There's no way to tell the tracker to calm the heck down, my dog was just answering nature's call. That is, unless you decide to buy another base to cover the opposite side of your house.
Speaking of the activity tracker: The collar features a 9-axis accelerometer, similar to those used in human wearables. It tracks the dog's activity and calibrates it according to moderate and intense activity levels, depending on the dog's breed and age.
However, there seemed to be a discrepancy with the activity tracking. Even when I logged adventures that lasted an hour, the activity tracker only counted 44 minutes of activity. Presumably the accelerometer is still calibrating itself to my dog's preferences, but I'm pretty sure those preferences don't include falling asleep halfway through her walk.
Finally, if you’re an adventurous person with an adventurous dog, I recommend buying the compatible sports sleeve. The tracker and collar are water-resistant and functioned even after short swimming sessions at a nearby beach. But cleaning sand out of the tracker’s spring-release clips was super annoying.
Old Dogs, New Tricks
Since the battery life is so limited and the away alerts so frequent, I got into the habit of taking the collar off while we were at home and only putting it on when we went out. I wouldn't buy this tracker if my primary concern was an escape-artist dog. LINK recommends charging the tracker unit every evening, but that's still a pretty big window of time in which your pup could be digging a tunnel under the fence.
But even with limited usage, I appreciated the collar’s features. I’m not particularly worried about my dogs leaving the yard, but they’re not always within my line of sight while we’re out hiking. The GPS tracker gave me real-time info on where they were, which was accurate on our trips through well-known parks.
The collar is expensive, but having an integrated, remote controlled light means that I wouldn’t have to buy a separate lighted collar—a necessity for black dog owners, at a latitude where the sun sets at 4 pm in the winter. Using the app to ring a bell and call your dog to come might not be particularly convenient, but so is remembering to carry treats and a clicker.
Many people don’t respond well to gamifying fitness, but I do, and by extension so do my dogs. I tend to rush our outings on busy days, so even if the activity tracker was inaccurate, it was a push to help get us outside and stay there for longer.
And finally, remembering to log adventures and take pictures of my dog was a nice reminder to do something that I might otherwise never do. It’s second nature to take as many pictures of your kids as possible, but I don’t always remember to do so with my dogs. As my spouse reminds me, they won’t be with us forever (sob!).
If I was looking for a tracker to solve a problem, like finding a dog who takes itself walkabout or keep tabs on my dog walker, I would probably pick a product with more reliable tracking and a longer battery life, like the Whistle 3. I also wouldn’t pick up the Link AKC if my dog were smaller than thirty pounds since it seems bulky for a small canine.
But as an all-around fun and useful tool, the Link AKC collar would be a great addition to an indulgent dog owner’s arsenal of dog equipment. For what it's worth, my dog has never looked handsomer.
Guardians Of The Galaxy fans were mortified on Tuesday when they got some really sad clarification from director James Gunn.
In a Twitter debate between sci fi fans over whether they would save Baby Groot or an adorable porg from Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the director weighed in that of course you’d save Baby Groot, who is a sentient being.
Even if what you say is true – and it may not be true that Groot was asexually reproduced – then you would believe Barbra Streisand’s new dogs are her original dog and that is so very clearly not the case. https://t.co/rY60MowA7l — James Gunn (@JamesGunn) February 27, 2018
To own an animal is to learn about the inevitability of dying not that loved ones can be replicated in a lab if we cough up enough cash, writes Guardian columnist Stuart Heritage
Barbra Streisand might not brim with the white-hot cultural relevance she used to, but nobody can deny that shes a trier. For example, when everyones back was turned, she went off and created her very own Black Mirror episode.
In her episode, a broken-hearted millionaire realises that she cannot bear to part with her sick dog, so she spends an inordinate amount of money to have it cloned. However, with every passing day, the millionaire realises the futility of her gesture. The clones dont behave like the original, and the differences between old and new tear at her soul until she drowns the puppies in a lake.
Apart from the last part (it wouldnt be Black Mirror unless it ended on a note of harrowing violence) this has all actually happened. In a recent Variety interview, Streisand revealed that her Coton de Tulear dogs, Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett, were created in a lab. She had them made, at great expense, from genetic material taken from her dog Samantha, who died last year.
Tragically, she now hints that it might have been a mistake. The new dogs might look like Samantha, but dont behave like her. Im waiting for them to get older so I can see if they have her brown eyes and her seriousness, she said.
Without sounding too solipsistic, a big part of owning a pet is to learn about death. You take custody of an animal knowing that youre likely to outlive it. While its alive you swaddle it in as much love as you possibly can, and then it dies, and then youre bereft, and then, slowly, you learn how to move on. Little by little, pets equip you with the tools to deal with grief.
When I heard that Netflix had rebooted the gimmicky, stereotyped reality programme, I scoffed. But the new version is hilarious, fabulous and incredibly important
We are living through the golden age of TV. Why isnt there any decent coverage of fashion on it? Joanna, by email
I grew up as a devoted fan of CNNs Style With Elsa Klensch, but after Elsa hung up one of her 10m Geoffrey Beene jackets in 2001 I pretty much gave up on fashion TV. After all, it so often reduces fashion to the two-dimensional visuals, when the real joy of fashion goes much deeper than that and Im not talking about Trinny and Susannah insisting that all Britains housewives need to cheer themselves up is more colourful V-necks in their cupboards.
Well, colour me wrong, because at last a great fashion show has arrived. But this show is about so much more than fashion, as any great fashion show should be. In fact, it is definitely the best TV show to premiere so far this year and one of the most important TV shows for a long, long time. I speak, of course, of Netflixs Queer Eye.
What? A gimmicky reboot of an already gimmicky reality TV show? Important? Youve lost your mind, Freeman! I hear the readers cry as one. I, too, scoffed when I heard about Netflixs revival of the show yes, scoffed, I said. After all, I hate reality TV and my feelings about the original Queer Eye for a Straight Guy, which aired from 2003 to 2007 and was predicated on the stereotype that gay men are stylish and straight men are clueless schlubs, could largely be summed up as meh. Whatever charm the show had came entirely from the personalities of the five gay male presenters.
But the new series is flat-out amazing. Only eight episodes long, I devoured it in two sittings. It takes on everything from Black Lives Matter to loneliness. What it is really about, though, is masculinity and the problems it causes and it seems to me there is no more important subject on our planet right now.
But this is to make Queer Eye sound extremely po–faced, when in fact it is hilarious and fabulous. Like the original show, it features five gay men, AKA the Fab Five, each with his own speciality: interiors designer Bobby, who does the most impressive makeovers on the show; silver-fox fashion expert Tan, who, in his Doncaster accent, is convincing American men one at a time to throw out their combat shorts; the tongue-lollingly gorgeous Karamo, who is there for culture, but is essentially the therapist of the show and thus the source of some of its most amazing moments; scene-stealing grooming expert Jonathan, who has an endearing habit of giving exposition by asking a series of questions and answering them himself (Did I realise this was my moment to shine? 100%. Did I take it? Take a look!); and food and wine guy Antoni, who cant actually seem to cook. Sure, he will pronounce tamale with a lyrical Spanish accent, but the fanciest meal he makes is hot dogs. Now, there is a fine line between making things easy for the cooking-phobic guests who appear on the show and not being able to cook yourself, but Antoni looks suspiciously like the latter. Put it this way: he is no Ted Allen.
But what is really amazing about this show is its heart. I cant remember the last time I cried at a TV show and I have cried at nearly every damn episode of Queer Eye. There was Tom in the first episode, the self-described ugly redneck who wanted to win back his ex–wife, and Cory the cop in episode three, who keeps his late fathers old suits in his closet as a way to stay close to him.
But most of all there was AJ, gay and semi-closeted, who wanted to come out and stop dressing like the assistant manager of a sofa store. I have now watched this episode three times and each time I have cried absolute buckets: there is so much emotional truth going on here and not for a second does it feel manipulated. It sums up the excellence of this show: it has political nous, it has heart, it has style and it feels utterly relevant to now. Fashion finally has the TV show it deserves and 2018 has the TV it needs.