The Biggest Thing At The New York Auto Show Was Not A Car

The Biggest Thing At The New York Auto Show Was Not A CarS

The easiest way to determine “hype,” whatever that is, for a product is to measure the size of its media scrum. New Mustang? Meh. How about a Mercedes? Borrrrring. But Honda just enthralled everybody with a 14-year old robot.

These press conferences are usually all the same. Everyone lines up at the manufacturer’s stand about ten minutes early, because these things tend to get crowded with various Media Types in varying levels of Pudgy and representatives from other carmakers looking to scope out the competition. Music of varying levels of crappiness begins to blare way too loudly, from Beck’s “Gamma Ray” to something I’m pretty sure was sourced from a Radio Disney ad.

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An executive, invariably old, white, and male (I can say that because I am one), gets up and then says many boring things, usually about how their sales figures are the best.

Somehow everyone’s sales figures are the best.

Then they introduce a car like it’s a BIG REVEAL, even though it’s something that probably debuted as much as three years ago. This is supposed to still impress you, somehow, even though you have an Internet connection and/or access to a newspaper subscription, if you are an Old, so you’ve already seen everything that debuted at the Detroit auto show.

There might be a video, or something, which you’ve also already seen before, or is completely nonsensical. And when I say nonsensical, I mean Drinking Out of Cups will start to look like it’s flowing from some sort of logic. Just check out this video for the otherwise splendid Rolls-Royce Ghost II:

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If you can make anything comprehendible come out of that, especially this bit:

The Biggest Thing At The New York Auto Show Was Not A CarS

I will say hi to you on Twitter, or something. Really not gonna go further than that.

Don’t get me wrong, the Ghost is a great car, and when you sit in the world’s most comfortable bank vault that is the back seat, the world just melts away. But that video, I do not understand.

Anyways. Sometime after that point, they will describe how their new car is the best, in some way, be it number of backup cameras or the highest contrast in seat stitching.

This is the point in which most begin to blackout, and people holding cameras start to go weak in the limbs. PR people take this as their cue to start serving drinks, whether its a pineapple smoothie (Mini) or a glass of champagne (Bentley). Most of these drinks are inevitably refused by all in attendance, except for the older guy in the rumpled suit with the gray beard and ponytail who is also somehow balding. He loves them smoothies.

But sometimes, just sometimes, an automaker will try to throw a wrench in the works, especially if the BIG REVEAL isn’t that big, or revealing at all. This is usually in the form of an even bigger deal than the BIG REVEAL, or, at least, what the company tries to push as an even bigger deal.

Ford brought out the Mustang 50th Anniversary, mostly to distract from the mid-life Focus update. Not that there’s anything wrong, per se, with a mid-life Focus update, but the little family sedan might not be the most exciting thing under the sun. So if you want to attract people to the Ford stand, you bring out a Mustang that’s celebrating history.

But what if you’re Honda? It’s not like you can attract the Masses in droves with a celebration of the S800. Dorks like us might love that sort of thing, but not the regular show-going member of the media.

If you’re Honda, you’ll have to look towards the future. And that’s where ASIMO comes in.

ASIMO debuted in 2000, but it was a result of a long process of evolution starting with the terrifyingly post-apocalyptic looking Honda P1.

The Biggest Thing At The New York Auto Show Was Not A CarS

It’s all wires and metal and clamps with a box on its head, and it represents the hellscape of your dystopian nightmare.

ASIMO, instead, is endearing, and lovely. It’s been upgraded and refined over the ensuing 14 years, so while the outside form remains the same, it’s gotten new abilities, enabling it to run, and even hop on one foot. And if a picture of a little robot ASIMO surrounded by a seething mass of photographers and reporters doesn’t warm your heart, check out this ad that Honda ran as part of a series featuring Garrison Keillor’s down blanket of a voice:

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And what press conference was ASIMO at?

The 2015 Honda Fit press conference. And if you want anybody talking about the car that will generate millions upon millions of dollars of cash for your company?

It helps to have the biggest thing at the auto show.

Photo credit: Brian Williams/Jalopnik, Morio

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Irish school children are building worlds for the Oculus Rift

If games, wildlife documentaries and virtual strolls in the park aren’t enough to validate virtual reality for you, try this one: educational motivation. School children in Ireland have been using a open source version of Second Life to learn coding, 3D modeling and to create virtual spaces of recent field trips. Their most recent project: recreating the monastery of Clonmacnoise and exploring it with an Oculus Rift. Technically the Rift isn’t part of the classroom’s normal operations — the founder of the MissionV virtual reality platform the school is visiting brought it with him on a recent visit — but it did give the students a new perspective on the world they had built. “Whoa,” one student exclaimed, looking at the classroom’s recreation of Clonmacnoise’s McCarthy Tower. “That is humongous.”

“The children spent two weeks building the model and were intimately familiar with the layout of the site and buildings as the appeared on the PC monitor,” MissionV founder and CEO James Corbett explained. “But the full realization of the scale and perspective of what they built only dawned on them when they were immersed in this reality.” Having a virtual presence in the model actually changed how the children learned about it — and the promise of being able to play in the world they built was bound to be a heck of a motivator, too. It’s still too early to say if VR will become a common tool in education, but it’s still a blast to watch these kids romp around in a world of their own making. Check it out in the video below.

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FBI May Pick Out Your Face in a Crowd

Some people are squirming at the news that the FBI is putting together a more sophisticated database, including photographs of individuals identified through facial recognition technology, that could encompass both criminal and non-criminal records. However, it’s not as though Facebook, Google and other tech firms don’t already have similar capabilities, noted Tirias Research’s Jim McGregor.

The FBI is planning to have a fully operational facial recognition system in place by this summer and may be well on its way to reaching that goal.

The system will be able to query a database of photos to identify individuals based on their appearance even if they do not have a criminal record, reported Jennifer Lynch, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The EFF received documents related to the system following a Freedom of Information Act request for details on the FBI’s Next Generation Identification project, which may hold data on as many as a third of all Americans.

The NGI database contains around 100 million total records, including fingerprints, retinal scans and palm prints. The planned expansion will add people’s faces to the system, along with information including name, age, race and address. Other federal agencies have access to the database, as well as some 18,000 local, tribal, and state law enforcement agencies in the United States.

52 Million Photos

By next year, the system will include up to 52 million photos that will help identify people of interest. Of these, 46 million will come from criminal images like mugshots; 4.3 million from “civil images,” including those from employer background checks; and 215,000 from the Repository for Individuals of Special Concern.

However, the FBI documents do not make clear exactly where the other million or so images would be sourced, indicating only that 750,000 images will come from a “Special Population Cognizant” category and 215,000 from “new repositories.”

The lack of definition for the last two sources is a problem, according to Lynch, because it’s unclear where the data comes from, how the images are collected, who has access to them, what rules govern them, and how they impact privacy.

Unique Number

The linking of criminal and non-criminal databases may be a cause for concern. Every record has a unique number, and all searches will be run against every record in the database — meaning a person who was required to submit a photo for an employer background check could appear in search results and potentially be implicated as a criminal suspect simply based on having an image on file, suggested the EFF.

Several states already are sharing and accessing facial recognition data through NGI, while others are taking part in a pilot project to test facial recognition image quality.

The FBI documents suggest that the system will not make a “positive identification” and “therefore, there is no false positive rate.” The list of candidates returned by an NGI search is intended only as an “investigative lead” rather than identification of a suspect.

Accuracy Concerns

When it comes to accuracy, the FBI ensures only that “the candidate [for investigation] will be returned in the top 50 candidates” 85 percent of the time “when the true candidate exists in the gallery.”

It is not clear what happens when the “true candidate” does not appear in the top 50 results, potentially placing innocent people under investigation because the software determines they have similar facial appearances to suspects, the EFF notes. This practice carries a high possibility of false positive results, with the system potentially suggesting many people as suspects for crimes they did not commit.

The FBI and Congress have not placed meaningful restrictions on the types of data that can be included in the system, who will have access to the system, and how the data can be used, according to the EFF. For instance, the FBI documents indicate that it will not allow non-mug shot images — for example, photos from social networks — to be included, but there are no legal or policy restrictions in place to stop that from happening.

“One of the biggest additional concerns is that as face recognition improves, the FBI may use its database to try to identify faces in a crowd,” the EFF’s Lynch told TechNewsWorld.

“This could pose a huge threat to privacy and free speech for people engaged in political protests or even people who are bystanders at demonstrations. The FBI has already suggested in its public presentations that this is a future goal,” she pointed out.

‘Meaningful Restrictions’

“People opposed to the government’s increasing use of face recognition should contact their state and federal legislators and ask for meaningful restrictions on how law enforcement collects face recognition data and how that data is used and shared,” Lynch said.

However, it might be too late to stop the narrowing levels of privacy, given many people already share images online for anyone to view.

“Anyone could do this with today’s technology,” said Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

“Just think of the facial recognition database Facebook could assemble. So, anyone that posts pictures up on the Web really shouldn’t be complaining about privacy,” he added.

“There should also not be concerns about false arrests or imprisonment, because this data is just one piece that will used to identify and prosecute potential criminals,” McGregor told TechNewsWorld.

“Yes, there is the potential for misinterpreting an image, especially a low-res image, as someone else or even several people, but that is no different that using a rendering from sketch artist. In fact, it may help improve the image enhancement and recognition technology,” he pointed out.

“Some information will be in the public eye no matter what a person does or what safeguards are put in place,” McGregor concluded. “In addition, I believe that many of the current privacy concerns will fade over time as our society changes and the younger generation matures.”

Kris Holt is a writer and editor based in Montreal. He has written for the Daily Dot, The Daily Beast, and PolicyMic, among others. He’s Scottish, so would prefer if no one used the word “soccer” in his company. You can connect with Kris on

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Watch These Amazing Flip Books of Birds and Butterflies


You could call Juan Fontanive a filmmaker, and you wouldn’t be totally wrong. The artist does, in fact, make pictures move, though his method is a little more analog than most.

In Fontanive’s world, film is card stock and playback comes in the form of rapidly flipping pages inside metal boxes. The Brooklyn-based painter and maker is known for his mesmerizing breed of mechanical flip books, and in his new series, Vivarium A & B, and Ornithology S, you see colorful hummingbirds and butterflies flitting across the page in constant motion, like an Audubon guide come to life.

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Built from discarded clock and pushbike components, the portable metal boxes that house Fontanive’s animations work similarly to a clock. You can see the gears grinding as his hand-painted pages flip over and over in a hypnotizing cadence.

Fontanive describes his work as “films without light,” and it really does harken back to the days of the hand-held camera when filmmakers would crank their way to a movie. But his flip books have a tangible quality that watching a movie on a 2-D screen just can’t achieve.

Fontanive is able to capture the satisfaction we get from thumbing through a flip book and automate it. Though you can’t feel the pages brushing up against your finger, Fontanive’s pieces still deliver the breeze, that soothing, padded click as the pages turn over. And it’s fascinating to watch.

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[h/t Colossal]

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Latest Update Brings KitKat to Google Glass

Latest Update Brings KitKat to Google Glass

It’s been a while since we last heard of a software update for Glass and now I guess we know why. The team over at Mountain View has been busy updating the face-computer to run on the latest version of Android (4.4.2 a.k.a. KitKat).

It sounds like it won’t be a very obvious change, but Google claims the upgrade will give Glass better battery life (which is very sorely needed), stability improvements, as well as make it easier for developers to write apps for it.

Also contained in this update: Photo Bundles. Right now, if you want to find a photo you took last week, you have to swipe backwards through every single shot you took for the last seven days. Bundles will group photos together by day, which will make for much less swiping.

You’ll also now be able to send photos as a reply to messages in Hangouts, and the ever-growing list of voice-commands will be sorted in the order of frequency and recency. One of the surprises is that Google is taking video calling out. Here’s Google’s quote on its reasoning:

We hold ourselves to high standards for the features that we build, and video calls aren’t living up to these standards. Explorers have told us so directly, and fewer than 10% of them use video calls. For this reason, we’ve made the hard decision to remove video calls from Glass until the experience is better. We don’t know when that will be, but in the meantime, keep an eye on MyGlass as more Glassware is built and released – we’re already seeing the developer community work on other video streaming services. We’ve always said that feedback from Explorers shapes Glass, and this is no exception.

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This is a bummer in my book. I didn’t use the feature often, but I once make a video call while mountain biking down some difficult terrain, and that was one of my favorite things that happened during the whole time I used Glass.

Google says there’s a lot more in this update than it could fit into this short announcement. We’ll be playing with it and will update if we see anything cool. [Google]

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Office comes to the Chrome Web Store along with a slew of upgrades

Microsoft OneNote on the web

Microsoft isn’t done with Office updates just because it released Office for iPad and made Office Mobile completely free — it has a bunch of improvements in store for Office Online, too. To start with, Office has reached the Chrome Web Store. You can now launch most of the productivity suite’s web apps (Excel is due soon) in the Chrome browser or Chrome OS just by clicking a shortcut. Clearly, the crew from Redmond is no longer averse to supporting your Chromebook.

Each of the apps has received at least one big upgrade at the same time. OneNote Online now offers printing support, while its Excel counterpart finally lets you add comments; PowerPoint accurately previews text, and it’s far easier to put footnotes and lists into Word. If you’ve been holding off on an Office 365 subscription because its web component was lacking, there may be enough tweaks here to justify giving it a second look.



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Sonos Swings Into Google’s Playground

Listening to music just got a little more appified. “You can send your Google Play playlist directly to any Sonos speaker — it doesn’t stream the music through your phone or tablet, so you don’t have to worry about WiFi dropouts or having your music interrupted by system sounds or an incoming phone call,” noted Chris Boylan, editor-in-chief at Big Picture Big Sound.

A new partnership between
Sonos and Google means that users of the Google Play Music app for Android now can stream music to their Sonos speakers directly from the app itself.

Available in 25 countries, the new capability effectively eliminates the need to use Sonos’ Controller app as an intermediary. It represents Sonos’ first such integration partnership with a major music streaming service, but it likely won’t be the last, Kristen Bender, Sonos’ senior product manager for music services, told TechNewsWorld.

“In betting on streaming, we look to bring thousands of services to millions of music lovers worldwide,” Bender said. “While we started with Google Play Music, we look to provide this same experience to users across multiple services.”

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For now, however, the capability is Android-only — “no date has been set at this time for further consideration for iOS,” she said.

‘A More Immediate User Experience’

Sonos originated in the PC era, when music typically was stored on local hard drives, so “it made sense to sync from there,” Mark Mulligan, media analyst with MIDiA Consulting, told TechNewsWorld.

While the majority of listeners still do things that way, “things are changing, and Google Play is aimed at changing that,” Mulligan pointed out. So, in many ways, “this is a recognition of the fact that we’re moving into the post-PC era.”

From a user-experience perspective, “it is much more easy and elegant to be able to play directly from your phone — it’s a more immediate user experience,” he added.

‘Google Is Playing Catch-Up’

Systems like Sonos and others “are a growing way for audiences to consume music,” agreed radio futurologist
James Cridland. “Most of them have access to Spotify, Rdio and other music services, so Google is playing catch-up here: This move will just put Google Play Music on a similar footing to the other services.”

The unavailability of Google Play Music on Sonos surely has dissuaded some Sonos owners from signing up for the Google service; conversely, “its availability on Sonos should mean current Google Music users will consider a Sonos system in future. This is a win-win for the two companies,” Credland told TechNewsWorld.

In general, Google Music has appeared to be “a hobby” for Google and “something they haven’t taken too seriously,” he added. “It still lags behind Rdio and Spotify for social features.”

Both competitors have a multiplatform strategy, for example, and Spotify in particular is available on a large number of devices, he pointed out.

So “this deal does indicate that Google is taking its music product more seriously,” Credland concluded.

‘A Win for Both Companies’

Sonos, meanwhile, is “facing more competition in the whole-home wireless streaming market these days, as companies such as Samsung, Apple, Bose, DTS and Qualcomm have launched or announced their own flavors of wireless streaming,” Chris Boylan, editor-in-chief at
Big Picture Big Sound, told TechNewsWorld.

Two things that set Sonos apart, Boylan suggested, are “integration with a large number of different streaming apps — Spotify, Pandora, Internet Radio, iTunes and now Google Play Music — and ownership of the complete user experience.

“With Sonos, you don’t have to piece together a system or worry about complicated set-up for multiple components,” he explained. “You just download the Sonos Controller app, buy a Sonos speaker, connect the speaker to your network by pressing a couple of buttons, and you’re done. Everything else is controlled by the Sonos app.”

Now, with support for Google Play Music, “you can send your Google Play playlist directly to any Sonos speaker — it doesn’t stream the music through your phone or tablet, so you don’t have to worry about WiFi dropouts or having your music interrupted by system sounds or an incoming phone call,” Boylan added. “It’s very similar to Apple’s AirPlay, but for Android devices instead.”

That, in turn, adds up to “a win for both companies,” he concluded, “as it makes it easier for current Sonos owners to stream from their Google Play Music accounts, and it allows Google Play users to easily send their music anywhere in their homes without the range limitations and inherent drawbacks of a Bluetooth connection.”

Katherine Noyes is always on duty in her role as Linux Girl, whose cape she has worn since 2007. A mild-mannered journalist by day, she spends her evenings haunting the seedy bars and watering holes of the Linux blogosphere in search of the latest gossip. You can also
find her on Twitter and

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How to Help Rebuild the Iconic GoldenEye in Half-Life 2

Screengrab: WIRED

Screengrab: WIRED

What comes to mind when you think of the first great multiplayer shooter? Call of Duty? Halo? Counter-Strike? Fantastic games to be sure, but for many, the champ always will be GoldenEye 007, the 1997 Nintendo 64 adaptation of the 1995 James Bond flick starring Pierce Brosnan. And here’s your chance to enjoy a classic with a modern twist.

Beyond hosting a well designed and executed single-player campaign—one relatively faithful to the movie, too—GoldenEye 007 was significant for introducing multiplayer shooters to console gamers. Before GoldenEye, the options were slim. PC gaming wasn’t nearly as popular as it is today (and the internet even less so), and the N64 was the first console with four controller ports. GoldenEye was among the first games to take advantage of them.

Still, time has not been kind to the first king of console split-screen. Aside from its rudimentary 3D graphics, the game’s wonky single-stick control scheme is exceptionally difficult for anyone accustomed to the modern twin-stick system of games like Halo and Call of Duty. So how do players looking for an N64 nostalgia-hit get their fix?


For nearly a decade, Half-Life 2 has provided a modding platform for myriad projects. GoldenEye: Source is a total-conversion mod that aims to rebuild the original GoldenEye 007 multiplayer in Half-Life 2′s Source engine. With the mod, players can once again experience everything from the tight, twisted corridors of “The Library” to the calamitous bullet-spray of the RC-P90—with updated graphics, a re-imagined soundtrack, and, of course, a modernized control scheme.

The project has been around for quite a while itself — the team originally began work in 2005, later launching out of the beta phase in 2009. Since then, it has continued to gain support, with more than a dozen professional and hobbyist game designers lending their efforts. And now, you can help too.

Last week, one of the project’s managing directors — known by the handle “killermonkey” — announced that GoldenEye: Source was officially going open source. The current version (v 4.2.4) of the entire project’s code base has been uploaded to GitHub, and is available for anyone — anyone with the know-how, at least — to download and assist working on.

The current goals of the project lie mainly in bug-fixing, as a multitude erupted from the transition to Source SDK 2013, the most recent version of Valve’s Source engine and developer tools. Major revisions of code and feature additions are still being handled by the official GoldenEye: Source team, but modders interested in helping out can use GitHub’s pull requests and issue tracker to assist with bug fixing and issue reporting.

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This GIF shows what sound actually looks like

This GIF shows what sound actually looks like

If you picture what sound looks like in your head, you’ll probably think of some picture graph of a sound wave. But no one can actually see those up and down scribbles with their eyeballs. So what does sound actually look like in real life? It’s invisible but sound looks like what you see in the GIF above. A gust of air.

NPR explains how to capture invisible motion such as sound in the clip below:

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BlackBerry is willing to stop making phones if they keep losing money

BlackBerry Z30 on its face

BlackBerry CEO John Chen has long made it obvious that he wants to turn a profit by 2016, but it’s now clear that nothing will stand in the way of that goal — not even his company’s smartphones. While devices are still part of the plan, Chen tells Bloomberg and Reuters that he wants to avoid depending on them for revenue, and may “not be in the handset business” if the hardware doesn’t make cash. The exec is more eager to generate income from software, including enterprise offerings and an expansion of QNX’s platform beyond cars and industrial gear.

Chen doesn’t think it will necessarily come down to axing BlackBerry’s best-known products, though. He believes that crew in Waterloo can still make money on phones as long as it ships at least 10 million units per year, which is feasible if current sales figures hold steady. There’s a glimmer of hope if you’re a fan of BlackBerry’s classic smartphone designs, then — just don’t get too attached, because they might not last forever.



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