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The White House wants to know if you’ve been ‘censored or silenced’ by social media

Posted by on May 15, 2019 in Facebook, Policy, president trump, Social Media, trump, Twitter | 0 comments

It’s no secret that the Trump administration has been at war with social media. In the past year, the President has accused several online giants of censoring conservative voices, in particular giants like Twitter, Google and Facebook.

Today, the White House launched a Typeform site aimed at collecting personal reports of social media censorship relating to political bias.

“SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS should advance FREEDOM OF SPEECH,” the minimalistic site reads. “Yet too many Americans have seen their accounts suspended, banned, or fraudulently reported for unclear ‘violations’ of user policies.”

For those who feel they’ve been wronged in some way by one of the major platforms, the 16 part questionnaire lets you chose from a list including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, while inquiring about specific tweets that were censored or accounts that were targeted. Users can submit screenshots and other supporting evidence and opt in for “President Trump’s fight for free speech” after entering a name, email address, phone number and proving they’re not real by answering a trivia question about the Declaration of Independence (take that, robots).

Trump has made a “shadow banning” and other perceived slights against conservatives voices a key cause in recent months. Last summer, he took to Twitter to address issues with the platform, writing, “Twitter ‘SHADOW BANNING’ prominent Republicans. Not good. We will look into this discriminatory and illegal practice at once! Many complaints.”

Late last month, the President met with Jack Dorsey for 30 minutes in the Oval Office, to discuss making Twitter “healthier and more civil,” according to the tech exec. No word on what the White House plans to do with the evidence it compiles.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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HTC introduces a cheaper blockchain phone, opens Zion Vault SDK

Posted by on May 11, 2019 in blockchain, Hardware, HTC, Mobile | 0 comments

Happy Blockchain Week to you and yours. HTC helped kick off this important national holiday by announcing the upcoming release of the HTC Exodus 1s. The latest version of the company’s intriguing blockchain phone shaves some of price off the Exodus 1 — which eventually sold for $699 when the company made it available in more traditional currency.

HTC’s being predictably cagey about exact pricing here, instead simply calling it “a more value-oriented version” of the original. Nor is the company discussing the actions it’s taking to reduce the cost here — though I’d expect much of them to be similar to those undergone by Google for the Pixel 3a, which was built by the former HTC team. There, most of the hits were to processing power and building material. Certainly the delightfully gimmicky transparent rear was a nice touch on the Exodus 1.

Most interesting here is the motivation behind the price drop. Here’s HTC in the press release:

It will allow users in emerging economies, or those wanting to dip their toes into the crypto world for the first time, easier access to the technology with a more accessible price point. This will democratize access to crypto and blockchain technology and help its global proliferation and adoption. HTC will release further details on exact specification and cost over the coming months.

A grandiose vision, obviously, but I think there’s something to be said for the idea. Access to some blockchain technology is somewhat price-prohibitive. Even so. Many experts in the space agree that blockchain will be an important foundation for microtransactions going forward. The Exodus 1 wasn’t exactly a smash from the look of things, but this could be an interesting first step.

Another interesting bit in all of this is the opening of the SDK for Zion Vault, the Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) product vault the company introduced with the Exodus 1. HTC will be tossing it up on GitHub for developers. “We understand it takes a community to ensure strength and security,” the company says, “so it’s important to the Exodus team that our community has the best tools available to them.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Delta is testing free Wi-Fi on flights this month

Posted by on May 9, 2019 in Delta Airlines, Transportation, wifi | 0 comments

Delta says it plans to eventually offer free Wi-Fi on flights. The first step to achieving that goal, however, involves testing it on a handful of planes, beginning later this month. Starting May 13, the carrier will begin offering free service on 55 domestic flights per day.

The idea here is to test the strain on the system. Currently, the number of passengers who actually use the in-flight service is fairly low. Delta’s current provider Gogo says it’s around 12% of passengers across its various airline partners. Obviously that figure is going to jump pretty significantly if service is offered up for free.

“Testing will be key to getting this highly complex program right—this takes a lot more creativity, investment and planning to bring to life than a simple flip of a switch,” Delta’s director of Onboard Product told The Wall Street Journal.

But while installing and maintaining that service on planes certainly isn’t cheap, exorbitant prices stand out in a world where many businesses offer up access for free. Like luggage-check prices, Wi-Fi has become another indication of airlines looking to squeeze every last penny out of travelers.

In fact, JetBlue is currently the only major U.S. airline that offers free internet access to all passengers, but it relies on corporate sponsorships to offer the service. Delta hasn’t given a firm date on when its own passengers might gain free access on a larger scale.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Notes from the Samsung Galaxy Fold: day four

Posted by on Apr 20, 2019 in galaxy fold, Hardware, Mobile, Samsung, samsung galaxy fold | 0 comments

Apologies for skipping day three. This kept me extremely busy yesterday. Though the Galaxy Fold remained a constant companion.

Before you ask (or after you ask on Twitter without having read beyond the headline), no it’s hasn’t broken yet. It’s actually been fairly robust, all things considered. But here’s the official line from Samsung on that,

A limited number of early Galaxy Fold samples were provided to media for review. We have received a few reports regarding the main display on the samples provided. We will thoroughly inspect these units in person to determine the cause of the matter.

Separately, a few reviewers reported having removed the top layer of the display causing damage to the screen. The main display on the Galaxy Fold features a top protective layer, which is part of the display structure designed to protect the screen from unintended scratches. Removing the protective layer or adding adhesives to the main display may cause damage. We will ensure this information is clearly delivered to our customers.

I’ll repeat what I said the other day: breakages and lemons have been known to happen with preproduction units. I’ve had it happen with device in a number of occasions in my many years of doing this. That said, between the amount of time it took Samsung to let us reviewers actually engage with the device and the percentage of problems we’ve seen from the limited sample size, the results so far are a bit of a cause for a concern.

The issue with the second bit  is that protective layer looks A LOT like the temporary covers the company’s phones ship with, which is an issue. I get why some folks attempted to peel it off. That’s a problem.

At this point into my life with the phone, I’m still impressed by the feat of engineering went into this technology, but in a lot of ways, it does still feel like a very first generation product. It’s big, it’s expensive and software needs tweaks to create a seamless (so to speak) experience between screens.

That said, there’s enough legacy good stuff that Samsung has built into the phone to make it otherwise a solid experience. If you do end up biting the bullet and buying a Fold, you’ve find many aspects of it to be a solid workhorse and good device, in spite of some of the idiosyncrasies here (assuming, you know, the screen works fine).

It’s a very interesting and very impressive device, and it does feel like a sign post of the future. But it’s also a sometimes awkward reminder that we’re not quite living in the future just yet.

Day One

Day Two


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Boston Dynamics showcases new uses for SpotMini ahead of commercial production

Posted by on Apr 20, 2019 in boston dynamics, Robotics, TC, TC Sessions: Robotics + AI | 0 comments

Last year at our TC Sessions: Robotics event, Boston Dynamics announced its intention to commercialize SpotMini. It was a big step for the secretive company. After a quarter of century building some of the world’s most sophisticated robots, it was finally taking a step into the commercial realm, making the quadrupedal robot available to anyone with the need and financial resources for the device.

CEO Marc Raibert made a return appearance at our event this week to discuss the progress Boston Dynamics has made in the intervening 12 months, both with regard to SpotMini and the company’s broader intentions to take a more market-based approach to a number of its creations.

The appearance came hot on the heels of a key acquisition for the company. In fact, Kinema was the first major acquisition in the company’s history — no doubt helped along by the very deep coffers of its parent company, SoftBank. The Bay Area-based startup’s imaging technology forms a key component to Boston Dynamics’ revamped version of its wheeled robot hand. With a newfound version system and its dual arms replaced with a multi-suction cupped gripper.

A recent video from the company demonstrated the efficiency and speed with which the system can be deployed to move boxes from shelf to conveyor belt. As Raibert noted onstage, Handle is the closest Boston Dynamics has come to a “purpose-built robot” — i.e. a robot designed from the ground up to perform a specific task. It marks a new focus for a company that, after its earliest days of DARPA-funded projects, appears to primarily be driven by the desire to create the world’s most sophisticated robots.

“We estimate that there’s about a trillion cubic foot boxes moved around the world every year,” says Raibert. “And most of it’s not automated. There’s really a huge opportunity there. And of course this robot is great for us, because it includes the DNA of a balancing robot and moving dynamically and having counterweights that let it reach a long way. So it’s not different, in some respects, from the robots we’ve been building for years. On the other hand, some of it is very focused on grasping, being able to see boxes and do tasks like stack them neatly together.”

The company will maintain a foot on that side of things, as well. Robots like the humanoid Atlas will still form an important piece of its work, even when no commercial applications are immediately apparent.

But once again, it was SpotMini who was the real star of the show. This time, however, the company debuted the version of the robot that will go into production. At first glance, the robot looked remarkably similar to the version we had onstage last year.

“We’ve we’ve redesigned many of the components to make it more reliable, to make the skins work better and to protect it if it does fall,” says Raibert.  “It has two sets [of cameras] on the front, and one on each side and one on the back. So we can see in all directions.”

I had have the opportunity to pilot the robot — making me one of a relatively small group of people outside of the Boston Dynamics offices who’ve had the opportunity to do so. While SpotMini has all of the necessary technology for autonomous movement, user control is possible and preferred in certain situations (some of which we’ll get to shortly).

[Gifs featured are sped up a bit from original video above]

The controller is an OEMed design that looks something like an Xbox controller with an elongated touchscreen in the middle. The robot can be controlled directly with the touchscreen, but I opted for a pair of joysticks. Moving Spot around is a lot like piloting a drone. One joystick moves the robot forward and back, the other turns it left and right.

Like a drone, it takes some getting used to, particularly with regard to the orientation of the robot. One direction is always forward for the robot, but not necessarily for the pilot. Tapping a button on the screen switches the joystick functionality to the arm (or “neck,” depending on your perspective). This can be moved around like a standard robotic arm/grasper. The grasper can also be held stationary, while the rest of the robot moves around it in a kind of shimmying fashion.

Once you get the hang of it, it’s actually pretty simple. In fact, my mother, whose video game experience peaked out at Tetris, was backstage at the event and happily took the controller from Boston Dynamics, controlling the robot with little issue.

Boston Dynamics is peeling back the curtain more than ever. During our conversation, Raibert debuted behind the scenes footage of component testing. It’s a sight to behold, with various pieces of the robot splayed out on lab bench. It’s a side of Boston Dynamics we’ve not really seen before. Ditto for the images of large Spot Mini testing corrals, where several are patrolling around autonomously.

Boston Dynamics also has a few more ideas of what the future could look like for the robot. Raibert shared footage of Massachusetts State Police utilizing spot in different testing scenarios, where the robot’s ability to open doors could potentially get human officers out of harm’s way during a hostage or terrorist situation.

Another unit was programmed to autonomously patrol a construction site in Tokyo, outfitted with a Street View-style 360 camera, so it can monitor building progress. “This lets the construction company get an assessment of progress at their site,” he explains. “You might think that that’s a low end task. But these companies have thousands of sites. And they have to patrol them at least a couple of times a week to know where they are in progress. And they’re anticipating using Spot for that. So we have over a dozen construction companies lined up to do tests at various stages of testing and proof of concept in their scenarios.”

Raibert says the Spot Mini is still on track for a July release. The company plans to manufacture around 100 in its initial run, though it’s still not ready to talk about pricing.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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