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Sound-isolating headphones let you really hear your own voice


Image: Mashable, Pete Pachal

LAS VEGAS — Have you ever worn noise-canceling headphones and wished they were, you know, not so noise-canceling?

That’s the idea behind OnVocal Mix360, a pair of behind-the-neck headphones that let you adjust exactly what you hear.

The headphones themselves are sound-isolating, passively blocking out most ambient noise. But the magic happens when you pair your Mix360 with the accompanying app (iOS and Android), which lets you adjust the levels of the three sounds you’re experiencing: the music you’re listening to, the ambient noise and your own voice.

OnVocal Mix360 app
The Mix360 app has sliders for adjusting exactly how much ambient noise you want to hear.

Image: Mashable, Pete Pachal

You control all three inputs with sliders on the app. When you make an adjustment, the Mix360’s three microphones go to work, bringing in the sounds you want to hear — similar to Bose’s noise-canceling earbuds.

You might want to go completely music-only for the duration of a subway ride, for example, but then turn up the ambient noise when you get to where you’re going — to avoid any unfortunate collisions.

Trying out the Mix360 at CES 2105, I came away impressed with how well it did its job. It did take a second for the adjustments to kick in — but when they did, a noise-filled ballroom went from muffled to crystal clear. There is a bit of artificiality to the sound at first, but that sensation quickly goes away.

When you turn up your own voice, you’re in for a surprise. The headphones render it in the way that others hear it, not you. “Do I really sound like that?” will likely be your first question.

The Bluetooth device is rated at 9 hours of battery life for music listening. The Mix360 will be available in May, but you might not like the sound of the price tag: $299.

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Google Joins The Military-Industrial Complex

Tyrone Siu / Reuters

Google has acquired Boston Dynamics, creator of the BigDog, CHEETAH, and PETMAN robots, according the the New York Times. The purchase is Google’s latest investment in advanced robotics — a new priority for the search company and one that it has recently added to its list of “moonshot” initiatives.

Boston Dynamics represents a new type of acquisition for Google. It is best known for projects that were carried out under military contracts, such as the tottering BigDog robot, a demonstration of which went viral in 2008:

BigDog’s development was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is part of the Department of Defense. Boston Dynamics’ other DARPA-funded projects include:

– CHEETAH, a four-legged robot that holds a land speed record
– PETMAN, a bipedal, humanoid robot that walks convincingly like a person
– RiSE, a wall-climbing bot
– Atlas, a Terminator-esque successor to the PETMAN

The substance of the DARPA contracts varies. BigDog, for example, was designed to assist soldiers in carrying supplies over difficult terrain. Atlas is being engineered as part of a DARPA challenge “to develop robots capable of assisting humans in responding to natural and man-made disasters.”

Google has not laid out its intentions for Boston Dynamics, nor has it disclosed a purchase price. The company says it will honor current military contracts, but that it does not currently “plan to move toward becoming a military contractor on its own.” Still, the acquisition may draw suspicion from critics who have suggested that Google is straying from its iconic mission statement — particularly in light of its continued appearance in the ongoing NSA disclosures, and rekindled questions about its privacy policies.

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Welcome to Planet Facebook

There’s a moment at the end of Facebook’s subtly bizarre sales video, intended to either woo or calm IPO investors, that makes you wonder why you even bothered to watch the 30 minutes before it. Mark Zuckerberg holds his hands in front of his chest like a mantis, turns his eyes down and to the left, and makes the point:

I think we’re going to reach this point where.. almost every app that you use is going to be integrated with Facebook in some way.

He wanders for a bit, then comes back:

We make decisions at Facebook not optimizing for what’s going to happen in the next year, but to set us up to really be in this world where every product experience you have is social, and that’s all powered by Facebook.

Facebook is one of the few companies — maybe the only one — that can hope out loud for world domination and not sound delusional. It’s actually the central question of Facebook’s existence: Will it be a mere parallel internet, full of friends and family and fragments retrieved from outside its walls, or will it be the internet — the organizational structure that the internet has never had?

Facebook clearly wants the latter, and it’s ready to assume that you do too. Facebook’s App Center, a clearing house for Facebook apps (Draw Somethingm Farmville, Viddy) as well as the most popular iOS and Android mobile apps that plug into Facebook (basically all of them), is here to finish what the first round of Open Graph apps started. App Center closes the Facebook loop. The big one.

Since Open Graph launched in January, Facebook has changed in a fundamental way. People started sharing stuff frictionlessly. By logging into an Open Graph app — a video player, a news reader, a game — users agree to share all their activity with their friends, who, in order to view it, have to sign up for the app themselves. Open Graph apps have grown explosively, which makes sense: they plaster themselves everywhere, and basically trick you into signing up.

Tell me if this sounds familiar: I downloaded SocialCam from the App Store today, installed it, and within 30 seconds I’d accidentally shared two items on my Newsfeed, which I immediately scrubbed. The problem here isn’t that the app shared stuff — that’s why it exists. It was that it shared in a way that I didn’t expect. That was one big takeaway from the social reader freakout: people hate feeling like they’ve been fooled.

Facebook App Center is about resetting expectations. If you download an app through Facebook you won’t, and shouldn’t, be so surprised when it starts sharing on Facebook. You won’t be angry at the site when the app it gave you uses it to share. If anything, you’ll be annoyed at yourself for not expecting it.

It’s a clever rhetorical trick as much as it’s a new feature. When it comes from App Center, the frictionless sharing proposition is more than defensible — it just makes sense. App Center is how Facebook gets our permission to be Facebook. It just so happens that, in 2012, being Facebook means being everything.

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This E Ink Smartphone Might Actually Be A Great Idea

1. This is a prototype E Ink smartphone, from a Chinese company called Onyx:

2. Unlike a normal LCD phone, its screen is visible in the sun:

3. That’s because it uses the same screen technology as the Kindle:

4. This means it’s slow, and the screen blinks:

5. And scrolling isn’t that smooth (though it could be worse!):

6. But also that the phone’s battery may last up to a week. Not bad for an Android handset:

There are no firm manufacturing or sale plans for this handset, but I find it weirdly compelling — not as a primary device, but as a sort of backup or travel phone. I might use it the way I occasionally use my old Nokia candybar phone: as a basic communications tool that doesn’t die after 10 hours, and, in this case, can do quite a bit more than make a phone call.

Think about it! Video and gaming are out, of course. But browsing and certain types of app navigation could be fixed with pagination. Calling, texting, Tweeting and Facebooking would all be easy, and reading might actually be improved over a comparable LCD. Make it sub-$300 off contract and I might be sold.

You can read more about the device here.

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People Overreacting To Facebook Buying Instagram


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What Teenagers Are Really Doing On Facebook

Of all the social media sites, Facebook is the one 15-year-old Miki spends the most time on. She has 657 friends, and frequently checks with them through the app on her phone; she’s on Facebook at least an hour a day. Signing up for Facebook was one of her seventh-grade graduation presents.

She is Facebook’s ideal customer: young, well connected, and as a student at one of Manhattan’s elite private schools, a great demographic for advertisers.

But if you look at her page, it’s surprisingly empty. Friends tag her in photos (she has 386) and write on her wall, but she has only posted twice on her page since February.

Miki, like a number of teenagers whom BuzzFeed has interviewed, is using Facebook almost exclusively as a instant-messaging platform. “Messaging is pretty much the main reason I go on,” she says. “I don’t go scrolling through the News Feed.”

“I don’t post statuses anymore,” says another girl, a 14-year-old in the Bay Area, who nonetheless says she’s “addicted” to Facebook. She spends a cumulative four hours a day on the site. It is the first page she goes to when she turns on her computer, and the last one she checks at night before bed.

“I don’t want to be that person you see with hundreds of [posts on] News Feeds,” she says.

Facebook’s own numbers suggest that messaging on the service is increasing overall. The company doesn’t break down numbers by age, but there are more than 10 billion messages sent each day on Facebook — many through its apps. There are four times as many mobile Facebook messages sent each day at the beginning of this year compared with 2012.

But Facebook’s pitch to investors depends largely on the News Feed and its app ecosystem, where ad placement possibilities are obvious. By contrast, instant messaging is a revenue black hole. If teenagers are an indicator of where Facebook users are headed — or if this is indicative of a larger trend — Facebook might be facing a serious problem.

Facebook is doing what it can to embrace messaging; users are users, after all. With Home on Android, Facebook is attempting to put chat in the middle of everything, with “Chat Heads” that follow you everywhere (the initial response to Home, however, wasn’t promising). On iOS, Chat Heads are at the center of Facebook’s app but close when the app closes — a limitation of iOS.

In any case, this is a user behavior Facebook is going to need to adapt to, or risk losing its most valuable users. Users who say things like this: “I post on a friend’s wall to say ‘Happy birthday,’ but that’s pretty much it. I think it is really annoying when people post and have long talks.”

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23 Signs You’re Addicted To Your Smartphone

1. You get slightly panicky when your phone is out of your line of sight.

2. …And ridiculously panicked when you accidentally leave it AT HOME.

It’s like you’re missing a limb.

3. You sleep with your phone on your nightstand, or worse, IN your bed next to you.

4. Your friends tried to make you do this game, but you freaked out and grabbed your phone even though you had to buy a round of drinks.

I mean, LOOK! That one’s lighting up! That could be a message for me! ASLFHA:GFHALHGJ

5. You justify being on your phone all the time because you “might miss a work email.”

6. A cracked screen would never stand in YOUR way.

7. You prune and manage your apps like it’s the White House lawn.

8. You maintain three to five text threads/Snapchat chains going throughout most days.

9. At least once a week you freak out that you can’t find your phone, and then realize it’s in your hand.

10. Turning your phone off during a flight gives you horrendous FOMO.

11. …but also makes you excited, because you know when you turn it on, you’ll have tons of notifications to go through.

12. You insist that you can do two things at once — text AND walk, text AND listen! — but we all know that you cannot.

13. Seriously! Everyone can see you failing at this.

14. Sometimes you see an Instagram go up right away, but you wait 30 minutes to like it because you don’t want to seem lame.

15. You talk to it even when you know it would be easier to type your question into Google.

16. The only time you turn your phone off is on an airplane.

Other than that, it just goes on silent.

17. You try not to do this at concerts, but you do it anyway.

18. You relate deeply to the pain in this image.

19. You feel kind of dejected when you sneak a peek at your phone after a long dinner or meeting and you have no new notifications.

Not even an Instagram like? REALLY?!?!?

20. The idea of having to leave your phone in the store for repairs makes you ill.

21. You don’t mind getting to the bar before the friend you’re meeting, because you’re justified in losing yourself in your phone until they get there.

22. You constantly catch yourself trying to open apps you’re already in.

23. You find something weirdly comforting in that familiar motion of sliding your finger across the glass.

If you identify with any of this, welcome to the Smartphone Addiction Club!

Population: EVERYONE.

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4 Ways Startups Can Leverage Employee-Owned Tech


The concept of BYOD, or “Bring Your Own Device,” has gained plenty of traction as the mode du jour for budding startups. And it’s easy to see why more companies — both big and small — are willing to take the plunge: The savings involved in allowing employees to utilize their own devices for work can be staggering.

But don’t get too caught up in the savings, or you’ll expose yourself to a world of risk. What companies gain in convenience and extra cash can be lost in poor control and flimsy policy. The unknown elements that can happen with a BYOD policy have led critics to call it “Bring Your Own Disaster,” and it’s easy to see how even the best intentions can lead to a serious security breach or aggravating compatibility problems.

Thinking of switching to BYOD? Here are four things to keep in mind when crafting and enforcing your policy. It’s important to note that the preferences and cultures of each company are different, so use your own needs as a guideline to developing a BYOD system that works for you.

Are you a BYOD master? Let us know your must-do BYOD tip in the comments.

1. Security is Priority


One of the most discussed and visible challenges in developing a BYOD policy is security — ensuring that your company’s IP and trade secrets are consistently protected against hacking. Because employees are taking their work devices home with them, there is an inherent risk that the computer or mobile device can link to a dangerous network or be used for phishing and hacking. There is also no way to regulate the level of information an employee can keep on his or her computer, meaning that vital information could be compromised if left in an unencrypted state. In short, a BYOD policy needs to be coupled with a stringent and universal security policy to ensure safety and peace of mind.

A good way to standardize and implement security on computers is to create a work-specific identity or profile for employees to work in while they’re on the clock. This separate profile can act as a home-base for work-specific applications and security measures and have a different administrator password to safeguard against the transfer of files or workers installing potentially hazardous software. While this step isn’t applicable for much mobile or tablet use, you should consider installing a security monitoring software such as Air Watch to amplify control and detection within a mobile device. In putting these systems in place, you can get the best of both worlds: Employees get the freedom of using their familiar device, while you can feel better about your company’s trade secrets.

Another key piece of security management is providing a safe and effective way for employees to access the Internet or share data. It goes without saying that a highly secure encrypted network, such as WPA-2 Enterprise, with standardized user access is a great way to monitor and control BYOD access. But, it also would be smart to create a pseudo-intranet via an encrypted cloud like Dropbox, which also includes a handy two-step authentication system to bolster your defenses. For mobile devices, it would be keen to invest in a VNC client such as LogMeIn so employees can have a secure way to do their business via mobile.

But, perhaps most important of all: make your employees aware of their own liability. Setting up proper written policy that underscores the seriousness of BYOD — and the employee’s potential fault in leaking data — is key to having a successful program. Ensure that measures are in place that detail protocol should an employee’s device be hacked or stolen, and make it known to them what will happen if their devices are damaged. It’s always important to prepare for the worst, and keeping a written document that outlines everything will make it much easier to deal with challenges in the future.

2. Maintain Universal Software

It can be tough to comprehend that BYOD really means BYOD. In instating a policy that allows employees to use their own computers and mobile devices, you may find that not all of your employees operate on the same OS, and with that comes some complications. For example, 95% of your company could be sending word documents through iWork in a .pages format, but an important team member on a Windows computer will remain out of the loop due to the unsupported file extension in his OS. But minor annoyances can give way to frustration in a hurry — how do you help troubleshoot a single employee’s software system when you’re completely foreign to Linux?

Much of these headaches can be taken away simply by standardizing universal software for work purposes. Thankfully, you don’t have to spend a mint in order to get your company operating on the same software. Many freemium software models are browser-based and can therefore be operated on any computer. And, pesky document sharing can be circumvented with ample use of Google Docs or, if you prefer a browser-based option, a standardized installation of Open Office. Furthermore, keep an eye out for mobile applications that are supported for both iPhone and Android, to ensure that all employees have equal access.

By making a conscious effort to standardize software and application usage, you not only prevent compatibility headaches but also unify your team. Employees will not be left out because they don’t operate on the majority system, and IT woes can be minimized because the software is designed for universality. Furthermore, the synergy will keep you in the loop, and narrow down your IT focus to just a handful of need-to-know items.

3. Want to Standardize? Incentivize.


Do you dream of an all-Apple workforce? Or, are you anxious to get your company on the much-anticipated Windows 8 platform? While enforcing a standard make, model and year of a device naturally goes against the BYOD, it can be an ideal situation for small teams to run on the same OS. It’s important to understand that while you cannot demand your employee to change their computer, you should entice them to make the decision through use of incentives.

For example, it’s not feasible to issue $1,100 MacBook Airs for every employee, but you could find it a worthwhile investment to subsidize an employee’s device to a more reasonable point of purchase or perhaps buy the device and deploy it when needed. This system could also be used to issue smartphones: Employees can buy their own and then the company can pay for cell and data service until upgrade or termination. Keep in mind that this, like all other policies, should be fully baked before implementation. Make sure you and your employees know who is responsible for the device and what will happen if termination were to occur, and set up different protocol for different use cases.

While this sounds a lot of work, it’s a tradeoff if having a singular platform is something that’s important to you. This could also give you considerably more control over your IT and move your company towards a BYOD-hybrid that could be safer and more convenient in the long run.

4. Always Keep a Failsafe

The best laid plans always have a smart exit strategy, and BYOD is no different. It’s imperative that you prepare for the absolute worst — a security breach or theft of a device — with software that will allow you to remotely wipe endangered mobile gadgets or computers. This is perhaps the most important aspect of BYOD because it is the ultimate failsafe that can keep your IP from falling into the wrong hands.

We’ve already discussed preventative security measures to ensure all BYOD devices, both computers and mobile, maintain an ample amount of security and monitoring in the event of a breach. But it’s important to consider the option of nuking of BYOD gadgets (and knowing the right time to do so) because it can make the difference in the event of a lost or stolen device. While critics have argued that wiping a device doesn’t account for computers and gadgets that have already been compromised, there’s still a peace of mind that comes with putting a wiping protocol in place. Furthermore, when coupled with an up-to-date backup system, the risk of information loss after a wipe can be minimized.

Because BYOD is still a budding trend among startups and enterprises, it’s important to put as many measures in place to control, distribute, and delete the information that flows through your company. Don’t be afraid to employ a failsafe, or you may continue to wonder what information an intruder could have found instead of cutting it off at the source.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, alejandrophotography, ymgerman

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Teenagers Who Spend Longer Looking At Screens Have More Trouble Sleeping

A new paper shows a link between teens using electronic devices in the day and having trouble sleeping at night.

1. Smartphones and other electronic devices could be stopping teenagers getting enough sleep, according to a paper published in the journal BMJ Open this week.

Getty Images/iStockphoto KatarzynaBialasiewicz

The researchers found that using electronic devices during the day and night were related to sleep problems.

Teens who spent more than four hours on electronic devices outside of school – including games consoles, mobile phones, checking email, IMing and other computer use – were around 50% likelier to need an hour or more to get to sleep at night. They were also more likely to have a sleep deficit of nearly two hours a night.

Most teenagers in the study said they used a smartphone or computer in the last hour before bed, and this too was related to a roughly 50% increase in likelihood of taking an hour or more to get to sleep.

2. Nearly 10,000 teenagers between the ages of 16 and 19 in Norway participated in the study.

Participants completed questionnaires about what devices they used in the last hour before going to bed and how many hours per day they spent looking at a screen.

They also had to record what time they went to bed and what time they woke up, as well as how long it took them to get to sleep, how long they spent awake in the night after initially falling asleep, and how much sleep they thought they needed to feel rested.

The relationship between sleep and screen time is not necessarily a simple one. “Most likely the relationship between poor sleep and electronic media use reflects a self-perpetuating cycle,” write the authors of the paper.

Basically, it’s a vicious circle: if you can’t sleep, you might pick up your phone and amuse yourself, and make it even harder for yourself to get back to sleep.

3. Scientists have known for a while that light from laptops and smartphone screens disrupts our biological clocks.

“Although any type of light stops you feeling sleepy, research has shown that light towards the blue end of the spectrum is especially effective at keeping you awake,” writes Professor Richard Wiseman in his book Night School (Macmillan, 2014). “Unfortunately, computer screens, tablets, smartphones, flat-screen television, and LED lighting all emit large amounts of blue light.”

Scientists think it’s because blue light suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycle.

4. But light is not the only problem. The emotional stimulation of chatting to friends could also be playing a part.

“Active use of screens and social communication may all increase wakefulness and thus negatively influence your sleep,” lead researcher Dr Mari Hysing told BuzzFeed over email.

Though the study only focused on teenagers, Hysing says it’s “very probable” that the results would be similar for adults too. According to new recommendations by the National Sleep Council, teens need between eight and ten hours sleep a night and adults need between seven and nine.

As people who skip sleep in the week and lie in on the weekends will know, it is possible make up your sleep debts. But if you’re losing two hours a night, that’s a full 10 hours of extra sleep you have to fit in somewhere – not forgetting that before you do, you’re going to be sleep deprived and not functioning at your best.

So what can you do to stop it happening in the first place?

5. It sounds simple, but the best way to combat screen-based sleep deprivation is to keep your screens out of the bedroom entirely, says Hysing.

Hysing told BuzzFeed: “We also recommend that adolescents should be aware of the negative impact of electronics on sleep and try to find a good balance between school, friends, activities and screen time.”

So put away your phone and fight the urge to check Facebook just one last time before you nod off – your body will thank you for it.

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Someone Decided To Hack A Smartwatch And Install Windows 95 On It (Video)

Smartwatches have been billed as the Next Big Thing in tech for a while, but people have been fairly resistant when it comes to actually making them into a thing.

Apple hasn’t released its version yet, however, so I’m sure it’s only a matter of time until everyone buys one for no real reason.

There have been some other smartwatches on the market, but most of them have failed to convince consumers that they actually need another piece of technology somewhere on their bodies.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t some early adopters, and they’ve been able to do things with the watches that most people probably wouldn’t expect — running Windows 95 is one of the better examples.

I’m not sure why you’d want to do this, but if you have a smartwatch running Android Wear, you can use the technology of the future to run the operating system of the past.

I guess some people can’t let that ’90s nostalgia die.

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