Photo Of The Day By Chris Byrne

Today’s Photo Of The Day is “Great Smoky Mountains Eclipse” by Chris Byrne. Location: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee.
Photo By Chris Byrne

Today’s Photo Of The Day is “Great Smoky Mountains Eclipse” by Chris Byrne. Location: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee.

“The phases of the eclipse over the Smoky Mountains as seen from the Foothills Parkway,” describes Byrne.

Photo of the Day is chosen from various OP galleries, including AssignmentsGalleries and the OP Contests. Assignments have weekly winners that are featured on the OP website homepage, FacebookTwitter and Instagram. To get your photos in the running, all you have to do is submit them.

The post Photo Of The Day By Chris Byrne appeared first on Outdoor Photographer.

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POP!_OS is a developer-focused minimalist Linux distro from System 76

There aren’t that many Linux hardware manufacturers around. Of the few that exist, System 76 is amongst the most well-known. It offers a slew of laptops and desktops, all shipping with the popular Ubuntu distro pre-installed, saving customers hours of wasted time dealing with driver hell. But it recently announced it’s changing gears and creating its own Linux distro, which will replace Ubuntu on its systems, called POP!_OS. Unlike other Linux distributions, which are increasingly geared towards mainstream users, POP!_OS unashamedly targets power users – like programmers, scientists, roboticists, and makers. System 76’s Sriram Ramkrishna explained that the goal of…

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Companies are collecting a mountain of data. What should they do with it?

It’s called the information age for a reason. From our tweets and status updates to our Yelp reviews and Amazon product ratings, the internet-connected portion of the human race generates 2.5 quintillion bytes of computer data every single day. That’s 2.5 million one-terabyte hard drives filled every 24 hours. The takeaway is clear: in 2017, there’s more data than there’s ever been, and there’s only more on the way. So what are savvy companies doing to harness the data that their human users shed on a daily basis? They’re finding meaningful ways to release it for public experimentation. By opening…

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Adobe tease data visualization storytelling with no coding required

Over 12,000 people are attending the annual Adobe Max creativity conference at the Venetian in Las Vegas. If you scratch beneath the surface of announcements such as the cloud-centric redesign of Lightroom washed down with appearances from actor/director Jon Favreau and Mark Ronson, there is substance as well as style. The event is not just about new applications or adding shiny features to existing products. MAX Sneaks offers attendees an opportunity to preview future technology that may or may not make it into products. These proof of concepts provide a glimpse of the vision for the creativity cloud of the…

This story continues at The Next Web

Or just read more coverage about: Adobe

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Apple CEO confirms new Mac mini in fan email

It’s been three years since Mac mini got an update. It’s easy to assume three years without an update means the product is dead, and the company has moved on. But with Apple products, you never really know for sure — looking at you Mac Pro. One Apple fan could no longer deal with the uncertainty, so he took matters into his own hands and emailed CEO Tim Cook to ask him directly. The email, published at MacRumors, read: Hi Tim, I love the Mac Mini but it’s been over 3 years now without an update. Are we going to…

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Or just read more coverage about: Apple

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Wicked Audio’s Outcry Extreme is my favorite Bluetooth speaker under $60

I tested out Wicked Audio’s Outcry Extreme Bluetooth speaker just in time for Halloween, and it’s been great to party with. I used it in a number of environments and found a lot to like. It’s a quality speaker that literally growls and barks (more on this later), plus it sounds pretty good thanks to two 45mm drivers. The Outcry Extreme is a sturdy dual-speaker that lives at the low-end of high quality. I give it top marks for manufacturing and durability. It’s over half a kilo (1.5 lbs) of plastic and metal sturdy enough to suffer some drops. In…

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Virtual reality takes you on a trip to Mars with NASA rover – and to alien worlds, too

Access Mars screenshot
“Access Mars” provides 3-D views of the Red Planet as captured by NASA’s Curiosity rover. (NASA / JPL Illustration)

NASA has been offering virtual-reality tours of Mars for years — but now, with Google’s help, the space agency has come up with one of the most accessible tours yet.

“Access Mars” lays out a 3-D terrain for five of the spots scanned by NASA’s Curiosity rover, ranging from its landing site to the place where it’s hanging out now, more than five years later.

The tour can be experienced via a desktop browser, on mobile devices as a head-tracking display seen through a Cardboard-style viewer, and on virtual-reality and augmented-reality headsets.

You can jump from one spot to another, teleport between the five tour stops, or check out explanatory placards that are accompanied by audio narration. There’s even the sound of wind in the background to give you an eerie sense of Martian aloneness.

NASA says the experience was adapted from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s OnSight software, which is used to help scientists visualize the rover’s surroundings as they plan its route. The software was developed using WebVR, an open-source standard, with support from Google’s Creative Labs team.

“We’ve been able to leverage VR and AR technologies to take our scientists to Mars every single day,” Victor Luo, lead project manager at JPL’s Ops Lab, said today in a NASA news release. “With ‘Access Mars,’ everyone in the world can ride along.”

NASA’s other forays into VR and AR include “Mars 2030,” an immersive VR experience created in collaboration with Fusion Media Group; “Destination: Mars,” a mixed-reality presentation that NASA and Microsoft put together for NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center in Florida; and ProtoSpace, a Hololens application that JPL is using to tweak the design for NASA’s 2020 Mars rover.

But wait … there’s more!

If you’re hankering to roam beyond the solar system, check out the 360-degree YouTube video created by Engine House VFX and “We the Curious,” an interactive science center in the English city of Bristol.

The 11-minute video takes you on a tour of six extrasolar planets, ranging from Osiris, a storm-ravaged “hot Jupiter” that orbits a star 154 light-years from Earth, to Kepler-62e, a potential water world that’s 1,200 light-years away and is thought to have a super-ocean.

Like “Access Mars,” the exoplanet tour can be experienced on a desktop, a mobile phone or with a headset in head-tracking 3-D. There’s a running commentary that’s provided by planetary scientists from the University of Exeter Astrophysics Research Group. Funding was provided by the University of Exeter.

We won’t really know what these exoplanets look like until we create telescopes big enough to get a snapshot. But the views come close to scientists’ conceptions — so close that NASA used the imagery of WASP-121b to illustrate a report about the weird planet’s stratosphere in August.

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Elon Musk’s Boring Company digs into a plan for tunnel from Baltimore to D.C.

Tunnel boring machine
The tunnel boring machine nicknamed “Godot” sits in a below-ground chamber. Elon Musk reportedly acquired the pre-owned machine from L.A. Metro. (Elon Musk via Instagram)

One of billionaire Elon Musk’s lesser-known ventures is taking the spotlight with word that The Boring Company is looking into digging a rapid-transit tunnel between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

That’s not all: Musk says the company is putting the finishing touches on a second tunneling machine, which will be nicknamed Line-Storm as a tribute to a Robert Frost poem. The first machine is named Godot, after the Samuel Beckett play. It’s being employed to dig a tunnel in Hawthorne, Calif., where Musk’s SpaceX rocket venture is headquartered.

Musk is even selling Boring Company hats. More than 6,400 of them, at last report.

In June, the CEO of SpaceX and Tesla estimated that he spent only about 2 percent of his working time on The Boring Company, which focuses on lowering the cost of tunneling to facilitate high-speed underground transit. He must have saved up a lot of that time for this week.

The Baltimore-Washington project is the most intriguing development: This week, a Reddit user posted pictures showing a fenced-off area south of Baltimore, with The Boring Company’s logo emblazoned on the fence.

Electrek picked up on the pictures and passed them along, even though they were deleted from the Reddit forum. They appear to show a staging site for a tunnel entrance.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan tweeted out confirmation of The Boring Company’s involvement, and said the project was part of a plan to “bring rapid electric transportation to MD – connecting Baltimore City to D.C.”

The plan follows through on a vision that Musk laid out in July for building a Hyperloop transit system between New York and Washington. The system could make use of the tube network that’s been part of Musk’s Hyperloop concept since 2013.

For some time now, Maryland state and local officials have been discussing options for a high-speed link to Washington. One scenario calls for spending as much as $10 billion on a transit tunnel through which high-speed maglev trains would travel.

The goal for a privately backed project, known as Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail, is to cut Baltimore-D.C. travel time to 15 minutes. Eventually, the project’s organizers want to extend the route to allow for one-hour trips between New York and Washington.

The plan has received $28 million in federal funds for planning and engineering analysis, with Gov. Hogan’s blessing. But the idea has run into community opposition, due to concerns about cost as well as about noise and disruption.

Can Hyperloop technology offer a faster, cheaper, better route for rapid transit? That’s almost certainly a question that The Boring Company is delving into.

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Blue Origin space venture fires up BE-4 rocket engine, marking a win for Jeff Bezos

Blue Origin BE-4 test firing
Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine blasts through its initial hot-fire test. (Blue Origin via Twitter)

Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture says it has successfully test-fired its BE-4 rocket engine, marking a key step in the development of its own New Glenn rocket as well as United Launch Alliance’s next-generation rocket.

Billions of dollars are at stake in the BE-4 project, United Launch Alliance CEO Tory Bruno told GeekWire last year.

ULA has been waiting for months to get good news about the BE-4 tests in West Texas. The company wanted to see a successful full-scale test before going ahead with plans to use the BE-4 engine on its Vulcan rocket, which is due to have its first flight in 2019.

A Blue Origin competitor, Aerojet Rocketdyne, has been waiting in the wings with its AR1 engine, which ULA saw as a “Plan B” for the Vulcan in case the BE-4 faltered. Wednesday’s initial hot-firing didn’t reach full power or full duration, but the test’s success nevertheless reduces the likelihood that ULA would turn to the AR1.

The hot firing came as particularly welcome news to Blue Origin after the company lost a set of powerpack hardware during an earlier round of tests in May.

“There was a very, very good party in West Texas last night,” Blue Origin software engineer Brandon Haber said today in a tweet.

ULA’s Bruno, meanwhile, tweeted his congratulations.

Bezos was in Texas this week for the inauguration of an Amazon wind farm about 300 miles from Blue Origin’s test site, and he clearly kept close track of Wednesday’s engine firing as well.

Phil Larson, a former White House aide and SpaceX spokesman who is now an assistant dean of engineering at the University of Colorado in Boulder, said the successful test was a milestone for Blue Origin and commercial space ventures — and evoked one of former Vice President Joe Biden’s classic euphemisms in the process.

“As Joe Biden would say, this is a BFD for the space industry — and goes to show we’re accelerating into the moment where commercial space is driving our national space infrastructure,” Larson said in a text.

The BE-4 engine, which uses liquefied natural gas as fuel, is built at Blue Origin’s production facility in Kent, Wash., and shipped down to Texas for testing. Assuming that it’s accepted for ULA’s use, engine production will eventually shift to a factory in Huntsville, Ala.

Engines for the orbital-class New Glenn rocket will go to Blue Origin’s rocket factory in Florida, which is due to be completed by the end of this year.

The New Glenn is due to start flying by 2020, and Blue Origin already has signed up several commercial customers for satellite launches in the early 2020s. Bezos also wants to use the rocket for national security launches and, potentially, for NASA missions to the moon.

The BE-4 is designed to deliver 550,000 pounds of thrust, and seven of the engines would be used on the New Glenn’s first stage for total liftoff thrust of 3.9 million pounds. That would give it more power than SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket (1.7 million pounds), but not as much as the Falcon Heavy (5.1 million pounds), which is due for its maiden flight within the next few months.

Blue Origin has been working on the BE-4 for five years, but if the pace of development picks up as expected, Bezos’ space venture could tighten up the competition with SpaceX and its billionaire founder, Elon Musk. The Amazon founder sums up his approach in Blue Origin’s Latin motto, “Gradatim Ferociter,” which translates as “Step by Step, Ferociously.”

In addition to New Glenn, Blue Origin is testing a suborbital spaceship known as New Shepard, which uses a 110,000-pound-thrust, hydrogen-fueled BE-3 engine. A now-retired New Shepard craft made five successful test flights to space and back, and Blue Origin is gearing up to resume uncrewed testing with an upgraded New Shepard by the end of the year. If all goes according to plan, passengers could start taking suborbital space trips within a year or so.

Blue Origin’s BE-4 wasn’t the only rocket engine facing a big test this week: Today NASA fired up an Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25 rocket engine for eight minutes at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, as part of the certification process for its heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket.

The engine was assembled from hardware left over from the space shuttle program. Eventually, four of the 512.000-pound-thrust RS-25 engines, based on a design adapted from the shuttle’s main engines, will be installed on the SLS for launch in 2019.

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Amazon and Techstars host first-ever Alexa Accelerator Demo Day — here are the top pitches

The first-ever Alexa Accelerator cohort after their 2017 Demo Night in Seattle on Tuesday. (GeekWire photos/Taylor Soper)

Part of Amazon’s strategy to get Alexa everywhere in the world is to encourage entrepreneurs to test the boundaries of what’s possible with its voice technology platform.

That’s exactly what happened over the past 13 weeks in Seattle, where Amazon teamed up with Techstars to operate the first-ever Alexa Accelerator.

Nine early-stage startups from across the globe just spent three months building out their B2C and B2B technologies that incorporate Alexa, Amazon’s popular artificial intelligence and machine learning-powered voice platform.

On Tuesday the program culminated with a Demo Night at the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood.

Rohit Prasad, vice president and head scientist for the Amazon Alexa team.

Rohit Prasad, vice president and head scientist for the Amazon Alexa team — which has grown to 5,000 employees — gave an opening keynote before each startup pitched their ideas to a crowd of investors, entrepreneurs, and others from the community.

Prasad talked about the complexity of Alexa’s technology — “while it seems simple, it is incredibly hard to make it work,” he noted — but also showed how there are seemingly-infinite opportunities for engineers and entrepreneurs to tackle on this nascent platform.

“When I walk through the floor here and see what you all are doing, it’s incredibly exciting,” Prasad told the crowd. “We will see many different kinds of technologies emerge and many different use cases of conversational AI. But as we say at Amazon, it is still Day 1.”

Alexa powers Amazon’s Echo smart devices, and can be integrated into other third-party devices. Both the Alexa virtual assistant and Echo devices are two of the company’s most successful products. Amazon is battling other tech giants like Google, Microsoft, and Apple in the competitive voice assistant market, though it has a big lead as the first mover. A recent forecast from eMarketer estimates that Amazon will have a 71 percent market share of all voice-enabled speakers in the U.S. this year.

The next generation Amazon Echo and the Echo Plus, which is equipped with a built-in smart home hub. (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop)

The accelerator is part of Amazon’s $100 million Alexa Fund, which launched in 2015 and is used by Amazon to invest in companies that will push the boundaries of voice-based interaction. The tech giant has already invested in more than 30 startups as part of the fund.

Amazon and Techstars, which also runs a separate Seattle accelerator program, invested an initial $20,000 in each participating company for 6 percent common stock, with potential for an additional $100,000 convertible note.

The nine companies worked closely with Amazon over the past 13 weeks and had access to the technology behind services like Alexa Skills Kit, Alexa Voice Services, Amazon Web Services and Amazon Launchpad. Here are the startups:

  • Aspinity: Ultra-low power processors for IoT devices.
  • Botnik Studios: Digital tools for self-expression.
  • Comet: Supercharging machine learning.
  • Novel Effect: Powering voice interactive entertainment.
  • Play Impossible: An active gaming system that brings digital action outdoors.
  • Pulse Labs: User-centered interaction testing for voice apps, with actionable insights and analytics from target audiences.
  • Sensible Object: Merging physical and digital and harnessing the power of devices already in the connected home to power face-to- face social interaction and entertainment.
  • Tinitell: Your kid’s first mobile phone.
  • Twine: Bridging the gap between conference room functions and team collaboration tools.

Aviel Ginzburg, managing director of the accelerator, told GeekWire that the companies are pushing boundaries for what’s possible with voice technology and ambient user interaction.

“The space is incredibly new and unquestionably in its infancy, but every company in our program sees the opportunity and is pulling the future back in time to the present,” he noted.

Ginzburg, who co-founded Seattle startup Simply Measured, added that “voice has been the missing ingredient to delivering products and experiences that let humans and machines interact in the most natural and convenient ways.”

“When you type or tap, the burden of translation is on you — when you talk, it’s on the machine,” he explained. “Shedding that cognitive burden is a foundational shift in the way we leverage technology. We certainly have a long way to go toward making those experiences as delightful and profound as they need to be, but we’re well on our way and Amazon is leading the charge.”

Alexa Accelerator Managing Director Aviel Ginzburg (left) and Rodrigo Prudencio, who works on Amazon’s corporate development team for the Alexa Fund.

You may notice below that all nine CEOs in the cohort who pitched on Tuesday are male. That’s noteworthy in regard to Techstars Seattle — which runs separately from the Alexa Accelerator — and its commitment to gender equity.

“We fell short of our goals in terms of diversity amongst CEOs, but feel somewhat successful — with plenty of improvement needed — with regards to gender diversity amongst the company’s founding and leadership teams,” Ginzburg said. “One-third of the companies have female co-founders, and two-thirds of the companies have women on their leadership teams.”

Here’s a rundown of our three favorite pitches from Tuesday night, along with more info about all the startups below.

Novel Effect

Novel Effect CEO Matt Hammersley.

Voice technology could play a big role in encouraging more kids to read and Novel Effect is going after the opportunity to make it happen.

The Seattle startup has built voice recognition technology that adds music, sound effects, and other audio features to the book reading experience.

“It makes storytime magic for kids and adults alike,” said CEO Matt Hammersley.

Hammersley’s pitch was sharp and explained how Novel Effect’s products can be used by both parents in the house and teachers in the classroom. He showed how Alexa can work with Novel Effect, queuing music and sound effects after hearing words read from a given book.

I liked how Hammersley outlined the addressable market — 26 million U.S. households — and noted that the company already has contracts with large publishers. And his final slide, which teased Novel Effect’s appearance on Shark Tank later this month, was icing on the cake.

Learn more about Novel Effect with our Startup Spotlight: Novel Effect aims to make storytime more magical for kids using voice recognition technology

Play Impossible

Play Impossible CEO Brian Monnin.

New apps, games, and devices don’t typically encourage people to get active — especially kids who are often glued to their smartphones and tablets.

Play Impossible is looking to change that with its connected ball that bridges “the very best in digital with the very best in physical,” as CEO Brian Monnin explained during his pitch.

The company’s inflatable ball, which sells for $99 at Target and, links to a smartphone app and lets people play different physical games. The ball also connects to Amazon’s Fire TV — “we turn your favorite rooms into activity centers all winter long,” Monnin noted.

Monnin, who talked about his company at the GeekWire Summit earlier this month, gave a convincing pitch that focused on using technology and video games to help kids stay healthy.

“These games are designed to get you moving,” Monnin said.

There certainly seems to be a lot of opportunity to combine voice and games — another startup in the Alexa Accelerator, Sensible Object, is doing something similar.

Learn more about Play Impossible with our Startup Spotlight: This sensor-infused ball from Play Impossible encourages kids to be active

Botnik Studios

Botnik co-founder Jamie Brew.

I wasn’t sure if Jamie Brew was doing a comedy show or a startup pitch, but I loved it regardless.

Brew is the co-founder of Botnik Studios, a new startup that combines machine learning with human intellect to create written content for jokes, scripts, music, and more. Its software suggests words based on specific styles of vocabulary and prose; the idea is to help writers quickly generate creative ideas.

This summer the startup built its first prototype and used the technology to write an parody episode of Seinfeld; the script went viral on Twitter.

“It attracted 2.5 million unique impressions, rave reviews, and every comedy writers’ wildest dream: a feature write-up in Golf Digest,” Brew joked.

Botnik worked with writers from Amazon to bring its content to Alexa, but it’s a little unclear how that will work, and how Botnik will build a business with this idea.

Regardless, Brew had the most memorable pitch of the night, which is worth something. It was a good reminder that making people laugh can go a long way, and that CEOs shouldn’t take themselves so seriously.

Brew ended the pitch with a quote from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos created in Botnik using recent shareholder letters written by Bezos. “When I read that quote, it changed my life,” Brew said as the crowd chuckled. “And at Botnik we hope can change a few lives, too.”

Learn more about the other companies below.

Sensible Object makes games that blend the physical and digital worlds

Sensible Object CEO Alex Fleetwood.

Twine uses Slack and Alexa to make video conferencing ‘magical’

Twine CEO Anthony Claudia.

Pulse Labs makes it easy for voice developers to test their Alexa apps

Pulse Labs CEO Abhishek Suthan.

Aspinity helps voice-enabled tech products save battery power

Aspinity CEO Tom Doyle.

Tinitell helps parents keep track of their kids with wearable mobile phones

Tinitell Mats Horn.

Comet is building a GitHub-like management system for machine learning

Comet CEO Gideon Mendels.

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