Category: TECHNOLOGY NEWS

The Pros and Cons of Noise-Canceling Headphones

Noise-canceling headphones regularly top lists of essential travel gadgets, but are they worth it?

A little bit of silence. Sometimes that’s all we want. Whether it’s halfway through a 10-hour flight with a crying baby, or trying to sleep though the snoring from the hotel room next door, the promise of noise-canceling headphones is one that every traveler probably finds intriguing.

Yet are they worth it? These headphones are often expensive and for some people, they don’t live up to the hype.

I’ve spent the majority of the last five years traveling, taking dozens of flights and train journeys, and as someone who has reviewed noise-canceling headphones for even longer, I can definitively say “maybe.

Noise-canceling headphones, also called active noise canceling headphones, use electronic processing to analyze ambient sound and attempt to generate the “opposite” sound. The result is less noise overall.

Imagine ocean waves. There’s high part, the crest and the low part, the trough. If you combined the positive height of the crest and the negative depth of the trough, the result would be a flat sea. Or for the math inclined, if you add +1 and -1 you get 0. This is essentially what active noise-canceling headphones do. Add troughs to crests and crests to troughs. Except instead of seawater, it’s sound waves.

It’s not perfect. these headphones don’t “create” silence, nor are they able to eliminate noise. The crests and troughs do not perfectly cancel out. The absolute best noise-canceling headphones merely reduce noise, and work best with low-frequency droning sounds. So a loud hum is a quieter hum. The roar on an airplane is a quieter roar on an airplane. They also don’t work well for all sounds. At higher frequencies, like the human vocal range and higher, the headphones do very little if anything at all. So if your hope is to block out the cries of the baby in seat 15C, you’re out of luck. Fast and transient sounds, like a door slam or a hand clap, also aren’t blocked effectively.

What’s perhaps even more frustrating is not all noise-canceling headphones work the same. The best reduce a lot of noise, the worst reduce very little or nothing at all. There’s no way to tell, looking at a headphone’s specs, which are which.

Two headphone sets could claim to reduce the same amount of noise but perform completely different. Only hands-on testing, ideally with objective measurements, can tell the difference. Wirecutter, the New York Times Company that reviews products, does these types of measurements for all the noise-canceling headphones they test. (For Wirecutter, I’ve written both the over-ear and in-ear noise-canceling headphone guides along with my colleague Brent Butterworth.)

Noise-canceling headphones require a battery to power their electronics. Noise-isolating headphones, which do not require electronics and therefore can be far cheaper, work by creating a seal in your ear canal to block noise. Basically they are like earplugs, but with earbuds inside. If you can get a good seal, these work reasonably well. Getting a good seal can be a challenge, however, since everyone’s ears are different and not all headphones will fit correctly. And even if you do get a good seal, noise-isolating headphones will not be able to block low-frequency sounds as well as the best noise-canceling headphones. They will reduce a wide range of frequencies, which can help.

Why 5G Mobile Requires A New Handset And Why It’s Not Worth Upgrading Yet

5G, which stands for fifth-generation mobile technology, is the talk of most towns in the developed world right now.  There is no doubt that when it finally launches to the global mass market it will transform the technological landscape. That bit is easy to comprehend. What is perhaps harder to understand, is that it really isn’t worth upgrading your cellphone to a 5G device any time soon.

Existing handsets cannot be upgraded to 5G with a simple software download, the hardware required for a 5G phone is different from that used by current 4G phones. Users will be required to purchase a new 5G-enabled device outright or to take out a new contract that includes a 5G cellphone handset.

Is It Worth Upgrading To A 5G Cellphone?

5G phones should have a longer battery life than current handsets and offer faster data speeds, but in the short term, unless the user is based in one of the few 5G testbeds that are running worldwide and their network supports it, the cellphone user will not be able to harness the benefits of 5G.

Despite all the hype surrounding 5G, it is only available in small pockets of cities where it is being tested around the world. The technology is most efficient in built-up areas, it may never reach rural areas of the globe at all because it just doesn’t make economic sense to deliver it there.

Plus, the current 4G phones are pretty speedy, so the higher speeds associated with 5G are unlikely to be noticeable when using existing streaming services.

5G technology is currently focused on improving business and manufacturing services and the devices associated with the Internet of Things, such as automated vehicles. Cellphones will eventually benefit from this enhanced technology, but only when it has spread its tentacles over the bulk of most of the countries that it is being introduced in and when 5G specific cellphone services, such as enhanced gaming, come to market. Stick with 4G until that time comes.

YouTube Executives Ignored Warnings, Letting Toxic Videos Run Rampant

Proposals to change recommendations and curb conspiracies were sacrificed for engagement, staff say.

A year ago, Susan Wojcicki was on stage to defend YouTube. Her company, hammered for months for fueling falsehoods online, was reeling from another flare-up involving a conspiracy theory video about the Parkland, Florida high school shooting that suggested the victims were “crisis actors.”

Wojcicki, YouTube’s chief executive officer, is a reluctant public ambassador, but she was in Austin at the South by Southwest conference to unveil a solution that she hoped would help quell conspiracy theories: a tiny text box from websites like Wikipedia that would sit below videos that questioned well-established facts like the moon landing and link viewers to the truth. 

Wojcicki’s media behemoth, bent on overtaking television, is estimated to rake in sales of more than $16 billion a year. But on that day, Wojcicki compared her video site to a different kind of institution. “We’re really more like a library,” she said, staking out a familiar position as a defender of free speech. “There have always been controversies, if you look back at libraries.”

Since Wojcicki took the stage, prominent conspiracy theories on the platform—including one on child vaccinations; another tying Hillary Clinton to a Satanic cult—have drawn the ire of lawmakers eager to regulate technology companies. And YouTube is, a year later, even more associated with the darker parts of the web.  

The conundrum isn’t just that videos questioning the moon landing or the efficacy of vaccines are on YouTube. The massive “library,” generated by users with little editorial oversight, is bound to have untrue nonsense. Instead, YouTube’s problem is that it allows the nonsense to flourish. And, in some cases, through its powerful artificial intelligence system, it even provides the fuel that lets it spread.

Wojcicki and her deputies know this. In recent years, scores of people insideYouTube and Google, its owner, raised concerns about the mass of false, incendiary and toxic content that the world’s largest video site surfaced and spread. One employee wanted to flag troubling videos, which fell just short of the hate speech rules, and stop recommending them to viewers. Another wanted to track these videos in a spreadsheet to chart their popularity. A third, fretful of the spread of “alt-right” video bloggers, created an internal vertical that showed just how popular they were. Each time they got the same basic response: Don’t rock the boat.

The company spent years chasing one business goal above others: “Engagement,” a measure of the views, time spent and interactions with online videos. Conversations with over twenty people who work at, or recently left, YouTube reveal a corporate leadership unable or unwilling to act on these internal alarms for fear of throttling engagement. 

Wojcicki would “never put her fingers on the scale,” said one person who worked for her. “Her view was, ‘My job is to run the company, not deal with this.’” This person, like others who spoke to Bloomberg News, asked not to be identified because of a worry of retaliation.

YouTube turned down Bloomberg News’ requests to speak to Wojcicki, other executives, management at Google and the board of Alphabet Inc., its parent company. Last week, Neal Mohan, its chief product officer, told The New York Times that the company has “made great strides” in addressing its issues with recommendation and radical content. 

A YouTube spokeswoman contested the notion that Wojcicki is inattentive to these issues and that the company prioritizes engagement above all else. Instead, the spokeswoman said the company has spent the last two years focused squarely on finding solutions for its content problems. Since 2017, YouTube has recommended clips based on a metric called “responsibility,” which includes input from satisfaction surveys it shows after videos. YouTube declined to describe it more fully, but said it receives “millions” of survey responses each week.

“Our primary focus has been tackling some of the platform’s toughest content challenges,” a spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. “We’ve taken a number of significant steps, including updating our recommendations system to prevent the spread of harmful misinformation, improving the news experience on YouTube, bringing the number of people focused on content issues across Google to 10,000, investing in machine learning to be able to more quickly find and remove violative content, and reviewing and updating our policies — we made more than 30 policy updates in 2018 alone. And this is not the end: responsibility remains our number one priority.”

In response to criticism about prioritizing growth over safety, Facebook Inc. has proposed a dramatic shift in its core product. YouTube still has struggled to explain any new corporate vision to the public and investors – and sometimes, to its own staff. Five senior personnel who left YouTube and Google in the last two years privately cited the platform’s inability to tame extreme, disturbing videos as the reason for their departure. Within Google, YouTube’s inability to fix its problems has remained a major gripe. Google shares slipped in late morning trading in New York on Tuesday, leaving them up 15 percent so far this year. Facebook stock has jumped more than 30 percent in 2019, after getting hammered last year. 

YouTube’s inertia was illuminated again after a deadly measles outbreak drew public attention to vaccinations conspiracies on social media several weeks ago. New data from Moonshot CVE, a London-based firm that studies extremism, found that fewer than twenty YouTube channels that have spread these lies reached over 170 million viewers, many who where then recommended other videos laden with conspiracy theories.

The company’s lackluster response to explicit videos aimed at kids has drawn criticism from the tech industry itself. Patrick Copeland, a former Google director who left in 2016, recently posted a damning indictment of his old company on LinkedIn. While watching YouTube, Copeland’s daughter was recommended a clip that featured both a Snow White character drawn with exaggerated sexual features and a horse engaged in a sexual act. “Most companies would fire someone for watching this video at work,” he wrote. “Unbelievable!!” Copeland, who spent a decade at Google, decided to block the YouTube.com domain. READ MORE:https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2019-04-02/youtube-executives-ignored-warnings-letting-toxic-videos-run-rampant

Facebook Won’t Let Employers, Landlords or Lenders Discriminate in Ads Anymore

The sweeping changes come two years after ProPublica’s reporting, which sparked lawsuits and widespread outrage.

Facebook advertisers can no longer target users by age, gender and ZIP code for housing, employment and credit offers, the company announced Tuesday as part of a major settlement with civil rights organizations.

The wide-ranging agreement follows reporting by ProPublica since 2016 that found Facebook let advertisers exclude users by race and other categories that are protected by federal law. It is illegal for housing, job and credit advertisers to discriminate against protected groups.

ProPublica had been able to buy housing-related ads on Facebook that excluded groups such as African Americansand Jews, and it previously found job ads excluding users by age and gender placed by companies that are household names, like Uber and Verizon Wireless.

“This settlement is a shot across the bow to all tech companies and platforms,” said Peter Romer-Friedman, a lawyer with Outten & Golden in Washington who represented the plaintiffs along with the ACLU. “They need to understand that civil rights apply to the internet, and it’s not a civil rights-free zone.”

The changes apply to advertisers who offer housing, employment and credit offers to U.S.-based users of Facebook, Instagram and Messenger. Facebook said it hopes to implement the requirements by the end of the year.

The agreement also will create a separate online portal for housing, credit and employment offers. Those advertisers will not be able to target users in a geographic area smaller than a 15-mile radius, which advocates say tamps down on “digital” neighborhood redlining.

Housing, job and credit advertisers will also now only be able to choose from a few hundred interest categories to target consumers, down from several thousand. Critics have said such a swath of finely tuned categories, like people interested in wheelchair ramps, are essentially proxies to find and exclude certain groups. Facebook said it will keep more generic interests like “real estate,” “apartment” and “job interview.”

Facebook also said it will create a page where users can see all current housing ads whether or not the users were among those targeted. The agreement says Facebook will also study how algorithms can be biased.

“There is a long history of discrimination in the areas of housing, employment and credit, and this harmful behavior should not happen through Facebook ads,” Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg wrote in a statement Tuesday.

The changes are part of Facebook’s settlement in five discrimination lawsuits. Plaintiffs included the Communications Workers of America and several fair-housing organizations, as well as individual consumers and job seekers. The settlement includes a payout of about $5 million to plaintiffs, mostly to defray legal costs.

The company agreed last year to limit advertisers’ ability to target by some demographic categories, following a complaint by Washington state.

Facebook has previously said that it was being held to an unreasonably high standard, and that ads excluding users by age and gender were not discriminatory. “We completely reject the allegation that these advertisements are discriminatory,” Vice President of Ads Rob Goldman wrote in a December 2017 post. “Used responsibly, age-based targeting for employment purposes is an accepted industry practice and for good reason: it helps employers recruit and people of all ages find work.” The post was titled: “This Time, ProPublica, We Disagree.”

Facebook said Tuesday it had “not seen the kind of explicit discriminatory behavior that civil rights groups are concerned about.” But ProPublica used a crowdsourcing project to find dozens examples of job ads that excluded workers over 40women and other protected groups.

Facebook has made another move recently that resulted in less transparency around ads. This year, it moved to block a ProPublica project that allowed the public to see how political ads are being targeted on Facebook.

The company said it was simply enforcing its terms of service.

Galaxy Fold is here — with six cameras and two batteries for $1,980

Samsung’s first truly flexible device converts from a phone to a tablet and will be available April 26.

The foldable future is finally here, and it’s called the Galaxy Fold. Samsung on Wednesday showed off the new foldable phone during its Unpacked event in San Francisco. The device has a 4.6-inch display when folded, and a 7.3-inch display when unfolded into a tablet. The phone will be available April 26 at a starting price of $1,980 (about £1,500 or AU$2,800). It’ll come in four colors: cosmos black, space silver, Martian green and astro blue. Apps shown off for the Galaxy Fold include YouTube, Netflix and Facebook. 

The Galaxy Fold comes with 12 gigabytes of RAM and batteries on each side of the foldable phone, said Justin Denison, Samsung’s senior vice president of mobile marketing. 

The gadget has six cameras, with three on the back, one on the front and two inside, Denison said. The phone will come in two versions, with a 4G and a 5G edition.

The three rear cameras are a 12-megapixel wide-angle camera, a 12-megapixel telephoto camera and a 16-megapixel ultra wide camera. The two cameras inside are a 10-megapixel selfie camera and an 8-megapixel depth camera. The camera on the front is also a 10-megapixel selfie camera.

The Galaxy Fold does not have a microSD slot, and it comes with 512GB of memory. Its fingerprint scanner is on the phone’s side, like the Galaxy S10E, instead of using an ultrasonic, in-screen fingerprint reader like the rest of the Galaxy S10 line-up. 

That’s “so users can access it if it’s open or closed,” Drew Blackard, Samsung senior director of product marketing, said in an interview after Unpacked.

The Fold will be available initially only for AT&T and T-Mobile in the US, Samsung said. It’s unclear about availability in other markets.

Blackard added that all regular Android apps will work on the Galaxy Fold. If developers enable them to scale, like when a phone shifts from portrait mode to landscape mode, they’ll adjust for the tablet mode as well. Developers will have to tweak the apps to take advantage of the multi-window feature and app continuity, he said.

Most major apps will be altered to work with the foldable format, Blackard said.

“Integration is simple for developers,” he said.

Samsung has been talking about a foldable phone for years and finally revealed a prototype in November. It uses a new screen technology called Infinity Flex Display that, Samsung says, lets you repeatedly open and close the device without screen degradation.

The Galaxy Fold is a compact smartphone when closed and a more expansive tablet when fully opened. Apps seamlessly transition between the display sizes, letting you pick up on the tablet where you left off on the smartphone. When the device is unfolded, you can use three active apps through something Samsung calls Multi Active Window.

The launch of the foldable phone was accompanied by a host of announcements, including the introduction of Samsung’s new flagship Galaxy S10 smartphones.

Nearly the entire phone industry is experimenting with foldable devices. They’re seen as the next major leap in design and a way to get us interested in phones again. People are holding onto their smartphones longer than before, and it’s getting harder to justify a pricey upgrade given the relatively minor tweaks made every year. The hope is that foldables can change that and introduce a new way of interacting with electronics.

READ MORE: https://www.cnet.com/news/galaxy-fold-is-here-with-six-cameras-two-batteries-for-1980/#ftag=COS-04-10aaa1a

iPhone ‘X’ names have nowhere to go in 2019

Might as well hand Apple a shovel, because with 2018’s iPhone XSXR and XS Max, the trillion-dollar iPhone-maker has dug itself into a hole. Puzzle through this with me: what comes after iPhone XS and XR?

It might be tempting to discount phone names as trivial, but they’re actually important tools for brands to entice buyers and convey certain values and characteristics about the brand. iPhone X, good. iPhone XYZ or iPhone XX, bad. And if you need more convincing, consult this gallery of 30 worst phone names below.

For Apple specifically, the “X” is an important shift because it represents Apple’s rebranded iPhone line with ultraslim bezels, secure infrared face unlock technology and no home button. The X brand is a pricier lineup than before, and it’s easing you into paying more for your phone.

Part of the problem is that the iPhone “X” name is already confusing. It looks one way, but sounds another — “ten” instead of “ex.” That’s all right when it’s just the iPhone X you’re looking at. But when you combine it with an S, an R and an S Max, my guess is that nine people out of 10 will call them the “excess,” “ex are” and “excess max.” See? Confusing.

The trouble began in 2017 when Apple skipped over the iPhone 9 to release two 8s and a “10,” its tenth-anniversary phone. But in so naming the iPhone X — and following it up with three more “X” phones in 2018 — Apple has created a ripple effect that makes me wonder what the plan is next.

Apple could follow up the iPhone XS — where “S” indicates a minor upgrade — with the iPhone 11. Or is that the iPhone XI? Would that make 2020’s phone the iPhone XIS? No way; what a horror show.  

Well, what about simply calling it the “iPhone X (2020)”? Apple has done this before with iPads and MacBooks and although we don’t like it, we’ve learned to accept it, even if it does create mass confusion. (“Which iPhone do you have?” “Uh, the iPhone?”)

Apple could also just carry on with its maddeningly illogical new naming convention. Perhaps 2019 will bring us the iPhone XRS or the iPhone X2. But then would the following year beget the iPhone X2S? (What does the R in iPhone XR mean anyway…”reduced”?) 

Read alsoWhy your iPhone is getting more expensive

So what logically comes after the iPhone XS, the linchpin of the new iPhone X family?

READ MORE:https://www.cnet.com/news/iphone-x-names-2019-nowhere-to-go-2019/