Tag: Technology

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.

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

Amazon tells some customers their emails have been exposed, but provides few details

Amazon Customers Email Breached in October

Amazon.com informed some customers Wednesday that their names and email addresses had been “inadvertently disclosed” as a result of a “technical error” but declined to provide further details about the security incident.

The e-commerce giant confirmed it sent the messages, adding in a subsequent statement it had “fixed the issue.” It did not say how many of its users had been affected or where and how emails had been exposed. Amazon said only that its website and other systems had not been breached.

Amazon’s limited disclosure, days before the Black Friday and Cyber Monday holiday shopping frenzies, drew sharp criticism on social media. Among its own sellers, some took to the company’s forums to complain about Amazon’s tight-lipped handling of the matter. “Who knows what they’re not disclosing about this,” one user wrote. “Hopefully nothing …”

Others questioned Amazon after it told users there’s “no need for you to change your password or take any other action,” fearing the potential that hackers still might try to use their names and email addresses for nefarious purposes, including phishing scams.

In October, Amazon said it reportedly fired an employee who inappropriately shared customers’ emails with a third-party seller. The incident, which Amazon said it was working with law enforcement to investigate, similarly resulted in messages to customers indicating their email addresses had been exposed.

WeWork’s Rise: How a Sublet Start-Up Is Taking Over

Screen Shot 2018-11-13 at 4.30.28 AMCritics have derided WeWork as overvalued and vulnerable to the next downturn. But the company holds so many leases in so many cities, it might hold more power than its landlords.

Real estate titans have long scoffed at WeWork, which in eight short years has managed to attain a $20 billion valuation by selling short-term leases for shared office space with a mixture of stylish design and free-flowing alcohol.

Derided by some as a real estate company masquerading as a technology company, it has been called everything from a “$20 billion house of cards” to a “Ponzi scheme.”

The naysayers argue that WeWork’s business model looks brilliant only in a rising economy that has allowed it to lock in long-term leases and then re-rent that space to other businesses at a premium. The enormous valuation it has obtained is higher than that of Boston Properties and Vornado, two of the country’s biggest office-space landlords — companies that actually own the kind of space that WeWork usually rents.

Now, with interest rates creeping higher, residential real estate prices flattening and fears of an economic slowdown coming, real estate insiders are gleeful at the notion that a downturn could be an existential threat for the company.

But a funny thing happened as WeWork has scaled up all over the globe: It may have become too big to fail.

WeWork has gobbled up leases for so much space in so many cities, there’s a compelling case to be made that its landlords wouldn’t be able to afford for it to go under.

Because of WeWork’s size, “they have more power in a down market,” said Thomas J. Barrack Jr., the longtime real estate investor and founder of Colony Capital.

The company is scheduled to release third-quarter financial results on Tuesday. A WeWork spokesman, citing the coming report, declined to comment.

The conventional wisdom is that when the economy turns south, WeWork’s customers — many of which are start-ups and may be the most vulnerable — will simply walk away. The flexibility of WeWork’s short-term leases is part of its appeal, after all.

READ MORE: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/13/business/dealbook/wework-office-space-real-estate.html?action=click&module=Editors%20Picks&pgtype=Homepage

The beginner’s guide to technology in 2018: All of the essential gadgets and services actually worth your money

It’s 2018, and you’re not very familiar with technology. Where do you start?

While there are tons of gadgets and services out there vying for your attention and your dollars, there are a handful of “essential” technologies that are absolutely worth investing in, as they make your life easier in significant ways.

Here’s your guide to all the essential technologies worth your money in 2018.

A quality smartphone

phone

A quality smartphone is one of the best investments you can make. Smartphones are the most personal computing devices we own. You can use them for just about everything: They’re phones, obviously, but they’re also cameras, calculators, and full-blown computers that can fit in your pocket or bag. They’re the Swiss Army knives of the future.

The biggest choice you’ll make is actually pretty simple: Which operating system do you prefer? Most smartphones either run iOS — which is operated by Apple — or Android, which is designed by Google and tweaked (slightly or a lot) depending on the phone you buy.

If you like iOS, that means you’re getting an iPhone. You can’t go wrong with any of the new iPhones, including the $750 iPhone XR coming this month or $1,000 iPhone XS, but the older models like the iPhone 7, which starts at $450, are still an incredible deal.

If you like Android, you have a ton of options, but popular picks are the affordable OnePlus 6, which starts at $530, and the Galaxy S9 and Note 9 phones from Samsung, which start at $720 and $1,000, respectively. We’re also expecting new Pixel 3 phones from Google this month.

Streaming devices are a worthy investment for any TV owner in 2018. Streaming devices, in short, open up the possibilities for your TV. Most streaming devices support popular streaming apps like Netflix and Hulu, but depending on the company that makes your device, you’ll also typically have access to an online store, like Apple’s iTunes Store or Google’s Play Store. So, if you purchased movies, TV shows, or games through any of those stores, you’ll be able to access them on your TV.

READ MORE: https://www.businessinsider.com/technology-beginners-guide-essential-gadgets-services-2018-10#a-streaming-device-for-your-tv-2

Wi-Fi 6 Is Coming: Here’s Why You Should Care

 

Screen Shot 2018-10-07 at 9.30.05 PMGet ready for the next generation of wifi technology: Wi-fi 6 (for so it is named) is going to be appearing on devices from next year. But will you have to throw out your old router and get a new one? And is this going to make your Netflix run faster? Here’s everything you need to know about the new standard.

A brief history of wifi

Those of you of a certain age will remember when home internet access was very much wired—only one computer could get online, a single MP3 took half an hour to download, and you couldn’t use the landline phone at the same time.

Thank goodness for wifi technology then, which gradually became cheap and compact enough to fit inside a router suitable for home use. The first wifi protocol appeared in 1997, offering 2Mbit/s link speeds, but it was only with the arrival of 802.11b and 11Mbit/s speeds in 1999 that people seriously started thinking about home wifi.

Wifi standards, as well as a whole host of other electronics standards, are managed by the IEEE: The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Specifically, IEEE 802 refers to local area network standards, and 802.11 focuses on wireless LAN. In the 20 years since 802.11b arrived, we’ve seen numerous new standards pushed out, though not all of them apply to home networking kit.

The introduction of 802.11g in 2003 (54Mbit/s) and 802.11n in 2009 (a whopping 600Mbit/s) were both significant moments in the history of wifi. Another significant step forward was the introduction of dual-band routers with both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, tied to the arrival of 802.11n, which could offer faster speeds at shorter ranges.

Today, with 802.11ac in place, that 5GHz band can push speeds of 1,300Mbit/s, so we’re talking speeds that are more than 600 times faster than they were in 1997. Wi-Fi 6 takes that another step forward, but it’s not just speed that’s improving.

Explaining wifi technology can get quite technical. A lot of recent improvements, including those arriving with Wi-Fi 6, involve some clever engineering to squeeze more bandwidth out of the existing 2.4GHz and 5GHz your router already employs. The end result is more capacity on the same channels, with less interference between them, as well as faster data transfer speeds.

Turning wifi up to six

One of the most important changes Wi-Fi 6 brings with it is, of course, the new naming system: Using a simple succession of numbers is going to make it a lot easier for consumers to keep track of standards and make sure they’ve got compatible kit set up. The more technical term for Wi-Fi 6 is 802.11ax, if you prefer the old naming.

Older standards are getting retroactively renamed too—the 802.11ac standard becomes Wi-Fi 5, the 802.11n standard becomes Wifi 4, and so on. Expect to see the new Wi-Fi 6 name on hardware products and inside software menus from 2019, as well as funky little logos not unlike the one Google uses for its Chromecast devices.

As always, the improvements with this latest generation of wifi are in two key areas: Raw speed and throughput (if wifi was a highway, we’d be talking about a higher maximum speed limit for vehicles, as well as more lanes to handle more vehicles at once). Wi-Fi 6 will support 8K video streaming, provided your internet supplier is going to give you access to sufficient download speeds in the first place.

In practice that means support for transfer rates of 1.1Gbit/s over the 2.4GHz band (with four streams available) and 4.8Gbit/s over the 5GHz band (with eight streams available), though the technology is still being refined ahead of its full launch next year—those speeds may, in fact, go up (it’s been hitting 10Gbit/s in the lab). Roughly speaking, you can look forward to 4x to 10x speed increases in your wifi.

Another improvement Wi-Fi 6 will bring is improved efficiency, which means a lower power draw, which means less of a strain on battery life (or lower figures on your electricity bill). It’s hard to quantify the difference exactly, especially as Wi-Fi 6 has yet to be finalized, but it’s another step in the right direction for wifi standards—it shouldn’t suck the life out of your phone or always-on laptopquite as quickly.

Refinements in Wi-Fi 6 hardware and firmware should also mean better performance in crowded environments. You might finally be able to get a strong signal at your sports bar of choice, though don’t hold your breath. As always, a host of other factors (walls, microwaves, the number of people streaming Netflix in your house) are going to have an impact on the final speeds you see.

What will you have to do?

Not a lot. As is usually the case, Wi-Fi 6 is going to be backwards compatible with all the existing wifi gear out there, so if you bring something home from the gadget shop that supports the new standard, it will work fine with your current setup—you just won’t be able to get the fastest speeds until everything is Wi-Fi 6 enabled.

READ MORE: https://gizmodo.com/wi-fi-6-is-coming-and-heres-why-you-should-care-1829516258

THE BEST MUSIC STREAMING SERVICE

Screen Shot 2018-10-07 at 9.13.55 PMYou probably already know that listening to music no longer requires trips to a music store, or purchasing individual songs or albums from iTunes to download to your computer. Today’s best music streaming services have millions of songs in their catalogs, offer personalized playlists, and feature exclusive internet radio shows and podcasts. But which should you pick and pay a subscription fee for?

A good streaming music service has a straightforward user interface that makes it easy to organize a library of thousands of songs or playlists across the web, Android, and iOS apps, and in some cases, a desktop Mac or Windows app. However, while most music streaming services have these features, most of them aren’t free, and nearly all services require paid plans that grant you access to a full on-demand library of music and other features.

While testing these music streaming services, I considered factors like audio quality options, social integration, and built-in lyrics. It’s also absolutely necessary that your streaming app plays nice with more than one personal device. These are all important points when considering which music service to pick and ultimately, make for a better listening experience.

Screen Shot 2018-10-07 at 9.11.25 PM

Spotify is the best streaming music service for a variety of reasons, but there’s one in particular that stands out. It has the most consistent iOS, Android, Mac, and Windows experience. It’s far from perfect, of course, but features rolled out to the iOS version follow on Android not too soon after. Competing music services sometimes have issues with certain platforms, like the clunky Android version of Apple Music or the Windows app for Tidal that sometimes won’t load.

Other than having a unified app experience, Spotify has a large catalog of music (35+ million songs), the best playlist recommendations, useful, yet non-intrusive social features, and a variety of plans (including student discounts) that make it great for most music listeners with a smartphone and some headphones.

It’s also one of the streaming services (alongside Amazon Music and Apple Music) that supports offline listening for both mobile and desktop, which is useful when you’re doing work and don’t want to eat up bandwidth or using your device on a plane without internet. Spotify is also supported by most smart speakers and smart devices, so it’s almost universally available on all platforms.

However, Spotify isn’t without shortcomings. There’s no hi-fi option, the app can misbehave when you have a poor cell connection, and uploading purchased songs to your desktop Spotify library is a convoluted process. Still, Spotify’s mobile and desktop experiences are fast and easy to understand. Spotify’s pricing also set the precedent for other music streaming apps. It has a compelling free option on desktop, a $4.99 option for students (US only), the standard $9.99 premium option that lets you download and stream on all your personal devices, and finally, a $14.99 family plan (for six users total).

A GREAT ALTERNATIVE: APPLE MUSIC

Apple Music has a lot going for it that’s pegged on exclusivity. Beats 1 is home to many top-tier artists that use their respective radio shows to demo and tease new music and collaborations. If you’re a fan of certain popular artists, you might find that the first chance you’ll have to hear their new music is on Apple Music, not Spotify or Tidal. Sound quality is usually better than Spotify’s, thanks to Apple Music using a 256kbps AAC bitrate, compared to the max 320kbps Ogg Vorbis bitrate used by Spotify.

Banking on this sense of access and being “in the know,” Apple Music tops this off with artist’s music videos, adding a visual treat you can enjoy without having to go to another app. However for comparison, Tidal, YouTube Music, and Spotify are the other streaming services that offer music videos built into the app. Of those, only Spotify has short vertical videos for a few of its popular songs; Apple Music does not.

Apple Music also has a digital locker feature that subscribers can take advantage of, to the tune of 100,000 songs. Although, you should be hard-pressed not to find your purchased music in Apple Music’s library of over 50 million songs. You can also save these songs for offline listening on iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, and the Apple Watch.

The iOS, Android, and desktop apps are my least favorite user music streaming interfaces. The abundant use of hot pink accents and white backgrounds everywhere isn’t the most comfortable to view at night. On Android, the Apple Music app feels even more out of place and occasionally had problems staying open on my Pixel 2 XL. Using Apple Music on a desktop requires you to use iTunes, an app that’s slow, cumbersome, confusing, and long overdue for a redesign. Apple Music has definitely not been blessed with the most beautiful interfaces the designers at Cupertino have released.

Apple Music’s pricing is similar to Spotify and other services: $9.99 monthly or $14.99 for a family plan (up to six users), with student discounts varying by country.

If you’re an audiophile — someone who is enthusiastic about hi-fi reproduction — and want to use a streaming service, there are some good alternatives.

For those that have audio hardware capable of taking advantage of lossless hi-fi, then Tidal or Deezer’s $20 lossless plans might be good options. Tidal has a $9.99 on-demand plan as well, but it doesn’t get you the higher sound quality.

On the flip side, casual listeners who want a more radio-style streaming service can opt for the $5 radio-only, no ads version of Pandora; it also includes on-demand streaming, but it’s less mature than its competitors in terms of playlist recommendations and library management.

But what if you have thousands of songs you’ve already purchased the old-fashioned way? If you want the benefits of uploading your music to the cloud and a music streaming service to back that up — that is more consistent on Android and the web — then Google Play Music is the perfect option. However, next year Google is merging YouTube Music with Play Music into a new service with a music uploading feature, so it might be worth waiting.