Technology

Amazon Robots - Coming Soon To a Home Near You?

  Amazon Robots

While Apple's HomePod is struggling to keep up with Amazon's Echo, Amazon may already be on to the next "smart" product in the technology world.  Amazon Robots.  First it was the Kindle, allowing users to put their reading library, all on one digital device, eliminating the need to lug books around.  Then came the Echo, with families across the globe setting multiple timers, while preparing various stages of that evening's dinner.  And now?

Amazon Robots

According to Mark Gurman and Brad Stone, reporting for Bloomberg:

The retail and cloud computing giant has embarked on an ambitious, top-secret plan to build a domestic robot, according to people familiar with the plans. Codenamed “Vesta,” after the Roman goddess of the hearth, home and family, the project is overseen by Gregg Zehr, who runs Amazon’s Lab126 hardware research and development division based in Sunnyvale, California. Lab126 is responsible for Amazon devices such as the Echo speakers, Fire TV set-top-boxes, Fire tablets and the ill-fated Fire Phone.

The Vesta project originated a few years ago, but this year Amazon began to aggressively ramp up hiring. There are dozens of listings on the Lab 126 Jobs page for openings like “Software Engineer, Robotics” and “Principle Sensors Engineer.” People briefed on the plan say the company hopes to begin seeding the robots in employees’ homes by the end of this year, and potentially with consumers as early as 2019, though the timeline could change, and Amazon hardware projects are sometimes killed during gestation.

An Amazon spokesperson said the company doesn’t comment on “rumors and speculation.”

A Mobile Alexa?

While it remains unclear as to what sort of tasks any Amazon robots might perform, those familiar with the project are envisioning a mobile type of Alexa, accompanying homeowners in spots where they might not already have an Echo device.

Some prototypes of the robots that have come up have advanced cameras as well as computer vision software that allow them to navigate through homes.  Self driving cars use similar technology.

These types of robots would differ from Amazon Robotics, a subsidiary of the company in Massachusetts and Germany.  That company utilizes robots within Amazon warehouses for moving around goods and had originated as a company named Kiva Systems, that Amazon acquired in 2012 for $775 million.

The ongoing advances in computer vision technology, cameras and artificial intelligence, along with voice activation make it promising for Amazon to be able to bring a potential robot to the marketplace.

It is also estimated that the consumer robot market will be worth about $15 billion a year by 2023, according to Research and Markets, which would be up from about $5.4 billion this year.

One can't help but wonder though, in this day and age of privacy breaches, will customers be willing to allow even more 'smart' technology into the home?  We can only hope that any product will be friendly enough like another robot of the future:

Amazon Robots

How To Check if Your Facebook Data Was Shared with Cambridge Analytica

Facebook Ironically the same day Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is scheduled to give testimony before Congress, Facebook launched a new tool to help check if your data was shared with Cambridge Analytica.

According to MacRumors:

Facebook today launched a new section of its Help Center focusing on user data breaches following the Cambridge Analytica scandal that's been ongoing for the past few weeks. The updated Help Center tool allows you to check to see if any of your Facebook data was shared with Cambridge Analytica (via Matt Navarra).

The tool specifically details whether or not you or any of your friends ever logged into "This Is Your Digital Life," a quiz app that Cambridge Analytica used to steal information and tailor political messages towards Facebook users. If you or someone you know was affected by the app, Facebook details what information was shared with Cambridge Analytica, including topics like public profile, page likes, birthday, current city, and more.

It's a lengthy read, but read more below for Zuckerberg's full testimony, via CNBC.

Chairman Walden, Ranking Member Pallone, and Members of the Committee,

We face a number of important issues around privacy, safety, and democracy, and you will rightfully have some hard questions for me to answer. Before I talk about the steps we're taking to address them, I want to talk about how we got here.

Facebook is an idealistic and optimistic company. For most of our existence, we focused on all the good that connecting people can bring. As Facebook has grown, people everywhere have gotten a powerful new tool to stay connected to the people they love, make their voices heard, and build communities and businesses. Just recently, we've seen the #metoo movement and the March for Our Lives, organized, at least in part, on Facebook. After Hurricane Harvey, people raised more than $20 million for relief. And more than 70 million small businesses now use Facebook to grow and create jobs.

But it's clear now that we didn't do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm as well. That goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy. We didn't take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. It was my mistake, and I'm sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I'm responsible for what happens here.

So now we have to go through every part of our relationship with people and make sure we're taking a broad enough view of our responsibility.

It's not enough to just connect people, we have to make sure those connections are positive. It's not enough to just give people a voice, we have to make sure people aren't using it to hurt people or spread misinformation. It's not enough to give people control of their information, we have to make sure developers they've given it to are protecting it too. Across the board, we have a responsibility to not just build tools, but to make sure those tools are used for good.

It will take some time to work through all of the changes we need to make, but I'm committed to getting it right.

That includes improving the way we protect people's information and safeguard elections around the world. Here are a few key things we're doing:

II. CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA

Over the past few weeks, we've been working to understand exactly what happened with Cambridge Analytica and taking steps to make sure this doesn't happen again. We took important actions to prevent this from happening again today four years ago, but we also made mistakes, there's more to do, and we need to step up and do it.

A. What Happened

In 2007, we launched the Facebook Platform with the vision that more apps should be social. Your calendar should be able to show your friends' birthdays, your maps should show where your friends live, and your address book should show their pictures. To do this, we enabled people to log into apps and share who their friends were and some information about them.

In 2013, a Cambridge University researcher named Aleksandr Kogan created a personality quiz app. It was installed by around 300,000 people who agreed to share some of their Facebook information as well as some information from their friends whose privacy settings allowed it. Given the way our platform worked at the time this meant Kogan was able to access some information about tens of millions of their friends.

In 2014, to prevent abusive apps, we announced that we were changing the entire platform to dramatically limit the Facebook information apps could access. Most importantly, apps like Kogan's could no longer ask for information about a person's friends unless their friends had also authorized the app. We also required developers to get approval from Facebook before they could request any data beyond a user's public profile, friend list, and email address. These actions would prevent any app like Kogan's from being able to access as much Facebook data today.

In 2015, we learned from journalists at The Guardian that Kogan had shared data from his app with Cambridge Analytica. It is against our policies for developers to share data without people's consent, so we immediately banned Kogan's app from our platform, and demanded that Kogan and other entities he gave the data to, including Cambridge Analytica, formally certify that they had deleted all improperly acquired data — which they ultimately did.

Last month, we learned from The Guardian, The New York Times and Channel 4 that Cambridge Analytica may not have deleted the data as they had certified. We immediately banned them from using any of our services. Cambridge Analytica claims they have already deleted the data and has agreed to a forensic audit by a firm we hired to investigate this. We're also working with the U.K. Information Commissioner's Office, which has jurisdiction over Cambridge Analytica, as it completes its investigation into what happened.

B. What We Are Doing

We have a responsibility to make sure what happened with Kogan and Cambridge Analytica doesn't happen again. Here are some of the steps we're taking:

Safeguarding our platform. We need to make sure that developers like Kogan who got access to a lot of information in the past can't get access to as much information going forward.

1. We made some big changes to the Facebook platform in 2014 to dramatically restrict the amount of data that developers can access and to proactively review the apps on our platform. This makes it so a developer today can't do what Kogan did years ago.

2. But there's more we can do here to limit the information developers can access and put more safeguards in place to prevent abuse.

— We're removing developers' access to your data if you haven't used their app in three months.

— We're reducing the data you give an app when you approve it to only your name, profile photo, and email address. That's a lot less than apps can get on any other major app platform.

— We're requiring developers to not only get approval but also to sign a contract that imposes strict requirements in order to ask anyone for access to their posts or other private data.

— We're restricting more APIs like groups and events. You should be able to sign into apps and share your public information easily, but anything that might also share other people's information — like other posts in groups you're in or other people going to events you're going to — will be much more restricted.

— Two weeks ago, we found out that a feature that lets you look someone up by their phone number and email was abused. This feature is useful in cases where people have the same name, but it was abused to link people's public Facebook information to a phone number they already had. When we found out about the abuse, we shut this feature down.

3. Investigating other apps. We're in the process of investigating every app that had access to a large amount of information before we locked down our platform in 2014. If we detect suspicious activity, we'll do a full forensic audit. And if we find that someone is improperly using data, we'll ban them and tell everyone affected.

4. Building better controls. Finally, we're making it easier to understand which apps you've allowed to access your data. This week we started showing everyone a list of the apps you've used and an easy way to revoke their permissions to your data. You can already do this in your privacy settings, but we're going to put it at the top of News Feed to make sure everyone sees it. And we also told everyone whose Facebook information may have been shared with Cambridge Analytica.

Beyond the steps we had already taken in 2014, I believe these are the next steps we must take to continue to secure our platform.

III. RUSSIAN ELECTION INTERFERENCE

Facebook's mission is about giving people a voice and bringing people closer together. Those are deeply democratic values and we're proud of them. I don't want anyone to use our tools to undermine democracy. That's not what we stand for.

We were too slow to spot and respond to Russian interference, and we're working hard to get better. Our sophistication in handling these threats is growing and improving quickly. We will continue working with the government to understand the full extent of Russian interference, and we will do our part not only to ensure the integrity of free and fair elections around the world, but also to give everyone a voice and to be a force for good in democracy everywhere.

A. What Happened

Elections have always been especially sensitive times for our security team, and the 2016 U.S. presidential election was no exception.

Our security team has been aware of traditional Russian cyber threats — like hacking and malware — for years. Leading up to Election Day in November 2016, we detected and dealt with several threats with ties to Russia. This included activity by a group called APT28, that the U.S. government has publicly linked to Russian military intelligence services.

But while our primary focus was on traditional threats, we also saw some new behavior in the summer of 2016 when APT28-related accounts, under the banner of DC Leaks, created fake personas that were used to seed stolen information to journalists. We shut these accounts down for violating our policies.

After the election, we continued to investigate and learn more about these new threats. What we found was that bad actors had used coordinated networks of fake accounts to interfere in the election: promoting or attacking specific candidates and causes, creating distrust in political institutions, or simply spreading confusion. Some of these bad actors also used our ads tools.

We also learned about a disinformation campaign run by the Internet Research Agency (IRA) — a Russian agency that has repeatedly acted deceptively and tried to manipulate people in the US, Europe, and Russia. We found about 470 accounts and pages linked to the IRA, which generated around 80,000 Facebook posts over about a two-year period.

Our best estimate is that approximately 126 million people may have been served content from a Facebook Page associated with the IRA at some point during that period. On Instagram, where our data on reach is not as complete, we found about 120,000 pieces of content, and estimate that an additional 20 million people were likely served it.

Over the same period, the IRA also spent approximately $100,000 on more than 3,000 ads on Facebook and Instagram, which were seen by an estimated 11 million people in the United States. We shut down these IRA accounts in August 2017.

B. What We Are Doing

There's no question that we should have spotted Russian interference earlier, and we're working hard to make sure it doesn't happen again. Our actions include:

Building new technology to prevent abuse. Since 2016, we have improved our techniques to prevent nation states from interfering in foreign elections, and we've built more advanced AI tools to remove fake accounts more generally. There have been a number of important elections since then where these new tools have been successfully deployed. For example:

1. In France, leading up to the presidential election in 2017, we found and took down 30,000 fake accounts.

2. In Germany, before the 2017 elections, we worked directly with the election commission to learn from them about the threats they saw and to share information.

3. In the U.S. Senate Alabama special election last year, we deployed new AI tools that proactively detected and removed fake accounts from Macedonia trying to spread misinformation.

4. We have disabled thousands of accounts tied to organized, financially motivated fake news spammers. These investigations have been used to improve our automated systems that find fake accounts.

5. Last week, we took down more than 270 additional pages and accounts operated by the IRA and used to target people in Russia and Russian speakers in countries like Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine. Some of the pages we removed belong to Russian news organizations that we determined were controlled by the IRA.

Significantly increasing our investment in security. We now have about 15,000 people working on security and content review. We'll have more than 20,000 by the end of this year.

1. I've directed our teams to invest so much in security — on top of the other investments we're making — that it will significantly impact our profitability going forward. But I want to be clear about what our priority is: protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profits.

Strengthening our advertising policies. We know some Members of Congress are exploring ways to increase transparency around political or issue advertising, and we're happy to keep working with Congress on that. But we aren't waiting for legislation to act.

1. From now on, every advertiser who wants to run political or issue ads will need to be authorized. To get authorized, advertisers will need to confirm their identity and location. Any advertiser who doesn't pass will be prohibited from running political or issue ads. We will also label them and advertisers will have to show you who paid for them. We're starting this in the U.S. and expanding to the rest of the world in the coming months.

2. For even greater political ads transparency, we have also built a tool that lets anyone see all of the ads a page is running. We're testing this in Canada now and we'll launch it globally this summer. We're also creating a searchable archive of past political ads.

3. We will also require people who manage large pages to be verified as well. This will make it much harder for people to run pages using fake accounts, or to grow virally and spread misinformation or divisive content that way.

4. In order to require verification for all of these pages and advertisers, we will hire thousands of more people. We're committed to getting this done in time for the critical months before the 2018 elections in the U.S. as well as elections in Mexico, Brazil, India, Pakistan and elsewhere in the next year.

5. These steps by themselves won't stop all people trying to game the system. But they will make it a lot harder for anyone to do what the Russians did during the 2016 election and use fake accounts and pages to run ads. Election interference is a problem that's bigger than any one platform, and that's why we support the Honest Ads Act. This will help raise the bar for all political advertising online.

Sharing information. We've been working with other technology companies to share information about threats, and we're also cooperating with the U.S. and foreign governments on election integrity.

At the same time, it's also important not to lose sight of the more straightforward and larger ways Facebook plays a role in elections.

In 2016, people had billions of interactions and open discussions on Facebook that may never have happened offline. Candidates had direct channels to communicate with tens of millions of citizens. Campaigns spent tens of millions of dollars organizing and advertising online to get their messages out further. And we organized "get out the vote" efforts that helped more than 2 million people register to vote who might not have voted otherwise.

Security — including around elections — isn't a problem you ever fully solve. Organizations like the IRA are sophisticated adversaries who are constantly evolving, but we'll keep improving our techniques to stay ahead. And we'll also keep building tools to help more people make their voices heard in the democratic process.

IV. CONCLUSION

My top priority has always been our social mission of connecting people, building community and bringing the world closer together. Advertisers and developers will never take priority over that as long as I'm running Facebook.

I started Facebook when I was in college. We've come a long way since then. We now serve more than 2 billion people around the world, and every day, people use our services to stay connected with the people that matter to them most. I believe deeply in what we're doing. And when we address these challenges, I know we'll look back and view helping people connect and giving more people a voice as a positive force in the world.

I realize the issues we're talking about today aren't just issues for Facebook and our community — they're challenges for all of us as Americans. Thank you for having me here today, and I'm ready to take your questions.

Facebook: Data of 87 Million People May Have Been Shared Improperly

Facebook The hits keep on coming for Facebook.  The company is now reporting that the data of up to 87 million people may have been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica, mostly in the United States.

It's well known by now the controversy revolving around Cambridge Analytica and Facebook.  While it's great that the social media giant has undertaken steps to make improvements, it still makes one wonder what may or may not have happened, had this not come to light.

It's a bit of a lengthy read, but below are the changes being proposed, according to Mike Schroepfer, Facebook's Chief Tech officer:

Events API: Until today, people could grant an app permission to get information about events they host or attend, including private events. This made it easy to add Facebook Events to calendar, ticketing or other apps. But Facebook Events have information about other people’s attendance as well as posts on the event wall, so it’s important that we ensure apps use their access appropriately. Starting today, apps using the API will no longer be able to access the guest list or posts on the event wall. And in the future, only apps we approve that agree to strict requirements will be allowed to use the Events API.

Groups API: Currently apps need the permission of a group admin or member to access group content for closed groups, and the permission of an admin for secret groups. These apps help admins do things like easily post and respond to content in their groups. However, there is information about people and conversations in groups that we want to make sure is better protected. Going forward, all third-party apps using the Groups API will need approval from Facebook and an admin to ensure they benefit the group. Apps will no longer be able to access the member list of a group. And we’re also removing personal information, such as names and profile photos, attached to posts or comments that approved apps can access.

Pages API: Until today, any app could use the Pages API to read posts or comments from any Page. This let developers create tools for Page owners to help them do things like schedule posts and reply to comments or messages. But it also let apps access more data than necessary. We want to make sure Page information is only available to apps providing useful services to our community. So starting today, all future access to the Pages API will need to be approved by Facebook.

Facebook Login: Two weeks ago we announced important changes to Facebook Login. Starting today, Facebook will need to approve all apps that request access to information such as check-ins, likes, photos, posts, videos, events and groups. We started approving these permissions in 2014, but now we’re tightening our review process — requiring these apps to agree to strict requirements before they can access this data. We will also no longer allow apps to ask for access to personal information such as religious or political views, relationship status and details, custom friends lists, education and work history, fitness activity, book reading activity, music listening activity, news reading, video watch activity, and games activity. In the next week, we will remove a developer’s ability to request data people shared with them if it appears they have not used the app in the last 3 months.

Instagram Platform API: We’re making the recently announced deprecation of the Instagram Platform API effective today. You can find more information here.

Search and Account Recovery: Until today, people could enter another person’s phone number or email address into Facebook search to help find them. This has been especially useful for finding your friends in languages which take more effort to type out a full name, or where many people have the same name. In Bangladesh, for example, this feature makes up 7% of all searches. However, malicious actors have also abused these features to scrape public profile information by submitting phone numbers or email addresses they already have through search and account recovery. Given the scale and sophistication of the activity we’ve seen, we believe most people on Facebook could have had their public profile scraped in this way. So we have now disabled this feature. We’re also making changes to account recovery to reduce the risk of scraping as well.

Call and Text History: Call and text history is part of an opt-in feature for people using Messenger or Facebook Lite on Android. This means we can surface the people you most frequently connect with at the top of your contact list. We’ve reviewed this feature to confirm that Facebook does not collect the content of messages — and will delete all logs older than one year. In the future, the client will only upload to our servers the information needed to offer this feature — not broader data such as the time of calls.

Data Providers and Partner Categories: Last week we announced our plans to shut down Partner Categories, a product that lets third-party data providers offer their targeting directly on Facebook.

App Controls: Finally, starting on Monday, April 9, we’ll show people a link at the top of their News Feed so they can see what apps they use — and the information they have shared with those apps. People will also be able to remove apps that they no longer want. As part of this process we will also tell people if their information may have been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica.

Facebook advises staying tuned to their Developer Blog for further updates.

H/T: Bloomberg

Apple Gets Siri-ous By Hiring Google’s AI Chief John Giannandrea

apple-gets-siri-ous-by-hiring

Apple has just hired John Giannandrea, one of Google’s top AI executives. Giannandrea,  was previously Google’s Head of AI and Search, The New York Times reports.  According to a statement from Apple, Giannandrea will lead Apple's "machine learning and A.I. strategy," leading many to believe that the company may finally be upping its efforts to improve on Siri.  He will be one of only 16 executives that report directly to Apple's CEO Tim Cook.

Google brought aboard Giannandrea in 2010 after it acquired MetaWeb, where he served as CTO.  MetaWeb had sought to make search results more contextually aware through a large database of its tagged data.

As mentioned above, the acquisition comes at relatively crucial time with Apple's Siri seeming to continually play catch up to Amazon's Alexa and Google's Assistant products.  Granted, a lot of this is due to Apple's focus on privacy and customer data, but even just getting Siri to hear queries correctly would be a huge start.

TechCrunch spoke with at their recent Disrupt SF conference, where he gave a lengthy interview about how humans could help improve on the smarts of computers, but they could also potentially pick up our own personal biases at the same time.

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Spotify Debuts on NYSE at $165.90 Per Share

Spotify A direct listing by Spotify Technology SA, owner of the world’s largest paid music service, opened at $165.90 per share as trade tensions and Trump’s tweets pushed tech stocks lower in recent days.

What made the initial listing according to CNBC:

This time, Wall Street isn't taking a central role in the process. While Spotify has some bank advisors, it did what is called a direct listing, allowing it to trade on an exchange without all the regulatory hassles and expensive bankers that are the hallmarks of the traditional IPO. NYSE changed its rules to allow the listing to move forward.

After waiting all morning, Spotify began trading just after 12:30 p.m. ET at $165.90 a share, valuing the company at about $29 billion. That is up 25.6 percent from a reference price of $132, though because banks weren't involved in underwriting the offering, the stock wasn't bought or sold at that lower price.

According to a filing from the company, "there could be greater volatility in the public price of our ordinary shares during the period immediately following the listing," and that "such differences from an underwritten initial public offering could result in a volatile market price for our ordinary shares and uncertain trading volume and may adversely affect your ability to sell your ordinary shares."

Under Armour Announces Data Breach of MyFitnessPal

MyFitnessPal Lorraine Mirabella, reporting for The Baltimore Sun:

About 150 million users of the MyFitnessPal fitness and nutrition app and website have been affected by a data security breach, the site’s owner, Baltimore-based Under Armour, said Thursday.

The company learned of the breach, which included usernames, email addresses and hashed passwords, four days ago, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The affected data did not include government-issued identifiers, such as Social Security numbers and driver’s license numbers, information that the app does not collect from users. The breach also did not affect payment card data, which is collected and processed separately.

The brand began notifying MyFitnessPal users Thursday afternoon, via email and through app messaging.

If anything, just another reminder to make sure you're keeping up on updating your passwords every so often.

Amazon Echo - Lowest Price This Year!

Amazon Echo Today only, Amazon is offering the lowest price yet this year on its Amazon Echo home speaker product, coming in at $129.99.  This amounts to a savings of 28% off of the list price!  Note that the offer ends at 8:59 PM PST today, so make sure you take advantage if you've been waiting for a price drop like this.

The Echo holds a place on our counter top and we have loved ours.  In the kitchen, it can come in extremely handy for multiple timers.  Say you have something on the stove, but also have something baking in the oven at the same time.  You can name the different timers, so that way you know which one is ready to go.  We also love it for its integration with Alexa, where you can order Alexa-exclusive voice shopping deals.  There's also hundreds of Alexa skills you can utilize with it, such as ordering a pizza from Domino's.  It also integrates nicely with Amazon Music Unlimited, producing a decent quality sound.

See below for more details on the product, and let me know if you have any questions on our usage!

  • Plays all your music from Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and more using just your voice
  • Introducing Alexa calling and messaging, a new way to be together with family and friends. Just ask Alexa to call or message anyone with an Echo, Echo Dot, or the Alexa App.
  • Fills the room with immersive, 360º omni-directional audio
  • Hears you from across the room with far-field voice recognition, even while music is playing
  • Answers questions, reads the news, reports traffic and weather, reads audiobooks from Audible, gives info on local businesses, provides sports scores and schedules, and more using the Alexa Voice Service
  • Controls lights, fans, switches, thermostats, garage doors, sprinklers, locks, and more with compatible connected devices from WeMo, Philips Hue, Samsung SmartThings, Nest, ecobee, and others
  • Always getting smarter and adding new features, plus thousands of skills like Uber, Domino's, DISH, and more

Amazon Prime Members - Get Dad a Last Minute Echo or Kindle Today!

Father's Day At Script-Notes, we like to spend time to save our readers time, and money.  If you've run out of "time" for shopping for Dad for Father's Day, Amazon has some great deals going on Echo and Kindle devices!  The catch though is you have to be an Amazon Prime Member for them to reach you (or him) in time for Father's Day.

Read on for more...

As we mentioned above, if you're a Prime Member, you can go ahead and order today, and you'll be in luck and get free shipping.  If you're sitting on the sidelines though, and not a Prime Member yet, don't fear.  You can click below for a 30 day free trial to still take advantage, and of course if you decide it's not for you, can go ahead and cancel.  From personal experience though, Amazon has found numerous ways to provide value for its members.

That said, let's get to the deals.  As we mentioned at the outset, Amazon has a lengthy listing of deals available for its Echo and Kindle devices.  We own both a regular Echo and the Kindle Paperwhite ourselves, and love both.  The Echo has come in extremely handy in the kitchen for setting multiple timers, playing music, getting sports score updates and getting NPR news flash briefings.  For the reader in your household, the Kindle can be great and portable and has adjustable lighting if they like to read at night.

Without further adieu, here are the discounts:

Echo Devices

Kindle Devices

Happy Shopping, and a Happy Father's Day to all fellow fathers out there!

West MI Company Herman Miller Developing The 'Smart Workplace'

herman miller If you work at a desk job in a corporate environment, more than likely the exact chair you're sitting in came from Herman Miller.  The West Michigan company, which is known mainly for its infamous Aeron chairs, unveiled a new product today named Live OS, with a goal of workplaces and employees being more efficient, energized, health, and happy.  Read on for more about the features.

The company teamed up with designer Yves Béhar for a new suite of smart office furniture launching today at NeoCon in Chicago, according to The Verge.  How it works is that the system utilizes sensors that can come already installed with Herman Miller desks, or can they can be made to fit any already existing work surface. The sensors then collect data that is anonymized on-the-fly which can then be accessed through a dashboard, giving companies crucial data for how each space gets used.

If you have a fixed height desk, the set up only tracks when people are present, however if it gets utilized with Herman Miller’s sit-to-stand desks, think of it more like an activity tracker you would wear on your wrist.

Via an app, users can set up their preference for parameters like desk height, which can then be recalled at any connected sit-to-stand desk by tapping a button.  If you feel like you're sitting too much, you can also set activity goals (i.e., stand for 12 minutes out of every 60).  Notice you're starting to get a sore back?  If it's time to change postures, the desk will prompt the shift via a soft buzz.  If you're used to sitting at your desk the whole day, then the app will gradually progress toward set activity goals over a period of weeks.

"Our initial testing indicates that employees using Live sit-to-stand desks have become more active,” according to Ryan Anderson, director of commercialization for Live OS, “transitioning between sitting and standing six times as often as previously recorded.”

While at a fraction of the cost of most Herman Miller chairs, sensors that are bought individually cost $100, and then the subsequent software subscription will set users back $36 per desk per year.  Software for sit-to-stand desks with Live OS sensors will run at $60 per year.  On the plus side, Quartz is reporting that there will be volume discounts for enterprises looking to purchase multiples.

If you'd like to learn more, be sure to check out the company's web page.

Columbus State Community College Rolling Out Apple Swift Course

Columbus State You've heard the phrase - "there's an app for that."  You may have even wondered how you to get into developing "an app for that" yourself, but didn't have a clue on how to get started.  If you live in the Columbus, OH area, you may have a chance to get to do that soon.  Read on for more...

Students at Columbus State Community College will get the chance to be among the first in the nation to use a new curriculum that was released by Apple on Wednesday for teaching budding developers how to develop both phone and tablet apps in the company's Swift programming language.

“We are thrilled,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a Tuesday interview with The Columbus Dispatch.  “We feel that coding should be a required course in our public and private schools around the country.”  While the course is under development, Apple is already aiming to teach Swift-based coding concepts to kindergartners through college students, with curriculum products created by its education experts.  Cook expanded further saying that by making it easier to teach and learn coding, "This is a way to expand that even further. People can literally stay where they want to stay. You can literally write an app from anywhere."

With the power and reach of the App Store, it has really opened up doors for software developers to market their product in all areas of the globe.  “In the old world, if you were a software developer, you would have to go to every retailer and get them to sell your software — it’s just impossible to do that,” Cook said.

Columbus State Preparing Students for In Demand Jobs

Columbus State will aim to use the new materials for creating a non-credit course for software professionals looking to build their skill sets.  “We constantly hear (software) developers say that they want to add this skill to their skill set,” mentioned Gary Clark, an assistant professor of computer science at Columbus State. “Everybody’s now looking to have this,” he continued. “It’s not just, ‘There’s one guy over there and he does all our mobile work.’ ”

Cook reiterated on the importance of having app developers in today's business world.  “It would be tough to think about running a business today without a mobile app, whether it’s customer-facing or something that your employees use to help you run the business. It’s at the heart of, not just the tech industry, but all kinds of businesses.”

In total, Apple chose six community colleges for bringing the new curriculum to life.  Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president for environment, policy and social initiatives mentioned that “Community colleges are on the front lines of that,” in regard to the important role community colleges play preparing students for jobs that are in demand.

 A Changing Job Environment

Apple announced earlier this month that it would be investing $1 billion in an Advanced Manufacturing Fund, focusing on creating U.S. jobs at the companies within its supply chain.  Jackson mentioned, "Jackson said, “It is fair to say that the economy is transitioning, and has been transitioning for some time, to jobs that require coding. The tools that we make at Apple enable a whole new world of possibilities but also require different kinds of education," in response to whether or not this was the company's response to traditional jobs lost to digitization.

However, the company also views this as a win-win for them, because not only is it creating more jobs, but it further expands Apple's app ecosystem with new apps every day.

If you are interested in learning more about Swift and programming, and don't live in Columbus to be able to take advantage of the courses available (or maybe just want to get a head start), check out some of the reading material already available at Amazon.  Happy Coding!