Pix2Pix is another good web tool for making horrifying autofill images

Google’s open-source machine learning project Tensorflow is probably used all the time for helpful things that advance the cause of mankind or something. But in my experience, what it has been best used for is making horrifying auto-generated images out of simple line drawings. I’m referring to edges2cats, which turned any line drawing into a cat. It was a whole thing! Everyone was trying it out, then posting pictures of really demented cats to Twitter for others to laugh at.

Today the same thing has happened, except it’s not cats. It’s human heads. And instead of Google’s project, Dutch Public Broadcaster NPO created its own artificial intelligence system that had only been fed thousands of images of one of its anchors, Lara Rense. As reported by the popular Tumblr prostheticknowledge, the web tool is called Pix2Pix.

You draw a face, and Pix2Pix uses a neural network to create what looks like an approximation of an oil painting of that face (made up of pieces of Rense’s face). Obviously the results mostly look like monsters, especially the pig-baby monster from the first season of American Horror Story. Also thumbs.

The auto-detected edges of your line drawing are probably only helpful if you are really good at drawing and can draw a lifelike face. For example, this is a total disaster, by me:

Here’s another total disaster, by The Verge news editor Kwame Opam:

My editor Chris Plante drew a portrait of my robot son Klav, who you might remember from a joke from nearly a year ago, but I don’t know how loyal you are to this website:

Klav.
Photo: Chris Plante

Our social media manager and resident cartoonist Dami Lee made the guy from Pan’s Labyrinth:

Anyway, have fun! You can read more about the project on the radio station’s website, but the Google translation of the Dutch is kind of rough.

The rumored OnePlus 5 looks a lot like the iPhone with its dual cameras

OnePlus is set to announce its OnePlus 5 flagship on June 20th, and today Android Police released a supposed image of the device that it says should be accurate. From the picture, we can see the device might launch with a dual-camera system and, well, that’s kind of it. Oh, it’ll also maybe be available in black to start, which would be different for OnePlus. The 3T wasn’t initially available in black.

We don’t have many details about the guts of the phone, other than the fact that it’ll have Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 processor. We also know OnePlus is working with DxO to optimize camera performance.

I wish we had more to share, but alas, this is all we got. I have a feeling we’ll probably see more details leak out in the weeks to come, but for now, we can tell OnePlus is going for the iPhone look.

Pogue's Basics: The "Minimize All" keystroke in Windows

Sometimes you’ve got Windows open, and you want to have a look at your desktop to find a certain icon. Well, here’s a keyboard trick that lets you minimize all your windows at once, revealing your entire desktop. Just press Windows key+M (think of it as M for “Minimize all”). Boom! They all fly away to your taskbar.

Add the Shift key to that keystroke to bring them all back.

Oh — and if you want to hide all but one certain window, grab the title bar and give your mouse a little shake. Boom! Weird, huh?

Shake again to bring ’em back.

Tip: This shaking business makes a very snazzy YouTube demo video, but it’s not actually the easiest way to isolate one window. If the window you want to focus on is already the frontmost window, then you can just press Windows key+Home to achieve the same effect. Press that combo a second time to restore all the minimized windows.

Adapted from “Pogue’s Basics: Tech” (Flatiron Press), by David Pogue.

David Pogue, tech columnist for Yahoo Finance, welcomes nontoxic comments in the comments section below. On the web, he’s davidpogue.com. On Twitter, he’s @pogue. On email, he’s poguester@yahoo.com. You can read all his articles here, or you can sign up to get his columns by email

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Pogue’s cheap, unexpected tech gifts #2: ThinOptics glasses

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The Apple Watch 2 is faster, waterproof—and more overloaded than ever

We sent a balloon into space — and an epic scavenger hunt ensued

Now I get it: Snapchat

The new Fitbits are smarter, better-looking, and more well-rounded

Apple has killed every jack but one: Meet USB-C

Siri Finally Got Its Coming Out Party

Apple finally took Siri out of beta. Not officially, of course: The company billed the features announced Monday at WWDC as the latest in a long line of fantastic improvements. And Siri already resides in 375 million iPhones, iPads, and Macs. But if you take the new capabilities, the new device, the new voice, and the new developer tools, it starts to feel like more than mere upgrades and improvements. Siri is different now. More powerful, more ambitious. Because Apple finally feels Siri is ready.

The company has been building toward this moment since unveiling Siri in 2011 with a caveat from marketing head Phil Schiller. “This demo, of course, is of beta software,” he told the crowd, leaning toward them as if begging its forgiveness and patience. The demo went well, but the indication was clear: Siri was cool, but Apple wasn’t finished with it.

That evolution continued during last year’s WWDC, when Apple opened Siri to developers for the first time—but just barely. Developers could integrate Siri to send text messages, make phone calls, power workouts, or make payments, but little else. Even those apps couldn’t do much more than handle super-specific requests. On Monday, the company threw the doors wide, inviting developers to use the assistant to manage to-do lists, take notes, display QR codes, and more. Siri’s not everywhere yet, but its scope is expanding quickly.

Meanwhile, Apple is more aggressively inserting Siri into your life. Before, your assistant cooled its heels until you summoned it. Apple wants to make it a little more proactive. A new “Siri face” on the Apple Watch will display things Siri thinks you need to know—calendar appointments, reminders, the apps you check most frequently. Siri will watch as you browse the web, building a profile of your interests and activity to make it more useful in recommending articles and sending notifications.

With iOS 11, Siri evolves into more than a voice assistant. It pervades everything that happens on your device, whether you notice or not. When you open Mail, Siri sorts it so the important stuff appears up top. Siri can handle real-time translation, a remarkable achievement even in the few languages it supports. Siri keeps all your data in sync across devices, and works everywhere you need it.

But the clearest indication of Apple’s new confidence in Siri is the new HomePod smart speaker. In-home voice assistants are brutally difficult to get right. They must handle multiple voices, often talking over each other and any background noise. They must respond clearly and correctly, because people quickly grow impatient with a system that doesn’t work. Yet this 7-inch tall speaker—which sounds brighter and louder than a Sonos Play:3 or an Amazon Echo—will soon play prominently in people’s homes. It sports some controls on the device, and you can use AirPlay to select music, but it’s very much a Siri machine.

All this is happening now because, well, it couldn’t happen before. Voice recognition and natural-language processing only recently achieved the accuracy and reliability required. Apple’s on-device processing, which allows Siri to work on your behalf without ever connecting to the internet, requires serious computational power. Even Siri’s newly human-sounding voice, which includes inflection and pauses, just didn’t exist until recently.

In talking to Apple executives, I found that the company tried to approach Siri as holistically as possible. Rather than do absolutely everything half-well, forcing users to learn a complicated vocabulary (“Alexa, let me talk to Nest”), Apple tried to go deep and then wide. It has been working on teaching Siri how to understand a user’s intent, what the person meant to say and not necessarily the specific words. It wants Siri to only do things it could do well. That hasn’t always panned out, of course—lots of people sneer at Siri because for a long time it couldn’t even handle basic tasks. Now, at least Apple believes it can. And as a result, Siri is starting to conquer the space on, in, and between all of your devices.

Even though Apple was first out of the voice-assistant gate, it feels like Siri’s been lagging behind. While Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana, and the rest added devices and features, Siri just hung out behind your phone’s home button. Starting now, Siri finally comes out into the world. The voice-assistant battle is finally a fair fight.

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Apple’s going to mandate 2-factor authentication, so you better get used to it now

Apple’s trying its hardest to protect the security of your account — whether you like it or not. 

In an email sent out in the early hours of June 6, the company confirmed that going forward it will mandate the use of 2-factor authentication (2FA) for many of its services. 

“If you install the iOS 11 or macOS High Sierra public betas this summer and meet the basic requirements, your Apple ID (xxxx@xxxx.com) will be automatically updated to use two-factor authentication,” reads the email. “This is our most advanced, easy-to-use account security, and it’s required to use some of the latest features of iOS, macOS, and iCloud.”

To be clear, this means that it’s not just early adopters downloading public betas of iOS 11 and High Sierra that will be required to use 2FA, but rather everyone that wants access to all the hot new features.   

And what is 2FA, you ask? Two-factor authentication is a basic security measure which requires two pieces of information for a user to access his or her account. Think of taking cash out of an ATM machine. You need your physical bank card (“something you have”), and your PIN (“something you know”). Only with both those keys can you get your cash. 

That High Sierra goodness.

That High Sierra goodness.

Image: apple

With email, 2FA frequently manifests as your account password (“something you know”) and a random code sent to you either via SMS or an authenticator app (“something you have”). With these two elements required to gain access to an online account, it is much harder for hackers to gain unauthorized access. 

“Once updated, you’ll get the same extra layer of security you enjoy with two-step verification today, but with an even better user experience,” the email continues. “Verification codes will be displayed on your trusted devices automatically whenever you sign in, and you will no longer need to keep a printed recovery key to make sure you can reset a forgotten password.”

So, whose Apple IDs will be automatically updated to 2FA? We reached out to Apple to determine if it’s just people downloading the public betas, or if the same requirements will apply to everyone downloading iOS 11 and High Sierra later this year. Unfortunately, we received no response as of press time. 

Either way, with Apple stating that 2FA is required to use “the latest features of iOS, macOS, and iCloud,” it’s clear the company is making a hard push toward better account security. 

So go ahead and update those security settings now — before Apple does it for you. After all, medicine’s always easier to swallow when it’s not being shoved down your throat. 

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Bragi’s Dash Pro is a sophisticated and smart AirPods alternative


If you’re feeling AirPods envy but don’t want/can’t find/don’t have ears that work ergonomically with Apple’s white tube option, there’s a new top choice alternative – provided you’re willing to pay the price. Bragi’s Dash Pro is the latest set of fully wireless earbuds from the dedicated headset computing company, and its experience with its first two products really show the company has learned a lot.

The Dash Pro is $329, which is more than double the U.S. price of AirPods, but they’re designed to be more than just wireless earbuds. They include onboard storage for standalone use, and new to this generation, a four-dimension gesture control interface, as well as support for iTranslate, an iOS app that will give you in-ear translation of spoken words provided you have the app installed and sign up for a pro subscription.

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks testing out one of the very first pairs of the Bragi Dash Pro, and I’m impressed; like the Bragi Headphone, the Dash Pro nails the basics, including pairing, audio quality, avoiding dropouts and giving you a consistently good connection. That kind of solid performance is something most reviewers found wasn’t nearly as good in the original Dash, so it’s very nice to see Bragi improve things on that front.

But that’s not all you get with the Dash Pro, and it’s the extras that bump them up to my top recommendation for anyone who wants truly wireless audio freedom. The onboard storage and fitness tracking features work very well, and now passively, too, if you enable that feature, detecting workouts automatically using Bragi’s onboard sensors. Plus, that iTranslate feature, while a bit clunky (it’s not real-time translation as people speak, but rather a speak, pause, playback mechanic) is still effective enough to be very useful while traveling.

The motion controls for the Bragi Dash Pro are probably going to be less generally appealing to users, but they’re a nice addition, especially if you’re motion is limited in your arms for touch-based controls. They also can come in handy during activities where touch-sensitive controls aren’t great, and need to be locked out, as when you’re running in the rain (these are water-resistant, too, and can even be used for swimming) and your hood keeps brushing the earbuds and activating/deactivating features like audio transparency.

The Dash Pro also addresses another of the original’s weaknesses, boosting usable battery life up to around five hours. That’s what I found I got out of mine under normal use, which was plenty for use throughout the day. They also include a charging case with up to five additional charges in the built-in battery, a big perk that the more basic Headphone doesn’t include. This makes a dramatic difference for the better when using these while traveling.

Finally, Bragi’s audio transparency is a great feature that you’ll be surprised you ever did without once you experience it. It basically hands off audio from outside, and now includes a windscreen feature that does wonders while you’re doing things like riding a bike. This means they never really have to come out of your ears as you run errands, chat with people and more, which is great with this type of device since you don’t want to be keeping track of loose buds your pockets.

Bragi received due criticism for some aspects of the original Dash’s performance, but it’s addressed the vast majority of those complaints here, and done so with admirable results. The Dash Pro is a great set of wireless earbuds – and a nascent form of computing platform with tons of early promise. Provided you’re okay with the higher-than-average price, these are definitely the fully wireless buds I’d get right now.

Seeding the Next Generation of Consultancies

By Jeffrey M. Kaplan
Jun 6, 2017 1:02 PM PT

There’s been a lot written recently about how artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation are going to displace millions of workers. However, these powerful new technologies already have spawned a surge in demand for a new wave of highly skilled consultants to help organizations capitalize on the added business opportunities resulting from the latest innovations.

Although the potential business benefits that can be derived from AI, ML and automation are obvious, attaining these benefits requires highly specialized skills that most organizations currently lack.

Salesforce sees the demand for this unique set of consulting skills rising and has launched a new US$50 million SI (system integrator) Trailblazer Fund and SI Trailblazer Alliance Initiative to fill the void.

“Growing customer demand for Salesforce has created a critical need for more Salesforce-trained consulting partners as part of the thriving ‘Salesforce Economy,'” said Tyler Prince, Salesforce’s EVP of worldwide alliances and go-to-market innovation.

“Consulting firms play a pivotal role in the Salesforce ecosystem,” noted the new fund’s administrator, John Somorjai, Salesforce’s EVP of corporate development and Salesforce ventures.

Meeting Demand

Their comments reminded me of the market forces that propelled International Network Services (INS) — a network consulting company I was a part of in the 1990s — to tremendous success. Cisco Systems at that time was riding a wave created by the rapidly growing demand for their routers among major service providers and enterprises seeking to build out new Internet Protocol networks.

Cisco’s executives recognized that the biggest impediment to continued growth was lack of sufficient manpower to properly plan, design, implement and manage their latest networking products. In response to this potential speed bump, Cisco not only made a strategic investment in INS, but also used our successful network consulting methodologies as a model for other firms entering the market.

Fast-forward to 2006, when Salesforce found itself in a similar position, as demand for its Software as a Service solutions started to gain traction. Although there were a handful of consulting companies helping customers implement Salesforce’s solutions — such as Bluewolf — Salesforce made a seed investment in Appirio, a new consulting company.

The Scalability Challenge

Jim Goetz, an INS alum who had become one of the most successful venture capitalists at Sequoia Capital, also backed Appirio. Investing in a professional services company at that time was very unusual, because most VCs didn’t see the consulting model as scalable, and they were concerned that the primary intellectual capital and assets (i.e., people) easily could walk out the door.

What set consultancies like INS and Appirio apart, and attracted the attention and funding of VCs, was the promise of a more repeatable, and therefore scalable, business model that would combine traditional professional services with a widening array of software-powered solutions.

That formula not only led to the acquisition and successful exits of those firms (INS by Lucent and Appirio by Wipro), but also made companies like Bluewolf and Cloud Sherpas targets for acquisition by IBM and Accenture respectively.

Smart Bets

Based on these experiences, the investment community is making more bets on consultancies. For instance, 2nd Watch earlier this year received $19 million in funding to scale its consulting business, which is focused on AWS, Azure and other cloud infrastructure service requirements.

While the good news is that many of the first generation cloud-native consultancies found success and an exit via acquisition, the new challenge is to find the next generation of consultancies that can help corporate clients adopt a new round of AI, ML, automation and Internet of Things technologies and applications.

With its new SI Fund, Salesforce is joining a growing number of VCs to help the next generation of specialized consultancies fill the void — and help their mutual customers capitalize on the latest technological innovations and market opportunities.


Jeff Kaplan has been an ECT News Network columnist since 2009. His focus is on cloud computing, SaaS, IT management, managed services and the Internet of Things. He is managing director of
THINKstrategies.
Email Jeff.

Livemap brings improved design and more integration to its AR helmet

Why it matters to you

Using Livemap’s AR helmet, you could have a better idea of where your going and even live-stream your trip.

Augmented reality is on its way, but until we have AR devices that look like normal glasses, we are unlikely to see real consumer adoption. But that does not mean we will not start seeing AR applied to certain specific situations — like, for example, inside your next motorcycle helmet.

One company trying to bring the motorcycle into the 21st century is Livemap, which recently showed off its third prototype at the Augmented World Expo show in Santa Clara, California. But what’s new in the helmet? We first checked out the Livemap helmet last year, and it seems like there are some serious improvements this time around.

The helmet basically makes use of a small display, which acts as a surface for a projector, which is located at the bottom of the helmet. Inside, you will also find a microphone, built-in camera, and even small speakers that act as headphones when the helmet is on.

The obvious use for this system is Maps, but Livemap wants to go far beyond simply mapping the road ahead. According to Russian entrepreneur Andrew Artishchev, who is behind the Livemap helmet, the company is shooting to implement your phone and even social media through integration with YouTube and Facebook Live. In other words, thanks to the built-in camera you could stream your motorcycle trip to your Facebook friends.

This particular prototype is largely aimed at making small refinements over the previous one — and one of the main ways it does this is by being much lighter. That os thanks to its carbon-fiber build. The new prototype also has a better optical system, ensuring a slightly clearer display, making sure you can see where you are going.

The software inside the helmet is based on Android, and Livemap hopes that third-party developers will build apps for it in the long run.

Livemap is set to demo another prototype at CES next year, but it is shooting on a wider consumer release for next summer. In the meantime, it is looking for funding to get the helmet out to the public and hopefully take over where the likes of Skully, a tech-based motorcycle helmet that failed, left off. You can keep up with Livemap’s offerings through its website.

Google’s new educational program will teach kids to fight hackers

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It’s hard out there for a kid on the internet.

Google gets that, and thinks it’s high time children start learning about the dangers of phishing, internet harassment, and other online safety and privacy issues. You know, normal kid stuff.

The tech giant is introducing “Be Internet Awesome,” a program designed to help children master the internet, which includes an educational classroom curriculum and a fun, informative video game called Interland.

SEE ALSO: Google’s plans for their new London HQ are the most epically Google yet

So what exactly does the educational program do?

Be Internet Awesome was developed in collaboration with online safety experts to ensure parents and educators have the tools necessary to teach children to look out for themselves online.

With internet usage playing such a ubiquitous role in our daily lives, the program educates on topics relevant to all age groups, focusing on the following areas:

  • Be Internet Smart: Share with care

  • Be Internet Alert: Don’t fall for fake

  • Be Internet Strong: Secure your secrets

  • Be Internet Kind: It’s cool to be kind

  • Be Internet Brave: When in doubt, talk it out

The classroom curriculum includes lesson plans, activities, and key discussion points about digital citizenship, along with short quizzes to measure learning. 

Interland, on the other hand, takes children into a fictional world comprised of four lands where they can tackle phishers, hackers, bullies, and over-sharers in a fun way.

A promo video for Interland shows players being asked questions like “What can you do to prevent accounts from being hacked?” Answering correctly, with “sinking fishers” earns points, and lets the player advance in the game. 

[embedded content]

Google’s past efforts to help children

Though this age-targeted internet training is new, Google has been working to make its programs and products inclusive to the younger age demographic for years, even attempting to teach kids to code.

In March 2017, the company made its online services available to children under the age of 13 with the new tool, Family Link. The app, geared towards families, allows parents to manage what content their children access on their devices through Google services like Gmail, Maps, and Chrome so that parents can deep whats appropriate and safe for their children to engage with.

Do the kids really need this?

In the past, a UK study published in the Journal of Pediatrics interviewed 515 British adolescents and their parents about internet filters and their success. The study found that teens with filters enabled still had their fair share of bad online experiences, ranging from being contacted by strangers to password/identity theft.

In short, certain internet restrictions are not consistently effective and simply filtering content doesn’t always work. Perhaps Google thought that rather than continuing to limit usage, it would be better to start educating children at a young age — in a way that doesn’t bore them — about how to maturely manage and navigate the vast black hole of terrifying and ridiculous content that is the internet.

And some kindness internet training may have seriously come in handy for the ten high school graduates who had their Harvard acceptances revoked after they were found sharing offensive memes on Facebook.

Godspeed you tech-savvy youths.

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