Meet the 15-year-old developer making a difference one app at a time

Like many develoeprs about to attend their first major developer conference, Amanda Southworth is looking forward to the week-long event. Besides Monday’s keynote, when Apple will unveil the next version of iOS, MacOS and maybe even some new hardware, there will be deep dives into new developer tools and countless networking opportunities. 

That’s enough for any developer to get excited about, but Southworth is not like most other developers.

At just 15 years old, Southworth has the distinction of being among the youngest to attend Apple’s developer conference, which awarded her one of its WWDC Scholarships — a program that helps “talented students and STEM organization members,” travel to and attend the event.

Though she’s been teaching herself to code for the better part of six years she says it wasn’t until the seventh grade when she really began to throw herself into her coding projects and other “nerd stuff.” Soon, she was spending as much as 30 hours a week to her various projects: first building robots and programming micro-controllers; then picking up web and iOS development.

She was 12 and working on all this on top of her schoolwork. So after about two years of a lot of coding and far too little sleep she decided to leave public school and take up home schooling, which would allow her to spend more time on coding without sacrificing her health.

“Now I do coding about five hours a day and schoolwork for about two hours of the day,” she says.

Much like her, Southworth’s apps are not what you may expect from a young developer. Her first app, AnxietyHelper, is entirely devoted to providing resources for young people facing mental health issues. It has information about conditions like anxiety and depression, guidelines for dealing with anger and panic attacks, as well as links to crisis hotlines. 

Image: courtesy amanda southworth

Amanda Southworth was once of the recipients of Apple's WWDC Scholarships this year.

Amanda Southworth was once of the recipients of Apple’s WWDC Scholarships this year.

Image: courtesy amanda southworth

“Basically it’s just to make your life easier because dealing with mental illness as it is sucks,” she says. “This app is kind of reaching out and saying ‘hey, I’m sorry you’re in this predicament but I want to help make this better.’

It’s a message that’s resonated with her peers. The app has around a thousand users and the app’s Tumblr page, where she regularly posts tips on self-care, uplifting memes and words of encouragement, and the occasional baby animals photo, has more than 3,500 followers.

I’m very open and I want to help people

Southworth, who describes herself as a kind of “motherly figure” to her friends and social media followers, says she regularly talks on the phone and exchanges messages with her Tumblr followers and those who use her app. 

“I’m very open and I want to help people,” she says of the interactions.

It’s this drive of helping those around her that lead her to create her second app, Verena. Like AnxietyHelper, it’s also focused on supporting young people who may be in distress. But instead of mental health, Verena offers tools for people in the LGBT community who need help feeling safe — a kind of “security system for the LGBT community.”

A poster for Anxiety Helper.

A poster for Anxiety Helper.

Image: courtesy amanda southworth

A diagram Amanda made to help her plan out how her app will work.

A diagram Amanda made to help her plan out how her app will work.

Image: courtesy amanda southworth

Seeing her friends — many of whom are part of the LGBT community — worry the day after the presidential election in November 2016 inspired her to create the app. “That day I saw all of my friends crying and it was really upsetting, you know, when people you love are scared,” she says. “So I decided, I’m going to make something so that I know they’re safe.”

I decided I’m going to make something so that I know they’re safe

Verena, which takes its name from a German name that means “protector,” allows users to find police stations, hospitals, shelters, and other places of refuge in times of need. They can also designate a list of contacts to be alerted via the app in an emergency. 

Conscious that some of the app’s users may not be able to be open with their families or those around them about their identity, Southworth included some clever features that help users disguise the app on their phones — lest they be caught with an app for LGBT people on their phone.

Go into “incognito” mode and and the app transforms into an app that looks like it’s meant to provide help with math homework (users can get back to the real app by logging back in.) And should somebody need help while in incognito mode, they can hold down the log-in button to automatically send an alert to their contacts. 

Image: verena

Though she says Verena is her main priority right now — she’s working with translators to make the app available in 10 different languages — her ultimate goal is to work in the space industry. SpaceX is her number one choice 

“I relate strongly to Elon Musk,” she says of the notoriously hyper-focused CEO.

But with college still two years away she’s content to focus on AnxietyHelper, Verena and her other projects for now — in between studying for finals and the rest of her schoolwork. 

Even though she sees herself as ultimately having a career in embedded systems, rather than iOS development, she sees WWDC as something of a turning point for her. 

“I’m looking forward to meeting people who do the same thing as me because everybody tells me I’m really crazy for like just dropping school and going for this with all of my might. 

“But I know there’s other people who do this and I want to meet those people. I want to be inspired and I want to make my app better, so I guess this will help me.”

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How to install Android apps on your Windows computer, the easy way

Apps on Windows have gotten better. But every once in a while, you stumble upon a really useful mobile app that hasn’t made its way to PC yet. If runs on Android, though, there’s good news. With the help of third-party software, you can probably run it on your Windows computer.

Unfortunately, getting apps from your phone or tablet to your PC isn’t as easy as installing a Windows program. To help simplify things, we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide on what software and utilities you need to install Android apps on almost any Windows computer.

Android emulators and how to use them

One way to run Android apps on a Windows computer is by using an Android emulator. Emulators run on complicated code, but the basic gist is this: They enable one computer to behave like another. Android emulators make your Windows machine appear as though it’s an Android device — right down to the processor, cameras, and sensors.

Android emulators act as hardware go-betweens, supplying apps with the memory, processing power, and storage they need to run on most any Windows computer. They map Android device hardware to your computer’s peripherals, too. You’ll hear an app’s sounds and music through your computer’s speakers, and chat apps like Skype will recognize your computer’s microphone and webcam.

Depending on your hardware, in fact, your computer might run Android apps better than your phone or tablet.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of Android emulators, though, is that they behave like regular Windows programs. You can launch them from the Windows desktop or start menu, and once they’re up and running, you can resize them, minimize them, maximize them, and move them wherever you please.

Bluestacks

The Bluestacks App Player is one of the most robust Android emulators around. It boasts a custom-designed interface that makes it easy to toggle emulation settings and launch apps, and “Layercake” technology that uses hardware accelerators to improve the performance of Android games in Windows.

It’s important to note that while Bluestacks is free, an optional subscription($2 per month) enables premium support and exclusive offers from app developers.

Hardware requirements

  • 2GB of RAM
  • 4GB of disk space
  • Direct X 9.0 or higher

Installing Bluestacks couldn’t be easier. Because it’s entirely self-contained, you can install it just like any other Windows program.

Here’s how to install Bluestacks to your computer’s hard drive:

  • Download the installer from the official Bluestacks website.
  • Launch the install applications, and choose the storage location for app and data files. Unfortunately, you can’t change the Bluestacks directory — it will install on your boot drive by default.
  • Once Bluestacks finishes installing, launch it. Enter your Google account credentials — you’ll log into the Google Play Store, where you’ll all of your installed and purchased apps.

Unique Bluestacks features

Bluestacks packs controls that are unique from other Android emulators.

A control sidebar on the left-hand corner of the screen is where you’ll find most of what you need. There’s a toggle for switching the Android window’s orientation from portrait to landscape, a screenshot tool, and a shortcut to the Bluestacks file transfer application, which lets you copy files from your desktop to Bluestacks’ virtual device’s storage.

There’s more. Bluestacks has its own streaming platform: Bluestacks TV. If you have a Facebook or Twitch account and a PC with more than 8GB of RAM, you can broadcast apps and games directly from the Bluestacks window. The Bluestacks app lets you calibrate a connected mic, connect a webcam, and preview your stream before going live, and respond to Facebook comments and Twitch messages from a pop-out window. When you’re not streaming, you can watch other streamers, and view a curated list of games based on the apps you’ve installed.

Bluestacks also has plug-and-play support for gamepads. If you plug a wired or wireless Xbox controller into your PC or pair a Bluetooth controller, you’ll see a Bluestacks alert indicating it recognizes the device.

Bluestacks AppCast lets you launch games and apps using your phone. To take advantage, you’ll have to install the AppCast app on your smartphone and sign in with your Google credentials. You’ll see a list of applications you have installed on your phone, and tapping on one launches it on your computer.

Hardware requirements

  • 2GB of RAM
  • 4GB of hard drive space

DuOS

DuOS is an Android emulator developed by American Megatrends Incorporated, the company behind the BIOS firmware on millions of Windows computers. It runs Android Marshmallow in a resizable window, like Bluestacks, but offers a much less customizable experience. Most options reside in the Android Settings menu, and installing apps that aren’t from the Google Play Store requires downloading them on your PC, right-clicking on them, and selecting the “Apply to DuOS” from the Windows context menu.

But DuOS isn’t without advantages over stock Android. It has keyboard shortcuts for rotating the screen, zooming, swiping, and tilting, and it supports computer peripherals like microphones and webcams. A tool lets you set up folders that can be shared between Windows and the DuOS app, and you can set the amount of RAM that’s available to DuOS to prevent it from monopolizing system resources.

In our review of DuOS, we were pleasantly surprised by its performance on a computer with an Intel Core i5 clocked at 3.3GHz with 8GB of RAM. It never used more than 50 percent of the system’s resources, and ran about 95 percent of PC apps and games without issue.

DuOS isn’t free — it starts at $10. There is a 30-day trial period.

Hardware requirements

  1. Intel x86 CPU
  2. Hardware Virtualization Technology supported and enabled in BIOS
  3. OpenGL 3.0
  4. 2GB of RAM, though 3GB recommended for optimal performance
  5. 2GB of hard drive space

Here’s how to install DuOS to your computer’s hard drive:

  1. Download the DuOS installer from the official website.
  2. Make sure you’re computer is connected to the internet, then open the installer file.
  3. After DuOS has finished installing, launch it. The 30-day trial will activate automatically.

Google Chrome

If you don’t want to deal with the little annoyances that come with a full-blown Android installation on your computer, Google’s Chrome browser might float your boat. In 2014, Google introduced Android Runtime for Chrome, a compatibility layer and sandboxing technology for installing Android applications to desktop and laptop computers and it runs Android apps at near-native speeds.

Unfortunately, not every Android app is compatible, and converting apps to a format ARC can understand is an arduous undertaking. Then there’s the fact that apps which rely on third-party services — like Google’s Gmail client — won’t work properly.

The Chrome community maintains an unofficial list of apps that work with the ARC runtime.

Still, the ARC runtime is perhaps the most lightweight of Android emulators. And it’s the easiest to install — if you use Chrome to browse the web, you already have it.

Here’s how to install Android apps in Google Chrome:

ARC is designed to run on Google’s Chrome OS. To get it working on Windows, you’ll have to download a third-party tool: The ARChon Custom Runtime. You’ll also need version 37 of Chrome or newer.

  1. First, download the ARChon Custom Runtime.
  2. Unzip the archive, and install it from Chrome’s Extensions page by heading to Menu > More Tools > Extensions.
  3. Enable Developer mode in the top-right corner.
  4. Select “Load unpacked extensions.”
  5. Choose the folder containing the unzipped ARChon runtime files.

Now, you’ll need Android apps that are compatible with the ARChon runtime. The Android community has packaged a few, but they’re a far cry from the roughly 2.8 million apps available from the Google Play Store. Still, they’re easier to install than Android apps that you have to convert yourself.

Check this list for compatible apps. Once you find one you want to install, follow these steps:

  1. Unzip the file.
  2. Open the Extensions page in Chrome.
  3. Click “Load unpacked extensions.”
  4. Select the folder with the app you downloaded.
  5. To launch the app, open the Extensions screen — you’ll see it on the list.

If there is an app that isn’t available for your system, you can use a utility called chromeos-apk to repackage it. It’s a little involved, but it will work on most Android apps that don’t depend on native Android or Google services.

Here’s how to convert Android apps with chromeos-apk:

  1. Download the installation file.
  2. Install node.js, a dependency you will need to run it.
  3. Open the Windows command line in the folder you downloaded the file. Type, “npm install chromeos-apk -g” (without quotes).
  4. That’s it — you’ve installed chromeos-apk.

Now, you will need an app to convert. Obtaining one isn’t too hard — this free tool lets you pull applications from the Play Store.

Once you’ve downloaded an app, running it through chromeos-apk is a straightforward affair. Open the Windows command line in the folder where you’ve placed the application file — APK — and enter the following commands:

Type, “chromeos-apk [name of APK file]” (without quotes), and hit enter.

You might be asked to provide the package name of the application. The easiest way to find it is to check the URL of the Play Store listing — specifically the portion after “?id=.” In Evernote’s case, for example, it’s “com.evernote.”

Now that you’ve modified an application to work with Chrome’s chromeos-apk tool, installing it is as easy as opening the Extensions page, clicking “Load unpacked extensions,” and following the instructions in the previous step.

Master the HTC U11 with these handy tips and tricks

If you’re about to get your hands on the HTC U11, you’re going to want to unlock its secrets and take full advantage of its capabilities. There are unusual functions and hidden features galore, alongside a host of useful Android options designed to enhance your smartphone use.

We’re here to help you get to grips with everything, from the squeezable Edge Sense to the performance enhancing Boost+. If you haven’t had a chance, take a look at our full review of the U11 for more information about HTC’s latest flagship.

HTC U11 Tips

We’re mostly focusing on U11 tips that are unique. As it runs the latest flavor of Android, you can also try out our Android 7.1 Nougat tips and tricks with the HTC U11.

How to use Edge Sense

One of the most eye-catching features of the HTC U11 is its squeezability. The sides of the phone can be squeezed to launch apps and trigger functions. This is not a feature you’ll find in any other phone. You’ll have the option to set up Edge Sense the first time you power on the U11, but you can always pull down the notification shade and tap the Edge Sense icon, or head into Settings > Edge Sense to change what it does.

By default, a short squeeze launches the camera and another squeeze will snap a shot. You can change that via Settings > Edge Sense > Customize squeeze action. You can also add a second function, triggered by a squeeze and hold, if you tick the box next to Enable advanced mode. By default, this will add the ability to launch Google Assistant with a squeeze and hold. If you find it difficult to use, then recalibrate the force required to trigger it via Adjust your squeeze force level.

Both the short squeeze and the squeeze and hold actions can be configured to do a variety of other things including launch apps, take screenshots, turn the flashlight on or off, record your voice, launch HTC Sense Companion, or turn your Wi-Fi hotspot on or off.

How to use HTC Sense Companion

HTC U11

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

If you look in your app drawer, you’ll see an app called Sense Companion. It’s an unusual smartphone assistant that tries to offer up bits and pieces of useful information, such as weather reports, suggestions for places to eat nearby, and reminders to charge up your phone before you go out. When it has something to suggest, you’ll hear an alert and a small bubble, like a Facebook chat head, will pop up on your home screen, or on top of any app you might have open. Tap on it to see what the suggestion is, or ignore it and it will go away within a couple of seconds.

You can also check suggestions by opening the app. Tell it whether you liked a suggestion, give some reasoning, and it should learn over time and improve recommendations for the future. If you expect it to be useful, then you need to grant it access to your data. This is split into four areas: Location, usage, device, and activity data, which you can set in the app by tapping the three vertical dots at the top right and then Permissions.

How to use gestures

There are a few gestures you can use with the HTC U11 as handy shortcuts. To find them, go to Settings > Display, gestures & buttons and scroll down to the bottom. The Media gesture simply launches HTC Connect when you swipe up the screen with three fingers, so that you can connect to any DLNA devices in the vicinity and share content on a big screen, or stream audio to a music system. You can also choose to Press power button twice for camera, though we much prefer the squeeze shortcut for launching the camera.

At the very bottom of Settings > Display, gestures & buttons you’ll find Motion Launch gestures. There are five to choose from with short animations to explain how they work. We recommend the Double tap to wake up & sleep, but the usefulness of these options is somewhat limited if you have lock screen security in place, as you should.

How to get great audio

USonic earphones HTC U11

Simon Hill/Digital Trends

The U11 does have BoomSound speakers, though the main speaker is on the bottom edge, so be careful how you hold your U11 to avoid covering it up. When you start playing content, you’ll usually see a pop-up asking if you want Music mode or Theater mode. It’s worth choosing the appropriate mode for the best sound. You can also change this via Settings > HTC BoomSound for built-in speakers.

We also recommend using the HTC USonic earphones that come in the box with your U11. They have excellent active noise cancellation, which drowns out background noises. You’ll be prompted to create a personal audio profile when you first plug them in. If you want to re-calibrate for any reason, then go to Settings > HTC USonic with Active Noise Cancellation and plug them in again. It’s a quick process and it does improve audio clarity.

How to use Night Mode

We’re pleased to see that options for filtering out blue light, which can keep you up at night, are becoming standard on smartphones. If you’re reading in bed and plan to get some shuteye soon, then pull down the notification shade and tap the Night mode icon. You can also find it in Settings > Display, gestures & buttons > Night mode, where you have the option to set the color temperature and schedule it to turn on automatically. It turns itself off again automatically at sunrise.

Three computer vision experts join TechCrunch’s Tel Aviv event


Who’s going to be the next Mobileye? Computer vision is a hot topic for the tech industry, and especially in Israel. It seems like Israeli entrepreneurs are one step ahead when it comes to developing computer vision technology.

That’s why we’re excited to announce that three computer vision experts are going to join us on stage to share their knowledge about this space.

First up, Inon Beracha has become a well-known name in Israel. He is the former CEO of PrimeSense a computer vision startup that developed the core technology behind Microsoft’s Kinect.

In many ways, the Kinect was ahead of its time, turning your Xbox 360 into a machine that was capable of localizing you and your hands in real time. Very few games took advantage of the Kinect, but I’m sure it has inspired many other products, such as VR headsets with room sensors, face detection in mobile apps and more. PrimeSense also took the spotlight when Apple acquired them in 2013 for $360 million.

Yonatan Wexler will also be joining us. He handles research and development for OrCam. The company has been working on a hardware product that turns your glasses into your most powerful ally, especially if you have a disability or you have a hard time reading. The device can read text for you, recognize faces and describe products.

OrCam is the perfect example of a startup that is using technology to significantly improve the everyday life of many people who could use a device like OrCam’s MyEye. There are many different use cases for OrCam’s technology. And it turns out that Mobileye’s co-founders are also OrCam’s co-founders, so let’s keep an eye on this one.

Finally, Gadi Tirosh rounds up our panel with his expertise on all things venture capital. He is a managing partner at Jerusalem Venture Partners, has a ton of experience and is going to give us many insights on the tech ecosystem in Israel. He personally knows a lot about computer vision, so he’ll be able to take a step back and comment on the current state of the market.

TechCrunch’s Tel Aviv Meetup + Pitch-off is happening on June 28 at Trask, between 6-10 p.m. We already announced other exciting speakers.

We’re about to select approximately 8 to 10 great startups to explain to our panel of VCs and TechCrunch editors in two minutes or less why their startup is awesome. And the best part is that you’ll be competing for an opportunity to attend TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco or Disrupt Berlin.

  • First Place: A table in Startup Alley at TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco or Disrupt Berlin
  • Second Place: Two tickets to attend TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin
  • Third Place: One ticket to attend TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin

Buy tickets here

Also, shout out to our sponsors Leumi Tech and Blonde 2.0.


Gadi Tirosh

Gadi Tirosh is Managing Partner of Jerusalem Venture Partners (“JVP”) a global venture capital fund out of Jerusalem. Gadi is a key leader of JVP’s investment team and has been a key player in shaping the Israeli cyber-security and media related software landscapes. His experience gives him strong domain expertise in both the consumer infrastructure world and service provider needs. Gadi was Chairman of the Board of CyberArk Software (NASDAQ: CYBR) that went public on Nasdaq in September 2014 and was the leading JVP partner in the monetization of JVP’s holdings at a valuation of approximately $1.5 billion. Gadi serves as Chairman of the Board of AnyClip Media, as well as on the board of directors of ThetaRay, ComQi, Upsolver, Morphisec, Coro.Net, Uponit, Gamefly and Looms Systems. Prior to joining JVP, Gadi was Corporate VP of Product Marketing and a member of the executive committee for NDS (acquired by Cisco for $5bn), a leader in digital pay-TV systems, supporting some of the largest digital broadcast platforms such as DIRECTV, BSkyB, Canal Digital and more. At NDS, Gadi established the business of digital interactive TV in the late 90s, catering to the likes of Sky Sports, MTV, Discovery, and other leading TV channels. Prior to NDS, Gadi held a variety of positions in software and Internet-based R&D organizations, including Director of Product Marketing at ServiceSoft Corp. Gadi holds a BS in Computer Science and Mathematics as well as an Executive MBA from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Inon Beracha

Inon, formerly CEO of PrimeSense, the creator of the Kinect sensor for Xbox360, PrimeSense was acquired by Apple (APPL) in 2013. Prior to PrimeSense Inon served as CEO of DSP Group, (DSPG). Inon was a Co-Founder and COO of Ceragon Networks Ltd. (CRNT). Prior to Ceragon Networks Inon was VP of the Electronic Research and Development Department of the Israeli Ministry of Defense. Inon holds a BSc and MSc degrees in Electrical Engineering and Electronics from Tel Aviv University.

Yonatan Wexler

Dr. Yonatan Wexler has been a researcher at U. of Maryland, Oxford U., the Weizmann Institute, Microsoft and now is EVP of R&D at OrCam. He was the recipient of the Marr Prize in 2003 for his work on image creation without the use of geometry. He currently leads the R&D team at OrCam, a company that has developed a unique device for blind and visually impaired people. OrCam harnesses the power of Artificial Vision to compensate for lost visual abilities thus enabling visually impaired people to overcome the barriers that impede their independence.

Featured Image: Gilad Avidan/Wikimedia Commons UNDER A CC BY-SA 3.0 LICENSE

These apps make booking a pro photographer as easy as hailing an Uber

From transportation and lodging to food delivery and beauty services, the sharing economy is disrupting how traditional industries operate. Led by startups that are built around technology, like mobile apps, the goal of such companies is to take an existing service and make it more available and more convenient.

The photographic industry is not immune to this. Apps promising to be the “Uber of photography” – a nod to the ride-hailing company that’s considered the pioneer of the sharing economy – have sprung up around the globe. And these services are looking to reinvent the photographer-client relationship.

We took a closer look at this phenomenon by talking to four such companies: PhotoSesh in the United States, Pinpic in Canada, Perfocal in the United Kingdom, and Snappr in Australia. All of these companies have much in common, including a vetting process to onboard only qualified photographers, but each is taking a unique approach in its attempt to change how clients and photographers connect. Some see this as an inevitable future for working photographers, while some see it as a new market working alongside the existing one. But there are also others who aren’t convinced.

Exposure compensation

Among these names, Australia’s Snappr is perhaps the most recognizable to photographers otherwise unfamiliar with the nascent on-demand photography business model. It drew the ire of the professional photo industry in 2016 when news broke of its standardized pricing model that some working photographers felt would grossly undercut their businesses. Resource Magazine introduced it as the “Uber-like startup devaluing your photography.”

Snappr’s rates are based on the length of the shoot and number of photos included. A seven-hour session that includes 40 photos is just 450 Australian dollars (about $336), of which the photographer keeps just 80 percent. What’s more, clients are granted a full copyright over all images received, allowing them to use the photos for commercial purposes, according to Snappr’s FAQ. For a business in need of advertising images, that’s a steal, but it’s easy to see why a working commercial photographer would feel like she’d been robbed.

However, as a subsequent interview revealed, Snappr didn’t really intend on competing with the traditional professional market, but nor was it expressly a platform for inexperienced shooters to cut their teeth. Like the other companies we are profiling, Snappr sees itself as creating a new market, one the established industry doesn’t reach. It wants people to consider using a professional photographer more often for a greater number of occasions. “Around half of our customers tell us that they wouldn’t have paid a photographer if they didn’t discover Snappr,” co-founder Matt Schiller told Digital Trends.

This, of course, is a challenge – low pricing brings in more clients, but also can deter experienced photographers from signing up. So Snappr offers to handle marketing, payment processing, and insurance, which it hopes adds value to photographers. It’s a tradeoff that may not be worth it to everyone, but that hasn’t stopped thousands of photographers from applying to the service.

Snappr’s biggest goal is removing the pain points from the booking process. “So many potential photography jobs just don’t happen because of the difficulty faced when trying to find and book a photographer, especially at short notice,” Schiller said. “The most common of these are shorter-length shoots for small personal and business events – the kinds of shoots that would have previously been shot for free, or not shot at all.”

This is a sentiment echoed by U.S.-based PhotoSesh. “Our initial goal was to help hosts find talented photographers for their casual events,” said CEO Chris Seshadri. “Think birthday parties, engagements, showers, anniversaries, etc.”

Seshadri’s idea for PhotoSesh was born of his own frustration as a photography customer. Before founding the company, he worked extensively with charities that often needed photographers to cover events but had limited budgets and limited time. The traditional method of hiring a photographer is difficult for such organizations, as photographers’ websites aren’t standardized and pricing and schedules are often not public.

Snappr sees itself as creating a new market, one the photo industry doesn’t reach.

Seshadri realized there needed to be a system that could match this customer need with a professional photographer that offered value for both sides.

“We also learned that even the most in-demand photographers still had gaps in their schedules and they wouldn’t mind filling them with these smaller, simpler gigs if it was convenient to them,” he told Digital Trends. As for clients, “usually people that don’t have the time to sit and research different websites and poke around with too many steps will benefit the most. Think event planners, realtors, and anyone that has massive workflow.” A PhotoSesh photographer even covered the Bachelor reunion in December 2016.

The service allows for some pricing flexibility, with photographers able to set their rate between $30 and $75 per hour (PhotoSesh also takes a 20-percent commission). While this is on the lower end for many established professionals, PhotoSesh isn’t trying to take over a working photographer’s primary business. Instead, it could help photographers fill gaps in their schedules with jobs that may pay less, but are also less involved and come with worry-free payment processing.

MIT unveils wearable guides for the visually impaired

It’s frustrating to see so many wearable innovations without more devoted to providing solutions for the disabled, which is why MIT’s new prototype for the visually impaired is more than just a little exciting. 

A team of researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory have come up with a wearable system that helps the visually impaired navigate their environment. 

The system consists of a 3D depth-sensing camera, electronically refreshable Braille pads that display symbols such as “c” for chair and “t” for table, and a belt that vibrate more as the wearable gets close to an obstacle. 

A demonstration video posted earlier this shows a wearer using the device to locate a chair without a cane (as well as with a cane, which allows the visually impaired person to map the environment even faster), locate a bench, avoid a construction barrier, and walk flawlessly through a maze without a cane. 

[embedded content]

“Having something that didn’t infringe on their other senses was important,” said Robert Katzschmann, one of the researchers in a statement on MIT’s website. 

“We didn’t want to have audio; we didn’t want to have something around the head, vibrations on the neck — all of those things, we tried them out, but none of them were accepted. We found that the one area of the body that is the least used for other senses is around your abdomen.”

And while this is still just a prototype that’s not available for commercial use, the team is working on an outdoor-friendly version that uses a stereo vision camera and a larger library of object recognition beyond just tables and chairs, which could soon make walking a busy city street a whole lot easier for the visually impaired. 

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Tech Titans Pledge Continued Paris Accord Support

Several high-tech industry companies that have opposed the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement have pledged to continue their environmentally conscious efforts.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai promised to stay the course in his tweeted response:

“Withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement is bad for the environment, bad for the economy, and it puts our children’s future at risk,” wrote Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

“For our part, we’ve committed that every new data center we build will be powered by 100% renewable energy,” he added.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff tweeted a statement of his company’s resolve to promote sustainability.

“Microsoft believes that climate change is an urgent issue that demands global action,” President Brad Smith posted on LinkedIn. “We’ve sent letters to and held meetings on this topic with senior officials in the State Department and the White House.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook earlier this week urged President Trump to keep the U.S. in the agreement, he told employees in an email.

Climate change is real, Cook said. Although disappointed with the pullout, he pledged to continue the company’s environmental push.

Why Trump Withdrew From the Paris Agreement

Compliance with the terms of the agreement “could cost America as much as 2.7 million lost jobs by 2025,” including 440,000 fewer manufacturing jobs, President Trump said, citing a study by National Economic Research Associates.

By 2040, compliance would cut production for various sectors, costing close to US$3 trillion in lost GDP and 6.5 million industrial jobs, Trump said, based on the study’s findings.

Other studies, carried out not only by environmental organizations, but also by Citibank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, have concluded that failure to curb climate change could cost the U.S. economy trillions of dollars, according to a New York Times news analysis.

The Paris Agreement “could legitimately be branded as an economic accord, given the potential financial impact on the countries that agreed to it,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

However, “given the impact on climate is both disputed and indirect, it likely would have been more accurate to call this an accord that’s more directly focused on pollution, because the core measurements were tied to that,” he told TechNewsWorld.

The Paris Agreement “was more of a political vehicle and one that was long on promise but very short on actual content,” Enderle said, adding that it lacks teeth to ensure compliance.

It appears that Trump’s decision this week has triggered a process that will continue into 2020, likely ensuring that climate change will be a significant issue during the next presidential election.

Seeking a Brave New World

The Trump administration will begin negotiations either to re-enter the Paris Agreement or to create a new one “on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its people, its taxpayers,” the president said.

However, France, Germany and Italy said in a joint statement that the Paris Agreement cannot be renegotiated.

“Overpopulation and the environment are issues that must be addressed now,” said Jim McGregor, principal at Tirias Research.

“If there’s something awry with the current agreements, we need to address those issues, either with modifications to the agreement or a new one — not just walk away,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“The U.S. should be the leader, not the anchor holding us back by not signing the accords,” McGregor added.

What High-Tech Companies Can Do

“Any number of companies are acting consciously to improve their environmental impact,” noted Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

For example, Dell EMC “has a variety of initiatives,” he told TechNewsWorld, including “using recycled materials in their packaging … and an initiative to recycle plastics floating in the ocean.”

Still, many tech companies “talk the talk but don’t walk the walk when it comes to the environment,” Tirias’ McGregor pointed out.

The fact that both supporters and opponents of environmental issues “know much of what they’re saying isn’t true, makes positive change almost impossible to accomplish,” Enderle said.

The tech industry “is all about data and accuracy,” he remarked, and it “could use these tools to cut through the dishonesty and help those that truly want to make change.”


Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology.
Email Richard.

Apple Music executive Bozoma Saint John could be leaving Apple


WWDC is right around the corner, but let’s talk about last year’s WWDC for a minute. You may remember that Bozoma Saint John blew everyone away with her insanely good presentation skills. According to a new report from Axios, the Apple executive could be planning to leave the company really soon.

Saint John was the head of global consumer marketing for Apple Music. Last year, the company unveiled a complete redesign of the music streaming service. And that’s why Saint John took the stage to demo the new user interface.

While Apple’s leadership page is mostly white and male, Saint John was a great example of a charismatic female leader on the WWDC stage that day. The tech industry needs more role models like her. Business Insider even wrote a profile about her shortly after the conference.

Saint John joined Beats just a few months before Apple acquired Beats. She then stayed at Apple, flying back and forth between Los Angeles and Cupertino to work on Apple Music’s marketing.

It’s still unclear why Saint John could be leaving Apple and where she’s going to work. I’m sure we’ll hear more about her next professional move on Twitter.

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Wonder Woman is a welcome sign that the online outrage game can change

Last week, after the Alamo Drafthouse theater in Austin, Texas announced that it would host a screening of Wonder Woman limited to women (with proceeds benefiting Planned Parenthood), the men’s-rights types of the world lost it. The screening, just one of dozens of Wonder Woman screenings scheduled at the Drafthouse, was deemed “sexist,” “illegal,” “tacky,” and “bigoted.” After New York City’s Drafthouse location announced similar screenings, one man filed a civil rights complaint against Alamo Drafthouse. (And, for vague reasons, Carson Daly.)

It’s a run-of-the-mill misogynist hissy fit, similar to those we saw around Paul Feig’s women-led Ghostbusters last summer, or George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road — centered on Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa instead of Max — the summer before. But this time, instead of once again picking up a metaphorical machete and attempting to hack through male rage with appeals based in empathy, logic, or historical context, the unified response to the Wonder Woman backlash has so far been “U mad, bro?” It feels like a collective relaxation of muscles we really do need for more important things, and it feels good.

Alamo Drafthouse pointed out in one Facebook comment that they often host group-specific screenings for veterans and active military, but beyond that, did not offer explanation or apology. In fact, whoever’s running the Austin theater’s social-media accounts taunted the trolls. Asked why the theater hasn’t hosted a men-only screening of a film, the theater’s Facebook account answered, “We’ve never done a showing where you had to be a man to get in, but we *did* show the Entourage movie a few years ago.” The New York City branch tweeted GIFs of Wonder Woman dancing after the first showing sold out, and rubbed it in with a popular meme from Fury Road: Imperator Furiosa rolling her eyes, over the closed caption label “Men Yelling Indistinctly.”

The NYC location’s Twitter account also noted, “We heard your complaints[,] have taken swift and decisive action. Another women-only #WonderWoman show on sale now!”

The mayor of Austin joined in the day before the film’s release, responding to an angry email from a constituent sarcastically: “I am writing to alert you that your email account has been hacked by an unfortunate and unusually hostile individual. Please remedy your account’s security right away, lest this person’s uninformed and sexist rantings give you a bad name.” A few hours later, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced a fundraiser in which donors (of any amount) would be entered to win an afternoon with her at a private Wonder Woman screening set up to “celebrate strong women and girls.”

The same day, Broadly’s Bethy Squires published a faux-apology from Alamo Drafthouse, which is meant as a joke, but doesn’t much depart from the theater’s official response: “We at the Alamo Drafthouse would like to officially apologize for our role in the end of mankind as we knew it, and the ascendant Gynocracy that followed.”

It’s a sharp break from the reactions to previous controversies. When The Force Awakens star Rey (Daisy Ridley) was derided online by misogynists as a “Mary Sue” — a thinly written wish-fulfillment character who is overly talented and beyond reproach in every way — the well-intentioned lined up to explain all the ways in which she wasn’t. They were rebutting an argument that drew most of its lifeblood from a corner of the internet that frankly didn’t give a shit either way, and was going to hate the movie regardless. To be fair, I’m guilty of this time-sucking argumentation, too, and even wrote a “How to talk about the new Ghostbusters movie with friends, family, and commenters” guide last year, in which I laboriously walked through the illogical arguments against the movie’s existence.

When a tiny fringe group of MRAs threatened to boycott Mad Max: Fury Road, major newspapers and trade publications covered it seriously, as a legitimate threat, rather than the deranged ranting of some really dumb bloggers. “Anti-Feminists Call for Boycott of Mad Max: Fury Road, Citing Feminist Agenda,” The Hollywood Reporter stated solemnly, echoed by CNN. (Compare that to The Washington Post this week: “Men flip out over women-only Wonder Woman screenings”) Fury Road made $379 million that summer, and won six Academy Awards the following year. MRAs later claimed to have robbed The Force Awakens of $4.2 million in gross box office… based on a Twitter poll with 565 respondents. Online outlets reported extensively on that assertion, with some sneers, but with lengthy, meticulous arguments nonetheless.

Acknowledging tantrums like this at all is dicey, especially when most of what any troll wants is oxygen and a megaphone. But denying them the headlines that make them sound powerful, and the pleading responses that make them feel catered to, is a start. Sure, laughing might make them angrier, but this is the rare situation in which it’s possible to argue that male rage matters less and less.

The fact that Wonder Woman is the most expensive movie ever made by a woman, and that it stars a woman as its sole lead superhero, is not irrelevant. Men who work themselves into a frothing fury at perceived film industry slights lean on the only piece of leverage they have — their wallets. Throughout the age of the blockbuster, Hollywood has catered to dollars earned and spent by men. For the better part of two decades, it felt like nobody remembered that Titanic was the top-grossing film of the 1990s with a take of $659 million. Or that Nora Ephron made four shoestring-budget movies grossing $90 million or more that decade. Or that Julia Roberts was, in that same period, the most bankable movie star in the world.

Somehow, it’s only in the last few years that studio heads have experienced the epiphany that, yes, women have and spend money, too. Blockbusters attended by majority-women audiences — the Fifty Shades trilogy, the Magic Mike movies, Bridesmaids (famously billed with the tagline “chick flicks don’t have to suck”), and its children — have recently made a comeback.

Though it’s unfair that so much is riding on Patty Jenkins and her $150 million budget, which The Hollywood Reporter went so far as to refer to as a “gamble,” it’s a fair assumption that Warner Bros. has chosen to pursue an audience it didn’t really notice before. When men threatened to take their money away from Mad Max: Fury Road or Star Wars: The Force Awakens, despite the ridiculous math propping up claims that these online boycotts could even make a dent in those ticket sales, the media indulged the questions: could they really do it? Would there be cold, hard cash consequences for the slightest tinge of progressivism?

That response is missing this time, in part because prior outrage gave us evidence that financial consequences aren’t actually going to materialize. The chokehold these men have had on the film industry is being pulled off, one finger at a time.

You don’t have to personally enjoy superhero movies. I don’t. But this type of controversy has the power to stir something in anyone who cares about seeing cinema reflect and entertain a broader swathe of the population than it used to. (I bought an opening-day ticket to Wonder Woman.) There’s a heavily retweeted joke making the rounds on dozens of copycat Twitter accounts right now, saying that Alamo Drafthouse did more than Warner Bros. to promote Wonder Woman. That isn’t true, but with a handful of women-only screenings, Drafthouse obviously did something — which would have been a minor note in the story of this film’s release, if not for the people it enraged.

So in an ironic twist, the trolls are, for once, the party accidentally feeding the side they can’t fathom and actively despise, instead of the other way around. May they starve.