All posts in “Consumer Tech”

Alexa has a new skill to help you throw away less food (and money)

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Those leftovers that get dumped uneaten, that tub of yogurt way past its expiration date, and the bunch of celery you ambitiously bought for a recipe that — let’s be real —wasn’t going to happen, all add up.

It might seem like clearing out the fridge doesn’t mean much, but Americans don’t eat 40 percent of their food. Consumers throwing out old bread and questionable milk cartons are throwing away an average of $1,500 every year. All this food waste adds up to $218 billion in uneaten food every year. 

To fight the growing waste, the Ad Council and Natural Resources Defense Council have launched the Save The Food campaign. This educational campaign targets consumers, who contribute up to 43 percent of all of America’s food waste. 

We can’t just blame big corporations and restaurants, though they aren’t off the hook. The NRDC reports that restaurants and food service providers make two to four times the waste of grocery stores, supercenters, and wholesale distributors combined. The nonprofit environmental advocacy group found U.S. restaurants generate 22 to 33 billion pounds of food waste each year.

To make it easier to save food at home, Amazon’s personal assistant, Alexa, can tell you how to store food, whether a vegetable should be deep-sixed, or how to revive a hopeless frozen steak situation. The Save The Food skill was added to Alexa’s repertoire earlier this year.

Image: ad council/nrdc

Alexa’s food saving skill comes with NRDC’s updated report on food waste. The report is a refresh on 2012 data about the environmental, social, and economic impacts of wasted resources.  JoAnne Berkenkamp, an NRDC senior advocate for food and agriculture, said, “Consumers should feel empowered to make a big difference on this issue.” 

Small things like smarter shopping with lists and peeking into our pantries and shelves to see what we already have, and following through on cooking plans can cut down on food waste. “Our eyes are bigger than our capacity to prepare foods at home,” Berkenkamp said.

Once we have food at home we need to better understand how to store it and how long something can last. Confusing food labels push people to throw away food unnecessarily — about 20 percent of food waste stems from labels that tell us more about peak freshness than food safety.

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A new video the Ad Council and NRDC released with chef Dan Barber from New York’s Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns shows how using food scraps can be part of the solution. Being resourceful and using cosmetically imperfect produce that may have some brown spots or an odd shape can contribute to slashing our food waste total. The video, embedded up top, shows how zucchini ends and cores usually thrown out after making a gourmet meal can be incorporated into a second, just as delicious meal. 

It’s not all bad news despite resources from thrown-out food adding up to the equivalent of 37 million cars’ worth of green house gas. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have set national goals to cut food waste by 50 percent by 2030, similar to a UN goal. So progress is happening.

Berkenkamp said one example of many corporate improvements and efforts includes Walmart’s discount program, which launched in 2014 and lowered prices on items closing in on their sell-by dates, and saved more than 30 million food products from going to waste. 

Alexa, let’s waste not, want not.

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Behold, the LG V30 in all its glory

LG has been revealing key details about its upcoming V30 flagship ahead of the Aug. 31 launch, but one important piece of the puzzle is missing: An actual picture of the phone. 

Well, it’s not missing any more. The image of the phone from all sides comes courtesy of leaker Evan Blass, and even though it’s not an official photo (likely a press render), it looks exactly what we thought it would look based on previous leaks. Simply put, it’s very likely the real thing. 

On the front side, the LG V30 looks a lot like the G6 with even smaller bezels, especially on the bottom and on the sides. It’s the currently prevalent trend in smartphones and I like LG’s simple approach. The back shows a dual camera, a flash and a fingerprint sensor, and it looks a bit clunkier than the G6’s symmetrical design, but still better (in terms of usability) than Samsung S8’s awkwardly positioned fingerprint sensor

Though this is hard to judge from the photo, it also looks that the V30 will have a metallic back, instead of the glass back design on the G6. Also notable is the lack of secondary screen which was so far a staple of LG’s V series of phones. With the V30, it seems that LG’s consolidated its two flagship lines into a singular design philosophy, leaving the days of wild experimentation (both with G5’s modularity and the V20’s secondary screen) behind. 

So what else do we know about the LG V30? It’ll have a 6-inch, 18:9 OLED screen, a powerful camera with an f/1.6 aperture and face recognition. And yes, if there’s anything left for LG to reveal, we’ll be there Aug. 31 to tell you all about it. 

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Google just gave Docs the major overhaul you’ve been waiting for

Docs are much more useful for group work now.
Docs are much more useful for group work now.

Image: Mayo/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Google is introducing a slew of new features in an overhaul to its web-based Docs, Sheets, and Slides tools, which could make working on and editing a group project online even easier.  

Users will now be able to streamline multiple rounds of edits within the same Doc, cutting through the clutter that inevitably piles up on shared pages. You’ll also finally be able to give suggestions from mobile devices, just in case you’re struck by inspiration on the go or have to quickly give input on new changes remotely.    

The new features were outlined in a new Keyword blog post, which showed off multiple use cases where the tools will likely come in handy IRL. 

The biggest new features come with the organization of a group Doc. You’ll now be able to name separate versions of the same file, which should be a helpful way to clarify which versions are final and which are still in progress. You can check out how that could be valuable in the GIF below, which shows off the new capability to only display the newly-namable versions of a Doc.  

Image: google

With the new features, you’ll also be able to preview “clean” versions of a Doc for easier reading and review, and accept or reject all edits with one command to save time approving every little thing. Most helpfully, you’ll be able to access the suggestions tool from mobile devices using the “three dot” menu.

Google’s also introducing some new add-ons and templates for its productivity suite, making it easier for users to quickly draft documents like NDAs in the cloud. Partners include LegalZoom and Docusign, LucidChart, PandaDoc, EasyBib, and Supermetrics. Organizations will also be able to create their own personalized templates with add-ons for internal tasks. 

Finally, there’s also a new Google Cloud Search feature that uses machine learning to find relevant info across the Google ecosystem, but that’s only available for G Suite Business customers. 

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There are now over 3 billion social media users in the world — about 40 percent of the global population

There are now over 3 billion (!!!) people logging onto social media accounts around the world, meaning that almost half of the world’s population spends at least part of their day updating their status or story. 

A new report compiled by Hootsuite and We Are Social and published by The Next Web found that there are 3.028 billion active social media users around the world. That’s a mind-boggling number, especially when you consider that the Earth’s  population is estimated to be 7.524 billion people. 

That means about 40 percent of the global population is using social media, and only a small portion of the estimated 3.819 billion people with internet access around the world don’t have at least one social profile. Mobile users make up a large chunk of the base, with 2.780 billion active users.

Image: simon kemp/hootsuite/we are social

These user numbers are massive, and according to the report’s data, which came from a wide range of international sources and the social platforms themselves, they’ll keep growing. There’s been a 4 percent uptick in total global users (which equates to 121 million people) since just this April. That’s about a million new users a day, which is rough news to hear for Twitter, which reported a flat user growth rate at its most recent letter to shareholders.  

Facebook is, unsurprisingly, the king of the social media platforms, with an estimated 2.047 billion monthly active users (MAU), while its other properties, WhatsApp and Messenger were over the billion MAU mark as well in the third and fourth position, respectively. Instagram followed closely behind with roughly 700 million MAU.

Image: simon kemp/hootsuite/we are social

You can check out the full report below for even more more detailed insights about the global social media landscape. 

So the next time you find yourself wasting your time on Facebook or Twitter, don’t feel bad — you’re not alone. Most of the world’s population is spending their spare moments scrolling through their news feeds, too. 

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Download this: Astro’s email app comes with a built-in assistant

No matter what line of work you’re in, there’s a good chance you could use a little (okay, a lot) less email in your life.

Enter Astro, which won’t let you ditch email for good (sadly), but it will help make overflowing inboxes more manageable. 

The app has just about all the features you’d expect from an email client — priority inbox, customizable swipes and notifications, the ability to “snooze” emails for later — and then some. The app has a dizzying feature set that includes email tracking (to keep tabs on who actually opens your messages), scheduling, custom VIP lists, and integrations with Slack and Amazon’s Echo.

The app’s secret sauce is a built-in assistant that makes managing overflowing inboxes easier.

But the app’s secret sauce is a built-in assistant that makes managing overflowing inboxes a little easier. The chatbot assistant, nicknamed “Astrobot,” learns your habits over time and will offer helpful suggestions based on what it knows. 

For example, it can remind you to respond to questions from people who have emailed you, prompt you to add a frequently-contacted email to your VIP list, and unsubscribe you from newsletters and other junk.

That may sound a bit gimmicky, but it’s a surprisingly effective way to take care of routine inbox maintenance. 

And, best of all, it helps cut down on the amount of time you need to spend on email to begin with, which is something we should all endorse.

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