All posts in “reading”

Pocket’s reading app won’t sound so robotic now

Last year, Mozilla made its first acquisition by snatching up Pocket, the Instapaper competitor that helps you save longer articles for later reading. Today, this popular reading app is getting a major update that gives its app a visual makeover, including a new dark mode, and most importantly, a better way to listen to the content you’ve saved.

Pocket had added a text-to-speech feature several years ago, so you could listen to an audio version of your saved articles, instead of reading them. Instapaper today offers a similar option.

But these text-to-speech engines often sound robotic and mangle words, leading to a poor listening experience. They’ll work in a pinch when you really need to catch up with some reading, and can’t sit down to do it. But they’re definitely not ideal.

Today, Pocket is addressing this problem with the launch of a new listening feature that will allow for a more human-sounding voice. On iOS and Android, the listen feature will be powered by Amazon Polly, Mozilla says.

First introduced at Amazon’s re:Invent developer event in November 2016, Polly uses machine learning technologies to deliver more life-like speech. Polly also understands words in context. For example, it knows that the word “live” would be pronounced differently based on its usage. (E.g. “I live in Seattle” vs. “Live from New York.”) The technology has evolved since to support speech marks, a timbre effect, and dynamic range compression, among other things.

To take advantage of the updated “Listen” feature, users just tap the new icon in the top-left corner of the Pocket mobile app to start playing their articles. It’s like your own personalized podcast, Mozilla notes.

In addition, the app has been given a redesign that gives it a clean, less cluttered look-and-feel, and introduces a new app-wide dark mode and sephia themes, for those who want a different sort of reading experience.

The redesign includes updated typography and fonts, focused on making long reads more comfortable, as well.

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“At Mozilla, we love the web. Sometimes we want to surf, and the Firefox team has been working on ways to surf like an absolute champ with features like Firefox Advance,” said Mark Mayo, Chief Product Officer at Firefox, in a statement about the launch. “Sometimes, though, we want to settle down and read or listen to a few great pages. That’s where Pocket shines, and the new Pocket makes it even easier to enjoy the best of the web when you’re on the go in your own focused and uncluttered space,” he said.

The updated version of Pocket is live on the web, iOS and Android, as of today.

This speed reading tool helps you breeze through text and is on sale for under $30

Just to let you know, if you buy something featured here, Mashable might earn an affiliate commission.
Improve your digital reading skills.
Improve your digital reading skills.

Image: Pexels

Thanks to the Internet, a lot of us are now drowning in a giant sea of words. It’s likely that you have a million tabs open on your browser with articles you swear you will read and an inbox brimming with unopened emails. It’s also possible that your e-book queue is already accumulating virtual dust because you haven’t touched it in so long. It’s not entirely your fault, though. All these reading materials — with their chunks of black and white paragraphs — aren’t exactly what you would call enticing, even if the headlines or titles seem promising.

The simple solution: BeeLine Reader.

Designed to provide an optimal reading experience, this speed reading browser extension breathes new life into passages of text by infusing eye-guiding color gradients in each line to assist you in breezing through them quickly and easily. This makes the text easier on the eyes and allows you to follow each line and snap to the next again and again. It reduces line transition errors, so you’ll never find yourself skipping over a row of text or reading the same line twice. When you use this handy tool, you’ll be reading so much faster that you won’t even realize that you’re already done reading a piece, a book chapter, or your manager’s lengthy email with 100% comprehension.

Want proof of its efficacy? It has already been adopted by the California Public Library System and lauded by Stanford, Dell, and The Tech Museum of Innovation. Yeah, BeeLine Reader has been recognized by the big guys.

Turbocharge your reading ability for the rest of eternity with a lifetime subscription to BeeLine Reader. Normally $220, you can get it today for only $29.99.

The NYT adds a personalized ‘news feed’ to its iOS app

The New York Times announced on Friday how it’s adding its own take on Facebook-style News Feed to its mobile app. Yes, literally a news feed. The publication says it will now allow its iOS app users to customize their reading experience through a new feature called “Your Feed,” which consists only of those channels readers choose to follow. Some of those channels will pull stories from existing New York Times sections and columns, like Modern Love, while others, like Gender & Society, At War, Pop Culture, and more will pull news from across the paper’s sections. And others will include commentary from reporters and editors, and will feature worthy reads from outside The Times.

This additional context will only be found in this personalized Your Feed section, and is something the publication says is an experiment in terms of bringing another layer of insight to the news and stories. On the technical side, the commentary itself is actually pulled from The Times’ Slack, through the use of a bot built by backend engineer Brandon Hopkins. It basically turns Slack into the CMS for publishing these short posts to the Your Feed section of the app.

The design team equates the Your Feed reading experience to the way people tend to peruse a printed newspaper. Beyond reading the front page news, people will often pull out the sections they want to read, and then thumb through them – coming across other stories they want to read. And different readers will gravitate towards different sections and articles.

It says the idea for the feed came from its user research, where it found that many people wanted a separate place from the home page to follow a customized feed of content.

With The NYT outputting around 160 articles per day, it’s very difficult to be a comprehensive reader of the paper in its entirety, of course. But the app already allowed users to poke around in its many sections by tapping through its navigation. With the addition of a personalized feed – as on Facebook and on other social apps – there’s always the danger that people will begin to box themselves into their own news bubble. If the app’s users start skipping the front page and other key sections to hop into this own custom feed, they could potentially miss important news.

Hopefully, readers will choose to use the new Your Feed feature as something that’s additive to their overall news reading experience, and not as a stand-in for actually reading the paper itself.

Additionally, The NYT says the sections will be curated by its editors to ensure there’s a diverse selection of stories available. (Thankfully – news curation left up to A.I. and algorithms has proven time and again to be a disaster. So much so that Facebook finally gave up, and ditched its Trending news section altogether.) Plus, by having a human-programmed section, the editors can ensure not to overwhelm readers with stories.

To use the new feature, readers in the iOS app will be able to pick from one of 24 channels they want to follow – an idea that’s not too unlike the way users follow accounts on social apps like Twitter or Instagram. To then read through this section, there will now be a new space in the iOS app labeled Your Feed.

Going forward, The NYT says it will tweak the experience further by adjusting the channel selection, offering more ways to follow channels, and rolling out other features, while responding to user feedback and behavior to inform its design choices. It will also experiment with different versions of saving stories, notifications, and ways to better manage your interests in the app.

The feature is rolling out to The NYT iOS app for the time being.

Learn to read faster and improve your memory for just $9

Just to let you know, if you buy something featured here, Mashable might earn an affiliate commission.
Just $9 for lifetime access
Just $9 for lifetime access

Image: Pexels

You know how they say people only use 10% of their brain? Yeah, it turns out, that’s total bullshit

We absolutely use most of our brain, almost all of the time. And there’s no magic key that unlocks an unused, possibly telekinetic reserve of mental power. There is, however, a set of techniques that can help you use your brain power faster and more effectively. It’s called the Become a SuperLearner: Speed Reading & Memory course, and while it won’t help you levitate objects with your mind, it can elevate the way you learn, work, and play.

This revised and expanded edition of the original SuperLearner course takes students on a journey through the human brain, with over 62 lectures and five hours of content. You’ll start by learning about cognitive functions; getting the neurological lay of the land. Then you’ll learn how to leverage your brain’s natural inclinations in order to memorize more information, and retain it for longer. Building off of that, you’ll discover the keys to speed reading—not just skimming but actually comprehending the content and committing it to memory. Together, these new skills allow you to tear through your reading list, hone your rate of recall, and even learn new languages with ease.

Can this training turn you into a genius? That’s yet to be seen, but it’s certainly a smart move to buy lifetime access today— SuperLearner is now only $9 after a massive discount off the original $144.99 price.

Attack of the clones

Lego – or LEGO – is expensive and kids – my kids in particular – want a lot of it. Our basement looks like the returns department of a major toy store, covered from corner to corner with toys and, most notably, and endless minefield of little building blocks. And we enjoy building models and imaginative play and my youngest child, Guthrie, loves Star Wars. But all that quality plastic is expensive and the Star Wars kits are the most expensive of all. What are we to do? Add his favorites to holiday gift registries so his grandparents can buy it for him? Spend hundreds of dollars on ships that crash and leave a field of debris and minifigs for miles? Or do we turn to the Internet, that fount of all solace, and find Lepin.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away there were Lego knock-offs. The most popular come from a company called Lepin which I first learned about from this surprisingly complete review of the First Order Tie Fighter set. This video, which features a surprisingly thorough look at Lego vs. Lepin, was a family favorite for a while, taking precedence over the Star Wars trailers and Bad Lip Reading my kids usually watched. They were mesmerized by the slow and steady pace of the video and I was mesmerized by the thought that I could save some money on my Lego.

Before you get excited about the morality or legality of these knock offs understand that I well know that Lego deserves every penny they get. After building the Lepin set I began to better understand the care that goes into a good Lego set and the satisfaction of having a product that doesn’t fall apart mid-flight. That said, this was an experiment and it was truly to surprising to see such a complete and blatant copy of Lego’s kit come in a plain brown paper sack. Unlike other knock-offs I’ve seen – swap meet Louis and fake Rolexes, for example – the Lepin kit was a one-to-one copy of the original, albeit with a few major issues.

So I hit Alibaba and bought the Tie Fighter kit, a model that at once pushed all the right nostalgia buttons for me and the excitement buttons for my children and was sufficiently complex and expensive that we didn’t want to order the real model. I would build this Tie Fighter… for science.

The kit cost $48 with $12 shipping and arrived in two weeks. It came in a plain brown padded envelope with an instruction manual and little bags of pieces. The Lepin pieces aren’t organized in any discernible way although some of the larger pieces are stuck together in the same bag while smaller pieces are crammed inside multiple smaller bags. There is no bag order and the manual does not expect you to open any bag first. Basically your best bet is to dump out all the pieces and get building.

The first thing you’ll notice is that the pegs are completely smooth with a few indented where the injection mold went in. These blocks have no Lego branding and are instead disturbingly bare, as if someone had sandblasted away the logos on a real kit. The minifigs are also problematic. The faces and painting aren’t quite as crisp as Lego’s and the accessories – in this case a little hose connecting to the pilot’s helmet – was oddly connected to the helmet itself, a cost-saving measure that looks like it could snap off and get lost fairly easily.

Once you’ve organized your pieces you can begin assembling the kit. This is when you meet another cost-saving measure. The manual shows only the piece you just assembled in color. The rest of the pieces are greyed out. This means you don’t know what the kit is supposed to look like as it’s being built which makes it especially hard to assemble the internals. Further, the entire manual is chock full of steps. While the Lego kit paces you through each step, placing one or two steps on the page, this manual is chock full of them. It’s very easy to get lost.

We built this model in two days. My son was able to build quite a bit of it but I stepped in at the end because I liked the challenge and he got bored. Soon we discovered the fatal flaw in the Lepin system: the models don’t stick together.

My wife’s father used to make injection molded toys. He always speaks reverentially of Lego, repeating to us over and over that the company repeatedly destroys is plastic molds to make new ones, thereby ensuring that each piece is crisp, clean, and straight. The molds, you see, are the most expensive part of the process, costing tens of thousands of dollars to manufacture. To create new molds for something as complex as this is wildly costly but, as far as plastics lore goes, Lego is more than willing to spend that cash.

Lepin isn’t.

As you begin building you’ll find that some of the straight pieces curl up. The hinges don’t quite stick together. The big boards don’t quite match. As you build you find yourself wondering if the whole thing will hold and, in the end, it won’t. For example, this model uses four little U clamps that stick out on each side to connect to four bars embedded into the wings. These U clamps sometimes seem to click into place but when they don’t the wings fall off and break, requiring another ten minutes of rebuilding. These are not built for rough play – or any play at all – because even the hatch into which you slide your pilots will fall off if you close the door all the way. The tolerances – those sweet, Danish, Lego tolerances – are gone here, leaving behind something that is best displayed on a shelf.

If you or your kid are fine with having knock-off Lego on a high shelf where no one can get a better look at it then by all means pick up a model or two. But understand you will be disappointed. While this is a near exact clone of the original kit, the little differences add up to a mess. This Tie Fighter is currently next to our hermit crab cage, untouched, while Poe Dameron’s X-Wing is regularly strafing Storm Troopers and the rest of the Lego is being repurposed into bases, houses, and Minecraft adventures. The only toy that isn’t being played with is the Lepin kit.

That says a lot. Sure you can save money, but should you? Lego shouldn’t cost so much and our kids shouldn’t want so much of it but, in the end, aren’t we teaching them the value of tactile play, the power of building out of constituent parts. Further, I won’t begrudge a kid who wants to play with Lego the ability to build their own Tie Fighter if this is all they can afford. But, in the end, Lego wins in a head-to-head, minifig claws down.

Should you buy Lepin? The stalwart brand defender in me says no. However, if you’re looking to save a buck and want to give your kids the joy of building a knock-off – but not the joys of playing with it – then you can probably get away with this little bit of C-3PFaux. May the Force, as they say, be ever in your favor.