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Google is prepping a fix for a new Home Mini volume bug
Posted by David Nield on 03 December 2017 04:00 PM

If you've got a Google Home Mini smart speaker that doesn't seem to cope well with the volume getting ramped right up, you're not alone - it appears that some of the dinky little units will reboot if they get asked to start cranking out the tunes at maximum volume.

The problem doesn't appear to affect every Google Home Mini out there, fortunately, but a thread describing the issue on the Google support forums has attracted quite a few posts, so there's definitely something going on that shouldn't be happening.

Now TechCrunch reports that Google has confirmed the problem is a genuine one, and a fix is in the works. If your unit is affected, you'll just have to turn down the volume a little until the patched firmware gets rolled out, most likely through the Google Home app.

Patch it up

Given the size of the speaker, it's not really built for pumping out the tunes anyway, which might explain why relatively few people have reported crashes on their Google Home Minis. Still, Google will be keen to stamp out the bug as quickly as it can.

Google's continued push into making its own hardware devices hasn't all been smooth sailing over the last few months, with screen and audio issues affecting some Pixel 2 handsets, and the company will be hoping 2018 is a quieter year in terms of software patching.

Back in October it was discovered that the Home Mini also had a sneaky habit of recording audio when it wasn't supposed to, something Google dealt with by disabling the press-to-talk feature altogether. The bigger version of the speaker, the Google Home Max, is expected to go on sale this month.

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Headspace has helped me (reluctantly) find a sense of calm
Posted by Andrew London on 03 December 2017 03:00 PM

Mindfulness is big business at the moment, and I thought it was about time I tried the meditation movement of the moment for myself. And where better to start than with the household name in mindfulness; Headspace.

The app itself is beautifully designed, with a cartoonish style, avatars to guide you through the different sections, and animations that are just on the right side of childish. 

I’m sure this is a pretty common experience, but there’s something about someone trying to do ‘calm’ that makes me want to be the opposite. And this was definitely how I was when I first sat down with Headspace. 

Resisting the rest

There’s something about Andy Puddicombe’s soothing, geographically nonchalant voice that made we want to scream: ‘pronounce ‘t’ properly!’ at my headphones. The performer in me was there thinking ‘he must have been sitting really close to the mic for this’ and the tech-pedant was frustrated that the audio was a little fuzzy. 

That said, I managed to commit myself to the breathing, and thinking about breathing, and breathing, and thinking about breathing, and before I knew it, I was actually feeling more relaxed. I realised that I was way too tense about the lovely Mr Puddcombe’s accent. He can pronounce ‘t’ however he wants.

And I wasn’t only mentally tense. My right shoulder seemed to descend by about 12 feet, my ribs noticeably loosened, and I noticed that I was clenching my buttocks as if I was trying to crack a nut. 

It’s pretty staggering how much you don’t notice about your body unless you actually focus on it. I’d just kind of assumed because of my physical theatre background that I was very ‘in’ my body, but apparently not. 

Forming the habit

Headspace does a very clever thing that it’s free to download, and there’s a full week that you can do before you actually have to pay for anything. Anyone who knows about habit forming will know that you only need to do something five times for it to become a habit, which means that Headspace is forming a habit, then asking you for money. 

From an app that has clearly put a lot of work into psychology, the cynic in me thinks there’s an element of manipulation at hand here, but frankly I can’t blame Headspace for the manipulation. 

Mental health is still a massively under-discussed element of health and it’s a little sad that I’ll think nothing of spending money every month on my gym membership or on Netflix, but when asked to pay a monthly subscription for my mental health I baulk. 

The beautifully designed Headspace app right at the start of my 'journey'

I suppose there’s something in the fact that it’s more difficult to quantify results. I know when I’ve gained muscle mass. I know when I’ve binge watched an entire series of Punisher. But my mental health?

It’s a weird one, because since starting Headspace, I’ve noticed an improvement in my mood; I’m less anxious, less angry, less prone to negative thoughts. It’s just not a concrete thing I can pin down, so it’s easy to dismiss it as correlation rather than causation.

Ummmm, Ommmmmm?

One thing that keeps occurring to me is that Headpace feels a little like religion for atheists. There is something about the silent contemplation that feels a little like prayer. The daily meditations that feel like sermons. 

It’s interesting that Puddicombe is himself an ordained Buddhist Monk, but there isn’t a religious aspect to the app. My wording above mirroring the title of Alain De Botton’s book Religion for Atheists, was no accident. It feels like in creating Headspace, Puddicombe has implemented an element of that book; taking the positives of the practice of religion without the religious aspect. 

Perhaps I’m over thinking it. It turns out I have a habit of doing that. Whatever the case, I’ll definitely be continuing with mindfulness.

Headspace is available to download from the App Store and Google Play Store, and is free to download, with access to the full app available for a monthly ($12.99, £9.99), yearly ($96, £72), or lifetime ($399.99, £299.99) subscription. 

  • Andrew London is a laughable excuse for a human being, barely held together with string and sticky tape. In Tech Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself he will be sharing with you the different technology that he uses to try and pass for a proper functioning person.

Logo design courtesy of FreePik

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The tech that will power the 22nd century
Posted by Jamie Carter on 03 December 2017 12:30 PM

Main image: The 22nd century will be about much more than flying cars. Credit: Airbus

If predicting the future is dumb, then predicting advances in technology is even dumber. Challenges will appear that we've never contemplated, and knowledge we now hold dear will in many cases be proven false. The prediction game can soon become more a reflection of 'us' in the 21st century rather than 'them' in the 22nd century.

And yet, as we enter a period of hyper-adoption of new technology, we have more data than ever before to give us an idea of what the world could look like in 100 years. And we know one thing, it's that the future is going to be home to some amazing technologies.

Floating cities

By the year 2100 the average temperature is projected to increase by at least 1C. Cue rising sea levels, which will threaten hundreds of cities worldwide. One solution could be floating cities, which the Seasteading Institute has been trying to encourage for years. It's already happening in French Polynesia, where Blue Frontiers is planning the Floating Island Project

Predicted sea-level rises could mean floating cities. Credit: Blue Frontiers

"I foresee huge floating cities that can move, join together, pull apart – that's the sort of future I see in a hundred years, not only because we will need to because environmental issues will become more severe, but because technology will make the ocean a lot more hospitable," says Paul Amstrong, founder of future technology consultancy Here/Forth.

He name-checks 4D printing and graphene as two of the technologies that will enable us to construct those cities, and adds that plastic-digesting nano-bots could be used to clean up the oceans, even gobbling up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Humans will be healthier for longer

Life expectancy for the United Nations-projected 11.2 billion people living by 2100 may not increase drastically, but older people will be healthier.

"With ageing populations, medicine will get a lot better, because otherwise you will have a lot of sick people, which would be a massive burden," says Armstrong. “Expect personalised medicine, from high-end genetic re-sequencing to bio-hacking and 'wetware', which is still in its infancy."

Brain-computer connections are already possible, although developing the software and interfaces is going to take time. Another massive trend will be personalised medicine; expect medi-pods in our homes that can diagnose problems, and implants that do the same on the move. 

Airspace will open up 

Beyond both driverless cars and Amazon wanting to use drones to deliver parcels, the far-flung future could have a completely new kind of airspace.

At present, global airspace is managed in a rigid 'airspace corridor' way, purely for the benefit of commercial and military aircraft, but that could change. "Global airspace could be managed in a continuously flexible and dynamic way for the benefit of all," says Robert Garbett, founder and CEO of Drone Major Group.

Today, drones. Tomorrow, driverless flying cars and taxis. Credit: Terrafugiua

Garbett forsees "an airspace populated with vertical columns used by aircraft making sub-space jumps, shifting geo-routes allowing passenger drones to pass safely at any altitude, and shifting geo-fences protecting manned routes and high-value assets". 

That kind of dynamic use of airspace could lead to an explosion in unmanned transport systems – drones. It could mean “driverless flying taxis in our smart cities, and reduced accident response times through the use of driverless ambulances”, according to Garbett, while also making traveling to work a breeze by opening up rooftop drop-offs in built-up areas.

“The sky above us is an untapped sea of air that will have incredible value as the drone industry expands,” Garbett adds.

Drinking water will be plentiful

We live on a 'blue planet', but we’re short of 'blue gold'. Droughts are on the increase, and where there’s drought, there are dams, and inevitable political conflict. However, the potential water wars of the future could be avoided if humans were able to so something that sounds like it should be simple: drink the sea.

Desalination plants remove salt and minerals from water to make it drinkable, but getting seawater into a plant is incredibly energy-intensive. Cue a fossil fuel-free idea from New Mexico-based wave energy company Atmocean, which involves wave-harnessing pumps to get seawater ashore more cost-effectively. Trialled off Peru a few years ago, the system also produces excess electricity.

One day we could all be drinking seawater. Credit: Atmocean

From drinking water to irrigation, aquaculture and greening the deserts, advances like this in desalination technology could make a massive difference. The creation of micro-filtration using graphene sieves should also allow so-called 'toilet to tap' technology to extract water from urine in homes. Gulp. 

Food will become functional

"We know that how we produce food now is unsustainable, so in a hundred years we'll start to see a radically different way of feeding and farming," says Armstrong.

"Soon we'll be able to have a meal that is nutritionally sufficient – it's just about figuring out what the body needs, and listening to it," he says, adding that nano-materials and nano-technology that can live inside the body will become important.

It's already happening; in the US, the Food and Drug Administration just approved a digital pill embedded with a sensor that send data to doctors detailing whether patients have taken their medication. The same could happen with food in humans and animals to introduce precision consumption. 

"Are we going to start eating grasshoppers and drinking protein shakes?" says Armstrong. "They may be the only options, but I definitely think that people will want to live without food preparation, so they can spend their lives doing other things.” 

AI will help achieve nuclear fusion

Artificial intelligence is so over-hyped right now that it's obviously a reflection of people's pathetic fears about 'robot takeovers'. But AI and computing power are destined to become the enablers for something 22nd society will need a lot of: energy.

Per capita energy consumption is already rising so fast that we'll need a miracle to prevent humanity from entering a period of energy-starved stasis. Is that miracle nuclear fusion?

"Fusion will certainly be an essential part of the energy mix by 2100, providing between 15% and 35% of global energy," says Jonathan Carling, CEO of Tokamak Energy, which is now testing its third fusion reactor.

Is nuclear fusion the miracle humanity needs? Credit: JET

"Our technology aims at small modular fusion power – but one module would produce sufficient power for a small city," Carling adds. "Fusion electricity into the grid can be achieved in less than 15 years' time by using new materials like high-temperature superconductors, new technologies like AI, and the agile development environment enabled by private investment."

AI is currently being used to develop the all-important models of plasma physics, so that scientists can predict how reactions will work. Once we've cracked it, humanity will have low-carbon energy forever.

The people factor

Can technology solve all of humanity's problems? It can, absolutely – but whether it will or not depends hugely on whether humans allow it to live up to its potential. What happens in the future also largely depends on discovering that what we know now is probably wrong.

"Futurology is a risky game," says Dmitry Bagrov, MD of DataArt UK, who thinks that what would be really be fascinating is to be able to travel to the future, so that we could travel back to see the present.

"A backwards time machine would depict our world now, as it actually is rather than the imagined present we live in," Bagrov adds, explaining that we have yet to understand our context, and what is real and what is not.

Nuclear fusion vessels are usually donut-shaped. Credit: Tokamak Energy

"Think of all the deeply held, but wrong, theories, that have existed over the years – the flat Earth, the four humours theory, the alchemists – and imagine if we had a machine to show us all of this now." Much of what we think we know today will, by the year 2100, be considered archaic pseudoscience. 

"Hopefully, the future will give us technology to truly understand the past so that we don’t repeat mistakes in the future … of the future," says Bagrov.

Time machines may be beyond even 22nd century engineers, but don't underestimate the importance of a raft of upcoming technology – some seemingly simple, some incredibly complex – will change the world.

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Downloads advent calendar: get Steganos Safe 18 free today
Posted by Cat Ellis on 03 December 2017 12:00 PM

The holidays are an expensive time, so we’re bringing you a special treat: a full, free Windows program to download every day until Christmas.

The third program in our free downloads advent calendar is Steganos Safe 18 – a secure digital vault to protect all your more important and personal files.

Steganos Safe is designed for the data you don't want anyone else to see, whether it's stored on your PC, an external drive, a USB stick, or in the cloud.

This incredibly hand program can create safes up to 2TB in size, and secure them with 384-bit AES-XEX encryption. You can secure them with alphanumeric passwords, PicPass, or a USB key to keep out snoopers, and hide them in plain sight as ordinary files.

Once you've unlocked your safe, it integrates seamlessly with Windows and behaves just like any other drive until you re-lock it. 

Steganos Safe is incredibly easy to use. Download it, request your free serial number and start protecting your files today.

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The Samsung Galaxy S9 could arrive in a brand new color
Posted by David Nield on 03 December 2017 11:00 AM

Specs and features are all well and good, but when you pull your smartphone out of your pocket, what people are really judging you on is the color of your handset - and it sounds like Samsung could have a surprise in store for the Galaxy S9 device launching in 2018.

Sources speaking to SamMobile say that the company is thinking about adding a purple option to the roster for next year, alongside the regular black, blue and gold options, so if you're looking to buy something that stands out from the crowd then you might have one more color to pick from.

Incidentally the same color rumor did the rounds last year before the arrival of the Samsung Galaxy S8, though in the end a purple option didn't appear - so until we actually get confirmation from Samsung, don't take this as something that's definite.

Those rumors in full

We're expecting to see the successor to the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus appear at some point in the first quarter of 2018 - last year Samsung unveiled its flagship handsets at the end of March, so it's likely that next year's phones will follow a similar timetable.

Under the hood we're expecting a Snapdragon 845 chipset or an upgraded Exynos chip from Samsung, depending on where in the world you're buying it from, while the design of the phone is going to be largely similar to the 2017 model - more curves are coming to Samsung's handsets, but they won't arrive until after the Galaxy S9 launches.

Meanwhile the bezels are likely to get even smaller, which means even more screen space for your viewing and swiping. A brand new color option may not make a huge difference to sales in the end, but if you were thinking of picking up the phone, you might have more styles to pick from.

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