Learn to smile in your mask!

With faces covered to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, some of the facial cues that people rely on to connect with others—such as a smile that shows support—are also obscured.

This will be particularly true for North Americans, says Jeanne Tsai, a professor of psychology at Stanford University and director of the Stanford Culture and Emotion Lab, who value high energy emotions—such as excitement or enthusiasm, which are associated with big, open smiles—more than East Asians do…

…Research has shown that North Americans judge people with bigger smiles to be friendlier and more trustworthy than East Asians, so face coverings may make it harder for them to connect with strangers…

As people navigate a masked world, they’ll need to focus more on the eyes and voice to connect with those around them, a psychologist argues.

The sum of new smart home standards

I have long blamed the sad state of the smart home on a lack of a standard. On Wednesday, I may have gotten my wish. Apple, Amazon, and Google all said they would support a new standard for the smart home called Connected Home over IP, or CHIP. So what will that mean, exactly?…

The CHIP standard will be developed under the Zigbee Alliance; a rough draft from the working group is expected in late 2020. While no one is making promises that your existing smart home products will work with the new CHIP standard retroactively, people I’ve spoken with who are involved in the various organizations that make up the alliance believe most of the hubs released over the last two or three years that have BLE, Zigbee, or Thread radios will be able to handle the conversion to CHIP…

I think everyone is at the table because they understand that if they want to build a real business around the smart home that extends beyond mere home automation, they have to build the infrastructure first. The schema is the infrastructure layer.

Makes sense to me. Though I admit, I haven’t moved along quickly at all since the only quadrant in my life best capable of all these links is the “entertainment” corner of the living room. And my Harmony remote already talks to everything. It lives there, anyway.

Political Hacks Running Trump’s Anti-Immigrant Hotline Having A Hard Time With Prank Calls

On Wednesday morning, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency unveiled an office called VOICE (Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement) dedicated to “the needs of crime victims and their families who have been impacted by crimes committed by removable criminal aliens.”

By Thursday, VOICE’s most prominent feature—a hotline through which people can call to learn, among other things, “additional criminal or immigration history may be available about an alien to victims or their families” — was swamped with prank calls reporting illegal aliens. As in alien aliens. And judging by the enraged email that ICE sent me when I asked for comment, the agency is supremely pissed off about it.

Adding to the frenzy was the fact that VOICE’s launch date of April 26 was also “Alien Day”—a reference to the moon featured in James Cameron’s 1986 classic, Aliens (LV-426. Get it?).

Marine veteran Alexander McCoy told Buzzfeed News that he was inspired to call VOICE’s hotline after seeing #AlienDay trending on Twitter.

“I told them I’d been abducted by a UFO,” he told the site. “There was a long pause. I heard them do a big sigh. And they closed out the conversation saying that they’d make a note of it and I should wait for the DHS to investigate my report.”…

…Hoax callers seem to have taken a toll. RTFA for the email reply to the Rafi Schwartz request for a comment for publication. Classic bureaucratese.

The response from ordinary citizens bored to tears with crap political lies about crap political policies – reminds me of nothing more than one response to Draft Board forms dutifully displayed in every post office in the GOUSA during the VietNam War. The forms were required to be filled out by every eligible male of draft age to register themselves for call-up to the US Military. Postpaid.

Someone came up with the idea of wrapping a brick, a stone, an object of significant weight and dropping it into a mailbox with one of these prepaid forms taped to the outside of the package. Made for an interesting increase in the cost of managing the draft law back then…as that wee bit of civil disobedience became popular.

How WebRTC will take over the mobile world

A new technology, WebRTC, also known as RTCWEB (Real Time Communication on the Web), is poised to send a virtual tsunami through the mobile communications industry, likely changing the landscape for a good long time. The idea is to put some of the voice and video services technology right inside the browser or device itself. That way, when a developer wants to enable voice or video calling, they can use the code that is already there. The only way to do that on a mobile device today is with a stand alone app, which is not easy…

Imagine a world where no matter what we use or where we are we could all communicate via video, hassle-free, for free — native video from Apple devices to Samsung devices, from business phones to the TV in your living room, from your car to your home to a beach in Hawaii. That is what WebRTC can do for us…

Google could see some big payoffs via WebRTC. Managing end-user software deployments, such as Google Hangouts, which range in the millions of users equates to real complexity. By reducing or eliminating the need for end-user software, WebRTC will help in a very material and measurable way.

Device manufacturers will also be in a better position. Since Google is a major stakeholder in the WebRTC movement and Google owns Android, we can surmise that Android-powered devices could start shipping with data plans and service offerings with free voice and video. Those services should be interoperable with other services that spring up using the WebRTC open standard. This would surely help Google’s handset and tablet sales.

Apple has been relatively quiet on the WebRTC front, which is somewhat disconcerting. Without Apple’s buy-in, approximately half of the mobile market is inaccessible. Which means that if developers were relying on WebRTC to deliver a voice or video service, they could only deliver service to half of the users that they could if they were to build a native application for both Android and iOS. This would be a major blow to the WebRTC community. On the other hand, Apple could easily take the openly available technology (as could anyone else) and drop it into a new version of iOS at any time, surprising everyone. Everything considered, I would say that Apple will play along, albeit quite a bit later than everyone else…

The WebRTC open standards project has been in progress for more than a year now, and there are plenty of early demos of WebRTC already. I think we will likely see some production deployments of WebRTC in the next six to nine months, when Firefox and Chrome for Android support it in a production version of their browsers. And Google seems primed to deploy it to their large user base on Hangouts.

We got rid of landlines in our home – for Skype – so long ago I’m not certain I recall our last phone number. But, any process which makes life easier for app developers and end users is something I must keep tabs on.

Bloomberg offers help to moderates against Tea Party


Bloomberg campaigning in Rhode Island for Lincoln Chafee

In an election year when anger and mistrust have upended races across the country, toppling moderates and elevating white-hot partisans, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is trying to pull politics back to the middle, injecting himself into marquee contests and helping candidates fend off the Tea Party.

New York’s billionaire mayor…is supporting Republicans, Democrats and independents who he says are not bound by rigid ideology and are capable of compromise, qualities he says he fears have become alarmingly rare in American politics.

Next month, Mr. Bloomberg will travel to California to campaign for Meg Whitman, the eBay entrepreneur and Republican running for governor on a platform of corporate-style accountability and fiscal prudence. He visited Rhode Island on Thursday to champion Lincoln D. Chafee, a Republican turned independent who is locked in a three-way battle for the governor’s office.

And, in perhaps the mayor’s most direct confrontation with a Tea Party candidacy, he will host a fund-raiser at his Manhattan town house for Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader facing an unexpectedly forceful challenge from Sharron E. Angle, a political neophyte backed by Sarah Palin.

Which is a humorous and untemporal bit of sophistry by Barbaro. Even the Democrat Party acknowledges that Harry Reid was unlikely to be re-elected – until the Republicans found themselves with Sharron Angle as their candidate. She’s a delightful nutball who says that federal government violates the First Commandment!

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Google gobbles up 1 million phone numbers for Google Voice

Google last month reserved 1 million phone numbers with Level 3, signaling that it may finally be ready to roll out its long-anticipated Google Voice service.

The free service, announced in March, lets users unify their phone numbers, allowing them to have a single number through Google Voice that rings a call through to all their phones.

Sources could not say when the 1 million numbers may be assigned. Level 3 has been supplying Google with phone numbers since the introduction of Google Voice, so the 1 million numbers are an indication Google is close to adding a significant amount of users.

A Google spokesperson would only say “as a matter of policy, we typically do not comment on contracts with third-party technology suppliers…”

Google Voice has a number of unique features including call transfer between a user’s devices, multi-party conferencing, conversion of voice calls to text messages, cut-rate international calling, and call transcription…

But the gem is the fact that a user can have one phone number people can dial to reach them regardless of where they are located, either home or mobile. Google Voice uses VoIP to link collections of phone numbers.

Yeah, I just checked. Google Voice ain’t available, yet.

Leave ’em your email address and they say they’ll drop you a note as soon as they hit the cyberstreets.

How Google’s ear hears you

If you own an iPhone, you can now be part of one of the most ambitious speech-recognition experiments ever launched. Google has added voice search to its iPhone mobile application, allowing people to speak search terms into their phones and view the results on the screen…

Fortunately, Google also has a huge amount of data on how people use search, and it was able to use that to train its algorithms. If the system has trouble interpreting one word in a query, for instance, it can fall back on data about which terms are frequently grouped together…

But the data that Google used to build the system pales in comparison to the data that it now has the chance to collect. “The nice thing about this application is that Google will collect all this speech data,” says Jim Glass, a principal research scientist at MIT. “And by getting all this data, they will improve their recognizer even more.”

Speech-recognition systems, however, remain far from perfect. And people’s frustration skyrockets when they can’t find their way out of a voice-menu maze. But Google’s implementation of speech recognition deftly sidesteps some of the technology’s shortcomings, says Glass.

The beauty of search engines is that they don’t have to be exactly right,” he says. When a user submits a spoken query, he says, Google’s algorithms “just take it and stick it in a search engine, which puts the onus on the user to select the right result or try again.” Because people are already used to refining their queries as they conduct Web searches, Glass says, they’re more tolerant of imperfect results.

The chuckle is that for years, geek like me and pundits like JCD have easiy accepted Microsoft’s dedication to – and leadership in – developing systems for speech recognition. They bought Dragonspeak and, let’s face it, it always was something special that Bill Gates was personally focused on.

Here comes Google from a different direction – and a fraction of time in the game – and they’re suddenly out in front of the pack. Is it because they represent a fresh start or simply weren’t stuck in the ruts of what looked like it was going to work – ten years ago? Or both?

Ask Google – out loud – via iPhone

Pushing ahead in the decades-long effort to get computers to understand human speech, Google researchers have added sophisticated voice recognition technology to the company’s search software for the Apple iPhone.

Google’s voice search software works only with iPhones, but the company plans to make it available to other phones.

Users of the free application, which Apple is expected to make available any minute, now, through its iTunes store, can place the phone to their ear and ask virtually any question, like “Where’s the nearest Starbucks?” or “How tall is Mount Everest?” The sound is converted to a digital file and sent to Google’s servers, which try to determine the words spoken and pass them along to the Google search engine.

The search results, which may be displayed in just seconds on a fast wireless network, will at times include local information, taking advantage of iPhone features that let it determine its location…

Raj Reddy, an artificial intelligence researcher at Carnegie Mellon University who has done pioneering work in voice recognition, said Google’s advantage in this field was the ability to store and analyze vast amounts of data. “Whatever they introduce now, it will greatly increase in accuracy in three or six months,” he said.

You can see all the places this is going to go – including having an argument with your iPhone/smartphone/laptop – and losing!