Amazon Echo could soon start talking to you unprompted

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The speaker that speaks might soon speak without you speaking to ask it to speak. Amazon’s Echo is set to get push notifications, according to The Information, which would allow it to give you a heads up about activity from its connected services, so it could, for example, tell you when your connected doorbell rings or pipe up and tell you when a loved one’s flight has landed.

Currently, Echo only speaks when spoken to; a user has to use the activation word “Alexa” to prompt it to begin listening for a command or request, and then it’ll respond to said input with its own vocal response. Alexa hasn’t supported the ability to provide any kind of audio notice unprompted as a result of data it receives from a user’s connected services – the closest it comes is being able to sound an alert based on an alarm or timer.

Echo has both audio and visual capabilities, thanks to a light ring that surrounds its super edge, and The Information suggests Amazon could allow developers access to both for push notifications, so that users can choose how much of an intrusion said notices provide.

Alexa is also a service that exists unbound from the Echo hardware itself, and it’s very possible than any push notification support would extend to other hardware that uses the Alexa API, including the Nucleus smart intercom. The Information says the use of push notices would be part of a larger plan to give developers more control of third-party apps and gadgets overall via Echo and Alexa.

Notifications will be a tricky thing to get right on Echo, since a push alert with voice in a device with not display is a very different thing from a subtle vibration or screen-based alert on a smartphone. Still, it’s a feature that could do very well provided the user has total and intuitive control over when they’re alerted, and how.

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Maschine Jam is new hardware built around live performance

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These days, various combinations of faders and touch sensors and grids of pads and buttons and encoders and knobs appear with cyclic regularity. We’re past the point of inventing the automobile – we’re down to tuning particular cars for particular tasks. But what do you want to use if you’re really playing live? Maschine Jam is a combination of software and hardware that focuses on that scenario. We’ve met with the team that built it at Native Instruments and have our own unit in now to test, so here are some first impressions.

Where Jam fits in

Maschine Jam is, just like other Maschine products, a combination of hardware and software. If you don’t yet own Maschine, you get it in the box. If you do, you can add this on as an additional controller.

And in addition to integrated workflows with Native Instruments’ own software, Maschine Jam also works as a generic MIDI controller for other software. To get you started, there’s an included Ableton Live template – but there’s a lot of power here for hackers, actually, something we’ll get to in more detail.

Granted, on the face of it, you’ve seen the layout of Maschine Jam before. The touch strips on the bottom with colored pads recall, among other things, the work of boutique Texas maker Livid Instruments. And RGB pads are at this point almost an industry standard. (Dig deep into functionality here, and you see a direct lineage to the monome and an early app for it called Pages. The industry has seen unprecedented bottom-up innovation from the DIY community in recent years.)

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So, again, what makes Jam unique is really all in the details. And while you would be inclined to compare it to Ableton Push, it represents a different direction. When Push was unveiled, Ableton’s pitch was that it was a way of starting tracks. Jam has some parallel ideas, but the point is really taking musical materials and playing with them. So you could start tracks this way, but you might be equally comfortable using Jam onstage – without necessarily being a great finger drummer.

The reason for that is that Jam is really built around playing and sequencing musical materials.

With Jam, immediate access to Maschine's sequencing, arrangement, and effects features is easier than ever.

With Jam, immediate access to Maschine’s sequencing, arrangement, and effects features is easier than ever.

Jam workflows

The grid can work as a keyboard for chords and melodies, with arpeggiator and the option to constrain to a particular scale/harmony.

It’s also a rhythmic step sequencer.

It’s also a melodic step sequencer.

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Those features are a bit “flatter” and easier to follow than in a more conventional DAW because you always have the comfort of Maschine’s groups and instrument structure behind them.

Now, where this gets interesting is, Native Instruments have packed in lots of features for generating and modifying ideas apart from just playing them in. So you can generate random rhythms and melodies to start with, constrained however you like, and vary existing materials accordingly. That makes starting patterns – and making variants – far easier.

And then there are the touch strips – this might be the best part. Those eight strips work as you’d expect for mixing and even things like note input, but they’re also parameter controls for effects.

In other words, imagine having eight Korg KAOSS Pads with you, packed into a small space. (Years ago, I marveled at Jon Hopkins’ economical, expressive setup with four KAOSS Pads – and what he was doing would take about five minutes to emulate in Maschine Jam, without all the associated gear and cables.)

Effects

The touch strips have functionality necessary to make that really powerful. They’re crazy sensitive and expressive, about as detailed as anything I’ve found. (I haven’t tried with sweaty fingers, but I’m lucky in that that’s the only part of my body I think doesn’t sweat profusely in the heat.)

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You can use two fingers on them at once, which opens up clever techniques like “fluttering” between two values.

There are new “PERFORM FX” that take advantage of all of this.

New performance effects, seen here with mixer.

New performance effects, seen here with mixer.

And remember, you can launch patterns and scenes, all in a consistent interface, without any additional setup and planning.

But really, Jam’s coolness comes down to one feature – really. It’s called “LOCK.” Yay, exciting. Wait… what?

Mighty morphing power software

Here’s how it works: get some patterns and parts playing the way you want, with parameters just so. Hit lock, and you can take a snapshot.

Play on.

Take another snapshot. And so on…

Now, you can recall those snapshots. But you can also morph between them at whatever rate you want.

This is absolutely huge. It’s a reason to start using Maschine if you never have. Now, NI talks about doing “build ups” – so, sure, you could make really cheesy mainstage EDM that way. (Later, when you’re super famous, just give me some guest list and I will totally wave my hands around behind you. Confetti cannon and everything – sounds fun!)

But it’s obviously not limited to that. Having heard basically all ambitious live sets devolve into never-changing loops for the last, uh, twenty years are so, this finally makes it easier to keep your place and make the music change. It could be a way of creating song structures. It could involve lots of parameters. It could be really minimal and involve just one parameter. It could change fast. Or it could take a few bars.

Maschine alone gives you a lot to play with, but remember this also can host things like Reaktor and Reaktor Blocks ensembles. So while NI will obviously emphasize much more popular beat-driven workflows, someone out there will probably make wild experimental music with it, just using the grid as a means of storing different snapshots of ensembles.

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Controller

I think concerns about lock-in these days are understandable. Are you buying yet another fairly spendy gadget that does nothing but control one piece of software? What if you wind up using something else in 12 months to feel inspired?

Maschine Jam still requires drivers. It still runs only with a computer attached. And it’s USB only – no MIDI jacks, either. That’s pretty much standard for NI hardware.

Butthat said, NI does seem more committed than ever to making this open to integration with software other than their own. There’s not a single control on there that doesn’t send standard MIDI messages – every single one. And LED lights and colors are addressable, too. You can edit that functionality further, as per usual, with NI’s editor software.

All of this adds up to what may be one of the best and most flexible general-purpose MIDI controllers released recently. it doesn’t do velocity, but it does everything else.

That could open up lots of DIY solutions – NI already feature Bitwig, Logic, and Ableton in screenshots, and of course there are many other musical and visual tools that could work. (For visual apps in particular I think it’ll be great, as you really don’t need velocity.)

Ableton integration

For Ableton Live users, you can actually work with nearly all of the Jam workflows with Ableton as the host and even ignore Maschine software, if you so choose. Maybe you do that all the time, maybe just for a particular project – or maybe you switch as you work, which is also possible. In that case, here’s how things translate:

  • The step sequencer controls drum racks
  • Touch strips control mixing: level, panning, send effects all with visual feedback (meaning this becomes a competitor to things like Novation’s LaunchControl, potentially)
  • Keyboard mode works with instruments and the like as usual
  • The grid launches, creates, mutes, and delete clips (with color feedback)

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First impressions

Already, I have to say, the hardware feels terrific. It’s also nicely slimmer than previous Maschine hardware, which makes it easier to tote. (If you want to elevate it, there’s a small screw-on stand; it’s stable but much less intrusive than past outings.) I wish it lined up a little better next to the Maschine dimensions, but it’s close enough.

I definitely miss having velocity sensitivity, personally, but this pairs nicely with a portable keyboard or other pads.

And it goes well with an existing Maschine controller – especially if you love the 4×4 velocity-sensitive pads, which I do. Function keys work on both and focus remains on the same group (so there’s some duplication). But you get those pads, but you can nicely break up arrangement and sound design, or sequencing and sound design. This video shows a bit of that:

We’ll go more in depth with MIDI functionality and performance/sequencing/effects features soon. If you’ve got questions, let us know – I’m walking distance from everybody who made this, so I can pester them.

Pricing: $399 / 399 € / ¥ 49,800 / £319 / AU$ 549

A little break for existing Maschine 2 owners – you get two free expansions through the end of the year.

Availability: September 29.

The post Maschine Jam is new hardware built around live performance appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

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Dude smashes world record for fastest speed on a skateboard in jaw-dropping video

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Dude smashes world record for fastest speed on a skateboard in jaw-dropping video

Traveling 89 mph down this hill in a vehicle is scary enough. Skateboarder Kyle Wester just accomplished it on his skateboard.

Wester set out to break Erik Lundberg’s 81.17 mph record for fastest skateboard speed downhill at an undisclosed location on Tuesday August 29. After a last-minute wheel adjustment, Wester hit the hill and shattered the current record with a speed of 89.41mph.

Guiness World Record has yet to update its website to reflect Lundberg’s or Wester’s records, so it’s technically not officially yet. But Mashable has reached out to confirm that Wester is now the record holder.  

“Feels great man. Dream come true,” Wester said after learning his new top speed. 

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All I’m Listening To Today Is Former Rage Against the Machine Frontman Zack de la Rocha’s New Single ‘Digging For Windows’

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On October 18, 2000, Zack de la Rocha announced that he was leaving Rage Against the Machine. Since then, the former RATM frontman has released a couple of singles, a couple of collabos, and teamed up with former Mars Volta drummer Jon Theodore to form the One Day as a Lion, which wasn’t extremely successful.

But…

Zack is back!

On Thursday, the Rage frontman released a new single titled “Digging for Windows” featuring rapper El-P and it is ELECTRIC!

The new track comes at a perfect time with Zack taking aim at the upcoming presidential election.

“I stare at a future so toxic, no trust in the dust of a promise, won’t mark the name on a ballot, so they can be free to devour our options, and just like you I’m a target.”

More intense and tremendous news: there will indeed be a Zack de la Rocha solo album coming very soon!

This new single comes on the heels of the forming of The Prophets of Rage supergroup featuring Public Enemy’s Chuck D; B-Real of Cypress Hill; and guitarist Tom Morello, bassist Tim Commerford, and drummer Brad Wilk from Rage Against the Machine.

This is the best track Zack has done since his days with RATM, even better than the 2014 collaboration “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck).”

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Listen to Rage Against the Machine frontman Zach de la Rocha’s furious solo single

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Listen to Rage Against the Machine frontman Zach de la Rocha’s furious solo single

After a couple decades of speculation, Zack de la Rocha has finally released a solo single, “Digging for Windows.” It’s available for free on BitTorrent, naturally.

The ferocious track is clearly a product of these uncertain times, as the Rage Against the Machine frontman howls, “Won’t mark the name on a ballot/ So they can be free to devour our options.” 

The song is produced by EL-P, who previously collaborated with de la Rocha on “Close Your Eyes and (Count to Fuck)” by Run the Jewels. 

EL-P confirmed on Twitter that that a full album is set to be released next year, but considering all the whispers that haven’t lead to anything in the past, take it with a grain of salt. Not that it should be a much of an issue, since Rage Against the Machine fans aren’t exactly an optimistic bunch.

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Use Nerdwax to Keep Your Glasses From Slipping

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Use Nerdwax to Keep Your Glasses From Slipping

Keeping my glasses from slipping down my face is a constant battle. It’s a classic nerd trope that holds true, for me, and I’ve been losing the fight against gravity. But I’ve found some help in the form of Nerdwax.

Many people have no problem keeping their glasses in place; it depends entirely on your nose, your choice of frames, and perhaps the inherent oil slick of your skin. I’m partial to plastic frames with retro flair, but unfortunately, such frames prioritize aesthetic above function and lack those little rubber nose pads that hold metal frames in place. The lack of rubber grips combined with weighty plastic results in slippy spectacles, particularly during a humid, slick New York summer. Even if you don’t wear prescription lenses, the problem is even more common with sunglasses, which are often larger, weightier, and sometimes made from glossy plastic.

I recently bought new frames and found myself constantly having to re-assert their place atop my nose, adopting that classic nerd mannerism. The new frames’ constant slipping was annoying enough that I considered just switching back to my older pair. What could be done!

Nerdwax is simply a beeswax-based substance that you apply to beneath the nose-bridge area of the frames—the part where your glasses make contact with your nose. It has a mildly sticky, tacky feel that works to keep your glasses in place. It comes in a small tube like chapstick.

Does work? Yes, kind of. It helps.

Once a day, in the morning when I typically clean my lenses, I also rub a little wax beneath the nose-bridge. Not huge gobs of the stuff; it’s more like drawing a line with a soft crayon. It doesn’t glue your frames to your face but it does make them a little more grippy.

Use Nerdwax to Keep Your Glasses From Slipping
via Nerdwax.

It’s not perfect, but it certainly adds some much-needed friction. Over time the wax wears off, distilled and smudged away from your natural skin oils. I only apply it in the morning, but some people apply it more frequently. It has indeed made my new glasses wearable. The alternative would be ungainly rubber nibs, nose pads, or some solution that would make it look like I’m about to go play sports or ride a roller coaster and need my glasses to hold a death grip on my face. Call me vain, but I don’t want my glasses to look like a medical device (which they literally are, I suppose).

Nerdwax started as a Kickstarter project in 2014 by Don Hejny and was later featured on Shark Tank. (Mr. Wonderful and Troy Carter both made offers, but Hejny and his wife ultimately declined.) But life goes on, as does the wax upon my glasses, and you can pick up a single tube for about ten bucks on Amazon.

I still have to adjust my glasses quite often, but a little less often than before.

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The iPhone 7 reveal has me seriously considering leaving Apple for Android (AAPL)

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iPhone 7_2x1The Apple iPhone 7.Apple/Samsung/Nexus/LG; Skye Gould/Business Insider

I’ve been on the Apple bandwagon since 2010’s iPhone 4, and apart from a brief and extremely frustrating dalliance with a Samsung Galaxy Nexus in 2012, I haven’t really ever regretted it.

Until today’s entirely underwhelming iPhone 7 reveal, that is.

Even knowing pretty much every single detail of the new phone ahead of time, it was still a big disappointment. Stuff like the dual-lens camera and water resistance are nice, but not really crucial to why I would buy a new phone. Ditto for the battery life. 

And no matter what Apple said on stage today, removing the headphone jack from the iPhone 7 isn’t “courage.” It’s annoying and hovers right on the border of being outright anti-consumer. As TechCrunch points out, it feels like nothing so much as a shameless play to take control of the headphone market — a market that Beats, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Apple, is already dominating.

Frankly, it’s making me look at my inevitable next phone purchase with dread.

If I follow my own pattern and go to the iPhone 7, I’m losing the ability to use my favorite headphones, unless I use an annoying and unsightly dongle. And even if I use the dongle, I still can’t charge the phone and listen to music at the same time. So long, battery life when I’m on a long flight. And I’m not paying $159 for Apple’s wireless earbuds. Sorry.

Apple headphone jack dongleThe dreaded iPhone headphone-to-Lightning dongle.Reuters/Beck Diefenbach

I could maybe swallow all of this if the iPhone 7 had something, anything else that was compelling and game-changing. I’m not seeing anything past the usual incremental upgrades to performance. 

So now I’m thinking different. From Apple.

A big part of why I had loved the iPhone so much over the last few years was its integration with the Mac. Features like iMessage and Airdrop are absolutely brilliant, and make the iPhone and Mac an unbeatable team.

apple airpod laydownThe iPhone 7 with the $159 wireless Airpods.Apple

About a year ago, I switched from Mac to Microsoft’s Windows 10. Now, Windows 10 and the iPhone don’t really play nearly as nicely, but the iPhone itself was good enough that I didn’t mind. 

Now, I’m thinking to myself: Windows 10 and Android work very well together, from sending texts to notifying you on a Windows 10 PC when an Android phone’s battery is low. And a lot of Android phones do, and continue to, rock that headphone jack.

So, for right now, my iPhone 6s is going to serve me just fine. One day in the not-so-distant future, though, I’ll be looking for my next upgrade. And the iPhone 7, as presented here today, will probably not be that. I sense I’m not alone, either. And with smartphone sales flattening out, it could be bad news for Apple.

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Look at This Magnificent Daft Punk Helmet Replica

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Sucks to be anyone who enters a Halloween costume contest and finds themselves up against the ridiculously talented craftsmen at LoveProps. They just completed work on this flawless replica of Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo’s Daft Punk helmet that’s as gorgeous as it is fully-functional.

Inside the helmet you’ll find 250 individually wired RGB LEDs, a custom-designed PCB electronics board, wi-fi, MIDI, and the ability to react to music being in real-time.

If you think this seems like a great costume for the end of October and want to build your own, think again. It took the team at LoveProps an entire year, working every day, to realize it. So maybe by the time Halloween 2017 rolls around you’ll be ready to take the stage, but it isn’t going to happen this year.

[LoveProps via BoingBoing]

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