Word’s new AI editor will improve your writing

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If you write in Microsoft Word Online, you’ll soon have an AI-powered editor at your side. As the company announced today, Word will soon get a new feature called “Ideas” that will offer writers all kinds of help with their documents.

If writing is a struggle for you, the most important feature of Ideas is surely its ability to help you write more concise and readable text. You can think of this as a grammar checker on steroids, as it goes beyond fixing obvious mistakes and focuses on making your writing better. It uses machine learning, for example, to suggest a rewrite when you mangled a complex phrase. Ideas will also help you write more inclusive texts.

The cloud-based tool will also give you information about the estimated reading times and decode acronyms for you, based on data it has about your company in the Microsoft Graph.

Ideas can also automatically extract key points from a document. That’s probably more interesting to a reader than a writer, though, so I expect that’s something users will use when somebody sends them a 67-page news summary.

Microsoft also notes that Ideas will bring something called the “Word Designer” to the word processor, which will help you style different parts of a document, including tables.

These new features will come to Office Insiders in June and will become generally available to all users in the fall.

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What is Melody in Music? How to Use Melody in Your Songwriting

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Think of your favorite song.

What part of it sticks out in your memory? It’s probably the melody.

Melodies are the most memorable and important part of a song. But they’re also the hardest to write.

Coming up with great melodies is challenging because it seems like everything has already been done before. Don’t worry, it’s simply not true.

There’s a universe of incredible new melodies out there waiting to be written. You just have to know the theory and do the work to find them.

Today, I’ll show you what melody is, why they stick in your brain and the tools you need to write them.

What are melodies?

Melody is a linear sequence of notes the listener hears as a single entity. The melody of a song is the foreground to the backing elements and is a combination of pitch and rhythm. Sequences of notes that comprise melody are musically satisfying and are often the most memorable part of a song.

Melody is a linear sequence of notes the listener hears as a single entity.

When you sing “Happy Birthday” to your Great Uncle Bill, you’re singing a melody.

From catchy choruses to infectious guitar riffs, melodies define the music you know and love because they’re the part of music you’re most likely to remember. So melodies are crucial in all forms of music.

Melodies are produced through the human voice and any other instrument that produces pitches––marimbas, flutes, synthesizers, glockenspiels, guitars, etc.

Remember, there’s a difference between harmony and melody: A melody transforms into a harmony when completely different notes are stacked above or below it and are played at the same time. This is how chords, vocal, and instrumental harmonies are constructed.

As you start writing your own melodies, It’s important to remember that melodies are linear lines of single notes.

How to use melodies in your music

Think about your melodies like a scene in a movie or play. Your chords create the scene and melodies are the characters on center stage that tell the story.

A good melody will capture and hold your listener’s attention. Songwriters and composers use melodies in your music tell stories and give audiences something to remember and connect with.

Songwriters and composers use melodies in your music tell stories and give audiences something to remember and connect with.

The most obvious way to use melodies in music is through verse, chorus, and bridge vocal lines, but instrumental melodies are also important.

Here’s some different types of melodies that will show you how melody works in songs:

1. Instrumental melodies

Instrumental melodies are produced on pitched instruments. Parts like riffs, solos, and musical material that responds to the vocals in a song are examples of instrumental melodies.

The intro guitar melody from “There She Goes” by The La’s is a great example of important instrumental melodies can be:

The sultry string orchestra intro in Etta James’ “At Last” is another great instrumental melody:

The intro guitar melody of Wye Oak’s “The Louder I Call The Faster It Runs” is also catchy line:

2. Vocal melodies

When it comes to popular music, nothing is more defining than vocal melodies.

When it comes to popular music, nothing is more defining than vocal melodies.

All aspects of music can connect with listeners, but vocal melodies are the most human and relatable parts of songs.

Covered here by Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwoʻole, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” features one of the most hauntingly beautiful vocal melodies in music:

The vocal melody in Vagabon’s “Fear and Force” is another great example:

Now that you know what melodies are, how do you come up with your own great ones?

How to write great melodies

Here’s 3 crucial tips for writing melodies:

1. Start by singing or playing over a simple chord progression

Choose two basic major chords like C or F. If you need a refresher, here’s how to build chords.

Play your chords on an instrument like a piano or guitar, or plug them into your DAW’s piano roll and loop them over and over again with a nice synth VST.

Then, either sing or play your instrument with the goal of writing a melody. Make sure your basic recording device is ready to capture what you come up with during the melody making process.

Give yourself plenty of time and space to try out different ideas here. Melodies benefit from extended jams.

If you’re a vocalist, consider starting out your process by singing gibberish.

Yep, you read that right. Though it might freak out you’re neighbors, crafting a vocal melody from scratch is best done without any predetermined rules or boundaries to limit yourself with like lyrics.

Experiment with the same looped chords long enough, and you’ll soon find that gibberish soon takes shape into words, phrases, and fleshed out melodies.

2. Breathe life into your melodies with interesting rhythmic stressing and accents

Tame Impala’s Elephant is proof of how catchy rhythms can make otherwise bland melodies memorable.

The core of the verse is made up of only two notes. But with the use of syncopation it manages to stay catchy and memorable.

Even the simplest melody can benefit from the use of unexpected or off-beat rhythms.

Even the simplest melody can benefit from the use of unexpected or off-beat rhythms.

If you’re writing a complex melody that still sounds “meh,” try simplifying and experiment with how your notes are presented rhythmically.

Get adventurous here by shifting the way your notes fall—from directly on strong beats to landing between them.

If you find your melodies always start on the beat of 1, try having them begin either shortly before or after. Even a minor change in rhythm can transform a melody in a subtle but massive way.

3. Pay close attention to your melodic contour

Melodic contour is overall shape of the line that your melody traces as it moves up and down.

Melodic lines can move in a few different ways.

Motion by step (or stepwise motion) is when a melody moves by consectective notes in the scale.

Motion by step is when a melody moves by consectective notes in the scale.

Motion by skip is when a melody moves by intervals of larger than a 2nd.

Two many large leaps in a row are more difficult to connect as a single melodic unit. And a melody comprised of only stepwise motion is often not very interesting for the listener.

Try to balance the amount of steps and skips so that your melody stays fresh and exciting

Hot tip: It’s easier to use larger skips in your melodies if you fill them in at least partially by step in the opposite direction.

If you’re able to, write out the melodies you’re writing through music notation on paper. If you’re in your DAW, there’s usually a way to transform MIDI pitches into music notation.

If the distance between the notes of your melodies looks small, then it’s safe to assume your melody won’t build narrative and sound compelling.

One of the reasons “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” is such a phenomenal melody is because it opens with a large major 7th interval. If your melodies are literally and musically falling flat, try expanding them into mountains.

4. Outline the harmony where possible

Melody doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There’s always an important balance between your melody and its underlying harmony.

Many of the best melodies of all time get their power from the way they gracefully blend with the harmony of the song.

Many of the best melodies of all time get their power from the way they gracefully blend with the harmony of the song.

Remember that the chord tones (scale degrees 1,3,5,7) are the most powerful and stable places to land.

Paying attention to the way you weave your melody from one chord tone to the next as your harmony develops is vital for good melody writing.

Try, try, and try again

Strong melody-writing isn’t a skill that can be developed overnight. It’s something you’ll need to work on over time to get better.

If you find yourself working hard to write melodies without much success, just remember that there’s a whole lot of other musicians in your shoes.

The world’s best songwriters didn’t wake up one morning with the ability to craft great melodies. They worked at it, trying and failing over and over again until they started to get it right.

Approaching melody-writing with an experimental attitude free of expectations gives you the best chance at creating something your listeners will resonate with.

The post What is Melody in Music? How to Use Melody in Your Songwriting appeared first on LANDR Blog.

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This 19-year-old beat cancer three times, and now he’s the entrepreneur behind the Instagram-friendly ‘skonie’ — a cross between a cookie and a scone

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Jack Witherspoon

  • Jack Witherspoon, age 19, survived three battles with leukemia before his 18th birthday — and discovered a love of cooking during his time in the hospital for treatment.
  • He wrote his first cookbook when he was 8 years old, and recently launched Chef Jack’s Kitchen. The company’s first product is a "skonie," a cookie-scone hybrid. Witherspoon donates a portion of proceeds from skonie and book sales to childhood cancer research.
  • Witherspoon told Business Insider that Chef Jack’s Kitchen is in talks with food services giant Sodexo to offer skonies and other baked goods in hospitals across the country.
  • Witherspoon says that he has donated over $150,000 to cancer research through the Jack Witherspoon Endowment for Pediatric Leukemia.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

If Jack Witherspoon has anything to say about it, skonies will be the next big Instagram food sensation.

The 19-year-old chef and entrepreneur launched his first venture, Chef Jack’s Kitchen, in November with a scone-cookie hybrid in vanilla bean and cinnamon sugar flavors. The budding entrepreneur also authored a cookbook when he was just 8 years old after ending treatment for his second battle with pediatric acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL).

"I wouldn’t have written [the book] or gotten into cooking at all without the cancer," Witherspoon told Business Insider. "It’s hard to rank [which I’m more proud of], to be completely honest, one wouldn’t have happened without the other. I want to show other kids how to make lemonade out of lemons, that’s been true through everything I’ve done and holds true to my company now too."

Read More: Founders Fund made its first alcohol investment. Here’s how the 28-year old woman who founded the company is trying to change drinking culture for the better.

Now with more experience in business, he donates a portion of proceeds from book and skonie sales to the Jack Witherspoon Endowment for Pediatric Leukemia Research. To date, the endowment has raised over $150,000, and Witherspoon told Business Insider that Chef Jack’s Kitchen is close to signing a deal with food services giant Sodexo to offer skonies and other baked goods in hospital cafeterias across the country.

chef jack skonies

Midnight inspiration

Witherspoon was first diagnosed with ALL at age 2, but was back in the hospital with a second occurrence just four years later. Witherspoon was pulled out of school and tried to entertain himself during long days of treatment.

"I remember it clear as day," Witherspoon said. "I was in the hospital and it was 12:30 at night. There were no kids shows on, it was mostly just HGTV and those channels. This was the early 2000’s so it was just cable shows, and my mom was flipping through the channels and a Food Network show caught my eye, and I told her ‘wait, wait.’ I watched every show they had while I was there, it was something I could do to keep myself entertained. It really gave me the light I needed when I was in my treatment."

Witherspoon worked with his mother to catalog every recipe, from Rachel Ray to Emril Lagasse, so they could try them out once he was out of treatment. He was released, and the pair began working their way through the stack. Witherspoon told Business Insider they worked on a new recipe every night while developing the 60 featured recipes in the book.

"When I was 8, my mom and I sat down and we had accumulated all these recipes and thought we should publish the book," Witherspoon said. "My mom was super instrumental in getting my thoughts on paper because I was only 8 at the time, and she wrote down all the measurements which are super important when you’re making a cookbook."

Underestimated

Witherspoon’s mother continues to help the now-college student with his business ventures — since he started the business when he was a minor, she signed or co-signed a lot of registration forms early on to help get things started. According to Witherspoon, his mother was the brains behind the skonies’ brand and marketing, and she helped him negotiate potential investors’ offers.

"Oh, my mom is my hero," Witherspoon said. "She’s been through everything with me. She sat with me in the hospital 99% of the time, and doing the cookbook with her strengthened our bond even more. She’s my partner in the company, too."

Witherspoon is naturally pursuing a business degree from his local community college but hopes to transfer to the University of California, Los Angeles, while continuing to build his business. He has been cancer free for almost eight years after a third recurrence when he was 11.

"Sometimes people brush me aside and don’t take me seriously because I’m so young," Witherspoon said. "I’ve learned being underestimated is not the worst thing. I’m knowledgeable about the company, and people are typically impressed, which makes it easier going into different corporate environments. And even though I’m 19 I look really young, so people think I’m even younger than I am."

Jack Witherspoon

Witherspoon told Business Insider he wants to expand Chef Jack’s Kitchen’s offerings beyond Instagrammable skonies, even though he started out as more of a savory chef.

"I have a really unique view of the market because I’m not really a sweets person," Witherspoon said. "I actually came up with skonies because I wanted something that was like a cookie that wasn’t as sweet."

Chef Jack’s Kitchen sells skonies online and at a selection of boutique grocers in Witherspoon’s native Redondo Beach, but he is eager to get his creation in front of children eating the "mundane and plain" hospital food he had for a large portion of his childhood.

"The hospital cafeterias are where I want to go because that’s where people will be impacted the most," Witherspoon said.

SEE ALSO: Silicon Valley has set its sights on the classroom. Here are the startups on a mission to transform teaching.

Join the conversation about this story »

NOW WATCH: We unboxed the $1,980 Samsung Galaxy Fold — here’s what comes inside

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We are leaving older adults out of the digital world

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Jessica Fields
Contributor
Jessica Fields is a research analyst and program manager at the UCSF Center for Vulnerable Populations at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and a collaborator in The OpEd Project.

May is national Older Americans Month, and this year’s theme is Connect, Create, Contribute. One area in particular threatens to prevent older adults from making those connections: the digital divide.

Nationally, one-third of adults ages 65 and older say they’ve never used the internet, and half don’t have internet access at home. Of those who do use the internet, nearly half say they need someone else’s help to set up or use a new digital device. Even in San Francisco – the home of technology giants like Twitter, Facebook, and Google – 40% of older adults do not have basic digital literacy skills, and of those, more than half do not use the internet at all.

Mastering digital technology has become a key component of what it means to fully participate in society. If we do not provide technology access and training to older adults, we shut them out from society, worsening an already worrisome trend of isolation and loneliness among the elderly.

As a researcher working directly with isolated older adults to provide low-cost internet, tablets, and digital training through the Tech Allies program, led by the non-profit Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly, I regularly hear this sentiment from seniors.

I visit Tech Allies participants – whose ages range from 62 to 98 – both before and after their eight weeks of one-on-one technology training. We talk about their experiences with and perspectives on technology today. In reflecting on why he and other older adults would want to learn to use the internet, one elder told me, “We feel like we’re standing outside a building that we have no access to.”

Another woman shared that because she doesn’t have internet access or know how to use technology, she feels, “I’m just not part of this world anymore. In certain facets of society, I just can’t join…. Some [things] just are not possible if you are not in the flow of the internet.”

In contrast to concerns about technology use increasing isolation among younger populations, the communication and connection possible online can be especially valuable for older adults who are homebound, live far away from family, or have lost the loved ones they relied on for social support in their younger years. Elders can use online tools to connect with friends and family via messaging platforms, video chat, and social media even if they can no longer physically visit them.

Older adults can find online support groups for people who share their medical conditions. And they can engage with the outside world through news, blogs, streaming platforms, and email, even if they are no longer able to move about as easily as they once could. As one elder told me, “I can’t really move that easily without a caretaker and I only have her a few hours a day so [the tablet] … has been a great companion for me and it gets me connected with other people.”

Image courtesy of Getty Images

For older adults in particular, the risks associated with social isolation are profound. Loneliness among older adults has been associated with depressioncardiovascular disease,functional decline, and death. Technology can serve as an important tool to help reduce these risks, but only if we provide older adults with the skills they need to access our digital world.

But we can close this gap. Our research shows that Tech Allies measurably improves older adults’ use of technology and confidence in key digital skills. Programs like this, which embed technology training in existing community-based organizations, should be expanded, with increased funding prioritized at local, state, and federal levels and with greater involvement of technology companies and investors. If we spent even a fraction of the $8 billion invested in digital health companies alone last year on tailoring these tools for older adults, we could drastically expand usability, training, and access to broadband and devices.

Support from technology companies could take many forms. Beyond expanding device donation programs, technology companies should design devices specifically for older adults (when your hand is shaky, swiping can be tough…) and should have tech support call lines tailored to older adults less familiar with the internet (cache and cookies and clouds, oh my!).

Furthermore, broadband providers like Comcast and AT&T should streamline the enrollment process for their affordable internet programs and expand eligibility. Partnerships between service providers and community-based organizations focused on older adults will be key in ensuring that these efforts actually meet the needs of older adults.

To be sure, many older adults also express a lack of interest in technology. For some, this reflects a true lack of desire to use digital tools. But for others it reflects an underlying fear of technology and lack of skills. Appropriate training can help to quell those fears and generate interest. In particular, great care must be paid to online safety training. Older adults are more likely to fall victim to online scams, putting their personal information at risk, but with tailored digital literacy training, they can learn to navigate the internet safely and securely.

The importance of digital inclusion is not going to disappear with the generational changes of the coming decades. Technology is continuously evolving, and with each new digital innovation come challenges for even younger adults to adapt.

With greater investment in providing accessible devices, broadband, and digital training, technology has the potential to become a powerful tool for reducing loneliness among older adults, empowering them to connect, create, and contribute online. As one elder put it, “It’s time to catch up, you know, and join the world.”

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US Air Force successfully shoots down multiple missiles with a laser

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The US Air Force just edged closer to its goal of outfitting aircraft with laser weapons. Testers at the White Sands Missile Range have successfully shot down multiple air-launched missiles using the Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD), proving that it can hold up under intense situations. While SHiELD is currently a ground-based behemoth (see below), the finished technology should be portable and rugged enough to be used aboard aircraft.

You won’t see the technology used in-air for a while. The USAF only gave Lockheed Martin a contract in 2017, and the first airborne tests aren’t expected until sometime in 2021. It would likely take a while after that before the system could find its way into service.

Provided the technology works as promised, though, it could have a dramatic effect on combat aircraft. The laser wouldn’t be an offensive weapon, at least not at first. Rather, it would be used to shoot down missiles (both air-to-air and surface-to-air). As long as nothing interfered with the laser, an aircraft could be virtually impervious to missile attacks and effectively control the skies.

Ground-based SHiELD laser defense weapon

Via: The Verge

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This free Photoshop plugin removes background in a single click

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This free Photoshop plugin removes background in a single click

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There are several ways to make cutouts in Photoshop, but now there’s a plugin that does it for you in a matter of seconds. Recently launched by remove.bg, this plugin lets you remove background in a single click. It’s free for download, but there are extra perks if you opt for one of the paid versions.

Previously, remove.bg was released only as a free web-based app. You were supposed to upload a photo to the website and AI would do the rest.  When it was first launched, it was only capable of removing background from images of people, but now you can use it for product shots, too. I played with it a bit back then to see how it worked, and you can see the results here.

Now there’s also a Photoshop plugin that lets you cut out the subject and remove the background from images. So, how does it work? First, you need to install the plugin, and you can download it at Adobe Exchange. After this, there will new menu option available in Photoshop at Window > Extensions > Remove Background. When you click the Remove Background button, the image is processed through the remove.bg API. So, bear in mind that you need an active Internet connection and an API key from remove.bg.

Now, as for the pricing, the free plan lets you process 50 small images (up to 0.25 megapixels, e.g. 625×400) for free each month. However, photographers will likely benefit more from some of the paid plans. They start from $9 per month up to $219 per month, depending on the number of images you need to process.

Although the 0.25 MP images are really tiny, if you work on small web graphics, the free plan can be quite enough. The remove.bg team confirmed to DPReview that this limitation is due to technical reasons. Still, they’re working on support for higher resolutions in the future, so photographers will likely have more benefits from the free plan soon.

[via DPReview]

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