The DJI Spark Is an Incredibly Exciting Start to an Insane Future

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All photos: Adam Clark Estes

Small drones are not new. Toy-sized quadcopters have been on the market for years helping kids (and dads) start flying for a relatively reasonable price and not much expertise. Yet small drones that can do almost anything a big drone can do? That’s new. And that’s what makes the DJI Spark so exciting.

The first and, ultimately, most important thing you’ll notice about the Spark is its size. It is tiny. It’s so tiny, it makes the very small Mavic Pro look like an obese giant. If the Mavic Pro is the size of Italian sandwich, the Spark is the size of a hearty cannoli. At 300 grams, it weighs about as much as a cannoli, too. However, since the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires you to register any drone weighing more than 250 grams, the Spark is a big boy toy, subject to big boy federal regulations.

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That’s part of why it took two people to review this bite-sized little quadcopter. Michael is a licensed commercial drone pilot, so he manned the controls. Adam is a recreational pilot, so he worked as the spotter (and photographer). And to be a real dad about it, you should always do your drone flights with a friend. At the very least, two sets of eyes come in handy, when you’re trying to keep your eye on the aircraft. Since the Spark is so small, you’ll need all the help you can get.

What kind of tiny drone is this?

Broadly speaking, the Spark boasts all of the same features as the larger, folding Mavic Pro, but everything is dialed down. With a maximum speed of 31 mph, the Spark is not as fast as the Mavic Pro’s 40 mph. With a maximum transmission distance of 1.2 miles, the Spark can’t fly as far as the Mavic Pro which has a range of 4.3 miles. With a battery half the size of the Mavic Pro’s, the Spark can’t fly as long. You’ll get 16 minutes of flight on a single Spark charge. The Mavic Pro’s battery lasts 27 minutes. The 1080p camera and two-axis gimbal on the Spark is not nearly as good as the 4K camera and three-axis gimbal on the Mavic Pro.

Bear in mind: the Spark in flying mode (left) is roughly half the size of a folded up Mavic Pro (right). The Mavic Pro gets about twice as big, when you unfold it.

Yet like the Mavic Pro and the Phantom 4, the DJI Spark features obstacle avoidance technology and extra sensors that enable intelligent flight modes, like Tap Fly, Active Track, and Gestures. That last one is where the Spark really stands out. Thanks to an infrared sensor on the front of the aircraft, you can actually control the Spark with your palm. A lot of people are calling this “Jedi Mode,” and it’s pretty cool, when it works.

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This is all especially exciting since the Spark only costs $500. That makes it not only the smallest drone DJI’s ever made but also the cheapest. But there’s a catch, that $500 price tag does not include the cost of a controller, and you’ll definitely want to fly the Spark with a controller.

The Spark controller looks just like the Mavic Controller except there’s no display and no need to plug in your phone, as it communicates with the controller using wi-fi.

To get a controller, you have to buy the Spark Fly More Combo for $700. The combo comes with a lot of other stuff that you’ll definitely want, like propeller guards, extra propellers, and an extra battery. However—and that’s a capital “H” however—let us remind you that you don’t need the controller to fly the Spark. You can fly it with your hands, or you can use a smartphone or tablet. It’s great for beginners who don’t need another joy stick in their lives, but that experience might not be ideal for seasoned drone pilots, who love the tactile feel of a controller.

How does this tiny drone do in the sky?

Think of the Spark as a personal drone. Everything about it is designed to make you feel safe and in control—especially if you spring for those propellor guards. You can technically fly the Spark with your hands and take selfies by making a picture frame with your fingers. Toss the Spark in a backpack and go on vacation to California. It can take off from your palm, track you and your pal as you pose next to a redwood, take a photo, and then land on your palm. Except for the whole California vacation thing, we did this. It worked.

Here’s an unedited still taken on a very hot and sunny day in Brooklyn.

But the gesture control is far from perfect. You really do have to learn the different gestures and train yourself a little to do them exactly right. Even then, you’re very limited to what you can do it. Basically, the Spark will take a photo of you and fly within a few feet of your palm. It’s a parlor trick at best. And don’t even think about trying it in the wind. The Spark bounces around in a breeze, and that seems to confuse the infrared sensor to no end.

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But the technology still feels like the first generation of a thrilling new wave of drones that work with minimal effort and require nothing more than a trained human to make them fly. Or maybe, in the future, these drones will be sentient and take over the world. We don’t know yet, and that’s what makes it so exciting!

What does it do besides taking selfies?

Thing is, you don’t need the gesture control at all. It’s a fun bonus for a drone that’s already awesome. It’s like the Mazda Miata of drones. Sure, it’s not the biggest or most powerful thing you can buy. But it’s fun as hell.

In this unedited image, Adam is failing to control the Spark with his hand. Michael, took this still from the controller while the drone was in gesture mode.

We could really see the Spark being extra fun for wannabe drone racers. While 31 mph isn’t the fastest speed for a DJI drone, it feels fast when you’re flying the Spark in sport mode. And because the Spark is roughly the same size as the racing drones you see people flying in the Drone Racing League on ESPN, you’ll start to feel like you could get the hang of this hobby. The big bummer is that the Spark currently doesn’t work with DJI Goggles, the company’s first-person view (FPV) headset.

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Meanwhile, the camera is exceedingly decent for simple stuff like taking a selfie or shooting an aerial view of the city skyline. However one thing that the Spark camera really doesn’t do well is tilt the camera lens up or down. The barebones two-axis gimbal doesn’t move smoothly; it essentially jumps from one position to the next, which will keep the Spark from being useful for budding cinematographers who want smooth pans.

The infrared sensor, 1080p camera, and two-axis gimbal on the front of the Spark makes it look a bit like a Star Wars character.

If you find yourself disappointed by little shortcomings like a jerky gimbal or lack of FPV goggles, the Spark might not be for you. You’re probably someone who already owns a Phantom or a Mavic Pro or, who knows, a freaking $3300 Inspire. You might consider buying a Spark for your kids, though. Heck, get one for your fun-loving mom or that close friend you’ve been convincing to take up the hobby. It’s an expensive way to get started with drones, but it’s worth it for the right person.

Should you buy the Spark?

But before you spend any money, consider your mission. Are you a beginner, looking to get a first drone that works dependably well for most purposes? The Spark’s a great choice. Are you a long-time Phantom owner, looking for something more portable? The Spark is a good choice, but for $300 more the Mavic Pro is better. Are you an aerial cinematographer hoping to get some of your footage in a Hollywood movie? You shouldn’t even be reading this right now, because you should be saving up for the $5,000 DJI Matrice.

The Spark minus one propellor guard, which snaps securely to the drone’s arm, and one propellor, which folds and connects to the motor with a push-and-turn motion.

This is another way of saying that, with the addition of the Spark, DJI really does sell a drone for every level of expertise. And quite impressively, the $500 Spark is just enough drone for most people. No matter how advanced you are as a pilot, the Spark is genuinely fun to fly.

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It could get even better with age, too, thanks to potential firmware updates and improvements to the gesture control. Otherwise, it’s a magical glimpse into an exciting future of drones, aircraft that are smaller than we thought possible and that can do more than ever before.

Believe it or not, the Spark is even smaller than it looks.

README

  • At $500, the Spark is DJI’s cheapest drone and a great entry level aircraft for would-be pilots.
  • But you should buy the $700 combo package, because you’ll want to fly with the controller as well as the propeller guards.
  • Gesture control is fun idea that doesn’t work that well, although software updates could improve it.
  • Intelligent flight modes and obstacle avoidance are essential features that are usually only available on more expensive drones.
  • The Spark is just plain fun!

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Three Good Reasons To Learn More About Photography

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Photography has become so popular, mainly because of the inclusion of cameras on mobile phones, so it’s more difficult for your photos to be noticed. But, if you learn a little more about photography your photos will be more likely to stand out from the crowd.

Your life is full of gadgets and equipment that can be challenging to learn to use really well. Learning to use your camera will make your photography so much more enjoyable. Photography is therapy. Picking up your camera, making time to take photos, can be a wonderful break from the busy pace of your daily life.

Three Good Reasons To Learn More About Photography - Thai ladies

Committing even a small amount of time regularly to learn more about photography will help you enjoy the creative process of image making. It will help overcome frustrations you may have because you don’t understand your camera well enough. As you study you will find that your creative ideas and expression will come more naturally. And, as you know and understand more and begin to relax when you have your camera in your hands, you will find a personal groove and means of expression that will be unique to you.

So here are three really good reasons for you to learn more about photography.

#1. Create outstanding photos

Most of us love to share our photos and see the response or family and friends have to them. Even more exciting is when strangers begin to show appreciation for our photographs. The desire to have your photos seen and enjoyed by others can be a real motivation for you to enjoy photography. But getting your photographs noticed is not so easy.

Three Good Reasons To Learn More About Photography - girl with elephant

This has become more of a challenge in recent years because pretty much everybody has a some form of a camera these days. Social media has made it extremely easy to share photos and have them seen by a potentially global audience. But how do you get your photos noticed when everyone else is sharing their photos in the same way?

Take some time to learn more. Learning about light, exposure, color, tone, composition and timing will help you produce more creative, more interesting, more noticeable photographs. And, if you think about it, you probably something about these things already, because you see them all the time, but are not necessarily thinking about them.

You can’t see anything if there’s no light. Light is the essence of photography. With no light, you can have no photo. Learning to appreciate different types of light and when some light is better for making photos than others, will help you create more outstanding photographs. You see light all the time and if you can begin to understand it and appreciate how to expose your photographs well, you will create more compelling images. Knowing something of the limitations of your camera and how it captures tone and color will also help greatly in the creative process.

Three Good Reasons To Learn More About Photography - flower

Compose and time your photos better

Learning composition rules and developing a real feel for them will also help your photographs be more impactful. Like with any creative expression, learning the rules will allow you to eventually implement them without really thinking about them. This is when I believe you will become most creative.

Certainly timing your photographs well takes research and practice. Learning to anticipate action and choose precisely the best time to make a photograph, the decisive moment, is a skill that will certainly enhance your photography and make it stand out.

2. Become intimate with your equipment

Learning how to use your camera well and becoming confident will result in a more enjoyable and more creative photography experience. I have met (and taught) many people who own very nice cameras but are not confident in using them. If you don’t have a good understanding of your camera you will most likely become somewhat frustrated when you pick it up to use it, or later when you are looking at disappointing photos.

Three Good Reasons To Learn More About Photography

Becoming familiar with your camera and how to use it well takes time and commitment to study. Because each camera model is different, with the controls in different places, it means you need to do some research and hands on practice to know how to use your cameras with confidence.

Essentially all cameras are the same. They function the same way, with light hitting the sensor (or film) to create photographs. Whether you use a camera in any of the automatic modes, or prefer to use it in Manual Mode, the process of creating photos is the same, but the amount of creative control differs greatly.

Setting your exposure manually gives you far more control over the end result. Learning to do this takes a bit more dedication but will ultimately result in you making more unique, creative photographs. If your camera is always set to one of the automatic modes then the camera is making some (or all) of the most creative choices. Cameras are smart, but they are not creative – you are.

Three Good Reasons To Learn More About Photography

Learning to take control of the camera will help you enjoy the creative process of photography far more than if you have to stop and think about the basics of what to do each time you pick up your camera.

3. Photography can be therapeutic

Having creative drive, wanting to make good photos and have others enjoy them, will hopefully lead you to want to learn more about using your camera well. Doing that will free you up to enjoy your whole photography experience and you can then experience photography as a therapy.

Three Good Reasons To Learn More About Photography

Expressing your creativity with a camera you understand and love is very therapeutic. Taking time out from your busy day, even just for 10 or 15 minutes, to take a few photographs can be enjoyable and relaxing. Indulging in longer photography sessions on weekends or during vacations can be terrifically therapeutic.

I find when I pick my camera up to shoot for pleasure, (it’s different shooting for work if I have a client to please,) I can easily become absorbed only in making photographs, and nothing else matters! Being able to really zone in on what I am doing helps me forget all the worries and stresses I may be experiencing in life and just enjoy the process of being creative.

Narrowing the attention of your thoughts to the creative processes of photography, meditating on photography, brings a whole other dimension to the experience. Being aware of and intentionally seeking opportunities where you can use your camera creatively can help you relax differently than other activities you may enjoy. Watching the news on TV, checking social media, or going to a movie are all things that add a change of pace to your daily life. But a lot of what you do to relax does not involve being creative. Being creative with your camera adds a whole new dimension to life and can be most therapeutic.

Three Good Reasons To Learn More About Photography

Conclusion

Having the desire and drive to want your photos to be noticed when you share them is a good reason to learn more about photography. Overcoming the frustration you may feel because you haven’t taken the time to learn how to use your camera is another good solid reason to invest some time, and maybe even some money, in learning how your camera functions and how you can control it better (preferably in manual mode.)

Once you are on the path to learn more about your camera and about photography, knowing that it can be wonderfully therapeutic, should be most encouraging for you to follow some course of study to make the most of your camera – even your phone camera! Here’s a video for you to watch more on this topic as well.

What other good reasons do you have for learning more about photography? Please share in the comments below.

The post Three Good Reasons To Learn More About Photography by Kevin Landwer-Johan appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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The Bill Gates-backed veggie burger that ‘bleeds’ like beef is coming to America’s largest grocery chain — here’s what it tastes like

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When Beyond Meat, a company that produces plant-based alternatives to animal proteins, claimed it invented a vegetarian burger that tastes like beef, it sounded too good to be true.

But the Beyond Burger has grown in popularity since it was first sold at a Whole Foods in Boulder, Colorado last year. Since then, the product has become available in 350 more Whole Foods locations, and 280 Safeways. In July, it came to eight of burger chain BurgerFi’s 101 locations.

Now it is launching in over 600 stores owned by Kroger, the largest grocery chain in the United States, across 13 states. The rollout begins Thursday, and will more than triple Beyond Meat’s distribution of the burger once it’s complete.

Each package of Beyond Burgers comes with two four-ounce patties. It’s usually sold for $5.99 — almost twice the price of beef per ounce.

When I opened the package, the patties looked exactly like raw beef — but they’re made mainly from pea protein, yeast extract, and coconut oil. They contain beet juice, which gives them a reddish color.

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According to the nutrition label on the back, the Beyond Burger has more protein, sodium, and calories than a normal burger.

When I cooked my first patty, I threw it on a small skillet without oil. Unlike most vegetarian burgers I’ve tried, the Beyond Burger sizzled like meat. It didn’t smell like beef, however — more like a vegetable I couldn’t identify. Peas perhaps?

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About three minutes later, I flipped the patty over, and it was slightly browned.

After waiting about three more minutes, the burger was done. It generated a lot of liquid on the spatula, although it didn’t really look like normal beef burger juices.

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After I added lettuce, tomato, and ketchup, I took a bite. In a blind taste test, it definitely wouldn’t fool me as beef, but its texture was shockingly close — and it was even pink in the middle. To make the patty taste more like a normal burger, next time I would use steak seasoning.

Inside, bits of veggies mimicked the texture of ground beef. Overall, it was tasty and juicy, unlike most plant-based burgers that often taste closer to cardboard.

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Beyond Meat sells other plant-based burgers, but the Beyond Burger is the first that’s not sold in the frozen food aisle — it sits next to real refrigerated beef at Whole Foods.

Beyond Meat aims to shake up the $48 trillion global meat industry by creating palatable alternatives. For that reason, it’s garnered much hype from vegetarians, meat-eaters, and a long list of investors, including Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, the Humane Society, and Bill Gates. 

Since the Beyond Burger somewhat closely mimics a traditional burger, it may represent a step towards creating a more environmentally friendly patty.

Meat production can be harsh on the planet. Traditional livestock farming accounts for an estimated 18% of global greenhouse emissions, uses 70% of the world’s water, and exhausts 47,000 square miles of land every year. 

farming

Beyond Meat isn’t the only company attempting to challenge the beef industry. Another similar startup, Impossible Foods has already raised $182 million in VC backing. The Impossible Burger has also received rave reviews, including one from world-renowned chef and Momofuku founder David Chang.

"Today I tasted the future and it was vegan: this burger was juicy/bloody and had real texture like beef. But more delicious and way better for the planet," Chang wrote in a Facebook post. "I can’t really comprehend its impact quite yet…but I think it might change the whole game."

Although Americans are among the highest per capita eaters of meat in the world, a growing number of people in the country are slowly cutting down.

Both Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are riding that trend, but unlike many other vegetarian brands, the two startups are targeting carnivores.

It’s hard to change habits — especially when it comes to enjoying a delicious burger — but inconspicuous plant-based burgers like Beyond Meat’s could be the key.

SEE ALSO: How a startup that makes fake meat from plants caught the attention of Bill Gates and the founders of Twitter

Join the conversation about this story »

NOW WATCH: A top New York City chef shows how to make the perfect burger

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Motorcycle helmets finally get decent heads-up display navigation

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I’m a huge proponent of reducing any and all distractions while riding a motorcycle, scooter, or moped. Helmets and padded gear are great, but when you get down to it, riders are still just squishy people zipping through traffic next to giant machines that could kill you if a driver sneezes or decides to text a friend. So the idea of a HUD (Heads Up Display) for a motorcycle is equal parts intriguing and terrifying.

Done right, it keeps your head up and eyes off your gauges and whatever navigation system you have strapped to your handlebars. Done wrong, and it’s a one-way ticket to the emergency room because you were spending too much time going through menus and trying to find relevant information instead of paying attention to the car in front of you that just slammed on its brakes. A fender bender in a car is a annoyance. A fender bender on a bike could land you in the ICU.

In comes the $700 Nuviz, a HUD for full-face helmets. The device’s purpose is to keep you informed while riding without adding too much distraction that could lead to hospitalization. And for the most part, it succeeds.

It shows your speed, navigation, maps, calls and your music via a tiny mirrored see-thru display that sits below the vision-line of your right eye. It’s there when you need it and you can almost ignore it when you don’t.

To see the information about your ride, you peer downward at the display which is focused about 13.5 feet in front of you. That means you’re refocusing your eyes, but the same thing happens when you look at your gauge cluster. Fortunately, the main screen is tailored for quick glances. Your speed and next turn are easily discernible by quickly peeking downward without moving your head which is Nuviz’s advantage over the dials that came with your bike.

Plus, the Nuviz supports audio and comes with the headset that can be installed in a helmet or it’ll sync to Bluetooth-enabled helmets. It’s a bit of a multimedia experience right on your noggin.

My apprehension about the potential for distraction intensified when I installed it on my helmet. From the outside, it’s huge. And while its 8.5 ounce weight didn’t bother me, for some folks with lightweight helmets, that might be a deal breaker. But when I actually put on my helmet all I saw was the tiny display which was a relief.

Riding with the Nuviz also reduced my anxiety. With the combination or visual and audio cues, I was finally able to navigate to a destination without pulling over and checking my phone or attaching it to the mount I bought a few years back and have only used twice because I’m sure my iPhone will fall out of it and break into a thousand pieces on US 101.

The display was bright enough to be legible in direct sunlight, although there were some tiny rainbow-colored dots that appeared in the glass. It wasn’t enough to block the information, but it’s there and while beautiful at times, it’s just another thing you’ll catch yourself looking at.

Navigating the menu system was simple enough with the supplied controller you attach near your left handlebar. An up and down lever scrolls through the main features and it’s surrounded by four action buttons. After a few hours riding using it becomes as second nature as activating my turn signals, high beams or horn.

The controller is also how you turn on the device’s 8 megapixel camera. With it you can take video and photos of your ride. The quality won’t replace a GoPro, but the photos were good enough to capture deer in the brush next to the road. The 1080p video quality is reminiscent of a smartphone from five years ago. It’s basically satisfactory and really the allure is that you don’t have to stop and pull out a camera to capture a moment.

It also might lead to gigantic slideshows, I took 100 photos during a ride around Mount Tamalpais. It’s very easy to just tap the photo button on the controller while riding.

Yet those are the kind of rides the Nuviz is built for. Long excursions on roads without heavy traffic. It was only during that type of jaunt that I felt comfortable turning on music (something I would never do while riding in San Francisco) and taking photos. The companion app makes creating a route with multiple stops that you send to the device a breeze and the actual navigation both on screen and in ear, was easy to follow without being overly distracting.

The device and controller are both easy to remove and reattach to your bike and helmet so you don’t have to check your bike every five minutes during lunch breaks. That also means you can ditch the whole system when doing short rides around town. In my experience, the Nuviz didn’t add much value to my daily commute. I know where I’m going and the roads are for too congested to even think about using it.

Plus, when it’s attached to your helmet, it’s never 100 percent gone. The tiny display, while helpful, is still in your peripheral. You sort of learn to ignore it, but when you’re lane splitting (only legal in California) and keeping an eye out for one of San Francisco’s many bike-swallowing potholes, you don’t need another (no matter how small) distraction.

But for weekend jaunts, the Nuviz is outstanding. It’s eight hour battery life should keep you on your route for the entire day and it’s on-board GPS and downloaded maps means even if you lose signal, you won’t get lost. For Kawasaki KLR and BMW GS riders, it’s a great little companion. But for daily riders in congested cities, it’s best to focus on the act of riding.

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Married People Reveal The One Thing Their Partner Does That Pisses Them Off But They’ll Never Speak Of

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Relationships are all about sacrifice and stability. Picking your battles and letting sleeping dogs lie is as essential in a relationship as not banging your partner’s sister. If you complain about everything, you’re not really complaining about anything. That’s why sometimes you gotta live with the birds nest of hair in the shower drain and suffer through an episode of Real Housewives if you don’t want to be bopping it on the couch for a week.

It may sound beta to let your partner’s irritable traits slide, but consider how much nauseating shit you do on a daily basis and how much is actually brought to your attention. Yeah, perspective.

The married folks of Reddit came out in droves to answer the question: What is the harmless elephant in the room that won’t affect your relationship but you never speak of?

Here are the best responses:


The_Young_Celt:

My wife is the absolute worst story teller ever. She is so smart and funny, but my goodness, her stories go on forever. She takes a story that should take 2 minutes to tell and turns it into a 25 minute story with EVERY SINGLE DETAIL that actually happened.

Please don’t tell my wife.

Dude my ex in high school is still telling the story about how she met Mario Lopez at the mall. 


gawaine73:

The two relationships I was in directly before I met my wife ended when my partner died. Nothing suspicious, they both died of cancer. Different cancers. But my wife knows I miss one of them still and we never talk about it.

Jesus dude. No offense, but if I were her, I’d pack up my shit and run. 


d00d3r1n022:

My wife doesnt screw the top back on the bottle of….. anything. Everything with a lid is a potential bomb.

Divorce.


duckyblinders:

Neither of us puts up laundry. It’s supposed to be one washes the other puts it away but neither of us do it. All our clothes just sit in baskets 99% of the time. It irks us both but we’re both guilty so we keep our mouths shut.

I’m 30 years old and I still don’t know how to properly fold shirts so the front is showing.


Dravous:

Well, it was a long time ago so it doesn’t matter now, but the time I farted in front of her whole family while we were all crowded around a small table looking at something. It was a bad one. One of those ones that’s hot coming out. Nobody flinched, left the table, or ever said a word about it.

The hot ones are toxic.


ater667:

I’ve seen her Ex showering in the gym and his dick is about twice as long and thick as mine..

Thoughts and prayers.


nomegustanosleep:

She once bragged about being good at chess and I beat her in 5 moves using a tactic i found on Youtube. We don’t speak of chess anymore.

ALPHA.


mysaltyalt:

My wife leaving food out on the counter without every putting it away disgusts me and I end up cleaning up after her every day.

I leave my socks everywhere which she finds repulsive, but she cleans them up and never says anything.

Neither of us are changing our ways so we just accept it.

Food left out overnight is unacceptable. 


AlienHatchSlider:

80% of our marriage is one of us says

“Where’s my keys?”

And the other saying “What?”

I don’t think it will change

Those fucking keys have a life of their own.


plcwork:

My wife uses all the dishes when she cooks. I don’t even know how that’s possible. I’m grateful for the meal but salty that whoever doesn’t cook does the dishes.

Samesies. Almost broke up with my girlfriend over this shit.


To read the rest of the thread, head over to Reddit dot com.

 

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30 years of the GIF

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Few technologies survive more than 5 years — let alone 30 years — without significant change. In the last 10 years alone, our phones gained 20x the processing power and added capabilities from multitasking to visual messaging. We’re on the fifth standard of HTML and have evolved from FLV to MP4 as the dominant video streaming format on the web. As Andy Grove, one of Intel’s founders, said “only the paranoid survive.” Technologies that do not change are resigned to obsolescence.

But the GIF, which celebrates its 30th birthday this summer, has endured as a format. While its technical aspects haven’t changed, GIFs have taken on three different lives — and usage of GIFs has never been higher than it is today.

First Life of the GIF: Image Hosting Technology

With its introduction in 1987, the GIF began as an image format with lossless data compression that made images smaller in file size than alternatives like BMP. It quickly gained support, especially in web browsers. While animation support for GIFs was introduced in 1989, many images hosted via the format weren’t yet animating — it was simply a more efficient way of hosting static images.

Second Life of the GIF: Video Entertainment Lite

Many of the earliest animating GIFs were similar in appearance to Microsoft clip-art and were sometimes used as navigational elements in early websites. GeoCities helped millions of people create their own websites, and website owners often turned to GIFs like rotating menus, bullet points of fire, or 3D animations to personalize their websites and entertain their visitors.
This behavior further accelerated with the popularity of Myspace.

Entire websites were dedicated to helping people find “bling” to add to their Myspace page. As MySpace’s popularity faded and video sites like YouTube grew to help people share short videos, the GIF began to decline in relevance and its usage was confined to niche internet forums.
But as Tumblr began to accelerate in 2009, usage of GIFs returned.

Similar to MySpace, people used GIFs on Tumblr to express their personality, but instead of sharing blinking text, people created short clips of their favorite movies, tv-shows and online videos. This behavior began to spread to websites that hosted GIFs, such as Buzzfeed, Imgur and Giphy.

Third Life of the GIF: Communication and Visual Language

As mobile messaging has exploded, attention spans have shortened — and language quickly followed, with common phrases reduced to shorthand like “lol” and “jk.” Three to five seconds is the new three to five minutes.

GIFs are now a form of visual shorthand — a language that draws on culturally resonant moments to communicate the full range of human emotions in just seconds. This language is far more expressive and expansive than traditional shorthand.

In the last year, for example, people have searched for more than 4 billion distinct thoughts, feelings and emotions on Tenor, and the number of distinct search terms grows every single day in response to news, culture and memes.

The inflection point for GIFs on mobile can be traced to the launch of iOS8 in the Fall of 2014, when Apple introduced support for custom keyboards. This third life of GIFs as a mobile communication language dwarfs all its past lives because mobile is the largest digital platform and communication is the dominant behavior on mobile.

Thirty years after their introduction, GIFs are now woven into the fabric of communication and have evolved into a visual messaging protocol for mobile. While this is a big accomplishment, the GIF has a long life ahead — ultimately, all 3 billion mobile users will use GIFs to express the dozens of emotions they have throughout the day.

In celebration of last month’s momentous anniversary, below is a snapshot of the seminal moments in the GIF’s 30-year history:

1987: The graphics interchange format (GIF) is successfully deployed by Steve Wilhite, who wrote software at CompuServe.
1989: CompuServe introduces an enhanced version of the format, which supports animation.
1993: The Mosaic browser makes the World Wide Web accessible to less technical users.
1995: Netscape introduces the ability for animated GIFs to loop with the launch of Navigator 2.0
2003: MySpace launches, kickstarting the trend of people blinging out their personal web pages using GIFs
June 2007: The first iPhone is released, marking the beginning of the proliferation of iMessage and other popular messenger apps.
August 2010: The New Oxford American Dictionary updates its 3rd Edition to include both the hard g and soft g pronunciations of GIF
October 2014: The first GIF keyboard for the iPhone is launched
June 2015: Facebook introduces a GIF button in Messenger, accelerating the “GIFs everywhere” trend with hundreds of other services (such as Twitter, Kik, WhatsApp,and Discord) rapidly moving to integrate GIFs into messaging
June 2017: Mobile users worldwide celebrate the 30th anniversary of the GIF

from TechCrunch http://tcrn.ch/2tHOk8A
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Timekettle’s WT2 real-time translation earpieces enable ordinary conversation across language barriers

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At TechCrunch’s event in Shenzhen last month, we had a chance to test out the WT2, a clever and ambitious device from startup TimeKettle. It’s a pair of wireless earpieces; each person in a multilingual conversation wears one, and they translate what’s said into the language spoken by each participant. Essentially it’s a Babel fish, though admittedly a rough draft of one.

The devices live in a little charging case, and when you want to speak to someone who doesn’t know your language, you take them out — one goes in your ear, one in theirs. They pair automatically with an iOS app as soon as they’re removed from the case, and it begins monitoring for speech.

When you speak in English, there’s a short delay and then your interlocutor hears it in Mandarin Chinese (or whatever other languages are added later). They respond in Chinese, and you hear it in English — it’s really that simple.

Of course there are translation apps that do something similar already, but this ultra-simple method of sharing earpieces means there’s no fuss or interface to deal with. You talk as if talking to someone who speaks your language, complete with eye contact and ordinary gestures.

This is the main thing Wells Tu, TimeKettle’s founder, wanted to achieve. He and I talked (in English and in Chinese) about the complexity of communication and how important things like body language are. The simplicity of operation was also important, he said, if you were to use the WT2 with people who’d never seen or used it.

Right now the device is very much a prototype, although the design and chipset used are more or less final. It fit pretty well in my ear, just like you’d expect a bulkier-than-usual Bluetooth headset to.

but it worked quite well, as long as you keep your translation expectations realistic — complex speech and idiom don’t survive quick machine translation, but you can still get a lot across. The main issue I had was with the latency, which left Wells and I staring at each other silently for a three count while the app did its work. But the version I used wasn’t optimized for latency, and the team is hard at work reducing it.

“We’re trying to shorten the latency to 1-3 seconds, which needs lots of work in optimization of the whole process of data transmission between the earphones, app and server,” Wells said.

The spotty wireless connection at the venue didn’t help, either — you’ll need a solid data connection for this, at least until offline translation becomes good enough.

The WT2 isn’t ready for market, exactly, but Wells and I agreed that even if the first version isn’t perfect, well, someone’s got to do it, or no one will. This kind of tech will be ubiquitous in the future, but first it has to be rare, weird, and only work 3/4 of the time. In service of the goal of improving communication across language barriers, I’m perfectly happy to applaud each step along the way.

You can learn more about the WT2 at its website, and keep an eye out for the Kickstarter the company plans to launch next month.

from TechCrunch http://tcrn.ch/2uCLBjZ
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I put $600 into a roboadviser invented by a 25-year old Stanford grad and I’m beating the market — so far

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Brian Barnes M1 Finance CEO and Founder 5 1200x801

Do-it-yourself investing can be scary for a lot of people, especially young wanna-be investors.

The financial markets are complicated and so most people prefer to give their money to someone else to manage.

When Brian Barnes graduated from Stanford in 2012, he had a hard time finding a tool with which he could invest in the stock market on his own. This prompted him to start his own online brokerage site, M1 Finance, at 25 years old.

"What I was trying to do seemed relatively basic," Barnes penned in a recent post on M1’s site. "I wanted to be able to pick my investments, and have recurring deposits automatically added to those allocations."

And that’s exactly what M1, which has $60 million under management, allows users to do. M1 users can pick the stocks they want to invest in and then they can determine what percentage of their portfolio they want each position to make up. M1 automatically updates as you put in more money and as stock prices fluctuate to maintain your preferred portfolio allocation. So if you want Apple to make up 25% of your portfolio, M1 will balance your portfolio as such. That means you can’t buy one Apple share, or one Amazon share. It’s all about the portfolio.  

Unlike most brokerage sites, M1 doesn’t charge a fee for users to buy a stock. It does, however, charge users an annual percentage-based fee on their assets.

Last Monday, I opened up an M1 account to try my hand at the markets. Business Insider rules prohibit trading in and out of securities, and I plan to hold these investments for the long term.

Here’s what it’s like to have an M1 account based off of my experience. 

This is what the M1 Finance icon looks like on an iPhone.

Before you fund your account on M1 you can start building a "pie." Clicking the turquoise plus sign allows you to add up to 100 "slices" to your pie. Slices can range from stocks, ETFs, or M1’s pre-built pies.

Using the Discover feature you can find the slices you want for your pie.

See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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Researchers Just Launched a Prototype of Humanity’s First ‘Interstellar Spacecraft’

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Image Courtesy of Zac Manchester

Last year, extraterrestrial exploration venture Breakthrough Initiatives announced an ambitious plan to send tons of tiny spacecraft to our nearest neighboring star system, Alpha Centauri. The project, called Breakthrough Starshot, is focused on launching lightweight ‘nanocraft’ to the stars at rip-roaring speeds. Recently, the project took a big leap toward achieving its ultimate goal by successfully sending six test craft into Low Earth Orbit.

The tiny spacecraft, called “Sprites,” are just 3.5 centimeters on each side and weigh about four grams. Aerospace engineer Zac Manchester, who is leading the design on the Sprites, has been working on them for the last 10 years.

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“What we’ve set out to do from the beginning is push the size limits of spacecraft,” Manchester told Gizmodo. “The question was how small can we make a satellite and still make it do something useful. One of the challenges is how can you get enough power, and given the tiny power you can harvest, how do you communicate back to Earth?”

Manchester and his fellow researchers hope that eventually, mini spacecraft similar to the Sprites—called StarChips—will be able to travel at 20% the speed of light, which translates to about 37,000 miles per second. It would take a spacecraft traveling at this speed less than seven seconds to reach the Moon from Earth, according to Sky and Telescope.

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Those are speeds and distances no spacecraft of any size has gone before. Currently, the farthest spacecraft ever built is NASA’s Voyager 1, which launched in 1977, and only just reached Interstellar space a few years back.

For now, the Sprites are chillin’ in Low Earth Orbit. They launched on June 23rd on an Indian rocket called the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). Breakthrough Starshot anticipates that a second satellite will release more soon.

Obviously, much more work needs to be done before we get our hopes up about an interstellar voyage. But for astrobiology nerds and tinfoil hat believers alike, the Sprites’ successful launch could be an important step toward finding life beyond Earth.

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“The distances are immense and it’s a big challenge,” Manchester added. “We’re a long way out to the eventual goals [of Breakthrough Starshot], but we’re setting the early precedent here.”

from Gizmodo http://bit.ly/2w4uENf
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