There’s finally a good way to text in sign language

With new mobile keyboard app Signily, American Sign Language speakers no longer have to worry about their messages being lost in translation.

SignilySignily

Created by American Sign Language nonprofit ASLized!, the Signily keyboard lets users send text messages and emails using specific ASL emoji, BuzzFeed reported.

“Most of us in the deaf community use text messaging or email to communicate back and forth to each other,” explained a Signily representative in an introductory video. “And oftentimes, we’ve noticed that is not 100% equivalent to American Sign Language.”

Here’s a look at some of the signs available on the keyboard app.

SignilySignily

Perhaps more crucially, Signily also includes animated signs for many popular ASL phrases that don’t have exact English translations. This makes texting a more natural experience for signers.

For example, BuzzFeed notes where a hearing person might say “um,” American Sign Language has a specific sign used to pause speech.

This is what the sign looks like in a text message with Signily.

Like iOS emoji, the keyboard’s signs come in different skin tones for users to choose from. Signily also has a profanity free option for users looking for a more G-rated experience.

Members of the deaf community are already buzzing about the keyboard, including Nyle DiMarco, America’s Next Top Model’s first deaf contestant.

Not everyone is quite so excited, though. Android users will have to hold on a bit longer to use Signily on their devices

Tesla’s Robotic Metal Snake Charger Is “For Realz”

Tesla is coming off of a rough earnings day, but that didn’t stop the company from showing off some awesome stuff.

Today, the company tweeted out a demo of something its founder and CEO Elon Musk has talked about before. At the time it sounded crazy, as most of Musk’s ideas do.

But here it is. It’s a charging station and technique that looks like it’s straight out of a science-fiction movie.

Hit the play button and watch it all the way through. The snakey charging arm (called the “Solid Metal Snake”) makes its way to the parked Tesla Model S car automatically. No human intervention.

The technology looks like this “JetSnake,” but Tesla’s is way cooler:

I’m not sure why, but I’ve watched it 35 times already. Feel free to do the same:

teslasnake

What did we learn today, class? When Elon says his company is working on something, his company is working on something. I wonder if the potential Tesla self-driving car fleet is “for realz” too?

Pebble’s next smartwatch is here

I’ve had a chance to spend a few days with the Time Steel, and it’s easily the best product Pebble has ever made. Its steel construction is much nicer than the plastic used on the standard Time, and its tolerances and build quality trump the Pebble Steel from 2014. It’s slightly thicker and heavier than the Time, but that affords for a larger battery and longer time away from a charger — in the six days that I’ve been wearing the watch, I’ve not yet had to recharge it. It’s not so thick to be uncomfortable, and the added weight gives it a higher level of perceived quality.

Pebble Time Steel

The display on the Time Steel is dramatically better than the Time’s, and that might be enough of a reason to pony up for the the fancier model. It’s still a small 64-color LCD with a limited palette and muted colors, but it has less glare and is easier to read indoors. It also doesn’t have the noticeable air gap between the glass lens and LCD panel that’s on the Time’s display. I still would prefer more vibrance and it can still look washed out when the backlight is on, but I didn’t have the same readability issues with the Time Steel as I did with the Time. (I’ve also learned that black text on a white background is easier to read on either watch compared to white text on a black background.)

The main issue I have with the Time Steel’s design is the massive black border surrounding the display. It’s more prominent than on the Time (ironically, because the Time Steel has a smaller metal frame around the bezel), and it makes the display look even smaller than it actually is. It’s one (rather significant) blemish on what is otherwise a nicely designed device — even my wife wasn’t offended by its appearance on my wrist, and she’s been very critical of smartwatches in the past.

The Time Steel has the same software interface as the Time, including Pebble’s new Timeline feature that lets you look forward or backward in time to see events, weather information, and other useful data. (For more on the software, check out my full Pebble Time review.) Pebble has been slowly improving the software via firmware updates over the past few months, and it’s now possible to control the intensity of the vibration alert and the brightness and duration of the backlight. Those are pretty minor things, but they make for a much better experience when using the device.

Pebble Time Steel

Pebble’s companion app and app store for iOS and Android is still, sadly, a chore to work with, but it’s slowly getting filled out with more apps and watchfaces that can take advantage of the Time and Time Steel’s color displays. Most of the apps are still very basic compared to what’s available for the Apple Watch, and the Pebble store doesn’t have nearly as many big name developers. Some of the app gap has been filled in by third-party options for missing apps (such as an app to control Philips Hue lights), but those are almost invariably inferior to a first-party option.

The Time Steel’s biggest drawback, especially compared to the Apple Watch, is its limited functionality on iOS. Just like the regular Time, the Time Steel can’t do much with notifications other than clear them — there’s no option to reply with a canned response or voice dictation as you can with the Apple Watch. Nor is it possible to filter which notifications come to the watch, which is something I miss dearly from the Apple Watch. Android users have it a little better, as it’s possible to reply to messages right from the Time Steel with either emoji, a preset response, or voice dictation.

AT $250 TO $300, THE TIME STEEL IS A TOUGH SELLOf course, despite the advancements made by the Time and the Time Steel on top of it, the question remains if it’s a compelling option compared to the Apple Watch or the variety of Android Wear devices. At $249 or $299, the Time Steel is getting dangerously close to the price of the Apple Watch, and it’s priced higher than virtually all Android Wear watches worth considering. To make the Time Steel a viable choice, you really have to value its strengths, which are long battery life, always-on display, and, to a limited extent, cross platform compatibility. And as the popularity of the Apple Watch has shown, most smartwatch buyers don’t seem to value those features as highly as others.

Photography by Sean O’Kane

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Apple brings AT&T, Sprint Wi-Fi calling to iOS 9

Apple released a new beta version of its iOS 9 mobile operating system to developers today, and, among other things, it includes support for Wi-Fi calling from AT&T and Sprint.

Cellular carriers are interested in allowing subscribers to make calls via Wi-Fi because it takes some pressure off already-overworked data networks. Subscribers like it because it costs less and increases call reliability.

So Apple has built this option into its mobile OS (release notes). Sprint and AT&T have made no official announcements about offering Wi-Fi calling, but they likely will soon. T-Mobile customers have been using Wi-Fi calling for some time now.

Apple has also added a cool little feature called “Wi-Fi Assist” that prevents iPhones from connecting to poor-performing Wi-Fi networks. The feature might prevent a phone from switching a call from cellular to Wi-fi if the Wi-Fi signal does not exceed a certain strength threshold.

The new beta release — the fifth — adds 15 new wallpapers that show off the iPhone’s display. It also phases out some of the older, less graphically robust, wallpapers.

The new beta also includes a number of minor bug fixes.

NASA satellite captures ‘dark side’ of Moon

  • EPIC earth and moon stillImage Credits: NASA/NOAA

NASA satellite, orbiting one million miles away, has captured stunning images of the Moon passing the Earth’s sunlit side, which show the ‘dark side’ of the lunar body that is never visible from our planet. A NASA camera aboard the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite captured a unique view of the Moon as it moved in front of the sunlit side of Earth last month.

The series of test images shows the fully illuminated “dark side” of the Moon that is never visible from Earth, NASA said. The images were captured by NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC), a four megapixel CCD camera and telescope on the DSCOVR satellite orbiting one million miles from Earth.

EPIC maintains a constant view of the fully illuminated Earth as it rotates, providing scientific observations of ozone, vegetation, cloud height and aerosols in the atmosphere. Once EPIC begins regular observations next month, the camera will provide a series of Earth images allowing study of daily variations over the entire globe, NASA said. About twice a year the camera will capture the Moon and Earth together as the orbit of DSCOVR crosses the orbital plane of the Moon.

The latest images were taken on July 16, showing the Moon moving over the Pacific Ocean near North America. The North Pole is in the upper left corner of the image, reflecting the orbital tilt of Earth from the vantage point of the spacecraft. The far side of the Moon was not seen until 1959 when the Soviet Luna 3 spacecraft returned the first images. Since then, several NASA missions have imaged the lunar far side in great detail. The same side of the Moon always faces an Earthbound observer because the Moon is tidally locked to Earth. That means its orbital period is the same as its rotation around its axis.

EPIC’s “natural colour” images of Earth are generated by combining three separate monochrome exposures taken by the camera in quick succession. Combining three images taken about 30 seconds apart as the Moon moves produces a slight but noticeable camera artifact on the right side of the Moon. The lunar far side lacks the large, dark, basaltic plains, or maria, that are so prominent on the Earth-facing side.

Microsoft offers more parental leave, but not as much as Netflix

Microsoft

Microsoft is following Netflix’s lead with an updated maternity and paternity leave policy for employees. But Microsoft’s plan isn’t as generous as the video streaming company’s new unlimited offer.

Tech giant Microsoft announced Wednesday in a blog post that it will give extra weeks of paid leave to both mothers and fathers starting Nov. 1.

Under the new policy, paid parental leave will be extended to 12 weeks for new mothers and fathers, while mothers will receive an additional eight weeks off, also paid in full. This means new mothers will be entitled to 20 weeks of paid leave.

Mothers at Microsoft currently get 12 weeks of paid leave and eight weeks of unpaid leave while fathers get four weeks of paid time off and eight weeks of unpaid leave. Essentially, the policy update replaces the unpaid leave.

On top of this, Microsoft will allow birth mothers to use Short-Term Disability Leave two weeks prior to their scheduled due date “to manage the physical impact that often comes with late pregnancy and to prepare for the upcoming birth.”

Although Microsoft’s new policy doesn’t match Netflix’s scheme, announced Tuesday, in which a mom and dad will be entitled to unlimited leave for up to a year after the birth or adoption of a baby, it is a step in the same direction.

Kathleen Hogan, executive vice President of human resources at Microsoft, wrote in the statement that the company has a high standard for its employees, so it should provide in return.

“As we ask our employees to bring their ‘A’ game to work every day to achieve our mission, we believe it’s our responsibility to create an environment where people can do their best work,” Hogan wrote. 

“These changes are in direct support of the culture we aspire to have — one that allows people to build meaningful careers.”

“These changes are in direct support of the culture we aspire to have — one that allows people to build meaningful careers.”

Extended maternity leave is common in large Silicon Valley companies. Facebook, Google, Apple and YouTube all have extended maternity leave policies ranging from 14 weeks of leave up to 18 weeks. The dads are not left behind at these companies either. Paternity leave varies at each company while Facebook tops the charts with its 17-week policy.

There is no requirement under U.S. law for companies to pay parental leave to new parents. A standard benchmark for companies with more than 50 employees, set by the Family and Medical Leave Act, is 12 weeks unpaid leave for new mothers who have been employed for more than a year.

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Target launches Bluetooth beacon pilot program in 50 stores

Hackers Grab 40 Million Accounts From Target Stores

Bluetooth beacons are already helping London’s visually-impaired subway riders navigate the Tubes, now they’re going to help shoppers find great deals at their local Target stores. The retailer recently announced that it is implementing a pilot beacon program in 50 of its stores. These beacons will send push notifications to shoppers phones whenever they browse within range of the device, similar to the Tips system that Facebook is working on.

In order to keep this system from spamming customers, Target is requiring that shoppers first download and install the Target iOS app (an Android version is in development), then actively opt-in to receive the notifications. What’s more, the system is designed to push a maximum of just two notifications per shopping trip with the rest of the deals appearing in the app itself. That way customers can get the maximum number of deals without becoming overwhelmed. Future iterations will reportedly feature the ability to resort your shopping list as you browse so that you won’t have to retrace your steps to finish your shopping.

Stores in Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, New York City, Pittsburgh, Portland, San Francisco and Seattle have all been selected to participate. Target will reportedly use data gathered from this pilot to fine tune the program ahead of a nationwide rollout around the Holidays. Target did admit to TechCrunchthat it plans to harvest user data to “understand shopping trends and preferences.” Given that Target was recently hacked, it will be interesting to see how many shoppers will be willing to not only share their data with the company but also tool around its stores with their Bluetooth radios on.