Author: Devin Coldewey

Two more bangers for the Switch’s NES selection: Kirby and Super Mario Bros 2

Nostalgia for the NES is high following the success of Nintendo’s classic mini consoles and the launch of its Switch Online service, which just got a couple more great additions to its selection of 8-bit games: Kirby’s Adventure and the immortally weird Super Mario Bros 2. Kirby had just made his debut on the Game Boy, but the NES follow-up really improved things. Better controls, better graphics, still hard as hell. Super Mario Bros 2 is remembered as a curiosity, but it deserves more than that. Sure, it’s just an asset swap for Doki Doki Panic, but that doesn’t...

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Watch the 2019 State of the Union address here (or not)

It’s that time again — time to hear what kind of state our precious union is in. For those of you inclined to watch the temporarily delayed speech by the President, you can of course watch it in a bar and invent your own drinking game, but you can also stay home and watch it on YouTube or C-SPAN. The drinks are cheaper — and stronger. Of course C-SPAN will have it raw, and the White House stream will probably also be a plain one. But if you want a bit of partisan spice and occasional pull quotes along...

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Official emoji debut for disabled folks, service dogs, waffles and more

A gaggle of new emoji have just been approved by the Unicode Consortium, meaning they’ll be standard across any platforms that choose to support them. This batch includes some much-needed representation for people with various disabilities, new animals from guide dogs to otters, food and many more objects. Folks with disabilities get a nice variety of new emoji, though of course these aren’t exhaustive (for example, how do you represent a learning disability or mental illness?). Still, Apple’s proposal for the new emoji points out the necessity of, for example, having both mechanical and manual wheelchairs: The type of assistive technology that is used by individuals is very personal and mandated by their own disability need. For someone who cannot self-propel and therefore uses an electric wheelchair, it would not be realistic to only show a manual chair. For those who can use a manual version, it would not be realistic to insinuate that they have less mobility than they do. Therefore, these should be seen as two totally separate forms of assistive device. These images, as usual, are only samples; the final emoji that will be used depend on your device or service. However, since Apple proposed these ones and they are of course a popular platform for emoji use, you can probably expect these to be very like the final ones. There are lots of other useful...

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NASA cubecraft WALL-E and EVE sign off after historic Mars flyby

A NASA mission that sent two tiny spacecraft farther out than any like them before appears to have come to an end: Cubesats MarCO-A and B (nicknamed WALL-E and EVE) are no longer communicating from their positions a million and two million miles from Earth respectively. The briefcase-sized craft rode shotgun on the Insight Mars Lander launch in May, detaching shortly after leaving orbit. Before long they had gone farther than any previous cubesat-sized craft, and after about a million kilometers EVE took a great shot of the Earth receding in its wake (if wake in space were a...

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Play Iconary, a simple drawing game that hides a deceptively deep AI

It may not seem like it takes a lot of smarts to play a game like Pictionary, but in fact it involves a lot of subtle and abstract visual and linguistic skills. This AI built to play a game like it is similarly complex, and its interpretations and creations when you play it (as you can now) may seem eerily human — but it’s also refreshing to have such an agent working collaboratively with you rather than beating you with superhuman skills. Iconary, as the game’s creators at the Allen Institute for AI decided to call it to avoid lawsuits from Mattel, has you drawing and arranging icons to form phrases, or guessing at the arrangements of the computer player. For instance, if you were to get the phrase “woman drinking milk from a glass,” you’d probably draw a woman — a stick figure, probably, and then select the “woman” icon from the computer’s interpretations of your sketch. Then you’d draw a glass, and place that near the woman. Then… milk? How do you draw milk? There is actually a milk bottle icon if you look for it, but you could also draw a cow and put that in or next to the glass. [embedded content] The computer then guesses at what you’ve put together, and after a few tries it would probably get it. You can also play...

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Aurora Solar’s computer-generated installation maps pull in a $20M Series A

Solar installations are becoming a no-brainer for anyone with a roof in much of the country. But getting an estimate on how much it would cost and how much juice it would generate can be complicated and time consuming. Aurora Solar has made an automated process for doing this, and attracted $20 million in funding as a result. A big part of the uncertainty anyone has about getting solar installed is the upfront cost and return on investment. An on-site visit may cost hundreds, or thousands for a commercial property, or that cost may be rolled up into the...

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Snopes and AP leave Facebook fact-checking partnership

Two of Facebook’s four fact-checking partners in the U.S. have left the program as of the beginning of this year: Snopes, which recently rebuffed reports that its relationship with Facebook was strained, and the Associated Press. Both confirmed they are leaving the program, but left the possibility of future collaboration open. Snopes joined Facebook’s group of third-party fact checkers in 2016, at first volunteering its services and the next year accepting a lump $100,000 payment for their work. But the company said in a statement that it’s rethinking providing services like this at all. At this time we are...

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This light-powered 3D printer materializes objects all at once

3D printing has changed the way people approach hardware design, but most printers share a basic limitation: they essentially build objects layer by layer, generally from the bottom up. This new system from UC Berkeley, however, builds them all at once more or less by projecting a video through a jar of light-sensitive resin. The device, which its creators call the replicator (but shouldn’t, because that’s a Makerbot trademark), is mechanically quite simple. It’s hard to explain it better than Berkeley’s Hayden Taylor, who led the research: Basically, you’ve got an off-the-shelf video projector, which I literally brought in from home, and then you plug it into a laptop and use it to project a series of computed images, while a motor turns a cylinder that has a 3D-printing resin in it. Obviously there are a lot of subtleties to it — how you formulate the resin, and, above all, how you compute the images that are going to be projected, but the barrier to creating a very simple version of this tool is not that high. Using light to print isn’t new — many devices out there use lasers or other forms of emitted light to cause material to harden in desired patterns. But they still do things one thin layer at a time. Researchers did demonstrate a “holographic” printing method a bit like this using intersecting beams...

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