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IT40 News for 02/06/2019

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#1 With The Planet In Crisis, Congress Is Here To Talk About Climate Change

In March 2017, then-Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) convened a hearing of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology to “examine the scientific method and process as it relates to climate change.” What transpired wasn’t a thoughtful discussion about how to tackle the urgent, irrefutable crisis, but a drawn-out hearing questioning whether humans are even the primary cause.

Smith, one of Washington’s most vocal deniers of climate science, stacked the witness panel with prominent climate skeptics. Over the course of two hours, he challenged the credibility of Science magazine, one of the world’s most respected science publications, and accused climate scientists ― as he often did ― of manipulating data to push personal agendas.

In her opening statement that day, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, then the ranking Democrat on the committee, said theories floated by her colleagues on the right had become “punchlines on late-night television.”

“I sincerely hope that someday soon, the committee on science will cease lecturing and harassing scientists and instead return to listening and supporting them,” she said.

That hearing was part of a years-long, GOP-led effort to downplay, dismiss and turn a blind eye to the threat the planet now faces. Republicans in the U.S. are one of the only major parties in the developed world that challenge the scientific consensus on climate change. During the four years after 2014 that the GOP controlled both chambers of Congress, Democrats found themselves largely handcuffed, unable to move the needle on climate policy.

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#2 State of the Union Fact Check: What Trump Got Right and Wrong

Video by Associated Press

President Trump leaned hard on the strength of the American economy during his second State of the Union address on Tuesday, but with a blend of precise statistics and gauzy superlatives that are much more difficult to measure.

He also returned to a theme that dominated the second year of his presidency — a quest for a border wall with Mexico to cope with what he said is a crisis of crime and drugs in the United States caused by illegal immigration.

The two issues dominated his address, which in tone was more measured than his biting Twitter feed, but in substance contained numerous claims that were false or misleading.

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#3 State of the Union: The chance of Trump’s agenda getting through Congress and other takeaways

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump used his State of the Union address to continue his push for a border wall and outline his agenda for the second half of his term, including a handful of specific proposals he asked Congress to consider.   

Trump called for bipartisanship in broad terms but also blasted the multiple investigations that have loomed over his presidency and pressed hard for immigration changes – including a border wall that Democrats flatly rejected. 

Here are six key takeaways from his speech – Trump's second State of the Union and third address to a joint session of Congress – and whether his proposals have any chance of passing in a new era of divided government:

In a nation deeply divided over politics, Trump flicked at unity but offered few specific policies that would mend those divisions. 

The opening lines of the president's speech noted the "unlimited potential" to advance an agenda that is not partisan.

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#4 Peggy Noonan says Ocasio-Cortez has ‘rare bad night,’ freshman rep responds

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez responds to criticism from Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan following the State of the Union.

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez responded to criticism from a top columnist on Tuesday that she had a "rare bad night" during President Trump's State of the Union speech.

Peggy Noonan, the Wall Street Journal columnist, tweeted that the 29-year-old Democrat looked "sullen, teenaged and at a loss" during a night where the freshman rep kept mostly silent and refused to applaud president Trump's remarks as he touted his administration's low unemployment numbers and efforts to cure AIDS and stop sex traffickers.

Ocasio-Cortez - a frequent critic of Trump - took to Twitter to defend herself.

"Why should I be “spirited and warm” for this embarrassment of a #SOTU? Tonight was an unsettling night for our country. The president failed to offer any plan, any vision at all, for our future. We’re flying without a pilot. And I‘m not here to comfort anyone about that fact," she wrote.

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#5 2 Women Accuse Former Costa Rican President Óscar Arias Sánchez Of Sexual Misconduct

At least two women have accused Nobel laureate and former Costa Rican President Óscar Arias Sánchez of sexual misconduct. The allegations have been described as the highest-profile #MeToo accusations in Latin America to date. 

Dr. Alexandra Arce von Herold, a psychiatrist and anti-nuclear activist, filed a criminal complaint against Arias on Monday, The New York Times and local paper Semanario Universidad reported.

Herold has accused Arias of sexually assaulting her in 2014. The activist, who said she’d often met with Arias to discuss nuclear disarmament issues, said she’d been at the statesman’s home when he suddenly approached her from behind, touched her breasts and penetrated her with his fingers.

“I just froze, and I didn’t know what to do,” Herold recalled of the incident, speaking to the Times. “I was so much in shock. That had never happened to me before.”

A second woman, Emma Daly, told The Washington Post on Tuesday that Arias groped her in 1990. Daly, now the head of communications at Human Rights Watch, was a reporter based in Costa Rica at the time. She told the Post that she had approached Arias, who was then president, in the lobby of a Nicaragua hotel to ask him a question but instead of responding, he “ran his hand between her breasts and exclaimed, ‘You’re not wearing a bra.’”

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#6 Archaeologists Discover 40 Mummies In Egyptian Burial Chambers

A “maze of tombs” containing dozens of mummies has been unearthed at an ancient burial site in Upper Egypt, officials said.

More than 40 mummies suspected of belonging to an upper-middle-class family were recently found in the Tuna el-Gebel archaeological site in Minya, south of Cairo, Egypt’s Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany said on Saturday.

The family, which included at least 10 children, is believed to have lived during the Ptolemaic, early Roman or Byzantine period, which dates back to 323-30 BC.

“All are in a good conservation condition,” the ministry said in a statement. “Some of them were buried inside stone or wooden sarcophagi while others were buried in sands or on the floors of the tombs or inside niches.”

Pottery and papyri were also found within the chambers.

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#7 Nancy Pelosi clapped at Trump during State of the Union. The memes quickly followed

During President Donald Trump's State of the Union address, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stood and clapped at the commander-in-chief with a grin that caught people's attention.

"But we must reject the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution – and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise and the common good," Trump said prior to Pelosi's clap.

Some broadcasts cut to New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other Democratic lawmakers staring, without joining their colleagues on both sides standing for a round of applause.

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#9 Putin Warns That Russia Is Developing ‘Invincible’ Hypersonic Missiles

MOSCOW — Alarmed by the Trump administration’s scrapping of a Cold War-era arms control treaty, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has ramped up warnings that his country is developing new hypersonic missiles that will travel at more than five times the speed of sound and will be “invincible.”

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But while instructing his military to expand the launch platforms and sophistication of its rocket arsenal, Mr. Putin has also ordered Defense Minister Sergei K. Shoigu to stay within the limits of existing spending plans for 2019 and beyond.

“We must not and will not let ourselves be drawn into an expensive arms race,” Mr. Putin told Mr. Shoigu at a meeting over the weekend in the Kremlin, according to a transcript released by Moscow.

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#10 Venezuela army ‘blocks aid corridor’

Venezuelan soldiers have blocked a bridge on the border with Colombia ahead of a shipment of humanitarian aid, the opposition says.

The aid is being arranged by opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who declared himself interim president last month.

But it is not clear how the aid will be distributed. President Nicolás Maduro, who has the support of the army, has rejected letting it into the country.

Venezuela is in the grip of a worsening humanitarian crisis.

Mr Guaidó is head of Venezuela's National Assembly and says the constitution allows him to assume power temporarily when the president is deemed illegitimate.

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#11 How is President Donald Trump’s State of the Union playing overseas? It’s not even playing

President Donald Trump used his State of the Union address to appeal for political unity, offering Americans a choice between "greatness and gridlock" while claiming to have shown strength facing down international threats from Iran to North Korea.

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But political scientists said the speech masked an essential point: Trump's foreign policy has exacerbated many of the problems he's trying to solve, claimed credit for progress to which it is not entitled and alienated key allies along the way. And those foreign partners – and even the foes – from Asia to Europe, from Latin America to the Middle East, voted with their rhetoric Wednesday by meeting Trump's speech with silence.

In fact, with the exception of a spokesman for South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who welcomed Trump's announcement of a second summit with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam, Feb. 27 and 28, few said it warranted paying close attention.

More: Trump to meet Kim Jong Un in Vietnam for the pair's second summit

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#12 Pompeo reassures allies of U.S. commitment to defeat Islamic State

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday reassured coalition partners that the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria was not "the end of America's fight" and called on them to help permanently defeat Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

Pompeo - addressing foreign ministers and other senior officials from 79 countries that have worked alongside the United States in fighting the militant group in Syria and Iraq - said Islamic State remained a menace.

"The U.S. troops withdrawing from Syria is not the end of America's fight. The fight is one we will continue to wage alongside you," Pompeo said in opening remarks at the State Department. "The drawdown in troops is essentially a tactical change, it is not a change in the mission. It simply represents a new stage in an old fight."

"Our mission is unwavering, but we need your help to accomplish it, just as we've had over the past months and years," Pompeo said. "To that end, we ask that our coalition partners seriously and rapidly consider requests that will enable our efforts to continue.

"Those requests are likely to come very soon," he added, without elaborating.

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#13 Ukraine’s exiled ex-president claims possible vote rigging

MOSCOW — Ukraine's exiled former president, who was found guilty of fueling a deadly separatist conflict in the east, on Wednesday claimed there could be possible vote rigging in the country's upcoming presidential election.

Ukrainians will vote March 31 to elect a new president. Former President Viktor Yanukovych fled the country in February 2014 following months of anti-government protests. Weeks later, Russia used his appeal to send troops to Ukraine as a justification for annexing the Crimean peninsula.

Yanukovych, 68, spoke to the press Wednesday in Moscow, breaking more than a year of silence. He would not endorse any of the over 30 Ukrainian presidential candidates but accused President Petro Poroshenko of plotting vote rigging. He offered no proof for his claims.

"Authorities are going to do everything in their power and use all of its powers, including various tricks, to rig the voting, because President Poroshenko cannot win without vote rigging," Yanukovych told reporters in his first public appearance since 2017.

Yanukovych and his election team were accused of vote rigging during Ukraine's 2004 presidential campaign. He ended up losing the re-run of the presidential runoff after the earlier results were annulled following reports of wide-spread vote rigging in his favor.

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#14 WhatsApp prepares for India’s election, the world’s biggest

WhatsApp has a powerful platform in India. Sometimes too powerful.

Last year, a spate of lynchings triggered by viral hoax messages on its service put the company at the center of a debate about misinformation in the country, where it has more than 200 million users.

Now it's bracing for India's upcoming national elections, the biggest in the world.

WhatsApp is deploying artificial intelligence to clean up its platform ahead of the elections, in which more than 800 million Indians are eligible to vote.It's also warning India's political parties against spreading politically-motivated spam messages.

The Facebook-owned app is using AI tools to detect and ban accounts that spread "problematic content" through mass messaging, it said in a statement on Wednesday.

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#15 Taliban Says It Wants U.S. Pullout in Months

(Bloomberg) -- The Taliban is seeking the pullout of all foreign troops from Afghanistan within months, a senior official said, as the fundamentalist Islamic movement reached out to opponents of U.S.-backed President Ashraf Ghani at talks in Moscow.

“This is the first step,’’ Sher Mohammed Abbas Stanikzai told reporters in the Russian capital after meeting with other Afghan factions. “It will continue in the future with the hope that it can bring peace one day to Afghanistan.”

Ghani’s administration shunned the Feb. 5-6 Russian-hosted initiative, which came after the U.S. announced it was close to reaching a framework agreement with the Taliban on ending the 18-year Afghan war, including on the withdrawal of foreign troops.

The Afghan government is worrying openly that the U.S. will leave them at the mercy of the Taliban. The militant group, which is on the offensive and already controls or contests about half of territory in Afghanistan, refuses to hold talks with the authorities in Kabul until it reaches a binding deal on the pullout of foreign troops, including 14,000 from the U.S.

At talks last month, the Taliban agreed with the U.S. on the withdrawal of “all foreign troops from Afghanistan” and “that the soil of Afghanistan would not be used against them,” said Stanikzai. Now the exact timetable for the pullout must be decided, but the Taliban wants to see this happen in months, he said.

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#16 Kim Jong Un-Trump summit will take place in Vietnam

President Donald Trump announced during Tuesday's State of the Union address that his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will take place in Vietnam on February 27 and 28.

"We continue our historic push for peace on the Korean Peninsula. Our hostages have come home, nuclear testing has stopped and there has not been a missile launch in more than 15 months. If I had not been elected President of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea," Trump said.

"Much work remains to be done, but my relationship with Kim Jong Un is a good one. Chairman Kim and I will meet again on February 27 and 28 in Vietnam," he added.

The city in Vietnam is still being discussed but the contenders are Hanoi and Da Nang, according to a source familiar with the summit's planning.

A source familiar with the negotiations says that North Korea favors Hanoi given that they have an embassy there. The US favors Da Nang given the fact that there was recently an APEC summit in the city which means the US has already conducted a full check.

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#17 Vatican clarifies pope on issue of ‘sexual slavery’ of nuns

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican on Wednesday clarified comments by Pope Francis about a case of what he called "sexual slavery" within a French congregation of nuns, saying he was referring to an abuse of power that was reflected in instances of sexual abuse.

Francis cited the case when responding to a question about the sexual abuse of nuns by clergy during a press conference Tuesday returning home from the United Arab Emirates. It was the pope's first-ever public acknowledgment of the problem of priests and bishops sexually abusing nuns. He stressed that the Vatican had been confronting the issue for some time and vowed to do more.

Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said Wednesday Francis "spoke of 'sexual slavery' to mean 'manipulation' or a type of abuse of power that is reflected in a sexual abuse."

The Community of St. Jean admitted in 2013 that its late founder had behaved "in ways that went against chastity" with women in the order, according to the French Catholic newspaper La Croix. The Vatican under Pope Benedict XVI ultimately dissolved an offshoot of the congregation.

The issue has come to the fore amid the Catholic Church's overall reckoning with the sexual abuse of minors and the #MeToo-inspired acknowledgement that adults can be victims of abuse whenever there is an imbalance of power in a relationship. In the past year, The Associated Press and other media have reported on cases of abused nuns in India , Africa, Europe and South America — evidence that the problem is by no means limited to a certain geographic area.

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#18 ‘Special place in Hell’ for Brexiteers: EU leader

European Union leader Donald Tusk on Wednesday condemned those calling for Brexit with no idea how to carry it out, saying he hopes Theresa May now has a "realistic" plan.

The British prime minister is due in Brussels on Thursday to discuss ways to ensure Britain's orderly withdrawal from the EU and avoid what Tusk warned would be a "fiasco."

But Tusk, standing by Irish leader Leo Varadkar, warned once again that the divorce deal May agreed last year but failed to sell to her parliament will not be reopened.

Neither will the deal's "backstop" that ensures an open Irish border, he said, damning the British eurosceptics pushing for an abrupt "no deal" departure.

"I've been wondering what that special place in Hell looks like, for those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan how to carry it out safely," Tusk said.

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#19 Pakistan Fights to Save the Adorable and Endangered Pangolin

On a Saturday afternoon in August 2018, 41-year-old Shaukat Akash was relaxing at his home in Taxila in Pakistan’s Punjab province when he heard people talking over each other in raised voices outside, followed by frequent thuds. Akash stepped outside to find a group of men armed with sticks and spades, standing in a circle and bent over a weird-looking scaly creature curled up in a ball in the middle.

Akash told the men to stop beating the animal, and unsure of what the creature was, decided to take it home for its safety. Members of Pakistan Wildlife Foundation (PWF), a nonprofit conservation group, identified the animal as a pangolin over the phone, based on Akash’s description. They took the creature. The next day, after it was observed fit for walking and digging into the earth despite a slight swelling on its right forelimb, it was released in Margalla Hills National Park in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital. It was a life-saving operation that Pakistan’s conservationists are now increasingly trying to replicate to protect the pangolin, identified by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) as the world’s most trafficked animal.

Pangolins rarely make it out alive from human contact. Their body parts are smuggled to East Asia: the scales are used in Chinese medicine and the meat is considered an exquisite delicacy. Of its three main sub-species, the Chinese pangolin’s population has been in regular decline, down 94 percent over the past 60 years. The animal is described as “critically endangered” in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

The African variety’s risk status is at “vulnerable,” which is concerning but much less critical. But it is the Indian pangolin, native to Pakistan’s Pothohar Plateau and the part of Jammu and Kashmir governed by the country, that is suffering the swiftest decline. The population of this animal is down by 80 percent in just the past five years, according to the WWF.  

That crisis is sparking a new resistance from conservation groups, filmmakers, vets and ordinary citizens battling to save the pangolin from extinction in Pakistan, despite little formal organization or support from the government. Since October 2017, the WWF has established six community-based pangolin protection zones, each protected by local guards and watchers. Muhammad Ali Ijaz, a film director, has taken his 2015 documentary, Pangolins in Peril – A Story of Rare Scales, to schools in Lahore to educate children about the creature and its fight for survival. And ordinary citizens like Akash are shunning the lure of quick money to instead turn amateur conservationists.

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#20 19 Disasters That Could End The World

How does the world end? With a bang, or as poet T.S. Eliot suggested, a whimper? Humans have been pondering the end of days since we first contemplated our mortality.

The threats to our earliest existence were mostly from phenomena beyond our control, such as massive volcanic eruptions, floods, pestilence, and ice ages, to name a few. In time, we have become the biggest menace to our survival, through conventional, biological, chemical, and nuclear warfare, as well as the despoiling of the environment.

The Global Challenges Foundation, which endeavors to reduce the problems that threaten humanity, compiles an annual report on global catastrophic risks. Besides nuclear war and global warming, the Stockholm, Sweden-based organization also addresses risk scenarios involving collisions with asteroids, supervolcanic eruptions, and the emerging field of nanotechnology.

In its most recent report published in September, the foundation said, “The extent to which we protect our natural environment and transform harmful patterns of consumption in the next 50 years will shape our far future, over the next 10,000 years and beyond.”

Scientists have determined that 99.9% of all species that ever existed are now extinct, largely because of five catastrophic events in Earth’s history. And according to a recent report from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, seven out of 10 biologists think we are in the midst of a sixth extinction wave that could eliminate 90% of all species today.

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#21 The future is now: Sci-fi gadgets that really exist

Created for selfie-obsessed millennials, this quirky gadget lets users capture the perfect shot of themselves. The pocket-sized flyer stays in the air for around five minutes and is controlled by an app. It reaches heights of over 65 feet (20 meters) and is available in four colors – silver, black, gold and rose.

Created by FasTeesH, this mouthpiece-shaped toothbrush speeds up the process of cleaning your teeth to just 10 seconds. The device has nylon bristles angled at 45 degrees and comes with three settings that can be adjusted to suit user sensitivity.

At a little under 13 inches (32 centimeters), this digital guitar is made by technology company RnD64. It can be expanded to 19.6 inches (49.7 centimeters), has steel strings and 17 different pre-set sounds when plugged into an amp or when a headphone set is plugged into the instrument.

If you like working out on a rowing machine in your gym and wish you could take it out on the road, the RowBike is perfect for you. Designed by Rollerblade co-founder Scott Olson, this four-wheeled bike can be operated by swinging a lever back and forth. The action, which resembles that of rowing a boat, moves a chain that is connected to cogs and the wheels. It is simple, it is fun and makes for a great outdoor workout!

A sensor-controlled safety device for swimmers, this is worn as a necklace and was designed to replace flotation devices worn around the arm. While wearing this, if you remain submerged for 30 seconds or more, built-in floats are automatically inflated.

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#22 2019’s new emoji include mechanical arms, hearing aids, wheelchairs, and orangutans

In a move toward greater inclusion, the freshly finalized set of 2019 emoji addresses people with physical disabilities, covering mechanical arms and legs, sign language and hearing aids, and even the difference between manual and motorized wheelchairs. The Unicode Consortium evidently heeded Apple’s proposal last year to better represent people with disabilities, and the new Unicode Emoji 12.0 additions announced today reflect that desire to the fullest. There’s also greater inclusiveness in terms of skin tones and relationship types, as a bunch of new variants of the “people holding hands” emoji expand the combinations of genders and races.

Besides humans, the new emoji also broaden the range of other animals represented, with otters, orangutans, flamingos, and sloths all making it in. On the food front, there’s now butter, garlic, onion, falafel, waffles, and ice cubes. More ominous additions include razors, axes, and a drop of blood. In total, there are 59 new emoji and 171 new variations on existing ones.

One of Emojipedia’s most requested emoji was apparently a white heart, and that omission is now being rectified. In fact, as of 2019, all of the major colors will be represented with circle, square, and heart-shaped emoji. If you’ve been waiting to express yourself with a brown heart, this will be the year your wait comes to an end.

As per usual, the new emoji additions will take a few months to show up in consumer products. The present announcement is merely to get the documentation in order, and then it will be up to software providers like Apple, Google, Samsung, and Microsoft to design their own takes on each emoji and implement those in their device interfaces.

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#23 How to unsend messages on Facebook Messenger

Welcome to TNW Basics, a collection of tips, guides, and advice on how to easily get the most out of your gadgets, apps, and connected services.

Admit it, we’ve all accidentally sent a meme to our boss, or maybe even an unwarranted ‘hi’ to an ex, and regretted those keystrokes for hours afterwards. Thankfully, Facebook Messenger now allows you to delete a message – both for individual and group chats – for up to 10 minutes after sending it.

To remove a message, simply tap on it and select the “Remove for everyone” option that pops up. The deleted text will be replaced by an alert indicating that the message was removed.

Things to know about Mark Zuckerberg [Photo Services]

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg ranks among the most influential people of the 21st century. A Harvard dropout, he founded Facebook in 2004 at age 19. Today, his name is listed among the most powerful people on the planet. Here are some interesting facts about the young billionaire.

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#24 Google Assistant’s interpreter mode is ready to translate

Last month, we had our first glimpse of Google Assistant's interpreter mode for smart displays and speakers. Now, everyone with Google Home devices or smart displays (as well as some smart speakers) can try out the mode after Google started rolling it out to those devices, as noted by Android Police.

You'll need to activate the mode (by saying something like "turn on interpreter mode or "Help me speak Spanish") in English, French, German, Italian, Japanese or Spanish. Once you've started it though, the interpreter will translate between 26 languages, with support for more on the way.

When we tried the mode at CES, we found it to be slow and stilted, which could cause complications for more complex translations. But, as we've seen with Google Translate over the last decade or so, the interpreter will likely improve. In any case, the rollout is another useful step towards us busting through language barriers with greater ease.

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#25 Samsung considers putting a camera in a stylus

Samsung is considering building a camera with optical zoom into an upcoming stylus, according to a patent first spotted by Patently Mobile. According to the patent, which was filed in February 2017 and granted yesterday, the stylus would be able to wirelessly send any images back to the phone or tablet, potentially making use of the Bluetooth support that was added with the Note 9’s S Pen stylus.

An S Pen with a built-in camera would offer a number of benefits. For one, space constraints in the main body of a phone normally mean an optical zoom is out of the question. But Samsung’s patent specifically mentions that the stylus’ camera includes an “optical zooming function.” Detaching the camera from the phone would also give you more flexibility with how you take your photographs — allowing you to take them from higher or lower vantage points while using the phone’s display as a viewfinder.

As with all patents like this, there’s no guarantee that this feature will ever make it to a future product. But after Samsung struggled with weak sales in 2018, it’s going to need eye-catching new features like this to revitalize its smartphone business. Samsung did not immediately respond to request for comment.

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#26 ‘Rift S’ hints revealed in Oculus PC software

After Oculus co-founder Brendan Iribe left the company late last year, TechCrunch reported a shift in strategy from developing a "Rift 2" to a more lightly-refreshed "Rift S" VR headset. Now UploadVR cites code found in the Oculus PC software referencing the new device and giving some hints of its capabilities.

A "lighting frequency for Rift S cameras to adjust to room lighting" toggle suggests built-in tracking cameras, while a software setting to adjust "IPD (Interpupillary Distance)" shows it will drop the original Rift's hardware IPD adjustment.

Not surprisingly, it seems to have some things in common with the standalone Oculus Quest. Even if it doesn't follow the original Rift's path in pushing the envelope and showing people the cutting edge of what VR experiences can be, a simpler setup that's slightly more accessible is closer to what the company's owners at Facebook have in mind.

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#27 A kids’ smartwatch was recalled by the EU over privacy concerns

A smartwatch designed for children, the Enox Safe Kid One, was recalled by the EU over data privacy concerns, as reported by ZDNet. It was discovered that the watch, which is equipped with a GPS, microphone, and speaker to make calls and send SMS texts, could be easily hacked by third parties. It doesn’t appear that the watch was ever sold in North America, and although it’s not the first time that children’s toys have been found to have security holes, this marks the first time that the European commission has stepped in with a product recall.

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The smartwatch’s security issues were brought to light in a RAPEX (Rapid Alert System for Non-Food Products) report, which warned that the watch’s companion Android app had “unencrypted communications with its backend server,” which enabled “unauthenticated access to data.” This opened up data like location history, phone numbers, and the serial number to malicious actors, who could easily find and change the data. Once hacked, a stranger could potentially use the watch to make calls to a child, find the child’s location, or conceal their true location from their parents.

Smartwatches for kids have been banned in Germany since 2017, when the country’s telecommunications agency Bundesnetzagentur classified the devices as “prohibited listening devices.” The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) also published a report in 2017 about the privacy concerns surrounding kids’ smartwatches. Today’s news likely won’t be the last time the European commission sends out another warning about security flaws, or orders for a recall.

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#28 Twitter may soon allow you to edit your tweets, but there’s an important catch

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has revealed the company is considering implementing a new feature that would allow users to edit their posts.

A huge part of Twitter’s appeal is its ability to carry out fresh, real-time information. Whatever you put out there is set in stone and the only way to undo what was said is to delete your tweet entirely.

Implementing a way to edit your posts could change the platform’s very identity – and potentially turn users away. It’s pretty dangerous territory and that’s why Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey says that if they ever do it, they’ll have to do it in a way that doesn’t take the “real-time nature and the conversational flow out of it”.

In a chat with comedian and podcaster Joe Rogan last Friday which lasted almost two hours, the Twitter co-founder said the company was looking at a way to implement a feature that would let users edit their tweets while keeping the original version still publically available.

“You could build it such that maybe we introduce a five-second to 30-second delay in the sending, and within that window, you can edit,” explained Dorsey.

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#29 Firefox will mute autoplaying videos by default starting next month

Autoplaying video is the scourge of the internet, and Mozilla is going to do its part to help stomp it out in the upcoming Firefox 66, which will automatically mute any autoplaying video unless the user actively clicks the play button, via TechCrunch. 

As detailed in the blog post announcing the new block, Mozilla is defining autoplaying video as “any playback that happens before the user has interacted with a page via a mouse click, printable key press, or touch event,” and notes that it’ll be blocked unless explicitly allowed by a user. Users will also be able to manually allow sites to autoplay, allowing sites like YouTube (where most people tend to want the video they’ve selected to automatically play upon loading) to continue to work as normal.

Firefox isn’t the first browser to try to stamp out autoplaying video; Google added a similar block last year in Chrome. Google’s iteration was a more personalized method that used browsing history to determine which sites users would want blocked, instead of the broader ban that Firefox is offering. And it’s not a complete panacea either — Firefox will only mute the offending sites, but videos will continue to automatically play and eat up your bandwidth even after the update.

The automatic block is set to roll out with the next release of Firefox, currently scheduled for March 19th.

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#30 Why doesn’t Google make Gmail more like Inbox?

Often in cheesy rom-coms they say “All good things must come to an end.” Except it doesn’t in movies. But, if it’s a Google product, there’s a high chance that it might come to an end (RIP Google Reader).   Next month, the company’s much-loved email app, Inbox – which was introduced in 2014 as a more personalized interface for Gmail – is retiring. While Google said it’s going to bring a lot of Inbox features to Gmail, a lot of fans think it’ll never be quite as good as the soon-to-be-sunset app.

Inbox had some great features over Gmail like reminders, snoozing messages so they surface later on, bundles for grouping similar conversations, and AI-powered smart replies. With last year’s major Gmail overhaul, Google brought some of those features over, including snoozing, hover actions (marking an email read or archiving it without opening), smart replies, and follow-up nudges (an automatic suggestion to send a follow-up email after getting no answers for a few days). Last year, Google even said that it’s working on bringing bundles to Gmail, but didn’t specify when the functionality would arrive.

The company’s rumored to be working on a few upcoming features as well. A recent post on Reddit suggests that Google’s internal team is testing bundles, reminders, and pinned email features on Gmail.

There are some workarounds and guides on how to bring some of these features to Gmail right away. But it’s a tiresome job of setting everything up for the web and mobile, and they won’t do much to make Gmail look quite as pretty as Inbox.

The idea behind Inbox was to make it your personal productivity hub, and it brought all these features together seamlessly. I’ve made shopping lists on Inbox, tracked my travel itineraries using bundles, and followed up on tasks for work with reminders. Plus, Inbox’s categorization was pretty neat as well: it ensured that bills and social updates didn’t interrupt my workflow, but were easily accessible when I needed them.

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#31 Google has quietly dropped ban on personally identifiable web tracking

When Google bought the advertising network DoubleClick in 2007, Google founder Sergey Brin said that privacy would be the company’s “number one priority when we contemplate new kinds of advertising products.”

And, for nearly a decade, Google did in fact keep DoubleClick’s massive database of web-browsing records separate by default from the names and other personally identifiable informationGoogle has collected from Gmail and its other login accounts.

But this summer, Google quietly erased that last privacy line in the sand – literally crossing out the lines in its privacy policy that promised to keep the two pots of data separate by default. In its place, Google substituted new language that says browsing habits “may be” combined with what the company learns from the use Gmail and other tools.

The change is enabled by default for new Google accounts. Existing users were prompted to opt-in to the change this summer.

The practical result of the change is that the DoubleClick ads that follow people around on the web may now be customized to them based on your name and other information Google knows about you. It also means that Google could now, if it wished to, build a complete portrait of a user by name, based on everything they write in email, every website they visit and the searches they conduct.

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