Facebook wants to kill smartphones.

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Facebook wants to kill smartphones.

It’s no secret Mark Zuckerberg is pinning Facebook’s prospects on augmented reality — technology that overlays digital imagery onto the real world, like Snapchat’s signature camera filters.

At this year’s F8 conference, taking place this week, Zuckerberg doubled down on the company’s ambitious 10-year master plan, which was first revealed in 2016. According to this timeline, Facebook expects to turn artificial intelligence, ubiquitous internet connectivity, and virtual and augmented reality into viable parts of its business over the next decade.

To accelerate the rise of augmented reality, a big part of the plan, Zuckerberg unveiled the Camera Effects platform — basically a set of tools for outside developers to build augmented-reality apps that you can access from the existing Facebook app’s camera. That would theoretically open the door for Facebook to host the next phenomenon like “Pokémon Go.”

The Facebook 10-year road map, first revealed in April 2016. (Facebook)

 

Mark Zuckerberg shows off the Facebook Camera Effects platform, which lets developers make augmented-reality apps like this Nike one that lets you share your run times with friends.Getty

While this announcement seems pretty innocuous, make no mistake — Facebook is once again putting itself into direct competition with Google and Apple, trying to create yet another parallel universe of apps and tools that don’t rely on the smartphones’ marketplaces. As The New York Times notes, Zuckerberg has long been disappointed that Facebook never built a credible smartphone operating system of its own.

This time, though, Facebook is also declaring war on pretty much everyone else in the tech industry, too. While it’ll take at least a decade to fully play out, the stuff Facebook is talking about today is just one more milestone on the slow march toward the death of the smartphone and the rise of even weirder and wilder futures.

(REUTERS/Robert Galbraith)

Why buy a TV?

Zuckerberg tipped his hand, just a bit, during Tuesday’s Facebook F8 keynote. During a demo of the company’s vision for augmented reality — in the form of a pair of easy-to-wear, standard-looking glasses — he showed how you could have a virtual “screen” in your living room, bigger than your biggest TV.

“We don’t need a physical TV. We can buy a $1 app ‘TV’ and put it on the wall and watch it,” Zuckerberg told USA Today ahead of his keynote. “It’s actually pretty amazing when you think about how much of the physical stuff we have doesn’t need to be physical.”

That makes sense, assuming you’re into the idea of wearing a computer on your face (and you’re OK with Facebook intermediating everything you see and hear, glitches and all).

But it’s not just TVs. This philosophy could extend to smartphones, smartwatches, tablets, fitness trackers, or anything else that has a screen or relies on one to work. Zuckerberg even showed off a street art installation that’s just a blank wall until you wave the Facebook camera app over it to reveal a mural.

For Microsoft, which has already dipped its toe in this area with its HoloLens holographic goggles, this is a foregone conclusion. HoloLens boss Alex Kipman recently called the demise of the smartphone the “natural conclusion” of augmented reality and its associated technologies.

War of the worlds

The problem, naturally, is that a huge chunk of the world’s economy hinges on the production of phones, TVs, tablets, and all those other things that Facebook thinks could be replaced with this technology.

Even Zuckerberg acknowledges it’s a long road ahead. That said, this Camera Effects platform, should it succeed in attracting a bunch of users, could go down as a savvy move. The apps that are built for the Facebook Camera today could wind up as the first versions of the apps you’d use with those glasses.

Microsoft’s futuristic HoloLens goggles provide an early look at Facebook’s goal. (Microsoft)

In the short term, Facebook’s play for augmented reality is going to look a lot like competing with Snapchat — and in a meaningful way, it is. Facebook needs developer and user love, so it needs to keep offering fun and funny tools to keep people from moving away from using its apps.

In the long term, though, this is Facebook versus everybody else to usher in an age of a new kind of computing — and pretty much every tech company out there will get caught in the crossfire, as Apple, Google, Microsoft, and more rush out their responses to this extremely existential, but still meaningful, threat.

Source: https://ind.pn/2Nlf6y4

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Is there a dark side to meditation?

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Is there a dark side to meditation?

We’ve all heard about the benefits of meditation ad nauseam. Those disciplined enough to practice regularly are rewarded with increased control over the brainwaves known as alpha rhythms, which leads to better focus and may help ease pain. In addition to calming the mind and body, meditation can also reduce the markers of stress in people with anxiety disorders. Rigorous studies have backed health claims such as these to convince therapists, physicians, and corporate gurus to embrace meditation’s potential.

What contemporary and ancient meditators have always known, however, is that while the hype may be warranted, the practice is not all peace, love, and blissful glimpses of unreality. Sitting zazen, gazing at their third eye, a person can encounter extremely unpleasant emotions and physical or mental disturbances.

Zen Buddhism has a word for the warped perceptions that can arise during meditation: makyo, which combines the Japanese words for “devil” and “objective world.” Philip Kapleau, the late American Zen master, once described confronting makyo as “a dredging and cleansing process that releases stressful experiences in deep layers of the mind.”

However, this demanding and sometimes intensely distressing side of meditation is rarely mentioned in scientific literature, says Jared Lindahl, a visiting professor of religious studies at Brown University, who has an interest in neuroscience and Buddhism. Along with Willoughby Britton, a psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry at Brown, the two meditators have co-authored a study that documents and creates a taxonomy for the variant phenomenology of meditation. The paper, published in Plos One, is the beginning of an ongoing series of studies. “Just because something is positive and beneficial doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be aware of the broader range of possible effects it might have,” Lindahl says.

To conduct their research, the pair interviewed 60 Western Buddhist meditation practitioners who had all experienced challenging issues during their practice. They included both rookies and meditation teachers, many of whom had accumulated more than 10,000 hours of meditation experience in their lifetime. All belonged to either Theravāda, Zen, or Tibetan traditions.

The researchers identified 59 kinds of unexpected or unwanted experiences, which they classified into seven domains: cognitive, perceptual, affective (related to moods), somatic, conative (related to motivation), sense of self, and social. Among the experiences described to them were feelings of anxiety and fear, involuntary twitching, insomnia, a sense of complete detachment from one’s emotions, hypersensitivity to light or sound, distortion in time and space, nausea, hallucinations, irritability, and the re-experiencing of past traumas. The associated levels of distress and impairment ranged from “mild and transient to severe and lasting,” according to the study. Most would not imagine that these side-effects could be hiding behind the lotus-print curtains of your local meditation center.

However, the survey respondents didn’t necessarily perceive every non-euphoric event as negative. In fact, says Britton, she and Lindahl deliberately avoided the word “adverse” in their study for this reason. Instead, they chose “challenging,” which better captured the meditators’ varied interpretations of their experiences. For instance, a person who came away from a retreat feeling “very expanded and very unified with other people in the world” might have found their oneness with the universe distracting once they returned home. (That’s challenging, not tragic.)

The goal of the study was to look for patterns in the common accounts of unwanted reactions. Who runs into the unexpected hurdles? What are the unique set of factors involved? In which ways do teachers assist students who are struggling? (And do they blame inner demons for the upsets, or maybe something you ate at lunch?) The answers, which still require future research, may one day be relevant to the ways meditation is used as therapy.

Source: https://bit.ly/2r6ktrz

Facebook is broken.

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Facebook is broken.

The problem is this: Facebook has become a feedback loop which can and does, despite its best intentions, become a vicious spiral. At Facebook’s scale, behavioral targeting doesn’t just reflect our behavior, it actually influences it. Over time, a service which was supposed to connect humanity is actually partitioning us into fractal disconnected bubbles.

The way Facebook’s News Feed works is that the more you “engage” with posts from a particular user, the more often their posts are shown to you. The more you engage with a particular kind of post, the more you will see its ilk. So far so good! It’s just showing you what you’ve demonstrated you’re interested in. What’s wrong with that?

The answer is twofold. First, this eventually constructs a small “in-group” cluster of Facebook friends and topics that dominate your feed; and as you grow accustomed to interacting with them, this causes your behavior to change, and you interact with them even more, reinforcing their in-group status … and (relatively) isolating you from the rest of your friends, the out-group.

Second, and substantially worse, because “engagement” is the metric, Facebook inevitably selects for the shocking and the outrageous. Ev Williams summed up the results brilliantly:

Of course this doesn’t just apply to Facebook. The first problem applies to all social networks with “smart” algorithmic feeds that optimize for engagement. Facebook is just the largest and most influential by far.

The second has been a problem with television for decades. Why have majorities or crazily large minorities of people believed, for many years, that violent crime just keeps getting worse, that their hometown mall might be bombed by terrorists at any moment, that Sharia law will come to their province/state any day now, that the rest of the world is a war-torn shambles only barely propped up by vast quantities of aid we can’t afford — despite the easily available, incredibly copious, clear evidence to the contrary? In large part because “if it bleeds, it leads.”

‘Fake news’ is far from new; it’s just become explicit rather than implicit. And I certainly don’t mean to suggest that Facebook singlehandedly caused the terrible trend of demonizing any and all people with whom one disagrees. Studies show that political polarization is more extreme in older people, who use social media less, than in the young. Whatever’s happening is far more complicated than just “Facebook is driving us apart.”

Still — we hoped the 21st century of Facebook would be better, more compassionate, more understanding, than the 20th century TV. But it’s not, and the ways in which it’s worse are far more personal. We hoped that making the world more open and connected would be good for us. Maybe it would be, if the metric that the connecting entity optimized for was something other than “engagement.” But it now seems fairly clear that engagement is negativelycorrelated with happiness for users, and moderately clear that this is, in fact, a causal relationship:

The analogy I like to use is global warming causing extreme weather: the more energy pumped into our atmosphere, the more it behaves in bizarre and erratic ways. Facebook is like a powerful greenhouse gas for our collective social atmosphere. TV was too, of course, but it was CO2 to Facebook’s methane.

I don’t want to get into Facebook’s privacy issues, hate–speech issues, ongoing rejection of all the principles of the open web, etc. I’m not suggesting that this is anyone’s fault, or even that anyone has done anything wrong. Nothing like Facebook has ever existed before. It is a company that is also a massive global experiment, one with some excellent outcomes.

But it would be good for us all if Facebook were to at least acknowledge the possibility that at least some of their experiment’s outcomes seem at best worrying — and maybe even alarming — and something should be done to try to mitigate them. As hard as that admission might be.

I’m happy to report that this may well be happening. See Mark Zuckerberg’s recent comments to the effect that “Facebook is … working on a way to connect you with people that you should know like mentors.” I hope this is the harbinger of a new understanding that Facebook’s focus on optimizing for engagement is, in and of itself, harmful to its users … and an understanding that it’s always best to head off a backlash before it begins, rather than after it gathers steam.

Source: https://tcrn.ch/2rT32fS

Is sugar really as addictive as cocaine? Scientists row over effect on body and brain.

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Is sugar really as addictive as cocaine? Scientists row over effect on body and brain.

An article suggesting that sugar should be considered an addictive substance, and could even be on a par with abusive drugs such as cocaine, has sparked a furious backlash with experts describing the claims as “absurd”.

In a narrative review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine the authors write that sugar could act as a gateway to alcohol and other addictive substances, adding that like sugar, like cocaine and opium, is refined from plants to yield pure white crystals – a process they say “significantly adds to its addictive properties.”

The article was co-authored by cardiovascular research scientist James J DiNicolantonio and cardiologist James H O’Keefe, both from Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas, together with William Wilson – a physician with the nonprofit US group practice Lahey Health.

“Consuming sugar produces effects similar to that of cocaine, altering mood, possibly through its ability to induce reward and pleasure, leading to the seeking out of sugar,” they write, citing rodent studies which show that sweetness is preferred even over cocaine, and that mice can experience sugar withdrawal.

Speaking to the Guardian, DiNicolantonio said that the consumption of sugar was a grave concern. “In animals, it is actually more addictive than even cocaine, so sugar is pretty much probably the most consumed addictive substance around the world and it is wreaking havoc on our health.”

The trio are not the first to explore whether sugar should be considered addictive, but the article has come under fire from some in the field, who say while sugar consumption can lead to problematic health issues, it it is not addictive or a drug of abuse.

Hisham Ziauddeen, a psychiatrist at the University of Cambridge, said that the rodent studies had been misunderstood by the authors, and added that a review of the matter he co-authored last year did not support the idea that sugar was addictive to humans.

“The rodent studies show that you only get addiction-like behaviours if you restrict the animals to having [sugar] for two hours every day. If you allow them to have it whenever they want it – which is really how we consume it – they don’t show these addiction-like behaviours,” he said.

“What this means is that it is the combination of that particular kind of intermittent access and sugar that produces those behaviours. Further you get the same kind of effect if you use saccharin … so it seems to be about sweet taste rather than sugar.”

Ziauddeen added that it was not surprising that even rats hooked on cocaine might prefer sugar, pointing out that many animals would naturally look for sweet things, not cocaine.

Maggie Westwater, a co-author of the study with Ziauddeen, said that the anxious behaviour sometimes shown by rodents after eating sugar was far from a clear sign of addiction. “Since such ‘withdrawal’ often occurs in the context of extended fasting, we cannot say if the behaviours were precipitated by previous sugar consumption or by hunger,” she said, adding that unlike for cocaine, rodents would not seek sugar if it was paired with an unpleasant event, like an electric shock

The authors of the latest study also point to parallels between the effect of cocaine and sugar on the brain, pointing out that both interact with the same reward system.

But Ziauddeen said that was not surprising. “The reality is that quite simply the brain’s rewards system and the circuits that control eating behaviour are the same ones that respond to drugs of abuse,” he said. But, he added, unlike sugar “drugs of abuse seem to hijack those systems and turn off their normal controls.”

Tom Sanders, emeritus professor of nutrition and dietetics at King’s College London said that it was “absurd to suggest that sugar is addictive like hard drugs.”

“While it is true that a liking for sweet things can be habit-forming it is not addictive like opiates or cocaine,” said Sanders. “Individuals do not get withdrawal symptoms when they cut sugar intake.”

However, DiNicolantonio said that while sugar consumption in humans didn’t lead to physical withdrawal signs, there were biochemical signs of withdrawal in the brain – a point contested by Ziauddeen.

But not everyone disagreed with the authors.

Robert Lustig, professor of paediatrics at the University of California San Francisco said he shared the concerns of DiNicolantonio and colleagues. “I do believe that sugar is addictive, based on its metabolic and hedonic properties,” he said. Lustig has previously argued that sugar is the “alcohol of the child”. However, while he said he believed sugar was a drug of abuse, he considered it a weak one, on a par with nicotine, rather than drugs like heroin.

But Ziauddeen cautioned that sugar, in itself, is not dangerous. “From an eating, metabolism and obesity point of view, sugar is not this terrific demon by itself, because of some innate property of it,” he said. “Where the problem lies is that there are huge amounts of sugar that are put into various foods that substantially boost the calorie content of those foods.”

Sanders agreed, noting that our taste for sugar is a trait that humans are born with and that sweetness helps us recognise foods rich in vitamin C.“The main health hazard from sugar is dental decay – it only contributes to obesity directly via overconsumption of sugar-sweetened beverages,” he said.

Source : https://bit.ly/2w4opMg

French school students to be banned from using mobile phones.

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French school students to be banned from using mobile phones.

French school students will be banned from using mobile phones anywhere on school grounds from September, after the lower house of parliament passed what it called a “detox” law for a younger generation increasingly addicted to screens.

The centrist president Emmanuel Macron had promised during his election campaign that he would outlaw children’s phones in nursery, primary and middle-schools, until around the age of 15.

The new law bans phone-use by children in school playgrounds, at breaktimes and anywhere on school premises. Legislation passed in 2010 already states children should not use phones in class.

During a parliamentary debate, lawmakers from Macron’s La République En Marche party said banning phones in schools meant all children now had a legal “right to disconnect” from digital pressures during their school day.

Some in Macron’s party had initially sought to go even further, arguing that adults should set an example and the the ban should be extended to all staff in schools, making teachers surrender their phones on arrival each morning.

But Macron’s education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, brushed this aside, saying it wasn’t necessary to extend the ban to teachers and staff.

The minister said that the school phone ban for children would “make us all reflect on our phone use in society, including adults”.

But the leftwing MP Hervé Saulignac pointed out that, during the debate about children being dangerously addicted to phones and unable to concentrate on their studies, scores of lawmakers were sitting through the session absent-mindedly tapping away on their own phones.

Opposition parties warned that major questions remained about how to enforce the ban, which will affect millions of children. The details of how schools could put the law in place have been left deliberately open.

Politicians estimate that more than 90% of French children aged between 12 and 17 have a phone. Blanquer had previously suggested that children could place their phones in lockers when they arrive at school in the same way that government ministers “place their phone in a box before cabinet meetings”.

But some schools have complained that setting up individual lockers in huge schools would be costly, impractical and difficult to police. Rights groups warned that schools would not have the legal right to confiscate phones.

Source: https://bit.ly/2Htp9gd

Chick-fil-A Still Hates Gay People.

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Chick-fil-A Still Hates Gay People.

Although they have tried to deny it, their latest IRS filings show otherwise.

“the Chick-fil-A Foundation gave more than $1 million in 2015 (nearly one-sixth of its total grants) to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes,” a religious organization which “imparts a strongly anti-LGBTQ message.

the foundation also gave more than $200,000 to the Paul Anderson Youth Home, a Georgia-based “transformative organization” that operates an anti-gay “Christian residential home for troubled youth” and uses propaganda associated with harmful and discredited “ex-gay” therapy.

The above are just examples of anti-gay organizations that the fast food franchise supports.

Although they might claim otherwise this is a horrid franchise that *must* be boycotted.

I know here in metro-Detroit when a new store of theirs opened (the first in the area) it made local news (read free advertising) for several days earlier this year.

Please help spread the word.

Source: https://bit.ly/2Kr1Ud8

Woman held in Dubai after drinking wine on flight.

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Woman held in Dubai after drinking wine on flight.

A woman was detained in Dubai for three days with her four-year-old daughter after drinking a complimentary glass of wine on a flight from London, an NGO has said.

Ellie Holman, a dentist originally from Sweden who lives in Sevenoaks, Kent, with her English partner, Gary, and their three children, was denied water and made to clean toilets while in custody, according to the human rights group Detained in Dubai.

The NGO, formed to help people held in the United Arab Emirates, said it was representing the woman and her daughter Bibi, who was “terrified” by the experience.

Holman, 44, was arrested on 13 July after having one glass of wine on her eight-hour Emirates flight, the group said.

She was taken into custody after an immigration official questioned her about her visa and asked if she had consumed alcohol.

Holman and her daughter were initially denied food, water and access to a toilet while being held in a cell together for three days, the group said.

She faces being detained in Dubai for up to a year while awaiting a court hearing.

The group said Holman and her daughter were travelling to Dubai for a five-day break to visit friends, having visited several times before.

After landing, she was questioned by an immigration official, who said her visa was invalid and she must return to London immediately, the group said.

Holman claimed he was “dismissive and rude” when she asked if she could buy another visa, and was then questioned about her alcohol consumption, which she admitted.

She filmed him on her phone as evidence of his behaviour before learning this was an offence, and that it was illegal to drink alcohol, according to the group.

The pair were taken into custody and their phones and passports were confiscated before Holman was asked to give a blood sample to test for alcohol consumption. She is said to have been refused the chance to phone her partner and was then held in a cell.

In a statement from the group, Holman claimed the guards tried to rip out her hair extensions and described the prison as hot and “foul-smelling”. She said the pair were made to sleep on a “filthy” mattress and she was told to clean toilets and floors.

“My little girl had to go to the toilet on the cell floor. I have never heard her cry in the same way as she did in that cell,” she said.

“The food [we were given] smelled like rotting garbage and neither Bibi or I could face trying it. I stayed awake for the whole three days.

“By now, Gary knew something was wrong and had flown to Dubai to look for me. Friends had found out I was in jail and tried to visit. Nobody was allowed to see us. We were not even told.”

She was released on bail and told her passport would remain confiscated until the case was concluded. She said she has lost more than £30,000 in legal fees and missed work.

Holman is spending time with her other two children, who have flown out to Dubai to see her after Gary returned home with Bibi.

Radha Stirling, the chief executive of Detained in Dubai, said: “The UAE maintains a deliberately misleading facade that alcohol consumption is perfectly legal for visitors.

“Tourists cannot be blamed for believing that the Emirates are tolerant of western drinking habits, but this is far from reality.

“It is wholly illegal for any tourist to have any level of alcohol in their blood, even if consumed in flight and provided by Dubai’s own airline. It is illegal to consume alcohol at a bar, a hotel and a restaurant, and if breathalysed, that person will be jailed.”

Stirling has called on the Foreign Office and the UK government to do more to “protect” British nationals, and claimed airlines were “complicit” and needed to be held accountable.

The Foreign Office and Emirates have been contacted for comment.

Source : https://bit.ly/2OSG7tv