Twitter is overrun with bots and trolls, and there is little prospect that Twitter’s management will do anything about it. However, you can remove most of them from your Twitter timeline in less than a minute, just by changing your settings.
Making it easy to create accounts may well be part of Twitter’s strategy to grow its user base. It certainly provides value to the various entrepreneurs who sell thousands of Twitter followers at low prices. For example, you can buy 10,000 for only $40.
It must also be popular with the people who run bots and troll-farms, including Russia’s Internet Research Agency.
Fake Twitter accounts are disposable. When one is removed, it is easily and almost instantly replaced.
Real social media accounts are different. They are run by real people, or teams of real people working for real companies. They include bios and identifiable images, which often includes corporate logos. Their users have confirmed phone numbers and/or email addresses. They may have invested a lot of time and/or money in building their following, so these accounts are worth protecting.
Bots and trolls have no such concerns. They value anonymity, and the accompanying lack of accountability. They tend to use the default profile image — formerly an egg — and rarely confirm their phone numbers and/or email addresses. Why bother when it’s easier to create a new account instead?
That makes it easy to exclude most bad actors from your Twitter feed. Simply go to Notifications in Twitter’s “Settings and privacy” section, and mute people:
(1) Who have a default profile photo.
(2) Who haven’t confirmed their email.
(3) Who haven’t confirmed their phone number.
Three clicks converts a Twitter feed from a toxic hellstew into a relatively benign place. The bots and trolls may still be spewing venom, but you can’t see them, so why would you care?
You may still see some bad stuff, but in my experience, the change is dramatic.
You will also see some trolls from confirmed and even verified accounts that Twitter refuses to — or perhaps cannot afford to — ban. The best response is to report and block these accounts separately. This is worth doing because, over the long term, it influences Twitter’s algorithms and “quality filter.”
Like Facebook, Twitter no longer shows every tweet you could see in chronological order: There are too many. Instead, it tries to show the best tweets, according to how well they have been received. This includes the number of replies, retweets, and likes, but also the number of mutes and blocks.
Twitter explained in a blog post that one of the signals it uses to identify “bad-faith actors” is “How other accounts interact with you (e.g. who mutes you, who follows you, who retweets you, who blocks you, etc).” If a lot of people block and report an account, Twitter is less likely to show its tweets.
Twitter may claim that it is providing a platform for free speech by allowing deliberate misinformation, insults, libels, and threats. However, the rest of us are not obliged to listen to hate speech and lies. Having the right to free speech doesn’t protect users from the consequences of abusing it.
It looks like this method in Springboard does some date/time calculations to determine if the current build is about to expire, every time the cover sheet gets dismissed. For some reason, the latest builds of iOS 12 think they’re about to expire.
ZDNet is able to confirm that this update does indeed fix the problem. And ahead of the Labor Day weekend.
Fortunately, the update is pretty small, coming in at under 100MB, so it shouldn’t take too long to download and install.
Via Surface Plus, new Surface Pros could be purchased for $34 per month for 24 months; Surface Laptops for $42 per month for 24 months; and Surface Books for $63 per month for 24 months. Payment plans were arranged with Klarna Inc., which offered a 24-month payment plan at zero APR.
I’ve asked Microsoft why it decided to shut down the Surface Plus program. No word back so far.
I’m wondering whether Microsoft may be moving Surface Plus financing to another financier, such as Dell Preferred, which is the company behind the Xbox All Access financing program. Or maybe Microsoft is going to bring Surfaces under the rumored “Microsoft Managed Desktop” and/or Windows 10 device-as-a-service umbrella and offer students a chance to finance various Windows 10 devices, including Surfaces, via that route?
Heavy • durable plastic • Looks exactly like the dinosaur from the movie • Total Control Mode lets you control the dino like a puppet
Indoor only • Charging port hidden by screwed-on panel • Controller settings aren’t as intuitive as we’d like
The Bottom Line
Mattel’s Alpha Training Blue is a sure bet for anyone who loved the movie. Surprisingly expressive and fun to play with for hours.
Bang for the Buck4.0
Mattel’s newest Jurassic World toy, “Alpha Training Blue,” is an adorable, controllable, cheeky little robotic velociraptor that comes with dozens of animations and game modes. Mattel lets users take full control so that they can basically use the toy like a futuristic puppet, or, in our favorite mode, train the raptor to respond to different controller motions.
The dinosauar itself is inspired by the star of Jurassic World, the baby dino named Blue, and the technology packed into this product is quite impressive. Blue has a huge personality that expresses itself in unique ways depending on which game mode you’re playing in: Training Mode, Total Control Mode, Prowl Mode, and Guard Mode (more on those later).
Priced at $249.99, Alpha Training Blue is one of the better robotic toys we’ve tried in recent years. It’s cheaper than many similar toys on the market, especially compared to higher-end robotic toys like the $2,889 Sony Aibo. Better yet, you don’t have to pair Alpha Training Blue to a companion smartphone app in order to use it. Instead, you control the dinosaur with a physical remote, like an old-fashioned RC car.
The dinosaur and controller come packed with some pretty serious technology: small motorized wheels are attached the feet, an accelerometer is embedded in the controller for motion controls, noise and movement sensors are hidden on the dinosaur for more realistic interactions, and haptic feedback is included on the controller, which comes in handy when you’re playing any of the various game modes. For its price, it’s a fairly sophisticated toy.
But more than anything, Alpha Training Blue is just fun to mess around with, especially in Training Mode. Like the fictional character Owen, who Chris Pratt plays in Jurassic World, you can train this dinosaur by using a clicking sound to teach it different maneuvers. So how does this dinosaur stack up in the increasingly competitive world of robotic toys? Here’s how it breaks down:
Let’s talk hardware
Blue stands at an impressive 16-inches tall when she’s roaring, or when she turns her beak upward toward the sky. But that only happens when you make her angry in one of the game modes, or if you’re in full control and command her to do so.
Most of the time, you’ll find that Blue stands at a comfortable 9-inch height. She’s quite long at about 25 inches and weighs about 4 pounds. It’s a beefy toy by comparison to most others on the market at this price point — but we’re happy Mattel put some extra love into the build quality because it really pays off while you’re playing around.
Blue’s trademark is, of course, the blue color markings over her military green body, and they were replicated really well on this product. The orange eyes also provide a pop of color that are noticeable enough to grab your attention if you catch them at a glance. They’re creepy — but in a good way! — and the motorized eyelids help bring this dinosaur to life.
Unbelievably detailed controls (through motion sensors, a joystick, and four buttons) let you make this dinosaur do whatever the heck you can think of. Mattel says the motions are based off the ones from the movie. We were just impressed by how specific you can get when controlling it.
In Total Control Mode, which lets you control the dinosaur like a puppet, you can move Blue’s eyes around, open and shut her eyelids, or whip her body around in any direction. You can also open and close her mouth, and make her tongue move. This is great for doing weird stuff like pretending that she’s laughing or eating. We had a kick out of messing around with this particular feature.
The details included in the build of this toy are on point, with even the teeth being hyperrealistic. It’s also worth saying that if you’re a parent, there’s no need to worry about the teeth hurting anyone because the jaw doesn’t clamp down very hard at all. Even if the dinosaur bites you, you’ll be totally fine because there’s very little chomping force.
In terms of movement, the dinosaur rolls on a small set of wheels beneath her feet. Unfortunately, you can’t drive on the carpet — only on hardwood floors. It didn’t really compromise our experience, but it’s worth noting in case some of you don’t have that as an option. Ideally, we’d like to have seen an all-terrain dinosaur, that could more easily handle carpeted floors. Oh, well.
An gaming-inspired controller
One of the better parts of the entire Alpha Training Blue kit is the physical controller that’s included. More and more often, toy companies are choosing to use a smartphone app as a controller for newer robotics toys. Not for Alpha Training Blue.
We were delighted to use a gaming-inspired physical controller to operate this toy. It’s pretty intuitive for anyone who’s ever used a Nintendo Wii controller. In most of the play modes, the joystick moves the dinosaur forward and backwards, and can also move the mouth and eyelids. The accelerometer embedded in the controller lets you different motions to move the dino’s head and tail.
There’s also an interesting piece of low-tech on the controller: a small “clicker” similar to the one that Chris Pratt’s character Owen uses in the movie to train Blue. The clicking sound is pretty loud by comparison to all other buttons and is generally used only in Training Mode.
While in Training Mode, the dinosaur will only respond to the sound of the clicks. This is enabled through microphones that are hidden on the body of the dinosaur and can detect the loud click from the controller. It’s a pretty interesting idea — one that directly mirrors the movie — and was one of our favorite parts of playing with this product. It might seem like a stretch, but for a hot second, I was living out my wildest Jurassic Park dream training a little baby velociraptor — just like Chris Pratt’s movie character.
The only downside to the physical controller is that the number of buttons can be a little bit daunting if you don’t have the instruction manual nearby. It takes a while to remember what buttons correspond to different actions. The learning curve on this product is a little higher than your average toy.
Once you figure it out, it’s all smooth sailing. The buttons at the top of the controller change depending on which mode you’re in, making it a little confusing and hard to keep track of.
Generally speaking, the joystick is used to drive and maneuver the dinosaur. The buttons at the top can either be used to reward the dinosaur by giving it a treat, or in Total Control Mode, to control the mouth and eyes. Two LEDs at the top of the device are meant to give you a visual cue about what mode you’re in — just be sure to write down what they mean otherwise you’ll get lost like I did.
Train Blue and become the Alpha
I think the most exciting mode of Alpha Training Blue is Training Mode, which makes you the teacher. Using all aspects of the controller, including the physical clicker, you will walk Blue through 7 levels.
The end result? You’ll understand that patience and precise movements are a must. So if a kid is performing training, there will likely be some frustrating moments before they totally figure it out.
Working through the steps of training Blue can be a bit frustrating at first, but the payoff is worth it.
In the beginning of Training Mode, you will need to train Blue to understand treats and other rewards. This step is crucial because it signals to the dinosaur during the training that Blue has completed the correct action. It’s similar to the process of actually training a pet to lie down. Blue picks up on the sound of the clicker and tracks the motion. Once she gets the treat, the left hand LED switches to orange, meaning that you have reached level 2.
Blue won’t always get it on the first try, second try, or even third try. The learning process and software that powers Blue creates a unique reaction each time. Blue might get a little frustrated and shake her head, or deliver a roar. The payoff is the short dance she does after completing a level. You’ll know you did the move correctly when the controller vibrates four times and flashes green, one vibration with a red flash means it was unsuccessful.
The levels walk you through teaching the dinosaur simple head movements, turning, and even completing a spin. It goes up to level 7 and depending on the accuracy of the moves, you can finish training in about an hour.
My only real complaint: The instructions for Training Mode could be much more explicit, since the ones included in the manual are easy to misinterpret. They mostly rely on photos and arrows, which are often confusing.
I spoke with Mattel’s lead project designer Michael Kadile and eventually figured out what I was doing wrong. My big takeaway from our conversation was to exaggerate my arm movements. Small movements won’t cut it because the accelerometer inside the controller won’t pick them up. After that explanation, I was able to train her successfully.
It’s important to note that while it might seem like a rather quick game mode, there are still three others to play around with. So there’s plenty of playtime to squeeze out of this somewhat expensive toy. Our only true criticism is that Mattel could do a better job on making the instructions clearer — because if the adults at our office had trouble figuring out how to use this toy, a child would probably be even worse off.
The other game modes
Prowl Mode lets you fully control Blue’s movement in almost any direction. She can go pretty fast, and you can have her sneak up on people, just be careful navigating around corners because she can fall over if she turns too quickly.
Total Control Mode lets you puppeteer Blue. Raising the controller up will make her head rise, the joystick controls the direction she moves in, and the buttons at the top let you take over her eyes and mouth. The level of control is pretty phenomenal and one of our favorite parts about playing with this toy.
Mattel’s take on a Guard Mode allows you to set her attitude; neutral, hostile, or friendly. This will determine her reactions if she detects motion while in this particular mode. In addition, the controller will buzz, allowing you to control the reaction.
Playtime is around an hour
An interesting design choice is that the battery charging and software update port is in between the legs of Blue, in the nether region. To make matters worse, it’s behind a door locked with a screw. So have a Phillips-head screwdriver handy to charge the device.
The saving grace here is that Blue should last for a minimum of an hour with each full charge. Switching between different modes, I got Blue to last for around an hour and 45 minutes. This was impressive because I was switching between the modes pretty much on the fly. Blue can fully charge via the proprietary cord in just 30 minutes. This charging to battery life ratio is 1:2, which means downtime is minimal.
An impressive, fun experience
While Alpha Training Blue is not a perfect toy, it’s pretty darn close. At $249, it’s a little pricey, but you’re getting a pretty sophisticated robot that impresses right from the start. You can train it, drive it, and control it to an insanely high degree of precision. With all the tiny motors packed inside, the hardware is truly top-notch.
Quite frankly, playing with Alpha Training Blue makes me feel pretty badass, especially after completing all 7 levels of training.
The high learning curve and not being able to use it everywhere (i.e. on carpeted floors), left me wanting more. However, at the end of the day I am truly impressed with Mattel’s Alpha Training Blue.
It will delight kids and adults alike, especially if you’re a fan of robotics or more importantly of Jurassic World. And as a parting note to anyone who wants to buy this toy today: While you can pre-order Alpha Training Blue on Amazon now, it won’t ship until October. But, rest assured knowing she’ll be eager to jump into Training Mode as soon as you take her out of the box.