iRobot partners with Google, will use mapped data to improve the smart home experience

Why it matters: iRobot’s partnership with Google is sure to elicit talk of privacy concerns, and justifiably so. According to iRobot, however, the sharing of mapped data will be completely voluntary. Even still, I wonder how many people will be interested in participating to help Google improve its products.

iRobot on Wednesday announced a collaboration with Google to use mapped data collected by its Roomba robotic vacuums to enhance Google’s smart home experience.

iRobot’s latest vacuum, the Roomba i7+, features Imprint Smart Mapping technology that allows the bot to learn your home’s floor plan. Using voice commands through the Google Assistant, users can even have the robot clean specific rooms just by asking.

The proposed opt-in program will let Roomba users share their mapping data with Google to help explore new smart home innovations. For example, such data could make it easier to set up future smart home gadgets and enable new automations.

Colin Angle, chairman and CEO of iRobot, said working with Google will allow them to explore new ways to enable a more thoughtful home.

iRobot didn’t provide any other details about the collaboration in its press release, perhaps suggesting the partnership is still in a very early stage.

It was reported in the summer of 2017 that iRobot was looking to shop this mapped data around to potential buyers. Reuters even suggested at the time that the top three buyers could be Amazon, Apple and Google.

iRobot issued the following statement at the time in response to our story:

“iRobot does not sell data customer data. Our customers always come first. We will never violate our customer’s trust by selling or misusing customer-related data, including data collected by our connected products. Right now, the data Roomba collects enables it to effectively clean the home and provides customers with information about cleaning performance. iRobot believes that in the future, this information could provide even more value for our customers by enabling the smart home and the devices within it to work better, but always with their explicit consent.”

Unless iRobot is just giving its mapped data to Google at no charge (which seems highly unlikely), odds are, they’ll generate some sort of income from it.

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Asus unveils new durability-focused 'TUF'-series FX705 and FX505 gaming laptops

What just happened? Dell isn’t the only coming working on laptops that can take a punishment. Asus has launched two new “TUF” series notebooks that focus on gaming performance and certified durability. For now, the TUF line-up includes the 15-inch TUF FX505, and the 17-inch TUF FX705.

Asus promises that both laptops have been rigorously tested, and achieved MIL-STD-810G durability certifications. This means that, in theory, the TUF-series notebooks should be able to withstand table-to-floor drops, shock and vibration, high altitude, “solar radiation,” high or low temperatures, and humidity.

While we can’t verify any of those claims without taking the devices for a spin ourselves, their bulky nature does lend some credence to Asus’ claims.

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Moving on from grand marketing boasts, let’s discuss the real meat of these laptops: the screen and hardware. Both devices offer identical component options, but since the FX705 isn’t listed on Asus’ online storefront as of writing, we’ll only focus on the pricing of the FX505 in this piece.

FX505 customers will be treated to 144Hz, 1080p “NanoEdge” IPS displays. The laptop comes in 5 different hardware configurations, starting with a Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 and Intel Core i5-8300H-powered version for $699. You’ll also get 8GB of DDR4 RAM and a 1TB HDD.

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The mid-range FX505 houses an Intel i7 8750H, a GTX 1050 Ti, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD; all for $999. The most expensive FX505 will run you a whopping $1299, featuring similar hardware to the previous configuration, but with a 6GB GTX 1060 and an extra 8GB of RAM.

It may seem a bit strange that Asus has chosen to pair a 144Hz display with such — comparatively speaking — weak hardware, but users should be able to comfortably hit around 100 FPS in well-optimized modern titles by turning the graphical settings down a few notches.

If the 15-inch FX505 sounds like your cup of tea, you can snag any of the previously-mentioned models via Asus’ official storefront. If you’d rather hold out for the 17-inch FX705, you can take a look at its design, specifications, and other features on its dedicated marketing page.

Image courtesy Rock Paper Shotgun

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VapeWorld's Halloween Sale Boasts Some Scary-Good Deals

Best Tech DealsThe best tech deals from around the web, updated daily.   

If you like to vape and want to upgrade your equipment, VapeWorld is taking 20% off sitewide this week with promo code SPOOKY20. As an authorized seller of Pax Labs, Grenco G Pens, Kandypens, and AirVapes, just for starters, you’re sure to find what you’re looking for.

Update: Pax is excluded from the coupon, along with a few other brands. Sorry!

This deal ends on Friday, so place your order before the promo code goes up in a puff of smoke.


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Everything we know about the 'Game of Thrones' prequel series

Will the Night King be in the 'Game of Thrones' prequels? Who knows?
Will the Night King be in the ‘Game of Thrones’ prequels? Who knows?
Image: HBO

When Game of Thrones airs its final episode in 2019, there will be a gaping void left in the world of pop culture. In the six years since the show first aired, the lords and ladies of Westeros and beyond have become inescapable elements of what it means to watch TV in the 2010s, and if you think HBO was just going to let that go because the show is ending, you’re bad at capitalism.

Of course there will be Game of Thrones spinoffs, or as A Song of Ice and Fire author George RR Martin refers to them, “successor series” to the big GoT. Here’s everything currently known about the series; this article will be updated with new information accordingly. 

How many successor series can we expect?

As of writing, only one potential successor series has been given a pilot order from HBO. In his personal blog (titled Not A Blog), George RR Martin wrote that “three more GAME OF THRONES prequels, set in different periods and featuring different characters and storylines, remain in active development.” 

Those three mentioned do not include the one with a pilot order, bringing the actual number of potential series to four. 

George RR Martin hinted in another blog post that one of the other series in development will be related to Fire & Blood, his upcoming book about Targaryen family’s history in Westeros. 

What about the one with the pilot order? 

That, my friends, is the first of the series to be greenlit. According to Deadline, the pilot is set to begin production in October 2018 at The Paint Hall in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The Paint Hall has been previously used for shooting some parts of Game of Thrones.

There isn’t a ton of information about the series, but its announcement at least gave fans a time period and rundown of the setting of the prequel. 

So what’s the setting? 

The prequel series will take place 10,000 years before the events of Game of Thrones during a time called the Age of Heroes. The characters of Game of Thrones regard the Age of Heroes as a time of myth and legend, when the founders of some of Westeros’ great houses walked the earth and performed the deeds that Thrones-era westerosi only know about through songs and stories. 

The Age of Heroes came to an end when something caused an event called the Long Night, in which one of those weird super-long Westerosi winters lasted for an entire generation. In HBO’s released outline, the show will also tell the story of how the White Walkers rose from out of the cold…so maybe they had something to do with that Long Night. 

Is there a title for that series? 

HBO has not released a title for the series, but George RR Martin has suggested that the show be called “The Long Night” and introduced some news by writing “casting is now underway for THE LONG NIGHT, the first of the GAME OF THRONES successor series to ordered to film.”

So it’s probably called The Long Night. Or, as Martin jokingly said in another post, Game of Thrones: The Long Night

So there’s casting! 

Yes, Naomi Watts has been cast as “a charismatic socialite hiding a dark secret.”

Poldark actor Josh Whitehouse will also appear in the show in an undisclosed role. 

George RR Martin expects that more casting announcements will follow soon. 

There’s a lot about George RR Martin in this. Is The Long Night his show?

Not really. A lot of the news about the show is coming from his (not a) blog, but he is only consulting on this and the other Thrones successors. 

Jane Goldman, who wrote the Kingsmen movies as well as the screenplay for Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, wrote the pilot and is the showrunner for this prequel. Martin considers the show to be Goldman’s and throws all credit at her for the creation of this new story. 

Are Benioff and Weiss involved in any of these?

Not that they’ve said, but it’s a safe guess that they’ll stay away from Westeros for a while.  The Game of Thrones showrunners have a few other post-Thrones projects they’re working on, including a potential Star Wars trilogy. 

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The mighty power of the simple Post-It Note protest

New York's post-election Subway Therapy Wall of Post-it Notes.
New York’s post-election Subway Therapy Wall of Post-it Notes.
Image: Benny J Johnson/REX/Shutterstock

In the emotional days following the November 2016 election that put President Donald Trump in power, no one had any idea they might find a shred of solace in words scribbled on a mundane office supply. But underground, in the depths of a New York City subway station, a powerfully expressive initiative fueled by thousands of Post-it Notes was underway. 

In the weeks that followed, thousands of people in search of catharsis paused their commutes to write down rejuvenating messages of hope, solidarity, and reassurance and stick them to the walls for all to read. Soon a colorful mosaic of an estimated 50,000 Post-its, now known as the Subway Therapy project, spanned the walls of Manhattan’s Union Square station.

It was a simple act during an especially dark time, but the colorful collection of Post-its helped the country’s outlook seem a little bit brighter. 

For nearly 40 years, Post-its have been a go-to resource for annotating documents, writing to-do lists, and leaving reminders. But somewhere along the line people around the world realized just how multi-functional the sticky squares could be. 

NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 16: A view of the

Image: Vanessa Carvalho/Brazil Photo Press/LatinContent/Getty Images

In pop culture, Post-its have been used for infamous break ups and vow writing, and in the real world, people use them to pull pranks, make grand romantic gestures, create art, and even mourn lost icons like Apple’s Steve Jobs. In the past few years, sticky notes have also been used to aid in something far more impactful: peaceful protest. 

The power of post-election Post-its 

I first spotted the Subway Therapy Wall on Thursday, Nov. 10, my first day back in the Union Square station since the Nov. 8 election.

Happening upon the words of complete strangers — simple messages like, “Your emotions are valid,” and “We need each other,” — was a reminder that goodness still existed. And after talking to others who contributed to or encountered the wall, it’s clear I wasn’t alone.

“I was in a state of shock,” said 23-year-old Chelsea from Yakima, Washington (who preferred not to share her last name,) recalling how she felt in the days after the election. “It felt as if the floor had been pulled from underneath me — like I was going through the five stages of grief simultaneously.”

“I could write anything I wanted and not have to worry about feeling alone.”

In an attempt to do something productive with her negative feelings, Chelsea traveled New York City for the first time.

“I actually stumbled upon the wall without even knowing it existed,” she said. “That moment when I looked up from what I was doing and I saw that wall filled with those colorful bits of paper was indescribable. It was as if I could see the strings connecting everybody in their need for change. It was a therapy session that was free and I could write anything I wanted and not have to worry about feeling alone.”

Chelsea read as many notes as she could, absorbed the messages, and says she finally felt like things might be alright. “Those pieces of paper were tiny messages to us as humans that we can be change. If we try hard enough.”

“To see it manifested in one place was viscerally powerful.”

“It was a coming together of strangers across the country who wanted to make a simple statement that this is wrong and not normal, and we don’t need to accept it,” Sarah Flourance, a 31-year-old from Alexandria, Virginia said.

Flourance, who traveled to New York to visit a friend after the election in hopes that it would lift her mood, said she spoke with a few strangers at the wall, some of whom were in tears. “Right after the election, the isolation is what got to me and a lot of other people,” she said. She felt the display helped ease her feelings of hopelessness.

Kevin Nadal, psychologist and professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Graduate Center at City University of New York says he also contributed a Post-it to the wall.

He wrote a message of solidarity to “the most marginalized populations whose rights would be threatened” by Trump’s rise to the presidency, and said the expansive unity of strangers helped restore hope for him.

“I wanted people to know they weren’t alone,” Nadal said. “I definitely felt scared, betrayed, and angry. The Post-it wall was validating.” 

And while he knew others in New York City would share his post-election sentiments, Nadal said seeing seeing all those emotions “manifested in one place was viscerally powerful.”

So why Post-its?

In early 2016, well before the November election, “Subway Therapy” creator Matthew “Levee” Chavez set up a table, two chairs, and a sign that read “Secret Keeper” in a New York City subway station.

His setup included a blank book in the hope that passerby might decide to unload some internal stress by writing their secrets down on paper. Despite this, he often found that people preferred face-to-face conversations.

“For the next eight months or so, I had individual conversations with people that would stop by to sit and talk…About whatever they wanted to talk about.” 

After the election, he said things changed.

Matthew Chavez near his public art project:

Matthew Chavez near his public art project: “Subway Therapy.”

Image: Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Chavez says he believes that “during crisis, writing can be a more effective and accessible form of expression than conversation.” It’s what inspired him to bring sticky notes and writing materials into the subway that November. The Post-its helped him reach a wider audience, since several people could write their thoughts down simultaneously, rather than waiting to chat with him one-on-one.

“The wall took a form that was fun, beautiful, and expressive,” Chavez recalled. “In mass, sticky notes are incredibly inviting and they definitely helped people to open up.”

A history of Post-it protests

Though it’s been nearly two years since Chavez’s Subway Therapy project, many of the notes have since been archived online and in several books, and memories of the wall remain for those who contributed or passed by. Though Chavez helped create one of the most memorable Post-it Note protests in recent history, his was far from the first.

In 2011, Wisconsin residents used the tactic when they protested policies by Republican Gov. Scott Walker that would weaken in-state unions. In addition to months of marches and other organizing efforts, protesters left hundreds of Post-it Notes at the Wisconsin State Capitol entrance in an attempt to share their concerns. Despite the protests, Walker’s proposal ended up passing.

Post-it Notes on state capitol in protest of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's budget repair bill.

Post-it Notes on state capitol in protest of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s budget repair bill.

Image: Allen Fredrickson/Icon SMI/Corbis via Getty Images

Later that year, Post-its made their way to London to serve as a beacon of light in the wake of a divisive act of violence. In August 2011, riots broke out across London in protest of a deadly police shooting that killed local resident Mark Duggan. In Peckham, London, thousands of community members responded to the tragedy with a “Love Wall” covered in notes with messages of hope and unity. The sentiment was so powerful that it spread to walls in Manchester and in other areas of London.

A wall covered in Post-it Notes supporting Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement.

A wall covered in Post-it Notes supporting Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

Image: Thomas Campean/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The people of Hong Kong also used Post-it Notes to show support for the pro-democracy movement of 2014, when many called for the resignation of leader Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. During what’s since come to be known as the “Umbrella Revolution,” activists and protesters wrote words of encouragement and their reasons for demonstrating on Post-its, creating a colorful display outside government offices. People in Sydney even covered the walls of Australia’s Hong Kong House in solidarity.

The benefits of sticky note self-expression

While expressing oneself via Post-it Note has shown to be a therapeutic and unifying response to large-scale events, these notes can also provide comfort to individuals on a day-to-day basis.

“Self-affirmations are really helpful in helping to negate any harmful self-doubts or cognitive distortions,” Nadal said, explaining that writing positive, reassuring messages on Post-it Notes “can help in increasing one’s self esteem and decreasing any cognitive distortions.”

A 2007 study by Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at California’s Dominican University, found that the act of writing one’s goals down seems to make a person significantly more likely to accomplish those goals. The study also found that writing reminders or to-do lists before bedtime may help people fall asleep faster. 

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It’s clear the humbler Post-it has made the transition from bland office supply to powerful statement maker. Remi Ken, the global Post-it business director for 3M, said that the product’s move beyond the confines of the workplace has only encouraged the brand more.

“Everyone who uses a Post-it Note puts their own unique touch on it — and it’s exciting to see how consumers make it their own,” she wrote in an email. “We believe in getting your thoughts out and your voice heard — and our products are the tool to help people do that.”

Post-it Notes may be small, but they have the power to make mighty statements.

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Republican congressman roasted for his boring choice of Halloween treats

Always beware of trying to be a little too cute with handing out treats on Halloween because, in a time of political division, there’s a line between political statement and just giving candy to kids. 

South Carolina congressman Mark Sanford is being roasted across the internet on Wednesday after he shared an image of what he says he’ll be handing out to trick-or-treaters. 

That’s right — pocket constitutions. 

This is, without a doubt, the most boring “treat” to be handed out since I had a neighbor that handed out Chick Tracts to the kids on my street. And the internet conducted a digital drive-by egging on Sanford for such Halloween tickery.

If Sanford’s name rings a bell to some, it’s because in 2009, when he was the governor of South Carolina, he literally disappeared for several days. No one, not even his wife, could locate him. Though he claimed to be hiking the Appalachian Trail, it turns out he was really having an affair in Argentina. 

And if you’re wondering if that came up in some of the responses, let me tell you, reader, it did.

Sanford, who lost his re-election bid in a primary earlier this year, is on his way out of Congress, but not before latching on to President Trump’s horribly racist attempt to undo the 14th Amendment, thus doing away with birthright citizenship. This, too, came up.

It’s safe to say Sanford’s Halloween was going downhill before the sun went down. He’ll probably have plenty of time to mull over next year’s Halloween hand-out in the coming days as he cleans up the mess of eggs and toilet paper from his front lawn. 

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Image: Mark Sanford/Twitter

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Experimental AI lie detector will help screen EU travelers


stormwatch153 via Getty Images

In the future, you might talk to an AI to cross borders in the European Union. The EU and Hungary’s National Police will run a six-month pilot project, iBorderCtrl, that will help screen travelers in Hungary, Greece and Latvia. The system will have you upload photos of your passport, visa and proof of funds, and then use a webcam to answer basic questions from a personalized AI border agent. The virtual officer will use AI to detect the facial microexpressions that can reveal when someone is lying. At the border, human agents will use that info to determine what to do next — if there are signs of lying or a photo mismatch, they’ll perform a more stringent check.

The real guards will use handhelds to automatically double-check documents and photos for these riskier visitors (including images from past crossings), and they’ll only take over once these travelers have gone through biometric verification (including face matching, fingerprinting and palm vein scans) and a re-evaluation of their risk levels. Anyone who passed the pre-border test, meanwhile, will skip all but a basic re-evaluation and having to present a QR code.

The pilot won’t start with live tests. Instead, it’ll begin with lab tests and will move on to “realistic conditions” along the borders. And there’s a good reason for this: the technology is very much experimental. iBorderCtrl was just 76 percent accurate in early testing, and the team only expects to improve that to 85 percent. There are no plans to prevent people from crossing the border if they fail the initial AI screening.

If everything goes well, this could greatly speed up border crossings by limiting the more extensive checks to people who raise initial suspicions. There are still concerns even if it works, though. Facial recognition systems can still produce mismatches, and they can have biases that might unfairly target minorities. It could be a while before lineups at border crossings are things of the past.

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Facebook separates Workplace from main Facebook site to appease business customers

On September 28, the day that Facebook disclosed a security breach impacting millions of its users, the head of the company’s upstart enterprise business reached out to Walmart, a top customer, to assure it that its data had not been exposed.

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Walmart is a customer of Workplace by Facebook, a work version of the social network that companies pay for so their employees can communicate using Facebook-style features, such as private messaging, news feed posts and live streams. The service, which competes with Slack and other enterprise communications services, is used by 30,000 organizations, including Starbucks and Chevron, according to the most figures Facebook shared in October 2017.

In the September 28 communication, Julien Codorniou, the head of Workplace by Facebook, assured Clay Johnson, the enterprise chief information officer of Walmart, that steps were being taken to further separate Facebook’s enterprise business from its consumer services. Facebook told the company it was soon giving the Workplace by Facebook service its own web domain, according to Walmart vice president Joe Park.

“The assurances we got were that data resides outside the consumer version of Facebook, and it’s starting from the top to bottom, where they’ll even change the domain name to reflect that,” Park said.

The new domain, Workplace.com, is now live as a marketing website. It is expected to go into use as a landing page for Workplace by Facebook customers sometime in 2019, Luke Taylor, product manager for Workplace by Facebook, told CNBC on Wednesday.

The domain change comes as some Workplace by Facebook customers have previously expressed concern about the fact that the enterprise tool is hosted on the same domain as Facebook’s consumer business, Taylor said. The company has been informing clients about the domain shift one-on-one.

“We have been in a position where even though we are separate from them, it’s a bit difficult to have that story when we are hosted on the Facebook.com domain,” Taylor told CNBC. “This is something that we want to do from a brand point of view but also something that I think gives our customers more trust in the product itself.”

The company expects to start using the domain with new customers at first and then help existing clients migrate over, Taylor said.

“We’ll be working with our customers to make sure that they migrate at a pace that makes sense for them,” Taylor said.

“When you look at the Oculuses, Instagrams and even the Facebooks of the world, they all have their own domains and their own brand identity,” Taylor said. “As we’ve seen our growth increase so rapidly and our traction in the market increase, we just felt it was exactly the right time to step forward with our own brand.”

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