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Google and Lenovo team up to create impressive VR headset

(TECH NEWS) The first ever Google and Lenovo collaboration on a VR headset is wowing technologists.

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Say what you will about Google, but when they break into an industry, they settle in for the long haul. While this philosophy has become increasingly more evident over the years, Google’s collaboration with Lenovo to create their debut VR headset is the latest and greatest reminder.

The first thing that stands out about Google’s VR headset—aptly named the Mirage Solo – is that it is completely wireless, thereby permitting up to six degrees of freedom (up, down, left, right, forward, and backward). A common complaint for VR sets in the past has been that the wire tethering the user to the input has felt too restrictive, so the wireless aspect is a nice shift for the industry.

The Mirage Solo’s hardware specifications aren’t anything to laugh at, either. Sporting 64 GB of storage and an SD card slot for more if you need it, four GB of built-in memory, and the same processor found in the Samsung Galaxy S8, the Mirage Solo is well-equipped enough to handle more than competitors.

And, unlike Google’s Apple counterparts, the Mirage Solo supports audio via a 3.5-millimeter headphone jack.

As with any emerging technology, there are a few drawbacks to the Mirage Solo, the first of which is its battery life. Lenovo’s estimates put the VR headset’s average battery life at around 7 hours at a time—this is to be expected given the high resolution of the display itself, and it’s not a meager amount of time by most metrics; however, you’ll definitely have to recharge between segments of your preferred game.

Another issue noted by testers is the bizarre graphical presentation. Since the Mirage Solo runs on Google’s Daydream platform—software developed initially for a mobile audience—some of its textures, transitions, and other movement-related graphics are a bit plainer than a competing VR set might allow for.

One particularly cool aspect of the Mirage Solo lies not with the headset itself, but with Lenovo’s Mirage Camera. The camera allows you to shoot 180° videos that you can play back in your VR set. Looking away from the 180° field will provide you with a gentle transition into a night sky screensaver, which is a nice touch.

The Mirage Solo is expected to launch this spring with a price tag of around 400 dollars per headset. If you’ve been looking for a VR headset that stands out from the others in the market, this may be the one for you.

Jack Lloyd has a BA in Creative Writing from Forest Grove's Pacific University; he spends his writing days using his degree to pursue semicolons, freelance writing and editing, oxford commas, and enough coffee to kill a bear. His infatuation with rain is matched only by his dry sense of humor.

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Degree holders are shifting tech hubs and affordability

(TECH NEWS) Tech hubs are shifting as degree holders move, but it’s causing some other issues and raising some interesting questions about the future of jobs.

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Bloomberg recently announced their annual “Brain” Indexes. The indexes are an annual reckoning of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) jobs and degree holders. The “Brain Concentration Index” approximates the number of people working full time in computer, engineering, and science jobs (including math and architecture.) It measures the median earnings for people in those jobs. It also counts how many people have a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field, or an advanced degree of any kind. It blends those things together to determine how “brainy” a city is.

Since they started in 2016, Boulder, CO has been at the top of the list. This year it’s followed by San Jose, CA, which many people might expect to be at the top. Many of the more surprising cities, like Ann Arbor, MI, Ithaca, NY, and even Lawrence, KS, are bolstered by the presence of a strong university.

It’s an interesting methodology. It’s worth noting that anyone with an advanced degree, whether it’s an MBA, a law degree, or a Ph.D. in literature, contributes to which city is a “tech hub.” It’s also worth noting how expensive many of these places are to live.

If you follow this kind of national data collection at all, you may also know that Boulder is one of the least-affordable cities in the country. So is the San Jose/Sunnyvale/Santa Clara metro area, with a median home price of 1.25 million dollars and a median household income of $117,474. (That means that the average mortgage is more than half of the average paycheck). However many people tech hubs like San Jose and San Francisco attract, they’re also hemorrhaging talent. Every day, 8 Californians move to Austin. Of the people who stay, more than half are thinking of moving.

They aren’t doing that for fun. As much flak as Californians get for gentrifying places like Austin, they’re being megagentrified out of their own homes. As salaries rise and CEO gigs attract the wealthy (and turn them into the Uberwealthy), the people who wait on tables or teach their children can’t afford to stay there anymore.

Speaking of people leaving, Bloomberg also measured what they call “brain drain,” the flow of advanced degree holders out of cities. They pair that with a decline in white-collar jobs and a decline in STEM pay to come up with their annual list. It includes places like Lebanon, PA and Kahului, HI.

All in all, it’s interesting information. But there are other factors at work that it can’t speak to. What does wage stagnation in the U.S. mean for the flow of education workers? If San Jose and San Francisco can be tech hubs based on the number of people with degrees, but people are still fleeing, what does that say about rankings like these? What human stories get lost in the shuffle? And is “tech hub” even something a city wants to be if that means running out of teachers (or making them sleep in garages)? Where does the next generation of tech hub workers come from?

Knowing the people behind the numbers makes it clear just what a mixed bag this is. Maybe we need more tech hubs like Lawrence, Kansas. Or maybe we need rent control. Or maybe we need to embrace remote work. Maybe there are no answers. As interesting as data like this is, there’s something sort of wistful about it, too.

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New Apple Watch is awesome, but past watches could be just as good for cheaper

(TECH NEWS) The Apple Watch Series 6 is a ridiculous display of self-flattery—but that doesn’t mean people won’t line up to buy it in droves.

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Apple Watch being worn on wrist showing weather for Montreal.

The Apple Watch has been the subject of everything from speculation to ridicule during its relatively short tenure on this planet. While most have nothing but praise for the most recent iteration, that praise comes at a cost: The Apple Watch’s ghost of Christmas past.

Or, to put it more literally, the fact that the Apple Watch’s prior version and accompanying variations are too good—and, at this point, too comparatively cheap—to warrant buying the most recent (and expensive) option.

Sure, the Apple Watch Series 6 has a bevy of health features—a sensor that can take an ECG and a blood oxygen test, to name a couple—but the Series 5 has almost everything else that makes the Apple Watch Series 6 “notable.” According to Gear Patrol, even the Series 4 is comparable if you don’t mind forgoing the option to have the Apple Watch’s screen on all of the time.

More pressingly, Gear Patrol points out, is the availability of discount options from Apple. The Apple Watch Series 3 and Apple Watch SE are, at this point, budget options that still do the job for smart watch enthusiasts.

Not to mention any Apple Watch can run updates can utilize Apple’s Fitness Plus subscription—another selling point that, despite its lucrative potential, doesn’t justify buying a $400 watch when a cheaper option is present.

It’s worth noting that Apple is no stranger to outdoing themselves retroactively. Every year, Apple’s “new” MacBook, iPhone, and iPad models are subjected to extensive benchmarking by every tech goatee around. And the conclusion is usually that buying a generation or two behind is fine—and, from a financial perspective, smart.

And yet, as the holidays roll around or the initial drop date of a new product arrives, Apple invariably goes through inventory like a tabby cat through unattended butter.

The Apple Watch is already a parody of itself, yet its immense popularity and subtle innovation has promoted it through several generations and a few spin-off iterations. And that’s not even including the massive Apple-specific watch band market that appears to have popped up as a result.

Say what you will about the Series 6; when the chips are on the table, my money’s on the consumers making the same decisions they always make.

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Microsoft acquires powerful AI language processor GPT-3, to what end?

(TECH NEWS) This powerful AI language processor sounds surprisingly human, and Microsoft has acquired rights to the code. How much should we worry?

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Code on screen, powering AI technology

The newly-released GPT-3 is the most insane language model in the NLP (natural language processor) field of machine learning. Developed by OpenAI, GPT-3 can generate strikingly human-like text for a vast range of purposes like bots and advertising, to poetry and creative writing.

While GPT-3 is accessible to everyone, OpenAI has expressed concerns over using this AI tech for insidious purposes. For this reason, Microsoft’s new exclusive license on the GPT-3 language model may be a tad worrisome.

First of all, for those unfamiliar with the NPL field, software engineer, and Youtuber, Aaron Jack, provides a detailed overview of GPT-3’s capabilities and why everyone should be paying attention.

Microsoft’s deal with OpenAI should come as little surprise since OpenAI uses the Azure cloud platform to access enough information to train their models.

Microsoft chief technology officer Kevin Scott announced the deal on the company blog this week: “We see this as an incredible opportunity to expand our Azure-powered AI platform in a way that democratizes AI technology, enables new products, services and experiences, and increases the positive impact of AI at Scale,” said Scott.

“Our mission at Microsoft is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more, so we want to make sure that this AI platform is available to everyone – researchers, entrepreneurs, hobbyists, businesses – to empower their ambitions to create something new and interesting.”

OpenAI has assured that Microsoft’s exclusive license does not affect the general public’s access to the GPT-3 model. The difference is Microsoft will be able to use the source code to combine with their products.

While OpenAI needs Azure to train these models, handing over the source code to another party is, to put it mildly, tricky. With the earlier GPT-2 model, OpenAI initially refused publishing the research out of fear it could be used to generate fake news and propaganda.

Though the company found there was no evidence to suggest the GPT-2 was utilized this way and later released the information, handing the key of the exponentially more powerful iteration to one company will undoubtedly hold ramifications in the tech world.

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