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Microsoft Archived 1978 ‘Superman’ Film on Glass Coaster

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Richard Donner’s classic Superman film has been saved on what is essentially a glass coaster.

Warner Bros. and Microsoft teamed up to store and retrieve the entire 1978 movie on a 3-by-3-inch transparent slab.

This success story is the first proof-of-concept test for Project Silica, a Microsoft Research scheme that uses ultrafast laser optics and artificial intelligence to cache data in quartz glass.

Unlike unstable celluloid, hard silica glass can withstand being boiled, baked, microwaved, flooded, and demagnetized, among other environmental threats that could destroy priceless cultural archives and historic treasures.

“Storing the whole Superman movie in glass and being able to read it out successfully is a major milestone,” Mark Russinovich, Microsoft Azure’s chief technology officer, said in a statement.

“I’m not saying all of the questions have been fully answered,” he continued. “But it looks like we’re now in a phase where we’re working on refinement and experimentation, rather [than] asking the question ‘Can we do it?’”

Microsoft senior optical scientist James Clegg loads a piece of glass into a system that uses optics and AI to retrieve and read data stored on glass. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Banks / Microsoft)

Always on the hunt for new technologies to help safeguard its vast asset library, Warner Bros. reportedly approached Microsoft after hearing about its research.

“When we learned that Microsoft had developed this glass-based technology, we wanted to prove it out,” according to WB Chief Technology Officer Vicky Colf.

As anyone who’s had a hard drive die on them knows, long-term storage is often anything but: Magnetic tape lasts five to seven years, file formats become obsolete, and upgrades are expensive.

Glass, however, may be just the hero we need. (Not unlike Superman…)

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Femtosecond lasers—commonly used in LASIK eye surgery—permanently change the structure of the glass. So you only need to write the data once for it to be preserved for centuries.

“One big thing we wanted to eliminate is this expensive cycle of moving and rewriting data to the next generation,” Ant Rowstron, partner deputy lab director of Microsoft Research Cambridge, said.

Warner Bros. migrates its own digital content—known as “cold” data—every three years to stay ahead of degradation issues.

With a nearly 100-year history in film and television, the production company owns one of the world’s deepest and most significant media and entertainment libraries.

“Imagine if a title like The Wizard of Oz or a show like Friends wasn’t available for generation after generation to enjoy and see and understand,” Colf said. “We think that’s unimaginable, and that’s why we take the job of preserving and archiving our content extremely seriously.

Researcher Youssef Assaf drops a square of silica glass in a kettle of boiling water to demonstrate its durability, (Photo Credit: Jonathan Banks / Microsoft)

“Our challenges are unique in their scale,” she continued. “But they are certainly not unique in terms of the problem we are trying to solve.”

Microsoft is certainly off to a good start. But there is a lot more work ahead to meet WB’s goal of owning its own infrastructure to read data from glass archives.

“We really want something you can put on the shelf for 50 or 100 or 1,000 years and forget about until you need it,” Rowstron said. “We’re not trying to build things that you put in your house or play movies from. We are building storage that operates at the cloud scale.”

Microsoft Research Cambridge collaborated with University of Southampton to develop Project Silica.

“If it works for us, we firmly believe that this will be a benefit to anyone who wants to preserve and archive content,” Colf added.

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Apple

Join Apple’s Health Studies With New Research App

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Apple is launching three health studies in conjunction with its new Research app, available to download now from the App Store.

Enroll now to contribute to potentially groundbreaking medical discoveries: All you need is an iPhone or Apple Watch, a pulse, and, in one case, a menstrual cycle.

Conducted in partnership with Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the NIH’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), the Women’s Health Study focuses on how women’s periods relate to their overall health.

In what Apple claims is the “first long-term study of this scale and scope,” the study will use iDevices to collect data like cycle tracking information, and use monthly surveys to understand each participant’s unique menstrual experience.

Sounds like a blast.

“Treating the menstrual cycle as a vital sign, such as heart rate or blood pressure, could lead to the earlier detection of many health conditions, both gynecological and systemic, as well as a better understanding of women’s reproductive health and health needs overall,” according to study researcher Shruthi Mahalingaiah, an assistant professor at Harvard Chan School.

“We are uniquely poised to translate this data into discovery that will lead to better awareness and empowerment around women’s health issues on a global scale,” she said in a statement.

The Research app only shares data when a user approves, and includes a detailed consent for each study that allows a user to control the type of data shared. (Photo Credit: Apple)

If the female reproductive system isn’t your thing, you can sign up for Apple’s Heart and Movement Study, which measures the quality and quantity of a person’s movement, or the Apple Hearing Study, set to explore how headphone usage and environmental sound exposure can impact hearing over time.

“In the past it’s been very difficult to quantify behavioral factors. With data from smartphones and wearable devices, we can eventually measure these factors unobtrusively over long periods of time,” analyst Jukka-Pekka Onnela, associate professor at Harvard Chan School, said. 

“This is scientifically incredibly exciting,” he continued. “And I believe that this research will enable more effective and more personalized interventions in the future.”

With regards to privacy, Apple emphasized the promise that user data will not be sold. You decide which studies to join and when to leave, and control what types of information are shared.

Studies must inform participants how their data supports the research.

“[This] marks an important moment as we embark on research initiatives that may offer incredible learnings in areas long sought after by the medical community,” Apple’s Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams said.

“Participants on the Research app,” he explained, “have the opportunity to make a tremendous impact that could lead to new discoveries and help millions lead healthier lives.”

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Watch: Real-Life Iron Man Smashes Jet-Powered Suit Record

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Move over, Tony Stark: Real-life Iron Man Richard Browning just broke the record for fastest speed in a body-controlled jet engine-powered suit (wind-guided) at 85.06 mph.

The British inventor, founder of Gravity Industries, more than doubled the previous achievement of 32.02 mph—which he set in 2017.

Against the colorful backdrop of Brighton Pier in South East England, Browning took to the sky Thursday as the showpiece for this year’s “Spirit of Adventure”-themed Guinness World Records Day.

Real-life Iron Man Richard Browning smashed his jet-powered suit record by flying at 85 mph along Brighton Pier. (Photo Credit: Guinness World Records)

The annual celebration sees thousands of people from around the world come together to become title holders.

Among them, Richard Browning, whose suit—the direction of which is controlled by body movement alone—propelled him to new heights (figuratively and literally speaking).

“I’m really pleased,” he said after the flight.

Browning completed two-way runs along the pier, the average speed of which was reported, to take into account inconsistencies like wind speed and direction.

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“I was confident we should be able to do it, but that’s very different to coming here and actually achieving it,” he said. “You can never discount the possibility of having a technical problem, so I’m really pleased we’ve delivered what we’ve done.”

This week’s demonstration is actually the fastest Browning has ever flown: In training, he reached top speeds of about 75 mph.

“I didn’t think we’d break what we did in training,” he said. “So I’m very chuffed.”

Watching the first-person video captured by Browning’s helmet cam is intoxicating—until the feeling that I’m falling uncontrollably washes over me. Add to that the Doctor Octopus-esque suit and my complete lack of core muscle, and I think I’ll just sit this one out.

Browning completed two-way runs along the pier, which were required for the average speed to be taken, to even out inconsistencies such as wind speed and direction. (Photo Credit: Guinness World Records)

“It truly feels like that dream of flying you have sometimes in your sleep. You are entirely and completely free to move effortlessly in three dimensional space and you shed the ties of gravity,” Browning explained.

Thankfully Unfortunately for the rest of us, it will be a while before we’re experiencing the same freedom.

“It’s not the future of transportation in its current form. It’s a bit like a Formula 1 car or the prices at fashion shows,” according to the inventor. “Neither are entirely practical but hopefully an inspiring and engaging insight into what the future might be.”

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Google Teaches You to Pronounce Difficult Words

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There is no shame in mispronouncing words: Even Benedict Cumberbatch needs help sometimes.

But whether you’ve been mangling “mischievous” or garbing “GIF,” Google’s new experimental pronunciation tool can help.

The function, built directly into Search, lets users practice how to say words.

Previously, queries like “How to pronounce quokka” offered only a brief audio clip.

Now, users can practice saying “quokka” into their handset’s microphone and receive feedback on what, if anything, can be adjusted.

The mobile feature is rolling out in American English first, with Spanish soon to follow.

You can also try it on desktop, where a friendly voice told me how to pronounce “quinoa” in American and British English. (It is disappointingly exactly the same.)

“Studies have shown that practicing how to say a word can be helpful for remembering it, especially when you’re learning a new language,” Tal Snir, senior product manager for Search, wrote in a blog announcement.

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Using machine learning, Google can automatically recognize spoken words as individual soundbites, then cross-reference pronunciations.

If you’re practicing the word “asterisk,” for instance, the algorithm analyzes how you said the word and recognizes that the last soundbite was pronounced “rict,” instead of “uhsk.”

Based on this, it provides feedback that you’re stupid and need to learn how to properly speak English you can improve.

Auditory cues are great. But I’m a visual learner, and retain information best when looking at related images. Which is why Google also includes photos for additional context.

Not all words are easily described with a picture, so Google is starting with nouns and plans to expand into more parts of speech.

“Advances in speech recognition and machine learning can improve the way we learn about languages,” Snir said. “We hope these new features give you a creative, more effective way to practice, visualize, and remember new words.”

Keep an ear out for more languages, accents, and regions in the future.

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