KevinAmbrose

Neil Young Preps New High-Quality Streaming Service Xstream

Neil Young is preparing to launch a new high-definition streaming service called Xstream, a continuation of the rocker’s search for top-quality digital sound that Young started with his Pono player.

In a post in the members section of the Pono site, Young detailed the new streaming service, as well as some of the shortcomings of the Pono project that Young hopes to improve upon with Xstream.

“It’s been almost five years since we kicked off the [Pono] campaign at SXSW to offer a player and download content that could fulfill my dream of bringing to you a music experience unlike any other for the cost. Thanks to our supporters on Kickstarter, the follow-on customers and some very good friends that supported the effort, we delivered on that promise… We sold tens of thousands of players, every unit that we made,” Young wrote.

“But, despite that success, I was not satisfied. I had to put up with lots of criticism for the high cost of music delivered in the way all music should be provided, at full resolution and not hollowed out. I had no control over the pricing, but I was the one that felt the criticism, because I was the face of it. And I pretty much agreed with the criticism. Music should not be priced this way.”

Pono hit another roadblock in 2016 when Omnifone, their download store partner, was “was bought and shut down with no notice by Apple.” Young and the Pono team attempted to rebuild their download store, but the necessary price of the high-quality downloads made it cost prohibitive, especially considering Young’s desire to keep the price down.

“The more we worked on it, the more we realized how difficult it would be to recreate what we had and how costly it was to run it: to deliver the Pono promise, meaning you’d never have to buy the same album again if was released at a higher quality; the ability to access just high res music, and not the same performances at lower quality, and the ability to do special sales,” Young wrote. “Each of these features was expensive to implement. I also realized that just bringing back the store was not enough.”

In a December 2016 interview with Rolling Stone, Young hinted that he would be pivoting the Pono vision away from a download store and music device and toward streaming, even though Young previously disparaged the medium, saying in July 2015, “Streaming sucks. Streaming is the worst audio in history.” Young’s decision came as he struggled to find investors to commit money toward a high-quality download company while streaming was overtaking the music industry.

“So now, sadly with Pono offline, for more than eight months I’ve been working with our small team to look for alternatives. Finding a way to deliver the quality music without the expense and to bring it to a larger audience has been our goal,” Young continued.

“That effort has led to a technology developed by Orastream, a small company in Singapore that we’ve been working with. Together we created Xstream, the next generation of streaming, an adaptive streaming service that changes with available bandwidth. It is absolutely amazing because it is capable of complete high resolution playback.”

As Young lamented in that December interview, while he wanted to move toward streaming, he expressed doubts that the internal chip found in smartphones could adequately decipher the high-quality files. However, Young and the team at Orastream have found a flexible solution.

“Unlike all other streaming services that are limited to playing at a single low or moderate resolution, Xstream plays at the highest quality your network condition allows at that moment and adapts as the network conditions change,” Young wrote. “It’s a single high resolution bit-perfect file that essentially compresses as needed to never stop playing. As a result, it always sounds better than the other streaming services and it never stops or buffers like other higher res services.”

In July 2015, Young pulled the vast majority of his catalog from streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify as the rocker lamented the sound quality of the files. However, 16 months later, Young’s catalogs suddenly appeared back on the major streaming services prior to the arrival of Peace Trail. It’s unclear whether Young will again pull his catalog from services when Xstream debuts.

“I want you to know that I’m still trying to make the case for bringing you the best music possible, at a reasonable price, the same message we brought to you five years ago. I don’t know whether we will succeed, but it’s still as important to us as it ever was,” Young concluded in his Pono post.

“Thankfully, for those of my audience who care and want to hear all the music, every recording I have ever released will soon be available in Xstream high resolution quality at my complete online archive. Check it out. We will be announcing it very soon.”

Study Finds a Link Between Diet Drinks and Strokes That Cause Dementia

So you thought you’d live life to the max and reduce your sugar intake to zero by switching to diet fizzy drinks? If only it were that simple.

New research is hinting that what might be good for your waist-line just might pose a problem for your brain later.

As part of a series of investigations into how sweet carbonated drinks affect our brains, Boston University School of Medicine used surveys to identify any long term neurological effects of consuming drinks artificially sweetened with substances such as aspartame or saccharine.

Participants were taken from the long-term Framingham Heart Study Offspring cohort – a group of about 5,000 men and women who have volunteered to provide data over their lifetime since 1971.

The team studied 2,888 members of the cohort aged over 45 for signs of a stroke, and found 97 cases (of which 87 were clots that restricted blood flow, called ischemic strokes).

A total of 81 cases of dementia were found among 1,484 members aged over 60 were, with 63 of those having symptoms consistent with Alzheimer’s disease.

They then used questionnaires that the participants had filled out at several points in their life over a seven year period to determine their food intake.

Crunching the numbers and accounting for factors such as age, education, caloric intake, smoking, and exercise, it appears throwing back at least one diet soda a day makes it nearly three times more likely you’ll have an ischemic stroke – a condition that can cause dementia – or develop Alzheimer’s.

On the other hand, a parallel study failed to find evidence that drinking sugary drinks increased the risk of stroke or dementia at all.

Before you run to the fridge and pour several litres of Pepsi Max down the sink, it’s important to put all of this into perspective.

First of all, three times a really tiny risk is still a tiny risk.

“In our study, three percent of the people had a new stroke and five percent developed dementia, so we’re still talking about a small number of people developing either stroke or dementia,” said the study’s lead researcher, Matthew Pase.

And of course there is the all-important mantra ‘correlation isn’t causation’. While the statistics suggest something could be going on, it doesn’t necessarily draw a straight line from sweetener to stroke.

The survey was also limited to data that had already been collected as a part of the Framingham Heart Study, which was made up of people from a mostly Caucasian ethnic background.

Culture could therefore be hiding some important details, especially given the differences in sugary drinks consumed across demographics, the researchers note.

There also was no indication of whether a specific artificial sweetener was to blame given participants didn’t note down the variety of beverage consumed.

But with public health messages encouraging people to lose weight, it might be worth considering the potential impact of more people drinking sugar-free if it isn’t completely risk-free.

“Our study shows a need to put more research into this area given how often people drink artificially-sweetened beverages,” said Pase.

The American Beverage Association is keen to take the results with a grain of non-sweetened salt.

“Low-calorie sweeteners have been proven safe by worldwide government safety authorities as well as hundreds of scientific studies and there is nothing in this research that counters this well-established fact,” it said in a statement.

“The FDA, World Health Organization, European Food Safety Authority and others have extensively reviewed low-calorie sweeteners and have all reached the same conclusion – they are safe for consumption.”

More research is always a good thing. But we all like to know what this means for us now, without holding out for the next round of grants.

The best solution might just be to swap soft drinks for water or drinks without added sweeteners as much as possible.

“They may have a role for people with diabetes and in weight loss, but we encourage people to drink water, low-fat milk or other beverages without added sweeteners,” said professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont, Rachel K. Johnson.

Cheers!

This research was published in the journal Stroke.

A robot-delivery startup helped write state laws that are locking out competition

Two U.S. states — Virginia and Idaho — have now passed laws to allow delivery robots to operate statewide.

The new laws, both of which were passed this year, were written with the help of Starship Technologies, a delivery-robot company based in Estonia that was founded by Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, two of the co-founders of Skype.

While Starship isn’t currently working in Virginia or Idaho, the company can now legally operate its robot in those states — without a person controlling it — on sidewalks and crosswalks. Starship’s 40-pound robots are designed to deliver things like meals, groceries and other on-demand goods. Similar legislation is now being proposed in Wisconsin.

But other robot-delivery companies might not be able to take advantage of the new laws.

That’s because the policies that Starship has helped to champion only permit robots under a certain weight to operate autonomously in each state — and Starship’s potential competitors don’t all make the cut. In Virginia, the law states that ground robots have to weigh under 50 pounds to operate legally. In Idaho, the weight limit is 80 pounds.

But Marble, a robot-delivery company that started bringing people take-out in San Francisco earlier this month, uses a rover that weighs more than 80 pounds. (The company wouldn’t specify the exact weight of its robot.) Another ground robot — the Gita rover from the makers of Vespa — is designed to follow a person around to carry their bags, and weighs 70 pounds. Though Gita isn’t necessarily for making deliveries, it is supposed to be able to rove autonomously and carry things in areas it has already mapped.

“Marble’s robots are built around the form factor of modern-day electric mobility scooters,” CEO Matt Delaney said in a statement to Recode. Delaney said he doesn’t think the weight limits that are being written in the new statewide robot laws are reasonable. Marble is currently in talks with the San Francisco City Council around future robot-delivery regulations in the city, according to a company spokesperson.

Starship says it didn’t intend to push for laws that keep competitors out, even if that is what’s happening now.

“When we launched our first public affairs efforts, our competitors were still in stealth mode. We still do not know their operational parameters,” Allan Martinson, Starship’s chief operating officer, said in an email.

Martinson says that the weight limits are “not random but based on safety estimates.”

“The 50-pound limit came about in discussion about what would be the most approachable and safest route that a pedestrian would feel safe with this robot traveling next to them,” said Rep. Ron Villanueva from Virginia, one of the lawmakers who championed the state’s new robot policy.

In Wisconsin, a bill about legal operation of autonomous ground-delivery robots is now in committee discussions, and currently proposes an 80-pound weight limit.

A spokesperson for state Sen. Chris Kapenga, one of the sponsors of the Wisconsin bill that’s making its way through the state legislature, said that they arrived at the 80-pound weight limit by doubling the weight of Starship’s robot.

Both the Virginia and Idaho laws, as well as the Wisconsin bill, have provisions that allow for municipalities to change the law to meet their local needs, like if the robot isn’t allowed on the sidewalks during certain times of the day, or if a city wants to change the weight limit.

 

But creating a local exception would require city officials to make that decision, and that could be a whole process itself.

Starship is not currently operating in any of the states where it has worked to pass the robot laws. But a spokesperson from Senator Kapenga’s office told Recode that he couldn’t see why the company would be coming to Wisconsin if it didn’t expect to eventually bring its technology to the state.

None of the states that have so far passed laws permitting the use of autonomous robots are major population centers. But if Starship continues to try to pass more laws in more states across the country — like the bill that was filed in Florida with a 50-pound weight limit — Starship’s competitors might want to start pushing back.

Microsoft has a plan to beat Chromebooks at their own game

Microsoft is holding an education-focused event on May 2nd, and speculation has indicated that we might see Windows 10 Cloud for the first time. The software is pegged as a low-resource platform that could compete with Google’s Chrome OS, which has been making big inroads in EDU markets recently. The latest indication of Microsoft’s plan to take Chromebooks on comes from Windows Central, which published a leaked spec sheet showing Windows 10 Cloud minimum specs and performance requirements as compared to Chromebooks.

Assuming this chart is accurate, it gives us a good idea of what sort of hardware we’ll be seeing from Windows 10 Cloud devices. The relatively modest specs include 4GB of RAM, a quad-core Celeron (or better) processor and either 32GB or 64GB of storage — that all sounds a lot like you’ll find in a Chromebook. Microsoft is looking to achieve “all-day” battery life for “most students” and super-short boot and wake from sleep times, as well.

What we’ve seen from Windows 10 Cloud suggests that machines running this new software will only work with Universal Windows Platform apps you get from the Microsoft Store — traditional Windows software will be out. But for a lot of students, that plus the many web-based apps and services out there will be enough to get a lot of work done. In any event, it looks like we’ll know more in less than two weeks, and we’ll be at Microsoft’s event to cover all the news.

Study Finds the Birth Control Pill Has a Pretty Terrible Impact on Women’s Wellbeing

A new study has reinforced what many women have been saying for years – the oral contraceptive pill is associated with reduced quality of life and wellbeing in healthy women.

The double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial found that healthy

women reported reduced quality of life, mood, and physical wellbeing after taking a common birth control pill containing ethinylestradiol and levonorgestrel for three months.

The findings reinforce earlier research and anecdotal claims that women are struggling with the side effects of the contraceptive pill.

But there was no significant evidence that the contraceptive increased depressive symptoms in the latest study… so, there’s that.

Surprisingly, this is one of the most rigorous studies to date to look into the impact of the pill on women’s quality of life.

“Despite the fact that an estimated 100 million women around the world use contraceptive pills we know surprisingly little today about the pill’s effect on women’s health,” said lead researcher Angelica Lindén Hirschberg from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden.

“The scientific base is very limited as regards the contraceptive pill’s effect on quality of life and depression and there is a great need for randomised studies where it is compared with placebos.”

To fix that, her team took 340 healthy women aged between 18 and 35 and gave them either placebo pills, or contraceptive pills containing ethinylestradiol and levonorgestrel over a three-month period.

Ethinylestradiol and levonorgestrel-containing pills are among the most common form of combined oral contraceptive pills around the world because they’re the least associated with a risk of blood clots, and they include brand names such as Levlen, Microgynon, Portia, and Alesse.

The study was double blind, which meant that neither the researchers giving out the pills or the women taking them knew whether they were getting a placebo or not.

At the start of the study, the women had their general health measured, including weight, height, and blood pressure.

They also filled out two well-known surveys on general wellbeing and depressive symptoms – the Psychological General Wellbeing Index and the Beck Depression Inventory.

They then went through the same tests at the end of the three months so the researchers could compare the results.

The women who were given contraceptive pills reported that their quality of life was significantly lower at the end of the study than those who were given placebos.

This was true for general quality of life and also specific aspects of wellbeing, such as self control and energy levels.

No significant increase in depressive symptoms was observed.

While it’s an interesting first step towards better measuring the pills’ side effects, the researchers caution that the changes were relatively small so we can’t read too much into them just yet. And we can only apply these findings to ethinylestradiol and levonorgestrel-containg pills.

Also, the study only looked at women over three months – it will require longer monitoring to get a more accurate idea of how the contraceptive pill affects women.

“This might in some cases be a contributing cause of low compliance and irregular use of contraceptive pills,” said one of the researchers, Niklas Zethraeus.

“This possible degradation of quality of life should be paid attention to and taken into account in conjunction with prescribing of contraceptive pills and when choosing a method of contraception.”

With recent research also providing insight into why periods can be so damn painful and heavy, it seems scientists are finally starting to take women’s reproductive health and contraceptive side effects seriously.

And we’re getting some male options too – scientists are making progress with a hormonal contraceptive injection for men, as well as a reversible, condom-free gel that blocks sperm.

More research is needed before we can identify more accurately how the pill impacts women, but these early results are reassuring for many women who’ve struggled with side effects while on the pill.

Simulated galaxies provide fresh evidence of dark matter

Further evidence of the existence of dark matter – the mysterious substance that is believed to hold the Universe together – has been produced by Cosmologists at Durham University

Using sophisticated computer modelling techniques, the research team simulated the formation of galaxies in the presence of dark matter and were able to demonstrate that their size and rotation speed were linked to their brightness in a similar way to observations made by astronomers.

One of the simulations is pictured, showing the main ingredients that make up a galaxy: the stars (blue), the gas from which the stars are born (red), and the dark matter halo that surrounds the galaxy (light grey).

Alternative theories

Until now, theories of dark matter have predicted a much more complex relationship between the size, mass and brightness (or luminosity) of galaxies than is actually observed, which has led to dark matter sceptics proposing alternative theories that are seemingly a better fit with what we see.

The research led by Dr Aaron Ludlow of the Institute for Computational Cosmology, is published in the academic journal, Physical Review Letters.

Most cosmologists believe that more than 80 per cent of the total mass of the Universe is made up of dark matter – a mysterious particle that has so far not been detected but explains many of the properties of the Universe such as the microwave background measured by the Planck satellite.

Convincing explanations

Alternative theories include Modified Newtonian Dynamics, or MOND. While this does not explain some observations of the Universe as convincingly as dark matter theory it has, until now, provided a simpler description of the coupling of the brightness and rotation velocity, observed in galaxies of all shapes and sizes.

The Durham team used powerful supercomputers to model the formation of galaxies of various sizes, compressing billions of years of evolution into a few weeks, in order to demonstrate that the existence of dark matter is consistent with the observed relationship between mass, size and luminosity of galaxies.

Long-standing problem resolved

Dr Ludlow said: “This solves a long-standing problem that has troubled the dark matter model for over a decade. The dark matter hypothesis remains the main explanation for the source of the gravity that binds galaxies. Although the particles are difficult to detect, physicists must persevere.”

Durham University collaborated on the project with Leiden University, Netherlands; Liverpool John Moores University, England and the University of Victoria, Canada. The research was funded by the European Research Council, the Science and Technology Facilities Council, Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, COFUND and The Royal Society.

Roots, Amazon Developing Two New Children’s Shows

The Roots have partnered with Amazon to develop two new children’s series, Deadline reports. The hip-hop group and their company Passyunk Productions are prepping an animated show, tentatively titled South Street Sounds, as well as a live-action series.

The Roots recorded music for South Street Sounds, while acclaimed kid’s programming screenwriter Becky Friedman wrote the show. South Street Sounds follows three friends – Zora, Nick and Tyson – who form a band called South Street. Episodes will find the group preparing for a gig and navigating a neighborhood so filled with music, “every shop-keeper, pizza-maker and crossing guard dance perfectly in time, and having a bad day means literally singing the blues,” Amazon said in a release.

“Our love for music started as young kids, and we hope to inspire a generation of future artists, musicians and music fans through the stories we tell and the music they hear on these shows,” said Roots MC Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter.

A premiere date for South Street Sounds has yet to be announced. The Roots and Amazon also did not reveal any details about the live-action series.

Previously, Trotter and Roots drummer Amir “Questlove” Thompson produced the VH1 music series, Soundclash, in 2014. The band has also served as Jimmy Fallon’s house band on Late Night and, currently, The Tonight Show. Last October, Questlove posted videos to Instagram that showed the band working on their 17th album, tentatively titled End Game.