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Simple Time-Telling: Time Balls

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Yesterday we talked about Weather Balls; today let's follow the Wikipedia "See Also" link and dig into the exciting world of Time Balls!

The best known time ball these days is the one that drops in New York City's Times Square to indicate the passage of another year. We're all familiar with how that ball works: when it hits the bottom, the clock has hit midnight, marking the division between old and new year. But past time balls dropped far more often: designed to help boats at sea calculate their longitude (which required accurate timekeeping), the balls typically dropped every day at 1pm (though in some places around the world, the time differed).

In a reversal of the modern New York City ball, early time balls started counting the time (say, 1pm) when they started dropping, not when they finished. To get sailors ready, the ball would only be raised a few minutes before the day's drop.

The earliest such ball was installed in 1829 in southern England, and others followed along the coastal UK shortly thereafter -- including the one shown at left, at the Greenwich Observatory. The balls initially got their time right by astronomical observations of the sun; the reason for the traditional 1pm drop was that astronomers were busy measuring the sun's position at noon and needed some time before dropping the ball. Later balls used telegraph signals to get Greenwich Mean Time, thus obviating the need for local sun observation. Time balls finally fell out of common use in the 1920s when radio began broadcasting time signals, though many time balls still remain in the UK and Australia.

For more awesome Time Ball info, check out the Deal Timeball Tower Museum located in Deal, Kent.

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Weather Watch
Make Alexa's Daily Weather Forecasts More Accurate
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Will you need an umbrella this afternoon? Will a fine day grow sweltering and require flip-flops? Your Amazon Echo Daily Briefing can answer these questions. But, as Taylor Martin at CNET explains, it can answer them better if you make a few quick changes to your account.

Meteorologists are scientists, not fortune-tellers. They analyze the data they have to assemble their best estimate of weather conditions over the next few hours, days, and weeks. These estimates can vary widely depending on the sources of the data and the variables included in the calculation. Some forecasters are just plain better than others.

One of the most popular is Dark Sky, an app that offers hyperlocal weather reports centered on a user’s exact whereabouts. Dark Sky uses its own proprietary weather service, which has been adapted for Alexa by a third-party function called Big Sky.

As CNET explains, this is how you add Big Sky capability to your Echo:

- Go to alexa.amazon.com or tap to open the Alexa app on iOS or Android.

- In the left menu, go to Skills.

- Search for Big Sky.

- Tap or click Enable Skill.

- To create a Big Sky account, select Create One.

- Select a username and password.

- Log in and enter your address.

- Decide how detailed you want your forecast to be.

- Select Fahrenheit or Celsius and click Submit.

To get your forecast for the day, head to your Echo and say "Alexa, open Big Sky." You can also ask Alexa to consult the app with specific questions. "Alexa, ask Big Sky: will it rain in the next six hours?" "Alexa, what’s the high temperature today?"

From there, you'll have to make your fashion and accessory choices yourself.

[h/t CNET]

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Food
Japan Is Getting Sushi Delivery Robots
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ZMP

Japan, home of robots that feed you tomatoes, check you into your hotel, and act as surrogate children, is about to get a sushi delivery bot.

In August, the Japanese robotics company ZMP and the food delivery service Ride On Express are due to launch CarriRo Delivery, an autonomous sushi delivery robot, according to Fast Company and RocketNews24.

The sushi will come from Ride On Express’s sushi restaurant Gin no Sara and be delivered in the red robot, which looks like a cross between an ice cream cart and one of London’s signature red buses. The CarriRo robot can deliver sushi for up to 60 people and is designed to navigate the city on its own with the help of cameras and sensors.

ZMP has aspirations for the robots outside the culinary sphere. The promotional video shows the robots navigating sidewalks to pick up prescription drugs, household supplies, and more, bringing them to people who order from an app on their phone. It has headlights, so it appears you can order at all hours of the day. The robot can run for up to eight hours at a time and can be controlled remotely.

For now, though, the laws governing autonomous robots roving around public sidewalks aren’t super clear, so the CarriRo’s sushi service is debuting on private land only. That means futuristic sushi parties will be confined to office parks and other areas where it won’t run afoul of the law. (It has a top speed of less than 4 mph, so it can’t exactly run away from the police.)

For select office workers, though, this will bring the convenience of conveyor belt sushi to a whole new level.

[h/t Fast Company]

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