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Cell Phones Distract You Even On Vibrate, Study Says

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Not answering your phone might be nearly as distracting as picking it up. Even if you wait to read a text or look at a notification, the act of knowing they're there is enough to place strain on your memory and disrupt your performance on a task, according to a new study by Florida State University researchers in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

The study asked 212 university students to complete a basic computer task to measure their attention. Some of them received either text messages or phone calls during the task. They hadn’t been given any instructions about silencing their ringers or avoiding checking their phones prior to the task. (Later, students who did read their messages during the task or who had their cell phones off were excluded from the results, for a total of 166 participants.)

The students who received phone notifications during the study performed worse on the sustained attention task than students who didn’t hear their phone go off, even if the student didn’t actually pick up the call. The researchers hypothesize that the decrease in attention was due to “the tendency for cellular notifications to prompt task-irrelevant thoughts, or mind wandering, which persist beyond the duration of the notifications themselves.” The effect was similar to those seen in studies of distracted and not-distracted driving.

If just the act of noticing your phone is ringing and making a mental note to check it later makes you significantly worse at the task at hand, it indicates that driving with a cell phone—even if you don’t take any calls—might be more dangerous than previously thought. As a phone-addicted Millennial, I’ll testify that the brain power it takes to resist the compulsive urge to check my phone can sap a lot of my attention. Moreover, if phones are this distracting, wearing an Apple watch that vibrates against your skin every time you get a text may not be the best path to focus. Push notifications are ruining the world.

[h/t: The Science of Us]

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A New App Interprets Sign Language for the Amazon Echo
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The convenience of the Amazon Echo smart speaker only goes so far. Without any sort of visual interface, the voice-activated home assistant isn't very useful for deaf people—Alexa only understands three languages, none of which are American Sign Language. But Fast Company reports that one programmer has invented an ingenious system that allows the Echo to communicate visually.

Abhishek Singh's new artificial intelligence app acts as an interpreter between deaf people and Alexa. For it to work, users must sign at a web cam that's connected to a computer. The app translates the ASL signs from the webcam into text and reads it aloud for Alexa to hear. When Alexa talks back, the app generates a text version of the response for the user to read.

Singh had to teach his system ASL himself by signing various words at his web cam repeatedly. Working within the machine-learning platform Tensorflow, the AI program eventually collected enough data to recognize the meaning of certain gestures automatically.

While Amazon does have two smart home devices with screens—the Echo Show and Echo Spot—for now, Singh's app is one of the best options out there for signers using voice assistants that don't have visual components. He plans to make the code open-source and share his full methodology in order to make it accessible to as many people as possible.

Watch his demo in the video below.

[h/t Fast Company]

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Alexa Can Now Help You Find a Wine Pairing
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Even if you enjoy wine regularly, you may not know exactly how you’re supposed to pair it with food. But you don’t have to be a sommelier to put together a good pairing at home. According to Lifehacker, you can just ask Alexa.

An Alexa skill called Wine Finder is designed to help you figure out which wine varietal would go best with whatever food you’re planning to eat. You just have to ask, “What wine goes well with … ”

Created by an app developer called Bloop Entertainment, the Amazon Echo skill features a database with 500 wine pairings. And not all of them are designed for someone working their way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The skill will also help you find the proper pairing for your more casual snacks. In one demo, the skill recommends pairing nachos with a Sauvignon blanc or Zinfandel. (Note that the latter also goes well with Frito pie.)

You can also ask it to find you the perfect wine to drink with apple pie and pizza, in addition to the meats, cheeses, and other wine-pairing staples you might expect. However, if you ask it what to pair with hot dogs, it says “water,” which is an affront to hot dog connoisseurs everywhere.

There are a few other wine-pairing skills available for Alexa, including Wine Pairings, Wine Pairings (two different skills), and Wine Expert. But according to user reviews, Wine Finder is the standout, offering more and higher-quality suggestions than some of the other sommelier apps.

It’s free to enable here, so drink up.

[h/t Lifehacker]

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