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This Smartphone App Aims to Help the Blind See

Your smartphone will never totally replace a fellow human being. But a new app seeks to function a bit like another set of eyes in the house, helping the visually impaired identify everyday items as they come into contact with them. 

BlindTool is an Android app that can recognize common objects and relay that information to the user through voice, and as a simple text-based message across the screen (for anyone who feels like trying it out). It was created by Joseph Paul Cohen, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, who was inspired to create a tool for the visually impaired after working with a blind programmer.

BlindTool works through training and logic. While developing the app, Cohen used a database of around 1000 images to teach the neural network to identify objects like bananas, frying pans, and cups. Using that information, the app can make a guess about whether what's in front of the camera matches a object it already knows, vibrating when it's identified something. The application will only speak the name of an object when it's 30 percent sure of what it is, and the vibration becomes stronger around 90 percent.

The concept seems promising, but BlindTool is not without its quirks (it should be noted that the program is still in its beta stage). A large database with tens of thousands of images would have made the application slow and too large for a smartphone, so Cohen went for speed and efficiency over accuracy. He told FastCoDesign that the photos used to train the app were selected randomly, not geared toward what a user might need to identify on a day-to-day basis.

In a quick test of BlindTool around the mental_floss office, the identifications were hit-and-miss. Objects like keyboards and sunglasses were identified correctly the first time around, but others, like a digital watch and running shoes, took several passes. A toothbrush was never positively identified, and the app was confident that a wastebasket was a toilet seat.

Screenshots via BlindTool

Despite the kinks, BlindTool shows how technology like this may someday be harnessed to make everyday life for the visually impaired easier. It joins a handful of other apps designed to aid the blind, and while it might not be perfect, Cohen told FastCoDesign that he believes it still serves an important purpose: "If someone just wants to look around, and get the gist of what something looks like so they can add a whole other dimension of sight, experience of the world, maybe [BlindTool is technically] wrong, but ... I still think it gives a sense of independence, which is a big goal of doing this."

[h/t: FastCoDesign

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The Most Searched Shows on Netflix in 2017, By State

Orange is the New Black is the new black, at least as far as Netflix viewers are concerned. The women-in-prison dramedy may have premiered in 2013, but it’s still got viewers hooked. Just as they did in 2017, HighSpeedInternet.com took a deep dive into Netflix analytics using Google Trends to find out which shows people in each state were searching Netflix for throughout the year. While there was a little bit of crossover between 2016 and 2017, new series like American Vandal and Mindhunter gave viewers a host of new content. But that didn’t stop Orange is the New Black from dominating the map; it was the most searched show in 15 states.

Coming in at a faraway second place was American Vandal, a new true crime satire that captured the attention of five states (Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Wisconsin). Even more impressive is the fact that the series premiered in mid-September, meaning that it found a large and rabid audience in a very short amount of time.

Folks in Alaska, Colorado, and Oregon were all destined to be disappointed; Star Trek: Discovery was the most searched-for series in each of these states, but it’s not yet available on Netflix in America (you’ve got to get CBS All Access for that, folks). Fourteen states broke the mold a bit with shows that were unique to their state only; this included Big Mouth in Delaware, The Keepers in Maryland, The OA in Pennsylvania, GLOW in Rhode Island, and Black Mirror in Hawaii.

Check out the map above to see if your favorite Netflix binge-watch matches up with your neighbors'. For more detailed findings, visit HighSpeedInternet.com.

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Monthly Internet Costs in Every Country

Thanks to the internet, people around the world can conduct global research, trade tips, and find faraway friends without ever leaving their couch. Not everyone pays the same price for these digital privileges, though, according to new data visualizations spotted by Thrillist.

To compare internet user prices in each country, cost information site HowMuch.net created a series of maps. The data comes courtesy of English market research consultancy BDRC and Cable.co.uk, which teamed up to analyze 3351 broadband packages in 196 nations between August 18, 2017 and October 12, 2017.

In the U.S., for example, the average cost for internet service is $66 per month. That’s substantially more than what browsers pay in neighboring Mexico ($27) and Canada ($55). Still, we don’t have it bad compared to either Namibia or Burkina Faso, where users shell out a staggering $464 and $924, respectively, for monthly broadband access. In fact, internet in the U.S. is far cheaper than what residents in 113 countries pay, including those in Saudi Arabia ($84), Indonesia ($72), and Greenland ($84).

On average, internet costs in Asia and Russia tend to be among the lowest, while access is prohibitively expensive in sub-Saharan Africa and in certain parts of Oceania. As for the world’s cheapest internet, you’ll find it in Ukraine and Iran.

Check out the maps below for more broadband insights, or view HowMuch.net’s full findings here.

Map of Internet costs in each country created by information site HowMuch.net.
HowMuch.net

Map of Internet costs in each country created by information site HowMuch.net.
HowMuch.net

Map of Internet costs in each country created by information site HowMuch.net.
HowMuch.net

Map of Internet costs in each country created by information site HowMuch.net.
HowMuch.net

Map of Internet costs in each country created by information site HowMuch.net.
HowMuch.net

[h/t Thrillist]

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