Coming Soon: A Harry Potter Wand That Teaches Kids to Code

Kano
Kano

If you've ever wanted to learn how to code but couldn't focus long enough to finish an online tutorial, then you might want to try something a little more … magical. As spotted by Fast Company, the London-based startup Kano has partnered with Warner Bros. to develop a Harry Potter Coding Kit, which comes with a programmable wand that lets you code your own spells.

It won't make your furniture float or turn your enemies into ferrets, but it will equip you with some fundamental computer coding skills that may come in handy later. While the kit is perfect for children as young as 6 years old, it's also suitable for Harry Potter-loving adults who are new to coding.

Using a computer or tablet, players use code to navigate six areas of the Wizarding World, including Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, and the Forbidden Forest. Sensors inside the wand track users' hand movements and let them cast spells, all while using a block-based coding interface and JavaScript inspector to provide a fun introduction to programming.

Here's what that looks like:

The wand pairs with the Kano app and the software is compatible with iOS, Android, Mac, and PC. Speaking about the inspiration behind the coding kit, Kano CEO and co-founder Alex Klein said in a statement, "We're surrounded by technology in our homes, workplaces, and pockets, yet only a small percent of people, less than 1 percent of 1 percent, understand the happenings behind the screen."

Kano is backed by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who has described the company's child-friendly coding products as "a way for anyone to stumble onto their affinity and passion for computer technology."

The Harry Potter Coding Kit, priced at about $100, is available for preorder on Kano's website and will be sold in stores starting October 1.

[h/t Fast Company]

Surprise! Microsoft Admits That People Are Listening In on Your Cortana and Skype Conversations

mabe123/iStock via Getty Images
mabe123/iStock via Getty Images

In a turn of events that, at this point, probably shocks no one, Microsoft has confessed that human contractors have been listening in on some people's private conversations via Skype and Cortana.

Vice first broke the news on the privacy breach earlier this month, after a contractor passed along documents, screenshots, and actual audio files of some conversations. “The fact that I can even share some of this with you shows how lax things are in terms of protecting user data,” the contractor, whose name was withheld (for obvious reasons), told Motherboard. Unlike Apple’s recent Siri snafu, these conversations didn’t include potential criminal activity, but they did catch intimate exchanges about weight loss, love, and relationship problems.

Also unlike Apple: Microsoft is not suspending its practices. Instead, the tech monolith has updated its privacy policy to clarify that humans might, in fact, be eavesdropping on you.

“We realized, based on questions raised recently, that we could do a better job of clarifying that humans sometimes review this content,” a Microsoft representative told Vice. Before, the Skype website had mentioned that your content could be analyzed in order to improve the technology, but it never explicitly stated that humans would be listening to it.

Microsoft only records Skype conversations that use its translation features, in order to “help the translation and speech technology learn and grow,” according to the Skype FAQ section. If you’re not using translation features, your sweet nothings are reportedly as private as you want them to be. The updated FAQ section also now states that “Microsoft employees and vendors” may be transcribing the translated audio, and the procedures are “designed to protect users’ privacy, including taking steps to de-identify data, requiring non-disclosure agreements with vendors and their employees,” and more.

But Cortana’s data gathering isn’t limited to translation. According to its support page, Microsoft can collect your voice data literally any time you “use your voice to say something to Cortana or invoke skills.” If that worries you, we recommend spending some time adjusting the settings on your Microsoft Privacy Dashboard.

[h/t Vice]

Amazon Is Making It Easier for Sellers to Donate Returned or Unsold Items Instead of Trashing Them

ronstik/iStock via Getty Images
ronstik/iStock via Getty Images

After mailing back an unwanted Amazon order or bringing it to a drop-off location, you may assume your return will find its way to a good home. But not every item returned to Amazon is re-listed on the website. Many third-party sellers working through Amazon simply toss returned products in the trash along with any surplus goods they can't sell. That's about to change: As CNBC reports, the retailer will make its new Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) Donations program the default option for independent shops based in the U.S. and the UK.

Starting in September 2019, sellers that have unwanted returns or unsold items sitting in an Amazon warehouse can depend on the company to donate them to a good cause. In the U.S., products that are eligible for donation will be sent to various nonprofits through a charity group called Good360, and in the UK, groups including Newlife, Salvation Army, and Barnardo will distribute the goods.

“We know getting products into the hands of those who need them transforms lives and strengthens local communities,” Alice Shobe, director of Amazon in the Community, said in a statement. “We are delighted to extend this program to sellers who use our fulfillment services.”

Amazon charges independent sellers 50 cents to ship unsold items back to them and just 15 cents to throw them away, meaning that donating or trying to resell returned items wasn't always cost-effective for businesses. Amazon reportedly wasted 293,000 products over a nine-month period in just one French distribution center alone.

The company now aims to incentivize sellers to donate their unsold and returned inventory by making it the cheaper option, according to sellers who spoke to CNBC. As part of this program, Amazon will also manage the logistics and work with charities in an effort to "streamline the donation process for independent sellers."

The Fulfillment by Amazon Donations program will be the default for U.S. and UK sellers starting on September 1, but stores will still have the opportunity to opt out if they wish.

[h/t CNBC]

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