These Vending Machines Dispense Short Stories Instead Of Snacks

Getty
Getty

While many have lamented the lost art of reading in our social media-driven world, few have actually tried to do anything about it. Short Édition is the exception. In 2011, the Grenoble, France-based startup began installing short story-dispensing vending machines in some of the country's most popular public spaces, beginning with Paris's Charles de Gaulle Airport. And now they've made their way to America.

The screen-less contraptions, known as Short Story Dispensers, are the brainchild of Christophe Sibieude (the co-founder and head of Short Édition) and Grenoble's mayor, Éric Piolle, a noted environmentalist who agreed to fund the company's first eight prototypes. The pair hoped that commuters and bystanders would make use of these stories to expand and enrich their minds while waiting around, rather than tapping and swiping their way aimlessly through Facebook or Twitter.

“The idea came to us in front of a vending machine containing chocolate bars and drinks," Sibieude told Agence-France Presse in 2015. "We said to ourselves that we could do the same thing with good quality popular literature to occupy these little unproductive moments.”


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Stories are dispensed according to how much time you've got to spend reading (one-, three-, and five-minute options are all available), and the stories are printed out on long, receipt-like paper that is both eco-friendly and BPA-free. According to the company, "Thanks to innovative printing on demand, there is no waste, no ink, and no cartridge." But there is a rabid interest in what Short Édition is doing.

According to The Verge, the machines offer more than 13 million works by 6800 authors, and include classics from the likes of Shakespeare and Virginia Woolf.

Since that first machine made its airport debut, more than 150 others have popped up, mainly in France, but the U.S. has started to catch on. Francis Ford Coppola was an early fan of the concept; in addition to becoming an investor, the first U.S. machine was installed in his Café Zoetrope in San Francisco.

All told, there are currently about 20 machines spread across America—though something tells us that number will soon be on the rise. Short Édition is showing off its Short Story Dispenser at this year's CES, one of the world's biggest showcases for emerging consumer technologies, where it will undoubtedly attract new fans.

Why Robocalls Just Keep Getting Worse

iStock.com/Oleksii Spesyvtsev
iStock.com/Oleksii Spesyvtsev

Artificial intelligence was supposed to make life easier for all of us. In the case of robocalls—those persistent, indefatigable automated dialers that pester millions of people with often-bogus sales offers—it’s proving to be one of our biggest nuisances. Somehow, we’re powerless to stop them.

According to a recent NBC News report by Nigel Chiwaya and Jeremia Kimelman, they’re now worse than ever. NBC cited data from YouMail, a voicemail and call-blocking service for iPhone and Android customers, that demonstrated a staggering increase in robocalls: Americans received in excess of 4 billion of the calls in June 2018, up from more than 2 billion in January 2016. Telemarketing calls also topped the list of consumer complaints filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

How frequently you’re interrupted by these calls may depend on your region. Residents of Atlanta received an average of 68 robocalls in September. Those with a 202 area code in Washington, D.C. got 49 calls. On average, a U.S. resident can expect to receive 13 robocalls a month.

There are two possible reasons for the uptick in the calls. Phone apps that block unwanted or unfamiliar numbers are increasing in popularity, which may be prompting scammers and telemarketers to make more calls in an effort to get through. It’s also easier than ever to dispatch the calls, as new software programs make it a snap for anyone to set up a system to mass-dial potential customers. The effort is so cheap—sometimes pennies per call—that if even a small percentage of people respond, it’s worth the investment.

According to CBS News, 25 million Americans were drawn in by a pitch of this type last year alone, losing $9 billion to scams. (“Spoofing,” which can display a local number on a person’s caller ID function, can be an effective way to get an individual to answer the phone.)

What’s the FCC doing about it? This year, they’ve suggested multimillion dollar fines for companies targeting people with robocalls that use spoof numbers. That may deter domestic companies, but because many robocallers are located outside of the United States, it might not lead to a drastic reduction in the number of calls.

There was also hope that the National Do Not Call Registry, which allows consumers to request their number not be dialed by businesses, would lessen the volume. Unfortunately, law-abiding businesses make up only a fraction of those making the calls.

Industry experts have drawn comparisons to spam emails, citing the wave of unsolicited messages that blanketed the internet in the early 2000s before services were able to funnel them out of view. The same may hold true for phone carriers. AT&T offers Call Protect, a service that tries to caution users when an incoming call might be dubious. T-Mobile has Scam Block, which keeps an inventory of known scam numbers so it can block them from coming in.

For now, the best thing consumers can do is ignore calls from unknown numbers and hope technology—like Google’s Pixel smartphone, which will answer and transcribe calls for review, or Stir/Shaken, a cross-platform standard that might one day authenticate phone numbers—will be able to stem the tide of unwanted calls.

Unfortunately, the robocall epidemic could get worse before it gets better. It's being predicted that by 2019, half of all incoming cell phone calls will be from a non-human.

[h/t NBC News]

New Netflix Hack Lets You Control the App With Your Eyes

Netflix, YouTube
Netflix, YouTube

Watching Netflix could become a truly hands-free experience, Popular Mechanics reports. As part of the streaming giant's recent Hack Day—a biannual event where Netflix employees come up with experimental features—engineers debuted Eye Nav, a feature that lets Netflix iOS users navigate the app with simple eye movements.

Using Apple’s augmented reality platform, ARKit, Netflix engineers programmed the Face ID function for iPhone and iPad to recognize eye movements as gestures within the Netflix app. Users can control a cursor by moving their gaze around a screen, browsing the catalog and playing content without ever lifting a finger.

As you move your eyes, a yellow circle moves through the catalog, serving as a giant cursor button. A longer stare results in a click, while sticking out your tongue dismisses the current screen.

While the feature may seem a bit dystopian to some—why would you want Netflix to track every one of your tiniest movements?—it could actually be super useful for people with disabilities who might have an easier time browsing and selecting shows with their eyes rather than tapping the app with their fingers.

So far, Eye Nav is just experimental, but it could become a more permanent part of the mobile app in the future. Since it does require eye-tracking functionality, though, it likely isn't coming to your television anytime soon.

[h/t Popular Mechanics]

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