Dark Mode on iOS. (Microsoft Photo) Microsoft is doubling down on Dark Mode, bringing the popular option to switch from a white background to a black or grey one to more of its core services. The company says it plans to bring Dark Mode to its entire Microsoft 365 product suite — a combination of Windows 10, Office 365 and Enterprise Mobility + Security. The push begins with an initial rollout today of Dark Mode on Outlook for iOS and Android, as well as Office.com. When the latest update of iOS launches, Microsoft will roll out Dark Mode for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, SharePoint, OneDrive, Planner, and To-Do on mobile. The addition of Dark Mode across more of the company’s products is all about choice, Microsoft Corporate Vice President of Research & Design Jon Friedman wrote in a blog post. “It’s an apt metaphor for why we love Dark Mode: human needs unfold across an equally broad spectrum,” Friedman wrote. “Whether you want to reduce eye strain, improve battery life, or it just has aesthetic appeal, Dark Mode exemplifies our ability to craft simple and powerful Microsoft 365 experiences that give you choice and flexibility.” Welcome to the dark side. in is here. Learn more: — Microsoft 365 (@Microsoft365) Microsoft says it first introduced darker backgrounds back in 2010. It has steadily added Dark Mode to more programs, including major services such as Windows 10, Edge and Office. Jon Friendman. (Microsoft Photo) Dark backgrounds have become popular in recent years, with tech giants promoting the mode as an of new releases. The black backgrounds often look sleeker, and experts have touted health benefits of the setting as well. It’s become common knowledge that . For people who put in late hours, using a dark background instead of a light one reduces the amount of blue light they’re exposed to, leading to a better sleep after work is done, , a partially-sighted computer scientist at Cambridge University in the U.K. There are disadvantages too. It can be tough to see the backgrounds in well-lit rooms or when light reflects off the screen. In the blog post, Microsoft’s Friedman pointed to the 24/7 nature of work and the spread of productivity tools to everyday life as reasons dark backgrounds have become popular. People aren’t just using Microsoft products on their desktop from 9 to 5 anymore. “Our tools are used to keep up to speed on everything from work communication, to personal events that include friends and family, to changes in shared documents,” Friedman wrote. “This often means viewing email, calendars, or files in places where the default white mode may be less suitable, like darkened airplanes, movie theaters, or in bed at night.”
YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, Calif. (Flickr Photo / jm3) Amazon and Google have that kept YouTube off Fire TV devices for more than a year. The two companies said “in the coming months,” they will re-launch YouTube on Amazon Fire TV devices and Fire TV Edition smart TVs. Amazon’s Prime Video app will also come to Chromecast devices and Android TVs. In addition to YouTube, the companies pledged to launch YouTube TV and YouTube Kids apps on Fire TV devices later this year. “We are excited to work with Amazon to launch the official YouTube apps on Fire TV devices worldwide,” Heather Rivera, global head of product partnerships at YouTube, said in a statement. “Bringing our flagship YouTube experience to Amazon Fire TV gives our users even more ways to watch the videos and creators they love.” Google at the beginning of 2018, leaving a big hole in the company’s streaming lineup. Amazon tried to fill the gap with a using web browser apps on Fire TV devices. This warning started popping up in late 2017 as Google prepared to pull YouTube off Amazon Fire TV devices. (GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy) The seeds of the Fire TV-YouTube kerfuffle were planted close to four years ago. in 2015 because the devices didn’t work well with the Prime Video streaming service. In September 2017, from Amazon’s Echo Show, citing a terms of service violation. Soon after, multiple from Amazon’s e-commerce marketplace. in November 2017, but a couple weeks later. That’s when the search giant made the call to remove the streaming service from Fire TV and Fire TV Stick devices due to what it called a “lack of reciprocity” from Amazon.
University of Washington graduate students Katherine McAlpine and Daniel Gochnauer work in the Ultracold Atoms Group’s lab to study ultracold atoms and quantum gases. (UW Photo / Dennis Wise) Editor’s note: is a co-founder and managing director at Seattle-based venture capital firm Madrona Venture Group. He is a member of Challenge Seattle and sits on the Amazon board of directors. Commentary: This week I had the opportunity to speak at the , co-sponsored by Microsoft, the University of Washington and Pacific Northwest National Labs. The Summit brought together, for the first time, the large network of quantum researchers, universities and technology companies working in quantum information science (QIS) in our region to share quantum developments and to work together to establish the Pacific Northwest as one of the leading quantum science centers in the world. Quantum computing has the potential to transform our economies and lives. As one of the Summit speakers said, we are on the “cusp of a quantum century.” Quantum computers will be able to solve problems that classical computers can’t solve, even if they run their algorithms for thousands of years. Quantum computers are not limited to the on-or-off (one-or-zero) bits of today’s digital computers. Quantum computers manipulate “qubits” that can be one-and-zero simultaneously, which allows exponentially faster calculations. Quantum computers are expected to be able to crack present-day security codes, which is already causing scientists to work on devising new encryption protocols to protect consumer and business data and national security. Applications developed for quantum computers likely will help us overcome existing challenges in material, chemical and environmental sciences, such as devising new ways for sequestering carbon and improving batteries. Even though the Seattle area is one of the top two technology centers in the U.S., along with the San Francisco Bay Area, we have to make investments now to ensure we become a leading quantum center. To achieve this goal, I argued that we will need to substantially increase financial support to build up the UW’s quantum research capacity and equally important, to create an extensive quantum information science curriculum. The UW’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering began this year to offer a course teaching Microsoft’s Q# language, but one course is not enough if we are to make our area one of the major quantum centers of the future. Madrona Venture Group Managing Director Tom Alberg speaks at the Northwest Quantum Nexus Summit this week in Seattle. U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., is seated behind Alberg. (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Photo / Andrea Starr) Fortunately for our region, Microsoft is one of the acknowledged leaders in quantum computing and is committed to building our regional network. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella gives credit to former Microsoft chief technology officer and research leader Craig Mundie for launching Microsoft’s quantum initiative 10 years ago. Microsoft’s goal is no less than to build a “general-purpose” quantum computer — the holy grail of quantum computing. In the meantime, they are supporting efforts to build a cadre of researchers who are familiar with quantum and capable of writing quantum programs. They have developed and launched a quantum computer language, Q#, as well as a quantum development kit and “Katas,” which are computing tasks that classical computer scientists can use to learn quantum computing skills. They are also building an open source library of quantum programs and have launched the Microsoft Quantum Network to provide assistance to quantum startups and developers. The federal government has recently launched the National Quantum Initiative, which will provide $1.2 billion over the next five years primarily to quantum researchers. The president the new law in December after the bill was approved by unanimous consent in the Senate and a 348-11 vote in the House. Among the purposes are to build a “quantum-smart workforce of the future and engage with government, academic and private-sector leaders to advance QIS.” This federal funding is welcome, even though it’s less than required for a Manhattan-style project equivalent to China’s national quantum initiative. It will be highly important to our region that our congressional delegation, several members of whom are particularly tech-savvy, advocate our case for a fair share of this funding. Our Washington State Legislature should support this by making appropriations for quantum computing and education at the UW as a down payment showing local support. There is also a role for private companies to support our quantum efforts beyond what Microsoft is already doing. I am reminded of the grants by Amazon to the UW in 2012 during the Great Recession, engineered by then-UW computer science chair Ed Lazowska to recruit two leading professors, Carlos Guestrin from Carnegie Mellon and Emily Fox from the University of Pennsylvania, to strengthen the UW’s machine learning expertise. The two $1 million gifts created two endowed professorships. Inflation has certainly raised the price for endowed professorships, but perhaps this could be repeated. Microsoft is focusing on the development of quantum computers that take advantage of cryogenically cooled nanowires. (Microsoft Photo) Another way to build our region’s quantum expertise would be for a local tech entrepreneur to follow the example of Paul Allen, who endowed five $100 million-plus scientific institutes, one of which is the Allen Institute of Artificial Intelligence, headed by former UW professor and current venture partner at Madrona, Oren Etzioni. Building a quantum workforce begins in K-12 schools with teaching computer science, which is a stepping stone to quantum information science. K-12 schools in the U.S. are woefully deficient in teaching basic computer science. Nationally, only 35 percent of high schools offer a computer science course, according to Code.org. And in low-income and minority schools this is even lower since the 35 percent reflects a lot of suburban schools which are more likely to offer computer science courses. We are beginning to address this gap in high schools, but a much larger commitment is needed. Private companies can help fill part of the gap. Amazon recently its Future Engineers program, which includes a $50 million investment in computer science and STEM education for underprivileged students. As part of this program, a few weeks ago, Amazon announced grants to more than 1,000 schools in all 50 states, over 700 of which are Title 1 schools. Studies have shown that if a disadvantaged student takes an advanced computer science course in high school, they are eight times as likely to major in computer science at a university. In addition to Amazon, Microsoft and other tech companies have programs to increase the teaching of computer science. One of those programs, backed by Microsoft, is TEALS, which organizes employees and retired employees as volunteers to teach computer science in schools. Amazon, Microsoft and other tech companies are big financial supporters of Code.org, which is having a significant effect on increasing the teaching of computer science in public schools. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that by 2020 there will be 1.4 million computer science related jobs needing to be filled, but only 400,000 computer science graduates with the skills to apply for those jobs. Only a tiny percentage of the 400,000 are minorities or from low-income families. A similar need exists in Washington state, with a gap of several thousand between the jobs to be filled and the number of annual graduates. In Seattle and other tech centers in the U.S., we have been fortunate that we have been able to attract and retain a very substantial number of computer scientists from other countries to fill these jobs. But with immigration and trade uncertainties, this flow is uncertain and may not be as robust as needed. Even more important, by not providing the opportunity for our kids, particularly disadvantaged children, we are short-changing them. The best way to close the income gap is to improve our public educational system so a broader segment of our population can qualify for the jobs of the future. Organizations such as the Technology Access Foundation are attacking this problem head-on by creating curriculum, recruiting minority teachers and building schools. We need to support these organizations and implement their approach broadly. At the university level, we are also deficient in educating a sufficient number of computer scientists. Even at universities such as the UW, with large and high-quality computer science schools, we are unable to fill the demand for computer scientists. The Allen School graduates about 450 undergraduate students annually. Although this is double what the school produced a few years ago, it is woefully short of the several thousand needed annually in our state. This needs to be doubled again, but funding is lacking. In short, our region needs to recommit to building our computer science workforce beginning in our K-12 schools, and undertake a new effort to build our quantum expertise and workforce.
Angry Birds: Isle of Pigs took the scenic route to the iPhone. Rovio began flirting with augmented reality, releasing First Person Slingshot for the headset last year. Last month, Angry Birds VR: Isle of Pigs hit Steam for the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. Now, it seems, the AR version of the title is finally ready for a mainstream audience, as Rovio preps the game for a spring release on iOS. The game, developed by Swedish company Resolution Games, builds on the learnings from its predecessors, creating a customized version of the game for the mobile form factor. Sami Ronkainen, Rovio’s creative director, Extended Reality, told TechCrunch that the more mainstream version of the title borrows some levels from the earlier versions, while introducing a number of originals. “What we did with the Magic Leap was we wanted to start with something that’s fully immersive that can make use of the 3D space around you,” he says. “We realized that it’s going to be further in the future, so we decided to go with platforms that are much closer to customers today.” Of course, an imminent release for iOS marks far and away the largest potential audience the game has seen to date. But Rovio, notably, doesn’t stray too far from its roots here. While the title adopts a first-person view to make the most of the augmented reality experience, it’s the same game at its core as the one that debuted on the iPhone 10 years ago this December. You slingshot irritable avians into weak points of compromised structures in order to take down enemy pigs. You know the deal. They made a whole feature-length film about it (with a sequel on the way this summer). When you fire up the game, it will detect its environment for a suitable surface and start building structures on top of it once found. The environment and characters are brought to life in compelling ways, interacting with you as you move around. In fact, moving is a big part of the game. This isn’t one you’re going to want to play on the subway — it requires getting creative about the angles you adopt to fell the structures. Rovio doesn’t have a dedicated AR team, instead partnering with Swedish developer Resolution to offer a fuller experience from the ground up. “There are games where the AR seems like a bit of an add-on,” says Ronkainen. “We wanted to explore this from the angle of building a game that really makes use of the space. You can either build a team of your own and make your own mistakes, or you can partner with the best people who have a good track record of building AR games.” You can either build a team of your own and make your own mistakes, or you can partner with the best people who have a good track record of building AR games. I had a little hands-on time with the game earlier this month, and was impressed with the little touches throughout, from the snowfall in certain levels, to the pigs’ snorts as you come near. And certainly the new angle adds a different dimension to a game that’s frankly been run into the ground after years of sequels and spin-offs. How long it will maintain that fresh outlook is another question entirely. So too is the question of how much users will want to engage by moving around over the long run. Ditto for the question of interacting with an AR game through a mobile device, rather than a headset. It’s clear that one of the reasons Rovio chose headsets first is that they’re simply a more natural method for interacting with a title like this. What iOS does represent, however, is a way to bring the experience to the masses. For Apple, meanwhile, the casual game represents the potential to bring the ARKit experience to a much broader user base. Apple really needs one or two titles to showcase augmented reality on the mobile platform for mainstream users, and Angry Birds has both the name recognition and simple gameplay to do just that. The title is available for pre-order starting today. It will arrive at some point in “late-spring.” It’s free to play, but will likely feature some manner of in-game purchasing — though the company tells me it hasn’t “locked down a business model” just yet.
The first Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet delivered to Ethiopian Airlines takes off in July 2018. (Boeing Photo) The Federal Aviation Administration today responded to concerns over Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets by reassuring airlines that the planes were airworthy, despite the fact that the model was involved in two catastrophic fatal accidents in the past five months. , just minutes after the takeoff of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, heading from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia to Nairobi in Kenya. In its the FAA acknowledged that many reports have pointed out similarities to the , in which 189 people dled. “However, this investigation has just begun and to date we have not been provided data to draw any conclusions or take any actions,” the notification said. Airlines in China, Ethiopia, Indonesia and several other countries grounded their 737 MAX 8 jets, pending verification that the planes are safe. It’s not yet clear what effect the FAA’s confirmation of airworthiness will have on those suspensions in service. The FAA has dispatched experts to assist Ethiopian investigators on the ground, Experts from the National Transportation Safety Board, GE Aviation, Boeing and Kenya’s civil aviation agency are on the case as well. “All data will be closely examined, and the FAA will take appropriate action if the data indicates the need to do so,” the FAA said. focused on an automatic control system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS. The system is meant as a safeguard to keep the plane from stalling under extreme aerodynamic conditions, but there were some signs that the system on the Lion Air 737-8 was receiving spurious data from an angle-of-attack sensor. Today’s notification reviewed actions taken by the FAA to ensure that Boeing’s prescribed safety procedures were adequate. The FAA also noted that some actions are still in process. For instance, Boeing is working on design changes to the MCAS system that will result in less reliance on “procedures associated with required pilot memory items.” “The FAA anticipates mandating these design changes by AD [airworthiness directive] no later than April 2019,” the agency said. Boeing will also update its training requirements and flight crew manuals to reflect the design changes for 737-8 and 737-9 models, The FAA said. The Ethiopian plane’s two “black boxes” — the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder — have been recovered from crash debris, but it’s not yet clear how much data can be retrieved. One witness that smoke was coming from the rear of the plane before it hit the ground. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., urged the FAA to “until their safe use has been confirmed.” The FAA didn’t indicate it would take that step, but promised to take if it identifies an issue that affects safety. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao echoed that view: “I want travelers to be assured that we are taking this seriously and monitoring latest developments.” Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, meanwhile, voiced confidence in the 737 MAX line, which is produced at the company’s factory in Renton, Wash. “We are confident in the safety of the 737 MAX and in the work of the men and women who design and build it,” . “Since its certification and entry into service, the MAX family has completed hundreds of thousands of flights safely.” He acknowledged that dealing with Sunday’s tragedy was “especially challenging” because it came so soon after the Lion Air crash. “While difficult, I encourage everyone to stay focused on the important work we do,” Muilenburg wrote. CEO to employees: Since its certification and entry into service, the MAX family has completed hundreds of thousands of flights safely. We are confident in the safety of the 737 MAX and in the work of the men and women who design and build it. — Kris Van Cleave (@krisvancleave)
Microsoft closed out today’s big HoloLens 2 debut with a surprise appearance by Epic Games CEO, Tim Sweeney. The gaming exec was clearly impressed by the technology’s future for both developement and consumer augmented reality. “I believe that AR is going to be the primary platform of the future for both work and entertainment,” he told the crowd at the event. The Fortnite creator is kicking things off on the development side, announcing that Unreal Engine 4 support will be coming to the headset. The move is part of a larger strategy for Microsoft to open the system up, as it looks to grow its key foray into the world of mixed reality. For Epic, meanwhile, it’s part of a larger embrace of both Microsoft’s solution and all things AR. Sweeney noted that the company is not ready to announce any kind of consumer-facing AR offering, that they’re certainly on the way, and the company “will support HoloLens in all of our endeavors.”
A map of coastal Washington state and British Columbia shows the sweep of an episodic tremor and slow slip event, or ETS, from February to April 2017. The colors denote the time of the event as shown on the color-coded time bar at the bottom. The gray circles on the color bar indicate the number of tremor events per day. (UNAVCO Graphic / Kathleen Hodgkinson) WASHINGTON, D.C. — Is it the tick of Earth’s heartbeat, or a ticking time bomb? Either way, a 14-month pattern in seismic activity could serve as the start of a super-early warning system for the “Really Big One,” the massive earthquake that’s expected to hit the Pacific Northwest sometime in the next few centuries. The seismic ticks are known as episodic tremor and slow slip (“ETS”) events, and . They’re linked to the titanic clash between the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate and the North American plate, in a region known as the Cascadia subduction zone. The two plates grind into each other at a rate of an inch or two per year, about 25 miles below the surface. Usually, it’s a slow grind, but every so often, there’s a sharp spike in the rate of movement. Along the Washington state coast, the spike comes roughly every 14 months. (The most recent spike .) In California, the cycle takes 10 months. In Oregon, it’s more like 24 months. Based on historical and geological records, seismologists have determined that the Cascadia fault can produce catastrophic earthquakes, on the order of magnitude 9.0 or more. In 2015, worries about the potential effects of a big Cascadia quake led to an about the . , a geophysicist at Oregon State University, isn’t saying the Really Big One is coming anytime soon. But during a presentation at this week’s annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, she said a steadily expanding network of seismometers and strainmeter could give us advance notice. The seismic detection network in the Pacific Northwest and California allows seismologists to map the pulls exerted by ETS events in three dimensions, day by day. “When there’s a little pull, it increases the risk, the stress increases, and the probability for a great earthquake increases,” Trehu said. “But it increases from one very small number to what’s still a very small number.” Trehu said the key thing to watch for is a quickening in the pattern of episodic tremors. “Potentially changes in the pattern, changes in that periodicity, could be indicative of something interesting,” she said. “But those are going to take longer monitoring times.” Efforts are already underway to extend the seismic monitoring network offshore through the , a project backed by EarthScope and the National Science Foundation with participation by the and the .