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Large psychedelic study finds microdosing benefits are mostly placebo


Psychedelic microdosing has proven popular, particularly in industries that require creativity and quick thinking. Microdosers report a variety of alleged benefits resulting from taking minuscule quantities of psychedelics like LSD, but the largest placebo-controlled study of its kind has found that these effects are ‘likely’ the result of the placebo effect.

Psychedelic microdosing, which involves taking sub-perceptual doses of psychedelic substances, is purported to offer a number of benefits. Long-term microdose users report increases in creative thinking, empathy, energy levels, and similar things, as well as a reduction in anxiety, depression, and select other mental health issues.

A new study published in eLife details the largest placebo-controlled study on microdosing psychedelics, one that involved providing online instructions to users who engaged in a ‘self-blinding citizen science’ method.

The study involved 191 people who were already microdosing. Following the provided instructions, the participants mixed placebo pills with microdose pills, each marked with barcodes that were scanned to record whether a placebo or microdose was consumed.

Over the four-week dosing period, the participants took cognitive tests and filled out surveys. The results indicated that while participants did experience benefits, essentially the same benefits were reported even when taking the placebo pills. The study’s lead author Balázs Szigeti explained:

Our results are mixed: on the one hand, we observed microdosing’s benefits in a wide range of psychological measures; on the other hand, equal benefits were seen among participants taking placebos. These findings suggest that the benefits are not due to the drug, but rather due to the placebo-like expectation effects. Many participants who reported that they experienced positive effects while taking the placebo were shocked to learn after the study that they hadn’t been taking the real drug.

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Microsoft Intelligent Speakers automatically translate and transcribe meetings


If the global coronavirus pandemic taught us anything, it’s that businesses all around the world need technology to continue functioning if working in a traditional office environment isn’t possible. Hardware and software technology and products to allow people to work remotely and still conduct business have boomed over the last year. Microsoft has announced new Intelligent Speakers that are small devices able to identify up to 10 different voices in a Microsoft Teams meeting.

The Intelligent Speakers are essentially like having an employee take detailed meeting notes without having to take notes. The speakers can automatically generate a transcript during a meeting identifying each individual speaker on the meeting. Intelligent Speakers are also designed to make it easier to allow remote attendees to follow the meeting and see who’s talking.

Microsoft worked with Yealink and Epos to create the hardware, which also supports translation. The translation feature means that a team member who doesn’t speak the native language the meeting is conducted in can get a printed transcript in their own language. There is still some mystery about the new Intelligent Speakers.

The biggest mystery is that Microsoft, for now, has an announced nothing on availability or pricing. We do know the Surface Hub is certified to be an Intelligent Speaker. It’s also worth noting that Microsoft was working on the new speaker products before the pandemic. It just happened to be a product appealing during the pandemic as well.

Microsoft Teams has proven to be extremely popular during the pandemic, with some of the country’s largest companies relying heavily on Teams for keeping remote workers connected and on the same page. While Microsoft has given no firm date, the assumption is details on pricing and availability will be available soon.

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Amazon Alexa Xbox app suddenly appears out of nowhere


Once the almost literal face of Microsoft’s AI endeavors, Cortana has slowly faded into the background. It’s still around, in one form or another, but even Microsoft has started to use its name less often. After a brief stint lasting almost three years, Microsoft removed Cortana from its Xbox consoles, and now, as if to add insult to injury, it is allowing Amazon Alexa to share its place as a virtual assistant you can use on the Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S.

Cortana wasn’t fully banished from the Xbox, of course. Microsoft simply made it less available directly, removing the ability to speak to the AI assistant via a connected headset. Instead, you’d have to go through the Xbox Skill for Cortana on other devices, something that Amazon Alexa can now do on equal footing as well.

It has been possible to control your Xbox console via Alexa for a few years now, but that went only one way. You couldn’t, for example, use your Xbox to access Alexa’s features, at least to some extent. The new Alexa Xbox app doesn’t turn your console into an Amazon Echo replacement, though, and, in fact, requires an Echo or compatible Alexa device to even work.

You might be wondering why bother using the app if you already own an Alexa-powered speaker anyway. For one, you could use Alexa to launch your game or even play a song but the more important feature is that you will be able to see your smart home cameras or even your shopping list right on your big screen. That could be handy for checking who’s at the door without having to get up first.

The Xbox does have support for other virtual assistants, including Google’s, but this new app almost gives Amazon an advantage. It does require a compatible Alexa device, much like Cortana or Google Assistant, but it also potentially makes it easier to install and use Alexa by having a dedicated Xbox app for it.

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Motorola Wear OS smartwatch could run on Snapdragon Wear 4100


There was quite a buzz recently about Motorola launching three new smartwatches this year after being absent in that market for so long. Granted, it is more likely to be made by a different manufacturer that simply licensed the Moto trademark but, for buyers, the distinction is unlikely to make a difference. That, however, might not actually be the end of the story as there might be a possibility that Motorola (or licensee eBuyNow) may have a fourth one in the works with a rather tempting spec.

Wear OS smartwatches are sadly not always ahead of the curve when it comes to the latest hardware. Most manufacturers seem to prefer mass-producing smartwatches as much as they can, which often means sticking to tried and true and old hardware. Although the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 4100 was launched mid-2020, only the TicWatch Pro 3 so far uses it while even new devices stick to the Snapdragon Wear 3100.

Some keen-eyed people, however, have caught a glimpse of hope in CE Brands’ slides that mentioned the Moto G Smartwatch, Moto Watch, and Moto One. One particular image of the backside of an unidentified Moto smartwatch hinted that it would be running on a Snapdragon Wear 4100, at least when the image was cleaned up and enhanced. Depending on when it launches, it could be the market’s second smartwatch to use that wearable processor.

The transparent backplate also shows a wireless charging coil that gave hope the smartwatch would be ditching pogo pins at long last. Amusingly, the Reddit thread seems to be split between those wishing for a speaker and those who couldn’t care less without one.

Given that the design of the smartwatch, particularly its two buttons, doesn’t seem to match the three Moto watches in the presentation, there is also some speculation this might actually be a fourth Motorola wearable. It seems to actually be closer to the 3rd gen Moto 360 (by eBuyNow) and could be a 4th gen iteration of the same model instead.

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Volvo marshals hype and humility on the electric car precipice


Volvo has big plans to go electric but, as Kermit the Frog so memorably sang, “it’s not easy being green.” The new C40 Recharge is an early step in the Swedish automaker’s aggressive roadmap to ditch internal combustion entirely by 2030, but its handsome four-door coupe styling wraps around some of the big underlying challenges that Volvo hopes time, patience, and a little marketing magic will hopefully address.

The 2022 C40 Recharge certainly looks the part. Sibling to the XC40 Recharge crossover, yet borrowing some of the rakish aesthetics of its not-too-distant cousin, the Polestar 2, the car has some genuinely charming design elements like the distinctive rear light clusters. It should also, Volvo being Volvo, score highly when it comes to safety.

Where things get a little shakier are when you do the inevitable comparisons with other electric cars, either on the market today or due in the near future. Price, range, and charging support are the three key metrics there, and though Volvo is yet to talk dollars, in the other two categories it has some explaining to do.

It’s fair to say that, when the XC40 Recharge got its official range number from the US EPA, there was some disappointment. Expectations had already been lower than initial the 249+ mile estimates for the WLTP cycle – which tends to be more flattering to EVs than the US’ testing routine – but the 208 miles the electric crossover was finally rated for still came as a surprise, given the not-insubstantial 78 kWh battery pack.

The bad news is that would-be C40 Recharge drivers shouldn’t expect much of a change there. We’re still some way from having the official range numbers for the new EV, but Volvo’s preliminary estimate is around 210 miles, or basically in line with what the XC40 Recharge could manage. No great shock, really, given the underlying architecture and platform of the two cars are the same.

There’s a mixture of defiance and realism within Volvo about just how competitive that leaves their cars. 78kW is “the right amount” for an EV, brand manager Joe Haslem insists, arguing that not only is the C40 Recharge “a second car primarily, for urban, suburban driving” but that the EPA numbers aren’t necessarily reflective of what the BEV can do.

“Range is different based on the testing cycle. We’re optimized for the WLTP cycle,” he points out. “If you kink the system and develop it also for the EPA cycle, you can get a car with a higher rating but actually has less usable range … We’re going to be better than some cars which have a higher rating than us from the EPA.”

Certainly, Volvo wouldn’t be the first automaker to criticize the EPA’s methods as unreflective of real-world use. All the same, there’s a recognition elsewhere in the company that stubbornly insisting that it is expectations which should change – not vehicles themselves – isn’t a long-term strategy.

“I think that there are some things that are purely physics and some things that are a great opportunity to work with,” Henrik Green, chief technology officer at Volvo, agrees. “We’re still looking at quite a chunky car … It has quite broad tires. This is our first iteration of a pure EV, this is our first generation out.”

“From now on we will obviously work with improvements, both on these cars [via OTA updates and] at the same time, we are also in parallel working with our second generation of pure EVs.” That’ll be SPA 2, the upcoming new Volvo platform “where we will also introduce our second generation of batteries, our second generation of heat pumps, our second generation of e-machines, that will be made, or be developed in-house,” Green says. “Here is part of the learning process for us, it’s no longer a world where you can buy off the shelf parts and make a cutting-edge solution.”

That duality of what’s possible today and what hopefully is coming further down the roadmap stands for charging, too. Volvo still has no plans to build its own charging network – “we are not so naive,” Anders Gustafsson, head of Volvo Car Group in the Americas, insists, “we are more into partnerships” – and will instead continue working with third-party providers. In the US, that means ChargePoint, though exact details on how that will differ from what any EV owner can sign up to with a free account is yet to be explained.

Still, the decision to limit DC fast charging support to 150 kW is a controversial one. “Putting 300 [kW] is a waste of capacity because it can never be used,” Volvo’s Haslem argues. As chief technology officer, Green is a little less strident.

“You can go back to the time when we decided that,” he says, “at that point in time 150 [kW] was probably the best that was out there.” As it stands, several of the larger networks in the US – including ChargePoint and Electrify America – have 300+ kW DC fast chargers available, with many more on the roadmap.

“I would also say that 150 [kW], there are faster chargers out there and we will go there in our second generation with more hardware capability,” Green concedes. “The access to the chargers are still the bottleneck, we lack that in Europe compared to the US.”

All the same, there’s still room for improvements even if you don’t support the very fastest DC charging rates on paper. “You are very rarely at the peak of your power as you’re charging,” Green points out. “How do you improve, that you extend as much as possible, the charging level with [that] 150 kW?”

We’ve seen an early example of that sort of tweaking over at Polestar, which recently began pushing out an OTA update for the Polestar 2 that – among other changes – massaged DC fast charger performance. Along with nudging the BEV’s maximum charging rate from 150 kW to 155 kW, the new software also promises to bring the Polestar 2 to its peak charging rate more rapidly, and hold it there for longer, thus maximizing efficiency during the time you’re plugged in.

Though Volvo is opening early placeholder reservations for the C40 Recharge in the US from today, we’re still a long way from vehicles actually going on sale and being delivered. Production isn’t expected to begin until the end of this year, and pricing will be confirmed closer to that point. The first customer cars are expected in the US sometime in Q1 2022.

That’s a long way off; according to Henrik Green, part of the reason for this very early unveil is to focus the minds of the Volvo workforce and make clear that they’re “dedicated for electric drive” and the transition ahead. You don’t need to be a pessimist to point out that the intervening time will not be more generous to the C40 Recharge’s specifications.

“We know that everyone is monitoring our investments into electrification,” CEO Anders Gustafsson acknowledges, “so we feel an even higher pressure that this needs to be a great car.” And certainly, there’s plenty to like about this return of the C-Series, from the leather-free interior, the care package that will see all owners get wear & tear items (bar tires) covered for the first five years of the vehicle, and the excellent – and still rare – Android Automotive OS infotainment system.

If Volvo can nail that user-experience side, then, there’s the possibility that owners and would-be owners will look beyond the on-paper criteria for EV success, like range and maximum charging rate. Volvo’s plans for things like helping with Level 2 home charger installation will help there, and the online-only sales – free of frustrating dealer haggling – could be timed just right, given our increasing comfort levels with internet purchases during the pandemic.

“As we see, the only viable solution today for long-term sustainability is pure electric,” Green, the Volvo CTO, says. “We fundamentally see that all cars will be purely electric, it’s just whether you’re at the forefront or the back end of that transformation.” Volvo wants to be at the front in EVs, and has the commitments on the roadmap to prove it. As the first XC40 Recharge cars arrive with their new owners in the coming weeks, and the order books eventually open on the C40 Recharge in the months after that, we’ll get a better idea as to just how well that transition will work in practice.

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Cool carbon fiber smartphone called Carbon 1 Mark II is extremely light


The most significant benefit of carbon fiber as a building material is that it’s very lightweight and very strong. Often carbon fiber is used in the construction of high-performance cars and aircraft. In February 2020, Carbon Mobile announced the first smartphone made from carbon fiber called the Carbon 1 Mark II.

When the smartphone was announced, it was promised to ship in June 2020, but the pandemic prevented that launch. Carbon Mobile has now announced that the Carbon 1 smartphone is available online. The device will also be available in select retailers by the middle of the month. Pricing for the smartphone is set at €799.

Carbon 1 is built using Hybrid Radio Enabled Composite Materials that weave carbon fibers with radio permitting composites to construct a continuous monocoque design. The result is an extremely thin and lightweight device tipping the scales at about 125 grams and 6.3 millimeters thick. An average smartphone weighs about 180 grams.

The Carbon 1 Mark II uses a six-inch AMOLED screen and runs Android 10 out-of-the-box. The company behind the smartphone says an update to Android 11 is coming soon but gives no exact date for the update launch. The smartphone company has also promised two years of guaranteed software updates and monthly security updates.

One of the smartphone’s downsides for many will be the processor. It uses a MediaTek Helio P90 SoC. It also has a side-mounted fingerprint scanner and uses Gorilla Glass 7 over the display. The phone’s back has a dual camera set up featuring 16-megapixel sensors and a 20-megapixel front camera. The battery is small at 3000mAh, and storage is 256 gigabytes along with eight gigabytes of RAM. It does feature an SD card slot for storage expansion and dual nano-SIM slots, but you give up one of the SIM slots if you insert a memory card.

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Google TV app to include deprecated Android TV Remote app


Just like with its messaging platforms, Google hasn’t exactly been consistent about its digital media ecosystems. Google News was once Google Play Newsstand which was once Google Play Magazines and Google Currents combined. Google Play Music was supplanted by YouTube Music and now the Google Play Movies & TV app has been renamed Google TV, which is different from the Google TV “skin” based on Android TV. To be fair, Google does try to consolidate things, like retiring an obsolete Android TV remote control app and shoving it into the new Google TV app.

It probably won’t be long before Google consolidates its video-on-demand platforms and branding into a single “Google TV”. Whether that will replace Android TV, just as Wear OS replaced Android Wear, is still an open question but, at least for now, Google TV seems to be focused on the user interface, viewing experience, and, of course, its digital content store.

The old Google Play Movies & TV Android app that Google TV replaced mostly focused on those as well but it seems it’s being primed to do more soon. 9to5Google found traces of functionality that refers to a directional pad as well as enter and back buttons. There’s also mention of pairing the phone to an Android TV.

These operations are already found on the standalone Android TV Remote Control. Although the app still exists on the Google Play Store, it hasn’t seen an update since 2017. Considering Google may be moving to put all its Android TV and videos in one basket, it makes sense to retire such a standalone app and just incorporate its pretty basic features into a single Google TV app.

At the moment, these new features don’t work at all but it does hint at the direction Google might be heading for Google TV. While it might be nice to have everything under a single Google TV banner, there is also the overlap with YouTube and YouTube TV that could make some wary of another Google Play Music scenario in the near future.

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OnePlus Nord finally gets OxygenOS 11 with Android 11


Although not really its flagship brand, the OnePlus Nord was definitely one of the company’s highlights last year. It came at an opportune time when people were looking towards mid-range phones due to a pandemic and a global economic crisis. The phone also came just months before Google rolled out Android 11 to the masses, which meant that owners of OnePlus’ first new mid-range line would have to wait to get their turn. That time has finally come and, after two months cooking in beta, OxygenOS 11 is ready to be served with Android 11 on the side.

The biggest change in OxygenOS 11 is, of course, the fact that Android 11 is part of the package. That, ironically, might also be the last thing that users will actually notice. They will first notice the user-visible changes that the update brings and not all of them have sat well with OnePlus users.

OxygenOS 11 is the first time that OnePlus diverged greatly from the stock Android UI, offering that the company argues is a more comfortable experience that takes into account the taller phones we have today. This style of UI has easily been compared with Samsung’s new One UI, which is as non-stock Android as it gets. Ironically, it seems that stock Android itself might be taking a few steps in that direction as well.

That new user experience might be the highlight but it is far from the only new treat coming to OnePlus Nord owners. Other notable changes the company highlighted include new ways to manually or automatically toggle Dark Mode as well as new features for Ambient Display, a.k.a. Always-on-Display. Under the hood, Android 11 itself brings a new power button menu with shortcuts for smart home controls as well as official chat bubbles.

The OnePlus Nord OxygenOS 11 update comes at a massive 2.77GB and the company strongly advises that users keep the phone’s battery above 30% while updating. With the OnePlus Nord now updated, owners of the OnePlus Nord N10 5G and OnePlus Nord N100 will probably start wondering when they will get the same treatment this year if at all.

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Expect even more Square Enix remakes in the future


There’s no question that Final Fantasy VII Remake was one of the biggest games of 2020 – at least among PS4 owners – so now it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we’re hearing of even more Square Enix remakes that are in the pipeline. Apparently, Square Enix has tapped Forever Entertainment to produce a slate of several new remakes, but for now, just what those remakes are is being kept under wraps.

That’s according to Polish site Biznes, at any rate, which says that Forever has been recruited by Square Enix to create “several game remakes” that are all from a single brand. That is probably the most interesting tidbit of information found in that Biznes report – Square Enix is apparently looking to release remakes from an older franchise, not just individual remakes of past one-off releases.

Just what that franchise could be is anyone’s guess. When the topic is Square Enix, our minds immediately jump to the Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest series, and while those could indeed be the candidates, Square Enix may look to other franchises that have laid dormant for far longer. Unfortunately, figuring out which franchise that could be is downright impossible, because Square Enix has a ton of classic franchises and games that seem ripe for a remake (though the person writing this article certainly wouldn’t mind seeing Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross remakes, for what it may be worth).

The report in Biznes says that Forever Entertainment will get to keep “over 50%” of the revenue generated by these remakes, which seems like a pretty good deal to us, though it will have to cover the costs of development itself, it seems. Forever does have some experience in this realm, as it was the studio behind the Switch version of 2019’s Panzer Dragoon: Remake.

We’ll just have to wait and see what happens from here, but assuming this Biznes report is accurate, Square Enix won’t be hopping off the remake train anytime soon. We’ll let you know if either company reveals more in the future, so stay tuned for that.

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Lordstown Motors shows off Endurance race truck concept


As electric vehicles have become more common on roads around the country and the world, we’ve learned that being emissions-free doesn’t mean giving up performance. Lordstown Motors is a company that will be producing an electric truck, and the company recently showed off a rendering of a concept Endurance racing truck that the company plans to enter in the San Felipe 250 off-road race in April.

The concept shows a racing truck with racing seats and a roll cage inside but otherwise looks very similar to the Lordstown Endurance truck. While it looks very similar, there are some differences in the race concept. The differences include a quartet of driving lights that fill the space between the headlights and daytime running lamps.

By integrating the lights in the truck body this way, there is no need for external light bars keeping the overall appearance of the concept very streamlined and smooth. The wheel arches have wide black fender flares on them to cover larger than stock wheels and tires. Other changes include increased ride height and grippy off-road tires.

The side mirrors were removed for racing, and windows were taken out as well. The truck will be the first electric vehicle to compete in the San Felipe 250, which is actually 290 miles despite its name. The distance of the race is interesting because the electric vehicle is rated for 250 miles per charge, and that’s presumably not when driven flat out.

It’s unclear how exactly Lordstown Motors plans to get the range needs to complete the race. Presumably, finishing the race will involve a recharge at some point during the event or possibly a larger battery pack. Lordstown Motors made no official comment on how it will achieve the range needed to complete the event.

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