Trees, Hebrew Manuscripts, Google Docs, More: Friday Buzz, March 11, 2016


A new database is tracking the trees at UMass Amherst. “…now a searchable website catalogs about 8,000 “actively managed” trees that make up the Waugh Arboretum, mostly in the campus core, but also at sites like the Chancellor’s House property. A query tool can locate trees by name, health history, canopy size, champion points (a way of rating trees within species by size), historic value and more. The information is displayed graphically and appears in a spreadsheet as well.” I have seen databases of trees before but never one with this much information and so many search options.

The British Library is entering the homestretch of its Hebrew Manuscript digitizing project. “Our followers and readers will be delighted to learn that over 760 Hebrew manuscripts have now been uploaded to the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts. Generously funded by The Polonsky Foundation, the Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project aims at digitising and providing free on-line access to well over 1250 Hebrew handwritten books from the Library’s collection. The project, which began in 2013 is due for completion in June 2016, when the full complement of manuscripts will be available to a global audience.”


Google Docs has added an automatic outline feature. This could come in handy. “I use Google Docs for all of my writing, from CNET blog posts and other writing for work to quick lists and tried-and-true recipes. I opened up Google Docs this morning to start my daily labor to find an outline panel on the left side of my document. It had recognized the bold headers in my document and used them to create an outline that I could use to jump to different parts of my document without needing to scroll. It’s a convenient time saver for browsing through lengthy documents.”

Skype Translator now includes Arabic. “Using Skype’s voice-to-voice translation, users can now speak in English, French, German, Italian, Chinese Mandarin, Portuguese, Spanish and, now, Arabic as well. Using text-to-text translation, the number of written language options increase to more than 50 languages.”

I haven’t been a huge Flickr fan for a while now, and now I’m seeing that Flickr’s auto-upload software is no longer free. “Flickr has made a change to its $5.99 monthly Pro membership plan that will affect those using the photo-sharing social network for free. Starting today, its desktop Auto-Uploadr tool will be exclusive to paying customers. But all is not lost, as the company is offering a 30 percent discount to non-paying members to upgrade.” sigh… I miss Picasa…


Gizmodo’s got a handy hint for making the tabs in GMail work better for you. “When you see a message that isn’t where it should be, drag and drop it to the tab where it belongs. You’ll then be asked if you want to treat all emails from this sender the same way in the future.” You can also turn off tabs if you don’t like them – but in my experience, that means you’ll have hidden messages that you’ll have to surface with a search query. Bleh.


Google’s Go-playing AI has won its second match. “The human Go champion said he was left “speechless” after his second straight loss to Google’s Go-playing machine on Thursday in a highly-anticipated human versus machine face-off. Lee Sedol, one of the best Go players in the world with 18 world championships, was grim and ashen after the game, which lasted more than four hours.”

Of COURSE there’s video of a Google Car hitting a bus. The video, which is embedded in the story I’ve linked to, is less than two minutes long. It’s mostly reactions to the bus getting hit, multiple angles from inside the bus, and then still shots of the bus and car damage.


The FCC is proposing new privacy rules for Internet providers. “The government’s proposal would limit how carriers such as Verizon, Comcast and T-Mobile can handle their Internet subscribers’ personal information — including their Web browsing habits, which apps they use and other sensitive data. If approved, the rules would significantly expand the Federal Communications Commission’s role as a privacy watchdog, giving it new ways to oversee an industry that increasingly relies on customer data as a source of business.” I just wish the FCC had a few more teeth.

Eesh. Looks like third-party Snapchat apps just aren’t that secure. “Will Strafach of Sudo Security Group, a company that researches security vulnerabilities in apps, came across numerous third-party Snapchat apps ignoring modern security conventions by sending user data over insecure connections.”


What an interesting idea: searching a database of sports plays by sketching out an example of what you’re looking for. “The new approach, called Chalkboarding, was developed at Disney Research in collaboration with researchers from STATS, Queensland University of Technology and Caltech as an alternative query language to the keywords typically used to search through massive databases. In user testing with a basketball database, the graphical user interface returned results that were far superior to those identified using keywords. A user can sketch out the desired play or select a play from an actual game and then rapidly search a database to find similar, ranked examples.”

Gee, what a surprise: banning words on Instagram doesn’t work. “A new Georgia Tech study finds that Instagram’s decision to ban certain words commonly used by pro-eating disorder (pro-ED) communities has produced an unintended effect. The use of those terms decreased when they were censored in 2012. But users adapted by simply making up new, almost identical words, driving up participation and support within pro-ED groups by as much as 30 percent. The Georgia Tech researchers found that these communities are still very active and thriving despite Instagram’s efforts to moderate discussion of the dangerous lifestyle.” Good morning, Internet…

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