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Powered by Dreams

I have been noticing that my children have an odd fascination for airplanes. To be honest, so do I, but theirs go beyond. Whenever we hear the sound of an aircraft cruising up high in the sky, we have to stop the class so we all go outside and gaze upon the flying wonder until our eyes cannot see it no matter how hard we squint. I got myself thinking about this fact the other day and thought that maybe one of the reasons for this big appeal would be that our community is based right by a small abandoned airport. Maybe that would explain why. Then something else caught my attention. As I was going through some of their first drawing diagnosis activities from when we had first met, I could observe, hidden here or there, that an enormous quantity of different airplanes figured in so many of my kids’ pictures. They came in all sizes and designs. After a lot of thought and consideration, this finding made me quite intrigued to discover the relation borne between the aircrafts and my kids’ imagination and, perhaps, welfare.

Something I would never consider a coincidence happened two days after the finding. We were in school, having our customary conversation in our daily circle formation when we suddenly hear a remarkably strong noise. Engines. Too strong for a car, even overly strong for a truck. Wait. Could it be true? Were we listening to an airplane? It could not be… if so, we would have to immediately duck our heads as it would have to be landing right on our scalps. It was too close to us, the noise was blasting in our eardrums. We could not hear one another but the agreement was in our eyes. We ran out of the school to see what was going on. Nothing unusual in the streets.  One of us shot out “the airport!” Of course! We all ran and joined hands to cross the streets to make our way to the airport. Wonder filled our eyes. It overflowed. It dripped and flooded us all in a shower of joy and laughter when we see an actual airplane in our long forgotten airport. We hugged. We laughed. We pointed. We gazed. Tirelessly. Until it was time for the big bird to align on the runway again and prepare for its next voyage. We all got close together, side by side, and as the engines start to power up, our hands go up in the sky, waving in farewell. It takes minutes, or was it hours, for our eyes to look down from the sky. Everything looked a bit too ordinary except for one thing. Kunal, one of my boys, in the age of 11, was crying copiously. My heart stung badly and I ran to his aid. We joined hands, locked eyes and I asked him what was wrong. What was it that had made him so upset? In his limited English and struggling to speak through sobs and tears he said: “I want to go airplane…” surprised I instigated him further and asked: -“what about your life here in the community where you live?” to that he answered: “ I want fly far here. I want better life”. I could not swallow. A water drop couldn’t make it through my throat.  All I could do was stare at the depths of my boy’s eyes. Maybe in the infinity of that gaze I could still see the airborne plane we had just seen take off. The representation of our dreams. Moved by an impetuous impulse I take his hands in mine and pull his arms apart, which makes us both look like rather aerodynamic prototypes of an aircraft yet to be invented. We now stand side by side. The wind plays with our hair and shakes our clothes unstoppably. The sound of joy timidly refills the air. There was nothing holding us back. We consisted of freedom and freedom alone. We kick off our engines. We are clear for takeoff. Our fuel? We need none. We are powered by dreams.

This thought has always resided in the back of my mind but after this episode, it has exploded in an outburst of realization and certainty. I have come to understand that an airplane taking flight makes up for the perfect metaphor for our lives, its trials and the completion of our dreams. Allow me to guide you through my analogy: you may want to start by thinking of an airplane itself. Let us think of the wide-body aircrafts, the colossal ones that operate the long haul intercontinental flights.  I would like you to ponder on this:  not taking into consideration all of the expertise in physics, aerospace calculus, and further engineering matters, which I would humbly not be able to speak a word about, is it easy to agree how unlikely it seems for that inhumane steal beast to actually run for a few miles and, what seems like, miraculously, take flight high into the sky until it disappears into the clouds?

Now think with me, how many times have you felt insanely burdensome, overwhelmed, incapable and unable to start a new project, perform a random task or take up a new challenge? Nowadays, second-guessing oneself has become most of a routine I would dare to say. However, here comes the most distressing point of the analogy: how many times have you given up on the pursuit of a dream of yours for thinking you were, simply, “not good enough?” For not believing in your genuine and inherent POTENTIAL. Here is when you should have never forgotten that airplanes never lose their wings and that the bold winds of hope shall never cease to blow.  Moreover, just like my brave Kunal, in that unforgettable episode in the abandoned airport, if you ever lack in fuel, bear in mind, our engines are powered by dreams.

For now, nevertheless, let us do an exercise together, shall we? I want you to believe you have proved them all wrong. WE have proved them all wrong. We have chosen to feel our hearts burn in hope, confidence and pride. This time around, we decide to have faith in ourselves.  We inhale bravery and dignity as we take the proud stroll to the runway. The wait. Heart pounding until we hear the command from the tower. We are clear for takeoff. We see the bright lights guiding our path to infinity. Engines run to their full capacity. Our whole lives have led to right here, right now. This is our moment. The magnificent chance we had been waiting for. The whole world in the transition of a second. The mighty roar of the engines numb our brains but exhilarate our every senses. The ground no longer has a claim on us; we belong to the skies now: the clouds and cool winds are our silky garments. No need for a compass, I tell you, our widespread wings know exactly where to take us. The realization of our dreams awaits us in the arrival gate of our destined land. We have climbed high, exponentially high. So high that air is too thin for us to breathe, oxygen has become too rare to find. Center yourself… we have come so far, we have flown so high, all we have hoped for lies just within our reach… we are airborne, we have become lighter than air. Ours are the controls and commands, precisely aware of where we are headed. Ours is the Promised Land. Now, in case it ever gets too rough, don’t you worry, but do remember: we are powered by dreams.

powered by dreams


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Rumored full mouse and keyboard support for Xbox One could change the gaming landscape

Microsoft may be readying a new weapon that could shift the balance in the interminable console wars: the mouse. Wait, you say, didn’t they promise that years ago, and aren’t there peripherals already available? Kind of. But going whole hog into PC-style controls allows Microsoft to create powerful synergies with Windows, performing a flanking maneuver against arch-rival Sony.

Mouse and keyboard is, of course, the control method of choice for many games on PC, but it has remained elusive on consoles. Some fancy accessories have made it possible to do it, and years ago Microsoft said it would be adding in mouse support to games on its console, but the feature has in practice proved frustratingly limited. More on-screen pointing has been done with Wiimotes by far.

Windows Central got hold of an internal presentation ostensibly from Microsoft that details what could be a full-court press on the mouse and keyboard front, which is one the company is uniquely suited to attempting.

In fact, you may very rightly wonder why it hasn’t been attempted before now. The trouble isn’t implementing it but the changes that have to be made downstream of that implementation.

One of these things? Why not?

For one thing, hardly any games will support the control method out of the box. They’ve all been made with very specific hardware in mind and it’s nontrivial to add a pointer to menus, change relative camera movement to absolute movement, and so on.

And for another, mouse and keyboard is simply a superior form of input for some games. Certainly for the likes of real-time strategy and simulations, which involve a lot of menus and precise clicking — which accounts for the relative lack of those on consoles. But more importantly in the gaming economy, first-person shooters are massively dominated by mouse users.

That may sound sort of like a gauntlet thrown to the ground between PC and console players, but this argument has played out before many times and the mouse and keyboard players always come out on top, often by embarrassing margins.

Usually that doesn’t present a big problem, since, for example, competitive Call of Duty leagues are pretty much all on console. You just don’t have match-ups between mice and controllers.

That’s starting to change, however, with the introduction of major cross-platform games like Fortnite. When you have Xbox, Switch, and PC players all on the same server, the latter arguably has a huge advantage for a number of reasons.

You don’t bring an analog stick to a sniper fight.

And on the other hand, the Xbox One is lagging behind the PlayStation 4 in sales and in attractive exclusives. A fresh play that expands the Xbone into a growing niche — say, pro and competitive gaming — would be a huge boon just about now.

That’s why the document Windows Central received makes so much sense. The presentation suggests that all Windows-compatible USB mice and keyboards will work with Xbox One, including wireless ones that work via dongle. That would change the game considerably, so to speak.

The devices would have to report themselves and be monitored, of course: it wouldn’t do for a game to think it’s receiving controller input but instead getting mouse input. And that leaves the door open to cheating and so on as well. So device IDs and such will be carefully monitored.

Whether and how to implement mouse and keyboard controls will still be left entirely to the developer, the slides note, which of course leaves us with the same problems as before. But what allowing any mouse to be used does, combined with a huge amount of players doing so on a major property like Fortnite, is create a sort of critical mass.

Right now the handful of players with custom, expensive setups to mouse around in a handful of games just isn’t enough for developers to dedicate significant resources to accommodating. But say a few hundred thousand people decide to connect their spare peripherals to the console? All of the sudden that’s an addressable market — it provides a competitive advantage to be the developer that supports it.

Mouse support may also provide the bridge that enables the longstanding Microsoft fantasy of merging its Xbox and Windows ecosystems at least in part. It unifies the experience, allows for improved library sharing, and generally shifts the Xbox One from a dedicated console to essentially a standardized low-cost, high performance gaming PC.

This may have the further effect of helping put pressure on Valve and its Steam store, which dominates the PC gaming world to the point of near monopoly. Being able to play on Xbox or Windows, share achievements and save games, have gameplay parity and so on — this is the kind of compelling multi-platform experience Microsoft has been flirting with for years.

Imagine that: a Microsoft ecosystem that spans PCs and consoles, embraces competitive gaming at all levels, and is easy and simple to set up. Sony would have little recourse, having no desktop business to leverage, and Valve’s own attempts to cross the console divide have been largely abortive. In a way it seems like Microsoft is poised for a critical hit — if only it manages to take advantage of it.

Will this just be the latest chapter in the long story of failed mouse support by consoles? Or is Microsoft laying the groundwork for a major change to how it approaches the gaming world? We didn’t see anything at E3 this year, so the answer isn’t forthcoming, but Microsoft may be spurred by this leak (assuming it’s genuine) to publicize the program a bit more and speak in more concrete terms how this potential shift would take place.

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Chirp brings Twitter to Apple Watch

Twitter’s history of being a bit unfriendly to developers building third-party clients hasn’t frightened off Will Bishop. The young Australian developer recently released a version of Twitter for Apple Watch called Chirp, in order to fill the void created by Twitter pulling its official app last fall. (Let’s see how long it will last, shall we?)

Bishop says he was already interested in building for Apple Watch before Chirp, having previously developed a micro version of Reddit called Nano. Afterwards, he heard from a lot of people asking for a Twitter watch app, he says.

“Seeing as so many people were disappointed when Twitter pulled their official app, it only made sense to at least try,” Bishop says of building Chirp. “A lot of people think using your watch for more than 30 seconds is ridiculous, but I figure if people want to use it, let them.”

The Apple Watch hasn’t served to become a sizable new app platform for developers, and actually saw a number of bigger names pull their dedicated Watch apps last year besides just Twitter, like Amazon, Google Maps, Instagram, Slack, TripAdvisor, eBay, and others. Instead, users tend to interact with their Watch through notifications – not by launching apps directly and tapping the tiny screen. It just doesn’t make that much sense for anything more than a quick reply, as your iPhone is likely nearby and does a better job.

But Chirp could fill the role of needing to quickly reply to Twitter notifications, like @mentions or DMs.

The app lets you interact with Twitter from the Apple Watch’s interface, including browsing your timeline, catching up on trends, viewing people’s individual profiles, and favoriting and replying to tweets, and more.

In an updated released over the weekend, the app now also adds support for reading and replying to Direct Messages and using Twitter Lists.

These features are available via Chirp’s paid tier, Chirp Pro, which is a pay-what-you-want upgrade starting at $1.99 and going up to $4.99 USD.

In addition to DMs and Lists, Chirp Pro lets you post and reply to tweets, search for users and tweets, and view more than five trends.

In other words, if you want to actually use Twitter not just view it from your wrist, you’ll want Chirp Pro.

Despite having a niche user base, attention detail has been paid here – Chirp even lets you customize the Watch app’s user interface by toggling on or off various elements like Images, the Retweet Counter, Like Counter, Retweet & Like Buttons, and Timestamps. This helps to reduce screen clutter, which is useful given the area Chirp has to work with.

Because of how Chirp is designed, Bishop said the app isn’t as impacted by the forthcoming API changes as other clients.

“The new API restrictions are mainly for the activity APIs, streaming in particular. However, the watch does not support streaming anyway, so fortunately I am not [impacted],” he said. “The only API I was affected by were the changes to the direct messaging API,” Bishop added, noting this is why Chirp didn’t have messaging right away.

Bishop says he plans to keep Chirp free, as “downloads mean more to me than money,” he says. But he hopes people who like using it will pay to unlock the expanded features. The app competes with Tweetbot, Twitterrific, and Bluebird on Apple Watch.

To use Chirp, download the iOS app and add it to your Apple Watch.

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Meru Health wants to make mental health care more accessible

Getting mental health services can be burdensome. And if you’re already going through a tough time, you’re probably looking for help sooner than later. But based on the current landscape, it can take months to find the right therapist who also takes your insurance.

This is where Meru Health hopes to come in. By providing its service as a benefit for employers to offer to their employees, Meru Health can operate as a first line of treatment where people can get help in a matter of weeks, Meru Health co-founder and CEO Kristian Ranta told TechCrunch.

Ranta, who lost his brother to suicide a few years ago, said there are “unfortunately lots of people suffering from depression and who are vulnerable to burnout.”

It’s true. Worldwide, more than 300 million people suffer from depression and 260 million suffer from anxiety disorders, according to the World Health Organization.

Meru Health offers an eight-week treatment program for depression, burnout and anxiety. The program, currently led by five licensed therapists, utilizes both cognitive behavioral therapy, behavioral activation and mindfulness-based intervention. Provided as an employee benefit, Meru Health only charges companies if the patients report feeling any better.

Meru Health’s current customers include WeWork and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. To date, Meru Health says 75 percent of the people who go through its program report symptom reduction.

Other startups working in the mental health space include Pacifica and Lantern, a mental health startup that offers tools to deal with stress, anxiety and body image. To date, Lantern has raised more than $20 million in funding. Another one is Talkspace, which aims to be an alternative to traditional therapy.

Down the road, Meru Health may make its service available to everyday consumers, but right now, Ranta said the focus is on selling to larger employers and doing clinical research. Meru Health is also looking to bring on board a doctor to help with medication management and, possibly, even providing prescriptions, Ranta said. Meru Health, which is currently participating in Y Combinator, envisions bringing on a medical doctor post-YC.

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