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University of Michigan School of Information


Fun Size for 11/3/23: The loneliest road in your state

Up, Uber and away 

Uber is expanding its transportation options in a big way. The company’s Go Anywhere travel series includes boats in Mykonos, sleighs in Lapland and now hot-air balloons over Cappadocia, Turkey. Uber can take you “from the front door of your hotel to 3,000 feet in the air,” according to the Uber Newsroom. Rides cost €150 per person, but the company is giving away 100 free rides between now and November 19, weather permitting.

Faux Photoshop apps 

The gold standard for online photo editors is Adobe Photoshop, but it comes with a steep learning curve and a pretty steep price tag. MakeTechEasier has come up with six of the best alternative online photo editors, easier to use and easier on your wallet. Check out collage editor BeFunky – just in time for those holiday letter photo montages.

9-1-1, bot’s your emergency? 

Emergency call centers are struggling with staffing issues and some states are experimenting with AI bots to handle non-emergency 911 calls, according to Stateline. While this is taking some burden off dispatchers, there’s worry it could lead to stress and mental health issues if the bots handle all the “cat-in-a-tree" calls and humans get only wall-to-wall crises.

IRS test-drives own filing system 

The IRS will start pilot-testing its own free online tax filing system in 2024 in 13 states. Until now, taxpayers filing online had to use commercial products from TurboTax or other third-party vendors. Direct File will only handle simple non-itemized forms at first, says Engadget, and can only be used for federal, not state, taxes.

Who guards the guardians? 

In 2016, objects from the British Museum started showing up on eBay – and they weren’t from the museum’s gift shop. They were genuine antiquities offered by a rogue curator who stole over 2,000 pieces during his (now-ended) 30-year career. ArtNews covers the British Museum’s announcement that it will now digitize its entire collection, at a cost of £10 million, to help prevent further loss. The museum is appealing to the public for help reclaiming the stolen items. Greece reminds the museum it still has something of theirs they’d like back.

The long, lonesome road 

Sometimes, you just want to be alone - and thanks to Atlas Obscura, you can now find the least-trafficked road in your state. Of course, you might have to take an expressway or two to get there, but at the end of the journey, you could have the whole road to yourself. Michiganders won’t be surprised to learn our loneliest road is in the northern U.P.

Scrolling, not studying 

Few people will be shocked to learn that teens spend more time on social media apps than on their homework, but that’s what a recent Gallup poll confirmed and MarketWatch reports. A little surprising was that TikTok didn’t score the top spot; that title goes to YouTube. Teen girls spend more time on social than boys do, and 17-year-olds spend the most: 5.8 hours every day, seven days a week. That’s a quarter of your life, young people.

Free and open to all 

With all the pressure on libraries these days, let’s take a minute to appreciate the value of these civic institutions as “one of the last free public spaces.” Henry Ford Museum librarian Sarah Andrus discusses the history of public libraries with Mo Rocca in a video clip drawn from Rocca’s TV series, Innovation Nation.

Disabling the diabolical data converter 

Not everyone will care, but for anyone who’s been frustrated by MS Excel’s auto-conversion of data into dates or its dropping zeros in MA ZIP codes, relief is at hand. This overly helpful feature can now be disabled, says Mashable. Happiest are scientists who years ago started renaming genes like SEPT2 to avoid their being converted to 9/2/2020.

Disease detection via smartphone 

Currently, the diagnosis of type 2 diabetes requires a clinical blood test, but New Atlas reports that scientists at biotech Klick Labs are studying a way to detect diabetes in patients through a smartphone recording of their voice. The study found differences in the voices of diagnosed and non-diabetic people could be picked up by signal-processing software. While further study and refinement is needed, the results proved more accurate than fasting blood glucose tests.

Walk on the wild side 

Visitors can safely get up close to an elephant stampede or pet a lion in the wild at the world’s first Hologram Zoo in Australiasays the BBC. The zoo features 50 lifelike displays created by lasers and crystals, and hologram shows include sensory technology so visitors can smell the jungle flowers – though hopefully not the animals.