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The Verge
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The Verge
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How thinking like a geologist could help us fight climate change
“Society as a whole is unable to think on anything like geologic time scales,” says Marcia Bjornerud. “Or even decadal time scales.” It’s clear that we need to think long-term about climate and the environment, but instead political leaders are constrained by the two-year Congressional cycle and those working in business are beholden to quarterly earnings. Bjornerud is a geologist at Lawrence University in Wisconsin and the author of Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World. If people understood the history of the Earth, she argues, “we would perceive our world very differently.” The Verge spoke to Bjornerud about geology’s PR problem, the big questions in the field, and what it means to be “timeful.” This interview has been lightly edited for clarity. Early on in your book, you mention that it’d be embarrassing for an adult not to be able to point out the continents, but most people don’t know the geologic time periods. Why is that? Photo: Rachel Crowl I think a lot of educated people don’t quite believe in the geologic past. It’s obscure, they haven’t had much background in it and it doesn’t seem real. As a geologist, of course that’s frustrating. The field of geology has such vast explanatory power. There’s really something heady about being able to look out at the landscape and see how things came to be. I sometimes tell students that geology is the etymology of the world and I think most people don’t realize it but would love to have a rational explanation for how the world around them got to be the way it is. Right, but most people don’t think about geology like that. Geology has this PR problem. People think it’s about dusty mineral collection or just oil and glass, but it actually has both the pragmatic and a deep philosophical side. It’s about big existential questions as much as finding resources. The analogy I like to use is that of a palimpsest, a which is a term used in medieval scholarship of a parchment that was written on and scraped on so it could be reused and reinked. But usually there’s some vestige of the earlier writing that persists underneath the most recent one. That’s the metaphor for the way we see landscapes. They’re a work in progress partially erased many times over. As geologists, you start learning how to read those vestiges of earlier inking and reconstruct past cycles of past landscape development. Everything in the natural world has a backstory and is the product of evolution over long periods of time. Once you get in that habit, it’s like a window goes up. You realize how ephemeral any particular iteration of the Earth’s surface really is. We urgently need people to see that we are embedded in geologic time. There isn’t a geologic past and the future. We are on a continuum and processes that have been going on on Earth for millennia and longer are going to continue and our activities feed into those in ways that are sometimes surprising to us but shouldn’t be if we have a better understanding of the way the Earth has unfolded in the past. Some people might think, who cares, the geologic past doesn’t affect me. Yet it’s created a lot of the environmental problems we face today because people are taken by surprise when the slow, inexorable processes that have always been going on interact with humans have undesirable consequences. What are some of the big questions in geology? The climate system is complicated, certainly, though virtually all geoscientists recognize that what we’re doing to the climate system now is nearly unprecedented. Right now, we’re changing things on this decadal scale and we can’t tell from the geological record whether previous changes happened over decades or centuries or thousands of years. There are fundamental questions about tectonics, especially earthquake recurrence. We can’t predict earthquakes in real time right now, and most geophysicists have reached the conclusion that we probably will never get to that point so the best thing we can do is make people better prepared by building infrastructure and resilient homes. So those are pretty fundamental humanitarian questions. Concretely, what’s a natural process that is useful to talk about in terms of longer timespans? Let’s talk about groundwater. Groundwater systems really are dependent on the geologic substrate. Here in Wisconsin we have two main types of aquifers [underground area saturated with water]. They’re glacier deposits or bedrock. If your well is in those shallow deposits, the rate at which rain comes into the system and flows through the glacial sediments might be on the rate of decades. But if you’re extracting groundwater from bedrock, that might be on the order of a century. So you need to know how fast rates of withdrawal are compared with rates of replenishment. And there can be real exceptions, too, which can cause problems with groundwater contamination. The take-home message is that you need to know the rock and sediment under your feet and transit times related to the properties of the geologic substrate in order to be able to maintain predictably productive water systems. What’s the natural process that takes the longest? If we really zoom out, it’s planetary formation. On Earth, it’s probably the tectonic cycle of supercontinents forming and breaking. That’s on a timescale of maybe 400 or 500 million years. People are probably familiar with Pangea, but that’s just the most recent. We can look back in the deeper past and construct at least two or three super-continents. So what exactly is “timefulness”? What does someone need to know to be considered “timeful”? It’s based on “mindfulness” and I hope it carries the connotation that people should pause and think about time in ways we don’t normally. But I also wanted it to be a deliberate counterpoint to the idea of timelessness, which is sterile. Everything in the natural world has a backstory and is the product of evolution over long periods of time. It’d be good to know the big chapters in Earth’s development, some sense of rates of natural processes, and how they compare to the rates at which humans are changing the geologic realm. Without that understanding, we’d blithely wander into the natural systems and disrupt them quite badly, or cause species to go extinct much faster than they can evolve, some sense of rates. We’re all facing common challenges and doing some estate planning, so to speak, and it seems like there are no grown-ups in the room right now planning ahead. Just some sense of temporal proportion is what I’m calling for.
The Verge
Leaked OnePlus 6T specs confirm Snapdragon 845, 8GB RAM, and dual SIM support
We already know quite a bit about the OnePlus 6T. It’s launching on October 29th with an event in New York City that was moved up a day to avoid conflicting with Apple’s iPad Pro event. And the phone will come with an in-display fingerprint sensor and a tiny notch at the top of its bezel-less display. There’s even a leaked image of the front and back of the phone that circulated earlier this month. But we may have just gotten a better picture of the device’s specs, thanks to an accidental leak from German retailer Otto, which posted a listing for the OnePlus 6T that was then spotted by GSMArena. The listing is only for the 128GB variant, which is said to come with 8GB of RAM. But it also clearly listed the device’s 6.4-inch AMOLED display with 2340 x 1080 resolution. It will also come with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chip, dual-SIM capability, a 3,700mAh battery, a USB-C port, 16-megapixel / 20-megapixel rear-facing dual cameras, and a 16-megapixel front-facing camera. The device will ship with Android 8.1 Oreo from what we can tell. And finally, it looks like this particular model will retail for €580 (about $665 at current currency conversion rates). Although this latest leak means that OnePlus won’t have too many surprises to announce next week, it probably still won’t end up being the most-leaked Android smartphone to launch this year.
The Verge
God of War creators share some of the funniest bugs from development
Peeking behind the curtain to see the process of game development is already a rare joy, but it’s even more unusual to see some of the flawed, erroneous moments that had to be polished out of a finished piece of work. Thankfully, Sony Santa Monica, the makers of PS4 hit God of War, have lifted that curtain for us in a newly posted video. “Making a video game is difficult,” reads the YouTube description for the video, which showcases some particularly choice prerelease gameplay bugs. “Making a stable game that both pushes the capabilities of the hardware and creates a super immersive, no-camera-cut, epically-sized AAA gaming experience like the one seen in the new God of War, is vastly more difficult. This massive task, involving hundreds of people developing and implementing content simultaneously, which can often have a tendency to break things, definitely added to the challenge.” Some of the glitches are the sorts of things you’d expect: hovering models, limbs going places where they shouldn’t, repeating lines. Others, though, like Atreus’ warping face and Kratos’ endless punches, make this highlight reel a hilarious viewing experience. More developers should share content like this — it makes it clear just how much work and struggle goes into these games, and how easily they could go terribly wrong.
The Verge
Meet Jelly, the new electric scooter science project run by Ford
Jelly is a new electric scooter company preparing to launch at Purdue University in Indiana. Outwardly, it appears very similar to other scooter startups that have quickly spread across the country in the last 12 months. Except for one key difference: Jelly is apparently a subsidiary of Ford, one of the largest automakers in the world. Ford wanted to stay anonymous at first Of course, you wouldn’t know that by going to Jelly’s website, because there’s nothing there except the words “Coming Soon!” set against a purple background. Nor would you know it to read Purdue University’s announcement, which describes Jelly as “a campus-wide research project on best practices for using e-scooters,” but makes no mention of Ford. Purdue’s eagle-eyed... Continue reading…
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The Verge
Firefox 63 released with Enhanced Tracking Protection to block third-party cookies
Mozilla has released Firefox 63, which introduces Enhanced Tracking Protection, a feature that blocks third-party trackers to increase your privacy online. Mozilla has been focused on data and privacy in recent months, announcing upcoming features like having Firefox block ad-tracking software by default and partnering with ProtonVPN to sell subscriptions to a small group of Firefox users. For now, Firefox 63 has Enhanced Tracking Protection off by default, but it gives users the option to block third-party tracking cookies or block all trackers. Users can also create exceptions for sites they trust, in case they break due to having trackers blocked. In a detailed blog post discussing this feature, the company explains finding the right trade-offs between having stronger privacy protections and inadvertently hurting small websites that use third-party tools. Apple’s Safari was the first browser to block third-party cookies by default, and the company also introduced an Intelligent Tracking Prevention feature in 2017 that reduced apps’ abilities to track users across websites. Mozilla Today’s Firefox update also includes an update to the New Tab page, which pins users’ top sites. Additionally, Siri Shortcuts is now available for Firefox on iOS, which lets users open a new tab via voice commands. Finally, the new browser will now adapt to match the dark or light theme you’re using in your Windows settings. You can download the latest version here.
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The Verge
Apple reportedly planning global rollout for its streaming TV service next year
Apple’s streaming television service, which is said to resemble Amazon Prime Video and Netflix, will launch in the first half of next year, according to a report today from The Information. The service, which may exist as a standalone app or within the existing TV app, will launch in the US first and become available in more than 100 countries after a few months of availability, the report says. It will feature a mix of original programming, access to third-party services, and the ability to subscribe directly to channel packages offered by network and cable providers, similar to Amazon’s Channels feature. For years, Apple has been trying to crack streaming like it did digital media and smartphone apps. But due to complex licensing deals and media conglomerates’ tight control on pricing and bundling, the iPhone maker has been less successful than competitors like Amazon and Netflix, both of which have built strong ecosystems mixing licensed content and original programming. And although Apple has sold its own set-top box since 2006, the device has largely remained a conduit for other companies’ media, and it lags behind Amazon and Roku hardware in market share. Apple lags far behind Amazon and Netflix in the streaming market Apple appears ready to try and change that with the launch of its official streaming TV service, which will live on iOS devices and as the home interface of its Apple TV line, reports The Information. One snag is that Apple doesn’t appear willing to let the software exist outside its own hardware, which may limit its ability to expand. Both Amazon, through its Prime Video app, and Netflix exist as mobile apps, built-in native smart TV apps, and streaming set-top box apps. In the case of Amazon, which produces the Fire TV line, its software is the entire home interface on its devices. That means consumers have numerous access points to Prime Video and Netflix, while Apple will necessarily limit its own service’s reach. Still, this mirrors Apple’s approach to many of its other hardware and software products, and it could prove to be irrelevant if the company can sign millions of iOS and Apple TV users up for the service. The obvious solution there is original programming, which Apple has reportedly set aside $1 billion for in 2018 alone. So far, Apple has put its original shows, like Carpool Karaoke and Planet of the Apps, on Apple Music. But this new service would be home to a dizzying number of in-the-works projects that have been confirmed in the last couple of years. As my colleague Andrew Liptak put it, there’s a lot Apple is working on: So far, Apple has signed a multiyear deal with Oprah Winfrey to develop new shows, ordered a pair of children’s shows from the creators of Sesame Street, a reboot of the science fiction anthology show Amazing Stories, a Hunger Games-style dystopian show called See, a series from La La Land director Damien Chazelle, a thriller series from M. Night Shyamalan, a space drama from Battlestar Galactica creator Ron Moore, a drama about a morning show starring Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston, and an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s classic science fiction novel Foundation. There are also reports that it’s working to acquire the rights for an animated film. We have no idea if this programming will be any good. Considering it took years for Amazon and Netflix to find their footing in Hollywood and start turning out Emmy- and Oscar-winning projects, it could be a while before Apple attracts the same level of talent and creates a production environment where high-quality television and film can succeed. But Apple clearly has the money to spend and the desire to compete. Fifteen years ago, iTunes dominated the digital media landscape as the place where you went to browse, purchase, and play music, TV, and movies on your computer and MP3 player. Despite the dominant position of the iPhone in the age of the smartphone, Apple missed the boat on streaming video and is still playing catch-up with Spotify on streaming music. With the launch of a successful TV service, however, the company could start making up for lost time.
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The Verge
HP’s latest Spectre x360 has a new angular design and 22.5 hours of battery life
HP is updating its popular Spectre x360 convertible laptops today. Both the 13- and 15-inch versions are getting a new “gem cut” design with a more angular look and feel. The new design also includes a USB-C port that’s angled on the edge of the Spectre x360 to improve cable management. As you’d expect, HP is including Intel’s latest 8th Gen quad-core processors inside the 13-inch Spectre x360, and six-core options for the larger 15-inch model. The big promise of the new 13-inch Spectre x360 is the “world’s longest battery life in a quad-core convertible.” That’s quite the claim, and HP is promising up to 22.5 hours of battery life. We’ll need to test that fully, but even if it manages half of that it will be solid battery life.... Continue reading…
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The Verge
Apple reportedly targeting 2019 for iPad Mini update and AirPower launch
Apple’s second fall event is rapidly approaching, but noted TF International Securities supply chain analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has some predictions of what won’t be at the event: an updated fifth-generation iPad Mini, which Kuo says won’t be coming until sometime in 2019, via 9to5Mac. When it does arrive, though, Kuo says that the new iPad Mini will get “an upgraded processor and a lower-cost panel,” which would seem to position it as a smaller option for those considering Apple’s entry-level iPad model rather than a miniature version of the iPad Pro. An iPad Mini update has been a long time coming — Apple last updated the device with the iPad Mini 4 back in 2015. The iPad Mini was last updated in 2015 Kuo also says that Apple is still looking at either late 2018 or early 2019 for the AirPower charging mat along with the rumored AirPod update that would add a Qi-compatible case. It’s still not clear whether those will be showing up at next week’s event, or if Apple will even mention the still missing charging pad at all. Additionally, Kuo’s report also reiterated his main predictions for the upcoming October 30th event: A pair of updated iPad Pros (presumably to replace the existing 12.9-inch and 9.7-inch models) with the rumored Face ID integration, reduced bezels, and USB-C support A new Apple Pencil — which Kuo says will have an “all-new” design (that may mean support for USB-C, given the iPad rumors) New Macs, including a “low-price” MacBook, and spec bumps for both the iMac and the long-neglected Mac Mini
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The Verge
The Fan Bingbing saga shows China’s willingness to control overly wealthy celebrities
China’s highest-paid actress Fan Bingbing (X-Men: Days of Future Past) disappeared this summer following accusations of tax evasion. This month, an apology for breaking the law appeared on her social media account, and Fan has been ordered to pay 884 million yuan ($127 million) to avoid criminal prosecution. Last week, she resurfaced in paparazzi shots, but the Chinese release of her upcoming film Air Strike (also commonly translated as Unbreakable Spirit or The Big Bomb), also starring Bruce Willis, was canceled. In the span of four months, one of the most famous and beloved women in China transformed into a symbol of corruption in a saga that captivated Chinese social media. So what happened? It all began in May when TV presenter Cui... Continue reading…
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The Verge
Wikipedia founder lays off all journalists from his new media website
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales’ digital media company, the WikiTribune, is shifting its focus away from traditional news-gathering and moving to a “community oriented” strategy that prioritizes working with contributors. In the process, the company has laid off its 12 original editorial staffers, reports The Drum, following the April departure of CNN and Reuters journalist Peter Bale, who initially assembled the team. The WikiTribune began in August of last year, and Wales and his co-founder Orit Kopel posted a note to the site earlier this week first mentioning the “major personnel changes” and the reframing of its focus on the community. “As this project is so radical, the only way to learn is to try, make mistakes, fix them and move forward,” Kopel told The Drum in an interview. “The main thing that we learned so far is that in order to implement our vision, we should give the community the full confidence that WikiTribune is based on their contributions, while the professional team is here mainly to serve them where needed.” The WikiTribune’s original editorial team has left, and it’s refocusing on the community The site’s original vision was to develop a new kind of online newspaper that would evolve much like a Wikipedia page, using a collaborative and community-led reporting and fact-checking process. The goal was to help combat fake news and the perception from the public that media organizations have ulterior motives and are incentivized not by truth and the presentation of facts, but by ad revenue, political bias, and other pressures. The site is designed to be ad-free, with readers paying a subscription fee that would then help dictate the type of coverage its reporters turned out. Kopel admitted to The Drum that because the project has been in an extended pilot period — Wales wrote in his initial post that the WikiTribune won’t enter beta for another six months — that mistakes have been made and that the organization is learning from them. Primarily, it seems that there were concerns the editorial team would have an outsize influence on how articles and reports were shaped and vetted. “We stated from the first day WikiTribune was launched that we think of our community and the professional journalists as equals,” she said. “It means that at no stage were the journalists there to ‘overlook’ the community’s work, but were there to work with them collaboratively in order to develop high-quality news articles.” The WikiTribune plans to hire more journalists in the future in a capacity that is more community-driven and less about supervising the work of outside contributors.
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The Verge
Charter’s higher bill fees could cost some customers nearly $100 each year
Cable provider Charter will increase a half-dozen of its surcharges and fees for all Spectrum customers beginning in November. The hiked cost of bill items like “broadcast TV surcharge” and more expensive cable box rentals, among other changes, could result in some customers paying “an additional $7.61 a month” according to the Asheville Citizen Times. Ars Technica also reported on the pending increase. The new rates “will affect all markets,” the company has confirmed. There are two changes to bill surcharges: • Broadcast TV surcharge: The cost Charter passes on to you for carrying ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC on Spectrum goes up from $8.85 to $9.95/month. • The monthly Spectrum receiver rental fee jumps from $6.99 to $7.50/month. The company tried to reason this with Ars Technica by saying even the higher price “remains lower than both the legacy TWC ($11.75) and legacy Bright House Networks ($8) price, and is comparable or lower than our competitors.” Spectrum’s internet service will also get more expensive next month, rising from $54.99 to $59.99 for customers who also have a TV package and from $64.99 to $65.99 for those who only pay for internet. For those who use it, the company’s digital adapter price is climbing from $4.99 to $5.99 per month, and Spectrum’s $7.99 à la carte Latino TV channel package is also increasing by a buck to $8.99 This might not do much to help Charter’s standing in New York Depending on their plan, some customers won’t get hit with all of the increases. And while some are only a dollar or two, they certainly add up. If you’re paying the full $7.61 extra, that works out to $91.32 more per year. The company has over 26 million customers throughout the US. It’s unclear how the price increases will impact Charter’s efforts to keep Spectrum operating in New York. Back in July, New York’s State Public Service Commission voted to revoke the Charter / Time Warner Cable merger it had previously approved and accused Charter of failing to meet its expansion targets and promises to offer faster internet connections in the state. If New York follows through, it would effectively force Charter out of the state and require the company to find a new owner for its Time Warner Cable assets in the state. But the two sides have been negotiating since the vote. Last week, the commission granted Charter another 45 days to work out a deal and stay put. Charter CEO Tom Rutledge has said his company is willing to fight New York in court “over a lengthy period of time if required.”
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The Verge
Android fraud ring was stealing millions in fake ad revenue
Over 125 Android apps and websites have been drawn into a massive fraud scheme that’s seen hundreds of millions of dollars in ad revenue stolen, according to an in-depth investigative report published by Buzzfeed News. As Buzzfeed’s report details, the scam saw the fraudsters purchase legitimate, established applications from developers through a front company called “We Purchase Apps.” Those apps would see their ownerships transferred over to shell companies that would continue to manage the apps, while also analyzing user behavior and interactions with the apps. Over 125 Android apps and websites were involved in the scam That data would then be used to program a network of bots that would be directed toward the purchased apps,... Continue reading…
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The Verge
Draw on This Website is a communal art project that captures the internet at its best
Draw on This Website delivers exactly what it promises: a website that allows anyone with access to the internet and a little imagination the chance to contribute their own art. It’s communal: people can draw whatever they like on an open document, or add to other people’s drawings in real time. It’s a site where everyone who buys their own little chalk stick is set free on a digital sidewalk and told to play nicely with the other neighborhood kids. Draw on This Website, which seems to have launched yesterday, is still active right now, although its free-to-use black ink was suspended as of last night because people were getting “too wild,” according to Brooklyn developer Thinko on Twitter. The free-ink tier is still suspended right now, but Pasquale D’Silva, a partner at Thinko, told The Verge over DM they’re planning to bring back the free ink. Currently, users can pick from three available ink colors — blue, orange, and green — but have to pay 99 cents to use them, which could be a nod to Thinko’s other viral project — “Who Paid 99¢?” — that took off last week. pic.twitter.com/dVYUJ6dwbl— PaSKULL D'Silva (@pasql) October 22, 2018 On that theoretical open digital sidewalk, children might want to draw stick figures of their parents, or slightly warped versions of their pets. But handing over digital ink to strangers on the internet typically leads to something known as TTD: Time to Dick. Time to Dick (or TTD, or Time to Penis) is a phrase used to calculate how long it takes for someone to post a dick joke. Something like Draw on This Website, a Wild West artistic free-for-all, seems ripe for immediate dick drawings. But while there are a few lone genitalia floating around the page, often hidden off in the corners of the expansive board, most of the drawings are cute, charming, or anarchic. Photo: Draw on This Website A drawing on Draw on This Website. The photo above is a great example of what makes Draw on This Website great. It’s a charming little egg fellow (whom I’ve nicknamed Simon) that multiple people are contributing to at once. In another corner, people aren’t just paying to use different marker colors, they’re forming little factions based on the colors they’ve chosen. It’s fascinating to watch their rivalry play out in real time, seen below, as other colors try to invade spaces designated as green or blue zones. Photo: Thinko A “Blue Ink Zone” as seen on Draw on This Website. Draw on This Website is a wonderful, sweet piece of internet pie right now. It’s still mostly wholesome, with people drawing angsty Hulks or plugging their Twitter and Instagram accounts. I suspect this will change in the coming days. The more attention Draw on This Website receives, the more likely it becomes that people will flood to the site to see what’s going on, and put their own ink on the wall. Right now, though, it’s still a beautiful wasteland, full of strange and intriguing art — and a reminder that when people get a chance to be collaborative, fun things can result. Photo: Thinko Different drawings from Draw on This Website.
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The Verge
Facebook is rolling out a redesigned Messenger focused on simplicity
Facebook is releasing a redesigned version of Messenger today that attempts to put the focus back on your chats. After years of revenue-focused expansion into bots, games, payments, and other distractions, the company is bringing Messenger back to basics. While all those extra widgets are still present in the app, they’ve mostly been hidden away in spots where you can safely ignore them. The new Messenger still promotes its business objectives throughout the app, but on the whole it’s a welcome return to a time when the app was first and foremost a lightweight utility. “Messenger is really powerful,” says David Breger, a product manager on the app. “But if you look at something like this, I don’t know if the first word you would use is... Continue reading…
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The Verge
Pixel phones can use Wear OS smartwatches as a camera viewfinder
The new Google Camera app for Pixel 3 phones touts a lot of widely publicized features like the wide-angle selfie camera and updated AR stickers, but another lesser-known feature is that it can add a remote viewfinder to any smartwatch running Wear OS. The Google Camera Wear OS app also adds a timer and flip camera button. The new feature was first spotted by Redditor AimarChirico, via Android Police. The feature is a big improvement over the last Wear OS Camera app, which only allowed for remote photo taking. It seems particularly useful for framing photos taken by a phone set up on a tripod. The viewfinder feature also reportedly works with your phone screen turned off. The latest Google Camera 6.1 update is now rolling out to Pixel... Continue reading…
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The Verge
GM is letting more people rent their cars for money
General Motors is expanding its peer-to-peer car-sharing service to 10 cities by the end of this year, the company announced today. The service, which is part of GM’s mobility arm Maven, launched this summer and is already live in Ann Arbor and Detroit, Michigan, along with Chicago and Denver. By the end of 2018, GM says, it will be available in Baltimore, Boston, Washington, DC, Jersey City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco as well. Maven’s peer-to-peer service allows owners to rent their cars by the hour or daily, and they get a 60 percent cut of the cost of each rental. The company says this can add up to hundreds — in some cases thousands — of dollars per month, depending on what car they have and how often they make it available. R... Continue reading…
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The Verge
Oculus is dropping movie rentals from the Rift because it’s ‘used primarily for gaming’
Oculus is dropping the Rift VR headset’s support for renting or buying non-VR movies through Oculus Video, and the service will officially shut down on November 20th. Users will lose access to movies they’ve purchased or rented up to that point, although they’ll be reimbursed for the cost of purchases. They’ll still be able to access videos that are stored on their computer or stream content from services like Facebook 360. Oculus will continue supporting the feature for its two mobile headsets, the Oculus Go and Samsung Gear VR. Road to VR printed an email sent to users about the change. “Over the years, we’ve seen how people use VR for everything from gaming to movies, and it’s become clear that while people love to stream immersive media on other devices, Rift is used primarily for gaming,” it reads in part. As Variety points out, this announcement coincides with former Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe leaving the company. According to one report, Iribe was unhappy about Facebook pushing Oculus in a “race to the bottom” away from high-end PC VR. There’s certainly evidence that Oculus is focusing on lower-powered, non-PC headsets, particularly the Oculus Quest, a gaming-focused standalone device. It’s not at all clear that this particular decision signals a lack of commitment to the Rift, though. Watching videos on a Rift isn’t a great experience; since the headset is tethered to a PC, it’s hard to sit back and catch a movie on your couch or bed. And unlike games, movies don’t benefit much from hand controls or sophisticated tracking. It is potentially a sign of Oculus drawing a harder distinction between its headsets — or that renting movies isn’t a priority for VR users.
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The Verge
How YouTube makes everything more extreme
This week on The Vergecast, we’re doing something a little different — we’re introducing you to our newest reporter, Julia Alexander, who joins The Verge to cover YouTube, Twitch, and more. Nilay sat down with Julia to talk about the controversy around YouTube’s recommendation algorithm, the rise of parasocial relationships, and how creators are cultivating an audience of very savvy media consumers. Below is a brief, edited transcript of their conversation about how YouTube’s recommendation algorithm is radicalizing young people on the far right: Nilay Patel: What’s broken with the platform? Julia Alexander: So the number one issue I think is the recommendation algorithm. It’s radicalizing so many people. I spoke to a lot of kids, for... Continue reading…
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The Verge
Google Play is upgrading your movie purchases to 4K for free
Google announced in a blog post today that Google Play customers in the US and Canada will see several upgrades to their movie-watching experience. Any movies you’ve previously purchased in SD or HD that are available in 4K will now be automatically upgraded to stream in 4K. If you open the Play Movies & TV app it should tell you which titles have had the upgrade applied. Additionally, Google Play has lowered the cost of most 4K titles — they used to sit around $30 a pop and now most sit below the $20 mark. Lastly, Google has expanded device support for watching titles in 4K with the Play Movies & TV app. Now, in addition to working with 4K Sony Bravia TVs, it also works with most 4K Samsung Smart TVs. The company also says it’s working... Continue reading…
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The Verge
YouTuber Simone Giertz launches her first Kickstarter campaign, and it’s a pretty calendar
If you’re motivated by pretty lights and the prospect of turning them on, you might be into YouTuber and robot maker Simone Giertz’s new (and first) Kickstarter campaign: The Every Day Calendar. It’s a large printed circuit board that relies on capacitive touch and LEDs to light up individual days on the calendar — the idea being that you’ll tap on a day to make it glow when you’ve accomplished a specific goal. Let’s say you want to go to the gym every day, for example, the Every Day Calendar works as a visual reward system. Sure, tapping a light might not be all that thrilling, but it’s something. It costs $300 and is estimated to ship in December 2019, which is a long time from now. That’s an entire New Year’s resolution! Because it’s... Continue reading…
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The Verge
These two books look at a pair of sci-fi’s most influential projects and their flawed creators
In 2018, films and television shows about superheroes or the adventures of heroes fighting evil across space are commonplace: only a single non-genre film (Crazy Rich Asians) has cracked the top 10 list for highest box office gross this year. Historically, that’s a new development; science fiction was once a reviled genre, dismissed as juvenile trash or escapist nonsense. Two projects are largely responsible for this shift: Stanley Kubrick’s groundbreaking 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey and the incredibly influential magazine Astounding Science Fiction, which wasrun in its heyday by editor John W. Campbell. Now, two histories paint a complex portrait of the figures who are often lionized for their brilliance. Michael Benson’s Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke and the Making of a Masterpiece and Alec Nevala-Lee’s Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fictionare exhaustive, well-researched examinations of two of the genre’s most influential projects. In their own ways, each project helped shape the face of the modern science fiction genre, either by implementing astonishing special effects or by launching the careers of some of the genre’s best-known authors. Each book takes a hard look at the people involved, showcasing a sometimes unflattering look at the creatives behind each big name. Image: Simon & Schuster Space Odysseyhit bookstores earlier this year in conjunction with the film’s 50th anniversary, and it’s an engrossing, if at times tedious, read that serves as a definitive history of how Stanley Kubrick developed and directed 2001: A Space Odyssey 50 years ago. While initially panned by critics, the movie went on to be hailed as one of the best science fiction films ever made, turning a previously pulpy premise into a serious story with mind-blowing advances in special effects that would pave the way for future classics. Kubrick was just coming off of his anti-war film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, and while casting around for his next project, he decided that he wanted to do a serious science fiction film that would surpass anything that had been done before. Benson starts with Kubrick’s fascination with space and extraterrestrials, a fascination that ultimately led him to author Arthur C. Clarke, one of the genre’s major figures, who also desired to break into the film industry. They eventually met in New York City, and with some of Clarke’s short stories as a starting point, they began to conceptualize an epic story of humanity’s efforts to reach space, spanning from its prehistoric ancestors to the distant future. ‘2001’ began production without a finished script or an ending Benson documents each beat of the production, and Kubrick was at the heart of it. He guided the film through a tough and chaotic production. As he and Clarke began work on their film, they hewed out the larger beats of first contact. Kubrick was a perfectionist, and he labored over the script as he worked to pull together a production that was unlike anything else. Filming began without a finished script, and they improvised their way forward, landing on an ending that they hadn’t planned out. Reading the book in 2018 paints a picture of Kubrick that feels reminiscent of Steve Jobs. He was egotistical and demanded absolute perfection from his production. When he decided that he wanted a certain type of endangered tree for a desert scene, he sent a crew out in the middle of the night to cut down a stand kokerboom from a protected grove and had it driven to the shooting location. One caught fire and another was damaged when one of the trucks crashed. The trees made a brief appearance in the film, and the crew ended up making fake ones in England for other shots. Kubrick’s attention to detail also came at the expense of his actors and crew Kubrick’s attention to detail also came at the expense of his actors and crew. At one point, a stunt actor was hanging dozens of feet above the floor for the film’s EVA scenes, sealed into a space suit, with only a couple of minutes of air. The actor signaled that he was running out of air, but Kubrick grew agitated and demanded that they continue the scene. The actor — a former mercenary — blacked out and was pulled in. When he awoke, he went after the director, only to discover that Kubrick left the set, and he didn’t return until two or three days later. During another spacewalk sequence, Kubrick insisted that a stunt actor wear only a single safety wire, worried that multiple lines would compromise the illusion of floating in space. When the actor descended, meters above the ground, one of the strands in the wire snapped, prompting the actor to drop the prop he was holding, which hit a camera assistant on the head. Crew worried that someone would die due to Kubrick’s demand for absolute authenticity. Clarke had his own issues with Kubrick. He was an eager collaborator who wanted to break from the world of science fiction magazines into Hollywood. As they brainstormed and came up with ideas, they had a genuine meeting of the minds: Clarke’s literary brilliance and foresight into the future of space travel met Kubrick’s cinematic eye. But as production started, it became clear that it wasn’t an equal partnership. Clarke grew frustrated and depressed with Kubrick’s demands and rewrites, as well as the fact that the director sat on the approval of the novelization that Clarke wrote up, the delay of which cost Clarke thousands and thousands of dollars, putting him into debt as he focused completely on the movie, script, and resulting novel. When all was said and done, 2001: A Space Odyssey debuted to mixed reviews from confused journalists who didn’t understand what they watched. This was to the dismay of Clarke and Kubrick, who ended up recutting parts of the film for the regular release. Benson wraps up by exploring how the film’s roadshow release helped turn it into a wild success, and it went on to influence directors of other influential science fiction classics, including James Cameron, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg. Image: Dey Street Books There are parallels to the story of 2001: A Space Odyssey inNevala-Lee’sAstounding. This engrossing history delves into the story of one of the genre’s best-known magazines, Astounding Science Fiction. (It’s still in print under the name Analog Science Fact and Fiction.) The magazine has a long and storied history within science fiction circles. It began as a typical pulp magazine in 1930, changing hands a couple of times before John W. Campbell, Jr. was brought on as editor at the age of 30. From there, he transformed the magazine from a publication that churned out forgettable stories to one that launched the careers of some of science fiction’s best-known authors, including Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. Campbell used his authors as a sounding board for his own ideas and philosophies Just as Kubrick was the driving force behind his movie, Campbell served as the center of his stable of writers. Nevala-Lee explores how the editor ticked and why he became the driving force that transformed science fiction from a genre relegated to the pulps to something a bit more respectable. He used his authors as a sounding board for his own ideas and philosophies and helped shape the worlds and underpinning structures that would become Asimov’s Foundation and Heinlein’s Future History stories. Along the way, Nevala-Lee looks at the respective biographies of Asimov, Heinlein, and Hubbard and how their editor worked with them and how he became the springboard from which they went on to bigger and sometimes better things. Like Kubrick, Campbell sought for the genre to be more realistic, shedding the bug-eyed monsters of the pulp era and positioning the magazine and genre to focus on hard science. Like 2001, Astounding became a huge influence on the field that followed. Campbell was a hands-on editor, working closely with his authors to hammer out stories and characters, often setting up the basis for worlds that the authors would build their careers on. Hubbard wasn’t particularly interested in science fiction, but he recognized it as an ideal setting for his swashbuckling adventure stories about heroic men. Campbell pushed Asimov to think about psychology in new ways, resulting in his Foundation and Robot franchises. Heinlein’s prose proved to be the most popular among Astounding readers, and the editor helped shape his Future History series that would start off his career with a bang. Nevala-Lee pays particular attention to the flaws of creators like Asimov, Campbell, and Hubbard Like Space Odyssey, Astounding takes a critical look at its subjects. Collectively, Campbell, Asimov, Heinlein, and Hubble were incredibly flawed, toxic, and abusive individuals. Nevala-Lee recounts Asimov’s predilection for sexual harassment and predatory behavior. At one point, he recounts that when Asimov visited a particular publisher, the women found reason to leave. Hubbard was manipulative and physically abusive toward his partners, beating and punching them on more than one occasion. Campbell, at the center of the hub, was also a problematic figure. He was overtly homophobic, sexist, and racist. He once told African-American author Samuel R. Delany that he didn’t feel his readers “would be able to relate to a black main character,” and he told others that he felt that the institution of slavery could be “educational” for its victims. He and the magazine peaked by 1950, overtaken by his own obsession with dianetics and psionics and his abrasive personality that alienated Heinlein, Asimov, and others. Other competing magazines saw their chance to take the spotlight away from Campbell and his magazine and ran with it, eclipsing it with their own innovative stories. Collectively, both books bring together a central point: some of the greatest works of science fiction were the result of brilliant individuals who demanded a high level of detail and perfection in the stories that they were responsible for producing, injecting much of their personal views and sensibilities into them. But both books also point out that while their visions for the future were influential and at times ground-breaking, they were also inherently flawed, driven by their own egos, racism, and sexism. 2001: A Space Odyssey and Astounding Science Fiction have each transcended their creators and gone on to become enormously influential for the science fiction genre, but they remain a shaky foundation that fans and creators must still contend with.
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The Verge
Lyft unveils a new self-driving car and acquires an AR startup to help it build maps
On Tuesday, Lyft offered a glimpse of its brand-new self-driving car. It’s a Ford Focus hybrid sedan with technology designed and built by the ride-hailing company’s in-house team of autonomous vehicle engineers. Lyft also announced the acquisition of Blue Vision Labs, a London-based augmented reality startup that uses computer vision to process street-level imagery. Lyft has 300 engineers working on self-driving cars The acquisition, first reported by TechCrunch, is a first for Lyft’s “Level 5” self-driving division. The company announced that it would start building its own autonomous driving technology in July 2017. It was a bold move for a company that, at the time, had been content to simply partner with more experienced automakers and tech firms that had huge head starts in designing the complex technology that powers self-driving cars. Today, Lyft has 300 engineers and technicians housed in its Level 5 headquarters in Palo Alto, California. Blue Vision was founded in 2016 by graduates from the University of Oxford and Imperial College London, and it only came out of stealth last March. According to Tech Crunch, Blue Vision was acquired by Lyft for “around $72 million with $30 million on top of that based on hitting certain milestones.” The company’s 40-person team will become an anchor for Lyft’s self-driving operations in the UK, Vincent said. (The ride-hail company currently only operates in North America, but it’s reportedly considering expanding into European markets in the near future.) The company develops “collaborative AR experiences” using technology as simple as a smartphone camera. In a Medium post, Luc Vincent, the company’s lead engineer, said the company’s technology is “cutting-edge” because it can crowdsource highly detailed 3D maps of entire cities using a smartphone or other camera mounted on the dashboard of a car. “These maps allow a car to understand exactly where it is, what’s around it, and what to do next, with centimeter-level accuracy,” he said. (Vincent knows a thing or two about maps; he helped pioneer Street View for Google Maps.) “This is truly amazing tech.” This will become key as Lyft seeks to build high-res maps that help its self-driving cars navigate complex environments. Lyft can combine Blue Vision’s camera-based maps with its own geometric maps built using LIDAR sensors mounted to the roofs of its vehicles. “Blue Vision Labs is the first company able to build city-scale 3D maps from cell phone acquired imagery,” Vincent added. “This is truly amazing tech.” Lyft’s self-driving cars are being tested on public roads in California, but the testing is still in its nascent stages. (The company did not file a disengagement report with the state’s DMV in 2017, indicating it hadn’t racked up any significant mileage at that point.) Lyft is also operating a small fleet of self-driving cars in Las Vegas in partnership with Aptiv, the self-driving offshoot of global auto parts supplier Delphi. In August, the companies said they had completed 5,000 paid trips in their autonomous BMW sedans. The self-driving hardware and software of the Las Vegas fleet are developed by Aptiv, but these new vehicles are all Lyft. As Uber slims down and scales back its self-driving program in the wake of a fatal crash in Arizona earlier this year, Lyft is plowing ahead with its own project. The company, which is aiming to go public in early 2019 with a reported value of $15.1 billion, also plans to double the size of its self-driving team within the next 18 months, according to Vincent. “We’ve got a big year ahead of us,” he said.
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The Verge
Reddit partners with Patreon to help creators build communities
Patreon, a crowdfunding membership platform for creators, announced today that it’s partnering with Reddit to help users promote their work and build communities. Most of these changes are being made through tiny integrations that will change the aesthetic of creators’ subreddits and make their Patreon accounts more visible. The most noticeable change is a specific “Patron” flair that appears beside Reddit users’ names who support a specific creator on Patreon. This makes it easier for creators to see who’s supporting them, and it could possibly improve the interactions between creators who maintain their own subreddits and loyal members. Image: Patreon An example of Reddit’s new “Patron” flairs, as seen in... Continue reading…
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The Verge
Hulu now offers Starz as an $8.99 monthly add-on
Starz is joining Hulu’s live TV subscription as an optional $8.99 monthly add-on. It’s the latest premium cable company to offer its content and channels on the over-the-top streaming service. The new Starz subscription will give subscribers access to the company’s live Starz and Starz Encore channel lineup as well as the back catalog of existing Starz content. Hulu already offers HBO ($14.99 per month), Cinemax ($9.99 per month), and Showtime ($10.99 per month) as similar add-on packages. Starz already offers access to its content through its own $8.99-per-month streaming app, so the Hulu add-on — like the YouTube TV, DirecTV Now, Sling TV, and Amazon Prime bundling options that have preceded it — is more of a convenience for Hulu... Continue reading…
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The Verge
More Alexa-enabled headphones might be on the way with Qualcomm Bluetooth chips
Some Alexa-enabled headphones already exist, but Qualcomm wants to make it easier for hardware makers to build Amazon’s assistant into their devices and use Qualcomm chips while doing so. The company released a reference design today that’ll give makers the instructions on how to make an Alexa-enabled device with a button to activate the assistant. Of course, the design incorporates Qualcomm’s Bluetooth audio chips. Qualcomm’s goal is to make it simpler for creators to build a device without having to think too much about the Alexa code or hardware sourcing. It’s a simple solution that the company hopes will recruit new customers by encouraging them to buy Qualcomm’s Bluetooth chips to get Alexa. Earlier this year, Amazon released its own “mobile accessory” development kit to help headphone makers build the assistant into their devices. Initial partners included Bose and Jabra, both of which make Alexa-enabled headphones. Digital assistant makers have an incentive to get their assistant into as many devices as possible, so it’s reasonable to expect similar solutions with Google Assistant and Cortana. Apple, on the other hand, is keeping Siri limited to its own line of products.
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The Verge
Logan Paul’s new movie is the zombified husk of a YA dystopian thriller
In 2016, YouTube released its first original movie: a near-future tale called The Thinning about a world where children are killed for failing a standardized test. Starring Logan Paul, The Thinning was almost immediately forgotten; nevertheless, YouTube still started the production of a sequel the following year. This past January, however, Paul filmed the body of a suicide victim in Japan’s Aokigahara forest in one of his vlogs, igniting international controversy, and the project was shelved “indefinitely.” There simply wasn’t much reason to revisit the world of The Thinning, a generic sci-fi film released near the end of the Hunger Games-fueled YA dystopia gold rush. Last week, Paul tweeted the trailer for the sequel, signaling that the YouTube film was very much back on. Twelve hours later, The Thinning: New World Order went live on YouTube Premium. Equal parts bizarre political thriller, paint-by-numbers dystopia, and a boxing match, New World Order is a Logan Paul comeback tour vehicle dragged down by a premise that its filmmakers seem to find alternately boring and confusing. Spoilers for The Thinning and The Thinning: New World Order below. The Thinning series is set in a near future where all nations must reduce their populations by 5 percent each year. In true meritocratic fashion, the US does this by instituting an annual K-12 exam and executing the worst performers. (You’d have to kill a quarterof school-aged children — and an increasing percentage each year — to hit that target with our real-world population, but it’s portrayed as an uncommon fate.) In the first film, Blake Reddington (Logan Paul) is a Texas governor’s son who intentionally fails his test as a protest, only to have his father swap his scores with smart classmate Laina Michaels (Peyton List). Blake embarks on a mission to save Laina from execution, ultimately sacrificing himself to “the Thinning.” A secret sweatshop is apparently less believable than the government murdering millions of children In the last scene of the first Thinning movie, it’s revealed that the students aren’t actually executed. Instead, they’re taken underground by generic evil tech company Assuru Global, which forces them to build electronics so it can call its products “made in America.” Since the actual existence of the factory is secret, you’d think the company could just outsource manufacturing and lie about it, which would almost certainly be easier. But the twist establishes two of New World Order’s core themes: pointlessly convoluted political machinations and a plot built on narratively convenient dream logic. New World Order is split across two loosely related arcs. In one, Laina infiltrates Governor Reddington’s presidential campaign on behalf of an anti-Thinning resistance movement, which promises to smuggle her Thinning-age siblings out of the country in return — because, apparently, this population-reduction plan includes banning people from leaving the country. She’s helped by former classmate Kellan Woods (Calum Worthy), a frenetic cub reporter who is trying to prove that the secret factories exist. (Citizens in this future may shrug at systematically killing millions of children, but a company using forced labor is considered the stuff of paranoid conspiracy theories.) Meanwhile, Blake and his fellow underachievers reawaken after what turns out to be a mock execution. They’re told that a “patented algorithm” has selected them for special reform, so they can grow “from a parasitic leech on our society to a productive member of the working class.” This scene is the only time New World Order becomes absurd enough to make the series’s premise work; it is darkly funny, and it’s over almost immediately. Paul’s YouTube persona is built on relentless enthusiasm, and his capacity for portraying sadness bottoms out around “concerned bemusement” Soon, Blake falls afoul of resident bully Cage (Charles Melton), who is part of a privileged kapo class called the “Worthy,” members that appear to be selected through cage-match brawls that are somehow an integral part of the teen sweatshop gulag system. The only possible justification is that Logan Paul spent much of 2018 training for his boxing match against his YouTube rival KSI this summer, and he can’t show off his ripped bod on an electronics assembly line. If the filmmakers were playing to his strengths, they would have toned down Blake’s nonstop gauntlet of physical and psychological trauma, which includes a thwarted romance and a horrific injury. Paul’s YouTube persona is built on relentless enthusiasm, and his capacity for portraying sadness bottoms out around “concerned bemusement.” New World Order could have been much worse — if, say, it had tried to inject explicit “relevance” into its story about children being forcibly separated from their parents and held in prison camps on the orders of a callous American government. This would have played into the cliché that dystopian fiction is just real-world tragedies happening to attractive white people, and the film is better off without the attempt. Compared to its predecessor, it’s also slightly less insistent that the real problem with government child-murder policies is insufficiently egalitarian murdering. It’s no longer a ham-fisted metaphor for the SAT or a beat-for-beat repetition of YA sci-fi cliches. That’s mostly because the film seems utterly indifferent toward its own subject matter, though. As a non-member of the Logang, I can’t judge how much fun it is to watch Logan Paul get in a fistfight, wander around a warehouse looking dejected, or participate in a baffling PG-rated dream sequence love scene. I can question why you’d pad this fan service with such a halfhearted and blatantly nonsensical plot, which ends on an equally nonsensical cliffhanger that’s spoiled by the film’s trailer. There is no reason for The Thinning: New World Order to exist, but, apparently, we’ll be getting a sequel.
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The Verge
The Walking Dead wants to reinvent itself, but it keeps falling back on old tricks
This season, The Walking Dead has been taking the opportunity to reinvent itself. New showrunner Angela Kang has streamlined the pacing, cut down on the filler, and focused the plot on grounded issues like governance, punishment, and the necessary work required to rebuild a functioning society. Minor characters have been given well-written moments to take on more of the spotlight, while the main cast truly feels like they’ve earned their stations as high-ranking leaders and decision-makers. Rather than focusing on the grim nature of the zombie apocalypse, this new and improved TWD has been interested in hope and rebuilding society. But in last night’s episode, “Warning Signs,” the show felt like it could all too easily tumble backward into the B movie-style circus that exemplified its last few seasons. The show’s Achilles’ heel appears to be major character deaths, and with the exit of Rick Grimes just two weeks away, The Walking Dead is in danger of reverting back to its worst tendencies. After this week Rick Grimes has TWO EPISODES LEFT. You don't want to miss a second of it #TheWalkingDead pic.twitter.com/ewe1OEErHw— The Walking Dead (@TheWalkingDead) October 22, 2018 Whenever the show sends a character off, it tends to fall into one of two buckets: it can be a fitting and emotional send-off (Hershel’s death and subsequent flashbacks in season 4; Carl’s departure in season 8), or it can be an over-hyped marketing stunt seemingly designed to boost ratings (the many fake-outs and eventual death of Glenn Rhee). Three episodes into season 9, we’re starting to see a rough outline for Rick’s fate emerge, and it’s not looking great. In the final moments of “Warning Signs,” Daryl and Maggie discover that the women of Oceanside were the culprits behind an extrajudicial killing of a former Savior, and they have since taken another hostage. Instead of stopping the second execution, the duo lets it proceed. Maggie seems to see it as an opportunity to buck Rick’s more measured approach and to justify getting the revenge she’s long craved. “We gave Rick’s way a chance,” she tells Daryl. “It’s time to see Negan.” While it is logical that Maggie would still want to deal with Negan in a more definitive way given what he did to Glenn, in context, the transition feels forced, like a blatantly manufactured twist to justify two of the show’s most beloved characters hopping over to the dark side. These same characters spent nearly two years building peace, so to have them toss it aside so casually comes across as conflict for conflict’s sake. Daryl and Maggie’s defiance feels like conflict for conflict’s sake Practically speaking, it may simply be a matter of the show preparing itself for the coming casting changes. The actress who plays Maggie, Lauren Cohan, is also expected to depart during season 9, so putting Maggie and Rick at odds could make sense, particularly if she has some hand in Rick’s death. (Cohan reportedly could return to the show at a later date, though Norman Reedus’ Daryl Dixon is expected to step in as the new lead of the show following the death of Rick Grimes.) What makes it frustrating is just how familiar it all seems, with Maggie seemingly taking on the mantle of the new villain just in time for a death that AMC has been telegraphing for months. This is a time when TWD could truly become something new — it’s killing its main character off, after all — but the playbook is the same one it’s been running since Negan became the focus and the show’s ratings started to decline. No matter how noble the intentions of the season were in the beginning, TWD still seems utterly beholden to its big twists and supposedly shocking character deaths in a way that undermines any other ideas it’s trying to explore. When every subplot, surprise, and cliffhanger is in service of an event we all know is coming, all the tension and surprise is lost. Photo by Gene Page / AMC It’s not exactly clear why this is happening. It should be expected that the show will make a big deal of Rick Grimes’ death from a promotional perspective, but the fact that it keeps resorting to the same patterns — even with the fresh start of season 9 — seems to imply that TWD is simply too big to deviate from its own formula. AMC has signaled that it could keep the property going for another decade by rebooting it or spinning off side stories, and because the comic book is released in bite-sized installments every month, it will likely continue for years to come. (Creator Robert Kirkman said earlier this year that he sees its ending as “very far off.”) Take those different factors together, and it makes it unlikely that the show will ever break free of its source material. Some viewers are now theorizing how the TV show’s characters can adapt future storylines from the comics, suggesting that Aaron will become the new Rick, while young Henry will take on more of Carl’s plot lines from the comics. And AMC has already confirmed the Whisperers, the next antagonist group from the comics to arrive after Negan, as the eventual big-picture villain this season. ‘TWD’ could surprise us, but so far, it seems like the end of Rick Grimes will be predictable Either way, the result is that the show already seems to be veering back toward the habits that required a fresh start in the first place. Of course, there is still a chance TWD will surprise its audience. Perhaps Rick won’t be killed (unlikely), and he’ll be the one who departs on the mysterious helicopter to join another larger community as the Jadis subplot seems to be foreshadowing (unlikelier still). Or maybe there’s a shocking twist to how Maggie’s showdown with Negan transpires. But the way it’s moving right now doesn’t instill confidence that it’ll be anything but predictable, with the unfortunate side effect of spoiling two of the show’s most interesting characters. Perhaps this is just housekeeping. Perhaps once the business of Rick Grimes’ demise is done, The Walking Dead will finally move on to bigger and better things. But that’s a trap fans of the show have fallen into before as they wait for one unpleasant chapter to end and for another, hopefully better one, to begin. At a certain point, people will stop watching and walk away — many have already; ratings are at season 1 levels — and there are only so many characters they can kill off before it stops functioning as a reason to tune in every week.
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The Verge
Lime will open a brick-and-mortar ‘lifestyle store’ for electric bikes and scooters
Lime plans to open physical stores in the US and abroad in the coming year as it seeks to elevate its electric bike and scooter business from just a cheap way to get around to more of a lifestyle brand. The news about Lime’s plans first came to light in the job posting for a “store manager” in Santa Monica, California, which is ground zero for dockless scooter services. This future location will “place heavy importance on brand experience and customer engagement,” the listing reads. Lime doesn’t sell electric scooters, so why does it need a brick-and-mortar store? When reached for comment, a Lime spokesperson said, “In the coming year, Lime will be opening brick and mortar storefronts in major US and international markets, starting with Santa Monica, California. Locations will place heavy importance on community engagement, rider education, and brand experience.” “brand experience” According to TechCrunch, Lime will rent scooters directly from its store and offer charging services as well. Currently, Lime relies on an informal network of freelancers, known as “juicers,” to collect and charge its fleet of bikes and scooters every evening. The “brand experience” aspect will focus on highlighting the ways that Lime’s bikes and scooters can enhance people’s lives and maximize their happiness. The deal to open a retail store came from Lime’s partnership with investor Fifth Wall Ventures. The firm’s Adam Demuyakor told TechCrunch that the store would focus on “deployment of scooters, charging of scooters, and some sales of apparel and accessories that are related. There will be demos, tutorials, and presentations on how to be safe.” Lime recently unveiled a new, more heavy-duty model of scooter, which includes larger wheels, mountain bike-style dual suspension, and dual braking. The “Gen 3” scooter also has a stronger, wider standing platform made of aluminum and an LED display between the handlebars that communicates pertinent information such as battery life and parking tips.
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The Verge
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope may be back in action shortly
NASA engineers have figured out how to bring the ailing Hubble Space Telescope back online after troubleshooting an instrument that wasn’t working properly. The observatory, currently in orbit around Earth, has been in safe mode since October 5th when a crucial piece of steering hardware — needed to point the telescope — failed. A backup piece of hardware will be used instead, allowing Hubble to operate at its full capacity again. One of Hubble’s gyroscopes, the devices that are needed to measure how fast the telescope is turning in space, failed on October 5th. Two of Hubble’s six gyros are already offline, and the failure brought the working number of gyros down to three. Hubble only needs three of them to work at any given time in order to perform its job, but NASA had some trouble getting one of the three functioning gyros to work properly. It’s actually been turned off for seven and a half years, and when NASA started using it again, it was sending back bad data about how the Hubble was turning. The gyro sensed that Hubble was rotating much faster than it was. The failed instrument was one of Hubble’s gyroscopes Technically, Hubble could operate with two gyros, but the telescope would be limited in the types of targets that it could observe. It looks like NASA won’t have to rely on just two gyros, though. In an update, the space agency noted that Hubble engineers turned the wonky gyro off for one second and then turned it back on again. That didn’t fix the problem. But then, the team programmed a bunch of maneuvers for Hubble to potentially reset the gyro, in case the cylinder inside the gyro was off-center. That seemed to do the trick; afterward, they gyro stopped measuring super high rotation rates for Hubble. The gyros consist of spinning wheels that rotate 19,200 times a minute inside a cylinder that’s suspended in fluid. It’s a fancy setup that allows sensors in the cylinders to pick up very small movements in the spinning wheel that can then be communicated to Hubble’s computer. That information is crucial whenever Hubble needs to turn and stay focused on a new target in the Solar System and beyond. All six of these instruments have been replaced at some point over the telescope’s nearly 30-year history in orbit. Thanks to the Space Shuttle program, astronauts could service Hubble whenever it was in need of repairs. But since the Space Shuttle is no longer flying, there is no vehicle currently capable of bringing humans to the spacecraft. So when something breaks, NASA has to fix it from the ground. Hubble has been in safe mode ever since its gyro failed Hubble has been in safe mode ever since its gyro failed, a state in which most of the spacecraft’s instruments are turned off. So the telescope hasn’t been able to do any observations for a while. Hubble is an important tool for the astronomy community, taking images of everything from distant galaxies and stars to faraway objects in our own Solar System. Hubble isn’t completely ready to return to action yet. NASA has been doing maneuvers with the telescope to make sure the newly fixed gyro continues to work properly. The engineering team also has a bunch of tests planned for the spacecraft to evaluate the gyro further. If those go well, Hubble can get back to its regular workload.
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The Verge
Google is rolling out a software update soon to fix the Pixel 3 photo-saving issue
Google will fix an issue that caused some photos taken with Google Camera on the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL to not properly save. A Google spokesperson provided this statement: “We will be rolling out a software update in the coming weeks to address the rare case of a photo not properly saving.” The issue also affected a small number of Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL phones in addition to other Android devices like Samsung’s Galaxy phones, Moto Z and E models, and the Nexus 5X. The bug seems to have been caused by the Google Camera app shutting down immediately after taking a photo before it had a chance to process. The photo thumbnail can be seen from the Camera gallery circle, but it will disappear when opened or reappear in the gallery a day later. Until Google rolls out the fix, users can work around the issue by leaving the camera app open until HDR processing completes or turning off the HDR function completely.
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The Verge
Amazon pitched its facial recognition system to ICE
Amazon employees met with officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) this summer as part of a sustained attempt to sell the company’s controversial facial recognition technology, as revealed by internal emails obtained by The Daily Beast. The emails show that ICE officials met with Amazon on June 12th, in a McKinsey office in California, giving a specific pitch on the Rekognition program as well as more general machine learning capabilities within Amazon Web Services. The same official followed up a month later with a public link to a blog post that responded to privacy concerns raised by the ACLU. There’s no indication that ICE ultimately purchased or used the system. Available as an API within Amazon cloud services, Rekognition came under scrutiny earlier this year after a report from the ACLU of Northern California showed the feature was being used by a number of small law enforcement agencies, some for as little as $6 a month. Amazon has not submitted its algorithm to the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Facial Recognition Vendor Test or similar programs that publicly test for racial bias, which is a persistent concern in facial recognition systems. In The Daily Beast emails, Amazon was specifically pitching to Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), which is primarily concerned with customs violations, including a recent Dark Web sting. HSI is largely separate from the Enforcement and Removal Operations division that initiates deportations, but it shares many resources with that division. Activists have raised concerns about facial recognition sales to any law enforcement agency, and those concerns have had a significant impact on the industry. Earlier this month, an anonymous Amazon employee publicly urged the company not to sell the Rekognition product to police.
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The Verge
Sonos is releasing a Beastie Boys edition of its Play:5 speaker
Sonos is releasing a special Beastie Boys version of its Play:5 speaker, designed by San Francisco artist Barry McGee, the company announced today. McGee and Sonos worked with Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz and Michael “Mike D” Diamond of the Beastie Boys on the design of the speaker, and all proceeds from its sale will go to charities, including the Adam Yauch Foundation. The red-and-white speaker is pretty distinctive, with Beastie Boys written out on the grille in a contemporary typeface. Sonos has occasionally done limited edition versions of its Play:1 speaker, but it’s rarer to see a limited version of its Play:5 speaker hit the shelves. You can pick up the Sonos Play:5 Beastie Boys Edition in December for $499 — the standard price for the speaker — on Sonos.com, Sonos’ retail store in New York City, and select retailers worldwide.
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The Verge
Uber Eats announces its plan to conquer the US suburbs
Uber Eats, the ride-hailing company’s food delivery arm that’s critical to Uber’s plan to go public in 2019, has galloped across the globe in recent years, but it has also struggled to reach certain pockets of the US. The company aims to change that over the next few months, announcing on Tuesday an ambitious effort to reach 70 percent of the US population by the end of 2018. Currently, Uber Eats covers a little over 50 percent of the US population, delivering food for an estimated 100,000 restaurants. So an increase of 20 percent in just two and a half months is certainly an aggressive growth target. In order to achieve this goal, Uber Eats is targeting mostly less-dense suburban communities, which is the type of market where its core... Continue reading…
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The Verge
MoviePass is getting spun off as its own separate company
MoviePass parent company Helios and Matheson has announced a preliminary plan to spin off the struggling subscription move service into its own, separate company “Since we acquired control of MoviePass in December 2017, HMNY largely has become synonymous with MoviePass in the public’s eye, leading us to believe that our shareholders and the market perception of HMNY might benefit from separating our movie-related assets from the rest of our company,” commented Helios and Matheson CEO Ted Farnsworth in announcing the move. Developing...
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The Verge
Motorola is iFixit’s first major phone maker to supply official repair parts
Phone companies usually want to stop you from repairing your own devices, or even going to a third-party repair shop. But Motorola is taking a different approach: it’s partnering with iFixit, the repair guide site famous for its device teardowns, to offer battery and screen replacement kits for a number of its phones. The kits range from $40 to $200 and include the key replacement parts — either a battery or a display and digitizer — along with many of the speciality tools you’ll need to complete the repair, like angled tweezers and specialty screw bits. Each is paired with an online guide that takes you through the steps involved to complete the repair yourself. iFixit says that Motorola is the “first major smartphone manufacturer ever” to supply official parts for its repair kits. You’ve long been able to buy parts from iFixit to help you repair your own device, but those parts haven’t been sourced directly from the company. That isn’t a problem as long as the parts work, but there’s certainly an added guarantee when they come straight from the source. Other companies are trying to stop DIY and third-party repairs It’s great that Motorola is willing to offer these parts through iFixit to help out customers who want to repair devices themselves. But there are a number of caveats here that have to be noted: for one, it would appear that you’d void your phone’s warranty if you attempt a repair and mess up, despite using official parts. So these kits are best for people who want to hang onto a phone for long after Motorola is still willing to service it. (The kits are mostly sold for old phones anyway, so that may not be a problem.) The kits are also more expensive than comparable kits for, for example, the iPhone, quite possibly because of this partnership. For the iPhone 7, a battery replacement kit costs $29 and a screen replacement kit costs $70. For Motorola, battery kits cost $40 and most screen kits sell for $100. You might still save money doing it yourself, but that’s potentially another downside — you have to do it yourself, and you might come across a warning like this in one of the online guides: “Injury may result if this procedure is not followed properly.” You’re accepting a certain amount of risk (for your phone, but also yourself) by trying to complete a repair on your own. iFixit’s site lists 17 total Motorola repair kits (though not all of them are on sale right away), covering devices including the Moto Z Force, Z Play, Droid Turbo 2, G5, and G4. Ultimately, even if DIY repairs can be a little tricky, it’s great that Motorola is supporting consumers’ ability to repair devices themselves at a time when other companies are trying to lock people out.
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The Verge
The NPC meme went viral when the media gave it oxygen
But the paradox of covering the internet today is that sometimes you have to Continue reading…
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The Verge
Misfit’s new smartwatch adds NFC and a standalone GPS for an extra $50
After the delayed and drawn-out launch of its first touchscreen smartwatch last year, Misfit is back with its successor. The company announced the Vapor 2 today, which will be available “soon” for $249.99. (That’s up from $199.99 last year.) Not much has changed from the first model, except this version supports NFC and its display features slightly more pixels per inch (328 versus 326 ppi). It also includes a standalone GPS versus one that required a smartphone connection. The new watch now comes in multiple sizes — 41mm and 46mm — compared to last year’s 44mm. Almost everything else about the watch is the same: it still features an AMOLED touchscreen, runs Wear OS, features a Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor, includes a heart rate monitor, and has Google Assistant built in. Basically, if the Misfit Vapor watch intrigued you last year but it was too big, you now have the option to size down and spend a little more money for it.
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The Verge
Prank calls brought ICE hotline to a standstill, internal emails show
When ICE launched an immigration crime hotline last year, the Trump administration pitched it as a way to provide resources to victims, but activists saw something else: an attack on the immigrant community. The hotline was part of the Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) Office, an outfit established in February 2017. When the office first launched a line for its services the following April, protestors flooded the hotline to call in pranks and slow down response times. The plan picked up even more steam as the protestors shared the hotline number online, encouraging others to call in with fake tips. “Wouldn’t it be a shame if millions of people called this hotline to report their encounters with aliens of the UFO-variety,” one activist wrote, as others suggested phoning in with information on Superman or ET. Wouldn't it be a shame if millions of people called this hotline to report their encounters with aliens of the UFO-variety. https://t.co/Cl048Gihnk— Alexander McCoy (@AlexanderMcCoy4) April 26, 2017 The campaign received some media coverage at the time, but ICE largely shrugged off the incident: the agency told the media that while the lines may have been “tied up,” there was ultimately “no disruption.” But that description sharply understated the effectiveness of the protest, internal emails and documents obtained by The Verge under the Freedom of Information Act show. Prank calls fully upended the system, leaving operators unable to answer more than 98 percent of incoming calls during the protest as the media relations team attempted to contain the narrative. In reports and emails produced in the first days of operation, ICE officials described an “overwhelming” amount of calls. The day after the launch, the office received more than 16,400. Of those, only a little more than 2,100 were placed into a queue, and only 260 answered. Callers in the queue waited as long as 79 minutes to reach an operator. An official noted that, should the rate of calls continue, they would need an additional 400 operators to field the hotline. The office received more than 16,400 calls one day By the next day, the number of incoming calls dropped to more than 9,400, but the office was still only able to answer about 3 percent. While the influx of calls likely tapered off, the documents don’t describe when. The agency had good reason to play down the effect of the prank calls publicly. In an email, an unnamed official described how any media coverage on the effect of the calls could exacerbate the problem. “The pranking issue has garnered some media attention, and the thought early on was not to give it any public pushback so as to avoid growing the issue even further,” the person wrote in a partially redacted email. The emails also show how ICE responded internally to the calls, discouraging reporters from covering the issue while discussing the possibility of providing crime victims as Fox News interview subjects to “balance” coverage. ICE declined to explain why it characterized the hotline incident as it did, but issued a statement on the protest generally. “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) established the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office to acknowledge and serve the needs of victims of crime with a nexus to immigration, and their families,” an ICE spokesperson said. “Unfortunately, when the VOICE hotline was established, we received many false or ‘prank’ calls, as well as calls from individuals who wanted to vent their frustrations about political issues and immigration policy. It is unfortunate that people chose this way to protest something they disagreed with, as this line was set up specifically to help crime victims seeking information and resources, many of whom have been impacted by serious crimes and are in great need of help and services.” “It is unfortunate that people chose this way to protest something they disagreed with” But the idea that the hotline was used primarily as a resource for victims is untrue. A substantial number of callers attempted to report on alleged crimes by immigrants, according to reporting by Splinter, as well as a quarterly report from the VOICE office. The office includes a disclaimer on its website that says its phone number is “not a hotline to report crime.” Still, the new documents suggest that, from the earliest days, ICE was aware the line would include information about alleged crime from immigrants, and included an option for phone operators to tag calls in that category. The reports show that, in the first days after launch, the number of callers actually seeking crime information was miniscule. On the second day after launch, after ICE created a new category to tag prank callers, only 0.6 percent of calls that came through were tagged by operators as “requesting victims services.” That category was not only eclipsed by the “other” tag, used for pranks, but by a tag for reporting crime, a category that operators said represented 6.7 percent of calls that day. “I reported I was being victimized by an immigrant living in NYC on my tax dollars,” one Twitter user wrote, calling in with a prank about Melania Trump as the thousands of other calls rolled in. “I feel like they’d heard it already.”
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The Verge
North is trying to become the Warby Parker of augmented reality glasses
Although few people seem to really want to wear smart glasses or goggles — think Google Glass or Snapchat Spectacles — a startup thinks it’s figured out the recipe to augmented reality success. North, which just rebranded from Thalmic Labs, is launching its first product today, called Focals, with the goal of starting a bunch of Warby Parker-esque stores that’ll sell lots of connected glasses. It’s trying to create the first pair of “everyday smart glasses.” When I meet Stephen Lake, CEO of North, at the company’s new Brooklyn, New York store last week, which was still under construction, he’s wearing Focals. I immediately scan his face to figure out where the display is and settle on a little spot on the right lens of his glasses that looks like a smudge. The photopolymer material that serves as the display location isn’t noticeable for the most part, but when it catches the light, it looks like the glasses need to be wiped down. I came to the store to try out the Focals buying experience for myself and to see what the casual smart glasses fuss is all about. The glasses show wearers a bunch of information from their phone; can call an Uber; and are extremely customizable to the point of requiring a 3D model of each wearers’ face to make them work. Lake and his team took me through the purchasing process, which involves sitting in a dark room surrounded by 16 cameras and one attendant. I had to put my hair back in a cotton headband (that I got to keep!) and line my face up with a pair of software-created glasses on a screen. The cameras then took a bunch of photos simultaneously to create a 3D model of my ears, nose, eyes, and face. I’m sure it’s really attractive! Photo by Ashley Carman / The Verge The first scan didn’t work, so the attendant had to put a separate plastic headband on me that helped guide the software to follow my ears. Photo by The Verge This worked, at last. And now, I could actually try on a pair of Focals. Each Focals pair features a tiny, color laser in the right arm that displays information from your phone over Bluetooth. That laser bounces off a piece of photopolymer material built into the glasses’ right lens, then heads into your eye. It creates a 15-degree viewing area that’s about 300 x 300 pixels. The glasses work more or less the same as Intel’s disbanded Vaunt smart glasses project in that both take advantage of retinal projection, meaning the image they display shines on the back of your retina, which leaves everything in focus. You’ll be able to wear Focals with or without prescriptions or with contacts. Focals won’t work with bifocals, however, and can only handle prescriptions between +2 and -4. Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge North built custom software for the glasses and designed the UI in-house. It’s colorful with slight animations that I think look nice. You can view your messages, send automated responses that North crafted through SMS, call an Uber, get turn-by-turn directions through Mapbox, view your calendar, and check the weather. The image will automatically disappear after three seconds of non-use, which I wish came with the option to be extended, but North’s team likes the idea of non-obtrusive technology that keeps us “centered in the real world.” Photo by Ashley Carman / The Verge Each pair has enough battery to last 18 hours, North says, and can be recharged only through their companion case. This case also charges the essential Focals accessory: the Loop. The Loop is a plastic ring with a joystick-like button that looks like any plastic smart ring you’ve seen on the market. It’s bulky and doesn’t look so nice, but it allows wearers to swipe through their glasses’ interface without having to touch their glasses or do something with their head. A ring makes way more sense to me, although again, it’s ugly. You can swipe through your notifications by pushing left or right on the Loop joystick and pressing down to make a selection. You can also use it to trigger Amazon’s Alexa assistant because yes, Alexa is built-in. The glasses have a microphone and speaker inside, so you can issue commands to Alexa and hear responses if necessary. (Amazon was a leading investor in North’s Series B funding.) Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge As far as the actual glasses, they’re stylish enough. They come in two styles and three colors, and each one includes a pair of clip-on sunglass lenses in either black or copper. It’s not a wide range of styles, but they’re definitely nowhere near the nerd levels of Google Glass or even Snap Spectacles. Everything about the glasses has to be customized. Lake tells me North runs a massive factory in Canada where they process orders and fit the frames and lenses to each wearer. Keep in mind that you have to keep the display directly in your line of sight or else it’ll disappear, so those measurements are crucial to the glasses’ success. Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge The demo pair I tried had a couple hiccups, like Alexa not immediately responding to my commands, but I didn’t hate the experience. It’s the most pleasing AR demo I’ve had and is definitely more calming than virtual reality. It feels manageable. That said, I’d be interested to test the glasses at night to see how bright the projector is. I’m also sad I’d have to wear that plastic ring to make the glasses work. And the price is a lot to take in. A pair costs $999, which includes lenses, the prescription, anti-glare coatings, and the fitting. You can apply to use insurance money against it, but still, that’s a lot of cash especially considering that glasses wearers are enjoying owning multiple pairs of cheaper frames. It’ll be for sale at the Brooklyn store or the company’s other location in Toronto, Ontario. Orders will take around two weeks to process once everything is up and running, and the first pairs will go out around the holidays this year, although only in the classic frame. The round frame will ship in 2019, as will prescription lenses. A laser being projected into my retina sounds like a futuristic thing, for sure, and I wouldn’t be surprised if more companies start exploring this space. It’s at least more pleasant than staring at an extremely bright display all day. But I don’t trust that every company is going to value an unobtrusive interface like North says it does. So once the glasses don’t automatically sleep after three seconds, maybe a floating display in front of my face all day won’t actually be so great. Correction 10/23, 8:34 AM ET: A prior version of this article referred to North as North Labs in some instances. We regret the error.
The Verge
How Amazon’s retail revolution is changing the way we shop
A guide to all the industries, product categories, and markets Amazon has dominated over the years In the course of a single generation, Amazon has grown from fledgling online bookseller to one of the most valuable and powerful corporations in modern history. The empire of CEO Jeff Bezos has grown so vast that critics, overseas regulators, and Washington politicians are all now wondering whether the company has become an unstoppable force, and what, if anything, is capable of reigning in its reach. A recent spat with Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) resulted in a minimum wage hike for tens of thousands of employees, but Amazon still operates largely without any meaningful checks on its power even as it aggressively expands into physical retail, the smart home, and warehouse and aviation robotics. Yet despite having a hand in so many different industries, consumers largely trust Amazon with everything from their personal information and buying habits to the literal conversations they have in their own homes. According to a study The Verge conducted in partnership with consulting firm Reticle Research last year, Amazon is the most-liked and trusted technology brand by a wide margin. One likely explanation there is that the company has a strong relationship with its customers, thanks in part to its zealous commitment to low prices and a seemingly never-ending quest to make modern life more convenient. Given that trust, Amazon has only escalated up its expansion into more industries and markets over the years, with that expansion accelerating since the introduction of the first Amazon Echo speaker with Alexa a little less than four years ago. To fully comprehend just how big the company has grown over the last 25 years, we’ve put together a guide on every major sector, product category, and market Amazon has entered into either by developing its own products or services, or by acquiring an existing provider with an established position. Of course, it wouldn’t be a comprehensive look back at Amazon without starting first with books — of the paper variety. newsteam - NTI Print books Amazon was founded in 1994 around Bezos’ desire to start an internet-based business, with the goal of selling items online emerging as an early and obvious inroad into the dot-com boom. A former Wall Street worker with electrical engineering and computer science degrees, Bezos zeroed in on books as a viable initial product category for his online store due to the universality of literature, the existing stock of print books, and the relatively low price of each unit. Bezos briefly considered naming his company Relentless.com — an early sign of the man’s tenacious business mindset — but friends and family suggested it was too malevolent sounding. Relentless.com, which Bezos bought roughly 24 years ago, still redirects to Amazon.com. The company now controls almost half of all print book sales in the US. Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge Ebooks, e-readers, and digital publishing While Amazon grew in the ‘90s largely thanks to its growing share of the print book market and its dominance of online book sales, it was its early investments in ebooks and e-readers that turned it into a digital publishing and book-selling powerhouse. Amazon began work on its first Kindle e-reader starting in 2004 under codename Fiona, with its internal Lab126 hardware division leading the product development process. The first device was released in November of 2007 and sold for $399. Amazon has since released numerous iterations of the Kindle, and it now dominates the e-reader market after edging out competing products from Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and others. Shortly after the first Kindle launched, Amazon premiered its Kindle Direct Publishing platform to let authors self-publish and sell books on Amazon. Two years later, the company launched its own suite of professional imprints called Amazon Publishing. Amazon now oversees tens of millions of self-published works on its platform and nearly two dozen imprints. In 2017, Amazon had more than 83 percent of all US ebook sales. Photo by Dan Seifert / The Verge Amazon Prime, Prime Video, and original content Amazon first entered the media industry as a major online retailer in the late ‘90s. The company began by selling CDs and DVDs to a burgeoning market of online shoppers who began turning to the internet for music and movies, before the technical feasibility of streaming and the advent of the iPod. But it wasn’t until 2005, with the initial launch of Amazon Prime, that the company began building out a digital media ecosystem that integrated directly into its online store. Prime started as a two-day shipping membership for devoted Amazon shoppers. It has since grown into a subscription service with over 100 million users, largely thanks to the additional perks the company has added to the platform over the years, including a Prime credit card now with 5 percent cash back. (Amazon also operates Amazon Pay for purchasing online goods elsewhere with your Amazon account, and the Amazon Cash service for translating cash into store credit using a barcode, although neither are restricted to Prime users.) Amazon Prime Video has grown into a veritable Netflix competitor Perhaps the most prominent Prime perk, however, is access to Amazon Prime Video. The video on-demand service started in 2006 as Amazon Unboxed, but was rebranded in 2008 and integrated into the Prime service three years later, where it became a huge selling point for Amazon’s annual subscription. It now boasts thousands of free TV shows, films, and games, all accessible on pretty much every screen available. Amazon Studios, which was founded in 2010 to compete with Hulu and Netflix in original programming, has become a powerhouse in Hollywood, taking home both Emmys and Oscars and growing into a staple of the modern entertainment diet of many Americans. Rounding out its position in digital media is the FireTV streaming device, which Amazon first launched in 2014 to compete with Apple, Roku, and other set-top box makers. The product has since been shrunk into a skinny HDMI stick — Amazon still sells the box and now also a small, square-shaped Fire TV Cube — and it remains one of the best-selling consumer electronics devices on Amazon.com. Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge Cloud computing Bezos and those he’s hired over the years have been prescient about a vast number of shifts in how people spend money, buy products, and use the internet. But none of their predictions may have panned out quite as lucratively as Amazon Web Services, the company’s cloud computing division that loans server space and other computing resources at massive profit margins. In addition to pulling in hosting revenue from companies like Disney, Netflix, and Spotify, AWS is also the backbone of the company’s own internal infrastructure and the underlying foundation for its Alexa digital voice assistant. It is a major competitor to Microsoft and its Azure platform, as well as Google’s cloud computing division and the cloud businesses of IBM and Oracle. AWS is so important to the integrity of the apps and websites we use that a rare S3 outage, which is the web hosting pillar of AWS, took out large swaths of the internet. AWS started way back in 2000 as a way to help other retailers manage e-commerce operations, but it soon expanded into much more when key project members managed to convince Bezos that improving and evolving Amazon’s own infrastructure may hold the key to a new business model. In 2006, the product as we know it today launched into public availability and proved to be a pioneer for the entire cloud computing industry, offering cloud storage, hosting, and a suite of other tools for managing entire digital infrastructures in remote data centers. The division now pulls in roughly $6 billion every quarter and continues to grow at breakneck pace. It earned $17.5 billion in revenue in all of 2017 and regularly outperforms the company’s entire North American retail division in terms of profit. Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge Smart speakers and AI Amazon is known today not just as the everything store, but as the creator of Alexa, one of the most pervasive digital voice assistants on the market today. As an extension of Alexa, Amazon has become more than just a seller of other people’s products. It’s now a hardware maker (Fire Phone aside), having embarked on its boldest product play since the original Kindle when it decided to develop its own line of smart speakers to house its artificial intelligence software. Once again, the division responsible for this piece of hardware was Lab126, Amazon’s hardware arm that gave it the tools to dominate the e-reader market nearly a decade prior. The first Echo came out in late 2014 as a Prime member exclusive, but in the four short years since, Amazon has developed dozens of different smart home products that revolve around the speaker and voice assistant format. Today, thousands of products integrate with the company’s Alexa platform to make use of its voice search and query capabilities. Just as it once foresaw e-commerce, streaming, and cloud computing as the future of the internet, Amazon saw AI as not just something that could live within the smartphone — as Apple established with Siri and Google with its Assistant — but also in the home. The Echo line and its Alexa assistant are Amazon’s avenues into our physical lives and our digital behaviors. With the data it collects, Amazon is able to better understand how we shop and how we want the devices of the future to listen, respond, and problem solve as if they were other human beings. Amazon has stiff competition in this space, primarily from Apple and Google, but its early investments in smart speakers and AI have helped Amazon overcome its absence in the key consumer markets like mobile, search, and social networks. As a result, Amazon has made early and tangible inroads in developing an ecosystem that customers will find increasingly hard to abandon down the line. Photo by Nick Statt / The Verge Twitch and live streaming Amazon was never going to be able to compete with Google’s YouTube in user-uploaded video content, and it didn’t have the social infrastructure of Facebook to become a destination where people discuss their lives and share videos from around the web. But what Amazon did have was the resources to purchase a company that was poised to outrun both Facebook and YouTube to a new type of business: live-streaming, in particular video games live-streaming. The pioneer of that market was Twitch, which Amazon purchased in 2014 for just shy of $1 billion. Twitch started in 2007 as a 24-hour live stream of co-founder Justin Kan’s life (he coined the term “lifecasting”) called Justin.tv, but it became very clear very quickly that live gaming content was more popular than pretty much anything else. In 2011, Twitch spun off gaming-centric channels as Twitch.tv, and it grew exponentially as online games and the technology to broadcast them on the internet became more widespread and popular. Amazon, seeing the obvious opportunity here, outbid none other than Google to become Twitch’s parent company three years later, with the AWS infrastructure reportedly a big part of why Twitch CEO Emmett Shear decided to take the deal. Now, four years later, Twitch has outlasted both YouTube and Facebook’s attempts to snatch away its market share and, given the popularity of titles like Epic Games’ Fortnite, has become an even more integral fixture of modern online life and youth culture. Amazon has more recently integrated Twitch into its Prime subscription, giving subscribers free games and complementary channel subscriptions. Photo by Michele Doying / The Verge Groceries, household supplies, and ever-faster shipping While Amazon was expanding into streaming video, hardware, and cloud computing, it simultaneously maintained an aggressive push into even faster shipping and all new retail formats. The company started its same-day shipping initiative, Prime Now, in New York City in 2014, and it’s since expanded it to dozens of cities around the world. Around the same time, Amazon began a program called AmazonFresh to stock and ship groceries — including vegetables and refrigerated and freezer products — that it used as a way to stay competitive with traditional big-box retailers like Walmart and Target and Uber-like logistics newcomers like Instacart. The company now sells its own line of meal kits through Fresh to rival ready-to-cook options from companies like Blue Apron and Plated. With Prime Pantry, which also launched in 2014, Amazon honed its focus on competing with the Walmarts and pharmacies of the world by giving Prime subscribers an easy way to fill one giant box with household supplies and other nonperishable goods. In 2015, Amazon launched a home services arm for everything from house cleanings and oil changes to furniture assembly and theater installation. Amazon’s move into offline retail has started a war with Walmart That same year, the company launched Dash buttons for instant reordering of products like laundry detergent, and it’s more recently been investing in new services that let package-carrying couriers unlock the truck of your car and even your front door. Most recently, Amazon has signaled an intention to disrupt health care by purchasing online pharmaceutical startup PillPack. All of this has helped Amazon grow its North American retail operation at an unbelievable pace; annual sales for the division more than doubled from $50.8 billion in 2014 to $106.1 billion last year. Yet the more monumental retail push occurred last summer, when Amazon purchased grocery chain Whole Foods for $13.7 billion and proved, yet again, that Bezos is willing and able to buy his way into a new market when it’s unfavorable to start from scratch. Amazon now uses Whole Foods’ grocery pick-up and delivery perks and in-store discounts as a way to reward its Prime subscribers. It’s also using its massive resources to lower Whole Foods prices, making it more competitive with Kroger, Target, and Walmart. In response, Walmart has begun investing heavily in e-commerce and grocery delivery to protect its turf from Amazon, setting the stage for an unprecedented retail war. Photo by Dan Seifert / The Verge AmazonBasics and private label products Amazon, with its unfettered access to troves of valuable consumer and seller data, came upon a rather interesting business model around 2009, when it launched a private label division under the name AmazonBasics. It started first with the items the company noticed people most often purchased without thinking too hard about the brand name, like batteries and HDMI cables. But as The New York Times reported this past summer, this proved to be a way to fast track a fledgling product category into a massive money-making top seller — AmazonBasics’ AA batteries now outsell Duracell and Energizer on Amazon.com after just a few years. Amazon now has more than 100 private label brands, some without the name Amazon even remotely attached, for product categories like clothing, dog food, and furniture. Yet AmazonBasics, and the Amazon Essentials clothing brand, remain the company’s biggest weapons in its war against offline retail. Just as Walmart, Target, and other stores launched their own private label brands for virtually every product imaginable, the company has done the same. (In 2015, it also launched an official Etsy competitor in the form of Amazon Homemade.) The difference is that Amazon has data to prove what’s popular and easy to sell, and free shipping to get people to buy it online instead of in the store. (That’s gotten the attention of the European Commission, which is looking into whether Amazon is harming competition by using data from its sellers to develop its own products.) You can now buy Amazon-produced electric kettles, toasters, office chairs, knife sets, neoprene dumbbells, comforters, suitcases — name a product you’d find in a Walmart, and it’s probably already made and sold under the AmazonBasics name. Earlier this month, the company started selling its own mattress, striking fear in the direct-to-consumer mattress startup market dominated by Casper and Tuft & Needle. Photo by Dan Seifert / The Verge Smart home appliances Amazon hasn’t been content stopping with smart speakers and just standard old appliances under its AmazonBasics brand. In its quest to put Alexa everywhere, the company now sells a dizzying number of smart home devices that go well beyond its core speaker and set-top box beginnings. First there was the Echo Dot, to help bring Alexa to analog speaker systems and get the voice assistant into more rooms of the home. Then there was the Echo Look, for AI-assisted outfit recommendations, and the Echo Show, which contained a display and camera for video chatting and was designed to be a hands-free screen for the kitchen. From there, the Echo line exploded. In the fall of 2017, Amazon launched an Alexa-powered alarm clock called the Echo Spot and a smart home hub in the form of the Echo Plus. Just last month, Amazon held another hardware event where it further amplified its assault on the traditional appliance industry and the smart home market simultaneously. In one brief keynote, the company announced a car infotainment device, yet more updates to the standard Echo speaker and Dot line, a subwoofer, a set of stereo amplifiers, a Chromecast Audio competitor, a smart wall clock, a smart plug, and a super-powered Slingbox-style device for over-the-air programming. Oh and lest we forget, Amazon also made a microwave with Alexa built in, using it as a model to start competing with companies like KitchenAid, LG, and Samsung by making Alexa the go-to voice assistant and AI hub for household appliances. In addition to building its own devices, the company also invests in startups through its Alexa Fund to scout new and promising entrants and product categories, and it’s acquired quite a few of those companies — including security cam startup Blink and smart doorbell maker Ring — to ensure it has every corner of the smart home covered. Photo by Nick Statt / The Verge Bookstores and experimental retail Amazon’s transformation into the world’s more pervasive retail operation wouldn’t be complete unless the company began a seemingly counterintuitive push from online to offline. Starting with its brick-and-mortar bookstores in 2015 — first in Seattle and now in Chicago and New York City — Amazon established its intent to compete on all fronts with its retail competitors. In late 2016, the company launched its first experimental Go store, which replaces cashiers with a computer vision system that automatically detects when you take products off the shelf and checks you out as you leave the store. Go now has two locations in Chicago, three in Seattle, and one that just opened in San Francisco today, with more planned in California and New York City over the course of the next year. Bloomberg reported in September that Amazon may open as many as 3,000 Go locations by 2021, with the goal of competing with stores like CVS and 7-Eleven, as well as fast casual and made-to-go meal establishments. The company is also now experimenting with brick-and-mortar stores that sell only four-star rated products from Amazon.com, starting with a location in New York City. Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images Logistics, delivery drones, and warehouse robotics Amazon would be nothing without its infrastructure. The physical and digital foundations of its business and the logistics operation to support it have allowed Amazon to grow faster than almost any other company in modern history, and in those areas you’ll find the company’s most forward-looking projects and costly endeavors. On the logistics side, Amazon has for years been building out a network of delivery workers, fulfillment centers, trucks, cargo planes, and freighters to move products from manufacturers to customers at speeds once thought impossible. The company is now facilitating sea freight shipments, leasing Boeing cargo planes, building a $1.5 billion air cargo hub in Kentucky, and expanding its own UPS and FedEx competitor called Shipping with Amazon, or SWA. All of this is an effort to establish a global logistics network that no one company will be able to compete with. When it comes to last-mile delivery, Amazon has publicly disclosed its work on drones and the Prime Air program to use those unmanned aerial vehicles to drop packages on our doorstep. The project has been in the works since 2013, and it’s hit a few snags as the regulation of US commercial drone operations has been a slow and often painful process for companies trying to get operations off the ground. Amazon is building a global logistics operation involving drones, planes, and freighters But Amazon has been testing its drones for years and performed the first public demo delivery in the US last year. Meanwhile, it continues to submit outlandish patents about its vision for the future of drone delivery, including one for a self-destructing drone that disassembles itself in an emergency and a delivery drone mothership of sorts that would act as a city’s central hub for package-carrying UAVs. Although the company did raise the minimum wage for all of its employees earlier this month, it’s plowing ahead on warehouse robotics and automation in a way that could fundamentally reshape how its lowest-paid employees perform work — and how many of those employees it needs to retain. Amazon now uses more than 100,000 robots in warehouses around the world to help move and organize products, according to The New York Times, and it also sponsors an annual robotics competition to help spur innovation in AI that could result in more dexterous and intelligent robots capable of performing complex physical tasks. As it stands today, Amazon employs more than half a million people, more so than any other technology company in the country and second only to Walmart in the US. But the eventual result of its investments in robotics and AI is that technology’s biggest and fast-growing workforce could see that growth start to slow and, perhaps years down the line, even shrink as robots tackle ever more complicated tasks. In the process, the company may develop robots for use outside its fulfillment centers. Amazon has already changed how we shop and, by extension, how we live our lives. Its next big step could be changing how we work.
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Nintendo is bringing Labo to schools across North America this year
When Nintendo first launched Labo, its line of DIY cardboard accessories for the Switch, many hailed the product’s potential for education. By building Labo kits, kids were able to learn new problem-solving techniques, understand how different technologies worked, and even start to grasp basic programming concepts. Now that potential is being put to use, as Nintendo has partnered with New York-based nonprofit the Institute of Play to bring Labo to actual classrooms. “We want this to be as turn-key as possible, to reach as many potential educators and as many potential students as possible,” explains Reggie Fils-Aimé, president and COO of Nintendo of America. As part of the partnership, Nintendo will be bringing Labo kits to around 100 schools in the United States, with the goal of reaching around 2,000 students during the 2018-19 school year. The Institute of Play, meanwhile, is creating a guide to help teachers integrate Labo into their lesson plans. (In Canada, Nintendo has partnered with an education company called Actua for a similar project.) “We’re really thinking of this as a teacher’s guide.” “What we’re not doing is writing a lock-step curriculum,” explains Arana Shapiro, co-executive director of the Institute of Play. “We’re really thinking of this as a teacher’s guide, so what we’re trying to do is create something that has enough examples so that teachers can feel like they can immediately do something in the classroom with Labo. But we also are trying to give enough support and structure so that teachers can be inventive with the ways they want to integrate Labo into their own classrooms.” Photo by James Bareham / The Verge The project is currently undergoing a pilot phase, and has been integrated in 11 schools in the New York area. According to Shapiro, things have gone well so far. “Immediately kids are excited and engaged and ready to go,” she says. “And the thing that I think is very special about Labo is the willingness to try things. You see kids fostering a kind of grit, where they keep going and going until they get it.” She adds that “the kids are all-in at the beginning, but the adults have a healthy amount of skepticism, and by the end they’re really excited about what they can do when we’re not there anymore.” Each of the Labo kits — there are three available to date, most recently the vehicle kit — follow a similar structure, which Nintendo has dubbed “make, play, discover.” You start by building the cardboard accessories by following a series of playful on-screen instructions, then you play with them on the Switch, using your new fishing rod or piano to play games powered by the tablet. After that, there’s a freeform mode called “toy-con garage,” where players can create new uses for the accessories or create their own accessories. With enough work you can build a cardboard guitar and play a song with it. Shapiro says that the teacher’s guide will have a similar structure, with enough room left so that educators have the freedom to tweak things to better fit their own lesson plans. The program will open up to around 100 schools following the New York pilot, and Nintendo will be providing Switch and Labo hardware for those selected. (Those who are interested can apply here.) Shapiro says that for the first wave of schools, the Institute of Play is looking to reach a range of different students and educators. “We’re trying to create a really diverse group,” she says. “Geographically diverse, socioeconomically diverse, we’re trying to do a mix of public and private schools. We’re trying to account for that diversity that we really want.” For those that aren’t selected, the teacher’s guide will be available for free to everyone later this fall. Photo by James Bareham / The Verge The idea of using video games in school isn’t new. There are special editions of Minecraft and Civilization built specifically for classrooms, and last year Ubisoft created a violence-free mode for Assassin’s Creed Origins, where players could explore a digital re-creation of Ancient Egypt. Meanwhile, Labo wasn’t actually created with learning in mind. “We didn’t plan on it turning out to be educational at all,” Kouichi Kawamoto, a producer on Labo, told The Verge back in April. But after receiving feedback from players, in particular educators who were interested in how they could utilize Labo, Nintendo decided to explore the idea of bringing its DIY line to classrooms. “We’re trying to create a really diverse group.” Fils-Aimé believes that the tactile, creative nature of Labo makes it uniquely suited for teaching STEAM concepts — an acronym for the fields of science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics — to a younger audience. “We think it’s important for kids to get exposure to STEAM, and especially the ‘arts’ part of STEAM,” he says. “Many educators across the country are talking about STEM, STEM clearly is important. The arts aspect, the hands-on aspect, is something that’s important to us.” This is somewhat new territory for Nintendo, though it does follow a much smaller initiative from 2016, where the company partnered with the San Francisco Public Library to offer Super Mario Maker-powered game design classes. Fils-Aimé says there’s no “broad plan” when it comes to Nintendo and education; instead, the company takes things on a case-by-case basis. “We’re certainly interested in making sure the youth of today have 21st century skills, that they are exposed to STEAM principles, that they are thoughtful in terms of critical thinking and creativity and collaboration and problem solving,” says Fils-Aimé. “Those things are important to us.”
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Nvidia delivers its self-driving car safety report to the feds
Nvidia, one of the world’s best known manufacturers of computer graphics cards, released its autonomous driving safety report on Tuesday. The Santa Clara-based company, which for several years has been engaged in a high-stakes venture to build the “brains” that power self-driving cars for major automakers like Volvo, Volkswagen, and Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler, is only the fifth company to delivery its voluntary safety report to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The report’s release was timed to coincide with Nvidia’s GPU Technology Conference in Washington, DC, this week. “We are dedicated to working with regulators to deploy self-driving technologies for safer, more efficient roads, and hope this collaboration will bring us closer to a new era of transportation,” a spokesperson said. “a new era of transportation” Some have said that Nvidia lost its early pole position in self-driving when Tesla dropped the chipmaker in favor of its own AI chip, and BMW chose Intel to be its AV tech supplier. But Nvidia has been a crucial, if less heralded, player in the self-driving space. While big names like Ford, Waymo, and GM’s Cruise tend to dominate the headlines, Nvidia has been making some splashy announcements of its own. In October 2017, the company announced the release of Pegasus, a drive system powerful enough to support full Level 5 automated vehicles that can be operated anywhere and anytime. Earlier this month, Volvo announced that it will use Nvidia’s Xavier computer for its next generation of autonomous vehicles. The 20-page safety report highlights the “four pillars” of Nvidia’s approach to autonomous driving technology: AI chips like Pegasus and Xavier that power the vehicles’ operations; data centers to process the massive amounts of data produced by fleets of self-driving cars; the company’s Drive Constellation simulation software to enable virtual world testing; and adherence to federal and international safety standards. the “four pillars” of Nvidia’s approach to autonomous driving technology One interesting section outlines Nvidia’s approach to human-machine interface and driver monitor, referred to as “Drive IX,” as an added layer of safety on top of the vehicle’s self-driving system. Nvidia’s Drive IX system can track a driver’s head and eyes to assess when they’re paying attention to the road, and can monitor blink frequency to assess drowsiness. Depending on a manufacturer’s preferences, Nvidia says the system can alert the driver using audio, visual, or haptic warnings to return their focus to the road. Drive IX can also monitor the environment outside the vehicle. If a driver is about to exit the vehicle without looking as a bicyclist approaches alongside, Nvidia says Drive IX provides an alert or physically prevents the door from opening until the bicyclist has safely passed. There is a disappointing dearth of details on Nvidia’s public road testing in the report. The company outlines the steps it takes before deploying a self-driving vehicle for testing, including safety crew training, and the use of a remote operations center to monitor the fleet’s progress. But it lacks any up-to-date statistics about miles traveled or the cities where it’s tested. (According to Nvidia’s last public disclosure with the California DMV, the company tested two vehicles, logged 505 miles of autonomous driving, and had 105 disengagements (when the vehicle’s system forces the human driver to take control). Nvidia doesn’t aspire to operate fleets of robot taxis Of course, Nvidia doesn’t aspire to operate fleets of robot taxis like some of the other players in the self-driving space. Rather it aims to build the best brains for these cars that it can, then turn around and sell to automakers and tech startups that hope to commercialize autonomous vehicles. Nvidia wants to be the go-to supercomputer for those who may balk at the enormous expense associated with becoming a “full stack” AV operator. “Our ability to combine the power of visual and high-performance computing with artificial intelligence makes us an invaluable partner to vehicle manufacturers and transportation companies around the world,” the company summarizes. Nvidia is only the fifth company to release its safety report under the voluntary guidelines created by the US Department of Transportation. Others include Waymo, the self-driving unit of Google parent Alphabet; General Motors; Ford Motor Company; and self-driving delivery startup Nuro. The vast majority of companies developing self-driving technology have yet to release their reports.
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Twitter’s lax account security should give pause to online activists
One reason I write this newsletter about social networks is to cover the new and exotic methods that state actors employ to bend the public to their will. Much of the conversation over the past two years has been around “troll farms” or “troll armies” — essentially, remote workforces that attempt to wreak havoc from their laptops on targets around the world. On Saturday we learned of a much more disturbing — and in-person — method of social media hacking. Katie Benner, Mark Mazzetti, Ben Hubbard and Mike Isaac had the tale of Ali Alzabarah, a Twitter engineer recruited by Saudi Arabia to use his position to identify government critics: Twitter executives first became aware of a possible plot to infiltrate user accounts at the end of 2015, when Western intelligence officials told them that the Saudis were grooming an employee, Ali Alzabarah, to spy on the accounts of dissidents and others, according to five people briefed on the matter. They requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. Mr. Alzabarah had joined Twitter in 2013 and had risen through the ranks to an engineering position that gave him access to the personal information and account activity of Twitter’s users, including phone numbers and I.P. addresses, unique identifiers for devices connected to the internet. Perhaps it had previously occurred to you that state actors would attempt to recruit engineers and other social-network employees as spies. I spent less time thinking about it than I probably should have! In any case, it’s chilling, and had real-world consequences. Alzabarah — who was fired, and now reportedly works for the Saudi government — accessed dozens of accounts, as part of a wide-ranging effort to identify the kingdom’s most influential critics and intimidate them into silence. Another part of this effort involved the consulting company McKinsey, best known as the place where your college friends spend two lazy postgraduate years before business school. As the New York Times reported, McKinsey assembled a 9-page report on the Saudis’ behalf naming prominent Saudi dissidents. One of the men named was arrested, along with two of his brothers, and the account of an anonymous critic was shut down. (McKinsey denied everything, rather weakly.) Facebook has spoken often in the past about the strict controls it places around user accounts in an effort to thwart the kind of attack that Alzabarah mounted. Every time a user’s data is accessed, Facebook logs which employ did so, and regularly audits the logs looking for suspicious behavior. At Twitter, things are much looser. Perhaps you have forgotten the time that a contract worker briefly deactivated President Trump’s account; I sure haven’t. Here is the seriousness with which Twitter takes account security, from my story last year: In the wake of Trump’s account deactivation shortly before 10PM ET on Thursday, former employees gathered in a private Slack that they use to discuss the company’s travails. The rogue employee, who has not been identified, was an immediate source of fascination. “We’re now referring to this individual as ‘the legend,’” one former employee told The Verge. At the same time, the former employee was not surprised by the incident. “People have ‘dropped the mic’ in the past and deleted accounts, verified users, and otherwise abused their power on the last day,” the employee said. In each case, the employee said, the abuse was caught quickly and did not become public. These “mic drops” were possible because of the broad availability of customer support tools inside Twitter. The company won’t say how many people have access to the tools necessary to deactivate an account like Trump’s — and after today, the number is likely much lower. But up until now, as many as hundreds of people have had access to the tools, which let employees see a broad range of information about the account. The access does not allow employees to send tweets from other users’ accounts, or to read a user’s direct messages. The man was eventually revealed to be a German citizen named Bahtiyar Duysak. He said that he had made a mistake. Still, when considered in light of the Times’ story about spying, it ought to give pause to the large group of people who use Twitter as a tool for activism. It ought to give pause to other social networks, as well. I asked around for other public cases in which a social network had caught a spy in its ranks, and came up empty. But it’s a safe bet that others have attempted the playbook that the Saudis have, and possibly succeeded — at Twitter and elsewhere. For activists who risk their freedom when they tweet, it’s a chilling reminder to take extra steps to protect their identities, lest they wind up in the next McKinsey report. And for Twitter, it’s another major embarrassment in a year that has had too many of them. Democracy Facebook Ads From Unknown Backer Take Aim at Brexit Plan Adam Satariano investigates more Facebook dark money: a group pushing Britain to exit the European Union in much starker terms than it has planned. Facebook says it will soon require British advertisers to confirm and disclose their real identities: In the past 10 months, the organization spent more than 250,000 pounds on ads pushing for a more severe break from the European Union than Mrs. May has planned. The ads reached 10 million to 11 million people, according to a report published on Saturday by a House of Commons committee investigating the manipulation of social media in elections. The ads, which disappeared suddenly this week, linked to websites for people to send prewritten emails to their local member of Parliament outlining their opposition to Mrs. May’s negotiations with the European Union. #TrollTracker: Criminal Complaint Filed Against Russian Troll Farm The Digital Forensics Research Lab digs in on the October 19th indictment of a Russian national in connection with an effort to interfere in the US midterm elections. Key point: Russia is spending more on its campaign this year than it did in 2016. (Fake accounts are getting more expensive!) The first financial detail included in the criminal complaint against Elena Khusyaynova showed that between January 2016 and June 2018, Project Lakhta’s proposed operating budget was more than two billion Russian rubles ($35 million USD). In the first half of 2018, the proposed operating budget was 650 million Russian rubles (over $10 million USD). Put simply, the budget for first half of 2018 nearly matched the total troll farm budgets from 2016 and 2017. The itemized budget requests, which Khusyaynova allegedly organized, increased every single month in 2018. How Political Campaigns Are Messing With Your Mind Sue Halpern surveys the political landscape post-Cambridge Analytica and finds any number of companies still invested in the same kind of psychographic targeting. And much of it looks much more invasive, on the surface, than anything Cambridge Analytica did: Judging personalities, measuring voice stress, digging through everything someone has ever said—all of this suggests that future digital campaigns, irrespective of party, will have ever-sharper tools to burrow into the psyches of candidates and voters. Consider Avalanche Strategy, another startup supported by Higher Ground Labs. Its proprietary algorithm analyzes what people say and tries to determine what they really mean—whether they are perhaps shading the truth or not being completely comfortable about their views. According to Michiah Prull, one of the company’s founders, the data firm prompts survey takers to answer open-ended questions about a particular issue, and then analyzes the specific language in the responses to identify “psychographic clusters” within the larger population. This allows campaigns to target their messaging even more effectively than traditional polling can—because, as the 2016 election made clear, people often aren’t completely open and honest with pollsters. “We are able to identify the positioning, framing, and messaging that will resonate across the clusters to create large, powerful coalitions, and within clusters to drive the strongest engagement with specific groups,” Prull said. Avalanche Strategy’s technology was used by six female first-time candidates in the 2017 Virginia election who took its insights and created digital ads based on its recommendations in the final weeks of the campaign. Five of the six women won. Snapchat is a popular source for news among college students Snapchat is a surprisingly popular place for kids to get news, according to new data from the Knight Foundation: In a survey of 5,844 college students from 11 US institutions, 89 percent said they got at least some of their news from social media over the previous week. And Facebook was the most popular outlet, with 71 percent of respondents saying they got news from the platform during that time period. Interestingly, Snapchat came in second place, with 55 percent of the students saying they had gotten news from the app during the past week. And YouTube, Instagram and Twitter followed, pulling 54 percent, 51 percent and 42 percent of respondents, respectively. YouTubers Will Enter Politics, And If They Do, They’re Probably Going To Win Ryan Broderick looks at the political success that a group of YouTubers have had getting elected to Congress in Brazil: Kim Kataguiri is known in Brazil for a lot of things. He’s been called a fascist. He’s been called a fake news kingpin. Is he a YouTuber? He definitely usesYouTube. He’s definitely a troll. A troll with a consistent message, though, he points out. Maybe he’s Brazil’s equivalent of Milo Yiannopoulos. His organization, Movimento Brasil Livre (MBL) — the Free Brazil Movement — is like the Brazilian Breitbart. Or maybe it’s like the American tea party. Maybe it’s both. Is it a news network? Kataguiri says it isn’t. But it’s not a political party, either. He says MBL is just a bunch of young people who love free market economics and memes. One thing is very clear: His YouTube channel, the memes, the fake news, and MBL’s army of supporters have helped Kataguiri, 22, become the youngest person ever elected to Congress in Brazil. He’s also trying to become Brazil’s equivalent of speaker of the House. YouTube Creator Blog: A Final Update on Our Priorities for 2018 YouTube’s head of product, Neal Mohan, tells YouTubers to oppose the European Union’s Article 13, which creates draconian new requirements on tech platforms to check for copyright infringement. This legislation poses a threat to both your livelihood and your ability to share your voice with the world. And, if implemented as proposed, Article 13 threatens hundreds of thousands of jobs, European creators, businesses, artists and everyone they employ. The proposal could force platforms, like YouTube, to allow only content from a small number of large companies. It would be too risky for platforms to host content from smaller original content creators, because the platforms would now be directly liable for that content. We realize the importance of all rights holders being fairly compensated, which is why we built Content ID and a platform to pay out all types of content owners. But the unintended consequences of article 13 will put this ecosystem at risk. We are committed to working with the industry to find a better way. This language could be finalized by the end of the year, so it’s important to speak up now. Elsewhere Former Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe is leaving Facebook Brendan Iribe, who led Facebook-owned VR company Oculus until 2016 before moving to lead its PC VR division, is leaving. He’s the 10th high-ranking Facebook to quit this year. Also leaving — an Interface exclusive! — is Oculus’ head of diversity and inclusion, Ebony Peay Ramirez. Ramirez, who worked at Oculus for four years, had her last day on Friday. Iribe was an Oculus co-founder, helping Rift inventor Palmer Luckey to launch the experimental headset on Kickstarter in 2012. He served as CEO until 2016, when he stepped down to lead Oculus’ PC-based Rift VR division, and the CEO position was replaced by a “Facebook VP of VR” role held by Hugo Barra. Iribe was conspicuously absent at last month’s Oculus Connect conference, where fellow co-founder Nate Mitchell handled press interviews — and where PC-based VR was basically an afterthought, compared to standalone mobile headsets. VRFocus confirms that Mitchell will lead the division going forward. Facebook On Hunt For Big Cybersecurity Acquisition ($) Reed Albertgotti and Sarah Kuranda say Facebook wants to make a big cybersecurity acquisition that it can point to during its next Congressional hearing. The company’s push comes in the wake of a devastating security breach that affected 30 million users, an incident that added to a litany of security and privacy concerns swirling around the social media company in recent months. Facebook is betting that a splashy acquisition of a security company might serve the dual purpose of bolstering its talent in that field and delivering a much-needed public relations win. It formed a team of people inside its corporate development department to search for cybersecurity companies that might be willing to be acquired, said one of the people familiar with Facebook’s strategy. A Facebook spokeswoman declined to comment. How the Blockchain Could Break Big Tech’s Hold on A.I. Nathaniel Popper looks at some blockchain companies that could challenge Google and Facebook. Or, at the very least, be acquired by them! Ocean Protocol, a project based in Berlin, is building the infrastructure so that anyone can set up a marketplace for any kind of data, with the users of data paying the sources with digital tokens. Unlike Google and Facebook, which store the data they get from users, the marketplaces built on Ocean Protocol will not have the data themselves; they will just be places for people with data to meet, ensuring that no central player can access or exploit the data. Outgoing Nextdoor CEO not amused by @bestofnextdoor How did I miss this amazing story about how the outgoing CEO of NextDoor, an extremely dumb social network for freaking out when you see a stranger walking down the block, getting mad about an extremely funny Twitter account that posts said freakouts? Well, I did. Read it: “I was surprised [that] this was the first time Nirav has publicly acknowledged @bestofnextdoor!” Jenn Takahashi, the parody account’s creator, tells The Verge. “I heard through the grapevine that he wasn’t a fan of the account, and I’m still not sure why. “I did meet up with the [Nextdoor] head of community recently and really tried to emphasize that I’m not trying to take them down or anything,” she adds. “I only post things to make people laugh, and I do my best to retract private info and protect their users’ privacy. I get a ton of really depressing submissions (I’m sure you can imagine), but I don’t post those, because I’m just trying to bring a little bit of levity back to the internet.” Launches Slack engineer figures out way to load messages into a 1995 SNES game Let’s be serious: Bertrand Fan’s “Slack on a SNES” project is the best thing Slack has launched in 2018. Takes Facing Facebook’s Failure David Kirkpatrick, who wrote the defining early history of Facebook, reconsiders his book in light of the past two years. He finds the company too slow to act and too defensive, with no clear answers for what should come next. The last 150 years of global progress towards universal democracy may be imperiled. But it’s not only Facebook’s fault. And the company can’t fix the problems alone. Karen Kornbluh served as U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) under President Barack Obama and is now senior fellow for digital policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. “The leaders of Facebook are being asked by the market to generate growth and continued profits,” Kornbluh explains, “but so far there’s no clear ask from society or government to do anything different. Their motto of ‘move fast and break things’ made sense for an internet that was a tiny piece of the economy and society. But when our whole lives moved online, we needed to have a societal conversation. And we didn’t have that. Shame on all of us. So the question, really, is what is society going to do?” An Alternative History of Silicon Valley Disruption Reviewing three recent books about labor, the economy, and Silicon Valley giants, Nitasha Tiku reconsiders the meaning of “disruption.” It is only now, a decade after the financial crisis, that the American public seems to appreciate that what we thought was disruption worked more like extraction—of our data, our attention, our time, our creativity, our content, our DNA, our homes, our cities, our relationships. The tech visionaries’ predictions did not usher us into the future, but rather a future where they are kings. They promised the open web, we got walled gardens. They promised individual liberty, then broke democracy—and now they’ve appointed themselves the right men to fix it. No, A.I. Won’t Solve the Fake News Problem Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis, professors of neural science and computer science, respectively, tell Facebook not to rely on artificial intelligence to clean up the News Feed: To get to where Mr. Zuckerberg wants to go will require the development of a fundamentally new A.I. paradigm, one in which the goal is not to detect statistical trends but to uncover ideas and the relations between them. Only then will such promises about A.I. become reality, rather than science fiction. And finally ... Today we celebrate three incredible tweets, in ascending order of how good they are. You have to know your video games to understand Elon Musk’s social-networking analogies, but even then it barely coheres as an idea. I’m sharing this mostly because I find it extremely amusing that Elon Musk played Bloodborne, one of the hardest games I have ever played, and thought to himself, “this is exactly like Twitter.” Twitter is Dark Souls of social media. Reddit is Bloodborne. Insta is Zelda.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 21, 2018 Is this real or fake? I don’t care because it looks like they really did catch a Snapchat. They done caught a snapchat https://t.co/zkxKV1indo— Tᴡᴇɴᴛʏ ᴊᴜᴀɴ sᴀᴠᴀɢᴇ (@juannisaac) October 20, 2018 Finally, this little girl trying and failing and eventually succeeding at using her Amazon Echo is the best thing I saw all day. My heart ❤️Watch this little girl try so hard to get Alexa to play her jam #babyshark This is so cuteRETWEET! pic.twitter.com/dGk8joS5Um— StanceGrounded (@_SJPeace_) October 21, 2018 Talk to me Send me tips, comments, questions, and the names of foreign agents who have been placed inside your company: casey@theverge.com.
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Apple iPhone XR review: better than good enough
Big screen, small compromise Here’s a question: how much do you care about the display on a phone? Take a moment and really consider it. If you were to put a dollar amount on it, how much would having a perfect display be worth to you? Apple has an answer, and it’s $250. That’s the price difference between the new iPhone XR and Apple’s top-of-the-line iPhone XS — the price difference between the XR’s 6.1-inch “Liquid Retina” LCD screen and the 5.8-inch OLED screen on the XS. Apart from the display, the iPhones XR and XS are far more similar than not: they share the same A12 Bionic processors, the same main cameras with Smart HDR, the same iOS 12, the same gesture controls, the same wireless charging capabilities, even the same forthcoming dual-SIM support. There are some other subtle differences as well, of course: the XR has but a single rear camera, while the XS has a second telephoto lens. The XR is offered in just one somewhat large size, while the XS comes in smaller and larger variants. And the XR is made of aluminum instead of stainless steel, which allows it to come in a wide variety of colors, ranging from white and black to blue, coral, yellow, and red. Those differences are interesting, and worth pulling apart, but really, the simplest way to think about the iPhone XR is that it offers virtually the same experience as the iPhone XS for $250 less, but you’ll be looking at a slightly worse display. So. How much do you care about the display on your phone? Look. The display on the iPhone XR is… fine. It’s fine! It has lower resolution and pixel density than the OLEDs in new flagship phones like the iPhone XS, Galaxy S9, and Pixel 3, but it’s the same 326 pixels per inch as Apple’s previous non-Plus LCD iPhones. Anyone coming to this phone from any iPhone save the iPhone X will not notice a huge discrepancy in resolution. I suspect most people will find it totally acceptable. That’s not to say it matches the quality of previous iPhone LCDs. The iPhone XR LCD definitely shifts a little pink and drops brightness quickly when you look at it off-axis, which often leads to a bit of a shimmery effect when you move the phone around. I noticed that shimmer right away, but I had to point it out to other people for them to see it; it’s one of those things you might not notice at first but you can’t un-see. Apple told me the XR display should match previous iPhone LCDs in terms of performance, but side-by-side with an iPhone 8 Plus, the off-axis shifts are definitely more pronounced. You will also definitely notice the huge bezel around the entire display, which flows into the notch. As with Apple’s other X-series phones, the notch houses the FaceID system and the front-facing camera, and generally fades from notice after just a few hours of regular use. But the bezel... well, you’re going to notice that bezel every time you see an iPhone X or XS anywhere near your phone. It’s very large, and it definitely makes the iPhone XR seem less premium than the iPhone XS. To be clear, the bezel is there for a reason: it houses the LCD backlight. Apple did a lot of custom engineering to pack a dense array of LED backlights into that bezel, and tucked the display controller up under the display itself to eliminate the need for an unsightly chin, which virtually no other phone manufacturer has been able to avoid. The tradeoff? Well, the bezel, and a Lightning port that’s vertically off-center on the bottom. Apple’s also done some extremely detailed work to make the rounded corners of the LCD perfectly match the corners of the phone itself — work I desperately wish other companies would do. (Most other phones with rounded corners have mismatched radii, and the Pixel 3 XL has different corner radii at the top and bottom, which to me looks far worse than any chunky bezel.) The iPhone XR doesn’t have a chin, but the tradeoff is that bezel It’s somewhat easier to round the corners of an OLED panel: each pixel is its own light source, so you can turn them off individually around the curve to smooth it out. You can’t do that with an LCD panel because there’s just one single backlight for the entire display, which will shine through the black pixels along the edge. So Apple built little apertures for the pixels around the corners of the XR display to mask some of the light coming through, on top of antialiasing the curve in software. It’s a neat example of Apple’s attention to detail. Photo by Becca Farsace / The Verge The pixels around the corner of the iPhone XR display All of that backlight engineering means that Apple had to remove 3D Touch, which worked by sensing pressure on the backlight on previous LCD iPhones. Instead, there’s something Apple calls Haptic Touch, which is really just a fancy name for “long press with haptic feedback.” Apple’s Taptic Engine haptic system is the best in the industry, and the effect is pretty convincing, especially on the lock screen shortcuts for the camera and flashlight. I use 3D Touch to scroll around text fields by pressing down on the XS keyboard quite often, and while that doesn’t work on the XR, it’s just as easy to long-press on the space bar to invoke the cursor control feature. Haptic Touch does not have equivalents to everything 3D Touch can do, however — I missed previewing links in Safari and Twitter quite a bit. Apple told me it’s working to bring it to more places in iOS over time, but that it’s going slow to make sure the implementation is right. 3D Touch is one of those Apple technologies that never really went beyond the initial rollout, so I think it’s a toss up as to whether the company sticks with it or moves to an extended Haptic Touch system across the board. The XR display is very much an Apple LCD, but it’s not as good as Apple’s OLEDs All that said, I’ve always been a fan of how accurate and balanced Apple’s LCDs are compared to the OLEDs on most Android phones, and the XR is definitely another Apple LCD. If you’re coming from an iPhone 6, 7, or 8, it will look very familiar. But it’s simply not as good as Apple’s OLEDs. It doesn’t have the deep black levels or infinite contrast of the iPhone XS, it doesn’t support HDR or Dolby Vision video playback, and in general, you can always see the border between the bezel and the edge of the display, even with a dark background. Even with Apple’s True Tone color calibration turned on, it’s always a little warmer than my XS. And there’s that off-axis color shift and shimmer. But again: it’s basically just fine. You have to really care about displays to notice some of these things, and even then you might have to go looking. If it really bothers you, you can spend $250 more on an iPhone XS. Left to right: iPhone XS, iPhone XR, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone 8 The other major consideration with the XR is size: it’s a strange new size of iPhone. The XR sits right between the old iPhone 6-sized phones and the bigger Plus models. I have big hands, so this feels like a nice size compromise, but if you’ve had one of the smaller phones, the XR is definitely going to feel much bigger. If you’re a small phone person, you’re basically going to be stuck with a last year’s iPhone 8 or paying more for an iPhone XS, which is a bummer. If you’ve been using a Plus phone, you’ll notice that you get some of the Plus interface features like side-by-side list views in apps like Messages, which is nice. The XR also comes in a bunch of colors — our all-black review unit looks extremely sleek, but I’ve gotten a chance to play with all the other colors and they’re all very pretty. I like the blue and the coral the best, and the Project Red model is striking. Apple hasn’t made any cases for the iPhone XR yet The XR also has the same redesigned wireless charging coil as the XS, which offers faster charging on the same pads compared to older iPhones. It also has IP67 water resistance, which is a little worse than the IP68 rating of the iPhone XS, but fine for the occasional splash. And it has Apple’s new “wide stereo” speaker system, which uses the earpiece speaker and bottom speaker as a matched pair. It’s a little less loud than the iPhone XS Max, but it’s still quite a bit of volume for a phone. The XR screen has the same improved glass Apple uses on both sides of the iPhone XS, which the company claims is “the most durable ever,” but the glass back is the older formulation used on the iPhone X. So… it’s slightly less durable than the front, by definition. You might want a case, but be aware that Apple doesn’t have any of its own cases yet. There will be third-party XR cases in Apple stores at launch, but it’s a little strange for the company to miss out on such an easy moneymaker. In fact, the entire accessory ecosystem for the iPhone X and now the XR is a little thin. There’s never been a battery case for the X, which I’m told is related to Apple protecting antenna performance, so we’ll see if any appear for the XR. There are vanishingly few Lightning accessories in general, and somewhat infamously, there are no third-party competitors to Apple’s failure-prone Lightning headphone dongle, which is no longer included in the box. (I think we’re in for another round of headphone annoyance here, as there are far more iPhone 6S units in the world than people expect, and the XR seems like the logical upgrade from that phone.) If the XR is as popular as it seems like it will be, the accessory market will grow very quickly, but if you’re rushing to buy one at launch, just be aware that not everything is there yet. Apart from the lack of a second telephoto lens on the back of the XR, the cameras are the same as the main cameras on the iPhone XS. There’s a 7-megapixel f/2.2 selfie camera on the front, and a 12-megapixel f/1.8 camera on the back, all using Apple’s new Smart HDR system that rivals Google’s HDR+ on the Pixel 3. Apple insists that the XR’s cameras and software are exactly the same as the the XS, so there shouldn’t be any differences in how they perform. Apple’s Smart HDR system is more aggressive than any other smartphone camera I’ve used This is actually our third time looking critically at these cameras and Smart HDR, after the iPhone XS review and the Pixel 3 review, and it’s clear that Apple is chasing a very different look than Google and Samsung. Like the XS, iPhone XR photos look incredibly even and preserve highlight and shadow detail more aggressively than any camera I’ve ever used before, at the expense of contrast. It’s a conscious aesthetic decision, according to Apple — the company knows Smart HDR photos look different from traditional photos that have lots of contrast, but the bet is that people will get used to it and eventually prefer this look. And in some cases, I prefer it to the Pixel 3. Photo by Nilay Patel / The Verge Photo taken on iPhone XS Max In practice, Smart HDR flattens highlights and lifts shadows to make everything look evenly lit, and that process can reduce detail and make photos look a little bit artificial. Look at this photo I casually took with the iPhone XS Max while we were shooting our review video — this was just taken under some skylights in a bar, but Smart HDR has lifted the shadows so much that it looks like we were in a photo studio with professional lights. That’s wild. Here’s the selfie Verge video producer Mariya Abdulkaf is taking in that photo: compared to the Pixel 3, Smart HDR on the iPhone XR has lifted the shadows so much that it looks like we had a fill flash, and there’s a ton of missing detail. (Apple told me that the forthcoming iOS 12.1 update, currently in public beta, will address the issue of the front camera appearing to smooth out skin by picking a sharper base frame for Smart HDR, but I wasn’t able to test it yet.) Smart HDR can also by stymied by challenging lighting conditions. Shooting subjects in the shadows against bright backgrounds tends to result in strange exposures, loss of detail, and lots of noise. And shooting in low light can sometimes generate a usable photo that deviates from what a scene actually looks like. I think most people would prefer the iPhone photo above, but it also doesn’t actually look like reality: the iPhone found Mariya’s face, exposed it correctly with the right skin tone, and then flattened all the highlights and lifted all the shadows to make the scene look bright and even. Again, it kind of looks like we brought studio lights to the bar and properly lit the photo. The Pixel 3, on the other hand, does a much better job of capturing the strange red light and shadows in the room, even if the photo is a lot darker and arguably worse. Do you want a nicer photo or a more accurate representation of reality? Only you can look into your heart and decide. I rarely take zoom photos, so I didn’t miss the telephoto lens from the iPhone XS at all — especially since the iPhone XR can still take portrait photos with its single lens. In fact, I preferred the XR’s portrait mode to the XS, because the XR’s brighter f/1.8 lens and larger image sensor is much better in low light than the telephoto camera the XS uses for portrait shots. The quality of XS portrait mode shots tends to drop fairly quickly in low light, but the XR is actually pretty respectable. And the XR also takes wider angle portrait shots than the iPhone XS or the Pixel 3, which I find tremendously useful. The XR’s portrait mode also has Apple’s nice fall-off blur, which looks far more like real bokeh than the sort of bad cut-out blur you see from the Pixel 3. I don’t ever really use portrait mode on any of these cameras, and I don’t think any of it looks terrific or perfectly convincing, but the XR’s portrait mode is by far the most flexible and useful of the bunch. The XR’s portrait mode is more flexible and useful than the XS The iPhone XR shares the same industry-leading video features as the XS: it can shoot in 4K60, and it records stereo audio. When you record in 24 or 30fps, it captures interframes for greater dynamic range. If you’re the sort of person who wants to take a lot of video with a smartphone, an iPhone is the way to go. Overall, I think most people who are in the market for an iPhone XR will be happy with its camera — it’s a significant update from previous iPhone cameras, and, like the XS, it makes the iPhone X look downright bad. But the Pixel 3 still produces winners more consistently, and I prefer the more contrasty, natural look of its photos. And I’d much rather have the Pixel 3’s wide-angle selfie lens than the telephoto lens on the XS. We’ll have to see if Apple’s aggressively flattened photos take over Instagram and push everyone else to change their looks. The iPhone XR offered basically identical performance to the XS as I used it day-to-day, and even hit basically the same benchmark numbers in some quick tests. It has slightly less RAM than the XS at 3GB instead of 4, but it’s pushing far fewer pixels, so it didn’t seem to matter. The biggest performance jump you’ll notice is web rendering times; the A12 is lightning-fast at Javascript and due to get even faster with a Safari update. Overall, Apple’s chips are so far ahead of the industry that it’s clear the A12 Bionic has tons of headroom to spare; this phone should feel fast for a few years. The XR also has a larger battery than the X and XS, and it ran for about 13 hours in my everyday use of browsing, email, Slack, and various apps, with about 6 hours of screen on time, which is about the same as the XS Max and slightly more than the 8 Plus from last year. The battery lasted 13 hours under normal use The only major performance difference between the XR and XS is LTE: the XS supports Gigabit LTE speeds, and the XR does not. Gigabit LTE can provide faster network speeds if your carrier supports it, but even if it doesn’t, phones with gigabit are traditionally better at holding onto a connection in weak signal areas. I’m not equipped to test this head-to-head, but if network performance is a concern to you at all, it might be worth spending more for the XS. I also couldn’t test dual-SIM support, since it’s not available yet, but Apple did show me an XR that was running on both Verizon and AT&T’s networks. We’ll have to test this out much more thoroughly when that feature ultimately ships. iPhone XS (left), iPhone XR (right) If one thing is clear about the iPhone XR, it’s that Apple is going to sell tons of these. They’re huge upgrades from the iPhone 6 era of Apple phones, with the latest processors and cameras, a big screen in an updated design, and a competitive opening price of $750 for the 64GB model. That’s $50 less than the smaller Pixel 3. It’s priced to move. When I first picked up the iPhone XR, it felt like the big questions would be about what the XR was missing compared to the XS. But now that I’ve used this thing for a while, that seem like the wrong way to think about it. The real question for iPhone buyers is whether the high-res OLED display on the XS is worth $250 more than the XR. Because otherwise, the XR offers almost everything you’d want in a 2018 phone. Most people can probably find a better way to spend $250 than infinite black levels If you do care about screens, you can spend $50 more on a Google Pixel 3 and get a better camera and better, smaller display. You can often find the Samsung Galaxy S9 with a high-res OLED screen for less than $700, if you’re willing to compromise slightly on camera quality. And, of course, you can upgrade to the iPhone XS for an extra $250, and get host of other smaller improvements in addition to one of the industry’s best displays. Personally, I would pay the extra money for a better OLED screen in a heartbeat, because I am extremely picky about displays. But I think most people can find way better ways to spend $250 than on things like infinite black levels and 60 percent wider dynamic range when viewing photos. And in that case, the iPhone XR is a no-brainer upgrade. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. For more information, see our ethics policy.
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HTC’s blockchain phone is ready for preorder
HTC just announced actual specs for its much-hyped blockchain phone, the Exodus 1, and is letting people sign up for preorders. The phone contains a wallet that’s kept in a secure area “protected from the Android OS,” according to a press release, which can be used to hold the keys to your cryptocurrency and tokens like CryptoKitties. The phone was first announced back in May as one of the company’s more intriguing projects. Back then, HTC’s chief decentralized officer Phil Chen said each Exodus phone would act as a node to facilitate bitcoin trading among users. He also stated that the phone would allow you to “own your own identity.” But none of that is happening now. Instead, the Exodus 1 simply has a part of the phone partitioned... Continue reading…
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Dyson to build electric car manufacturing plant in Singapore
British company Dyson, best known for premium appliances, is moving ahead with its plans to build an electric car. The firm announced today that board members have approved the construction of its first car manufacturing plant in Singapore, with the “purpose-built advanced [..] facility” due for completion in 2020. Dyson first announced it would be entering the automotive industry in 2017, with the company’s founder James Dyson saying that the new cars would be “radically different” to current electric vehicles. Reports earlier this year suggest the company has ambitions for a whole range of EVs, with a first, high-end model followed by two less expensive vehicles designed for the mass market. It may seem an unusual step for the company, but it has experience building the essential components of electric cars, including long-lasting batteries and digital motors (that is the firm’s term for its brushless DC motors; a format already used in many electric vehicles). Dyson needs to build on this engineering expertise to construct its EV, and plans to hire an additional 300 automotive vacancies at its new R&D center in Hullavington in the UK. In a letter to employees, Dyson’s CEO Jim Rowan said that construction on the new Singapore manufacturing plant would begin in December. Rowan cited the country’s access to high-growth markets, skilled workforce, and extensive links with supply chains as reason for choosing the location. “It is therefore the right place to make high quality technology loaded machines, and the right place to make our electric vehicle,” said Rowan.
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Amazon’s latest cashier-less Go store opens in San Francisco today
Amazon’s latest experimental Go convenience store is opening today in San Francisco, adding the Bay Area city as the third after Chicago and Seattle in the company’s ongoing offline retail expansion. The store, located at the corners of California and Battery in the city’s financial district, is modeled much like the five existing locations. It largely serves prepared food, snacks, and drinks, with a focus on Amazon’s own line of sandwiches, salads, and meal kits. But the big innovation is its complete removal of the checkout process. Instead of standing in line and paying a cashier, cameras and sensors track your movements through the store after you’ve scanned your Amazon account at the front and monitors when you take items off shelves. When you leave, you’re charged for what you’ve taken and given a digital receipt through Amazon’s standalone Go app. I took a tour of the 2,300-square-foot location late last week, when its windows were covered and its existence largely a secret until the San Francisco Chronicle revealed the address on Thursday using property records. The interior is that of a very nice convenience store, with some seating and microwaves up front for warming up frozen pre-made food and eating in if you so choose. As for checkout, everything worked as advertised. I used the Amazon Go app to walk through a set of automated doors near the front, and from there I picked up an Amazon-made chicken bánh mì sandwich and walked right back out without any hassle. Photo by Nick Statt / The Verge The store’s motto is “Good Food Fast,” and the app even tracks how long you spent during each visit as a kind of brag about the efficiency of the cashier-less model. Dilip Kumar, Amazon’s vice president of technology for Amazon Go, told me that the core focus of the Go model is to save people time. “How crowded [the store] is no longer is a function of how long it’s going to take,” Kumar told me. With Go stores, the company wants to eliminate the concept of a morning or lunch rush, as well as the notion that you have to restrict what you buy and where you eat based on how much time you have to wait in line, place an order, and wait for it to be prepared. It’s clear from the layout of the store and its upscale presentation that, at least in San Francisco, Amazon is aggressively targeting delis, cafes, casual lunch spots, and drug stores with its Go model. Stocked at the California Street location is pretty much everything you’d find at a 7-Eleven, with a small and seemingly hand-picked selection of goods you might more readily find at, say, a Walgreens. For instance, you can head to the Go store to purchase a can of Pringles, or maybe some chapstick, and choose from a pretty basic selection of cold medicine. You can also buy bread, milk, and cheese. Amazon is aggressively targeting delis, cafes, lunch spots, and drug stores But the focus is more on the fresh food. The quality and selection of the ready-to-eat food is designed to be wide-ranging and competitive with the lunch selection in a downtown urban center. Amazon has a staff of workers and a full kitchen in the back of the store, and each day it makes fresh items that you might be willing to pay made-to-order prices for. That includes sushi, breakfast burritos, salads, and an assortment of sandwiches, among other snacks, candy, and desserts. The company has stocked the store with more expensive ready-to-cook kits from its Blue Apron-style meal service, which were restricted to online ordering until the launch of the first Go store in late 2016. Amazon has also partnered with local third-party restaurants, including bakery La Boulangerie and South Indian restaurant chain Dosa, to flesh out its inventory with pastries, yogurts, hummus, and other options. It even partnered with a local chocolate maker to make a San Francisco-centric brand of Amazon Go chocolate. Ultimately, Amazon hopes its cashier-less model proves convenient enough, and its food and product selection appealing enough, to draw people away from the tried-and-true chains we’ve become accustomed to. The company is not necessarily trying to replace the 7-Elevens and Walgreens of the world, at least not yet. And a Go store is a far cry from a fast casual restaurant or a traditional restaurant with counter service. Rather, right now it seems like Go stores are an avenue for Amazon to establish a stronger foothold in offline retail, just like its physical bookstores in Seattle and New York City and its acquired Whole Foods locations give it a strategic footprint in groceries and paper books. Photo by Nick Statt / The Verge Of course, down the line, Amazon could use its Go model as a way to aggressively expand its brick-and-mortar operation if the stores prove especially successful and capable of handling high volumes of shoppers. Bloomberg reported in September that the company plans to open thousands of locations over the next three years in what would be a remarkable escalation of Amazon’s offline retail rivalry with Walmart, grocery chains, and even the traditional restaurant and fast food industries. We’re not quite there yet. But Amazon is starting to move faster, and in the process its transforming from an e-commerce giant to a true, do-everything retail operation. The company has already planned its second San Francisco location at a site basically around the corner from its current one, at 98 Post Street. It will be slightly smaller than the first one, and it’s opening this winter, the company says. Meanwhile, in Chicago, Amazon is opening its third Go store at the Illinois Center in 2019. That will bring is total number of stores up to eight, with at least one location planned for New York City some time in the next year.
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Qualcomm announces Snapdragon 675 with faster cores and triple-camera support
Qualcomm has announced the Snapdragon 675, a mid-range smartphone SoC with some high-end features. Perhaps most notable is the fact that its new Kryo 460 architecture is built around ARM’s Cortex-A76 cores, which are designed for flagship devices and haven’t yet made their way into a Qualcomm chip. (The first major SoC with A76 is Huawei’s Kirin 980.) The Snapdragon 675 has two performance-focused cores at 2.0GHz alongside six 1.78GHz cores designed for power efficiency. For comparison, the current flagship Snapdragon 845 uses four 2.8GHz performance cores based on the Cortex-A75, so it’ll still be a lot faster. The 845 is also built on a 10nm process versus the 675’s 11nm. But as Anandtech notes, it’s unusual to see Qualcomm launch a new CPU design on a mid-range product, particularly considering that the results will probably outperform the ostensibly higher-tier (and not exactly old) Snapdragon 710. Cores aside, the Snapdragon 675 appears to have designed for the reality that high-end features are no longer the exclusive preserve of flagship phones. The new image signal processor has been built with triple-camera setups in mind, while there are gaming enhancements for specific titles that sound similar to Huawei’s GPU Turbo optimizations. The 675 also includes Quick Charge 4+ support and a faster AI engine. Qualcomm expects the Snapdragon 675 to make its way into consumer phones in the first quarter of 2019, so don’t be surprised if it seems like every new device has three cameras on the back by then.
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