How to use Plex to manage and play all of your media, everywhere

If you want a Netflix-like experience for the media you already own, you need Plex. It's the free media center software that automatically catalogs and plays your movies, music, photos, and more, on your TV. Here's how to use it.

The post How to use Plex to manage and play all of your media, everywhere appeared first on Digital Trends.

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Kylie Jenner calls out Alex Rodriguez for ‘rich’ comment at Met Gala
"We only spoke about Game of Thrones," she tweeted.
9 m
New York Post
Europe braces for dangerous, record-setting heat wave
A dangerous and potentially deadly heat wave is sending the mercury soaring as high as 113 degrees in parts of Europe this week. Countries including France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Poland, Belgium and Austria will see record-setting temperatures in the 90s and even higher. French meteorologist Guillaume Woznica predicted Nîmes and Carpentras in the southern part...
New York Post
Fans who rushed Cody Bellinger say it was 'worth it,' Dodgers star says antics 'could be dangerous'
Los Angeles Dodgers star Cody Bellinger has been on the receiving end of some unwanted hugs from adoring fans who have rushed the field to greet the outfielder.
Apple News debuts a guide to the 2020 Democrat hopefuls
Apple wants you to take its news service seriously. To demonstrate its potential beyond a simple headline aggregation platform, it's launched its own candidate guide ahead of the 2020 Democratic debates. The guide contains facts, biographies and cand...
Engadget | Technology News, Advice and Features
California Today: In a Changing San Francisco, Keeping L.G.B.T.Q. Communities Alive
Wednesday: Community members are facing tough questions. Also: New details about Representative Duncan Hunter, and Charo.
NYT > Home Page
20 of the best food tours around the world
Feast your eyes on these foodie walking tours, which reveal the flavours – and culture – of cities from Lisbon to Lima, Havana to Hanoi Continue reading...
US news | The Guardian
Trump says "it never ends" after Mueller agrees to testify
President Trump appeared on Fox Business with Maria Bartiromo Wednesday morning
CBS News - Breaking News, U.S., World, Business, Entertainment & Video
Wall St. set to open higher on trade hopes
U.S. stocks were set to open higher on Wednesday, bouncing back from a 1% drop in the previous session, after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's comments fueled optimism that the United States and China would finally strike a trade deal.
Trump boasts of power over Fed chairman: 'I have the right to fire him' – live updates
The president spoke out against Jerome Powell, whom he has been at odds with over the chairman’s raising of interest rates Sign up for the US briefing and get a new perspective 2.18pm BST Trump rules out replacing Vice President Mike Pence with former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, as a Wall Street Journal op-ed suggested Trump ought to do earlier this week.I love Nikki, she’s endorsed me, she’s my friend, but Mike has been a great Vice President...I love Nikki...but you can’t break up a team like us, we get along together.”-Donald Trump on running mate questions.Trump rules out Nikki Haley joining him on the 2020 ticket, says he's sticking with Pence: "I love Nikki, she's endorsed me, she's my friend, but Mike has been a great Vice President...I love Nikki...but you can't break up a team like us, we get along together." 2.14pm BST On the escalating tensions between the US and Iran after a US drone was shot down last week Trump says he “hopes” the two countries don’t go to war, but “we are in a very strong position… it would not last long… I’m not talking boots on the ground… just saying if something happened it wouldn’t last long.”.@realDonaldTrump on potential war with Iran War with Iran“I hope we dont but we are in a very strong position… it would not last long… Im not talking boots on the ground… just saying if something happened it wouldn’t last long.” Continue reading...
US news | The Guardian
France's Macron hopes Renault and Nissan will strengthen their alliance
French President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday he wanted Renault and Japan's Nissan Motor to strengthen their alliance, with an eye on the fields of electric vehicles and automated driving.
Reuters: Top News - powered by FeedBurner
Teacher won’t face charges for filming porn in school, posting it online
A substitute teacher in Texas was axed after recording pornographic videos of herself inside a classroom – and then uploading the footage to a commercial website, police and school officials said. But the teacher, who worked at El Campo High School in southeast Texas for just three months, won’t face criminal charges for the footage...
New York Post
Justice Department sues former Donald Trump adviser Omarosa Manigault Newman
Omarosa Manigault Newman faces a large fine from the Justice Department and her attorney accuses the Trump White House of retaliating against his client and withholding documents. Veuer’s Justin Kircher has the details.       
USATODAY - News Top Stories
Google’s ML-Net challenges musicians to improvise and collaborate with AI
Google's ML-Net helps musicians improvise and react to unexpected music combinations, something its creator hopes will help them discover new music.
VentureBeat | Tech News That Matters
Trump says any U.S. war with Iran would not last long
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that any war between the United States and Iran would be swift, although he reiterated his desire to avoid a military confrontation.
Reuters: Top News - powered by FeedBurner
Trump blasts Democrats over Mueller’s upcoming testimony
President Trump accused House Democrats of trying to continue a “phony witch hunt” against him by calling former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to testify about the Russia investigation. “I have been attacked for two and a half years with a phony, dishonest, crooked group of people,” he...
What you see on Amazon’s public warehouse tours
Anybody can sign up to visit an Amazon fulfillment center for an hour, where a tour guide will show you the robot-heavy process of sorting and shipping your packages.
The Verge
Get a Gillette razor bundle for under £20 using this code
TL;DR: Get 25% off Gillette Essential Bundles by using the code BUNDLE25 at checkout, but hurry, as this code will expire June 28.  Kick starting your shaving supplies can be a real hassle, especially with how expensive it can be to get everything you need.    Thankfully Gillette offers a great selection of shaving bundles that will help you look your best, and for a reasonable price. The Gillette Fusion and SkinGuard range leaves skin feeling clean and comfortable, with each razor featuring a precision trimmer and anti-friction blades.  If you're looking to pick up a Gillette Fusion deal, you're in luck because you get 25% off all the essential shaving bundles when you use BUNDLE25 at checkout.  Read more...More about Shaving, Mashable Shopping, Shopping Solo, Gillette, and Shopping Uk
Heatwave Europe and Glastonbury damp: Wednesday's top photos
The Guardian’s picture editors select photo highlights from around the world Continue reading...
US news | The Guardian
What issues will be front and center on the debate stage
USA TODAY has put together a primer on some of the topics that the candidates are expected to tackle over the two nights of debate.       
USATODAY - News Top Stories
EPA changes transparency rules
The Environmental Protection Agency is making changes to its transparency rules that include explicitly granting the administrator the authority to decide which public records the agency will release or withhold.
General Mills quarterly sales hit by lower snacks demand, shares fall
Cheerios cereal maker General Mills Inc reported quarterly sales below Wall Street estimates on Wednesday, hit by lower snacks demand in North America, sending shares down 6% before the bell.
Met police in £700k payout to detained anti-fascist protesters
Exclusive: undercover officers spied on activists demonstrating against Tommy RobinsonScotland Yard has been forced to pay a total of more than £700,000 in compensation to 153 anti-fascist campaigners who were arrested by police during a demonstration and detained for up to 14 hours.The campaigners had been detained by police while they were protesting against another demonstration led by the far-right activist Tommy Robinson. Continue reading...
US news | The Guardian
Democrats face dilemma over Iran
As fear of a conflict with Iran rises, Democrats want to make clear that they will not support any offensive military action against the country unless there is prior authorization from Congress. But they have already come to the realization that their message will have little practical effect, as the Republican-led Senate won't pass a duo of Democratic measures.
Why Facebook Won't Kick Off A Warlord
Facebook banned far-right extremist Alex Jones. But it won't remove the warlord Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo in Sudan from the platform, even though he oversaw the killing of more than 100 people.
News : NPR
Apple Buys Self-Driving Car Startup in Sign It's Not Through With Autonomous Vehicles
Apple appeared to be pulling back from the autonomous car business when it dismissed some 200 employees from its Project Titan initiative in January 2019. But it would appear that it’s shifting gears in a big way with news on Tuesday that it has acquired startup “in what appears to be part of a renewed effort…Read more...
Gizmodo - We come from the future.
Joe Scarborough: Trump 'fears' Mueller's testimony, it will stop millions of Americans 'in their tracks'
"Morning Joe" host Joe Scarborough said Wednesday morning that President Trump fears former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s upcoming testimony because it will captivate the attention of millions of Americans.
EU hits Broadcom with interim demands in antitrust probe
EU antitrust regulators want U.S. chipmaker Broadcom to scrap its exclusivity clauses with TV and modem makers to avoid irreparable harm to the market while they investigate whether this tactic and others are designed to block rivals.
Reuters: Top News - powered by FeedBurner
Three unexpected Yankees have real shots to be All-Stars
There are rarely a shortage of pinstripes in the All-Star Game. There were four Yankees last year and five the season before that. They have had fewer than three representatives just once since 1994. That won’t change this year, and that’s no surprise. It’s the players who may be in Cleveland representing the AL East...
New York Post
Wayfair Employees to Walkout in Protest of Furniture Sales to Migrant Detention Centers Holding Children
Wayfair sold $200,000 worth of bedroom furniture to a government contractor responsible for managing border camps.
Slate Articles
Visible is removing its 5Mbps data speed cap for a limited time
Visible, the Verizon-owned carrier aimed at offering a no-frills approach to the modern carrier experience, has announced that for a limited time it's removing the 5Mbps data speed cap.
Digital Trends | Technology News and Product Reviews
Check Point Research: Origin patches flaw that could have exposed millions of player accounts
Check Point Research and CyberInt helped EA uncover and patch a security flaw in Origin that could have exposed millions of user accounts.
VentureBeat | Tech News That Matters
"Seinfeld" in LEGO
Here's something that might make you feel old: The first episode of Seinfeld ran July 5, 1989. Thirty years ago! To celebrate this 30th-anniversary milestone, designer Brent Waller has recreated Jerry's now-iconic Manhattan apartment in LEGO, along with minifigs of Jerry, Elaine, Kramer, George, and Newman. The set is only a concept right now -- not that there's anything wrong with that!. But, if it gets enough votes in the LEGO Ideas contest, it will become an actual product you can buy in stores. Vote now. (The Awesomer) Read the rest
Boing Boing - A Directory of Mostly Wonderful Things
Vulcan raises $10 million to remediate cybersecurity vulnerabilities
Vulcan, a startup developing tools to help enterprise customers detect and fix software vulnerabilities, has raised $10 million in venture capital.
VentureBeat | Tech News That Matters
Arifa review – a heroine and a life too ordinary
Despite a strong central performance, the story of a British Asian woman’s everyday frustrations floats by with a weird lack of urgencyHere’s a homegrown debut that appears hellbent on snuffing out its own flickers of promise. Writer-director Sadia Saeed’s protagonist Arifa (Shermin Hassan) is a frustrated 28-year-old British Asian woman who works in insurance and lives at home with her parents. Scenes float by with a weird lack of urgency that doesn’t appear to be a conscious choice, jokes are muffled, and some of the performers fail to convince. The film can’t work as comedy, because the material isn’t up to snuff. As a character study, it struggles to wring much of note out of a heroine who may simply be too ordinary.The odd thing is that Saeed seems aware of this shortcoming, working in scenes in which Arifa’s fumbling attempts at creative writing are offered a no-nonsense critique by her tutor. One of the latter’s observations – “This isn’t a story; it’s a magazine article” – reverberates loudly through the slice-of-life snapshots that follow, yet even a student-rag profile would demand more connective tissue than Saeed’s script provides. A naggingly unpersuasive strand involving Dad’s illegal tobacco smuggling operation generates less tension than the matter of which unworthy suitor our girl can shake off first. That quandary, in turn, becomes secondary to minor disputes in newsagents and aerobics classes. Continue reading...
US news | The Guardian
Saving 'woman hand': the artist rescuing female-only writing
Kana let women express themselves freely and was used to write the world’s first novel – then it was wiped out. Meet the master calligrapher keeping the script aliveAnyone who has ever fired off a text in haste will sympathise with the first point on 11th-century Japanese writer Sei Shōnagon’s list of “infuriating things”: “Thinking of one or two changes in the wording after you’ve sent off a reply to someone’s message.”This list, her messages, and her Pillow Book in which they’re recorded – a sparklingly acerbic, blog-style frolic through the lives of Heian-era aristocrats – were written using kana, a Japanese script mainly used by women for nearly a millennium to write literature, arrange secret assignations and express themselves freely within the confines of court life. Continue reading...
US news | The Guardian
Got a question or gripe about your Delta flight? Soon, you'll be able to 'text' for help
The airline is testing an option for travelers to reach out via text message with flight questions or concerns.       
USATODAY - News Top Stories
GreatHorn nabs $13 million for cloud-hosted email security software
Cloud-hosted email security software provider Greathorn today announced that it has raised $13 million in venture capital.
VentureBeat | Tech News That Matters
Super Mario Maker 2 review: More Mario means more merriment
New options are hit and miss, but Mario's deep creativity toolset is alive and well.
Ars Technica
Kevin Durant’s free agency is unprecedented. What are his options?
He’s arguably the NBA’s best player, but he won’t play next season due to a devastating injury. So what can he do? Kevin Durant just might be in the most unprecedented situation in NBA history. He might be the best basketball player in the world, but he also just suffered the most devastating injury in basketball. He’s also a free agent, yet somehow, teams will likely pay him full value even if he misses all of next season. That's what happens when you’re a master at your craft. Durant’s ruptured Achilles tendon may have thrown a wrench in his (and the league’s) plans, but at the bare minimum, the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, and Golden State Warriors are still expected to offer him a maximum contract extension, ranging anywhere from $164 million to $221 million. Durant’s free agency is important. He’ll turn 31 before the start of next season, so this is likely the last big long-term contract the Warriors’ star will receive. Last summer, Durant signed a two-year deal to return to the Warriors in hopes of three-peating as NBA champions. His contract included a player option in Year 2, which gave him flexibility to either leave Golden State in free agency, or re-sign at the max and create a Warriors dynasty for years to come. But no one could have anticipated a ruptured Achilles coming. Now, what are his options? 1. Opt into that final year with Warriors Durant’s Year 2 in Golden State comes with a $31.5 million salary. Signing a new max contract — either with the Warriors or a new team — starts with a $38.1 million Year 1 payout. So exercising his player option would almost be giving the Warriors the finger. He suffered a career-altering injury on their dime, so he might as well use their dime to sit-out a season and recover. On the other hand, the salary cap is projected to rise to from $109 million to $118 million next summer. That means Durant’s max will increase by eight percent if he delays his contract extension a year from now. 2. Re-sign with Warriors for five years and $221 million This move keeps the Warriors’ dynasty alive, as well as Durant’s pockets. Yes, Durant has already made life-changing money both on-and-off the court, and his next contract will do nothing more than pad his pockets. But the Warriors can give Durant a five-year, $221 million deal on account of this being Durant’s 10th year of service. (For reference, that’s exactly how much the Hornets can offer in a supermax deal for Kemba Walker.) Other teams can only offer Durant four years and $164 million. That’s precisely $77 million Durant would leave on the table if he chose to join a new team. Unless... 2a. Re-sign for the max with the Warriors, then facilitate a trade Under collective bargaining agreement rules, the Warriors must wait until Jan. 15, 2020, before Durant is eligible for a trade. But Durant technically could re-sign with the Warriors for his five-year max, with a wink-wink agreement to trade him elsewhere after the six-month ban is lifted. This ensures at least two things: Durant gets his full money. The Warriors don’t lose Durant for nothing. But this unprecedented arrangement could get messy, especially because Durant is coming off a devastating Achilles injury. Teams are willing to pay Durant his full value in free agency, that much is clear. But will they be equally as eager to part with significant assets in a deal? That remains to be seen. 3. Sign with New York Knicks: four years, $164 million True or not, Durant had been linked to the Knicks for most of the season. They provide him an opportunity to call a team his own, and he was expected to join forces with Kyrie Irving in the big city to potentially bringing championships to Madison Square Garden. Irving now seems set on signing with the Nets, though that could change. The Knicks are still reportedly in the running for Durant, and they would sign him even if he misses next season with his ruptured Achilles tendon. They could take their lumps next season, acquire another high draft pick, then welcome a healthy Durant back in 2020. Winning a championship in New York is unlike winning anywhere else. If Durant could pull it off, he would become a legend in the biggest basketball city known to man. 3a. Sign with Brooklyn Nets: four years, $164 million What if Durant doesn’t want to go to the Knicks? The Nets have somehow become the front-runner for both his and Kyrie Irving’s services. Unbelievable. Brooklyn’s shown an ability to build a winning culture, culminating with their first playoff appearance last season since 2015. They, too, are willing to pay Durant his max money whether he’s available to play next season or not. Joining the Nets would give Durant an opportunity to join a playoff program that has a leg up on a Knicks franchise with history on its side. But winning in Brooklyn isn’t the same as winning in New York. Durant’s personal endgame could dictate whether he settles for the city’s other team. 4. Take a pay cut and play with LeBron James If Durant wants more championships, there’s probably no clearer path than joining forces with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. But he would almost certainly need to take less than the maximum salary to do. The Lakers, as it is, will need to perform some magic to even free up more than $30 million in max cap space. Durant’s max, as I wrote earlier, is $38.1 million. We have no idea what actually matters to Durant, but two things about this Los Angeles situation stand out: If money matters, he’d have to take a pay cut. If having his own team matters, joining James wouldn’t be the move, either. If championships alone matter, though? This would be the clearest path — though a return for the 2020-21 season would mean shaking the rust off alongside a 36-year-old James. Davis, however, would still be in his prime. 4b. Sign with Los Angeles Clippers: four years, $164 Maybe Durant wants Los Angeles, but not the Lakers? Hi, Clippers. Here’s your new star. The Clippers proved they can win without star players when they traded Tobias Harris and still gave the Warriors a run in the first round of the West playoffs. With a coach like Doc Rivers, a sprinkle of Durant’s star power is all they need to elevate themselves to the NBA’s elite. Durant’s availability would be delayed, no doubt. But he’d be a talent that could lift them to that level, and the Clippers, for sure. And if Kawhi Leonard decides to head that way, too, Los Angeles could have another super team on its hands. 5. Sign with a mystery team Here is a list of teams not mentioned that can also clear cap space to fit Durant’s max in: Philadelphia: Durant joining Joel Embiid? That would be so, so good for all the non-basketball reasons. However, the 76ers would need to say goodbye to at least two of Jimmy Butler, Harris, and J.J. Redick. Sacramento: In case he wants to stay in California, but not with any of the three better teams. Dallas: Luka Doncic is a stud, and Kristaps Porzingis is returning from his injured ACL. Does Durant make them contenders? Boston, Indiana, Memphis, and New Orleans can each get close, but can’t clear the full $38.1 million in needed cap space It all boils down to one question: What the heck does Durant want? Only one person can answer that. All we can do is lay out his options and let the cards fall where they may.
Sports News, Scores and Fan Opinion Powered by 320 Sports Blogs
'Super Mario Maker 2' is another love letter to Nintendo’s 2D platformers 
It's impossible to play Super Mario Maker 2 without having a huge smile on your face. It's a total deconstruction of what makes Nintendo's 2D platforming franchise so special. You're just a plumber, standing on a stage, hoping to make it to the goal...
Engadget | Technology News, Advice and Features
‘Jurassic World Alive’ update lets users feed their AR dinosaurs
You might not realize it, but you're living in a world full of dinosaurs. Since the augmented reality game Jurassic World Alive came out last year, it's been downloaded 17 million times. Players have unleashed 115 million dinosaurs and taken them to...
Engadget | Technology News, Advice and Features
Angels’ Shohei Ohtani brings in dollars as he bangs out hits
The group sprung to its feet as one. Shohei Ohtani had just hit a home run, and nearly 100 fans — most wearing Ohtani sweatshirts — rose in celebration. There were hugs and high-fives. There was the obligatory documentation of the moment via cellphone photos. The group had traveled from Japan to...
Super Mario Maker 2 is a great sequel that makes me miss the Wii U
When the original Super Mario Maker came out on the Wii U in 2015, I called it the console’s “defining game.” The entire experience of crafting your own 2D, side-scrolling Super Mario levels felt perfectly suited to the Wii U’s bizarre setup: you could tweak levels using the touchscreen tablet in your hands, and then play through them on your TV. It was a near-perfect marriage of software and hardware. Flash-forward four years, and Super Mario Maker 2 on the Switch has everything you could want from a sequel. There are all kinds of new building options, including slopes, on / off switches, and the terrifying Angry Sun from SMB3 as well as other very welcome features like custom win conditions. Nintendo has also created a surprisingly robust story mode that’s great for teaching you about the game, but it also stands on its own as a solid Super Mario experience. The sequel improves just about every area of the experience. But it also makes me miss the Wii U and its wonky controller, which just so happened to be perfect for Mario Maker. At its core, Super Mario Maker 2 is the same as the previous iterations in the series, which includes the sadly hobbled Nintendo 3DS version. It’s really more of a tool than a game, one where you can build something very specific: classic 2D Super Mario levels. You can choose from a range of terrain, power-ups, enemies, and gadgets to do whatever you like, and you can utilize the visual style from games like Super Mario World and Super Mario 3D World, each with their own unique elements. These levels can then be uploaded to the internet and shared with other users (provided the level is actually beatable). The result, at least with the original game, was a huge community of creators designing a seemingly endless supply of strange, challenging, and inventive levels that Shigeru Miyamoto would’ve never thought of. The Switch version simply adds more — a lot more. One of the biggest changes is the new custom clear conditions, which dramatically alters the kinds of levels you can design. Typically, you beat every Super Mario level in the same way: making it to the end without dying. But what if you needed to do other things as well? You can make a level where you can only complete it if you don’t jump or another where you need to carry an object across the finish line. Naturally, there’s also a large array of new building blocks as well. You can add a Koopa Troopa Car to make something like a side-scrolling shooter or the Cat Mario power-up for wall-climbing fun. Building is a very intuitive process: you can simply drag and drop items into your level and instantly playtest anything you add in. If you’re not a practiced level designer, the sheer amount of options may be intimidating. But one of the best things about Super Mario Maker 2 is how it eases you into the world of game design. There’s an incredibly helpful series of tutorials, for one thing, which not only teach you the basics of how things like vines or “?” blocks function, but it also contains lessons on more cerebral topics like finding inspiration, creating atmosphere, using pen and paper for tracking ideas, and finding a balance between challenge and fairness. (One of the lessons is called “Seriously, treat the player fairly.”) By far, the best way to learn about everything is through the new story mode. It’s essentially a full-fledged Super Mario campaign tacked onto the creation tool. It’s not stitched together in the same way as a traditional Super Mario game, so you won’t be making your way through various themed worlds. Instead, you’ll play through a series of distinct levels under the guise of earning enough coins to rebuild the Mushroom Kingdom. As you build the castle, new levels and paths will open up. What’s great about these levels is that they show you, in a very tactile way, some of the things you can do with the various tools at your disposal. The campaign is a wonderful source of inspiration. For instance, my favorite level takes place in a dark cavern where you can only see what’s immediately around Mario. When you take a turn down an unknown path, a screeching horror movie-style music prompt plays, making it the first Super Mario level I’ve ever played with jump scares. So far, so great. Super Mario Maker 2 takes an already solid premise and builds on it with new tools and a fantastic story mode and tutorial. The problem, though, is in the hardware. Everything works well enough in portable mode, where the design process is as simple as using the touchscreen to drag objects around your level. Some people might prefer a stylus, but I found that my finger worked just fine. But the process changes quite a bit when the Switch is docked in TV mode. Using a controller to create a level is a fiddly process; you’re essentially using the left stick as a mouse cursor, dragging it around the screen, and making it tough to create intricate or complex designs. A big source of frustration for me was the menus erratically popping up around the side of the screen. The obvious solution is to design levels on the tablet and then play them on your television, and it’s not a terrible situation. If I hadn’t played previous games in the series, it probably wouldn’t be such an issue for me. The problem is that a more elegant solution already exists with the Wii U. (This might be the only time someone uses the words “elegant” and “Wii U” in the same sentence.) I’m really enjoying my time with Super Mario Maker 2, but I still feel like something is missing when one half of the experience is far superior in portable mode. This isn’t to say that I don’t recommend the game. Super Mario Maker 2 is an excellent sequel, and I’m incredibly excited to see what the community does with it when it officially launches. I also really enjoy playing through levels on the go, something that wasn’t possible with the Wii U. But while there have been plenty of Wii U games that migrated to the Switch — including Mario Kart 8, Splatoon, and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze — this is the first time I’ve ever pined for the clunky Gamepad. It’ll probably be the only time, too. Super Mario Maker 2 will launch on the Nintendo Switch on June 28th.
The Verge
Facebook’s cryptocurrency Libra, explained
Move fast and bank things What is Libra? It’s an excellent book by Don DeLillo, the American master. Published in 1988, it is a fictional account of the life of Lee Harvey Oswald, President John F. Kennedy’s eventual assassin. It’s better than White Noise but not as good as Underworld. Liz. Fine. It’s Facebook’s new cryptocurrency. The point is that you can send money all over the world with lower fees than if you were to engage, say, Western Union. It’s shady as hell, though. You remember Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss? The twins from whom Mark Zuckerberg ripped the initial idea for Facebook? Yeah, so they have a cryptocurrency exchange called Gemini. As any astrology buff will tell you, both Libra and Gemini are air signs, and Geminis are stereotypically scarier than Libras. Gemini is the sign of twins and is associated with two-faced-ness. Plus, it’s a mutable air sign, which makes it somewhat unstable. Libra, as a cardinal sign, is somewhat more stable. Libra sees both sides; Gemini tries to be both sides. On the other hand, astrology is made up. On some theoretical third hand: so is money! What I’m trying to say here is that Zuckerberg seems to love crushing the dreams of these handsome men, so who can say how this will turn out? Anyway, the name seems kind of bitchy. Is Libra a cryptocurrency? “It’s fair enough to say this uses cryptocurrency technology.” This is kind of a contentious question. Relative to the US dollar, the euro, or the yen, it’s decidedly a cryptocurrency because there’s no central bank. There’s also a public ledger, although only some people are allowed to mine the coin. So I chatted with some experts to find out whether Libra is a cryptocurrency. “It’s fair enough to say this uses cryptocurrency technology,” says Matthew Green, an associate professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins University. (Facebook contacted Green “a few weeks ago” and asked him if he’d look at its white paper as an outside reviewer. This was unpaid work Green would have had to sign a nondisclosure agreement to perform. He declined.) “It’s more restricted in the way the blockchain works, but even that’s not totally unprecedented.” Compared to the OG cryptocurrency, bitcoin, well… it looks less like a cryptocurrency. For instance: bitcoin is a permissionless system. You participate through proof of work by competing to solve a puzzle that lets you add a block to its chain. What that means, essentially, is that anyone can participate. This is one of the most significant ideas behind Satoshi Nakamoto’s 2008 paper: bitcoin requires consensus, not trust. “I actually agree with the folks who’ve been saying that this actually isn’t really a cryptocurrency at all.” Libra, by contrast, is permissioned, meaning only a few trusted entities can keep track of the ledger. That makes it more like a digital currency rather than a cryptocurrency, says Lana Swartz, an assistant professor of media studies at the University of Virginia who’s studied the bitcoin community extensively. “I actually agree with the folks who’ve been saying that this actually isn’t really a cryptocurrency at all,” Swartz says. On the other hand, Libra is assigned to pseudonymous “wallets,” and transfers are done through public key operations, says Nicholas Weaver, a researcher at the International Computer Science Institute and a lecturer in the computer science department at the University of California, Berkeley. “So yes,” he told me, “it is a cryptocurrency.” Weaver also notes that the permissioned model means less computing power is needed. Bitcoin wastes a lot of energy, preventing so-called Sybil attacks in which an attacker fills the network with computers the attacker controls and wreaks havoc. The only conclusion I have come to is that there is no stable definition of “cryptocurrency,” so I am going to just call Libra a cryptocurrency for the sake of ease and keep it moving. If you’d like to put an asterisk on that, I can’t blame you. Why is decentralized currency exciting to some people? Well, theoretically, removing the central bank from the equation democratizes currency. In practice, that’s not exactly how it works out. Bloomberg’s Matt Levine has explained this very succinctly, so I’m just going to paraphrase him. It’s true that the internet is, in some ways, decentralized since it’s not controlled by the government or a specific corporation. But the result is that certain massive tech companies run most of the infrastructure: internet search is Google, email is Gmail, cloud computing that powers most websites is Amazon. “The democratizing effect of the internet’s openness and decentralization is counteracted by its vast economies of scale and network effects, which tend to concentrate power in a few big winners,” Levine writes. And Facebook wants to be cryptocurrency’s big winner. I’ve heard Libra is a “stablecoin.” What is that, and how does it figure into this? Libra is a stablecoin — kind of! Unfortunately, much like “cryptocurrency,” this is something of a semantic gray area. Basically, any cryptocurrency pegged to either a fiat currency (say, the US dollar) or some kind of government-backed security (like a bond) counts as a stablecoin. The idea is that there’s more stability — hence the name — and less volatility than in something like bitcoin, which isn’t pegged to anything. Bitcoin is exactly as valuable as people believe bitcoin is, which makes it very, very volatile. “The goal is for Libra to be more useful than any national currency, accepted in more places and with fewer complications; pegging it to a single national currency would only hold it back.” Unlike most stablecoins, though, Libra isn’t pegged to one specific currency. Libra is pegged to a group of “of low-volatility assets, including bank deposits and government securities” in multiple currencies. While there is a Libra Reserve, Libra doesn’t seem like it’s necessarily pegged to its value. Rather, the reserve functions as a kind of lower bound on Libra’s value. That means that there’s just one Libra, no matter where you live. Levine is great here, too, so I am going to paraphrase him again: if Libra does catch on, it’s likely to displace currencies like the dollar. That’s because if you spend mostly Libra, perhaps because you buy most things online, you’ll only convert your Libras into dollars for when you need to spend IRL money, and the dollar will begin to seem annoying to you since it keeps moving up and down relative to the Libra. “The goal is for Libra to be more useful than any national currency, accepted in more places and with fewer complications; pegging it to a single national currency would only hold it back,” Levine writes. What else do I need to know about the reserve? Again, if you think about the classic cryptocurrency, bitcoin, its monetary policy is pretty sparse: there’s a finite number of bitcoins that can ever exist, and the number of bitcoins that are released by mining decreases over time. That is bitcoin’s entire monetary policy. That’s it! By contrast, the governing members of Libra will be setting some kind of policy by picking the basket of investments used for the reserve. (They have said: “The association does not set monetary policy. It mints and burns coins only in response to demand from authorized resellers.” But Tyler Cowen helpfully points out that there’s some debate about what monetary policy is.) Under normal circumstances, like with a bank deposit, you’d get to keep the interest — but with Libra, that’s not the case The reserve will come initially from Facebook and its partners, but later, if you buy Libra (Libras? This also seems semantically unclear to me) for cash, your cash will be part of the reserve. That reserve is then “invested in low-risk assets that will yield interest over time.” There’s a different hitch here, though. Under normal circumstances, like with a bank deposit, you’d get to keep the interest. But with Libra, that’s not the case. Don’t take my word for it, this is from Libra itself: The revenue from this interest will first go to support the operating expenses of the association — to fund investments in the growth and development of the ecosystem, grants to nonprofit and multilateral organizations, engineering research, etc. Once that is covered, part of the remaining returns will go to pay dividends to early investors in the Libra Investment Token for their initial contributions. So any interest from Libra will go primarily to Libra and then to early Libra investors like… Facebook. Isn’t that fun! It’s also how Venmo and PayPal make money: any cash that’s held in those systems is cash they get to keep the interest on, per their user agreements. Don’t cryptocurrencies typically run on a blockchain? Does Libra? Let’s start by... uh… defining blockchain. Just kidding, you can’t. If you look through the white papers, you’ll notice this, like, capitalization thing. Libra Blockchain, in these papers, always takes a capital. And while I love capitalizing things for no reason, my editors consistently remind me that it makes my copy harder to read, and the joke is usually only funny to me. Now it’s possible the itty-bitty blockchain committee shares my amazingly sophisticated sense of humor, but what seems more likely is that some sleight of hand is going on. For instance, check out this paragraph from the white paper: In order to securely store transactions, data on the Libra Blockchain is protected by Merkle trees, a data structure used by other blockchains that enables the detection of any changes to existing data. Unlike previous blockchains, which view the blockchain as a collection of blocks of transactions, the Libra Blockchain is a single data structure that records the history of transactions and states over time. This implementation simplifies the work of applications accessing the blockchain, allowing them to read any data from any point in time and verify the integrity of that data using a unified framework. Libra Blockchain takes capital letters, but the regular blockchain doesn’t. Isn’t that interesting! What’s even more interesting is the sentence that starts “Unlike previous blockchains...” If the Libra Blockchain isn’t using blocks for transactions, is it even a blockchain? Whatever it is, it doesn’t work, according to this Bloomberg piece — at least not yet. But what it does seem like from these materials is that, actually, Libra isn’t very decentralized. What do you mean? I keep noticing there’s this stuff in here about being decentralized “in the future,” but from the jump, it’s coming out in centralized form. They call this centralization “permissioned” in the paperwork. Basically, the first version of Libra is controlled by the founding coiners. You know, the ones who also get to keep the interest. (There is a vague plan for expanding this initial cabal in five years or so. Any new members of the cabal will have to meet its requirements, which are substantial.) Ugh, that sounds like fiat currency. Actually, it’s worse. In the white papers, there’s a possibility that your data could be archived for a fee to save space. I am pleased to report that the Fed can’t pull that shit. Paper money 4eva. The thing about cryptocurrency is that it does everything regular currency does but way slower But it’s worse for another reason, too. The thing about cryptocurrency is that it does everything regular currency does but way slower. That’s because of the blockchain: doing all of that computation slows your transaction. Libra’s setup makes the transactions a little faster, but not nearly as fast as traditional payments processors. It looks like Libra can do about 1,000 transactions per second, says Green. A traditional payments processor like Visa can do about 3,000 transactions per second. So it might be reasonable for Facebook to do something else, rather than all those individual transactions. Aggregate all of its users’ Netflix bills into one giant bill, and then allow one giant transaction to cover the whole thing, Green says. So is that private? This is Facebook. Your privacy does not exist to Facebook. If you trust Zuckerberg, it’s worth remembering that he thinks you are “dumb fucks.” He’s apologized for this exchange, but I have to say, in light of how Facebook has treated privacy, I think he’s mostly just sorry we know about it. “They’ve sort of hand-waved around the idea that their business model isn’t rooted in user data, but I can’t imagine that there isn’t an interest there,” Swartz says. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire shares her skepticism. “This money will allow this company to assemble even more data, which only increases our determination to regulate the internet giants,” Le Maire said, according to Bloomberg. In the example I just used of a large, aggregated Netflix bill, there’s still the problem of Facebook itself knowing your transaction history, which isn’t great. But this is the best-case scenario. There is a vision of Libra where people just… use it, like at physical locations or to send money to individual people. And unlike a bank transfer, this won’t be private information. In that world, the privacy problem can be pretty bad, Green says, because every business doing anything on that layer is visible. “Then, all of a sudden, you have Twitter for your bank account, where everyone in the world learns all the transactions that you make.” So a lot like Venmo? Yeah, but with a much larger user base. Imagine the scale here, which is deliberately international. There are almost certainly governments that would be interested in the transaction data, particularly if it’s granular, says Green. But I don’t get privacy at my bank, do I? Well, you do and you don’t. Chase is not broadcasting the details of everywhere I sent money, so, in that sense, it’s more private. But in another important sense, Chase is less private. That’s because of the Know Your Customer and Anti-Money Laundering laws, which, in the US, mandate that certain parts of my identity be divulged by my bank to the US government and also that my bank assess how likely it is that I’m doing crimes (like, for instance, money laundering). Those laws seem like something Facebook should be paying close attention to if it is serious about Libra. The laws also vary on a country-by-country basis. Seems like a lot of overhead for regulatory compliance, if you ask me! “They’re seeming to play it both ways.” So far, how Libra will deal with those laws is kind of vague. “They’re doing a weird dance between like, oh, we’re kind of going to be light on KYC and super inclusive, but also we’re going to be really by the book regulatory,” Swartz says. “They’re seeming to play it both ways.” But that’s not all. There’s also the IRS. So if Libra is a cryptocurrency — and, again, it does kind of seem to be one — it’s classed by the IRS as a commodity, like pork bellies or gold. That has tax implications, Weaver tells me. Remember how cryptocurrencies are usually kind of volatile, and Libra is designed deliberately to be less so? That doesn’t necessarily guarantee low or no volatility. So if I’m taking my paycheck in Libra, and the value of Libra relative to the dollar goes up while the money is being transferred such that I make $100 extra, that $100is taxable. That means something for me, sure, but it also means something for Facebook, Weaver wrote: [S]ince any integration into Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp is under the control of Facebook, Facebook should probably file income tax documents and keep track of the otherwise difficult cost-basis math on behalf of Facebook’s customers, like other investment brokerages do. The IRS needs to remind both Facebook and the public of these implications and requirements. Of course, this would make Libra completely useless in the U.S. by increasing the cost of using it beyond any utility. When we spoke on the phone, Weaver told me that true financial privacy is “a vehicle for bad outcomes.” What you want is a company that doesn’t allow privacy but is good at protecting your data. “And since Facebook is notorious for misusing data, the notion of giving Facebook insight into a whole bunch of financial transactions is just flat out disturbing.” It’s not just Facebook. It’s also everyone who has a node to help process these transactions, right? Yeah, and that brings us to another potential legal hurdle: keeping banking and commerce separate. Facebook has 27 partners, including Visa, Mastercard, eBay, PayPal, Stripe, Spotify, Uber, Lyft, and Coinbase. Depending on what data is visible to them, there may be some legal kinks to work out, writes Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Open Markets Institute: Since the Civil War, the United States has had a general prohibition on the intersection between banking and commerce. Such a barrier has been reinforced many times, such as in 1956 with the Bank Holding Company Act and in 1970 with an amendment to that law during the conglomerate craze. Both times, Congress blocked banks from going into nonbanking businesses through holding companies, because Americans historically didn’t want banks competing with their own customers. Banking and payments is a special business, where a bank gets access to intimate business secrets of its customers. As one travel agent told Congress in 1970 when opposing the right of banks to enter his business, “Any time I deposited checks from my customers,” he said, “I was providing the banks with the names of my best clients.” Imagine Facebook’s subsidiary Calibra knowing your account balance and your spending, and offering to sell a retailer an algorithm that will maximize the price for what you can afford to pay for a product. Imagine this cartel having this kind of financial visibility into not only many consumers, but into businesses across the economy. Such conflicts of interest are why payments and banking are separated from the rest of the economy in the United States. Yikes. Yikes is right. And that’s before we get to the possibility of scammers! Look, the entire draw of cryptocurrency for the nerds who started the bitcoin community was the lack of interference, Green says. But most of us aren’t sophisticated enough to function without some kind of safety net. And the reality is that bitcoin created a lot of opportunity for scams and extortion. Remember when all those “Elon Musks” showed up on Twitter hawking crypto scams? Also, Weaver points out, cryptocurrency is the preferred vehicle for ransomware. Most of us aren’t sophisticated enough to function without some kind of safety net Those were problems among early adopters who tend to be savvier than us normies. There’s a world in which a billion people adopting Libra leads to those problems on an unimaginably huge scale. Weaver views scams as being of some concern, but extortion worries him more. For instance, he points out, a major limiting factor on online drug markets is that paying with bitcoin is a pain in the ass. But an easily accessible cryptocurrency — one that has privacy protections that keep everyone from seeing who you send money to — makes it way easier to pay for illegal drugs online. “I like to say that cryptocurrency has committed a crime against me,” Weaver says. “It has made me believe in the need for rigorous enforcement of money laundering laws.” So can Libra be stopped? Who can say? Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), the chairwoman of the House Finance Committee, is asking House leadership to join her in demanding that Facebook halt Libra’s development until Congress reviews Libra, Bloomberg has reported. Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID), the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, has scheduled a hearing for July 16th. Facebook has been invited to testify at a hearing of the financial services panel on July 17th, so pop your popcorn! But legal and regulatory hurdles can be removed in some cases. Or Mark Zuckerberg could go all honey badger about it and dare governments to come get him. It’s 2019, and anything is possible. I will say, however, that I find this all to be very entertaining, and I would like to share with you what may be the most implausible way to stop Libra, and it involves presidential hopeful Howard Schultz. Before he decided to run for president, Schultz was just the billionaire CEO of Starbucks. During an earnings call last year, he said legitimate cryptocurrencies were on their way. (Bitcoin is not legit, in Schultz’s view.) His comments sounded like a big hint that Starbucks was working on cryptocurrencies, or at least the blockchain, in some capacity. People don’t trust Facebook. They do trust Starbucks. Trust is a huge part of how money works, Swartz tells me. Starbucks has a greater geographical reach in terms of branches than any bank in the world, she says. It has a heavily used payment app and some of the most sophisticated fintech in the world. So maybe that’s the answer: Starbucks launches StarBucks, its own branded cryptocurrency, and it just massacres Libra because we like and trust Starbucks, and we don’t like or trust Facebook. That’s what I’m rooting for, anyway.
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