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The Verge - All Posts
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Use these tools to help visualize the horror of rising sea levels
By now, everyone knows: the climate is changing, sea levels are rising, and the crises are likely to happen sooner than expected. Still, it’s one thing to know, and another thing to really see these potential disasters. Luckily (or unluckily), there’s no lack of tools to help the apathetic develop a visceral sense of what could be at stake. First, Information Is Beautiful has used data from NASA, Sea Level Explorer, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to create the aptly named “When Sea Levels Attack,” which shows how many years are left until major cities are underwater. Graphic: Information is Beautiful Next, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration offers a tool that helps visualize “community-level impacts from coastal flooding or sea level rise” up to 10 feet above average high tides. You can zoom in to a particular area, run different scenarios, and see what happens when the water goes one feet, two feet, 10 feet higher than normal. Image: Sea Level Rise Viewer from NOAA The Mapping Choices tool from Climate Central does essentially the same thing with an extra level of guilt because it shows you two scenarios and asks which sea level we will lock in. Graphic: Mapping Choices The EarthTime sea level rise tool goes one step further and shows not only different major world cities, but scenarios under the Paris Accord and you can watch the changes happen before your eyes. Image: Sea Level Rise tool from EarthTime And then there’s a new map that lets users peer 60 years into the future of North American cities. San Jose becomes like a city in LA County, and North Carolina will seem more Florida. Image: Fitz Labs If all that has you down, The New York Times has created an interactive that shows what different countries are doing to cut carbon emissions and how adopting each of those policies could be helpful for the US. It’s a much more hopeful view.
The Verge
Pikuniku is a weird and whimsical adventure for the Switch
It can be difficult to find time to finish a video game, especially if you only have a few hours a week to play. In our biweekly column Short Play we suggest video games that can be started and finished in a weekend. Pikuniku is hard to describe. Despite its simple, colorful aesthetic, there are a number of complex and subtle choices to how the game is structured, and how it plays that make it hard to categorize. It’s often an adventure game with platforming controls like Night in the Woods, while at other times it’s more of a puzzle platformer like Semblance. But the game’s charm comes from how earnestly silly it is, not just in its writing, but also in its gameplay. In Pikuniku you control what looks like a red oval with legs. They don’t really have a name, but everyone living in the village outside their cave fears them, calling them “the beast.” As the beast you’re able to run and jump around like you might expect, but you’re also able to kick and tuck your legs in to just be an oval. Both of these are necessary skills, allowing you to roll around as an oval or kick rocks and other things around. The real star is the physics engine, which creates an inherent silliness and chaos that attempting to simulate things accurately can bring. The game never takes full advantage of the physics engine for any of the actual platforming or puzzle-solving in the game’s single player. Instead, it’s used for things that just feel fun to do: kicking rocks down hills, or knocking villagers off ledges. It does an especially good job at animating the beast’s legs, producing some delightful and silly effects. As they walk uphill, their legs extend to surprising lengths, or do a stutter step when they stop moving. It goes on just long enough to be awkwardly funny. The only time the physics actually comes to the forefront of gameplay is during a one-on-one basketball-like minigame where you try to kick a ball into a basket while preventing the computer opponent from doing it. It’s also utilized in the game’s co-op mode, where two players each control an oval with legs (one red, one orange) and work together to navigate a number of puzzle platforming levels. You’re also able to run into, jump off of, or kick around the other player just to mess with them. It may be hard to describe, but Pikuniku is a delight. There’s always something new to see or do, so many playful ideas that are introduced and then tossed aside. It’s a lot of whimsy crammed into a five-hour runtime. Pikuniku was created by Sectordub. You can get it on Nintendo Switch, or Steam, Itchi.io, and Gog (for Windows, Mac OS, and Linux), for $12.99. It takes about five hours to finish.
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The Verge
I’ve used Dvorak for 10 years, and I’m here to tell you it’s not all that
QWERTY users, you’re not missing out on much In the world of technology, almost nothing is constant. The mainframe gave way to the desktop, which stepped aside for the laptop, which has been superseded by the smartphone as our primary computing tool. Company-wide emails are now Slack channel alerts. Even USB Type-A, which has clung to relevance for a quarter of a century, is gradually being supplanted by USB-C. In this context, the resilience of the 146-year-old QWERTY layout is remarkable. Not only did it survive the transition from typewriters to keyboards, but it’s also survived the decline of the physical keyboard itself, as we do more and more of our typing on touchscreens. Yet despite its success, for the past decade I’ve opted to use the Dvorak layout, an alternative to QWERTY that was invented in the 1930s, and one that’s supposed to be a faster way to type. There’s a popular idea that QWERTY was designed for reasons other than typing speed Spend enough time on the internet and you’re bound to hear Dvorak discussed, normally in response to the supposed shortcomings of QWERTY. You might hear stories that the QWERTY layout was intended specifically to slow down typists working on traditional typewriters, because their machines would jam if two adjacent letters were pressed in quick succession. Another popular myth claims that the layout was designed to allow someone to type the word “typewriter” on its upper row, although it stops short of explaining why. There’s not enough evidence to conclusively prove any of these stories. In fact, the real reason likely has to do with the formation of a typewriter cartel in 1893, which caused its members to standardize the QWERTY layout for their models. But the common thread throughout each of these origin stories is the idea that the QWERTY layout was designed for reasons other than pure typing speed. The stories might not have been true, but that didn’t stop my curiosity about the alternatives, which is how I became a Dvorak user in 2009. Now, 10 years after making the switch, I’m fairly confident it made me a faster typist, but not for the reasons you might expect. Dvorak is the QWERTY alternative with the design argument that made the most sense to me. You can dispute whether it’s due to design or sheer historical accident, but it’s hard to deny that QWERTY places all the most commonly used letters of the alphabet at opposite ends of the keyboard. Of the five vowels, for example, QWERTY only places one of them on the middle home row where a touch typist’s fingers are supposed to rest. The others are on the row above, where your fingers have to reach to get to them. In contrast, Dvorak tries to place the most common letters directly on this home row. All of the vowels are here, mostly directly beneath the fingers of your left hand. Then, the remaining letters are arranged so that you type words with alternating strokes of your left and right hand. The aim is to maximize speed by sharing the workload equally between your fingers on both hands. You can look at the most common words in the English language to see how this works in practice. Of the top 10 words, seven of them consist of letters found entirely on the home row, and of these, four of them can be written without moving any of your fingers away from the keys that they rest on. Longer words require more movement, but these short words that tie everything together can be typed with minimal effort. Dvorak only really works if you learn to touch type By 2009, I’d read enough articles about Dvorak to convince myself to give it a serious shot. At the time I was still in high school, so I rarely had to type anything too lengthy in a short space of time. Helpfully, I also had the kinds of time on my hands that only teenagers have access to. I probably wouldn’t have bothered at basically any other point in my life, but at the time the opportunity cost was minimal. Unlike QWERTY, which I learned through years of hunting and pecking during frantic instant messaging conversations, Dvorak only really works if you learn to touch type. This means you place your fingers along the so-called “home row” on your keyboard, and train each finger to reach the keys it needs to in relation to its resting position. Technically, yes, you could rearrange the keys on a compatible keyboard to visually show you the layout (thus removing the need for touch typing), but without learning the technique you’re not going to see much benefit from the layout’s design. So instead, I downloaded a touch-typing trainer, changed my Windows XP machine’s keyboard layout in the software settings, and got to work learning to touch type. Eventually, yes, it made me a faster typist, but not for the reasons that I hoped it would Ten years later, I can remember little about the process beyond the fact it was a pain. Blog posts that would have taken me a couple of hours to write on a weekend took me an entire afternoon, and the speed of conversations across every messaging service slowed to a crawl. A decade earlier, I had taught my grandparents how to gradually learn to use a modern computer. In 2009, I got a sense for what that must have felt like for them. But I persisted, and by the time I was faced by the daunting task of writing an essay a week at university, typing using Dvorak felt as natural as hunting and pecking had done at school, with the added benefit that I could now keep my eyes on a book or lecture while I took down notes. Photo by Jon Porter / The Verge Although I type using Dvorak, my keyboard retains the QWERTY layout. Eventually, yes, it made me a faster typist, but not for the reasons that I hoped it would. Dvorak made me faster almost entirely because it forced me to learn to touch type. For years I’d tried to do the same using a QWERTY layout, but when my old hunt-and-peck method was so easy to revert to I’d inevitably give up on touch typing when I needed to write something quickly. Dvorak was different. It forced me to learn to type properly, and eventually I did. But outside of the advantages of learning to touch type, switching to Dvorak has brought some other benefits along with it. For one thing, my laptop is now a lot more secure. You can watch me typing in my password, but the mismatch of key labels and layout will confound you. Even if you knew the password, you’d have to translate the key positions from QWERTY to Dvorak to type it in. Then, if I’m ever stupid enough to leave myself logged in, it becomes a lot harder to do anything with my machine for anyone who’s not me. Mouse clicking only gets you so far. I mostly forget that I’m even using a ‘non-standard’ layout Dvorak isn’t perfect, mainly because most computer interfaces have been designed around a QWERTY interface since their inception. For example, while on a QWERTY keyboard the adjacent shortcuts for Cut, Copy, and Paste can all be pressed with a single hand, Dvorak turns most of them into a two-handed affair. You eventually get used to it, but you won’t be able to copy and paste with your left hand while your right hand is on the mouse. Outside of these instances, I mostly forget that I’m even using a “non-standard” layout. Occasionally, Windows will default me back to QWERTY and I’ll type nonsense for a couple of words before I realize and switch my layout back. Unless someone else uses my keyboard, I rarely register that everyone else uses QWERTY. Making the switch is a pretty good way of forcing yourself to learn to type properly Switching to Dvorak isn’t something I’d recommend to anyone who can already touch type using QWERTY. There’s no conclusive evidence that it’ll make you faster, and learning is a pretty painful process if you need to type with even the slightest sense of urgency. But if you’re part of a generation of people that never really learned to touch type using QWERTY and you’ve always just “gotten by” with four or five of your ten fingers, then making the switch is a pretty good way of forcing yourself to learn to type properly. It’ll still be painful, but simply by virtue of learning to touch type you’ll almost certainly end up typing faster. To finish, I’d just like to address the questions that literally everyone asks me about using Dvorak whenever it comes up in conversation. Firstly, yes, I can still type on a QWERTY keyboard if the need arises. No, I don’t switch the keycaps around on my keyboard to Dvorak, that would look terrible and besides, I touch type. No, my stupid $150 WhiteFox keyboard is unrelated to my stupid decision to use Dvorak. Finally, no, I don’t use Dvorak on my phone. Mostly it’s because you don’t touch type on a screen, so the layout wouldn’t offer any real benefit, but also having the vowels all spaced out with the QWERTY layout is an advantage rather than a hindrance on a comparatively small screen.
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The Verge
The golden age of dark web drug markets is over
In July 2017, federal agents took down the Alphabay marketplace, then one of the largest and most profitable sources for drugs on the dark web. At the time, it seemed like a messy end to the string of dark net takedowns that started with the Silk Road. But more than a year and a half after the takedown, federal agents are still making arrests in Alphabay cases, chasing down dealers who sold drugs through the site. The most recent case came to a close this past week, when Canadian national Christopher Bantli pled guilty to selling fentanyl and other opioid analogues through Alphabay under the name “canadasunshine.” Bantli sold to a string of undercover DEA agents throughout 2015 and 2016, and was indicted under seal as early as September 2016. But he wasn’t arrested until January 2019, when federal agents were able to extradite him to the US for the recent plea. It’s unclear how agents located Bantli or whether they used information seized in the Alphabay takedown to do so. Those cases are growing more common across the board. Even before the takedown, drug enforcement agents were able to take down individual vendors through targeted buys. That technique that only grew more effective as the sketchier bitcoin exchanges got shut down and agencies were able to prop up phony money-laundering operations in their place, generating even more leads. By now, the playbook for taking down dark web drug dealers is pretty well established. A money-laundering sting in June implicated in 35 different vendors, but smaller cases have trickled in at a regular clip. A month after Alphabay was taken down, an alleged cocaine vendor was arrested in the central valley of California. Ten days later, six more were indicted in the same district. Two Brooklyn-based heroin dealers were sentenced that January. In March, a Stockton man was sentenced to eight years for buying unlicensed firearms through the market. The vendor arrests have gone on and on and on, long after the markets themselves have closed up. When the Silk Road first came onto the scene, it seemed like law enforcement had been outsmarted. The combination of Tor and Bitcoin seemed like a safe, untraceable way to buy illegal goods. Even when feds took one site down, more would spring up in its place. Looking at all the illicit commerce being done each day, the markets seemed unstoppable. But after a seemingly endless stream of vendor arrests, that model is less convincing. Instead of a new paradigm, dark web marketplaces now look more like a brief window where marketplace technology outpaced law enforcement’s ability to track it. But now law enforcement has caught up — and judging by the rate of indictments, they’re making up for lost time.
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The Verge
Motorola’s 5G Moto Mod will have proximity shutoff sensors to limit exposure to millimeter waves
Last August, Motorola announced what might still wind up being the world’s first true 5G phone — the Verizon-exclusive Moto Z3 with an optional 5G Moto Mod. It’s a snap-on module that the company promised would give you an insanely fast 5Gbps cellular connection, faster than most landlines these days. But Moto Z3 buyers had to take the company’s word for that, because the 5G Mod wouldn’t be available until “early 2019,” when Verizon’s 5G NR network is due to launch in the United States. Well, the 5G Moto Mod just crossed the FCC today, and it came with a surprise in tow — a document that has more details about how it’ll work than I thought the company would ever publicly reveal. And one of those details is sure to surprise some people, even if it’s not necessarily something anyone should actually worry about. Namely, the 5G Moto Mod will feature proximity sensors that shut off any of its four millimeter wave 5G antennas if your fingers get too close. Here’s a portion of Motorola’s description: As mentioned in the device description, capacitive and proximity sensors are used to disable transmission from a given mm-wave antenna array module when a user may be located in close proximity to the module and in a direction in which the module may transmit. The control mechanism is a simple one in which, if proximity detectors indicate the potential presence of the user within a roughly conical region in front of the module where power density may approach the MPE limit, that module is disabled from use by the modem. This terminates and prevents transmission from the module in question until the condition is cleared. Before you react to that, a few things you should know: Millimeter wave radiation is considered non-ionizing — it doesn’t have enough energy to tear apart living tissue. You’ve probably already encountered millimeter wave radiation if you’ve gone through an airport body scanner. The FDA says there are “no known adverse health effects” from that kind of dose. The FCC has millimeter wave exposure limits already, and that’s what Motorola’s system is complying with. Motorola goes on to say that the proximity sensors aren’t the only way that it’s shutting off these antennas — the Mod will also automatically pick an antenna with better signal strength if your fingers are blocking others. But it’s pretty interesting that Motorola felt the need to include such a system, and I’m curious if other 5G devices will have one as well. We’d previously learned that the 5G Moto Mod contains practically all the guts of a high-end smartphone inside, including its own Snapdragon 855 processor, X50 5G modem, 10 antennas, and its own 2,000mAh battery so it doesn’t need to drain your connected phone, but the FCC filing reveals one less-exciting spec as well: the Mod appears to be 7mm thick at its thickest point, meaning it’ll more than double the thickness of your admittedly fairly thin 6.75mm Moto Z3 phone. FCC 13.75mm total - 6.75mm phone = 7mm. Looks like the Mod tapers down to 5.97mm at the edges, though. We still don’t know how much the 5G Mod will cost, or quite how fast a connection you’ll be able to get in Verizon’s first 5G-equipped cities at launch — our early hands-on was hamstrung — but it’s worth noting that Motorola’s now only advertising a conservative estimate of 300 to 500Mbps, compared to the 5Gbps it’s theoretically capable of. Is there really a Moto Z3 Pro? Oh, and I’ll leave you with one final tidbit I spotted in the FCC filing, though you might want to take this with a grain of salt: A sentence that reads “It functions only when it is snapped onto a 5G Mod-compatible smartphone device, such as the Moto Z3 Pro.” The rest of the filing is pretty clear that the Mod was only tested with the existing Moto Z3 — I cross-referenced all the numbers to confirm — but I have to admit it was weird to see Motorola avoid launching a new high-end flagship phone last year. It wouldn’t be completely surprising if a “Pro” version of the phone arrives alongside the Mod when it shows up for real. Maybe we’ll hear something at Mobile World Congress next week?
The Verge
Google is reportedly hiding behind shell companies to scoop up tax breaks and land
Should local communities have the right to know before a big tech company moves in? Should they be able to protest before city planners offer those companies millions or even billions of dollars in incentives? Those were the questions raised when Amazon was promised $1.2 billion in subsidies to bring a new headquarters to New York City, and we’re asking them again today — because The Washington Post reports that Google has been using secret shell companies to nab millions in tax breaks as it expands its data centers and offices across the US. The Post’s investigation starts with a doozy: Google reportedly hid behind the names “Sharka LLC” to win $10 million in tax breaks for a new data center in Midlothian, Texas, by signing both its development agencies and city officials to NDAs that forbid them from revealing that Google was behind the deal. Google also reportedly used “Jet Stream LLC” to quietly purchase the land. This passage from the Post is so perfect at painting a picture of big company vs. small community that I’m going to quote it in its entirety: “I’m confident that had the community known this project was under the direction of Google, people would have spoken out, but we were never given the chance to speak,” said Travis Smith, managing editor of the Waxahachie Daily Light, the local paper. “We didn’t know that it was Google until after it passed.” After the deal went through, Sharka changed its main address to that of Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. Site work began last fall. Midlothian, Texas is just one of the locales that the Post highlights in its story. My gut reaction, reading it, was to wonder whether Google decided to publish that blog post last week — the one about how it’s investing $13 billion in America by opening data centers and offices across a wide swath of the US — at least partly so it could get out ahead of this reporting. “Common industry practices” As we learned when reporting on Amazon’s similarly secretive bidding process, it’s not at all unusual for a company to quietly pursue deals like this. “When companies conduct site location searches, it’s almost always a secret affair,” Greg Leroy, executive director of Good Jobs First, told us at the time. And that seems to be Google’s official response to the reporting as well — the company’s statement to the Post suggests that these are “common industry practices.” Still, I feel like I should point out how laughable this part of Google’s statement sounds when you consider the practices the Post describes in its story: “We believe public dialogue is vital to the process of building new sites and offices, so we actively engage with community members and elected officials in the places we call home.” In Amazon’s case, the surprise handouts let to a backlash, which in turn led to Amazon surprising everyone yet again by pulling out of the plan to open new offices in NYC. Still, Amazon stands to gain hundreds of millions of dollars in grants for its Virginia offices as well.
The Verge
TCL’s first foldable phone could slap-bracelet itself into a smartwatch
We’ve seen practically as many different folding phone concepts as there are phone manufacturers, but one particularly intriguing idea may soon be coming back from the dead — CNET reports that BlackBerry and Alcatel brand owner TCL is working on as many as five different foldable devices, one of them a phone that can bend around your wrist like a bracelet, per the image you’re seeing immediately above these words. That’s actually not a new idea: one of the very first folding phone prototypes we saw from Lenovo was a bracelet-watch, back in 2016. Here’s a video of that one from Moor Insights & Strategy analyst Anshel Sag: To be honest, details on TCL’s devices are pretty scarce. CNET’s only got the renders above and an image from a patent filing to show how these gadgets might work, and neither of them answer the all-important question: will it automatically snap into place if you smack it onto your wrist? But the report does suggest that all five of these devices are in development, and so not just an art department’s interpretation of five different directions that TCL might go if it wants to build a folding phone in the future. Because that’s definitely what it looked like to me at first. Plus, a source tells The Verge that TCL may have more to say and show at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next week.
The Verge
LG’s first 5G phone just leaked — here’s the V50 ThinQ
OK, I’m about convinced that Vlad is right — phone manufacturers aren’t even trying anymore. Hot on the heels of learning practically everything Samsung could possibly announce at its Galaxy S10 press conference later this month, including up to five phones and an entire wearables lineup, LG’s new superphone — the LG V50 ThinQ — has just broken cover, and it turns an entire trail of bread crumbs into a remarkably full picture of a phone worth watching for. We knew that LG was bringing a 5G smartphone to Sprint in the first half of 2019 — and separately, we’d heard that the company might debut its rumored, 5G-equipped V50 superphone alongside the likely-to-be-more-reasonably-priced LG G8 at Mobile World Congress later this month. But now, prominent phone leaker Evan Blass (@evleaks) has given us what’s almost certainly our full first press pictures of the V50, and it seems those two rumors are one and the same. The LG V50 ThinQ appears to be headed to Sprint, and we should see an announcement on February 24. LG V50 ThinQ for Sprint 5G pic.twitter.com/TNLQsYPgPS— Evan Blass (@evleaks) February 16, 2019 Why am I so certain about that date? It’s not just the date teased in the center of the screen, though that’s certainly cute — it’s the fact that LG already officially revealed in a Korean press release that its first 5G phone will be unveiled on the 24th as well. And because that press release officially announced some early details of that phone, it’s probably safe to assume those details will apply to the V50 ThinQ as well — meaning we should expect this phone to come with Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 855 processor, a new (and large, with 2.7 times the surface area) vapor chamber cooling system, and a fairly high-capacity 4,000mAh battery as well. LG spilled these details trying to address 5G early adopter fears In that release, LG suggested that the battery in particular would help address fears that 5G phones might have lower battery life, which is a pretty dang valid one considering how poor the first 4G LTE phones’ batteries were, and I’m wondering if more capable cooling systems will be a necessity for the first 5G phones as well. It’s not clear from Blass’s image how thin the LG V50 ThinQ might be or whether it’ll still have a 3.5mm headphone jack, but we can see a few notable features nonetheless — while the inclusion of a rear fingerprint divot might be disappointing for those who are hoping LG migrates to in-display fingerprint sensors, it’s impressive to see that LG may have managed to cram the LG V40’s three rear cameras — wide angle, normal, and telephoto zoom — into a package that lays flat instead of bulging out the back of the phone. We’ll almost certainly find out more at LG’s event at Mobile World Congress on February 24.
The Verge
The NBA app-controlled ‘smart jersey’ of the future lets you change your player name and number
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver gave the world a peek at the future of jerseys during this week’s NBA All-Start Technology Summit, an event dedicated to illustrating how technology might advance the sport by 2038. In addition to mentioning fans gaining entry into games via facial recognition, hologram mascots, and more personalized game experiences, Silver demonstrated the future of jerseys: a piece of smart clothing that can change the name and number displayed on them through a mobile app. Details on how the jersey is made weren’t shared, but it’s a neat, concept and something we haven’t seen before. You can check out the demo below: Adam Silver unveils the NBA jersey of the future. pic.twitter.com/h5GePOwOjx— NBA (@NBA) February 15,... Continue reading…
The Verge
Golden State updates the dystopian thriller for the #FakeNews era
American speculative fiction can trace its roots back to the country’s puritanical origins, which left its mark on a wide range of authors. Starting with Nathaniel Hawthorne and continuing through Shirley Jackson and Margaret Atwood, these writers focus on the role that their characters play in society at large, and what those societies do to keep their subjects in line. That influence cuts through Ben H. Winters’ latest novel, Golden State, in which a police officer uncovers a troubling conspiracy in an alternate future where truth is absolute, and where lying is swiftly and severely punished. The country of Golden State sits on what used to be California, and Winters quickly illustrates the state’s response to lying. His main character, Laszlo Ratesic, has an almost supernatural ability to see when someone is lying. While eating in a diner, he overhears a young man named Todd lying to his mother, so Ratesic chases him down and arrests him. Todd’s brother Eddie stole pills from his mother, and will get six months in jail for the crime. Todd, on the other hand, will get upwards of 10 years for “a forceful and purposeful distortion of the truth.” Some spoilers for the book ahead. Ratesic is quickly pulled into what at first looks like a mundane case — a construction worker is killed due to a fall from a roof, and the local police want to make sure that there was nothing off about the situation. Ratesic is fuming — he’s been tasked with a young rookie, Aysa Paige, who is joining the service and has abilities that are similar to his own. However, he takes her under his wing as they begin to look into who the worker was, and what led up to his untimely end. As they investigate, Winters paints a picture of a society obsessed with codifying reality. The government has installed cameras everywhere (in door frames, lights, and even on clothing) in order to document everything that is happening. People greet one another with affirming phrases like “the Earth is in orbit around the sun,” and “six sixes is thirty-six.” Citizens are required to obsessively journal, chronicle, and archive their lives in “daybooks.” Much as in his 2016 book Underground Airlines, Winters has built a wholly believable alternative world, one which feels entirely plausible and familiar to our own. Image: Mulholland Books As Ratesic and Paige begin to look into the case, a strange number of anomalies begin to stack up. To start, there are two weeks’ worth of files missing from the dead roofer’s personal files, and the owner of the house, a prominent judge, admits to having had many affairs, leading them to believe that someone might have been trying to blackmail him. The deeper the two dig into the case, the more it looks as though there’s a greater conspiracy at hand, one designed to undermine the legitimacy of the Golden State’s authority to determine who is permitted to say what is truth and what is not. There’s a Minority Report-like element to this thriller, in that some unknown party is manipulating the system in order to undermine and cast doubt on the established order — something that Ratesic and Paige walk right into. Golden State plays to a long tradition of dystopian fiction Golden State plays to a long tradition of dystopian fiction, in which a hero essentially wakes up to the problems that serve to oppress the society’s citizens. Ratesic’s Golden State is certainly an oppressive society; its people are surveilled and policed for any minor infraction or untruth, with harsh punishments for those who step out of line. There are certainly comparisons that one can draw between Winters’ book and classics like Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We or George Orwell’s 1984. He brings in enough detail to allow us to realize how such a truth-obsessive society came to be, and how closely we’re surveilled now. At one point, Ratesic lectures his junior partner on the state of the world when she complains about Todd’s strict punishment. “Strip away the context and the foundational truth is that he lied. In a public place, purposefully and specifically, he told a purposeful and specific untruth... Imagine if everyone did it. Imagine if each person was allowed the luxury of claiming their own truth, building a reality of their own in which they can live. Imagine the danger that that would pose, how quickly those lies would metastasize, and the extraordinary threat that would pose to the world.” It’s easy to imagine what Winters is commenting on with a passage like that. He recently told NPR’s Weekend Edition that he began writing the book the day after President Trump was sworn into office and after hearing Kellyanne Conway’s infamous phrase “alternative facts.” Winters extrapolates what a world might look like where lying isn’t possible Winters extrapolates what a world might look like where lying isn’t possible, and ultimately lands on a dystopian state where the truth is rigorously policed. It’s a clever satire that flips our current problems on their head to imagine the opposite of a world where “fake news” isn’t a common refrain from politicians. But the book isn’t exactly playing the role of devil’s advocate, as though to say “no look, even if we tell the truth, things won’t be better.” Rather, it’s a novel that shows how one can miss the forest for the trees. The obsessive codification of the truth by anybody means that white lies — like a kid lying to his mother — are treated as if they were equal to flagrant untruths. Like any good dystopian yarn, Golden State shows just how insidious this line of thinking is, and how any organization or government can warp good intentions into truly harmful ones.
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The Verge
Denis Villeneuve’s Dune will hit theaters in November 2020
We finally know when Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Dune will come out: November 20th, 2020, according to Variety. The film is the latest adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic 1965 science fiction novel, set on a desert planet in a feudal galaxy. Villeneuve comes to the film with an impressive track record when it comes to science fiction, first with his first contact film Arrival, and with Blade Runner 2049. Last year, the director said in an interview that his goal was to direct two films, which Herbert’s son Brian backed up, saying that the first screenplay roughly covered the first half of the novel. Already, we’ve seen a steady drip of casting news, revealing a spectacular cast for the project. Villeneuve’s film is the latest take on the novel. David Lynch famously directed an adaptation in 1984 that’s gone on to achieve cult status, and the SCI FI channel produced a miniseries and a sequel in 2000 and 2003. The story follows a noble house, the Atreides, as they’re given control of the desert planet Arrakis. The planet is the only known source of melange (spice), a drug that enhances human mental abilities, and makes space travel possible. When the family is overthrown by the rival Harkonnen house, Paul Atreides flees and is taken in by nomads known as the Fremen. He becomes their messianic leader, and works to lead a revolution on the planet to overthrow the Harkonnens. Herbert went on to write several sequels, while his son continued the series with a sprawling series that continued to expand and explore the world.
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The Verge
Hasbro’s new Fortnite Nerf guns launch on March 22nd, with preorders starting today
Hasbro, owner of the Nerf brand, today revealed its full lineup of Fortnite-themed Nerf products, including the previously announced AR-L Elite blaster modeled after the SCAR in Epic Games’ hit battle royale game. Prior to today, only the AR-L Elite was confirmed back when the line was first announced in October. At the time, that product had a ship date of June 1st, 2019 and a price tag of $49.99. That price tag stays the same, but Hasbro says all of the products will now start shipping on March 22nd. Preorders start today through the Hasbro Pulse website, although the company says you’ll also be able to order them well through Amazon, Target, and Walmart when the full product listings go live at some point in the future. Nerf’s Fortnite line includes both blaster and super soakers modeled after in-game guns In addition to the AR-L Elite, Hasbro is also selling a SP-L Elite, modeled after Fortnite’s silence pistol, for $19.99; a TS-R Super Soaker modeled after the tactical shotgun for $19.99; a HC-E Super Soaker modeled after the game’s extra-powerful handgun; and a RL Super Soaker based on the game’s RPG weapon. There’s also some products that are less outright firearm-like and more in the realm of playful toys, including a small, handheld blaster that looks much more cartoonish called a MicroShots and a llama-shaped blaster, modeled after the game’s unofficial mascot animal. All in all, the prices seem somewhat reasonable for proper Fortnite-themed gear, although The Verge’s Sean Hollister, our resident Nerf expert, notes that pricey AR-L Elite is a semi-auto blaster, not a full-auto one. That means, for about double the price of Nerf’s semi-auto Modulus Stryfe, all you’re really getting is the Fortnite logo and a slightly larger dart magazine, of 10 darts instead of just six. Additionally, these toys seem much more... well, firearm-like than your standard Nerf blasters, especially considering Fortnite models its weapons after real-life guns like the FN-SCAR and IMI Desert Eagle. So that’s something to be aware of before you buy any of these for your kids or give them as gifts. That said, Fortnite is a relatively family-friendly affair, despite being a game where you’re primarily murdering strangers in a winner-take-all contest set in a deserted landscape, one some cultural critics have likened to a giant metaphor for resource scarcity in the age of climate and impending societal collapse. Nobody bleeds, and there’s almost no animated violence beyond your player’s avatar collapsing and disappearing upon death. So there are certainly more violent games out there that could get more problematic toy lines than Fortnite.
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The Verge
President of United States reposts video from winner of Infowars meme contest
President Trump tweeted a video today from a YouTuber known for winning an Infowars meme contest. The video, from a creator who goes by Carpe Donktum, primarily mocks the reactions of Democrats who attended this year’s State of the Union. Trump didn’t call out Donktum or Donktum’s channel specifically (although there is a watermark on the video), but far-right personalities like Mike Cernovich and Scott Adams congratulated Donktum on the newfound attention. Trump has sparked controversy retweeting far-right sources in the past Trump has tweeted images and videos that originated with the far-right online community before, sometimes provoking controversy. Trump found himself under international criticism last year after retweeting anti-Muslim videos originally posted by a far-right UK group, Britain First. Prior to that, Trump tweeted a video of himself wrestling the CNN logo. Many critics found the tweet harmful to journalists, including Dean Baquet, the executive editor of The New York Times. “I think it is unseemly that the president would attack journalists for doing their jobs, and encourage such anger at the media,” Baquet told The Times. Donktum’s video is less controversial, just cutting up existing footage from the State of the Union in ways that are unflattering to Democrats (as well as occasional Trump critic Mitt Romney). It was a slight departure from Donktum’s typical videos, in which he frequently superimposes the faces of politicians onto cartoon and movie footage to make fun of Democrats. In one video, Obama’s face is placed on top of Voldemort, while the snake Nagini has her head replaced with a globe and the text “globalism America last.” Prior to his video being tweeted out by the president, Donktum gained some recognition for winning Infowars host Alex Jones’ NPC Meme contest in November 2018. The NPC (non-playable character) meme was popular among the far-right community on sites like Twitter and 4chan. It essentially insinuates that liberals are NPC types who are unable to partake in regular conversations and rely on robotic rhetoric to function properly.
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The Verge
Apple buys AI voice startup that helps companies build Alexa and Google Assistant apps
Apple has acquired a San Francisco-based artificial intelligence startup called PullString that specializes in helping companies build conversational voice apps, according to a report from Axios. Pullstring was founded back in 2011 by former Pixar employees — its CEO, Oren Jacob, is Pixar’s former chief technology officer. Up until now, PullString was most well known within the tech industry as the software backbone behind voice systems for popular toys, like Mattell’s talking Hello Barbie doll. It’s not clear what Apple will be getting out of the deal, which is said to be worth under $100 million, but well over the $44 million in venture capital funding PullString has amassed thus far. But beyond toys, PullString has also worked on the enterprise end to help companies build skills and apps for Amazon’s Alexa platform and Google Assistant. In that sense, Apple could be acquiring PullString to help accelerate the growth of Siri-powered apps and features, which are sorely lacking compared to the tens of thousands of integrations, skills, and actions Amazon and Google offer.
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The Verge
Apple’s latest iPhone ad shows a different kind of portrait mode ‘fail’
Portrait mode causes some uncomfortable tension between two parents in Apple’s latest iPhone commercial, which has got to be one of the funnier spots that the company has produced in some time. In the ad, one mother is swiping through photos of the group’s kids when another notices that her son has been blurred and made unrecognizable by the iPhone’s portrait mode. She asks, “Did you... bokeh my child?” The ensuing conversation demonstrates how the effect can be dialed back or turned off altogether to get both kids in sharp focus — but the damage has already been done. Be considerate with your bokeh, people. This is also advice that extends to Android, as many devices now offer adjustable portrait blur. Apple doesn’t usually go for awkward humor with its marketing, but I’m into it. The “Why do you hate Jacob?” got me pretty good. I’m still one for just sticking with the regular camera mode, though. Maybe that changes once you have kids.
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The Verge
Twitter has been storing your ‘deleted’ DMs for years
Twitter lets users delete direct messages from their own side of the conversation (the recipient will still get to keep a copy, unless they also choose to delete it). But it turns out, those deleted messages aren’t really getting removed at all, according to a report from security researcher Karan Saini, via TechCrunch. It turns out that despite showing that the message was deleted, Twitter still stores all those DMs dating back years. Folks can access this simply by downloading the archived data on their account from Twitter. Saini confirms that even messages sent to and from deleted or suspended accounts are still accessible. Now, this isn’t the most concerning of bugs — the data appears to only be available to the user that sent or received the message, but the fact that Twitter isn’t deleting the messages when it says that it is, isn’t a great look for the company. Twitter is at least aware of the issue, commenting to TechCrunch that it was “looking into this further to ensure we have considered the entire scope of the issue,” but that’s no guarantee that anything will change. If nothing else, though, it’s a good reminder that on the internet, nothing is ever really gone — even if a company says that it’s been deleted.
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The Verge
Uber sues to overturn New York City’s cap on new ride-hail drivers
Uber filed a lawsuit on Friday to overturn New York City’s first-in-the-nation law capping the number of ride-hail drivers that operate on its streets. The law, which went into effect last August, paused the issuance of new licenses to drivers for 12 months. But Uber wants the law overturned for fear that the city will ultimately make the cap permanent. The law was part of a sweeping legislative package passed by the New York City Council last summer to give regulators more control over e-hail companies. In addition to the cap, the city council also approved a minimum pay standard among drivers, with the goal of reducing how much time empty cars spend on the road. Uber fears the city will ultimately make the cap permanent Supporters claimed the cap is necessary to examine the impact of app-based cars on worsening traffic congestion in the city. But the city’s approach amounts to a “ban first, study later” approach, Uber argues. According to the suit filed in the New York Supreme Court: Rather than rely on alternatives supported by transportation experts and economists, the City chose to significantly restrict service, growth and competition by the for-hire vehicle industry, which will have a disproportionate impact on residents outside of Manhattan who have long been underserved by yellow taxis and mass transit. The City made this choice in the absence of any evidence that doing so would meaningfully impact congestion, the problem the City was ostensibly acting to solve. While wildly popular among riders, Uber and Lyft have been a source of almost constant grief for policymakers, disability advocates, taxi medallion holders, and driver groups. Critics complain that Uber and Lyft have been allowed to dominate the market without having to follow many of the same rules that apply to taxis. This has led to a glut of drivers that has outstripped demand, driving down wages and increasing traffic congestion. At the time, New York City’s law capping the number of drivers was held up as a potential model for other cities that want to rein in the ride-hail industry. For NYC mayor Bill de Blasio, the cap was also an opportunity for a do-over. He first proposed to limit the number of new Uber and Lyft vehicles in 2015, but ultimately dropped it after a bruising public relations battle with the app companies. Finding success his second time around, de Blasio has said publicly he’s inclined to keep the cap in place after the 12-month period expires. “We’re going to put ongoing caps in place on the for-hire vehicles.” “We’re going to put ongoing caps in place on the for-hire vehicles and we’re going to work to increase the wages and benefits [of] the drivers,” he said in a recent radio interview. Uber says this amounts to a “‘post hoc rationalization’ of a remedy the City appears to have already selected,” according to the suit. A spokesperson for de Blasio did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for the city’s Law Department declined to comment until the lawsuit had been filed. An Uber spokesperson said the cap blocks new drivers from receiving the benefits from the wage hike. “The City Council’s new law guarantees a living wage for drivers, and the administration should not have blocked New Yorkers from taking advantage of it by imposing a cap,” the spokesperson said. “We agree that fighting congestion is a priority, which is why we support the state’s vision for congestion pricing, the only evidence-based plan to reduce traffic and fund mass transit.” The number of new app-based vehicles in New York City has surged The number of new app-based vehicles in New York City has surged in the past few years, growing from 63,000 in 2015 to over 100,000 today. These new vehicles have added an unprecedented number of new miles driven in New York City, according to a recent analysis by traffic analyst Bruce Schaller. Trip volumes have tripled in the last year and a half, and 600 million driving miles were added citywide. In addition, Schaller found evidence that ridership was shifting from public transportation to ride-hailing apps. Meanwhile, taxi medallion owners have seen the value of their licenses drop steadily since Uber’s arrival. Saddled with debt, some taxis drivers have committed suicide — six in as many months. “Uber thinks it is above the law,” said Bhairavi Desai, the executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. “The company wants the right to add more and more cars to our streets without limit. But there is a very human cost to Uber’s business practices.” “Uber thinks it is above the law.” The cap was originally presented along with a proposal to increase wages for ride-hail drivers. That law, which went into effect on February 1st, mandates the wage floor of $17.22 per hour after expenses for drivers, or $26.51 per hour before expenses. Lyft filed a lawsuit to block the implementation of the wage law, but it later confirmed it would pay its drivers the increased rates. Uber’s lawsuit came a day after Amazon stunned the city by pulling out of its deal to build a second headquarters in the borough of Queens. Julie Samuels, executive director of Tech:NYC, a nonprofit that helps grow tech companies in the city, said she’s concerned that these combined events will send the message that New York’s elected officials are “putting a target on tech’s back.” “I’m not worried about Uber,” Samuels said. “I’m worried about the next company that will think twice before coming here.”
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The Verge
Newly signed funding bill gives NASA’s budget a significant boost
After enduring the longest government shutdown in history, NASA stands to receive a big boost in funding for fiscal year 2019, thanks to a new budget bill signed by President Trump today. The legislation, which funds the federal government through September 30th, 2019, would give NASA $21.5 billion — an increase over last year’s budget of $20.7 billion and much more than the $19.9 billion the agency asked for. Practically every major program within NASA will receive a boost. The agency’s science programs, which cover planetary missions and Earth science, will receive a total $6.9 billion, up from $6.2 billion from last year. The human exploration program will get $5 billion, while it got $4.79 billion in 2018. many of the NASA missions that the president tried to get rid of still live on And many of the NASA missions that the president tried to get rid of still live on. The most notable of these is the agency’s WFIRST mission, a new space-based telescope that NASA has been developing to look for planets outside our Solar System and search for dark energy in the Universe. The president’s request for 2019, released last February, called for the cancellation of the space telescope, citing the project’s cost overruns. Today’s bill provides $312 million for WFIRST development. However, supplemental materials for the budget warn that the project must stay within the $3.2 billion cost cap placed on it by Congress. Another survivor in the bill is a mission to send a lander to Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, an enticing place for scientists who want to search for life elsewhere in our Solar System. The mission is one of two that NASA has been working on to study the moon; the other is a spacecraft that would periodically fly by Europa, to study the moon from afar and sample the plumes of liquid that are thought to burst from the surface. Both missions were championed by former Texas congressman John Culberson, a big space buff who used to chair the House Appropriations subcommittee that funded NASA. Image: NASA An artistic illustration of what a Europa lander could look like But Culberson was recently ousted from his House seat in the 2018 midterm elections, leading many to wonder about the fate of the lander — which was the congressman’s passion project. Trump’s past two budget requests have called for the cancellation of the lander while keeping the other Europa mission intact. For now, the lander’s development is still being funded, but it may be on borrowed time. Meanwhile, NASA’s Earth science initiatives are staying the same. Before taking office, an advisor for President Trump said that Earth science would be a target for cancellation by the administration. And for the last two years, President Trump has called for the cancellation of five missions to study the Earth, which included turning off instruments on an already functioning satellite in space. However, no Earth science mission has been cut, and the program’s budget is staying the same. Additionally, NASA’s education department, another target for cancellation under the president’s budget requests, remains funded. NASA’s Earth science initiatives are staying the same The bill also provides funding for NASA’s new big lunar initiatives, as the agency is currently focused on sending humans back to the Moon. These include the development of a new station around the Moon called the Gateway, as well as investment in new robotic and human landers. Those initiatives will receive around $800 million in the coming year, however there’s language in the bill that says only 50 percent of that funding can be used until NASA’s administrator Jim Bridenstine submits a more detailed report to Congress about the agency’s plan to put humans on the Moon again. NASA’s lunar return has slowly taken shape over the last few years and has become more robust, but Congress wants just a little bit more detail about dates and the different rockets that will be used in the process. But overall, the new budget promises a lot of money for NASA’s deep-space mission plans, more so than it’s received for the last decade. And it’s the sixth year in a row that NASA has received a bigger budget than it got the year before. It’s unclear if this trend will continue, but the president’s next budget request is expected to be submitted in March, after missing the deadline in February due to the shutdown. That proposal will shape the budget discussions for the year ahead, giving some idea of what NASA can expect in 2020.
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The Verge
Tesla’s latest challenge is finding new customers for the Model 3
As Tesla transitions out of a year full of Model 3 “production hell” and “delivery hell,” a new question has emerged: how many more customers are there for the car? This question was repeated a number of times during a call with industry analysts on January 30th where Tesla discussed its full financial results for 2018. Tesla still hasn’t started production of the $35,000 version of the Model 3 originally promised in 2016, and some on Wall Street are worried that the company has tapped out demand for the higher-priced versions of the car in the United States — especially as other automakers are warning of a rough 2019 as car sales cool worldwide. It would be a stark turnaround in the story of Tesla, considering the company spent most of 2018 proving it could make enough cars to satisfy hundreds of thousands of preorders. “Tesla has now shifted from a production story to a demand story,” Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives wrote this week. There is clearly “heavy lifting ahead,” he said. Musk says demand for Model 3 is “insanely high.” Tesla CEO Elon Musk dismissed the issue of demand a number of times on that call. “The demand for Model 3 is insanely high. The inhibitor is affordability,” he said. “It’s just, like, people literally don’t have the money to buy the car. It’s got nothing to do with desire. They just don’t have enough money in the bank account. If the car can be made more affordable, they will... the demand is extraordinary.” So, according to Musk, the problem in the US is pricing. When that’s addressed, the demand will be there, just like it was when Tesla sold about 140,000 higher-priced Model 3s in 2018 during the first full year of production. But it’s still not clear when that pricing will change. Musk admitted on the call that Tesla still hasn’t figured out how to make a Model 3 it can sell for a profit at that $35,000 price point. Until it does, the Model 3 still costs thousands — in some cases, tens of thousands — of dollars more than the originally advertised base price. Tesla dropped the price of the current cheapest version of the Model 3 to $42,900 last week after lowering it by $2,000 in January. But the car still starts at about $6,000 more than the current average selling price in the US, which was $37,149 in January, according to Kelley Blue Book. Depending on certain options (like Autopilot or all-wheel drive), the Model 3 can cost as much as $70,000. In fact, a tricked-out Model 3 can become so expensive that Tesla recently removed the base versions of the Model S and Model X to avoid overlap, Musk said. Unless there are further price cuts, the Model 3 is only going to get more expensive because Tesla’s cars are no longer eligible for the full $7,500 federal tax credit for electric vehicles. When the $35,000 Model 3 finally does arrive, which Tesla’s website says is still “4 to 6 months” away, there might only be a few months of overlap with any federal tax credit at all. The $35,000 Model 3 has been “4-6 months” away for months That’s because the automaker passed a crucial threshold last summer when it sold its 200,000th car in the US, which caused the federal tax credit to be cut in half to $3,750 on January 1st of this year. The credit drops again on July 1st to $1,875, and it will expire completely at the end of the year. State incentives can knock as much as $2,500 off the cost of the car, but $32,500 would be a long way off from the original dream of an under-$30,000 price tag after the federal tax credit. And that’s giving analysts pause. “Despite management’s focus on expanding supply, we believe that pent up demand for the higher priced variants in the US has largely been exhausted,” Cowen’s Jeffrey Osborne wrote in a note this month. “[G]rowth rates domestically appear to be rapidly decelerating,” he added. Reports of low sales figures in January and cuts to the company’s delivery team during recent layoffs have only added to that worry. This is why, in the short term, Tesla will “need to rely on these higher priced variants in Europe and China to offset” a dip in sales Stateside, according to Osborne. (Tesla says it does not break out sales by country or region and would not comment on the reported January sales figures. It described the report about the cuts to the delivery team as “not accurate” in a statement, adding that call center employees at the location in question are still scheduling deliveries. Musk also said offering leases on the Model 3 — something it doesn’t currently do — would be another way to boost demand, but added he’s hesitant because it could make the company’s financials look worse.) Tesla’s best chance for keeping demand high is to move to new markets like Europe and China Both of those new markets for the Model 3 represent huge opportunities for Tesla in building on the car’s momentum. China is the largest EV market in the world, and Europe is on par with the US. Musk said on the call that he believes success in these new markets could someday lift Tesla sales “something on the order of” 700,000 to 800,000 Model 3s per year in a strong economy.” In a recession, he estimated, that could slip to about 500,000. It’s not clear what the road to those kinds of global sales figures looks like, though. Tesla can’t yet make that many cars in a year, let alone that many Model 3s. The company only expects to sell between 360,000 and 400,000 cars worldwide in 2019, with around 100,000 being Model S and Model X, according to estimates the company released this month. Tesla’s manufacturing capacity at its Fremont, California factory is also nearly tapped out. The company’s operation there was already “bursting at the seams” when the company started making Model 3s in a tent in the parking lot last summer. Tesla broke ground on a Gigafactory in China last month where it plans to make more Model 3s (specifically for that region), but production won’t start until the end of 2019 at the earliest. Musk said on the January 30th call that the Shanghai factory is the “biggest variable for getting to 500k plus [Model 3s] a year.” Tesla’s best guess is it will be able to make 7,000 Model 3s per week by the end of the year, which means the company will spend most of 2019 making Model 3s at or near its current pace of production. Meanwhile, Tesla hasn’t provided concrete information about the number of reservations it’s taken so far in China and Europe. In response to a question from Goldman Sachs earlier this month, Musk said there’s “absolutely” more demand beyond the reported 20,000 orders already placed in Europe and the “single digit thousands” in China. He also said Tesla isn’t concerned about demand in Europe or China right now, and that the company is currently focused on hammering out the basic logistics of getting Model 3s to both places. But there are barriers in both markets. Tesla has had some trouble with early deliveries in Europe, and, in the case of China, Musk said Tesla is racing to deliver Model 3s before the trade war sparks any new tariffs. Pricing is already a challenge there for non-Chinese automakers, and likely will be until Tesla gets the Shanghai Gigafactory up and running. The company has already been tinkering with pricing and options there as a result. The Model 3 could be huge in China — but that might not be the case until the Shanghai Gigafactory is built Eventually, Tesla will have to care about demand for Model 3 sales in those markets because sustaining sales of the car is key to keeping the company out of the red. Tesla lost $1 billion across 2018, but it turned a profit in the final two quarters, thanks in part to the Model 3 reaching unprecedented levels of popularity for the company. In its first full year of production, Tesla delivered around 140,000 Model 3s, which is 40,000 more than the Model S and X combined and almost as many cars as it delivered in all of 2016 and 2017. The Model 3 outsold a number of premium vehicles from the world’s biggest automakers, like the BMW X3 SUV or the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. One key to that success was the pent-up demand for the Model 3 that came from taking hundreds of thousands of reservations for the car over the past few years. This meant sales were almost directly tied to how fast the company could make (and ship) the cars. As many as about 450,000 people had placed preorders for the car, so the more Tesla made, the more sales it could claim. (This is why there was so much focus on the Model 3’s production “ramp” throughout 2018.) That changed heading into the second half of 2018. Tesla stopped taking reservations in the US. Instead, it allowed direct orders to come in in an effort to move more of the higher-priced versions of the Model 3 that the company has been making. This flipped the script: the company is now making a lot of the more expensive Model 3s, so it needs to keep finding buyers in the short term, which is why it’s turning to Europe and China. If Tesla can get the $35,000 Model 3 into production, there is likely more demand waiting, as Musk said. But it’s unclear how many of those 450,000 reservation holders remain. Tesla said last October that “less than 20 percent” of reservations holders have asked for a refund, but it hasn’t provided an updated number. It’s still not clear how many unfilled Model 3 reservations remain Musk and outgoing Tesla chief financial officer Deepak Ahuja also curiously dismissed the reservations on that January 30th call, too. “Reservations are not relevant for us. We are really focused on orders,” Ahuja said, before backpedaling a bit. “Now, we do have a large reservations backlog still, which tells us that a lot of customers are still waiting for those cars. But I don’t think it’s appropriate to share the reservations number.” There could be plenty of new customers for a $35,000 Model 3 once it arrives, even without the federal tax credit, but car sales are slowing around the world after years of growth. Automakers are warning investors that 2019 could be a bad year for their bottom line because of this, especially because China’s car market is seeing its first decline in decades. If Tesla is going to keep growing its business on the back of the Model 3, then the company will have to do the same thing it’s always done: prove its competitors wrong.
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The Verge
The Dragon Prince season 2 delivers nonstop payoff on season 1’s worldbuilding
Warning: some spoilers ahead for season 1 of The Dragon Prince. In “Half Moon Lies,” the second episode of season 2 of Netflix’s animated fantasy show The Dragon Prince, the writers set up a pretty classic rom-com conflict. The elf assassin Rayla (Paula Burrows) has a crush on the bookish prince Callum (Jack De Sena), and hasn’t told him that she knows his stepfather, King Harrow (Luc Roderique), is dead. She resolves to finally break the bad news, but Callum’s crush, the dark mage Claudia (Racquel Belmonte) beats her to it. The predictable outcome would be for Callum and Rayla to have a huge fight over the way she hid the information from him. There would be plenty of drama in a conflict that hurts their relationship and drives Callum further toward Claudia. But that isn’t what happens. Callum doesn’t lash out at Rayla. Instead, he only thinks about how he’ll share the grim news with his young animal-loving half-brother Ezran (Sasha Rojen). When Callum goes to talk to Ezran about growing up and facing hard truths, a monologue with an emotional significance that deepens through later reveals, Callum realizes he doesn’t have the courage to tell the truth, either. The Dragon Prince’s second season is filled with these kinds of wonderful surprises. The first season of the show from Avatar: The Last Airbender head writer Aaron Ehasz and veteran video game developer Justin Richmond showed promise, but was underwhelming compared to Ehasz’s previous work. It’s clear now that season was burdened by the weight of an immense amount of setup, introducing the world, its magic systems, and its characters. Season 2 is nonstop payoff. In its new season, The Dragon Prince becomes both a deeply satisfying fantasy story and a deconstruction of fantasy tropes, including the ones Avatar: The Last Airbender was guilty of itself. This is a world divided between the human kingdoms and the magical realm of Xadia, where elves and dragons wield elemental magic. Humans like Claudia and her father Viren (Jason Simpson) can only cast spells by stealing power from magical creatures, or using special magic items. Callum stole one of the latter in the show’s first season, allowing him to use sky magic, but he had to give it up to save the life of the show’s title character. He wants to use magic again without the crutch of a magical device, but a powerful elf tells him that his humanity makes that impossible. Meanwhile, Claudia tempts him to try dark magic, by pointing out its egalitarian nature. That’s a fascinating conflict, and it touches on the plot of the first season of the Avatar spinoff The Legend of Korra, where the villain tries to foment rebellion against “benders,” people with the innate ability to manipulate the elements. The same idea extends to a lot of fantasy stories involving hereditary power, from Game of Thrones to The Lion King to the Star Wars franchise — too often in this genre, power is tied to the circumstances of a character’s birth, or to some inborn special power that isn’t available to most people. But like many of Dragon Prince’s characters, Callum refuses to accept his apparent limitations. The writers have placed a huge emphasis on diverse representation in this series, with major plot arcs revolving around a deaf general who communicates with sign language, a kingdom ruled by an interracial lesbian couple, and a blind sea captain who navigates through his understanding of the wind, with the help of a seeing-eye parrot. In an extremely powerful speech, King Harrow describes his desire to build a kingdom according to the philosophical principle of the veil of ignorance, where the laws are fair for everyone, regardless of their class, race, or gender. While so much fantasy is based around characters with great destinies, Harrow urges Callum to ignore any imagined constraints on his fate and forge his own path. That conflict also brings depth to the show’s villains. In season 1, Viren tasked his son, the good-natured, mildly dim knight Soren (Jesse Inocalla) with murdering King Harrow’s sons, but an extended flashback in season 2 shows Viren’s genuine love for Harrow. Viren has done indisputably terrible things with his dark magic, but he’s also used it as a practical solution to prevent tragedy. The same flashback sequence again questions the nature of fantasy’s emphasis on heroic quests, as Viren and Harrow agree to lead an expedition into Xadia to slay a magma titan whose heart can be used to prevent famine. “We kill one monster to save 100,000 people,” Harrow tells his queen, Sarai (Kazumi Evans), as they spar with sword and spear. “Is it intelligent? Does it think? Does it feel? Does it have a family?” she asks. “You said you want to build a better world, to really change things. That’s going to take decades of work. There’s no monster you can slay and solve all your problems. There’s no shortcut.” That’s a powerful message for a kid-friendly cartoon, cutting to the core of the escapism critique of fantasy. The Dragon Prince is packed with beautiful action sequences, which look even better this season, thanks to improvements in the show’s computer-generated animation. There’s a breathless intensity to the sequences of human soldiers doing battle against a Sunfire elf with a blade that can cut through anything, or Soren and Claudia trying to use ballistae to shoot down a fire-breathing dragon. But the show is often at its best in quiet scenes that just emphasize the humanity of its characters, and the impossible pressures life has placed on them. It teaches that there are no easy solutions, and that people need to question the wisdom of their elders, and learn to admit fault and forgive mistakes. Cutting through the heavy material is the same goofy sense of humor that made Avatar so charming. The wordless rivalry for Ezran’s attention between the glow-toad Bait and the doglike dragon Azymondias is endlessly entertaining, and the dialogue is punctuated by references to influential pop culture like The Simpsons and The Lord of the Rings. There’s even a nod to Avatar itself, as Soren struggles to come up with a good haiku, while Claudia checks his work by counting syllables on her fingers. Season 2 is a huge improvement over season 1, and it sets up a new spate of fascinating plots to come. Most notable is the introduction of the Startouch elf mage Aaravos, voiced by Erik Dellums with the same unctuousness that he brought to the face-stealing spirit Koh in Avatar. “Why should I trust you?” Viren asks him, as they begin an arcane collaboration with terrifying potential. “You shouldn’t,” Aaravos replies. That ominous line might come off as cliché in another work, but Ehasz and Richmond have shown a powerful ability to defy expectations for what an all-ages fantasy show should be. What started off as a pleasant worldbuilding exercise with cute kids on an adventure is growing into an epic with nuanced characters and a philosophical approach to storytelling. If it can continue surprising audiences with these kinds of heartfelt social scenes and heart-pounding action sequences, The Dragon Prince may well grow into a new all-time classic. The nine-episode second season of The Dragon Prince launches on Netflix on February 15th, 2019.
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The Verge
Ja Rule is planning a new Fyre Festival-like event
Rapper and Fyre Festival investor Ja Rule hasn’t seen either Netflix or Hulu’s Fyre Festival documentaries, which may help explain why he believes a second attempt at organizing a similar festival is a good idea. TMZ asked Ja Rule about his thoughts on the various Fyre Festival documentaries, which detail the massive failure and ongoing legal issues facing the most disastrous festival in recent history, his former business partner and festival organizer, Billy McFarland, and how he’s doing in a post-Fyre Festival world. Ja Rule admitted it was a painful experience, but added, “In the midst of chaos, there’s opportunity.” He’s been working on a new app, Iconn, which sounds similar to McFarland’s app. The goal is to launch a festival in... Continue reading…
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The Verge
How New Yorkers beat Amazon in the HQ2 fight
When rumors surfaced last week that Amazon was having second thoughts about its New York headquarters, most observers took it as a bargaining move. Locals were pushing Amazon for more concessions, and if the company seemed ready to walk away, it might take the pressure off. With so much time and money invested, it seemed irrational to simply call it off. For months, local politicians had been pushing Amazon on taxes and unionization. Activists booed executives out of city council meetings while protests circled the proposed construction site. With the mayor and governor bought in, no one thought they could stop the project entirely, but maybe if they made enough noise, they could unionize the janitors in the new buildings or shame Amazon... Continue reading…
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The Verge
Where will the materials for our clean energy future come from?
More clean energy equals more demand for the materials that make those technologies possible. Something does not come from nothing. That fact can be easily forgotten when it comes to seemingly abstract concepts like “energy.” As the climate change crisis worsens, more politicians are starting to underscore the importance of transitioning to clean energy. More clean energy means more solar panels, wind turbines, electric vehicles, and large-scale batteries. But it also means more demand for the materials that make those technologies possible. In some cases (like silicon for solar panels), higher demand is unlikely to be an issue. Silicon is plentiful and we already have the infrastructure to make the material, according to Marco Raugei, an expert in the sustainability of new technology at Oxford Brookes University. But our supply chains for other materials — like neodymium for wind turbines, lithium and cobalt for batteries, and copper for basically everything — may need to shift. Though ore demand for materials usually means more mining (and with it, increased environmental impacts), experts agree that the benefits of renewable energy far outweigh the costs. “There is no such thing as a free lunch,” says Charles Barnhart, a professor of energy studies at Western Washington University. “But I want to be clear that when we talk about environmental impacts, we’re not trying to decide between ‘lesser evils.’” For Barnhart, deciding between more mining for renewables and continuing to rely on fossil fuels is deciding between “completely different sides of the spectrum” because the cost of a business-as-usual future with fossil fuels will cause so much harm. Even though the trade-off will be beneficial, it’s worth thinking about where the materials for the anticipated renewables revolution will come from and how the world will change when demand goes up. NEODYMIUM “There really isn’t anything to compete with neodymium for magnets,” says Frances Wall, a professor of applied mineralogy at the University of Exeter’s Camborne School of Mines. “They’re just by far the best for the application.” Neodymium is a so-called rare earth element, a silvery metal with a very important role in renewable energy. When combined with iron and boron, it makes strong magnets that are important both for generators in wind turbines and motors in electric vehicles. Despite the name, rare earth elements like neodymium aren’t particularly rare, Wall explains. The elements are relatively abundant. Some are found in the same concentration in Earth’s crust as the far more pedestrian-sounding element copper. The challenge is that neodymium is very much controlled by a single country. About 85 percent of the world’s neodymium comes out of a few mines in China. One mine called Baotou in northern China has created a toxic lake and other environmental horrors. There are a few small mines elsewhere — like the Rainbow Rare Earths mine in Burundi and the Mkango mine in Malawi — but oftentimes, even mines outside of China tend to send their deposits to China to process. That’s the case with the Mountain Pass rare Earth mine in California. One huge bottleneck for neodymium mining and processing is funding. “There were loads of rare earth exploration projects and what happens is they gradually just slow down if they don’t get investments into the next stage,” explains Wall. As demand increases, Wall predicts that other suppliers will come into the market, and there will be room for more mines to open up. Graphic by Grayson Blackmon / The Verge COPPER Like neodymium, copper isn’t scarce, but we need a lot of it. Basically anything that has an on-off switch includes copper, thanks to its incredible ability to conduct electricity, and we haven’t found a better alternative yet. The tricky part about copper extraction is finding areas where the metal is concentrated in large enough amounts that are close to the surface, says Mary Poulton, co-director of the Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources at the University of Arizona. It can be difficult to find large deposits in the first place, and then it can take ages to get permits and actually start production. “For the most part, we’re mining deposits that we found in the late 1800s and in many cases we’ve been mining those same deposits for the entire time,” says Poulton. The first step to finding new deposits is to look at where copper has already been discovered. “We have this saying in exploration that if you’re hunting elephants, hunt in elephant country,” says Poulton. Then, geologists will look at existing reports done by governments and universities and work with geophysics and geochemists to predict the probability of deposits. Once a copper deposit has been located, the next step is getting it out of the ground, and new tech is starting to gain a foothold in this old industry. Two areas in Arizona are testing a method of mining copper without digging a hole, using a method called in situ leaching. Instead of excavating the materials and then processing, miners build wells and then pump a weak acid solution into the ground, and that solution dissolves the copper out of the minerals. Next, that solution is pumped out and processed to get the copper, and the miners flush clean water through the well field to get rid of as much acid as possible. “We’re watching very closely to see how that will work” because it could be better for the environment than traditional underground mining, says Poulton. (That said, the acid solution can still disturb the land.) Robots are also getting in on the action. Already, mines in remote areas like Western Australia and South America’s Atacama Desert use mining robots. New copper resources will likely be found at even greater depths — like 7,000 feet below the surface — which means they’ll be hotter and the rocks will be under extreme pressure. That means we’ll require more engineering to build a stronger copper-mining robot capable of dealing with the extreme conditions. LITHIUM AND COBALT If you build a massive renewable energy infrastructure, you’re going to want some storage capacity to go with it. After all, people don’t just want electricity when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. One ambitious solution is to use giant lithium-ion batteries, like a type being tested right now in South Australia. Lithium is key for basically all rechargeable batteries, and there are two ways to get it right now, says Andrew Miller, a lithium analyst at Benchmark Mineral Intelligence. One method that’s popular in South America is to evaporate it out of brine under a lake. For example, the world’s largest source of lithium is Chile’s Salar de Atacama lake. Lithium can also be extracted from spodumene, a hard-rock resource mostly found in Australia. More spodumene mines are popping up as the battery market grows. Miller predicts that though South America and Australia will remain key, mines will start opening in places like Canada, North Carolina, and Nevada in the US; the United Kingdom; and the Czech Republic. “You’ll see that pressure from consumers who don’t want to be too heavily dependent on one or two parts of the world, particularly when they’re making multi-billion investments in US or Europe or places without much lithium production,” he says. Meanwhile, when it comes to cobalt — another key component of rechargeable batteries — “it’s going to be very hard for anywhere but the Democratic Republic of the Congo to dominate,” says Caspar Rawles, a cobalt analyst at Benchmark Mineral Intelligence. Cobalt is one of the most expensive materials in a battery, and it’s also mined under conditions that often violate human rights. Last year, 70 percent of the world’s cobalt came from the DRC, a country that has been a target of widespread criticism for its labor practices, such as using children as young as six to work in cobalt mines. Scientists and startups are rushing to create a cobalt-free battery, and Elon Musk even tweeted that he wanted to get cobalt out of his batteries, but that looks unlikely for now.
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The Verge
YouTuber shot while filming security guard outside synagogue
A YouTuber who films her own confrontations with law enforcement was shot yesterday while recording a security guard outside a Los Angeles synagogue and high school. The YouTuber, Zhoie Perez, who goes by Furry Potato online, began live-streaming the encounter after the guard drew a gun. “He said if I moved he’s gonna shoot me dead,” Perez says. After several minutes of filming, a shot is fired, and Perez shouts, “Fucker shot me! Fucker shot me in the leg! Fuck!” The videos tend to provoke a response Perez is part of a community of YouTubers known as “First Amendment Auditors” who film themselves interacting with cops and visiting government locations with the stated goal of holding the government accountable and educating Americans about their rights. In practice, many of these videos become confrontational, leading to escalating law enforcement reactions and, in some cases, arrests. Those confrontations can lead to more viewers and more paying supporters. In a profile of this community just last month, The Daily Beast wrote that these YouTubers will show up at locations ranging from post offices to nuclear weapons factories to film. Some viral videos, like one in which a YouTuber calls a cop an “asshole” and tells him to “fuck off,” have garnered millions of views. A California law enforcement nonprofit issued a warning that some people had started recording officers in “the hopes of ... [having] a poor contact with law enforcement, resulting in a violation of their 4th Amendment rights and or a bad arrest.” An earlier video by Perez, in which she was arrested after filming around a Marine recruiting office, led to her pleading no contest to an infraction for disturbing the peace in December, according to The Santa Clarita Valley Signal. During that video, Perez stated that she had been arrested before and sued the LAPD. Her main YouTube channel, Furry Potato, has more than 250 videos and 18,000 subscribers. It’s been online since December 2017. It’s not clear whether these videos violate any of YouTube’s rules. The company prohibits creators from “maliciously recording someone without their consent,” but it doesn’t seem to have applied that to videos of people being filmed in public, even when the cameraperson is trying to get a rise out of unwitting subjects. This has become an entire genre of YouTube videos — one, by Joseph Costello called “When F**king with People Goes Wrong,” that shows the host embarrassing, pranking, and annoying people on the street, has nearly 13 million views. We’ve reached out to YouTube for comment. The LAPD issued a statement about Perez yesterday, saying that she had suffered “a gunshot wound to the leg” and described the injury as “non-life-threatening.” The guard was arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, according to the Los Angeles Times. The shooting occurred outside the Etz Jacob Congregation/Ohel Chana High School, according to the LA Times. Security outside synagogues has increased in recent years, with a renewed focus on security after a shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life killed 11 people last October.
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The Verge
10 new science fiction and fantasy books to check out this February
Recently, I’ve been reading Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James. James is known for winning the prestigious Man Booker Prize for his 2015 book A Brief History of Seven Killings, and he indicated after his win that he wanted to take on epic fantasy, saying that he was “sick and tired ... of arguing about whether there should be a black hobbit in Lord of the Rings. African folklore is just as rich, and just as perverse as that shit.” The resulting book is Black Leopard, Red Wolf, the first of a projected trilogy, and it showcases James’ attitude as it follows a man known as Tracker as he’s hired to track down a missing child in a fantastical Africa. The book is an engrossing read, rich in detail and visceral in its action as Tracker encounters trolls, vampires, demons, and witches as well as his strange companions and horrifying adversaries. It’s altogether different from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire epics. Here are 10 new science fiction books to check out this month. Some just hit stores, and others are coming out in the latter half of the month. February 12th Image: Tor Books The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders io9 co-founder (and my former editor) Charlie Jane Anders published her debut novel in 2016 called All the Birds in the Sky to incredible acclaim, earning a nomination for the best novel Hugo and a spot on Time magazine’s top 10 novel list of 2016. She’s now back with her follow-up, which is set on a distant dying planet called January. The planet is tidally locked, and humanity lives a miserable existence in two cities in the planet’s habitable zone. Sophia is a revolutionary who’s exiled to the planet’s night side and is saved by a bond with the creatures who live there. Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review, saying that “Anders’s worldbuilding is intricate, embracing much of what makes a grand adventure: smugglers, revolutionaries, pirates, camaraderie, personal sacrifice, wondrous discovery, and the struggle to find light in the darkness.” Read an excerpt. The Test by Sylvain Neuvel Sylvain Neuvel is best known for The Themis Files novels about giant robots that protect the Earth from extraterrestrial dangers. His next release is a shorter effort: a novella from Tor.com called The Test, which is set in a near-future Britain where people are required to take a 25-question test that will determine their fate. Kirkus Reviews says that it’s “thought-provoking and disturbing. A cautionary tale illuminated with dark enlightenment.” Read an excerpt. February 19th Image: Tor.com The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark Last year, I read a fascinating novella from P. Djèlí Clark called The Black God’s Drums, which takes place in an alternate New Orleans. He’s back this month with another short read called The Haunting of Tram Car 015, which follows another story of his from 2016, A Dead Djinn in Cairo. In this story, Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities Agents Hamed Nasr and Onsi Youssef investigate a possessed tram car, only to discover a new side of Cairo and a potential danger that could threaten the entire city. Read an excerpt. Always Coming Home by Ursula K. Le Guin In 1985, Ursula K. Le Guin published Always Coming Home, a story that’s written as though it’s from an anthropologist’s report on the survivors of an ecological disaster known as the Kesh. Library of America is releasing an expanded edition of the book, including a couple of “missing” chapters from a Kesh novel as well as a selection of essays from Le Guin. Image: Tor Books Broken Stars: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation edited by Ken Liu While Ken Liu is known for his short stories like The Paper Menagerie and novels like The Grace of Kings, he’s also one of the foremost translators of science fiction from China. He’s the editor of a new anthology of contemporary Chinese science fiction called Broken Stars, which includes works from authors like Xia Jia, Han Song, Cheng Jingbo, Baoshu, Liu Cixin, Chen Qiufan, and more as well as a couple of essays about the genre in China. Publisher’s Weekly gave the book a starred review, calling the book a “rewarding anthology.” Read the introduction here. Fleet of Knives by Gareth L. Powell Last year, Gareth L. Powell kicked off a new series in which a sentient warship called Trouble Dog dealt with its role in a horrific interstellar conflict and is dispatched to a search for a ship that goes missing. In its sequel, the ship and its crew respond to the call of a stricken ship whose crew has retreated to an abandoned alien generation ship. At the same time, the story follows a poet named Ona Sudak, who is stranded on an alien world, and a Conglomeration agent tasked with a secretive mission. Locus Magazine calls the book a “smart, funny, tragic, galloping space opera that showcases Powell’s wit, affection for his characters, world-building skills and unpredictable narrative inventions.” February 26th Image: Tor Books The Very Best of the Best: 35 Years of The Year’s Best Science Fiction by Gardner Dozois Gardner Dozois was one of the genre’s best anthologists, editing the iconic Year’s Best Science Fiction anthology series for decades. He passed away last year, but he’ll have a new book out this month that collects 38 of the best stories from those 35 annual anthologies, which includes stories from Charles Stross, Nancy Kress, Stephen Baxter, and more. Publishers Weekly gave the book a starred review, saying it “features some of the best science fiction written in the 21st century.” The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie Ann Leckie is best known for her novel Ancillary Justice, a science fiction novel (with two sequels) that earned considerable acclaim. She’s now trying her hand at fantasy with The Raven Tower. It’s set in the kingdom of Iraden, which is protected by a god known as the Raven. A human ruler known as The Raven’s Lease carries out the Raven’s will, sustained with blood sacrifices. But in recent years, that power has been waning, and the kingdom is under threat. An aide to the Raven’s Lease Eolo arrives in the city and discovers a secret that could shake the kingdom to its core. Kirkus Reviews gave the book a starred review, saying that it’s “sharp, many layered, and, as always for Leckie, deeply intelligent.” No Way by S.J. Morden Last year, S.J. Morden released One Way, a novel in which a team of condemned prisoners was sent to Mars to set up a base camp, only to have things go very wrong. Now, protagonist Frank Kitteridge has been abandoned but is still alive. He sets out to find a way to return home, fending off fellow prisoners and limited resources. Read an excerpt. Image: Bloombury The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon Samantha Shannon’s new standalone epic fantasy novel The Priory of the Orange Tree is set in the world of Inys. The land has been ruled by the House of Berethnet for a millennia, kept safe from the threat of dragons led by an evil entity known as the Nameless One. That enemy might be returning, and protagonist Ead must stop assassins from killing Queen Sabran IX whose bloodline keeps the dragons at bay. Across the world, a dragon rider named Tané allows a forbidden seabearer through the borders of her own world, setting into motion a chain of events that might undermine the House of Berethnet. Kirkus Reviews gave the book a starred review, saying that it’s “a celebration of fantasy that melds modern ideology with classic tropes.”
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The Verge
This weekend, stream one of the wildest films from Alita: Battle Angel director Robert Rodriguez
There are so many streaming options available these days, and so many conflicting recommendations, that it’s hard to see through all the crap you could be watching. Each Friday, The Verge’s Cut the Crap column simplifies the choice by sorting through the overwhelming multitude of movies and TV shows on subscription services and recommending a single perfect thing to watch this weekend. What to watch From Dusk Till Dawn, a 1996 gangster / vampire picture directed by Robert Rodriguez from a Quentin Tarantino screenplay, with a story by horror makeup maestro Robert Kurtzman. Tarantino and George Clooney costar as the Gecko brothers, two stone-cold killers and fugitive bank robbers who hijack an RV and force a nice Christian family, the Fullers (with Harvey Keitel as the dad and Juliette Lewis as his teen daughter), to drive them across the border to Mexico. While the Geckos are waiting in a rowdy strip club for the man who’s supposed to hide them from the law, they discover the bar is infested with blood-sucking demons. Why watch now? Because Alita: Battle Angelis (finally) arriving in theaters this weekend. In development since the early 2000s, the movie adaptation of Yukito Kishiro’s manga series was originally going to be directed by James Cameron before he got sidetracked by Avatar and its still pretty theoretical sequels. Cameron hired Robert Rodriguez to streamline his script and shoot it, and the production actually wrapped back in February 2017. The two years since have been spent refining the digital effects to create the illusion of a realistic cyborg (played by Rosa Salazar) interacting with humans and other human / machine hybrids on a crumbling 26th century Earth. When Alita: Battle Angel opens this weekend, it’ll be Rodriguez’s first feature film as a director since 2014’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. That’s a long time between big-screen projects for a filmmaker who helmed 18 movies between 1992 and 2014. Rodriguez first made a name for himself with 1992’s El Mariachi, a stylish revenge thriller, which was shot for pennies in Mexico. In the decades that followed, he’s mostly worked on films he also wrote and produced, from grubby B-movies like Machete to special effects-heavy family fare like Spy Kids to more experimental genre pieces like Sin City and Planet Terror. Rodriguez has had his share of surprise hits and pricey flops. He’s also dedicated a lot of his time to fostering the Texas filmmaking community and industry. Throughout his career, he’s been an advocate for DIY principles, urging aspiring filmmakers just to pick up a camera and go for it, rather than waiting for someone else’s money or permission. That said, From Dusk Till Dawn reveals the differences between Tarantino — who’s obsessed with “trash cinema,” yet looks for ways to elevate it — and Rodriguez, who’s perfectly happy making proudly disreputable entertainment. The first half of From Dusk Till Dawn feels very much like the work of the man who was still riding high from the success of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. It’s filled with long dialogue scenes, exploring the Fullers’ tragic past and the relationship between the shrewd Seth Gecko (Clooney) and his deranged brother Richie (Tarantino). Once the vampires show up, Rodriguez steps in and delivers shamelessly gory drive-in movie mayhem, featuring extended guest appearances by genre picture vets Tom Savini and Fred Williamson. Photo: Lionsgate Who it’s for Fans of violent 1990s indie films and Tex-Mex pop culture. When Reservoir Dogs debuted at Sundance in 1992, it marked the arrival of a new voice in American cinema, combining influences from 1950s dime-store paperbacks, 1960s European New Wave films, 1970s TV, and 1980s theater. By the end of the decade, it seemed like scarcely a month went by without another movie that could be called Tarantino-esque — including some he’d actually written or rewritten during the stretch of the early 1990s when nearly every producer in Hollywood wanted to work with him. From Dusk Till Dawn actually originated as a pre-Reservoir Dogs screenplay that Kurtzman hired him to write, which then became a hot property post-Pulp Fiction. As such, the movie feels very much of its time, and it’s bound to conjure up some nostalgic feelings for anyone who was at the multiplex every weekend in the 1990s. The magnificent opening scene alone — almost a standalone sketch set in a convenience store, featuring a winding conversation between a clerk played by John Hawkes and a Texas Ranger played by Michael Parks — represents “the Tarantino touch” at its best, seeming at first pointlessly digressive, then becoming essential to the film’s overall flavor and flow. Yet, as Rodriguez has done throughout his career, he also puts his stamp on From Dusk Till Dawn as a Texan and a Mexican-American. He fills out the cast with actors who have Mexican backgrounds, including Danny Trejo, Cheech Marin, and Salma Hayek (playing the seductive vampire stripper Santanico Pandemonium), and he sets the whole show to a soundtrack featuring music by Texas blues-rock gods ZZ Top and the Vaughan Brothers. It’s this kind of reliance on his own instincts and taste that has led Rodriguez to such a long, prolific career. He tends to work fast and from the gut. Where to see it Netflix. The service also has all three seasons of the From Dusk Till Dawn TV series (Rodriguez directed seven episodes), and several Tarantino movies, including Pulp Fiction, The Hateful Eight, and both volumes of Kill Bill.
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The Verge