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North is trying to become the Warby Parker of augmented reality glasses
Although few people seem to really want to wear smart glasses or goggles — think Google Glass or Snapchat Spectacles — a startup thinks it’s figured out the recipe to augmented reality success. North, which just rebranded from Thalmic Labs, is launching its first product today, called Focals, with the goal of starting a bunch of Warby Parker-esque stores that’ll sell lots of connected glasses. It’s trying to create the first pair of “everyday smart glasses.” When I meet Stephen Lake, CEO of North, at the company’s new Brooklyn, New York store last week, which was still under construction, he’s wearing Focals. I immediately scan his face to figure out where the display is and settle on a little spot on the right lens of his glasses that looks like a smudge. The photopolymer material that serves as the display location isn’t noticeable for the most part, but when it catches the light, it looks like the glasses need to be wiped down. I came to the store to try out the Focals buying experience for myself and to see what the casual smart glasses fuss is all about. The glasses show wearers a bunch of information from their phone; can call an Uber; and are extremely customizable to the point of requiring a 3D model of each wearers’ face to make them work. Lake and his team took me through the purchasing process, which involves sitting in a dark room surrounded by 16 cameras and one attendant. I had to put my hair back in a cotton headband (that I got to keep!) and line my face up with a pair of software-created glasses on a screen. The cameras then took a bunch of photos simultaneously to create a 3D model of my ears, nose, eyes, and face. I’m sure it’s really attractive! Photo by Ashley Carman / The Verge The first scan didn’t work, so the attendant had to put a separate plastic headband on me that helped guide the software to follow my ears. Photo by The Verge This worked, at last. And now, I could actually try on a pair of Focals. Each Focals pair features a tiny, color laser in the right arm that displays information from your phone over Bluetooth. That laser bounces off a piece of photopolymer material built into the glasses’ right lens, then heads into your eye. It creates a 15-degree viewing area that’s about 300 x 300 pixels. The glasses work more or less the same as Intel’s disbanded Vaunt smart glasses project in that both take advantage of retinal projection, meaning the image they display shines on the back of your retina, which leaves everything in focus. You’ll be able to wear Focals with or without prescriptions or with contacts. Focals won’t work with bifocals, however, and can only handle prescriptions between +2 and -4. Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge North built custom software for the glasses and designed the UI in-house. It’s colorful with slight animations that I think look nice. You can view your messages, send automated responses that North crafted through SMS, call an Uber, get turn-by-turn directions through Mapbox, view your calendar, and check the weather. The image will automatically disappear after three seconds of non-use, which I wish came with the option to be extended, but North’s team likes the idea of non-obtrusive technology that keeps us “centered in the real world.” Photo by Ashley Carman / The Verge Each pair has enough battery to last 18 hours, North says, and can be recharged only through their companion case. This case also charges the essential Focals accessory: the Loop. The Loop is a plastic ring with a joystick-like button that looks like any plastic smart ring you’ve seen on the market. It’s bulky and doesn’t look so nice, but it allows wearers to swipe through their glasses’ interface without having to touch their glasses or do something with their head. A ring makes way more sense to me, although again, it’s ugly. You can swipe through your notifications by pushing left or right on the Loop joystick and pressing down to make a selection. You can also use it to trigger Amazon’s Alexa assistant because yes, Alexa is built-in. The glasses have a microphone and speaker inside, so you can issue commands to Alexa and hear responses if necessary. (Amazon was a leading investor in North’s Series B funding.) Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge As far as the actual glasses, they’re stylish enough. They come in two styles and three colors, and each one includes a pair of clip-on sunglass lenses in either black or copper. It’s not a wide range of styles, but they’re definitely nowhere near the nerd levels of Google Glass or even Snap Spectacles. Everything about the glasses has to be customized. Lake tells me North runs a massive factory in Canada where they process orders and fit the frames and lenses to each wearer. Keep in mind that you have to keep the display directly in your line of sight or else it’ll disappear, so those measurements are crucial to the glasses’ success. Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge The demo pair I tried had a couple hiccups, like Alexa not immediately responding to my commands, but I didn’t hate the experience. It’s the most pleasing AR demo I’ve had and is definitely more calming than virtual reality. It feels manageable. That said, I’d be interested to test the glasses at night to see how bright the projector is. I’m also sad I’d have to wear that plastic ring to make the glasses work. And the price is a lot to take in. A pair costs $999, which includes lenses, the prescription, anti-glare coatings, and the fitting. You can apply to use insurance money against it, but still, that’s a lot of cash especially considering that glasses wearers are enjoying owning multiple pairs of cheaper frames. It’ll be for sale at the Brooklyn store or the company’s other location in Toronto, Ontario. Orders will take around two weeks to process once everything is up and running, and the first pairs will go out around the holidays this year, although only in the classic frame. The round frame will ship in 2019, as will prescription lenses. A laser being projected into my retina sounds like a futuristic thing, for sure, and I wouldn’t be surprised if more companies start exploring this space. It’s at least more pleasant than staring at an extremely bright display all day. But I don’t trust that every company is going to value an unobtrusive interface like North says it does. So once the glasses don’t automatically sleep after three seconds, maybe a floating display in front of my face all day won’t actually be so great. Correction 10/23, 8:34 AM ET: A prior version of this article referred to North as North Labs in some instances. We regret the error.
1 h
The Verge
How Amazon’s retail revolution is changing the way we shop
A guide to all the industries, product categories, and markets Amazon has dominated over the years In the course of a single generation, Amazon has grown from fledgling online bookseller to one of the most valuable and powerful corporations in modern history. The empire of CEO Jeff Bezos has grown so vast that critics, overseas regulators, and Washington politicians are all now wondering whether the company has become an unstoppable force, and what, if anything, is capable of reigning in its reach. A recent spat with Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) resulted in a minimum wage hike for tens of thousands of employees, but Amazon still operates largely without any meaningful checks on its power even as it aggressively expands into physical retail, the smart home, and warehouse and aviation robotics. Yet despite having a hand in so many different industries, consumers largely trust Amazon with everything from their personal information and buying habits to the literal conversations they have in their own homes. According to a study The Verge conducted in partnership with consulting firm Reticle Research last year, Amazon is the most-liked and trusted technology brand by a wide margin. One likely explanation there is that the company has a strong relationship with its customers, thanks in part to its zealous commitment to low prices and a seemingly never-ending quest to make modern life more convenient. Given that trust, Amazon has only escalated up its expansion into more industries and markets over the years, with that expansion accelerating since the introduction of the first Amazon Echo speaker with Alexa a little less than four years ago. To fully comprehend just how big the company has grown over the last 25 years, we’ve put together a guide on every major sector, product category, and market Amazon has entered into either by developing its own products or services, or by acquiring an existing provider with an established position. Of course, it wouldn’t be a comprehensive look back at Amazon without starting first with books — of the paper variety. newsteam - NTI Print books Amazon was founded in 1994 around Bezos’ desire to start an internet-based business, with the goal of selling items online emerging as an early and obvious inroad into the dot-com boom. A former Wall Street worker with electrical engineering and computer science degrees, Bezos zeroed in on books as a viable initial product category for his online store due to the universality of literature, the existing stock of print books, and the relatively low price of each unit. Bezos briefly considered naming his company Relentless.com — an early sign of the man’s tenacious business mindset — but friends and family suggested it was too malevolent sounding. Relentless.com, which Bezos bought roughly 24 years ago, still redirects to Amazon.com. The company now controls almost half of all print book sales in the US. Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge Ebooks, e-readers, and digital publishing While Amazon grew in the ‘90s largely thanks to its growing share of the print book market and its dominance of online book sales, it was its early investments in ebooks and e-readers that turned it into a digital publishing and book-selling powerhouse. Amazon began work on its first Kindle e-reader starting in 2004 under codename Fiona, with its internal Lab126 hardware division leading the product development process. The first device was released in November of 2007 and sold for $399. Amazon has since released numerous iterations of the Kindle, and it now dominates the e-reader market after edging out competing products from Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and others. Shortly after the first Kindle launched, Amazon premiered its Kindle Direct Publishing platform to let authors self-publish and sell books on Amazon. Two years later, the company launched its own suite of professional imprints called Amazon Publishing. Amazon now oversees tens of millions of self-published works on its platform and nearly two dozen imprints. In 2017, Amazon had more than 83 percent of all US ebook sales. Photo by Dan Seifert / The Verge Amazon Prime, Prime Video, and original content Amazon first entered the media industry as a major online retailer in the late ‘90s. The company began by selling CDs and DVDs to a burgeoning market of online shoppers who began turning to the internet for music and movies, before the technical feasibility of streaming and the advent of the iPod. But it wasn’t until 2005, with the initial launch of Amazon Prime, that the company began building out a digital media ecosystem that integrated directly into its online store. Prime started as a two-day shipping membership for devoted Amazon shoppers. It has since grown into a subscription service with over 100 million users, largely thanks to the additional perks the company has added to the platform over the years, including a Prime credit card now with 5 percent cash back. (Amazon also operates Amazon Pay for purchasing online goods elsewhere with your Amazon account, and the Amazon Cash service for translating cash into store credit using a barcode, although neither are restricted to Prime users.) Amazon Prime Video has grown into a veritable Netflix competitor Perhaps the most prominent Prime perk, however, is access to Amazon Prime Video. The video on-demand service started in 2006 as Amazon Unboxed, but was rebranded in 2008 and integrated into the Prime service three years later, where it became a huge selling point for Amazon’s annual subscription. It now boasts thousands of free TV shows, films, and games, all accessible on pretty much every screen available. Amazon Studios, which was founded in 2010 to compete with Hulu and Netflix in original programming, has become a powerhouse in Hollywood, taking home both Emmys and Oscars and growing into a staple of the modern entertainment diet of many Americans. Rounding out its position in digital media is the FireTV streaming device, which Amazon first launched in 2014 to compete with Apple, Roku, and other set-top box makers. The product has since been shrunk into a skinny HDMI stick — Amazon still sells the box and now also a small, square-shaped Fire TV Cube — and it remains one of the best-selling consumer electronics devices on Amazon.com. Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge Cloud computing Bezos and those he’s hired over the years have been prescient about a vast number of shifts in how people spend money, buy products, and use the internet. But none of their predictions may have panned out quite as lucratively as Amazon Web Services, the company’s cloud computing division that loans server space and other computing resources at massive profit margins. In addition to pulling in hosting revenue from companies like Disney, Netflix, and Spotify, AWS is also the backbone of the company’s own internal infrastructure and the underlying foundation for its Alexa digital voice assistant. It is a major competitor to Microsoft and its Azure platform, as well as Google’s cloud computing division and the cloud businesses of IBM and Oracle. AWS is so important to the integrity of the apps and websites we use that a rare S3 outage, which is the web hosting pillar of AWS, took out large swaths of the internet. AWS started way back in 2000 as a way to help other retailers manage e-commerce operations, but it soon expanded into much more when key project members managed to convince Bezos that improving and evolving Amazon’s own infrastructure may hold the key to a new business model. In 2006, the product as we know it today launched into public availability and proved to be a pioneer for the entire cloud computing industry, offering cloud storage, hosting, and a suite of other tools for managing entire digital infrastructures in remote data centers. The division now pulls in roughly $6 billion every quarter and continues to grow at breakneck pace. It earned $17.5 billion in revenue in all of 2017 and regularly outperforms the company’s entire North American retail division in terms of profit. Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge Smart speakers and AI Amazon is known today not just as the everything store, but as the creator of Alexa, one of the most pervasive digital voice assistants on the market today. As an extension of Alexa, Amazon has become more than just a seller of other people’s products. It’s now a hardware maker (Fire Phone aside), having embarked on its boldest product play since the original Kindle when it decided to develop its own line of smart speakers to house its artificial intelligence software. Once again, the division responsible for this piece of hardware was Lab126, Amazon’s hardware arm that gave it the tools to dominate the e-reader market nearly a decade prior. The first Echo came out in late 2014 as a Prime member exclusive, but in the four short years since, Amazon has developed dozens of different smart home products that revolve around the speaker and voice assistant format. Today, thousands of products integrate with the company’s Alexa platform to make use of its voice search and query capabilities. Just as it once foresaw e-commerce, streaming, and cloud computing as the future of the internet, Amazon saw AI as not just something that could live within the smartphone — as Apple established with Siri and Google with its Assistant — but also in the home. The Echo line and its Alexa assistant are Amazon’s avenues into our physical lives and our digital behaviors. With the data it collects, Amazon is able to better understand how we shop and how we want the devices of the future to listen, respond, and problem solve as if they were other human beings. Amazon has stiff competition in this space, primarily from Apple and Google, but its early investments in smart speakers and AI have helped Amazon overcome its absence in the key consumer markets like mobile, search, and social networks. As a result, Amazon has made early and tangible inroads in developing an ecosystem that customers will find increasingly hard to abandon down the line. Photo by Nick Statt / The Verge Twitch and live streaming Amazon was never going to be able to compete with Google’s YouTube in user-uploaded video content, and it didn’t have the social infrastructure of Facebook to become a destination where people discuss their lives and share videos from around the web. But what Amazon did have was the resources to purchase a company that was poised to outrun both Facebook and YouTube to a new type of business: live-streaming, in particular video games live-streaming. The pioneer of that market was Twitch, which Amazon purchased in 2014 for just shy of $1 billion. Twitch started in 2007 as a 24-hour live stream of co-founder Justin Kan’s life (he coined the term “lifecasting”) called Justin.tv, but it became very clear very quickly that live gaming content was more popular than pretty much anything else. In 2011, Twitch spun off gaming-centric channels as Twitch.tv, and it grew exponentially as online games and the technology to broadcast them on the internet became more widespread and popular. Amazon, seeing the obvious opportunity here, outbid none other than Google to become Twitch’s parent company three years later, with the AWS infrastructure reportedly a big part of why Twitch CEO Emmett Shear decided to take the deal. Now, four years later, Twitch has outlasted both YouTube and Facebook’s attempts to snatch away its market share and, given the popularity of titles like Epic Games’ Fortnite, has become an even more integral fixture of modern online life and youth culture. Amazon has more recently integrated Twitch into its Prime subscription, giving subscribers free games and complementary channel subscriptions. Photo by Michele Doying / The Verge Groceries, household supplies, and ever-faster shipping While Amazon was expanding into streaming video, hardware, and cloud computing, it simultaneously maintained an aggressive push into even faster shipping and all new retail formats. The company started its same-day shipping initiative, Prime Now, in New York City in 2014, and it’s since expanded it to dozens of cities around the world. Around the same time, Amazon began a program called AmazonFresh to stock and ship groceries — including vegetables and refrigerated and freezer products — that it used as a way to stay competitive with traditional big-box retailers like Walmart and Target and Uber-like logistics newcomers like Instacart. The company now sells its own line of meal kits through Fresh to rival ready-to-cook options from companies like Blue Apron and Plated. With Prime Pantry, which also launched in 2014, Amazon honed its focus on competing with the Walmarts and pharmacies of the world by giving Prime subscribers an easy way to fill one giant box with household supplies and other nonperishable goods. In 2015, Amazon launched a home services arm for everything from house cleanings and oil changes to furniture assembly and theater installation. Amazon’s move into offline retail has started a war with Walmart That same year, the company launched Dash buttons for instant reordering of products like laundry detergent, and it’s more recently been investing in new services that let package-carrying couriers unlock the truck of your car and even your front door. Most recently, Amazon has signaled an intention to disrupt health care by purchasing online pharmaceutical startup PillPack. All of this has helped Amazon grow its North American retail operation at an unbelievable pace; annual sales for the division more than doubled from $50.8 billion in 2014 to $106.1 billion last year. Yet the more monumental retail push occurred last summer, when Amazon purchased grocery chain Whole Foods for $13.7 billion and proved, yet again, that Bezos is willing and able to buy his way into a new market when it’s unfavorable to start from scratch. Amazon now uses Whole Foods’ grocery pick-up and delivery perks and in-store discounts as a way to reward its Prime subscribers. It’s also using its massive resources to lower Whole Foods prices, making it more competitive with Kroger, Target, and Walmart. In response, Walmart has begun investing heavily in e-commerce and grocery delivery to protect its turf from Amazon, setting the stage for an unprecedented retail war. Photo by Dan Seifert / The Verge AmazonBasics and private label products Amazon, with its unfettered access to troves of valuable consumer and seller data, came upon a rather interesting business model around 2009, when it launched a private label division under the name AmazonBasics. It started first with the items the company noticed people most often purchased without thinking too hard about the brand name, like batteries and HDMI cables. But as The New York Times reported this past summer, this proved to be a way to fast track a fledgling product category into a massive money-making top seller — AmazonBasics’ AA batteries now outsell Duracell and Energizer on Amazon.com after just a few years. Amazon now has more than 100 private label brands, some without the name Amazon even remotely attached, for product categories like clothing, dog food, and furniture. Yet AmazonBasics, and the Amazon Essentials clothing brand, remain the company’s biggest weapons in its war against offline retail. Just as Walmart, Target, and other stores launched their own private label brands for virtually every product imaginable, the company has done the same. (In 2015, it also launched an official Etsy competitor in the form of Amazon Homemade.) The difference is that Amazon has data to prove what’s popular and easy to sell, and free shipping to get people to buy it online instead of in the store. (That’s gotten the attention of the European Commission, which is looking into whether Amazon is harming competition by using data from its sellers to develop its own products.) You can now buy Amazon-produced electric kettles, toasters, office chairs, knife sets, neoprene dumbbells, comforters, suitcases — name a product you’d find in a Walmart, and it’s probably already made and sold under the AmazonBasics name. Earlier this month, the company started selling its own mattress, striking fear in the direct-to-consumer mattress startup market dominated by Casper and Tuft & Needle. Photo by Dan Seifert / The Verge Smart home appliances Amazon hasn’t been content stopping with smart speakers and just standard old appliances under its AmazonBasics brand. In its quest to put Alexa everywhere, the company now sells a dizzying number of smart home devices that go well beyond its core speaker and set-top box beginnings. First there was the Echo Dot, to help bring Alexa to analog speaker systems and get the voice assistant into more rooms of the home. Then there was the Echo Look, for AI-assisted outfit recommendations, and the Echo Show, which contained a display and camera for video chatting and was designed to be a hands-free screen for the kitchen. From there, the Echo line exploded. In the fall of 2017, Amazon launched an Alexa-powered alarm clock called the Echo Spot and a smart home hub in the form of the Echo Plus. Just last month, Amazon held another hardware event where it further amplified its assault on the traditional appliance industry and the smart home market simultaneously. In one brief keynote, the company announced a car infotainment device, yet more updates to the standard Echo speaker and Dot line, a subwoofer, a set of stereo amplifiers, a Chromecast Audio competitor, a smart wall clock, a smart plug, and a super-powered Slingbox-style device for over-the-air programming. Oh and lest we forget, Amazon also made a microwave with Alexa built in, using it as a model to start competing with companies like KitchenAid, LG, and Samsung by making Alexa the go-to voice assistant and AI hub for household appliances. In addition to building its own devices, the company also invests in startups through its Alexa Fund to scout new and promising entrants and product categories, and it’s acquired quite a few of those companies — including security cam startup Blink and smart doorbell maker Ring — to ensure it has every corner of the smart home covered. Photo by Nick Statt / The Verge Bookstores and experimental retail Amazon’s transformation into the world’s more pervasive retail operation wouldn’t be complete unless the company began a seemingly counterintuitive push from online to offline. Starting with its brick-and-mortar bookstores in 2015 — first in Seattle and now in Chicago and New York City — Amazon established its intent to compete on all fronts with its retail competitors. In late 2016, the company launched its first experimental Go store, which replaces cashiers with a computer vision system that automatically detects when you take products off the shelf and checks you out as you leave the store. Go now has two locations in Chicago, three in Seattle, and one that just opened in San Francisco today, with more planned in California and New York City over the course of the next year. Bloomberg reported in September that Amazon may open as many as 3,000 Go locations by 2021, with the goal of competing with stores like CVS and 7-Eleven, as well as fast casual and made-to-go meal establishments. The company is also now experimenting with brick-and-mortar stores that sell only four-star rated products from Amazon.com, starting with a location in New York City. Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images Logistics, delivery drones, and warehouse robotics Amazon would be nothing without its infrastructure. The physical and digital foundations of its business and the logistics operation to support it have allowed Amazon to grow faster than almost any other company in modern history, and in those areas you’ll find the company’s most forward-looking projects and costly endeavors. On the logistics side, Amazon has for years been building out a network of delivery workers, fulfillment centers, trucks, cargo planes, and freighters to move products from manufacturers to customers at speeds once thought impossible. The company is now facilitating sea freight shipments, leasing Boeing cargo planes, building a $1.5 billion air cargo hub in Kentucky, and expanding its own UPS and FedEx competitor called Shipping with Amazon, or SWA. All of this is an effort to establish a global logistics network that no one company will be able to compete with. When it comes to last-mile delivery, Amazon has publicly disclosed its work on drones and the Prime Air program to use those unmanned aerial vehicles to drop packages on our doorstep. The project has been in the works since 2013, and it’s hit a few snags as the regulation of US commercial drone operations has been a slow and often painful process for companies trying to get operations off the ground. Amazon is building a global logistics operation involving drones, planes, and freighters But Amazon has been testing its drones for years and performed the first public demo delivery in the US last year. Meanwhile, it continues to submit outlandish patents about its vision for the future of drone delivery, including one for a self-destructing drone that disassembles itself in an emergency and a delivery drone mothership of sorts that would act as a city’s central hub for package-carrying UAVs. Although the company did raise the minimum wage for all of its employees earlier this month, it’s plowing ahead on warehouse robotics and automation in a way that could fundamentally reshape how its lowest-paid employees perform work — and how many of those employees it needs to retain. Amazon now uses more than 100,000 robots in warehouses around the world to help move and organize products, according to The New York Times, and it also sponsors an annual robotics competition to help spur innovation in AI that could result in more dexterous and intelligent robots capable of performing complex physical tasks. As it stands today, Amazon employs more than half a million people, more so than any other technology company in the country and second only to Walmart in the US. But the eventual result of its investments in robotics and AI is that technology’s biggest and fast-growing workforce could see that growth start to slow and, perhaps years down the line, even shrink as robots tackle ever more complicated tasks. In the process, the company may develop robots for use outside its fulfillment centers. Amazon has already changed how we shop and, by extension, how we live our lives. Its next big step could be changing how we work.
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The Verge
Nintendo is bringing Labo to schools across North America this year
When Nintendo first launched Labo, its line of DIY cardboard accessories for the Switch, many hailed the product’s potential for education. By building Labo kits, kids were able to learn new problem-solving techniques, understand how different technologies worked, and even start to grasp basic programming concepts. Now that potential is being put to use, as Nintendo has partnered with New York-based nonprofit the Institute of Play to bring Labo to actual classrooms. “We want this to be as turn-key as possible, to reach as many potential educators and as many potential students as possible,” explains Reggie Fils-Aimé, president and COO of Nintendo of America. As part of the partnership, Nintendo will be bringing Labo kits to around 100 schools in the United States, with the goal of reaching around 2,000 students during the 2018-19 school year. The Institute of Play, meanwhile, is creating a guide to help teachers integrate Labo into their lesson plans. (In Canada, Nintendo has partnered with an education company called Actua for a similar project.) “We’re really thinking of this as a teacher’s guide.” “What we’re not doing is writing a lock-step curriculum,” explains Arana Shapiro, co-executive director of the Institute of Play. “We’re really thinking of this as a teacher’s guide, so what we’re trying to do is create something that has enough examples so that teachers can feel like they can immediately do something in the classroom with Labo. But we also are trying to give enough support and structure so that teachers can be inventive with the ways they want to integrate Labo into their own classrooms.” Photo by James Bareham / The Verge The project is currently undergoing a pilot phase, and has been integrated in 11 schools in the New York area. According to Shapiro, things have gone well so far. “Immediately kids are excited and engaged and ready to go,” she says. “And the thing that I think is very special about Labo is the willingness to try things. You see kids fostering a kind of grit, where they keep going and going until they get it.” She adds that “the kids are all-in at the beginning, but the adults have a healthy amount of skepticism, and by the end they’re really excited about what they can do when we’re not there anymore.” Each of the Labo kits — there are three available to date, most recently the vehicle kit — follow a similar structure, which Nintendo has dubbed “make, play, discover.” You start by building the cardboard accessories by following a series of playful on-screen instructions, then you play with them on the Switch, using your new fishing rod or piano to play games powered by the tablet. After that, there’s a freeform mode called “toy-con garage,” where players can create new uses for the accessories or create their own accessories. With enough work you can build a cardboard guitar and play a song with it. Shapiro says that the teacher’s guide will have a similar structure, with enough room left so that educators have the freedom to tweak things to better fit their own lesson plans. The program will open up to around 100 schools following the New York pilot, and Nintendo will be providing Switch and Labo hardware for those selected. (Those who are interested can apply here.) Shapiro says that for the first wave of schools, the Institute of Play is looking to reach a range of different students and educators. “We’re trying to create a really diverse group,” she says. “Geographically diverse, socioeconomically diverse, we’re trying to do a mix of public and private schools. We’re trying to account for that diversity that we really want.” For those that aren’t selected, the teacher’s guide will be available for free to everyone later this fall. Photo by James Bareham / The Verge The idea of using video games in school isn’t new. There are special editions of Minecraft and Civilization built specifically for classrooms, and last year Ubisoft created a violence-free mode for Assassin’s Creed Origins, where players could explore a digital re-creation of Ancient Egypt. Meanwhile, Labo wasn’t actually created with learning in mind. “We didn’t plan on it turning out to be educational at all,” Kouichi Kawamoto, a producer on Labo, told The Verge back in April. But after receiving feedback from players, in particular educators who were interested in how they could utilize Labo, Nintendo decided to explore the idea of bringing its DIY line to classrooms. “We’re trying to create a really diverse group.” Fils-Aimé believes that the tactile, creative nature of Labo makes it uniquely suited for teaching STEAM concepts — an acronym for the fields of science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics — to a younger audience. “We think it’s important for kids to get exposure to STEAM, and especially the ‘arts’ part of STEAM,” he says. “Many educators across the country are talking about STEM, STEM clearly is important. The arts aspect, the hands-on aspect, is something that’s important to us.” This is somewhat new territory for Nintendo, though it does follow a much smaller initiative from 2016, where the company partnered with the San Francisco Public Library to offer Super Mario Maker-powered game design classes. Fils-Aimé says there’s no “broad plan” when it comes to Nintendo and education; instead, the company takes things on a case-by-case basis. “We’re certainly interested in making sure the youth of today have 21st century skills, that they are exposed to STEAM principles, that they are thoughtful in terms of critical thinking and creativity and collaboration and problem solving,” says Fils-Aimé. “Those things are important to us.”
1 h
The Verge
Nvidia delivers its self-driving car safety report to the feds
Nvidia, one of the world’s best known manufacturers of computer graphics cards, released its autonomous driving safety report on Tuesday. The Santa Clara-based company, which for several years has been engaged in a high-stakes venture to build the “brains” that power self-driving cars for major automakers like Volvo, Volkswagen, and Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler, is only the fifth company to delivery its voluntary safety report to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The report’s release was timed to coincide with Nvidia’s GPU Technology Conference in Washington, DC, this week. “We are dedicated to working with regulators to deploy self-driving technologies for safer, more efficient roads, and hope this collaboration will bring us closer to a new era of transportation,” a spokesperson said. “a new era of transportation” Some have said that Nvidia lost its early pole position in self-driving when Tesla dropped the chipmaker in favor of its own AI chip, and BMW chose Intel to be its AV tech supplier. But Nvidia has been a crucial, if less heralded, player in the self-driving space. While big names like Ford, Waymo, and GM’s Cruise tend to dominate the headlines, Nvidia has been making some splashy announcements of its own. In October 2017, the company announced the release of Pegasus, a drive system powerful enough to support full Level 5 automated vehicles that can be operated anywhere and anytime. Earlier this month, Volvo announced that it will use Nvidia’s Xavier computer for its next generation of autonomous vehicles. The 20-page safety report highlights the “four pillars” of Nvidia’s approach to autonomous driving technology: AI chips like Pegasus and Xavier that power the vehicles’ operations; data centers to process the massive amounts of data produced by fleets of self-driving cars; the company’s Drive Constellation simulation software to enable virtual world testing; and adherence to federal and international safety standards. the “four pillars” of Nvidia’s approach to autonomous driving technology One interesting section outlines Nvidia’s approach to human-machine interface and driver monitor, referred to as “Drive IX,” as an added layer of safety on top of the vehicle’s self-driving system. Nvidia’s Drive IX system can track a driver’s head and eyes to assess when they’re paying attention to the road, and can monitor blink frequency to assess drowsiness. Depending on a manufacturer’s preferences, Nvidia says the system can alert the driver using audio, visual, or haptic warnings to return their focus to the road. Drive IX can also monitor the environment outside the vehicle. If a driver is about to exit the vehicle without looking as a bicyclist approaches alongside, Nvidia says Drive IX provides an alert or physically prevents the door from opening until the bicyclist has safely passed. There is a disappointing dearth of details on Nvidia’s public road testing in the report. The company outlines the steps it takes before deploying a self-driving vehicle for testing, including safety crew training, and the use of a remote operations center to monitor the fleet’s progress. But it lacks any up-to-date statistics about miles traveled or the cities where it’s tested. (According to Nvidia’s last public disclosure with the California DMV, the company tested two vehicles, logged 505 miles of autonomous driving, and had 105 disengagements (when the vehicle’s system forces the human driver to take control). Nvidia doesn’t aspire to operate fleets of robot taxis Of course, Nvidia doesn’t aspire to operate fleets of robot taxis like some of the other players in the self-driving space. Rather it aims to build the best brains for these cars that it can, then turn around and sell to automakers and tech startups that hope to commercialize autonomous vehicles. Nvidia wants to be the go-to supercomputer for those who may balk at the enormous expense associated with becoming a “full stack” AV operator. “Our ability to combine the power of visual and high-performance computing with artificial intelligence makes us an invaluable partner to vehicle manufacturers and transportation companies around the world,” the company summarizes. Nvidia is only the fifth company to release its safety report under the voluntary guidelines created by the US Department of Transportation. Others include Waymo, the self-driving unit of Google parent Alphabet; General Motors; Ford Motor Company; and self-driving delivery startup Nuro. The vast majority of companies developing self-driving technology have yet to release their reports.
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The Verge
Twitter’s lax account security should give pause to online activists
One reason I write this newsletter about social networks is to cover the new and exotic methods that state actors employ to bend the public to their will. Much of the conversation over the past two years has been around “troll farms” or “troll armies” — essentially, remote workforces that attempt to wreak havoc from their laptops on targets around the world. On Saturday we learned of a much more disturbing — and in-person — method of social media hacking. Katie Benner, Mark Mazzetti, Ben Hubbard and Mike Isaac had the tale of Ali Alzabarah, a Twitter engineer recruited by Saudi Arabia to use his position to identify government critics: Twitter executives first became aware of a possible plot to infiltrate user accounts at the end of 2015, when Western intelligence officials told them that the Saudis were grooming an employee, Ali Alzabarah, to spy on the accounts of dissidents and others, according to five people briefed on the matter. They requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. Mr. Alzabarah had joined Twitter in 2013 and had risen through the ranks to an engineering position that gave him access to the personal information and account activity of Twitter’s users, including phone numbers and I.P. addresses, unique identifiers for devices connected to the internet. Perhaps it had previously occurred to you that state actors would attempt to recruit engineers and other social-network employees as spies. I spent less time thinking about it than I probably should have! In any case, it’s chilling, and had real-world consequences. Alzabarah — who was fired, and now reportedly works for the Saudi government — accessed dozens of accounts, as part of a wide-ranging effort to identify the kingdom’s most influential critics and intimidate them into silence. Another part of this effort involved the consulting company McKinsey, best known as the place where your college friends spend two lazy postgraduate years before business school. As the New York Times reported, McKinsey assembled a 9-page report on the Saudis’ behalf naming prominent Saudi dissidents. One of the men named was arrested, along with two of his brothers, and the account of an anonymous critic was shut down. (McKinsey denied everything, rather weakly.) Facebook has spoken often in the past about the strict controls it places around user accounts in an effort to thwart the kind of attack that Alzabarah mounted. Every time a user’s data is accessed, Facebook logs which employ did so, and regularly audits the logs looking for suspicious behavior. At Twitter, things are much looser. Perhaps you have forgotten the time that a contract worker briefly deactivated President Trump’s account; I sure haven’t. Here is the seriousness with which Twitter takes account security, from my story last year: In the wake of Trump’s account deactivation shortly before 10PM ET on Thursday, former employees gathered in a private Slack that they use to discuss the company’s travails. The rogue employee, who has not been identified, was an immediate source of fascination. “We’re now referring to this individual as ‘the legend,’” one former employee told The Verge. At the same time, the former employee was not surprised by the incident. “People have ‘dropped the mic’ in the past and deleted accounts, verified users, and otherwise abused their power on the last day,” the employee said. In each case, the employee said, the abuse was caught quickly and did not become public. These “mic drops” were possible because of the broad availability of customer support tools inside Twitter. The company won’t say how many people have access to the tools necessary to deactivate an account like Trump’s — and after today, the number is likely much lower. But up until now, as many as hundreds of people have had access to the tools, which let employees see a broad range of information about the account. The access does not allow employees to send tweets from other users’ accounts, or to read a user’s direct messages. The man was eventually revealed to be a German citizen named Bahtiyar Duysak. He said that he had made a mistake. Still, when considered in light of the Times’ story about spying, it ought to give pause to the large group of people who use Twitter as a tool for activism. It ought to give pause to other social networks, as well. I asked around for other public cases in which a social network had caught a spy in its ranks, and came up empty. But it’s a safe bet that others have attempted the playbook that the Saudis have, and possibly succeeded — at Twitter and elsewhere. For activists who risk their freedom when they tweet, it’s a chilling reminder to take extra steps to protect their identities, lest they wind up in the next McKinsey report. And for Twitter, it’s another major embarrassment in a year that has had too many of them. Democracy Facebook Ads From Unknown Backer Take Aim at Brexit Plan Adam Satariano investigates more Facebook dark money: a group pushing Britain to exit the European Union in much starker terms than it has planned. Facebook says it will soon require British advertisers to confirm and disclose their real identities: In the past 10 months, the organization spent more than 250,000 pounds on ads pushing for a more severe break from the European Union than Mrs. May has planned. The ads reached 10 million to 11 million people, according to a report published on Saturday by a House of Commons committee investigating the manipulation of social media in elections. The ads, which disappeared suddenly this week, linked to websites for people to send prewritten emails to their local member of Parliament outlining their opposition to Mrs. May’s negotiations with the European Union. #TrollTracker: Criminal Complaint Filed Against Russian Troll Farm The Digital Forensics Research Lab digs in on the October 19th indictment of a Russian national in connection with an effort to interfere in the US midterm elections. Key point: Russia is spending more on its campaign this year than it did in 2016. (Fake accounts are getting more expensive!) The first financial detail included in the criminal complaint against Elena Khusyaynova showed that between January 2016 and June 2018, Project Lakhta’s proposed operating budget was more than two billion Russian rubles ($35 million USD). In the first half of 2018, the proposed operating budget was 650 million Russian rubles (over $10 million USD). Put simply, the budget for first half of 2018 nearly matched the total troll farm budgets from 2016 and 2017. The itemized budget requests, which Khusyaynova allegedly organized, increased every single month in 2018. How Political Campaigns Are Messing With Your Mind Sue Halpern surveys the political landscape post-Cambridge Analytica and finds any number of companies still invested in the same kind of psychographic targeting. And much of it looks much more invasive, on the surface, than anything Cambridge Analytica did: Judging personalities, measuring voice stress, digging through everything someone has ever said—all of this suggests that future digital campaigns, irrespective of party, will have ever-sharper tools to burrow into the psyches of candidates and voters. Consider Avalanche Strategy, another startup supported by Higher Ground Labs. Its proprietary algorithm analyzes what people say and tries to determine what they really mean—whether they are perhaps shading the truth or not being completely comfortable about their views. According to Michiah Prull, one of the company’s founders, the data firm prompts survey takers to answer open-ended questions about a particular issue, and then analyzes the specific language in the responses to identify “psychographic clusters” within the larger population. This allows campaigns to target their messaging even more effectively than traditional polling can—because, as the 2016 election made clear, people often aren’t completely open and honest with pollsters. “We are able to identify the positioning, framing, and messaging that will resonate across the clusters to create large, powerful coalitions, and within clusters to drive the strongest engagement with specific groups,” Prull said. Avalanche Strategy’s technology was used by six female first-time candidates in the 2017 Virginia election who took its insights and created digital ads based on its recommendations in the final weeks of the campaign. Five of the six women won. Snapchat is a popular source for news among college students Snapchat is a surprisingly popular place for kids to get news, according to new data from the Knight Foundation: In a survey of 5,844 college students from 11 US institutions, 89 percent said they got at least some of their news from social media over the previous week. And Facebook was the most popular outlet, with 71 percent of respondents saying they got news from the platform during that time period. Interestingly, Snapchat came in second place, with 55 percent of the students saying they had gotten news from the app during the past week. And YouTube, Instagram and Twitter followed, pulling 54 percent, 51 percent and 42 percent of respondents, respectively. YouTubers Will Enter Politics, And If They Do, They’re Probably Going To Win Ryan Broderick looks at the political success that a group of YouTubers have had getting elected to Congress in Brazil: Kim Kataguiri is known in Brazil for a lot of things. He’s been called a fascist. He’s been called a fake news kingpin. Is he a YouTuber? He definitely usesYouTube. He’s definitely a troll. A troll with a consistent message, though, he points out. Maybe he’s Brazil’s equivalent of Milo Yiannopoulos. His organization, Movimento Brasil Livre (MBL) — the Free Brazil Movement — is like the Brazilian Breitbart. Or maybe it’s like the American tea party. Maybe it’s both. Is it a news network? Kataguiri says it isn’t. But it’s not a political party, either. He says MBL is just a bunch of young people who love free market economics and memes. One thing is very clear: His YouTube channel, the memes, the fake news, and MBL’s army of supporters have helped Kataguiri, 22, become the youngest person ever elected to Congress in Brazil. He’s also trying to become Brazil’s equivalent of speaker of the House. YouTube Creator Blog: A Final Update on Our Priorities for 2018 YouTube’s head of product, Neal Mohan, tells YouTubers to oppose the European Union’s Article 13, which creates draconian new requirements on tech platforms to check for copyright infringement. This legislation poses a threat to both your livelihood and your ability to share your voice with the world. And, if implemented as proposed, Article 13 threatens hundreds of thousands of jobs, European creators, businesses, artists and everyone they employ. The proposal could force platforms, like YouTube, to allow only content from a small number of large companies. It would be too risky for platforms to host content from smaller original content creators, because the platforms would now be directly liable for that content. We realize the importance of all rights holders being fairly compensated, which is why we built Content ID and a platform to pay out all types of content owners. But the unintended consequences of article 13 will put this ecosystem at risk. We are committed to working with the industry to find a better way. This language could be finalized by the end of the year, so it’s important to speak up now. Elsewhere Former Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe is leaving Facebook Brendan Iribe, who led Facebook-owned VR company Oculus until 2016 before moving to lead its PC VR division, is leaving. He’s the 10th high-ranking Facebook to quit this year. Also leaving — an Interface exclusive! — is Oculus’ head of diversity and inclusion, Ebony Peay Ramirez. Ramirez, who worked at Oculus for four years, had her last day on Friday. Iribe was an Oculus co-founder, helping Rift inventor Palmer Luckey to launch the experimental headset on Kickstarter in 2012. He served as CEO until 2016, when he stepped down to lead Oculus’ PC-based Rift VR division, and the CEO position was replaced by a “Facebook VP of VR” role held by Hugo Barra. Iribe was conspicuously absent at last month’s Oculus Connect conference, where fellow co-founder Nate Mitchell handled press interviews — and where PC-based VR was basically an afterthought, compared to standalone mobile headsets. VRFocus confirms that Mitchell will lead the division going forward. Facebook On Hunt For Big Cybersecurity Acquisition ($) Reed Albertgotti and Sarah Kuranda say Facebook wants to make a big cybersecurity acquisition that it can point to during its next Congressional hearing. The company’s push comes in the wake of a devastating security breach that affected 30 million users, an incident that added to a litany of security and privacy concerns swirling around the social media company in recent months. Facebook is betting that a splashy acquisition of a security company might serve the dual purpose of bolstering its talent in that field and delivering a much-needed public relations win. It formed a team of people inside its corporate development department to search for cybersecurity companies that might be willing to be acquired, said one of the people familiar with Facebook’s strategy. A Facebook spokeswoman declined to comment. How the Blockchain Could Break Big Tech’s Hold on A.I. Nathaniel Popper looks at some blockchain companies that could challenge Google and Facebook. Or, at the very least, be acquired by them! Ocean Protocol, a project based in Berlin, is building the infrastructure so that anyone can set up a marketplace for any kind of data, with the users of data paying the sources with digital tokens. Unlike Google and Facebook, which store the data they get from users, the marketplaces built on Ocean Protocol will not have the data themselves; they will just be places for people with data to meet, ensuring that no central player can access or exploit the data. Outgoing Nextdoor CEO not amused by @bestofnextdoor How did I miss this amazing story about how the outgoing CEO of NextDoor, an extremely dumb social network for freaking out when you see a stranger walking down the block, getting mad about an extremely funny Twitter account that posts said freakouts? Well, I did. Read it: “I was surprised [that] this was the first time Nirav has publicly acknowledged @bestofnextdoor!” Jenn Takahashi, the parody account’s creator, tells The Verge. “I heard through the grapevine that he wasn’t a fan of the account, and I’m still not sure why. “I did meet up with the [Nextdoor] head of community recently and really tried to emphasize that I’m not trying to take them down or anything,” she adds. “I only post things to make people laugh, and I do my best to retract private info and protect their users’ privacy. I get a ton of really depressing submissions (I’m sure you can imagine), but I don’t post those, because I’m just trying to bring a little bit of levity back to the internet.” Launches Slack engineer figures out way to load messages into a 1995 SNES game Let’s be serious: Bertrand Fan’s “Slack on a SNES” project is the best thing Slack has launched in 2018. Takes Facing Facebook’s Failure David Kirkpatrick, who wrote the defining early history of Facebook, reconsiders his book in light of the past two years. He finds the company too slow to act and too defensive, with no clear answers for what should come next. The last 150 years of global progress towards universal democracy may be imperiled. But it’s not only Facebook’s fault. And the company can’t fix the problems alone. Karen Kornbluh served as U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) under President Barack Obama and is now senior fellow for digital policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. “The leaders of Facebook are being asked by the market to generate growth and continued profits,” Kornbluh explains, “but so far there’s no clear ask from society or government to do anything different. Their motto of ‘move fast and break things’ made sense for an internet that was a tiny piece of the economy and society. But when our whole lives moved online, we needed to have a societal conversation. And we didn’t have that. Shame on all of us. So the question, really, is what is society going to do?” An Alternative History of Silicon Valley Disruption Reviewing three recent books about labor, the economy, and Silicon Valley giants, Nitasha Tiku reconsiders the meaning of “disruption.” It is only now, a decade after the financial crisis, that the American public seems to appreciate that what we thought was disruption worked more like extraction—of our data, our attention, our time, our creativity, our content, our DNA, our homes, our cities, our relationships. The tech visionaries’ predictions did not usher us into the future, but rather a future where they are kings. They promised the open web, we got walled gardens. They promised individual liberty, then broke democracy—and now they’ve appointed themselves the right men to fix it. No, A.I. Won’t Solve the Fake News Problem Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis, professors of neural science and computer science, respectively, tell Facebook not to rely on artificial intelligence to clean up the News Feed: To get to where Mr. Zuckerberg wants to go will require the development of a fundamentally new A.I. paradigm, one in which the goal is not to detect statistical trends but to uncover ideas and the relations between them. Only then will such promises about A.I. become reality, rather than science fiction. And finally ... Today we celebrate three incredible tweets, in ascending order of how good they are. You have to know your video games to understand Elon Musk’s social-networking analogies, but even then it barely coheres as an idea. I’m sharing this mostly because I find it extremely amusing that Elon Musk played Bloodborne, one of the hardest games I have ever played, and thought to himself, “this is exactly like Twitter.” Twitter is Dark Souls of social media. Reddit is Bloodborne. Insta is Zelda.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 21, 2018 Is this real or fake? I don’t care because it looks like they really did catch a Snapchat. They done caught a snapchat https://t.co/zkxKV1indo— Tᴡᴇɴᴛʏ ᴊᴜᴀɴ sᴀᴠᴀɢᴇ (@juannisaac) October 20, 2018 Finally, this little girl trying and failing and eventually succeeding at using her Amazon Echo is the best thing I saw all day. My heart ❤️Watch this little girl try so hard to get Alexa to play her jam #babyshark This is so cuteRETWEET! pic.twitter.com/dGk8joS5Um— StanceGrounded (@_SJPeace_) October 21, 2018 Talk to me Send me tips, comments, questions, and the names of foreign agents who have been placed inside your company: casey@theverge.com.
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The Verge
Apple iPhone XR review: better than good enough
Big screen, small compromise Here’s a question: how much do you care about the display on a phone? Take a moment and really consider it. If you were to put a dollar amount on it, how much would having a perfect display be worth to you? Apple has an answer, and it’s $250. That’s the price difference between the new iPhone XR and Apple’s top-of-the-line iPhone XS — the price difference between the XR’s 6.1-inch “Liquid Retina” LCD screen and the 5.8-inch OLED screen on the XS. Apart from the display, the iPhones XR and XS are far more similar than not: they share the same A12 Bionic processors, the same main cameras with Smart HDR, the same iOS 12, the same gesture controls, the same wireless charging capabilities, even the same forthcoming dual-SIM support. There are some other subtle differences as well, of course: the XR has but a single rear camera, while the XS has a second telephoto lens. The XR is offered in just one somewhat large size, while the XS comes in smaller and larger variants. And the XR is made of aluminum instead of stainless steel, which allows it to come in a wide variety of colors, ranging from white and black to blue, coral, yellow, and red. Those differences are interesting, and worth pulling apart, but really, the simplest way to think about the iPhone XR is that it offers virtually the same experience as the iPhone XS for $250 less, but you’ll be looking at a slightly worse display. So. How much do you care about the display on your phone? Look. The display on the iPhone XR is… fine. It’s fine! It has lower resolution and pixel density than the OLEDs in new flagship phones like the iPhone XS, Galaxy S9, and Pixel 3, but it’s the same 326 pixels per inch as Apple’s previous non-Plus LCD iPhones. Anyone coming to this phone from any iPhone save the iPhone X will not notice a huge discrepancy in resolution. I suspect most people will find it totally acceptable. That’s not to say it matches the quality of previous iPhone LCDs. The iPhone XR LCD definitely shifts a little pink and drops brightness quickly when you look at it off-axis, which often leads to a bit of a shimmery effect when you move the phone around. I noticed that shimmer right away, but I had to point it out to other people for them to see it; it’s one of those things you might not notice at first but you can’t un-see. Apple told me the XR display should match previous iPhone LCDs in terms of performance, but side-by-side with an iPhone 8 Plus, the off-axis shifts are definitely more pronounced. You will also definitely notice the huge bezel around the entire display, which flows into the notch. As with Apple’s other X-series phones, the notch houses the FaceID system and the front-facing camera, and generally fades from notice after just a few hours of regular use. But the bezel... well, you’re going to notice that bezel every time you see an iPhone X or XS anywhere near your phone. It’s very large, and it definitely makes the iPhone XR seem less premium than the iPhone XS. To be clear, the bezel is there for a reason: it houses the LCD backlight. Apple did a lot of custom engineering to pack a dense array of LED backlights into that bezel, and tucked the display controller up under the display itself to eliminate the need for an unsightly chin, which virtually no other phone manufacturer has been able to avoid. The tradeoff? Well, the bezel, and a Lightning port that’s vertically off-center on the bottom. Apple’s also done some extremely detailed work to make the rounded corners of the LCD perfectly match the corners of the phone itself — work I desperately wish other companies would do. (Most other phones with rounded corners have mismatched radii, and the Pixel 3 XL has different corner radii at the top and bottom, which to me looks far worse than any chunky bezel.) The iPhone XR doesn’t have a chin, but the tradeoff is that bezel It’s somewhat easier to round the corners of an OLED panel: each pixel is its own light source, so you can turn them off individually around the curve to smooth it out. You can’t do that with an LCD panel because there’s just one single backlight for the entire display, which will shine through the black pixels along the edge. So Apple built little apertures for the pixels around the corners of the XR display to mask some of the light coming through, on top of antialiasing the curve in software. It’s a neat example of Apple’s attention to detail. Photo by Becca Farsace / The Verge The pixels around the corner of the iPhone XR display All of that backlight engineering means that Apple had to remove 3D Touch, which worked by sensing pressure on the backlight on previous LCD iPhones. Instead, there’s something Apple calls Haptic Touch, which is really just a fancy name for “long press with haptic feedback.” Apple’s Taptic Engine haptic system is the best in the industry, and the effect is pretty convincing, especially on the lock screen shortcuts for the camera and flashlight. I use 3D Touch to scroll around text fields by pressing down on the XS keyboard quite often, and while that doesn’t work on the XR, it’s just as easy to long-press on the space bar to invoke the cursor control feature. Haptic Touch does not have equivalents to everything 3D Touch can do, however — I missed previewing links in Safari and Twitter quite a bit. Apple told me it’s working to bring it to more places in iOS over time, but that it’s going slow to make sure the implementation is right. 3D Touch is one of those Apple technologies that never really went beyond the initial rollout, so I think it’s a toss up as to whether the company sticks with it or moves to an extended Haptic Touch system across the board. The XR display is very much an Apple LCD, but it’s not as good as Apple’s OLEDs All that said, I’ve always been a fan of how accurate and balanced Apple’s LCDs are compared to the OLEDs on most Android phones, and the XR is definitely another Apple LCD. If you’re coming from an iPhone 6, 7, or 8, it will look very familiar. But it’s simply not as good as Apple’s OLEDs. It doesn’t have the deep black levels or infinite contrast of the iPhone XS, it doesn’t support HDR or Dolby Vision video playback, and in general, you can always see the border between the bezel and the edge of the display, even with a dark background. Even with Apple’s True Tone color calibration turned on, it’s always a little warmer than my XS. And there’s that off-axis color shift and shimmer. But again: it’s basically just fine. You have to really care about displays to notice some of these things, and even then you might have to go looking. If it really bothers you, you can spend $250 more on an iPhone XS. Left to right: iPhone XS, iPhone XR, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone 8 The other major consideration with the XR is size: it’s a strange new size of iPhone. The XR sits right between the old iPhone 6-sized phones and the bigger Plus models. I have big hands, so this feels like a nice size compromise, but if you’ve had one of the smaller phones, the XR is definitely going to feel much bigger. If you’re a small phone person, you’re basically going to be stuck with a last year’s iPhone 8 or paying more for an iPhone XS, which is a bummer. If you’ve been using a Plus phone, you’ll notice that you get some of the Plus interface features like side-by-side list views in apps like Messages, which is nice. The XR also comes in a bunch of colors — our all-black review unit looks extremely sleek, but I’ve gotten a chance to play with all the other colors and they’re all very pretty. I like the blue and the coral the best, and the Project Red model is striking. Apple hasn’t made any cases for the iPhone XR yet The XR also has the same redesigned wireless charging coil as the XS, which offers faster charging on the same pads compared to older iPhones. It also has IP67 water resistance, which is a little worse than the IP68 rating of the iPhone XS, but fine for the occasional splash. And it has Apple’s new “wide stereo” speaker system, which uses the earpiece speaker and bottom speaker as a matched pair. It’s a little less loud than the iPhone XS Max, but it’s still quite a bit of volume for a phone. The XR screen has the same improved glass Apple uses on both sides of the iPhone XS, which the company claims is “the most durable ever,” but the glass back is the older formulation used on the iPhone X. So… it’s slightly less durable than the front, by definition. You might want a case, but be aware that Apple doesn’t have any of its own cases yet. There will be third-party XR cases in Apple stores at launch, but it’s a little strange for the company to miss out on such an easy moneymaker. In fact, the entire accessory ecosystem for the iPhone X and now the XR is a little thin. There’s never been a battery case for the X, which I’m told is related to Apple protecting antenna performance, so we’ll see if any appear for the XR. There are vanishingly few Lightning accessories in general, and somewhat infamously, there are no third-party competitors to Apple’s failure-prone Lightning headphone dongle, which is no longer included in the box. (I think we’re in for another round of headphone annoyance here, as there are far more iPhone 6S units in the world than people expect, and the XR seems like the logical upgrade from that phone.) If the XR is as popular as it seems like it will be, the accessory market will grow very quickly, but if you’re rushing to buy one at launch, just be aware that not everything is there yet. Apart from the lack of a second telephoto lens on the back of the XR, the cameras are the same as the main cameras on the iPhone XS. There’s a 7-megapixel f/2.2 selfie camera on the front, and a 12-megapixel f/1.8 camera on the back, all using Apple’s new Smart HDR system that rivals Google’s HDR+ on the Pixel 3. Apple insists that the XR’s cameras and software are exactly the same as the the XS, so there shouldn’t be any differences in how they perform. Apple’s Smart HDR system is more aggressive than any other smartphone camera I’ve used This is actually our third time looking critically at these cameras and Smart HDR, after the iPhone XS review and the Pixel 3 review, and it’s clear that Apple is chasing a very different look than Google and Samsung. Like the XS, iPhone XR photos look incredibly even and preserve highlight and shadow detail more aggressively than any camera I’ve ever used before, at the expense of contrast. It’s a conscious aesthetic decision, according to Apple — the company knows Smart HDR photos look different from traditional photos that have lots of contrast, but the bet is that people will get used to it and eventually prefer this look. And in some cases, I prefer it to the Pixel 3. Photo by Nilay Patel / The Verge Photo taken on iPhone XS Max In practice, Smart HDR flattens highlights and lifts shadows to make everything look evenly lit, and that process can reduce detail and make photos look a little bit artificial. Look at this photo I casually took with the iPhone XS Max while we were shooting our review video — this was just taken under some skylights in a bar, but Smart HDR has lifted the shadows so much that it looks like we were in a photo studio with professional lights. That’s wild. Here’s the selfie Verge video producer Mariya Abdulkaf is taking in that photo: compared to the Pixel 3, Smart HDR on the iPhone XR has lifted the shadows so much that it looks like we had a fill flash, and there’s a ton of missing detail. (Apple told me that the forthcoming iOS 12.1 update, currently in public beta, will address the issue of the front camera appearing to smooth out skin by picking a sharper base frame for Smart HDR, but I wasn’t able to test it yet.) Smart HDR can also by stymied by challenging lighting conditions. Shooting subjects in the shadows against bright backgrounds tends to result in strange exposures, loss of detail, and lots of noise. And shooting in low light can sometimes generate a usable photo that deviates from what a scene actually looks like. I think most people would prefer the iPhone photo above, but it also doesn’t actually look like reality: the iPhone found Mariya’s face, exposed it correctly with the right skin tone, and then flattened all the highlights and lifted all the shadows to make the scene look bright and even. Again, it kind of looks like we brought studio lights to the bar and properly lit the photo. The Pixel 3, on the other hand, does a much better job of capturing the strange red light and shadows in the room, even if the photo is a lot darker and arguably worse. Do you want a nicer photo or a more accurate representation of reality? Only you can look into your heart and decide. I rarely take zoom photos, so I didn’t miss the telephoto lens from the iPhone XS at all — especially since the iPhone XR can still take portrait photos with its single lens. In fact, I preferred the XR’s portrait mode to the XS, because the XR’s brighter f/1.8 lens and larger image sensor is much better in low light than the telephoto camera the XS uses for portrait shots. The quality of XS portrait mode shots tends to drop fairly quickly in low light, but the XR is actually pretty respectable. And the XR also takes wider angle portrait shots than the iPhone XS or the Pixel 3, which I find tremendously useful. The XR’s portrait mode also has Apple’s nice fall-off blur, which looks far more like real bokeh than the sort of bad cut-out blur you see from the Pixel 3. I don’t ever really use portrait mode on any of these cameras, and I don’t think any of it looks terrific or perfectly convincing, but the XR’s portrait mode is by far the most flexible and useful of the bunch. The XR’s portrait mode is more flexible and useful than the XS The iPhone XR shares the same industry-leading video features as the XS: it can shoot in 4K60, and it records stereo audio. When you record in 24 or 30fps, it captures interframes for greater dynamic range. If you’re the sort of person who wants to take a lot of video with a smartphone, an iPhone is the way to go. Overall, I think most people who are in the market for an iPhone XR will be happy with its camera — it’s a significant update from previous iPhone cameras, and, like the XS, it makes the iPhone X look downright bad. But the Pixel 3 still produces winners more consistently, and I prefer the more contrasty, natural look of its photos. And I’d much rather have the Pixel 3’s wide-angle selfie lens than the telephoto lens on the XS. We’ll have to see if Apple’s aggressively flattened photos take over Instagram and push everyone else to change their looks. The iPhone XR offered basically identical performance to the XS as I used it day-to-day, and even hit basically the same benchmark numbers in some quick tests. It has slightly less RAM than the XS at 3GB instead of 4, but it’s pushing far fewer pixels, so it didn’t seem to matter. The biggest performance jump you’ll notice is web rendering times; the A12 is lightning-fast at Javascript and due to get even faster with a Safari update. Overall, Apple’s chips are so far ahead of the industry that it’s clear the A12 Bionic has tons of headroom to spare; this phone should feel fast for a few years. The XR also has a larger battery than the X and XS, and it ran for about 13 hours in my everyday use of browsing, email, Slack, and various apps, with about 6 hours of screen on time, which is about the same as the XS Max and slightly more than the 8 Plus from last year. The battery lasted 13 hours under normal use The only major performance difference between the XR and XS is LTE: the XS supports Gigabit LTE speeds, and the XR does not. Gigabit LTE can provide faster network speeds if your carrier supports it, but even if it doesn’t, phones with gigabit are traditionally better at holding onto a connection in weak signal areas. I’m not equipped to test this head-to-head, but if network performance is a concern to you at all, it might be worth spending more for the XS. I also couldn’t test dual-SIM support, since it’s not available yet, but Apple did show me an XR that was running on both Verizon and AT&T’s networks. We’ll have to test this out much more thoroughly when that feature ultimately ships. iPhone XS (left), iPhone XR (right) If one thing is clear about the iPhone XR, it’s that Apple is going to sell tons of these. They’re huge upgrades from the iPhone 6 era of Apple phones, with the latest processors and cameras, a big screen in an updated design, and a competitive opening price of $750 for the 64GB model. That’s $50 less than the smaller Pixel 3. It’s priced to move. When I first picked up the iPhone XR, it felt like the big questions would be about what the XR was missing compared to the XS. But now that I’ve used this thing for a while, that seem like the wrong way to think about it. The real question for iPhone buyers is whether the high-res OLED display on the XS is worth $250 more than the XR. Because otherwise, the XR offers almost everything you’d want in a 2018 phone. Most people can probably find a better way to spend $250 than infinite black levels If you do care about screens, you can spend $50 more on a Google Pixel 3 and get a better camera and better, smaller display. You can often find the Samsung Galaxy S9 with a high-res OLED screen for less than $700, if you’re willing to compromise slightly on camera quality. And, of course, you can upgrade to the iPhone XS for an extra $250, and get host of other smaller improvements in addition to one of the industry’s best displays. Personally, I would pay the extra money for a better OLED screen in a heartbeat, because I am extremely picky about displays. But I think most people can find way better ways to spend $250 than on things like infinite black levels and 60 percent wider dynamic range when viewing photos. And in that case, the iPhone XR is a no-brainer upgrade. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. For more information, see our ethics policy.
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The Verge
HTC’s blockchain phone is ready for preorder
HTC just announced actual specs for its much-hyped blockchain phone, the Exodus 1, and is letting people sign up for preorders. The phone contains a wallet that’s kept in a secure area “protected from the Android OS,” according to a press release, which can be used to hold the keys to your cryptocurrency and tokens like CryptoKitties. The phone was first announced back in May as one of the company’s more intriguing projects. Back then, HTC’s chief decentralized officer Phil Chen said each Exodus phone would act as a node to facilitate bitcoin trading among users. He also stated that the phone would allow you to “own your own identity.” But none of that is happening now. Instead, the Exodus 1 simply has a part of the phone partitioned... Continue reading…
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The Verge
Dyson to build electric car manufacturing plant in Singapore
British company Dyson, best known for premium appliances, is moving ahead with its plans to build an electric car. The firm announced today that board members have approved the construction of its first car manufacturing plant in Singapore, with the “purpose-built advanced [..] facility” due for completion in 2020. Dyson first announced it would be entering the automotive industry in 2017, with the company’s founder James Dyson saying that the new cars would be “radically different” to current electric vehicles. Reports earlier this year suggest the company has ambitions for a whole range of EVs, with a first, high-end model followed by two less expensive vehicles designed for the mass market. It may seem an unusual step for the company, but it has experience building the essential components of electric cars, including long-lasting batteries and digital motors (that is the firm’s term for its brushless DC motors; a format already used in many electric vehicles). Dyson needs to build on this engineering expertise to construct its EV, and plans to hire an additional 300 automotive vacancies at its new R&D center in Hullavington in the UK. In a letter to employees, Dyson’s CEO Jim Rowan said that construction on the new Singapore manufacturing plant would begin in December. Rowan cited the country’s access to high-growth markets, skilled workforce, and extensive links with supply chains as reason for choosing the location. “It is therefore the right place to make high quality technology loaded machines, and the right place to make our electric vehicle,” said Rowan.
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The Verge
Amazon’s latest cashier-less Go store opens in San Francisco today
Amazon’s latest experimental Go convenience store is opening today in San Francisco, adding the Bay Area city as the third after Chicago and Seattle in the company’s ongoing offline retail expansion. The store, located at the corners of California and Battery in the city’s financial district, is modeled much like the five existing locations. It largely serves prepared food, snacks, and drinks, with a focus on Amazon’s own line of sandwiches, salads, and meal kits. But the big innovation is its complete removal of the checkout process. Instead of standing in line and paying a cashier, cameras and sensors track your movements through the store after you’ve scanned your Amazon account at the front and monitors when you take items off shelves. When you leave, you’re charged for what you’ve taken and given a digital receipt through Amazon’s standalone Go app. I took a tour of the 2,300-square-foot location late last week, when its windows were covered and its existence largely a secret until the San Francisco Chronicle revealed the address on Thursday using property records. The interior is that of a very nice convenience store, with some seating and microwaves up front for warming up frozen pre-made food and eating in if you so choose. As for checkout, everything worked as advertised. I used the Amazon Go app to walk through a set of automated doors near the front, and from there I picked up an Amazon-made chicken bánh mì sandwich and walked right back out without any hassle. Photo by Nick Statt / The Verge The store’s motto is “Good Food Fast,” and the app even tracks how long you spent during each visit as a kind of brag about the efficiency of the cashier-less model. Dilip Kumar, Amazon’s vice president of technology for Amazon Go, told me that the core focus of the Go model is to save people time. “How crowded [the store] is no longer is a function of how long it’s going to take,” Kumar told me. With Go stores, the company wants to eliminate the concept of a morning or lunch rush, as well as the notion that you have to restrict what you buy and where you eat based on how much time you have to wait in line, place an order, and wait for it to be prepared. It’s clear from the layout of the store and its upscale presentation that, at least in San Francisco, Amazon is aggressively targeting delis, cafes, casual lunch spots, and drug stores with its Go model. Stocked at the California Street location is pretty much everything you’d find at a 7-Eleven, with a small and seemingly hand-picked selection of goods you might more readily find at, say, a Walgreens. For instance, you can head to the Go store to purchase a can of Pringles, or maybe some chapstick, and choose from a pretty basic selection of cold medicine. You can also buy bread, milk, and cheese. Amazon is aggressively targeting delis, cafes, lunch spots, and drug stores But the focus is more on the fresh food. The quality and selection of the ready-to-eat food is designed to be wide-ranging and competitive with the lunch selection in a downtown urban center. Amazon has a staff of workers and a full kitchen in the back of the store, and each day it makes fresh items that you might be willing to pay made-to-order prices for. That includes sushi, breakfast burritos, salads, and an assortment of sandwiches, among other snacks, candy, and desserts. The company has stocked the store with more expensive ready-to-cook kits from its Blue Apron-style meal service, which were restricted to online ordering until the launch of the first Go store in late 2016. Amazon has also partnered with local third-party restaurants, including bakery La Boulangerie and South Indian restaurant chain Dosa, to flesh out its inventory with pastries, yogurts, hummus, and other options. It even partnered with a local chocolate maker to make a San Francisco-centric brand of Amazon Go chocolate. Ultimately, Amazon hopes its cashier-less model proves convenient enough, and its food and product selection appealing enough, to draw people away from the tried-and-true chains we’ve become accustomed to. The company is not necessarily trying to replace the 7-Elevens and Walgreens of the world, at least not yet. And a Go store is a far cry from a fast casual restaurant or a traditional restaurant with counter service. Rather, right now it seems like Go stores are an avenue for Amazon to establish a stronger foothold in offline retail, just like its physical bookstores in Seattle and New York City and its acquired Whole Foods locations give it a strategic footprint in groceries and paper books. Photo by Nick Statt / The Verge Of course, down the line, Amazon could use its Go model as a way to aggressively expand its brick-and-mortar operation if the stores prove especially successful and capable of handling high volumes of shoppers. Bloomberg reported in September that the company plans to open thousands of locations over the next three years in what would be a remarkable escalation of Amazon’s offline retail rivalry with Walmart, grocery chains, and even the traditional restaurant and fast food industries. We’re not quite there yet. But Amazon is starting to move faster, and in the process its transforming from an e-commerce giant to a true, do-everything retail operation. The company has already planned its second San Francisco location at a site basically around the corner from its current one, at 98 Post Street. It will be slightly smaller than the first one, and it’s opening this winter, the company says. Meanwhile, in Chicago, Amazon is opening its third Go store at the Illinois Center in 2019. That will bring is total number of stores up to eight, with at least one location planned for New York City some time in the next year.
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The Verge
Qualcomm announces Snapdragon 675 with faster cores and triple-camera support
Qualcomm has announced the Snapdragon 675, a mid-range smartphone SoC with some high-end features. Perhaps most notable is the fact that its new Kryo 460 architecture is built around ARM’s Cortex-A76 cores, which are designed for flagship devices and haven’t yet made their way into a Qualcomm chip. (The first major SoC with A76 is Huawei’s Kirin 980.) The Snapdragon 675 has two performance-focused cores at 2.0GHz alongside six 1.78GHz cores designed for power efficiency. For comparison, the current flagship Snapdragon 845 uses four 2.8GHz performance cores based on the Cortex-A75, so it’ll still be a lot faster. The 845 is also built on a 10nm process versus the 675’s 11nm. But as Anandtech notes, it’s unusual to see Qualcomm launch a new CPU design on a mid-range product, particularly considering that the results will probably outperform the ostensibly higher-tier (and not exactly old) Snapdragon 710. Cores aside, the Snapdragon 675 appears to have designed for the reality that high-end features are no longer the exclusive preserve of flagship phones. The new image signal processor has been built with triple-camera setups in mind, while there are gaming enhancements for specific titles that sound similar to Huawei’s GPU Turbo optimizations. The 675 also includes Quick Charge 4+ support and a faster AI engine. Qualcomm expects the Snapdragon 675 to make its way into consumer phones in the first quarter of 2019, so don’t be surprised if it seems like every new device has three cameras on the back by then.
The Verge
Hurricane Willa’s dangerous intensification, explained
After a massive intensification over the weekend, Hurricane Willa is whirling toward Mexico’s west coast as a Category 4 storm. Everything about the storm will be life-threatening, the National Hurricane Center warns: hurricane-force winds, flash flooding, landslides, and storm surge are predicted along the storm’s path. “Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion,” the National Hurricane Center says. Just days ago, Hurricane Willa was a tropical storm, CNN reports. By Monday morning, Willa had become a Category 5 hurricane with winds reaching speeds of 165 miles per hour. By Monday afternoon, the winds had slackened just a little to 150 miles per hour, and the National Hurricane Center downgraded the storm to a Category 4. The storm is on track to hit the Isla Marías archipelago on Tuesday morning before striking mainland west-central Mexico later in the day. “It definitely looks like a pretty serious threat.” While the storm’s expected to continue losing strength, the National Hurricane Center predicts it probably won’t lose a significant amount of steam before it hits Mexico. “Unfortunately landfall is tomorrow, so it doesn’t have a ton of time to weaken,” says Phil Klotzbach, an atmospheric scientist at Colorado State University. The storm is still set to be a major hurricane when it strikes land. “It definitely looks like a pretty serious threat,” he says. After back-to-back hurricanes pummeling the east coast of the US, a hurricane on the Pacific coast of North America may seem surprising. But in fact, the northeastern Pacific is actually more prone to hurricanes than the Atlantic, Klotzbach says. So far, three Category 5 storms have formed in the northeast Pacific this year, probably due to a combination of favorable atmospheric conditions, and warm ocean waters. And taking storm frequency, duration, and intensity into account, this is the region’s most active hurricane season on record, he says The Verge spoke with Klotzbach about hurricanes in the Pacific, Willa’s speedy intensification, and why this year is so odd. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Is Hurricane Willa unusual? It’s unusual in that it intensified that quickly. The models were always really aggressive at developing this storm. The [National] Hurricane Center has been watching this thing for a while, and it wasn’t really doing much — and then basically the bottom fell out of it and it went from a tropical depression to a Category 5 in like 48 hours, which is very impressive. Not the fastest, but definitely up there in terms of intensifying quickly. “It’s unusual in that it intensified that quickly.” In terms of its track, that’s pretty typical for late season storms in the east Pacific. They tend to move west and then go north and hook back into Mexico. So for the western coast of Mexico, getting stuff in October into November isn’t that uncommon. I think it’s probably going to weaken. But even if it’s a four or a three it’s certainly one of a stronger storms that have hit them. Is there a pattern to hurricane formation in the Pacific, and does Hurricane Willa fit that pattern? In the Pacific, the water temperatures get cold as you go further north — which is why we don’t see hurricanes hitting California — and also the shear gets quite strong. So storms in the northeast Pacific form in a nice tight little latitude-longitude area. And then most of them go west and track north, get to cold water, and die. Most hurricanes in the northeast Pacific don’t really impact people. Which is why frankly, in research, it’s probably the most neglected hurricane basin. “This one certainly has the potential to be quite strong when it hits.” But then you do get these storms obviously, like we had Patricia [in 2015], which is probably the one that people remember the most. Hurricane Kenna in 2002 was a very strong hurricane that went into the western part of Mexico, and killed four people when it made landfall. Certainly you do get these kinds of storms that do these right-hook turns into Mexico, and Kenna is actually a pretty good analog in terms of its track because it made landfall as a [Category] 4 on October 25th — so about the same time. These kinds of powerful hurricanes have hit in the past in western Mexico, but obviously this one certainly has the potential to be quite strong when it hits. #Willa is now a Category 5 #hurricane - the 3rd of the 2018 Northeast Pacific (to 180°) hurricane season to date. #Lane #Walaka pic.twitter.com/VIJdwckvaj— Philip Klotzbach (@philklotzbach) October 22, 2018 We don’t hear about hurricanes in the Pacific as often as we hear about hurricanes in the Atlantic, is that because there are fewer? There are actually more! This has been the most active northeast Pacific hurricane season on record, and no one pays attention to the storms because they generally go out to the middle of nowhere and die. So unless they go and hit Hawaii, like Lane did, people just kind of ignore them and go, “Oh, it’s a nice pretty hurricane out in the middle of nowhere doing no impacts to anyone.” But it’s been a phenomenally active northeast Pacific season. Climatologically the Atlantic has about 12 storms, and the northeast Pacific has 16, so they do get more. Not every year, but in general it’s more active than the Atlantic. Why is that? A lot of it is just that the shear is lower. Shear is basically the change in wind direction with height in the atmosphere. So the idea is that hurricanes want to be upright. If you have shear — if you have winds in one direction blowing, say, out of the east, and winds in the other direction blowing out of the west — that will basically tilt the hurricane circulation. It disrupts the vortex, and you just can’t get the deep thunderstorms you need to support the storm. So shear is detrimental for hurricanes, and when you get a lot of shear it tends to really knock down the season. “This year is kind of an oddball year.” So you have an area of low shear right off the coast of Mexico, and the waters there are certainly plenty warm to support nasty hurricanes. One of the ideas is that a lot of the storms that form in the northeast Pacific actually come from disturbances moving off Africa. If they don’t develop in the Atlantic, sometimes they’ll [go all the way across the Caribbean and] develop in the eastern Pacific. So in a lot of ways, the Atlantic and the northeast Pacific tend to be inversely related: when the Atlantic is very active, the northeast Pacific tends to be quiet, and vice versa. Is that what’s happening this year? This year is kind of an oddball year. This year’s a little above normal in the Atlantic. But normally when the northeast Pacific is as active as it is this year, you wouldn’t expect the Atlantic to have much activity at all, so it’s a little unusual in that regard. That’s one of the many things we’re trying to figure out for this year: how those relationships that we have in our heads don’t always work. Convective bursts surrounding the eye of Category 5 #Hurricane #Willa off Mexico's west coast. Winds are sustained at 160 MPH (260 KM/H). Center is approx 155 MI (250 KM) SW of Puerto Vallarta. @NHC_Pacific predicts landfall near Mazatlan on Tuesday. (@NOAASatellites GOES-East) pic.twitter.com/twA6f3ndUJ— NASA SPoRT (@NASA_SPoRT) October 22, 2018 Why did Willa intensify so quickly? The waters are warm. I looked for Willa, they’re running about a degree warmer than normal. The interesting thing is that there’s some theoretical research that basically says when your water temperatures are at a certain level, the hurricane can only get so strong. “Willa is right near as strong as a storm can get with the current water temperatures.” So Willa is right near as strong as a storm can get with the current water temperatures. Which basically means that the environment has to be pretty much perfect — because normally hurricanes are nowhere near as strong as they can possibly get for the water temperatures because of shear, and other factors that come into play and knock the storm down. The thing with Willa is that theoretically it really can’t get any stronger than it is, given the water temperatures that it’s under. And it looks like the shear is going to go up. So even though the water temperatures are going to get a little bit warmer, the shear is going to go up, and that should knock the storm down a little bit in intensity before it hits the coast. Talk about rapid intensification! In the last 24 hours (see animation), the max sustained winds of #Hurricane #Willa have increased from 100 MPH (155 KM/H) to a whopping 160 MPH (260 KM/H)! Central pressure has dropped from 975 MB (28.80") to 925 MB (27.32"). (@NOAA GOES-East) pic.twitter.com/qBcoL7p1QO— NASA SPoRT (@NASA_SPoRT) October 22, 2018 What’s the role of climate change here in the active Pacific hurricane season, and with Willa? In general, you have warmer waters, [which] provides more fuel for the storms. I would say that certainly, yes, it’s not going to help matters. But it’s not as simple and straightforward as saying you warm the surface of the ocean, you’re going to get stronger hurricanes. There’s other factors that come into play, too. When you warm the atmosphere in climate change, you warm throughout the atmosphere, not just the ocean surface, and that takes a little bit of the edge off of just warming the ocean’s surface. “It’s not going to help matters.” This year we’ve had really low shear, which is probably driven by El Niño-like conditions. And El Niño is mostly a natural event that’s been occurring as long as people have been on the planet, and probably before then. People want like, “Humans are eight percent responsible.” But it’s really hard to say for sure in that regard. I’m concerned with sea level rise: even if the storms don’t change at all with its intensity, if, say, the sea level is 6 inches higher than it used to be, you’re going to get more inundation — especially where the coast slopes up very gradually. And also I think there’s a lot of evidence showing that these storms will bring more rain. Obviously Florence and Harvey are extreme examples of that, but long-term that is something we expect to see. What else do you want people to know about Willa? “We’re just going to have to hope and pray it that it weakens before it hits.” It’s a serious storm, it’s going to make landfall tomorrow. You have a Florence, and an Irma, and people think, “Oh, you have two weeks notice that a hurricane’s coming.” And that’s not always the way it is. Sometimes these storms come very quickly — and certainly we saw that with Michael and with Willa, too. The storms that come in and do these right hooks into Mexico this time of year are pretty common, but obviously this one is going to be quite strong. So we’re just going to have to hope and pray it that it weakens before it hits. We’ve got a little over a day. If people happen to be there, follow the advice of local emergency management, they know the storm is out there and will be the best people on the ground to provide advice about what to do.
The Verge
Linus Torvalds returns to Linux development with new code of conduct in place
Linus Torvalds, the software engineer and outspoken Linux kernel creator, has returned to oversee the open source project following a self-imposed break last month designed to help him adjust his controversial behavior. Torvalds, who has a reputation for being rude and aggressive to other members of the community, said at the time that wanted to address his “flippant” actions and proclivity for personal attacks. “I need to change some of my behavior, and I want to apologize to the people that my personal behavior hurt and possibly drove away from kernel development,” Torvalds wrote at the time. Now, about one month later, interim Linux chief Greg Kroah-Hartman, who Torvalds appointed to oversee development of the kernel, has announced that he’s “handing the kernel tree” back to Torvalds in the announcement note for version 4.19. “These past few months has been a tough one for our community, as it is our community that is fighting from within itself, with prodding from others outside of it,” Kroah-Hartman wrote. “So here is my plea to everyone out there. Let’s take a day or two off, rest, relax with friends by sharing a meal, recharge, and then get back to work, to help continue to create a system that the world has never seen the likes of, together.” Torvalds stepped back from the Linux community to rethink his treatment of other developers While Torvalds has yet to release a statement of his own, ZDNet reports that he and Kroah-Hartman are both currently in Scotland meeting with Linux developers for the Open Source Summit Europe conference. Linux is an open source project, but Torvalds oversees the Linux Kernel Mailing List (LKML) and he and Kroah-Hartman receive funding from the non-profit Linux Foundation to maintain kernel development and manage its community of contributors. As part of Torvalds return to the Linux community, the Linux Foundation has officially instated its revised code of conduct that now subscribes to the principles of the more widely adopted and inclusive Contributor Covenant created by Coraline Ada Ehmke. Torvalds announced the new code of conduct in his initial note about stepping back, and the move created controversy in the Linux community for its stark departure from Torvalds’ prior “code of conflict” that treated no-filter feedback and bluntness as the natural and more successful state of open source software development. The new code of conduct asks that contributors deliver criticism constructively and to accept such criticism mindfully, that people use inclusive language, and that members of the community be respectful of “differing viewpoints and experiences.” It also prohibits “sexualized language or imagery,” derogatory comments, personal or political attacks, and “public or private harassment.” Korah-Hartman described the thought process behind pushing for a more inclusive code of conduct in the 4.19 announcement: And we all need to remember that, every year new people enter our community with the goal, or requirement, to get stuff done for their job, their hobby, or just because they want to help contribute to the tool that has taken over the world and enabled everyone to have a solid operating system base on which to build their dreams. And when they come into our community, they don’t have the built-in knowledge of years of experience that thousands of us already do. Without that experience they make mistakes and fumble and have to learn how this all works. Part of learning how things work is dealing with the interaction between people, and trying to understand the basic social norms and goals that we all share. By providing a document in the kernel source tree that shows that all people, developers and maintainers alike, will be treated with respect and dignity while working together, we help to create a more welcome community to those newcomers, which our very future depends on if we all wish to see this project succeed at its goals. It’s not clear whether the state of Linux development will suddenly become more accepting and positive, especially considering Torvalds was only gone for about one month. But with the new code of conduct in place, and Torvalds’ pledge to examine his actions and improve his behavior, it sounds like productive first steps are being made to revise the Linux community’s culture for the better.
The Verge
Mozilla is going to sell VPN subscriptions within Firefox
Today Mozilla announced that it will be running an experiment where a small group of Firefox users will be shown an ad to purchase a subscription to ProtonVPN, as spotted by ZDNet. In a blog post, Mozilla says it picked ProtonVPN for the partnership due to factors like transparency and data retention policies. Beginning October 24th, the ad will show for select US-based Firefox users who are running the latest version — Firefox 62 — on desktop. If eligible and browsing on an unsecured network, you’ll be shown an ad in the top right corner of your Firefox window that prompts you to click through to a sign up page. Image: Mozilla Mozilla is offering ProtonVPN’s services for $10 a month, which is actually $2 more than if you signed up for the same package directly through ProtonVPN. But, the majority of the revenue from ProtonVPN subscriptions that are processed through Mozilla will go directly to Mozilla. Both companies are banking that people will have good will about paying a little more in order to support their “shared goal of making the internet a safer place.” The partnership is useful and does make sense, but ultimately it is an advertisement for a subscription service that will be built into a browser. It’s also not Mozilla’s first foray with baking monetized content into Firefox — new tabs show recommended articles from Pocket, and sometimes those articles are sponsored. If the program proves successful, ProtonVPN says it could expand to all of Mozilla’s more than 300 million users. Image: Mozilla
The Verge
Asus will soon launch its first 15-inch Chromebook
Asus has made a new Chromebook with a 15.6-inch display, the biggest it’s ever gone for a Chrome OS notebook, according to ChromeUnboxed. Besides the new display size, the rest of the upcoming Chromebook C523’s specs sound similar to the company’s previous efforts. The 15.6-inch anti-glare display has a resolution of 1920 x 1080; Asus will also optionally offer a version with a touchscreen. The “NanoEdge design” allows for slimmed-down side bezels, though the top and bottom bezels are still fairly substantial. It’s got a 180 degree hinge so that it can be laid flat down if needed. The Chromebook C523 is powered by an Intel Celeron dual-core processor or an Intel Pentium quad-core processor, depending on which configuration you choose. The same goes for RAM, which comes in either 4GB or 8GB configurations. As for ports, it includes an SD card slot, headphone jack, and four USB ports (two Type-A USB 3.1 / two Type-C USB 3.0). There’s an HD webcam and support for Bluetooth 4.0. The Chromebook weighs 3.2 pounds and promises up to 10 hours of battery life. With the new size, Asus could be going after Lenovo or Acer, two companies that already make larger Chromebooks. Pricing and availability info hasn’t been released yet, but we’ve reached out to Asus for more details. Image: Asus
The Verge
Amazon exec and Super Micro CEO call for retraction of spy chip story
Today, executives from both Amazon and the server manufacturer, Super Micro, are calling for the retraction of a Bloomberg report published earlier this month. The report alleged that these chips were able to compromise the computer networks of as many as 30 companies, including networks belonging to Amazon. Last week, Apple CEO Tim Cook called for Bloomberg to retract a report claiming that Chinese spies smuggled malicious microchips into a company server. In an unprecedented move, Cook sat down for an interview with BuzzFeed News last week in order to address the allegations proposed in the Bloomberg report. Cook said, “This did not happen. There’s no truth to this,” eventually calling for the publication to retract the story which he said Apple had been denying in conversations with reporters for months. The other two companies named in the story, Amazon and Super Micro, decided to follow in Apple’s footsteps today, offering their own statements condemning the allegations. “@tim_cook is right. Bloomberg story is wrong about Amazon, too,” Amazon Web Services executive Andy Jassy said in a tweet earlier today. @tim_cook is right. Bloomberg story is wrong about Amazon, too. They offered no proof, story kept changing, and showed no interest in our answers unless we could validate their theories. Reporters got played or took liberties. Bloomberg should retract. https://t.co/RZzuUt9fBM— Andy Jassy (@ajassy) October 22, 2018 On Monday, Super Micro said that the company would continue to investigate the claims and review its motherboards in search of any hardware manipulations. Just hours after, Super Micro CEO Charles Liang said, “Bloomberg should act responsibly and retract its unsupported allegations.” The report cites 17 unnamed sources and no compromised hardware has surfaced in the weeks since publication. The report garnered nearly instant criticism when it was published earlier this month from cybersecurity experts who were unconvinced by the available evidence. Officials from the Department of Homeland Security, National Security Agency, and the UK’s top cybersecurity agency have also come forward, saying that they have yet to see any evidence corroborating Bloomberg’s claims.
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Google News app bug is using up gigabytes of background data without users’ knowledge
Some users of Google News for Android are reporting that the app has used up excessive amounts of background data, leading to overage charges. According to dozens of posts on the Google News Help Forum, users have been experiencing this issue as early as June. The issue was verified and addressed by a Google News community manager in September, stating that the company was investigating and working toward a fix, but the issue is still ongoing. Verge reader Zach Dowdle emailed in with his experience, and screenshots of his app and Wi-Fi data usage. The Google News app is randomly using a ridiculous amount of background data without users’ knowledge. The app burned through over 12 gigs of data on my phone while I slept and my Wi-Fi had disconnected. It lead to $75 in overage charges. Image: Zach Dowdle The Google News app used 21GB on Wi-Fi in one month. The spike starting September 24th shows when the bug affected Dowdle’s app. Image: Zach Dowdle When Wi-Fi disconnected, the bug used up close to 12GB of mobile data in a night. According to several users, the app burned through mobile data despite having “Download via Wi-Fi” turned on in the settings. In some extreme cases, the Google News app used up to 24GB of data, leading to overage charges of up to $385, users reported. So far, the only solutions seem to be disabling background data, and deleting the app altogether. We’ve reached out to Google about the issue and will update when we hear back.
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Apple’s Phil Schiller confirms the iPhone XR name doesn’t stand for anything
It is one of the enduring mysteries of our time: in a lineup full of otherwise neatly named products, Apple’s alternative hardware cycle iPhones have always seen an -S appended to their names, going back to the iPhone 3GS in 2009. But the question remains: what does the S actually stand for? Turns out, mostly nothing — according to Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller, who told Engadget in an interview that the letters the company picks for its products don’t actually stand for anything at all. That includes this year’s iPhone XS and XS Max, and of course, the puzzlingly named iPhone XR. (The X does stand for 10, though.) Schiller did go on to explain what the letters meant to him, commenting that “I love cars and things that go fast, and R and S are both letters used to denote sport cars that are really extra special.” (Porsche is fond of appending the letters on its models, and Mercedes Benz has both its R- and S-Class vehicles, for example.) It hasn’t always been this way. Back when Apple first announced the iPhone 3GS, Schiller himself proudly explained the name as “the S simply stands for speed, because this is the most powerful, fastest iPhone we’ve ever made.” And when the iPhone 4S rolled around two years later, CEO Tim Cook explained in an interview with Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher at the D10 conference that the product’s “S” designation there stood for Siri, Apple’s then newly introduced digital assistant. By the time that the iPhone 5S and 5C came out in 2013, though, Apple had stopped offering explanations for its names, a trend that continued to the iPhone 6S. Interestingly, the iPhone SE did get a name explanation, again by Schiller, who confirmed that it stands for “Special Edition” to journalist Jason Cipriani. But now, with the XS, XS Max, and XR, we’re back to the alphabetically nihilistic approach where none of these letters actually stand for anything. It’s a curious choice for Apple, a company that usually prides itself on hidden details, as well as for luxury products in general, which often go out of their way to manufacture elaborate stories behind tiny aspects of their brands to further the air of value and history. But sometimes, it seems an R is just an R. (Or at least, a car)
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Samsung teases a reveal for its foldable, dual-screen smartphone
Samsung is getting closer to taking the wraps off its foldable smartphone, a prototype of which has supposedly been in the works for years now. In a tweet sent late last week, the company teased a big reveal of the device, or at least a prototype version of it, describing its upcoming developer conference as “the crossroads between the present and the future” and showing a subtle graphic of two lines unfolding into a right-facing arrow. We’ve been hearing for a while now that Samsung was close to showing off its foldable phone. Samsung CEO DJ Koh hinted in an interview with CNBC in September that the product could arrive as soon as this year, but we still haven’t seen any hardware, even in just the prototype phase. The crossroads between the present and the future – Samsung Developer Conference is where you’ll meet the knowledge needed to stay on tech’s cutting edge. #SDC18Learn more: https://t.co/t66edOWIUi pic.twitter.com/bDZHuZVWee— Samsung Mobile (@SamsungMobile) October 18, 2018 That looks like it could change as early as next month, with it now more likely than ever that either some form of the device’s software interface or perhaps some actual hardware will be on display at the Samsung Developer Conference in San Francisco, which starts November 7th. So far, all we have to go on is this 2014 concept video showing what such a device might look like and how it could be used to fold a phone in two and noticeably reduce its size. Prior to that, Samsung showed off a prototype flexible AMOLED display way back in 2012.
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Watch a Tesla Model S get stolen with a key fob hack
Tesla’s cars may be high-tech, but that doesn’t mean they’re foolproof when it comes to security. This fact is on display in a new video that shows, without the proper protections in place, that it’s not that hard to steal one of the company’s cars. The video shows two thieves skulking around a Model S at night while it’s parked in a driveway in the UK. Using a tablet and a phone in tandem, they eventually intercept the frequency used by the Tesla owner’s key fob, even though it was “at the back of the house,” according to the owner. The thieves then relay that signal to the car, tricking it into thinking that the owner was using the key fob to get in and drive. Thefts like these are a risk with just about any car that allows for... Continue reading…
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Why the golden age of streaming could be coming to an end
Big media companies are getting a lot bigger. AT&T and Time Warner are in the process of merging, despite the Department of Justice’s best efforts, and Disney finally beat out Comcast for control of 21st Century Fox. Of course, Comcast already owns NBC Universal and Illumination studios (proud home of the Minions franchise), so it’s not doing too bad on its own. Nearly every company is getting bigger and more vertically integrated. At the same time, nearly every company that makes video is finding its way into the streaming media business. Disney is planning its own Netflix competitor for 2019, backed by content holdings like Marvel, Lucasfilm, and Pixar. AT&T plans to launch its own Time-Warner focused equivalent around the same time. Similar competitors from Amazon and Comcast are already taking shape. With the streaming subscription business growing this fast, everyone wants a piece — and they’re ready to fight for it. That fight will have real implications for consumers as studios pull back licensed content and silo it into paid subscriptions. Right now, a single Netflix subscription will get you Marvel movies and DC shows alongside in-house originals — but soon, both of those may leave for parent-company subscriptions at Disney and Time Warner respectively. It’s a kind of streaming Cold War, as each company tries to leverage its own franchises into a standalone subscription bundle. It’s too early to say exactly what that will look like. It could be good news for specific fandoms, with skinny bundles letting you zero in on all the Star Trek or Lucasfilm content. But if you’re the kind of person who likes to keep up on everything, get ready to pay a lot more monthly fees. Disclosure: Comcast holds a minority investment in Vox Media, The Verge’s parent company.
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Snapchat’s new segmented lens tech makes the screaming cowboy meme real
Snap has added new lenses to Snapchat, including the option to create ones that apply effects to things like the sky or hair or use a portrait mode cutout to put users on an entirely new background. With the new lenses, you can do cool things like change hair colors, teleport users to a tropical vacation, or add some spectacular constellations to the night sky. However, one filter may have already reached its zenith just hours after its release: it lets you use the skybox-segmenting tech to add the iconic screaming cowboy meme (aka singer Jimmy Barnes as a guest vocalist in Kirin J Callinan’s 2017 song “Big Enough”) to the sky in your photo. sky lenses be lit pic.twitter.com/9TFbf8YaSs— Ellis Hamburger (@hamburger) October 18, 2018 In addition to the new filter options, Snap is adding support for 2D AR experiences. Just snap a Snapcode, view the poster or flyer in the app, and you’ll be able to see an animated version of it (and, of course, take pictures and videos with it). Also new is the option to add faces from your camera roll to lenses, which should help you add dog ears to pictures of your friends who aren’t around to snap in person.
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Lil Tay’s Instagram account posts disturbing abuse allegations
Lil Tay, the preteen viral star known for her foul-mouthed “flexer” antics, has been absent from social media for months. Her accounts went dark in June; in July, a message that simply said “help me” was quietly uploaded to her Instagram story with no further explanation. The young influencer briefly appeared to make a comeback with a new docuseries called Life with Lil Tay, but her accounts have remained quiet — until this past weekend when an unknown user uploaded several disturbing allegations of abuse and mistreatment to Tay’s 2.5 million followers. View this post on Instagram Part 5 Official court affidavit taken from Tay’s management’s email address by numerous people within the industry, this document has been circling around but nobody has released them yet. Swipe through for a full in depth story on Tay’s relationship with Christopher John Hope #FreeLilTay A post shared by #FREELILTAY (@liltay) on Oct 20, 2018 at 5:21pm PDT A person identifying themselves only as “someone who previously worked with Tay” who claims to “have seen everything unfold since the beginning” began posting photos and documents detailing Tay’s relationship with Christopher John Hope. Through a series of disturbing posts, the account claims that a court ordered that Tay be placed in her father’s residence by 4PM on June 3rd. It alleges that Hope “often slept with different women with Tay in same bed” or “was naked around Tay” quite often. Other allegations claim that Hope did not pay Tay’s mother child support. The posts also allege that the sister of Hope’s new partner “would scream at Tay and forcefully lock her in a dark closet for hours at a time for no reason, all with the knowledge and permission” of Hope. “He banned her off of social media because he was afraid she would expose the TRUTH to the world, the truth of what he has done and hasn’t been punished for,” the account says. Circumstances around Lil Tay’s so-called persona and life have long been upsetting. The child star is known for swearing, dropping slurs, and beefing with viral stars like “cash me outside” girl Danielle “Bhad Bhabie” Bregoli. YouTube channels like Drama Alert have claimed that her behavior is scripted and even directed by her teenager brother. As of publish time, the last post from the account is a video in which a doctored voice alleges that Hope, upset about the social media posts, will soon have Tay placed in foster care and have the account shut down. The Verge has reached out to Hope for comment.
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Facebook reportedly looking to acquire a cybersecurity firm in the wake of its most recent hack
Facebook is in the market for cybersecurity help. The Information reported this weekend that the social network giant is looking to acquire a cybersecurity firm, likely to gain key security talent and to serve as a positive public relations move. Two anonymous sources tell The Information that the company has approached multiple firms about a possible purchase and that this deal could close by end of the year. It isn’t clear what kind of security help the company is looking to acquire. This news comes nearly a month after Facebook announced that hackers stole access tokens for 30 million accounts (pared down from an initial estimate of 50 million), allowing them to gain complete access to these user profiles. Of those 30 million, the... Continue reading…
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Samsung updates its Windows VR headset with better display tech
Samsung is refreshing its Windows Mixed Reality headset today with the new HMD Odyssey+. Samsung’s original headset was one of the best for Windows Mixed Reality, and this refreshed model makes some minor tweaks to improve things. The headset has the same size dual 3.5-inch AMOLED displays at 1440 x 1600 resolution per eye (with 110-degree field of view), but this time around there’s a wider eye box to prevent fogging and some new display technology. Samsung is using Anti-Screen Door Effect (Anti-SDE) tech to improve the pixelation that sometimes occurs with VR headsets. The technology is designed to make the spaces between pixels less visible, and therefore increasing the perceived PPI up from 616ppi in the previous model to 1,233ppi in... Continue reading…
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Google Home Hub review: the best digital photo frame
Google’s latest Home device is the perfect digital photo frame for your Google Photos library According to Google Photos, I have 8,536 photos of my two daughters stretching back to the day my eldest was born. Thanks to the new Google Home Hub, I’ve been able to revisit hundreds of these photos over the past few days, each one tugging at my heart strings and bringing up fond memories of them growing up as it flashed across the screen. The $149 Google Home Hub is not just a digital photo frame, but it’s such a good digital photo frame that if it did absolutely nothing else, I could see many parents and grandparents paying the asking price for it without thinking twice. Of course, if you do buy the Home Hub, you’re also getting a smart display and a centralized smart home control hub. The Home Hub is not the largest, most expensive, best sounding, or flashiest smart display you can buy, but it might just be the best one for the most people. And if you’ve been looking for a way to see all of those wonderful memories you’ve captured with your smartphone over the years, the Home Hub is undeniably the easiest way to view them. The Home Hub’s digital photo frame ambitions can be seen throughout the hardware design. It looks like almost exactly like a 7-inch touchscreen tablet permanently affixed to a stand in landscape orientation. That stand is covered in fabric – much like the popular Home Mini – and is home to a single, small speaker. There are also volume buttons and a mute switch for the Hub’s always-listening microphones on the back. The Hub’s compact size is both a plus and a con Beyond that, the first thing most people notice about the Hub is just how small it is. Unlike the Lenovo Smart Displays or Amazon’s Echo Show, the Home Hub is remarkably compact, which makes it easy to place on a counter, nightstand, mantle, or end table without it completely dominating the space. I was even able to put it on top of the back of my range to keep an eye on it while making a recipe. On the flip side, some might find the Home Hub to be too small for their tastes and will want a larger version with a bigger display and more powerful speakers. The small size also makes the Hub a little unstable when you tap the touchscreen – I never actually knocked it over, but it wobbled around whenever I touched the screen or adjusted volume. The front is home to that screen, two far-field microphones, and the key to what makes the Hub’s hardware so good at displaying photos: the “Ambient EQ” light sensor. This sensor lets the Hub automatically adjust its brightness and color temperature based on the ambient lighting in the room, so whether it’s in your bedroom next to a dim, warm lamp or in your kitchen catching bright sunlight on your kitchen counter, the screen is easy and enjoyable to look at. It’s not unlike the True Tone feature in recent iPhones and iPads, but Google says it tuned the auto adjustment feature specifically to make photos displayed on the screen look like a printed image in a frame. The Home Hub’s screen truly does look different than any other digital display when showing photos And it works. The Home Hub’s screen is lovely to look at, never too bright, with pleasing saturation and colors. The relatively low 1024 x 600 pixel resolution is never a problem in use and it looks great from across the room or just a couple of feet away. The screen is very good at combating glare and truly does look different than any other digital display I’ve viewed photos on — it’s remarkable how effective Google’s tuning is at recreating how a printed image looks. Unlike the crappy digital photo frames that were popular a decade ago, the Home Hub actually does justice to your images: I found myself just staring at the thing for minutes at a time waiting for it to refresh with a new memory. (You can also swipe through images when it’s in the ambient slide show mode.) I’m surprised the company doesn’t employ the same effect on the Pixel 3 smartphones. The Home Hub’s Ambient EQ light sensor lets it adjust brightness and color automatically to the lighting in the room. The Home Hub also uses the light sensor to automatically turn its display brightness down and show a digital clock when you turn the lights out in the room, so it’s not a distraction on your nightstand when you’re trying to sleep. Getting images onto the Home Hub is a simple as linking your Google Photos account during setup and selecting which albums you want to view. The Hub works with the new live albums from Google Photos that will automatically update with new images of people that you select, based on Google Photos’ facial recognition features. (This is what I used to find out that between my wife and I we have over 8,500 images of our daughters.) You can then share this album with anyone that has a Google Photos account, making the Home Hub an ideal digital picture frame for grandparents that’s automatically updated with fresh images as frequently as you take them. Getting photos onto the Home Hub is as simple as linking it to your Google Photos account and selecting which albums to display The Home Hub’s software is smart enough to present two vertically oriented photos side by side, instead of cropping them awkwardly. It also cleverly groups images of the same person together when it displays them. The one thing that the ambient photo slideshow feature in Home Hub doesn’t support is any kind of video or animation – I have hundreds of video clips of my kids that I’d love to see on this screen, even if they were just silent animations, but I can’t do that without casting them to it from my phone. A Google representative says that “the team made the decision to not include [video] because moving content is distracting on a screen, that is specifically for Ambient mode,” but they didn’t rule out adding it in the future. Outside of the photo slideshow, the Home Hub can play video from a variety of sources, including YouTube and YouTube TV. You can also cast video from your phone or computer to the Hub with apps like Hulu, HBO Go, and others. Frustratingly, it’s not possible to play Netflix on the Home Hub at all, either natively or by casting from your phone. Google tells me that this limitation is a decision by Netflix and that it’s hoping to be able to add Netflix in the future. For watching video, the Hub’s display looks just as great as it does with photos, and the sound quality from the single speaker is sufficient. The same goes for the voice responses from the Google Assistant, podcasts, or other vocal-based audio. But the speaker does not sound good when it plays music – the sound is flat, thin, and just unpleasant to listen to, particularly when you raise the volume past 50 percent. It’s roughly similar to the Home Mini, but at a louder volume. Fortunately, you can connect the Home Hub to a larger Bluetooth speaker if you want better audio quality for music. The Hub’s other features and software are very similar to what’s available on the Google-powered smart displays from Lenovo and others that came out earlier this year. It can show you the current weather, upcoming calendar appointments, directions (that are then pushed to your phone), random facts, sports scores, timers, alarms, and many other bits of information you might ask for. The Hub can be used as a digital recipe book, displaying step-by-step instructions and video guides. This is clever, but I frequently found the recipes limiting and often not the specific ones I was looking for. The Amazon Echo Show has many of the same features and capabilities as the Hub, but since Google is already so deeply intertwined in my life and has a much greater pool of data about my activities, preferences, and so on, many of the Home Hub’s versions of these features are much more useful and satisfying to use. But I still greatly prefer saying “Alexa” to “Ok Google” or “Hey Google” whenever I want to use voice commands to control the smart display. Google has also updated the smart home control interface for the Home Hub, and it’s not much more comprehensive and powerful. In conjunction with the new Home app for iOS and Android, the Hub can display every room in your home and every smart device you have installed. You can drill down to specific lights or switches, no matter which room they’re in, or just toggle entire groups of lights at a time. You can also get a summary of the smart devices in your home when you swipe down from the top of the screen. The Home Hub will also act as a viewer for Nest video doorbells and cameras, but it doesn’t work with other brands at this time. Despite its name and greater smart home control capabilities, the Home Hub is not a smart home hub itself — you still need to set up devices with their own hubs or on your Wi-Fi network and then connect them to your Google Assistant account before you can control them with the Home Hub. Amazon’s new Echo Show has the ability to set up and control smart home devices without extra apps, hubs, or your phone. The Hub does not have a camera for video calling — but it’s not a problem The other big thing that the Home Hub doesn’t have is a camera for video calling. Google says that it specifically omitted a camera so that people would feel comfortable putting the Hub in a bedroom or other intimate area of their home. Personally, I didn’t miss it – in my experience testing these devices, I’ve found them to be rather clumsy for video calls, because you can’t easily reposition the camera for better framing or view. The privacy concerns that come with having an internet-connected camera staring at you all the time aren’t worth the trade-off of being able to make video calls with the device. The Home Hub can make voice calls through the Google Duo system and it can be used to broadcast to other Home devices on your Wi-Fi network like an intercom, if you do want to use it to communicate. Of all of the devices in Google’s family of Home products, the Home Hub has quickly become my favorite. It’s a great little smart home controller, great little smart speaker for alarms and timers, and a near-perfect digital photo frame to view all of the thousands of pictures I’ve stored in my Google Photos account. It’s also more compact than the smart displays from Lenovo and others, so I can keep it on my nightstand or kitchen counter without it taking up too much room. Sure, it doesn’t sound as good as a Sonos One, Google Home Max, or even a new Echo Dot, but none of those show me pictures of my daughter learning to ride her bike for the first time when I walk by. That alone is enough to make the Home Hub a permanent fixture in my home and probably in the homes of many other parents and grandparents. Photography by Dan Seifert / The Verge Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. For more information, see our ethics policy.
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Google apologizes for YouTube TV outage, offers free week of credit
YouTube experienced a major outage last week that also affected subscription services YouTube TV and YouTube Music. YouTube and its associated services were down for nearly two hours before service was restored, and now Google is apologizing to affected YouTube TV subscribers by offering a free week of credit. “We’re sorry about the unexpected YouTube TV interruption on October 16th,” says a note to subscribers. “We love our TV as much as you do, and our goal is to make sure that you can access your events and shows – whenever and however you want. To help make this right, we’d like to give you a week of free service.” The credit note of $10 is only available to be claimed by 11:50PM PT on Wednesday October 24th, and subscribers will need to fill out a form that was emailed out to YouTube TV users this past weekend. This was the second time YouTube TV experienced a serious outage this year, after the service suffered interruptions during this summer’s World Cup games.
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Razer Phone 2 review: it glows, but it doesn’t shine
Is a gaming phone better than a ‘regular’ phone? Gaming phones like the new Razer Phone 2 seem to fascinate the companies that make them more than the general public. Razer really wants “gaming phones” to happen. But if you’re not sure what that means, the only way for them to convince you is to make gaming phones. So Razer is at it again with the second iteration of its phone that’s dedicated to the idea that people want the smartphone equivalent of a high-end PC with gaming specs. Razer’s hope is that if you’re deeply involved in mobile gaming, want to stream gameplay, or think you can gain an edge in your next match from gaming-oriented hardware, investing in a phone specifically tailored for what you’re into might make sense. What do you get in the Razer Phone 2 that justifies its $799 price tag over a phone with the same price, like the recently reviewed Google Pixel 3? A lot, actually: Dolby Stereo speakers, a fast refresh 120Hz screen with HDR content support, Chroma lighting, tons of Razer game optimizations, and a “game boost” mode that gives you extra power if you need it. However, mobile gaming doesn’t have the same lofty requirements as PC gaming. You don’t need a massive desktop or a $2,000 laptop to play mobile games at their best settings; any other flagship smartphone will do. What Razer wants you to believe is that the Phone 2 is a great phone and the best gaming phone. But only one of those things is true. Since the original Razer Phone launched last year, the Razer Phone 2 has gone through a long list of improvements, but it kept its boxy design. Razer didn’t change the bezels in this year’s model. They’re everywhere! For a device with such thick top and bottom sections dedicated to the speakers, I would have hoped there would be smaller bezels framing the screen. The Phone 2 looks and feels like a premium device, though. The read panel is glass now, which is required for wireless charging, and its build quality is solid. Although an all-black, candy bar phone with a glass back isn’t a unique design, Razer has managed to make its take look different from everything else out there. It’s a big, rectangular phone The device’s footprint hasn’t changed; it’s still the same large slate of aluminum and glass with as many square edges as possible. (Of course, they’re slightly rounded so they won’t cut you.) This phone is large and slippery. You can get used to holding it, but its glass back should probably be protected by a case. Although that just makes the issue of size and ergonomics worse. On the bright side, the Razer Phone 2 doesn’t scratch as easily as the Pixel 3 XL. There’s more to the Razer Phone 2’s backside than just glass and wireless charging, however. There’s also a backlit Razer logo. It supports the static, breathing, and spectrum color profiles that are available on all of Razer’s Chroma accessories. It can also be useful as a notification light when it pulses. You can control the Chroma light’s battery consumption with the included app. There are three power modes: low (notifications only), medium (works only when the screen is on), and high (always on). I used the high power mode during most of my time with the Razer Phone 2, and I found that it didn’t dramatically drain the battery. So your decision about what to do with that light-up logo comes down to how much you like light-up logos. I was really disappointed when I found out that I couldn’t use the Chroma app to control other Chroma-equipped devices I have at home. There is no Synapse 3 app equivalent for the Razer Phone 2. Hopefully, that will change in the future because a phone would be the ideal control hub for all of my Chroma gear. The Chroma logo is a nice touch Also, Razer representatives told me that the rear panel on an upcoming variant (with more storage) will receive a matte finish but still retain wireless charging. If you reallywant to avoid a slippery glass back, you should look forward to it. The volume buttons and power / fingerprint button are in the middle on the left and right sides of the phone, respectively. They take some getting used to, but they pay off when you’re playing games in landscape mode since they’re not too close to your fingers. Also, an improvement made to the fingerprint button this year makes it more accurate on your first try. It’s much better this time around, and I’ve had no issues with it. So those are the basics of the hardware, but the whole reason this phone exists is to be a platform for gaming. One of the first things that makes the Razer Phone 2 a “gaming phone” is its 120Hz QHD screen that’s bolstered by a wide color gamut for viewing HDR content. The high refresh rate echoes PC gaming in some ways because it allows you to see more detail per frame and on a phone. It all seems like a gimmick, but it pays off. This is one of the smoothest displays on an Android phone. The fluidity between home screens, scrolling through webpages or Instagram, and watching content move cleanly across the screen is almost a spectacle. Colors pop, graphics are sharp, and everything on-screen has ample saturation with good contrast (though not as wildly vibrant as Samsung’s). Pokémon Go and Fortnite have never looked better or smoother on an Android phone. The screen is one of the best Android has to offer Android users who haven’t experienced a high refresh rate screen on a phone (like iOS users have with the iPhone X, XS, and XS Max) are in for a real treat. It changes how you perceive animations and graphics on the phone’s screen. Another one of the big issues with last year’s Razer Phone was the display wasn’t bright enough, but that’s been fixed. It’s brighter and more usable indoors or outdoors under direct sunlight. It adapts well to indoor and outdoor light, so I haven’t strained my eyes trying to read the screen under the sun. Razer put a nice screen in its second flagship phone, but what about the speakers? The Razer Phone 2 gets high marks here, and for some, it might be worth the trade-off of having gigantic bezels. Anything you listen to with Dolby Atmos has a clear, balanced reproduction, though it lacks a deep, bellowing bass. There’s even stereo separation, which is great for watching movies, but it’s an even bigger deal when playing games. The speakers have stereo separation Playing a game of Fortnite on mobile can sometimes force you to just listen to your surrounding environment. With Dolby Atmos enabled, you can almost pick out sounds coming from different directions, increasing the sense of immersion. Compared to the Pixel 3’s speakers, the Razer Phone 2 has a better distinction between sounds, making it more tailored toward audiophiles, but it’s not better by a wide margin. The huge speaker grilles that flank the screen stereo might be an eyesore to some buyers, but having a rich audio experience on a phone can turn a decent mobile game and into a memorable one. The Razer Phone 2 is supposed to have audio and graphics optimizations for a decently large list of mobile games. Many mobile games on Android have graphics settings, but for the most part, you can ignore them since you’ll already be playing on the highest settings. The Razer Phone 2’s cameras haven’t improved by much. The new rear cameras are 12MP Sony sensors with f/1.75 and f/2.6 lenses. Razer also developed a new camera app that supports 4K recording (up to 30 fps), HDR, portrait modes for all three cameras, and “beauty shots.” Unfortunately, none of this makes a real difference. The Razer Phone 2’s camera setup won’t stand up to an iPhone or Pixel camera. In most scenarios, photos come out with a flat color profile — which is fine for editing, but it lacks vibrancy and contrast. If you don’t have the best lighting, the results will be noisy, with overexposed whites and blacks that look more like grays. The new rear cameras also struggle with low-light photography, often resulting in blurry shots. And it only gets worse with the “beauty mode.” Beauty modes that offer facial smoothing to artificially “improve” the appearance of your skin are nothing new, but the Razer Phone 2 takes it to another level with jaw reconstruction. If you slide the beauty filter to the max, you can watch your jawline get artificially accentuated. It’s really weird. Don’t use the beauty mode — ever Even though it’s still the norm in the Android world, I’m disappointed to see Razer is launching a near-stock flagship Android phone in October 2018 withoutAndroid Pie. Out of the box, the Razer Phone 2 runs Android 8.1 Oreo, and it will be updated to Android 9.0 Pie early next year, according to reps I spoke to at Razer. On the bright side, Razer stayed true to its build of Android 8.1 by keeping it straightforward and free of excessive bloatware — mostly. Razer has retouched some apps with green accents: the Clock, Files, Calculator, and Camera apps, as well as the added Game Booster, Dolby Atmos, Theme Store, Razer Cortex (a gaming app store), and Chroma apps. Also, NovaLauncher is the default, replacing the stock Android 8.1 Oreo home screen and app drawer, but this is a benefit because Nova is a well-supported and well-loved home screen replacement. The Phone 2 comes loaded with Oreo, not Pie Overall, I don’t have any serious issues with the Razer Phone 2’s software experience. A near-stock version of Android 8.1 that runs smoothly, thanks to the Snapdragon 845 and 8GB of RAM, is all you really need. And that great 120Hz display makes the whole experience feel faster, too. I played the following games (all optimized) on the Razer Phone 2: Alto’s Odyssey, Fortnite, Pokémon Go, and Dragon Ball: Legends. On a Pixel 3, these games would have performed just fine, but on the Razer Phone 2, they’re a little more enjoyable. The audio is more distinct due to stereo separation, visuals move smoother across the screen (thank the high refresh rate), and the lack of a notch means you have an unobstructed picture. To keep the phone cool during these gaming sessions, Razer added the Blade’s vapor chamber cooling tech (in a smaller form factor) to help dissipate heat. However, glass isn’t great at dissipating heat in general; after 30 minutes of gameplay, the center of the Razer Phone 2 can get pretty warm. Battery life is an important checkbox for any flagship smartphone, but it’s especially important on a gaming phone. Theoretically, you’d be using the Razer Phone 2 for a lot of the same things you do on your current phone, with a couple more games in the mix. Battery life is excellent What mobile games have in common is they require a lot more power than just browsing Twitter. Razer is aware of this, so it included a massive 4,000mAh battery, which is the same capacity as a Galaxy Note 9. In the real world, you’ll easily get through a full day’s use (with the Razer logo in rainbow mode), plus plenty of gaming. That’s great, but it’s not what reallyimpressed me. The best thing about the Razer Phone 2’s massive battery is it supports QuickCharge 4+. If you’ve watched our video on fast charging, you know that QuickCharge4+ can take a battery from 0 to 50 percent capacity in just 30 minutes. In my time with the phone, I was able to charge from 10 to 60 percent in around half an hour with the included USB-C fast charger. It’s a great feature for busy users, and it’s even more compelling than wireless charging in its current form. Razer is also selling a $99 wireless charger alongside the Phone 2. It features Chroma RGB lighting all around the base. It’s also versatile: you can prop your phone up, lay it flat, and charge the phone in both landscape and portrait orientation. It comes with an 18W USB-C charger; it charges slower than wired charging, but it’s still considered fast charging. However, there seem to be some quality control issues with the wireless charger. After switching between modes a few times, I’ve noticed the hinge became loose. And in case you were wondering: yes, you can charge other phones that support wireless charging. But you can only do so horizontally because the charging coils were positioned to meet with the Razer Phone 2’s, slightly beneath the backlit logo. The Razer Phone 2 isn’t going to change the phone market, but it may change how mobile gamers look at run-of-the-mill flagship smartphones. They might want a phone that looks like it was engineered for a specific purpose. There might be a pretty small number of people who fit that bill, honestly, but Razer’s whole business is catering specifically to those types of gamers. Gaming phones are still an unproven niche product The Razer Phone 2 doesn’t have the camera chops to displace any of the new iPhone XS or Pixel 3 models. For a flagship phone to be taken seriously in 2018, you need a camera you can count on, and I can’t count on the Phone 2’s cameras. What I can count on the Razer Phone 2 for is playing games, having great battery life, and light-up, colorful Chroma. And for a phone that’s primarily made for playing games, that’s probably enough. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. For more information, see our ethics policy.
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The Verge
Slack engineer figures out way to load messages into a 1995 SNES game
Slack is a relatively simple chat application with a powerfully complex set of capabilities. Case in point: Bertrand Fan’s “Slack on a SNES” project, in which the Slack engineer figured out how to load messages from a custom channel into a 1995 Nintendo game by way of a spoofed satellite transmission. BS-X: The Story of The Town Whose Name Was Stolen was a SNES game that shipped with an accessory called the Satellaview, which was a modem peripheral for the Super Famicom (the Japanese SNES) that allowed it to receive data transmissions much in the way games are now frequently updated over the internet. Back then, however, you had to wait for Nintendo to beam some data to you. Also, the set up looked wildly complicated: Image: Muband But Nintendo did in fact update the game every day for five years, according to Fan. Of course, he didn’t have an old SNES console around, nor a Satellaview. And Nintendo stopped supporting the network about 18 years ago. Instead, Fan used a SNES emulator, a 8bitdo controller mod kit, and a software tool called SatellaWave that lets you generate your own Satellaview files. From there, Fan came up with a method for updating the in-game merchants in BS-X with the information from a Slack channel, using the time and sender of a message as an item’s title and the content of the message as its description. He then automated the process by writing a bit of custom code, and then using a bot and one of Slack’s APIs to check the channel history and pull the 10 most recent messages. Keeping the emulator running would update the shops in real-time with the messages as they came in. Image: Bertrand Fan Fan is first to admit that the project is obviously silly and impractical, but it’s still a testament to how resilient Nintendo’s forward-looking technology was back in 1995 that it can still be emulated and used like this more than 20 years later.
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The Verge
The NYPD is pulling thousands of body cameras after one ‘burst into flames’
The New York City Police Department has been working for years to test and outfit its entire force with body cameras, with a goal of having one for every officer by next year. That plan appears to have hit a snag: a camera worn by an officer in Staten Island last night began smoking and “burst into flames,” prompting the NYPD to pull them from use while it investigates. According to The Daily Beast, the incident occurred around midnight in Staten Island, and involved a Vievu model LE-5 camera. An official told the publication that “It unexpectedly began to smoke and fell from his shirt to the ground,” where “it then caught fire and was damaged.” In a statement, the NYPD says that it’s been made “aware of a possible product defect,” and that nobody was injured when the battery “exploded.” The NYPD says that it’s investigating the cause of the defect. According to the statement, Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill “has directed that the continued use and distribution of the LE-5 model cameras be suspended effective immediately.” The department says that while officers assigned an LE-5 camera are to turn them in to their commands as a precaution, but those assigned an LE-4 camera are to continue using them. The Daily Beast notes that around 2,990 cameras are affected, out of the 15,500 that the NYPD currently fields. We’ve reached out to Vievu for comment, and will update this post if we hear back.
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The Verge
Audi’s E-tron SUV will be delayed to regulatory approval over a software update
In September, Audi revealed the final production version of its forthcoming electronic SUV, the E-tron, which is due out sometime next year. The wait for the car looks as although it’ll take a little longer: Reuters reports that Audi is delaying the vehicle’s release by four weeks due to a software issue. According to an Audi spokesperson, the company needs to obtain new “regulatory clearance,” after some of the vehicle’s software was “modified during the development process,” and as a result, vehicle will take a bit longer to reach showrooms. Reuters cites a report from German paper Bild am Sonntag, which say that the vehicle could be delayed by several months. The paper also noted that Audi was working to negotiate with South Korean... Continue reading…
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The Verge
My Dead Wife, the Robot Car is a Black Mirror-equse podcast about autonomous cars
There are a ton of podcasts out there, but finding the right one can be difficult. In our column Pod Hunters, we cover what we’ve been listening to that we can’t stop thinking about. In the beginning of Stitcher’s new podcast, My Dead Wife, the Robot Car, a widower named Matt signs up with a mysterious tech company to work as a test driver for a new autonomous car. After a confusing introduction — the company rep won’t divulge any details about the company or even tell him his name — he’s set up in one a car, when he receives a rude surprise: the car’s AI is programmed to replicate his recently-deceased wife Joyce, whom he was about to divorce. “Yeah, you big idiot, what part of this are you not getting?” The company pulled together a... Continue reading…
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The Verge
Saudi Arabia reportedly groomed Twitter employee to spy on user accounts
On Saturday, The New York Times published a report detailing Saudi Arabia’s efforts to combat dissent on platforms like Twitter, such as slain US journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was subjected to intense and personal attacks online before his death. As part of those efforts, the kingdom’s reportedly worked to groom a Twitter employee to spy on user accounts. According to the Times, western intelligence officials contacted the social media company, saying that the Saudi government was “grooming” one of its employees, Ali Alzabarah, “to spy on the accounts of dissidents and others.” Alzabarah worked at Twitter beginning in 2013 as an engineer with access to user accounts, and was convinced by Saudi intelligence officials to look into several accounts. Once alerted, Twitter reportedly placed Alzabarah on administrative leave while an investigation took place, and while “they could not find evidence that he had handed over Twitter data to the Saudi government,” he was fired at the end of 2015. The company then notified a “few dozen accounts” that they might have been targeted. Following his dismissal, Alzabarah returned to Saudi Arabia. Twitter notified a ‘few dozen’ accounts that they might have been targeted by a state-sponsored actor Reached for comment, a Twitter spokesperson said that the company has “nothing to add at this time.” The Times says that among the accounts that were notified belonged to security researchers, academics, and journalists, including individuals who worked for the Tor project. Prior to his death, Khashoggi was involved in launching a project designed to combat online abuse. The report doesn’t say if Khashoggi’s accounts was one of the ones viewed by Alzabarah, but it does say that he had been subjected to attacks from the troll farms set up by the Saudi government to silence critics. The group was led by one of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s advisors, Saud al-Qahtani, who was fired recently from his post after the country admitted that Khashoggi had been killed in the Saudi’s Turkish consulate. According to the Times, the group used group chats in messaging apps to distribute lists of people to harass, topics to monitor, and to issue pro-government messaging across multiple sock-puppet accounts. The group focused on topics like the war in Yemen and women’s rights in the country, mass-reporting tweets to get Twitter to hide tweets by the people they were targeting. On Thursday, NBC News reported that Twitter suspended a botnet account that was used to push out pro-Saudi propaganda in the wake of Khashoggi’s death, and that this particular network, created between 2011 and 2017, used sophisticated tactics to avoid detection after the company implemented new rules to combat the use of such automated accounts.
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The Verge
Hackers accessed records of 75,000 people in government health insurance system breach
Hackers breached a government healthcare system earlier this week, compromising the personal data for 75,000 individuals, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (via TechCrunch). The data was taken through a system used by insurance agents and brokers. The CMS says that on October 13th, it detected “anomalous activity in the Federally Facilitated Exchanges, or FFE’s Direct Enrollment pathway for agents and brokers,” a system used by agents and brokers to help people applying for health insurance. CMS says that “approximately 75,000 individuals’ files were accessed,” and that after the breach was verified on the 16th, it took steps to secure the system. The center says that it shut down the Direct Enrollment system to implement new security measures — it plans to have it up and running again in a week — and that it’s working to notify those who might be impacted to assist them with measures like credit protection. CMS Administrator Seema Verma noted that this system is different from the consumer-facing Healthcare.gov website where the general public can sign up for healthcare coverage, and says that the breach won’t impact the upcoming open enrollment period, which begins on November 1st.
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The Verge
It’s your last chance to get a free copy of Red Dead Redemption 2 in the latest PS4 Pro bundle
The busy product launch season is beginning to wind down, though we’re still expecting big news for both the iPad and Mac lineup out of Apple’s October 30th event in Brooklyn. In terms of what’s next, Black Friday and Cyber Monday will present an opportunity to buy a lot of this year’s best tech at a rare discount. We’re not there quite yet, but there are a few deals that are worth checking out in the meantime. Not without its share of prerelease controversy, Red Dead Redemption 2 will release next Friday, October 26th, and if you haven’t yet purchased a console to play it on, this is your last chance to buy the PS4 Pro bundle that includes the game for free. Walmart, Best Buy and GameStop still have the $399 bundle in stock Amazon is bundling the third-generation Echo Dot and Xbox One consoles together at no additional expense. You can get the Echo Dot in the color of your choosing with either the Xbox One S or Xbox One X. Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 2070 launched this week, which means that graphics card prices are about to drop. We’ll continue having our eyes out for affordable GTX 10-series GPUs, but if you want the new gear, we’re documenting the most affordable ray-tracing graphics cards into one place. The cheapest? MSI’s GeForce RTX 2070 Aero is $529 at B&H Photo Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge Anker’s Nebula Capsule is a special kind of portable projector. It runs on a bespoke version of Android with access to the Play Store, and it doubles as a pretty decent Bluetooth speaker. This mini projector is $264.99 at Amazon with offer code CAPSULEV (usually $349.99) Tile is a great stocking stuffer, especially with Best Buy’s promotion. If you buy a pack of four Tile Bluetooth trackers, you’ll get a Google Home Mini smart speaker included for free. A Tile four-pack with replaceable batteries costs $59.99, and comes with a Google Home Mini We’ve worked with Optoma NuForce to give Verge readers a discount on its BE Sport 4 wireless headphones. This model boasts good sound performance and noise isolation, and includes plenty of tips and fins to ensure a comfortable fit. Optoma NuForce BE Sport 4 wireless headphones are $59.99 at Amazon (usually $79.99)
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The Verge
Tesla stopped promoting the ‘Full Self-Driving’ option for its cars
Tesla has pulled a long-standing promise of a “Full Self-Driving” option for its cars from the order page on the company’s website. Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO, said on Twitter that the option will be temporarily available “off menu,” much like Animal Style fries at an In-N-Out burger joint. It will quickly leave the secret menu, though, and won’t come back until the company is ready to roll it out. The Full Self-Driving option was “causing too much confusion” for customers to justify keeping it front and center, he said. The company declined to comment. It’ll be temporarily available “off-menu,” like Animal Style fries Three years ago, Musk claimed that Tesla’s vehicles would be ready and able to completely drive themselves without any human interaction by 2017. Two years ago, Musk announced every car made going forward would have the hardware necessary to facilitate this goal. Tesla has spent the years since advertising this impending breakthrough on its website as an easy add-on to the purchase of a new car, something that only required a few thousand dollars and a little bit of patience. Those promises have all since weakened, though. Musk recently admitted that the company will need to upgrade cars already on the road with new hardware — specifically, a new AI chip — in order to endow them with full self-driving capabilities. (Even then, some in the industry believe Tesla’s cars lack a crucial piece of the autonomous puzzle.) Tesla missed Musk’s 2017 estimate for rollout of Full Self-Driving by at least a year. And now, Tesla has dimmed the visibility of Full Self-Driving in general, raising questions about the company’s approach to one of its grandest goals. “Tesla has had a ton of problems with their autonomous driving approach,” Rob Enderle, a technology analyst for the Enderle Group, says in an email to The Verge. He points to how Tesla has used the term “Autopilot” for years, even though its cars are only currently able to handle driving themselves in very specific situations, and always with driver supervision. Why the confusion? Exhibit A: Tesla's website. Sterling Anderson, who led Tesla's Autopilot before leaving to co-found Aurora, told me the “entire industry” needs “to be more truthful about our capabilities" https://t.co/V6w1q6SfhL pic.twitter.com/UssFEy50FR— Drew Harwell (@drewharwell) October 18, 2018 Tesla has faced regulatory pushback over that very issue. In 2016, the German government asked the company to stop using the term Autopilot, arguing that it was “misleading” consumers. And just this week, the European New Car Assessment Program — a safety coalition led by a number of governments and transit agencies from across the continent — released a report that criticized Tesla’s promotion of Autopilot. Tesla, the Euro-NCAP writes, has released videos that are “confusing consumers about the actual capabilities of the Autopilot system.” Musk’s claim of consumer confusion was backed up by a new poll published this past week. Commissioned by Euro-NCAP and Thatcham, a research company started by the automotive insurance industry, the poll queried 1,567 car owners from China, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK, and the US. Strikingly, 71 percent of those polled believed they can buy a self-driving car right now — which is not true. The poll also found that one in 10 drivers “would be tempted to have a nap” while using semi-autonomous systems like Autopilot. That’s dangerous: Tesla requires users to keep their hands on the wheel in case the car needs to hand control back to the driver. A recent poll about self-driving cars shows Musk might be right about customer confusion Driver assistance system currently exist in a sort of uncanny valley. In the right settings, systems like Autopilot make it seem like the car can truly drive itself, which can in turn lead to a false sense of security, or a dulling of the driver’s awareness. This isn’t just a polling concern, either; Tesla itself has said that a driver who died while using Autopilot earlier this year was warned multiple times for not having his hands on the wheel in the minutes before impact, a sign that the driver might have been too reliant on the car’s abilities. Enderle believes Tesla’s new, more conservative approach to promoting the Full Self-Driving option is an effort to “cover up” this growing problem. “This should be binary, release a system that works or don’t, don’t release a system that doesn’t work and make it hard to order,” he says. “That just seems incredibly stupid.” There are other ways to look at the decision. Moving the option out of the spotlight “seems to be Tesla’s way of saying to its hardcore devotees that if you insist on giving us extra money, we will be happy to take it,” says Sam Abuelsamid, senior analyst at Navigant research. “Release a system that works or don’t, don’t release a system that doesn’t work and make it hard to order.” Tasha Keeney, an analyst at ARK-Invest, says she doesn’t believe the removal of Full Self-Driving as an option signals a change in Tesla’s ultimate goal of making its cars fully able to drive themselves. “We heard from Musk on Twitter that Tesla is going to follow through on their plan to swap out the Nvidia board in customer cars, which combined with the chip update we heard on the earnings call, seems to say they’re still executing on their autonomous plan,” Keeney writes in an email. “Unless I hear otherwise, I don’t think this would change our long term thesis” about the success of Tesla’s goals for autonomy, she says. ARK-Invest, one of the most optimistic firms when it comes to Tesla’s future in this space, recently estimated that the automaker’s supposedly forthcoming network of summonable self-driving cars — which Musk estimates could be ready by the end of 2019 — could generate $200 billion in annual services revenue in a world where fully autonomous cars are the norm. Before this week’s alterations to the Full Self-Driving option, Tesla also pushed back the release of a different Autopilot feature. Navigate on Autopilot was billed by Tesla as the “most advanced Autopilot feature ever,” allowing the car to drive from on-ramp to off-ramp, take the correct exit, handle highway interchanges, and even suggest lane changes. It was originally going to be included in version 9.0 of Tesla’s vehicle software, and was supposed to be the first of a series of new features coming to the company’s driver assistance system. Tesla also recently slowed the release of a new feature called Navigate on Autopilot But when version 9.0 was released earlier this month, Navigate on Autopilot was absent. Tesla said it still needed a few weeks of validation, and that in the meantime, cars equipped with version 9.0 would collect data to help make the feature more accurate out the gate when it is eventually released. Another conclusion that the Euro-NCAP poll arrived at was that much of this confusion could be mitigated if features like Autopilot, or even Navigate, were subjected to more rigorous standards. According to the poll, 74 percent of people supported standardized naming conventions for adaptive cruise control, lane keep, and other features that combine to make up systems like Autopilot. What’s more, 77 percent said they would watch a training video or take an online course to better understand these features. “The lack of driver training and standardized controls, symbols and names for these features, is further muddying the waters for consumers,” Matthew Avery, Thatcham’s director of research, said in a statement. But broader point remains. Promises like Full Self-Driving can lead to a false sense of security and consumer confusion. And those are the last things you want when people’s lives are at stake. “Cars, even those with advanced driver assistance systems, need a vigilant, attentive driver behind the wheel at all times,” Avery said.
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The Verge
Netflix has canceled Marvel’s Luke Cage
Just a week after it announced that Iron Fist wouldn’t return for a third season, Marvel has revealed that another of its Netflix shows won’t continue: Luke Cage. The series aired its second season earlier this summer. Marvel and Netflix confirmed to Deadline that the show “will not return for a third season.” The cancelation comes as a surprise, as it was widely expected to be renewed for an additional season. Unlike Iron Fist, which Marvel indicated might continue on in some form, this reads as a definitive end for the series. It’s a shame, because Luke Cage has consistently been held up as one of the better shows in the franchise, while Iron Fist was widely panned. While Iron Fist might live on, this reads as a more definitive end for Luke Cage In the case of Iron Fist, Deadline speculated that the series might migrate over to Disney’s forthcoming streaming service alongside planned shows about Loki and the Scarlet Witch. That goodwill doesn’t appear to be there for Luke Cage. Deadline pointed to Marvel and Netflix’s concrete efforts to develop a third season — they stood up a writer’s room for a third season earlier this year — which were stymied by “rising tensions in the past month,” over “creative differences” between Marvel and Netflix over the scripts that have been developed. That Netflix and Marvel appear to be pulling back from their partnership doesn’t come as too much of a surprise. Disney, after all, is developing its own streaming service to rival Netflix, and is presently building out its own catalog of original content. Disney announced that it would end its distribution deal with Netflix last year, and while Netflix worked to try and retain the rights to the Star Wars and Marvel franchises, it seems that those properties will eventually migrate over to Disney’s platform. But that won’t happen overnight: the streaming service just launched the third season of Daredevil (it remains to be seen whether or not there’ll be a fourth season of the inaugural series), while Jessica Jones and The Punisher have each been renewed for a third and second season, respectively. At the very least, that leaves Netflix with at least some of the interconnected superhero universe for 2019.
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The Verge
Facebook hired a new public defender, and he should start with WhatsApp
Today, three shorter items to carry us into the weekend. One, Facebook has hired a new head of global policy and communications to replace Elliot Schrage. It’s Nick Clegg, the former deputy prime minister of the United Kingdom. Clegg is a former European Commission trade negotiator, where he played a role in punishing tech companies for anticompetitive behavior — most notably Google, which received a $5 billion fine for issues involving Android. With Facebook currently in the crosshairs of European regulators over a wide range of issues, Clegg brings a perspective and a clout that the company has previously lacked. British people have a proud tradition of loathing their elected leaders, and they eagerly traded zingers about Clegg on Friday morning, many of which are funny only if you have a solid grasp of British politics. (It helps to know that Clegg presided over a collapse in support for his party, the Liberal Democrats, and that the party abandoned a pledge to oppose tuition increases for students. The Guardian has a helpful mini-profileembedded in his op-ed about taking the new job.) Clegg is a former journalist, a centrist, and unlike Schrage, has a large Twitter following. Is he what Facebook needs for the role? A global head of policy and communications needs to be very good at two things: knowing people, and arguing. By that measure, Clegg would seem to fit the bill. In any case, he deserves a chance. Here’s what he said in the Guardian: I remain a stubborn optimist about the progressive potential to society of technological innovation. It can transform how we work, play and build relationships. It can help to protect our environment and keep our streets safe. It will fundamentally change how we teach our children at school and at home. It is transforming healthcare and transport. If the tech industry can work sensibly with governments, regulators, parliaments and civic society around the world, I believe we can enhance the benefits of technology while diminishing the often unintended downsides. Of course, managing those unintended downsides will probably represent the bulk of Clegg’s time at Facebook. He’ll have his work cut out for him. Two, the new head of WhatsApp made his first public comments about an issue of any significance. Chris Daniels, who took over the messaging app during Facebook’s big org-chart shuffle in May, posted to the company blog on Thursday to explain how Facebook is trying to prevent WhatsApp from being misused in Brazil. (This was also the subject of my column yesterday; Daniels’ note hadn’t been posted by press time.) Anyone hoping to better understand Daniels’ product philosophy will be disappointed by his charmless and notably defensive blog post, which includes the full complement of October 2018 Facebook talking points: misinformation didn’t start with us; most people don’t use WhatsApp to spread misinformation; a global platform will inevitably host both the good and the bad. He also adopts Facebook’s unfortunate tendency to speak about world-scale problems in percentages. Today, over 90 percent of messages sent on WhatsApp in Brazil are individual, one-on-one conversations. The majority of groups are about just six people — a conversation so private and personal that it would fit in your living room. (You can stop over 90 percent of asteroids from crashing into your planet and still have a major problem on your hands.) Nowhere in Daniels’ post does he acknowledge some of the unique ways in which his popular app, with its potent combination of encryption and viral sharing mechanics, has created new and extremely difficult problems for Brazil. (A far-right, anti-democratic climate change skeptic is now poised to win, after his backers funded a fake news campaign on WhatsApp.) Instead Daniels lists six steps the company has taken to reduce its level of harm, before saying “it will take all of us” to solve the problem. In the meantime, it’s not clear that Daniels even understands what the problem is. He comes across as a colonial governor telling a restless public that the crown is taking their concerns very seriously. Brazil deserves better. So does WhatsApp. Three, the media had a weeklong fight over whether Facebook intentionally misled them about the extent to which people had an interest in watching video, prompting publishers to lay off their writers in an ultimately fruitless “pivot to video” that impoverished journalists and journalism. The spark was a lawsuit I mentioned here earlier in the week, in which advertisers said a metrics reporting error — which Facebook acknowledged in 2016 — was well known within the company for a year. At issue is how Facebook reported video views. Here’s Suzanna Vranica with a concise explanation: For two years, Facebook had counted only video views that lasted more than three seconds when calculating its “average duration of video viewed” metric. Video views of under three seconds weren’t factored in, thereby inflating the average length of a view. Facebook replaced the metric with “average watch time,” which reflects video views of any duration. The metric may have been overstated. But as the linchpin of a theory that publishers pivoted to video on a false pretext, it’s pretty flimsy. As Laura Hazard Owen notes, much more important was the way Facebook talked about video, with Mark Zuckerberg himself predicting that video would soon become the dominant form of communication on the platform. Much of the conversation has concluded that people did not want to watch news-oriented video. This conversation tends to omit the existence of YouTube, on which people do watch quite a lot of news-oriented video. (May I please recommend to you the Vox channel, with 1.1 billion views and a successful Netflix show, or Verge Science, which reached more than half a million subscribers in under a year.) In 2016, traditional publishers were still having trouble cracking YouTube. But they were willing to take a flier on Facebook, because more than 1 billion people were looking at it every day, and Facebook had turned the knobs on video all the way up. Importantly, some publishers appeared to be succeeding with a video strategy: In September, Tasty’s main Facebook page was the third-biggest video account on Facebook with nearly 1.7 billion video views, according to Tubular Labs. Viewership per video is also staggering: During the last three months, Tasty’s Facebook videos have averaged 22.8 million video views in the first 30 days alone. That’s better than BuzzFeed’s main Facebook page and the separate BuzzFeed Food account, which averaged 4.7 million views and 1.1 million views per video in the same timeframe. Overall, Tasty now accounts for 37 percent of BuzzFeed’s video views, according to Tubular. This is all the more remarkable considering BuzzFeed started Tasty just in July 2015. There were three problems with Facebook video. One, Facebook never figured out a good way for publishers to make money from them. Publishers assumed that some kind of pre- or mid- or post-roll advertising would offer a return on their investment, but it never did. Two, Facebook had a product problem. The News Feed is meant for rapid, near-mindless scrolling; video is meant for intent, lean-back viewing. A handful of formats, most notably Tasty’s, thrived in the News Feed. But most died — which is why Facebook is now shunting video over to its Watch tab, and even there nothing has really broken out of the pack. Finally, in the aftermath of the 2016 election, Facebook ratcheted down the amount of publisher content in the feed, in the hopes that seeing more of our friends and family would discourage us from sharing viral memes and destroying democracy. Video will still play a major role in Facebook’s future, but it’s likely to look more like the video you see in Instagram stories and less like those square videos with text captions posted on B-roll. There’s a valid critique of Facebook in there somewhere. But much of the anger feels, to me, misplaced. Journalists would have benefited if Facebook had done a better job predicting the future. But publishers could have done a better job predicting the future, too. Democracy Justice Dept. Accuses Russians of Interfering in Midterm Elections Here’s our first real piece of evidence that Russia is actively interfering in our current midterm election here in the United States. Adam Goldman reports: Russians working for a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin engaged in an elaborate campaign of “information warfare” to interfere with the midterm elections, federal prosecutors said on Friday in unsealing a criminal complaint against one of them. The woman, Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, 44, of St. Petersburg, was involved in an effort “to spread distrust toward candidates for U.S. political office and the U.S. political system,” prosecutors said. McCain’s a ‘geezer’ and Ryan’s an ‘absolute nobody’: Russia’s playbook for sounding American in Facebook propaganda Craig Timberg, Tony Romm, Brian Fung examine the propaganda in Russia’s US midterm election campaign, which comes out of the unsealed criminal complaint above. The late Sen. John McCain was “an old geezer.” House Speaker Paul Ryan is “a complete and absolute nobody.” And the investigation into possible collusion between President Trump’s campaign and Russia is a “witch hunt” led by “an establishment puppet.” Name the subject, and Russian disinformation operatives had a playbook on how to pass themselves off as politically active Americans as they secretly sought to manipulate U.S. voters online – on both the right and the left – with incendiary phrases, glib putdowns and appeals to pre-existing political biases. And the same tactics honed during the 2016 presidential election carried over into the runup toward the 2018 midterm congressional vote. Disinformation Spreads on WhatsApp Ahead of Brazilian Election Mike Isaac and Kevin Roose examine the state of disinformation in Brazil ahead of the election: “People entered this election with a sense of hyperpolarization,” said Roberta Braga, an associate director at the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based foreign policy think tank. “There is a lot of distrust in politics and politicians and political establishments in general.” “People entered this election with a sense of hyperpolarization,” said Roberta Braga, an associate director at the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based foreign policy think tank. “There is a lot of distrust in politics and politicians and political establishments in general.” ‘Corrupt Chris’ and ‘Two-Faced Tammy’: Candidates Try Their Best Trump Impressions Trumpian name-calling is now a feature of many state and local elections, Kevin Roose reports. New Research Shows Facebook Making Strides Against False News Tessa Lyons cites new research showing that the volume of fake news shared on Facebook has declined by more than 50 percent: First, Alcott, Gentzkow and Yu published a study on misinformation on Facebook and Twitter (PDF). The researchers began by compiling a list of 570 sites that had been identified as false news sources in previous studies and online lists. They then measured the volume of Facebook engagements (shares, comments and reactions) and Twitter shares for all stories from these 570 sites published between January 2015 and July 2018. The researchers found that on Facebook, interactions with these false news sites declined by more than half after the 2016 election, suggesting that “efforts by Facebook following the 2016 election to limit the diffusion of misinformation may have had a meaningful impact.” Last week, a University of Michigan study on misinformation (PDF) had similar findings about the effectiveness of our work. The Michigan team compiled a list of sites that commonly share misinformation by looking at judgements made by two external organizations, Media Bias/Fact Check and Open Sources. Exclusive: Twitter pulls down bot network that pushed pro-Saudi talking points about disappeared journalist Twitter suspended a network of suspected Twitter bots on Thursday that pushed pro-Saudi Arabia talking points about the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the past week. Khashoggi misinformation highlights a growing number of fake fact-checkers Days after the reported murder of Jamal Khashoggi, misinformation is everywhere, report Daniel Funke and Alexios Mantzarlis: Saudi media outlets reported a conspiracy theory that Khashoggi’s fiancée is fake in an apparent effort to discredit Turkish and American intelligence. Reuters fell for a fake news story about the firing of a Saudi general consul. Some accounts are promoting a nonsensical video from a guy who wears a strainer on his head. And the Saudi government itself has threatened anyone who spreads “fake news” online with lengthy prison terms and heavy fines. Elsewhere Inside Facebook’s Stormy Debate Over ‘Political Diversity’ Issie Lapowsky talks to recently departed Facebook engineer Brian Amerige, who had accused the company of a “political monoculture that’s intolerant of different views.“ But he’s leery of becoming a poster boy for Republicans complaining about “bias.” “I have every confidence that they take these issues really, really seriously, and they’ve treated me with a lot of respect,” Amerige says. “They’re pretty intimately involved.” Last week, Amerige left Facebook over disagreements about the company’s platform-wide hate speech policy, which he describes as “dangerous and impractical” for a platform that promotes openness. But he had spent the two months before that working closely with Facebook’s human resources team on ways to foster what he calls “political diversity.” One initiative Amerige says they discussed was an updated employee speech policy that would draw a distinction between attacking people’s ideas (which would be permitted) and attacking their character (which would be prohibited). He’s unsure whether Facebook plans to implement the ideas. Google engineer refused to code a censored product for China Speaking of departed employees, PRI’s The World talks to ex-Googler Vijay Boyapati, who quit in 2007 over the company’s decision to enter the Chinese market. When I was there, I thought it was morally wrong for two reasons: One was that there had been no internal debate about it in terms of Google News — the product I’d worked on. And so I wanted to bring that up because I thought it was the wrong move for Google. If a journalist does have the courage to write about something controversial and Google was asked to censor them. And as someone who’d worked on the product, you’d have the knowledge that someone’s voice had been silenced by something that you built. And that makes me deeply uncomfortable. The Hunt for False News Facebook is launching a new series of blog posts in which they describe how they found fake news and determined it to be false. In episode one, learn if a Saudi Arabian man actually spit in a woman’s face. I fell for Facebook fake news. Here’s why millions of you did, too. Speaking of fake news, Geoffrey Fowler got taken in by a video that showed a commercial plane appearing to do a barrel roll during landing: The photorealism of Tsirbas’s clip played a big role in making the fake story go viral. And that makes it typical: Misinformation featuring manipulated photos and videos is among the most likely to go viral, Facebook’s Lyons said. Sometimes, like in this case, it employs shots from real news reports to make it seem just credible enough. “The really crazy things tend to get less distribution than the things that hit the sweet spot where they could be believable,” Lyons said. Even after decades of Photoshop and CG films, most of us are still not very good about challenging the authenticity of images — or telling the real from the fake. That includes me: In an online test made by software maker Autodesk called Fake or Foto, I correctly identified the authenticity of just 22 percent of their images. (You can test yourself here.) Launches YouTube introduces mini-player for desktop browsers YouTube has finally rolled out mini-players for browser users. The mobile app has used it for quite some time. This will allow users to continue watching a video while browsing for something new at the same time. YouTube tweaks its video embeds to include easy channel subscribe button Big day for little YouTube updates! In addition to the one above, and this one, which is just what it says on the tin, you can also now buy concert tickets on Eventbrite from music video pages. Takes David Simon talks to the creator of Godwin’s law about his Twitter suspensions. The creator of The Wire talks to the creator of the law that as the length of an online conservation continues, the odds that it will eventually include a comparison to Hitler approaches 1. Simon hits hard on his pet issue, which is that he should be able to call a Nazi anything he wants to: The last thing that Twitter should be doing is policing decorum, or trying to leech hostility from the platform. Why? Because the appropriate response to overt racism, to anti-Semitism, to libel, to organized disinformation campaigns is not to politely reason with such in long threads of fact-sharing. All that does is lend a fundamental credence to the worst kind of speech—which, grievously, seems to be the paradigm that Twitter prefers at present. It’s a paradigm that offers two basic choices: Ignore the deplorati—which allows the dishonesty or cruelty to stand in public view and acquire the veneer of credibility by doing so. Or worse, engage in some measure of serious disputation with all manner of horseshit, which also grants trash the veneer of credibility. In 1935, the reply to Streicher or Goebbels quoting The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and asserting that Jews drink the blood of baptized Christian babies is not to begin arguing that “no, Jews do not drink Christian baby blood” and deliver a long explanation of The Protocols as a czarist forgery in chapter and verse. The correct response is to call Julius Streicher a submoronic piece of shit, marking him as such for the rest of the sentient, and move on to some more meaningful exchange of ideas. So it is with Twitter. And finally ... COMO III: Content Moderation and the Future of Online Speech I’ll be in New York City on Thursday to speak at this conference about content moderation on big platforms. If you see me, please say hello! Talk to me Send me tips, questions, comments, and fun ideas for what I should do in New York City next week: casey@theverge.com.
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Super Deluxe gets shut down by Turner, again
Super Deluxe, Turner Broadcasting’s home for wonderfully weird and wacky comedy, is shutting down. Deadline reports that Turner Media decided to axe the internet-turned-TV comedy hub 12 years after the company was first acquired. Super Deluxe helped start the careers of some of today’s best comedians, including Maria Bamford and Tim Heidecker. This isn’t the first time Turner has shut down Super Deluxe. After launching in 2006, Super Deluxe was rolled into Adult Swim in 2008. Turner decided to bring it back as a standalone network about three years ago, with a focus on creating longer-form TV series. Super Deluxe co-founder Shahruz Shaukat confirmed the news on Twitter earlier today, adding in a follow-up tweet that the team had known... Continue reading…
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The Verge
How to view your notification history on Android
If you’ve used Android for quite some time, it’s likely you’ve mistakenly swiped away a notification or two for one reason or another. Maybe you’re swiping in a hurry like my colleague Dieter Bohn, or you accidentally cleared everything in the notification drawer without meaning to, or maybe you just wonder where all your notifications go, and if there’s a historical list of them, after you’ve dismissed them. But don’t worry, as you can find everything from missed messages, emails, app updates, and even system messages in the stock Notification Log option. You can also use Unnotification on any Android 8.0+ phone to bring back your last dismissed notification. Both methods are lifesavers if you’ve missed an urgent message from work or your family and don’t know which app you need to open first to find the missed alert. A much better approach is Unnotification https://t.co/vmywWdSuTV.The notification log is super user unfriendly and not the same as bringing back the swiped away notification at all.We seriously need this as a standard Android feature, an undo button.— Artem Russakovskii (@ArtemR) October 19, 2018 Just remember that every Android phone may not have the stock Notification Log. I’ve tested this shortcut on the Google Pixel 2 XL, Pixel 3, and Razer Phone 2 — all phones with stock or near-stock versions of Android. The Samsung Galaxy S9 and LG G7 didn’t have the log listed anywhere within Android’s system settings. But there is a workaround for this, as pointed out on Twitter by Artem Russakovskii from Android Police. For phones that don’t have the default log (or if you want a more user-friendly experience), you can also download Unnotification. The app brings back your last dismissed notification, as well as your notification history. You can find the app on the Play Store. How to look at your notification history on stock Android Long press anywhere on your home screen Select widgets at the bottom of the screen Scroll down and tap the “Settings shortcut” widget Tap “Notification Log” Place the widget on your home screen Tap the widget and scroll through your past notifications
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The Verge
Verizon temporarily unlocks all Pixel 3 phones after complaints
Verizon will allow all of its Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL phones to immediately be used on different carriers, a spokesperson has confirmed to The Verge by email. When the phone went on sale yesterday, buyers noticed that the Pixel 3 was locked to Verizon’s network until it was activated. Once activated with a Verizon SIM, the device would be unlocked overnight for use with other carriers. But now Verizon is lifting the lock fully and immediately — but maybe only temporarily. “At launch, there was an update related to an automatic overnight unlock on Pixel 3s, which also showed up on phones sold in Best Buy stores,” the spokesperson said. “We have temporarily removed it from Pixel 3 and are assessing where it will be implemented in the future.” This really most directly affects Best Buy customers; it’s not like you can walk into a Verizon store and just buy the phone without an account. Google is also operating pop-up stores that sell the Verizon Pixels, but it’s unclear whether they can be purchased without an account. I’ve emailed the company for details. Earlier this year, Verizon announced that it would begin locking newly-purchased smartphones until they were activated on the company’s network. The measure, Verizon claims, is to prevent theft at its retail stores and those of its resellers. But because it’s the exclusive US carrier to offer Google’s new phones, the policy quickly ran into pushback upon yesterday’s release. The Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL are also available unlocked directly from Google.
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The Verge
The Pixel 3 removes the ability to unlock your phone with your voice
Google has quietly removed the Unlock with Voice Match function from its latest Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL phones, as first reported by Piunikaweb. The feature, which was previously available on the past two Pixel devices, allowed for users to unlock their phones’ Assistant features with an, “OK Google” command. Google confirmed that the feature is no longer available on its support page, where it explains: “On Pixel 3 phones, you can’t unlock your phone by saying ‘Ok Google.’ Instead, you can use the Google Assistant on your lock screen.” This is a pretty big functionality to lose for any Pixel owners who were expecting to see the feature carried over to the Pixel 3. With the previous Pixel phones, users could make calls, send messages, and... Continue reading…
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The Verge
The latest bizarre Simpsons meme is about downloading songs on Limewire
The glory days of The Simpsons, which recently began its 30th season, have been over for multiple decades. But that hasn’t stopped the show from inspiring some viral memes in recent years that wrap its mid-90s humor in the contemporary, often bizarre visual language of modern internet humor. While the most famous remains the endless iterations on the now-famous 1996 ”Steamed Hams” dinner scene, but the latest Simpsons meme might be the most unexpected yet. It revolves around two very retro concepts: The Simpsons (back when it was good), and using the now-defunct, mid-aughts peer-to-peer filesharing service Limewire. In this spirit of many of the best memes, the Simpsons / Limewire combo is not only non-sequitur but oddly specific, focusing on the executable files with malicious software that often posed as MP3s on the service, particularly those claiming to be the song “Numb” by Linkin Park. These Limewire memes are excellent pic.twitter.com/CtAyaLj49V— Matt (@_BensonHD_) October 18, 2018 It’s a potent, nostalgic triumvirate for social media users of a certain age, a highly specific Venn diagram of the comedy, technology, and music that many of them found edgy or important at the time — only to watch them decline into mediocrity or irrelevance as they grew older and the world moved on. This specialized intersection makes it all the more potent for those who recognize all the pieces of the puzzle and say, “yes!” There’s something of a secret password element to this, a shibboleth that marks users of a certain age and experience but unites them. For example, if you aren’t familiar with the subject matter and comedic cadence of a sixth season episode where the Simpson family travels to Australia — as well as the frustrations of trying to illegally download music without riddling your computer with viruses in 2005 — the following image will make little to no sense. If you do, well, you’re welcome. Why is Limewire this weeks meme? pic.twitter.com/SKZ631ZQrV— Dodyy (@DodyTheAussie) October 19, 2018 It’s the memetic equivalent of “only [insert generation] kids will remember this!” And for those who do, there’s a very particular pleasure in feeling seen, in feeling known, in feeling for a fleeting moment that the experiences and joys of your youth have not passed forever beyond the veil of irrelevance. In 2018, sometimes this means photoshopping a giant lime on to the face Homer Simpson. Who are we to judge?
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The Verge
Russian woman charged with managing budget for US election interference plot
The Department of Justice has unsealed a criminal complaint against a Russian national who allegedly attempted to interfere with US elections. Originally dated to late September, it accuses a St. Petersburg-based woman named Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova of acting as the chief accountant for Project Lakhta, an expansive political influence operation that’s been mentioned in earlier indictments. This follows the indictment of several other Russian figures who allegedly conspired to manipulate the election. According to the criminal complaint, Khusyaynova managed the budget of Project Lakhta, funded by the companies Concord Management and Consulting LLC, and Concord Catering — both of which were mentioned in earlier indictments. The total operating budget between January 2016 and June 2018 was allegedly $35 million, which covered activities directed at the US, Russia, the European Union, and Ukraine. Among other things, Khusyaynova allegedly coordinated payment for expenditures like “activists, advertisements on social media platforms, registration of domain names, the purchase of proxy servers, and ‘promoting news postings on social networks.’” The project allegedly spent $60,000 on Facebook ads in the first half of 2018 The complaint states that Khusyaynova kept “detailed financial documents” that outlined payments for activities meant to undermine US elections. An itemized budget covering the year leading up to January 2017, for instance, listed expenses for Instagram, Facebook, and VKontakte ads. It also included budget lines for “bloggers,” “developing accounts” on Twitter, and funding online videos. Between January and June of 2018, she submitted expenditures of roughly $60,000 for Facebook ads, $6,000 for Instagram ads, and $18,000 for bloggers and Twitter accounts. In its press release, the Justice Department thanked Facebook and Twitter for “exceptional cooperation” during the investigation. The release coincides with a joint statement from the Justice Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence, expressing concern about “ongoing campaigns by Russia, China and other foreign actors, including Iran, to undermine confidence in democratic institutions and influence public sentiment and government policies.” The statement said that they “do not have any evidence” of any breach that would let these operations prevent voting or change vote counts, but acknowledged the threat of propaganda and disinformation during the upcoming 2018 and 2020 elections. Today’s complaint covers some territory seen in earlier cases, including the broad strokes of Lakhta’s alleged goal: to “sow discord” in the US political system by exaggerating the presence of extreme viewpoints online and aggravating existing political divides. It provides a number of examples of this propaganda. One guidance document, for instance, emphasizes that “colored LGBT are less sophisticated than white” and are “very sensitive toward #whiteprivilege,” so posters should “be careful dealing with racial content.” They attempted to “brand McCain as an old Geezer” and Paul Ryan “a complete and absolute nobody” Another string of messages suggest finding ways to “brand [Sen. John] McCain as an old geezer who has lost it and who long ago belonged in a home for the elderly,” in order to discredit his criticism of Donald Trump, and to brand fellow legislator Paul Ryan as “a complete and absolute nobody incapable of any decisiveness.” The complaint also lists some specific names of fake identities used for misinformation: “Helen Christopherson” was a supposed New York City resident who became a co-coordinator of an anti-Trump flash mob, and “Bertha Malone” was used to create over 400 inflammatory Facebook posts focused on immigration and Islam. She also created the “Stop AI” Facebook page that appeared in a list of propaganda ads released last year. Again, some of these names were already known — like “Luisa Haynes” or @wokeluisa, whose popular liberal tweets were picked up by several news agencies before her identity was discovered. According to the complaint, net neutrality was one of the favored topics for debate, alongside gun rights, the 2018 midterm election, and negotiations with North Korea. An account with the handle @KaniJJackson reposted tweets praising Republican senators who voted for net neutrality rules and urging voters to “repeal” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) for voting against them. As before, the Justice department emphasizes that it’s not alleging this conspiracy actually influenced the election — only that there was a coordinated attempt to do so.
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Jake Paul’s racism controversy reveals the flaw in Shane Dawson’s docuseries
There’s not enough pushback Continue reading…
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The Verge
The future of transportation is being underwritten by Saudi Arabia
Some of the world’s most ambitious transportation projects are currently propped up by billions of dollars from Saudi Arabia, an authoritarian regime that is facing new scrutiny following its alleged role in the brutal killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Billions more have come from SoftBank’s Vision Fund, the Japanese tech conglomerate’s $100 billion investment arm, of which Saudi Arabia has contributed $45 billion. A few of these companies, and some of their executives, have made nominal moves to distance themselves from Saudi Arabia in recent days, like pulling out of the country’s upcoming Future Investment Initiative conference. Others, like Lucid Motors, an electric car startup that just received a much-needed $1... Continue reading…
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The Verge
The OnePlus 6T launch is being rescheduled to avoid colliding with Apple’s event
OnePlus is moving up the launch of its OnePlus 6T by a day in order to avoid colliding with Apple’s iPad Pro and Mac event on October 30th, which was just announced yesterday. The change was revealed in a post by CEO Pete Lau on the OnePlus community forum, who explained the difficult decision. Both events were scheduled to take place in New York on the same day, but OnePlus has announced that it will now hold its event on October 29th at the same location and 11AM ET time. The sold-out launch event, which has over 1,000 confirmed attendees so far, is a ticketed event for OnePlus fans as well as press. In past events, OnePlus has credited the cost of the ticket back when attendees purchased a phone. OnePlus is now reaching out to attendees to let them know about the rescheduling, and it’s offering to cover travel expenses for attendees if they need to change their flights. The company is also offering full refunds to ticket holders who won’t be able to attend. Anticipation for the new phone is high, as the OnePlus 6T is rumored to come with an in-display fingerprint sensor and a tiny notch. Hopefully, OnePlus will get enough attention to make up for the pain of rescheduling an event before Apple takes away the spotlight the following day.
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The Verge
What’s in your bag, Jess Glynne?
Beauty essentials and... a tube? What’s in your bag? is a recurring feature where we ask people to tell us a bit more about their everyday gadgets by opening their bags and hearts to us. This week, we’re featuring British singer and songwriter Jess Glynne. Jess Glynne oozes cool. The chart-topping artist rolls into The Verge with a casual vibe, despite being accompanied by a deep entourage and styled not with a look, but a lewk. Sporting head to toe pastel athleisure with a bright green Gucci crossbody bag that pops against her signature orange curls, one can’t help but notice Glynne as she walks into the room. You know she’s an artist. There is an intangible radiance that comes from her. You are probably already familiar with Glynne’s soulful-leaning songs and her strong, husky voice. She was a featured artist on Clean Bandit’s “Rather Be” and her debut studio album, I Cry When I Laugh, debuted at number one on the UK Albums chart. This year, she became the first British female solo artist to have seven number-one singles on the UK Singles chart. As if that all wasn’t enough, her most recent album, Always In Between, just delivered enough first-week units to become her second UK number one album. It’s been a bumper year for Glynne, but despite the accolades, in some ways she feels like it’s just the beginning. “I still feel like there’s so much more that I want to do,” Glynne tells The Verge while unpacking her bag. “I feel so early in my career.” Find out more about Glynne through her things, below, including the vocal cords surgery she underwent in 2015, and how she uses her iPhone in the songwriting process. I love your bag. I’d thought that it was going to be in a video, but it actually wasn’t in the video. So, it kind of sat in this box for about eight months, because there were only a few of them. My stylist was like, “Let’s just buy it.” And then we forgot about it. We tried to put it in certain things, and it just wasn’t right by that point in time. I don’t know, sometimes branding’s a bit much. And then it ended up just being my bag. What video was it supposed to be for? It was supposed to be for “I’ll Be There,” my new single. But then it kind of got to a thing where the video was supernatural and it was just unnecessary. But we just liked the bag. So now it’s my personal little thing, which is cool. Alright, so what’s inside? This is basically every day really. Other than my passport — I don’t carry that every day. But I’m traveling at the moment so that’s just chilling in there, hah. We all love a passport picture. I look like a criminal. Hundred percent. We were all in rehearsals two years ago, in this production warehouse in this massive building, and everyone was crazy. My tour manager came up to us and was like, “Guys just come here, just take a quick picture. It’s for your passport.” Cool. [Imitates a camera click] And then all of us got these pictures back and we genuinely… look like criminals [laughs]. Everything’s just a bit of a mess. This is my wallet that my management got me... I think for my birthday. Nice little leather thing. And then money, that’s just important, right? I need to have money, in case I need a drink. And a pen, ‘cause you always have to have something to take notes when your phone dies. I actually love this pen. When I was in Miami, I went to that famous hotel with the Damien Hirst things outside. Anyway, that’s where I got the pen from. So first thing is gonna be my perfume. It’s by Comme Des Garçons. I feel like it’s quite important, when you’re doing a lot of promo, that you always smell good. I feel like I always remember someone’s smell. Alright, the next thing I have in my bag is — this [holds up lip balm]. I’m kind of obsessed with having no dry lips.It’s called Papaw. I got it in Australia when I was there, and it’s nearly dead. I stocked up when I was there. This is my third. What else have we got in here… well my tube. This is a kind of important thing, actually. So this tube, I do carry it around with me quite a lot, because I use it for when I warm up, when I sing. So what I’ll do is I’ll put it in water, and I’ll do exercises by, like, blowing through it. It’s kind of weird, but when I had an operation on my voice, I learned about straws and tubes. I had to do therapy after, and this is one of the things that I used to warm my voice up. How often do you do that? Quite often, even if I’m talking. Like, I’ve been talking a lot today, so I constantly have to exercise my voice, ‘cause it’s still the same amount of straining, do you know what I mean? Overusing your voice is quite common. So yeah, I do carry that around with me no matter what I’m doing — promo or singing. First thing in the morning and last thing at night are the most important times. You’ve got to stretch after you run a marathon, right? So if you’ve been using your voice, you’ve just gotta… stretch it out. Heh! So next in here we have hand sanitizer. It’s one of the most important things to carry around. I’m a bit OCD as well. I like to be clean. My dad’s got this thing wherever he goes, he has to wash his hands. So we go out to a restaurant, the first thing he’ll do will be… go to the bathroom and wash his hands. And I think he’s passed it on to me. So wherever I go, I have to wash my hands. But if I can’t… then I kill it with antibacterial spray. It’s got a really nice smell. It’s quite potent, but it makes me feel like it’s done a good job. I’d read that you spent a week in the country just to create and it was a really rich period. Yeah! Rich, that’s a… really good word. So I’d gone to LA for two months at the beginning of last year. I wrote so much stuff. I probably came back with near to 100 songs. But I wasn’t quite sure where I was going with everything. I think the story and the sound got a bit lost and I felt like I needed to take a step back. So when I had time off last year, I did take a step back. I lived, and chilled, and did my thing. And then, it got to the end of summer, and I’d been through a lot emotionally, through relationships, through life, and coming to terms with a lot had changed. I was in a space where I just really wanted to write, and I knew I had a lot to give. I called the guys at my label and I said, “Please can we just do one last thing for this?” I just wanted to go away, into the middle of nowhere with everybody that I’d wrote the first record with — people who I love, people who I connect with — in a space that’s not a studio, that’s not pressured, that’s not near anything or anyone, that’s not going to make me feel uncomfortable, like I’m doing something wrong. And they were like, “Right, we’re got this house. It’s in the middle of Sussex, in the middle of nowhere.” They suggested some new people who I was totally open to, and then we got caterers and set up a living space. There was a cinema room downstairs, bedrooms, all these different random rooms... just little setups where we could jam. I put together a little schedule of two or three people in a room each day, and it was the most organic process. It was so amazing to chill, to eat, to sing, to write, and just to have that moment in creating the whole record. What did you bring with you? I took really comfy clothes. I didn’t need to impress anybody. I wasn’t going out anywhere. Just like, a “look after you” kind of suitcase, you know? It’s so nice to be able to get up in the morning, put on a tracksuit, feel fresh, chill, and not feel like you have to do yourself up, for anything or anyone. What else is in this bag, then? Hairbands. This is probably one of my most important things, because I lose them all the time and my hair is... a lot. I get really hot, and I hate having my hair down, so I always bring a lot of hairbands with me. What else... I’ve got sunglasses, because I have really sensitive eyes. Blue eyes are really sensitive, in case you didn’t know. Plus, I do feel like they add to a look, you know? My thing is sunglasses because obviously if I wore clear ones it would be an issue. I don’t need them, and I’d look like one of those people that’s... not cool [laughs]. I have this hand cream. It’s so battered. This has been around, obviously, a lot. I’ve got a really big thing about keeping my skin moisturized. I hate dry skin. What kind is it? This is Aesop! It’s got like something in it that takes off the dead skin. It’s amazing. I always use coconut oil on my skin, but I couldn’t bring it because it kept leaking every time. So I went to Whole Foods yesterday, and bought this cream for my skin. So this lip stuff... I’m into a nude lip. I don’t really like wearing makeup that much, but I always feel like if I’m not wearing makeup, and I put on a lip, it’s enough. Oh, I’ve got more lip stuff! I’ve actually got a lot of lip stuff. I like options. This is a really matte one and goes on top. It’s kind of a shimmery thing when I’m trying to be a little bit extra. And I’ve got concealer, in case a spot pops up and I don’t want it to be seen. As a girl, you get a bit shameful of your spots. You shouldn’t, really, because we all have them. Headphones. An adaptor thing, because the new iPhone is so annoying. If I keep it on here I don’t lose it. These are really just cheap [headphones]. They’re not exciting. I find it difficult with headphones. I don’t really like big ones, because they’re just too heavy and they get in the way, and quite a lot of the expensive ones that are all meant to be fancy don’t really work in my ear. I think I’ve got weird ear canals [laughs]. And I feel like the majority of people will listen on your average headphone. I’ve been finishing my album recently and it’s quite good to listen to the songs through here, because it kind of gives you an idea of what people are going to hear, and then you can judge what you need more and less of. I’ll listen to stuff through my headphones, and then I’ll listen through my speakers at home, and always in my car. Those are the three most important places. Which iPhone do you have? The X. That guy’s everywhere with me. I do really like the fact that it doesn’t have a button. At first I was really upset about it because it’s hard to get used to, but I actually quite like the cleanness of it. I’m not really like, “Oh I love phones,” I do what I need to do on it and that’s that. I’m not one of these technology freaks. I’m not very good at technology [laughs]. It’s not my thing. Do you use the phone at all for writing songs? Yeah. I use the voice note thing. How many voice notes are on here? Probably hundreds. Say I’m out and I get an idea, or if I’m with someone and we’re not in a space where we’re creating, I’ll just kind of sing into it and I’ll title it with a lyric or something of that moment in time. And then I’ll go back to it if I’m in the studio. It’s really helpful. And notes as well. I always write down quotes or lyrics that I like. Do you have a notebook? I don’t have a notebook. I should get a little one, innit. And then it would make more sense to have a pen. These are tablets that I take, but I don’t take them often. My heart’s irregular, so sometimes it loses its beat. And so, if it loses its beat, I take one of these. I suffer with anxiety and so when things are quite stressful, my heart goes a bit mad. I carry these around, just in case, and they kind of help neutralize me. I’ve got my room key for my hotel. I’m staying at this hotel called the Refinery Hotel in New York, which is actually quite nice. I’ve never stayed there before. It’s easy to get to everywhere. I feel like I’m giving everyone advice [laughs]. It’s a really great place, check it out! I’m not gonna lie, the contents of my bag, are like, cool. It looks quite good, doesn’t it? I didn’t plan it, I promise. It really does. It looks really good. So, congratulations on being the first British female solo artist to reach seven number-one singles on the UK Singles Chart! Thank you so much! I was at home, and everyone was like, “Jess, I think you’re gonna be number one.” I was like, “Look, it’s been number two for ages,” and I was happy with that. And then it got to Friday and I got a message from my publisher going, “You’ve done it!” I was like [makes sobbing noise]. I just started crying. So what’s the big goal now? A lot of my focus now is to come over [to the US] a lot and make a mark over here, I think. And also, for the album to be as successful as it can be. Even though I’ve achieved a lot, I still feel like there’s so much more that I want to do. I feel so early in my career. It’s so insane. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. For more information, see our ethics policy.
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The Verge
YouTube introduces mini-player for desktop browsers
People who primarily watch YouTube videos via their computers can rejoice: in-browser mini-players are finally available for desktop users. Anyone who’s watched YouTube videos via the company’s mobile app will have already experienced the joys of mini-players. The tool, which rolled out earlier this month, allows people to continue playing a video they’re already watching while browsing for another one. Think of it like Facebook’s video player, which minimizes and moves to the side of your News Feed while you continue to scroll down the page. Google Mini-player in action. Viewers can exit out of the mini-player by hitting the “x” or escape keys on their keyboards. You can also control playlists, queues, and next videos directly through the minimized video. This means that if you’re trying to find that one perfect Vine, but you don’t want to stop playing the compilation you have up or miss out on the next playlist queued, you can. It’s a quality-of-life update for anyone who watches an exorbitant amount of YouTube. Being able to continue watching a video while searching for something else became a huge improvement when it was introduced as a mobile feature. To use the mini-player, hover over the bottom of the video, and use the icons in the right-hand corner to select mini-player. Then browse to your heart’s content!
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The Verge