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The Verge - All Posts
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Facebook gave Spotify and Netflix access to users’ private messages
What to make of the New York Times’ latest story about Facebook’s broad data-sharing agreements? The story, which draws on internal documents describing the company’s partnerships, reports on previously undisclosed aspects of business partnerships with companies including Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Spotify, and Netflix. In some cases, companies had access to data years after it was supposed to have been cut off. Here’s how the story is framed by reporters Gabriel J.X. Dance, Michael LaForgia, and Nicholas Confessore: The documents, as well as interviews with about 50 former employees of Facebook and its corporate partners, reveal that Facebook allowed certain companies access to data despite those protections. They also raise questions about whether Facebook ran afoul of a 2011 consent agreement with the Federal Trade Commission that barred the social network from sharing user data without explicit permission. In all, the deals described in the documents benefited more than 150 companies — most of them tech businesses, including online retailers and entertainment sites, but also automakers and media organizations. Their applications sought the data of hundreds of millions of people a month, the records show. The deals, the oldest of which date to 2010, were all active in 2017. Some were still in effect this year. The story, which builds on reporting earlier this year from both the Times and the Wall Street Journal, describes a variety of data-sharing partnerships, some of which users were likely unaware of. They include: Giving Apple access to users’ Facebook contacts and calendar entries, even if they had disabled data sharing, as part of a partnership that still exists. Apple told the Times it was unaware that it had special access, and of the data described would never leave the user’s device. Giving Amazon the names and contact information of users, in a partnership that is currently being wound down. Amazon wouldn’t discuss how it used the data other than to say it had used it “appropriately.” On Twitter, Gizmodo’s Kashmir Hill speculated that Amazon may have used the data to fight review fraud. Giving Bing, the Microsoft search engine, access to see names and other profile information of a user’s friends. Microsoft said it has since deleted the data. Facebook says that only user data set to “public” was accessible to Microsoft. Giving Spotify, Netflix, and the Royal Bank of Canada the ability to read users’ private Facebook messages. The access described in the Times story falls into three types of Facebook partnerships. The first are what Facebook calls “integrations,” and they refer to custom-built apps that Facebook built for OEMs like BlackBerry. Because they were integrated with phone operating systems, they require a broad exchange of data with OEMs. They’ve gotten a lot of attention this year, but I think most users would reasonably assume that their personal data was being exchanged with the phone manufacturer in those cases. The second type of partnerships, which is represented by the Bing deal, are part of a now-defunct program called “instant personalization.” This feature, which launched in 2010, opted every Facebook user in by default. It allowed all of its partners to personalize their own services using whatever Facebook knew about you and was willing to share. Yelp, for example, would show visitors which of their Facebook friends used the site when they visited. The program drew significant criticism when it launched, and it was eventually killed off in 2014. But according to the Times, Bing continued to have access to the data through 2017, and two other companies still had access this summer. On one hand, this was all public data — friends’ names, hometowns, and that sort of thing. On the other hand, Facebook’s failure to shut down data access here is reminiscent of the failure that sparked the Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal: a company said it had deleted a bunch of user data turned out to have instead used it in an influence to sway the 2016 presidential election. The final type of partnerships are essentially one-off deals that Facebook made over the years. The scariest-sounding of them all was a deal Facebook made with companies including Spotify, Netflix, and the Royal Bank of Canada in which partners were granted read and write access to users’ Facebook messages. This was the result of a broadly written API, launched in 2010 as part of an early (pre-Messenger) effort to build a messaging platform. In Spotify’s case, for example, the company plugged into your chat window to send songs to your friends. It seems possible that a rogue employee made mischief in someone’s messages, but the Times story doesn’t include any examples. There are other worrisome details in the Times story, including reports that Yahoo and the Russian search company Yandex both retained access to user data years after it was supposed to have been cut off. Collectively, they speak to an indifference toward data security that flies in the face of recent Facebook pronouncements on the subject — most notably, chief marketing officer Carolyn Everson’s statement last week that privacy “is the foundation of our company.” Everson made her comments on the same day that Facebook opened a pop-up kiosk in New York City’s Bryant Park where users could ask questions about how their data is used on the platform. Presumably, they would have had more questions to ask if they had access to the list of 150 companies that had been making data partnerships with Facebook over the past decade. In response to the Times’ report, the company acknowledged it had more work to do to regain user trust. It also highlighted some of the benefits of data sharing, including the ability to create more personalized experiences on other sites and services. “Facebook’s partners don’t get to ignore people’s privacy settings, and it’s wrong to suggest that they do,” said Steve Satterfield, director of privacy and public policy at Facebook, in an email. “Over the years, we’ve partnered with other companies so people can use Facebook on devices and platforms that we don’t support ourselves. Unlike a game, streaming music service, or other third-party app, which offer experiences that are independent of Facebook, these partners can only offer specific Facebook features and are unable to use information for independent purposes.” I find it helpful to read the allegations in the Times’ story chronologically, starting with the integration deals, continuing with the one-off agreements, and ending with instant personalization. Do so and you read a story of a company that, after some early success growing its user base by making broad data-sharing agreements with one set of companies — OEMs — it grew more confident, and proceeded to give away more and more, often with few disclosures to users. By the time “Instant personalization” arrived, it was widely panned, and never met Facebook’s hopes for it. Shortly after it was wound down, Facebook would take action against Cambridge Analytica, and once again began placing meaningful limitations on its API. Then basically nothing happened for three years! Whatever is happening, it’s happening ... now. It has been only two months since the largest data breach in Facebook’s history. It has been only five days since the last time Facebook announced a significant data leak. It has been only two days since I said I would be taking the rest of the year off of writing this newsletter. It has only been a few hours since Cher announced she was quitting. WONT USE GOOGLE,GETTING RID OF FACEBOOK ACCOUNT I DIDNT KNOW I HAD.WOULD GET RID OF TWITTER IF IT WASN’T 4 ❤️ OF YOU.THESE COMPANIES HAVE NO ALLEGIANCE TO,OR ❤️OF ANYTHING BUT MONEY . THEY MIGHT AS WELL BE CONSPIRING WITH RUSSIA TO DESTROY OUR DEMOCRACY.WHERES❤️OF — Cher (@cher) December 18, 2018 Here are two last things to chew over as we think about this story in the coming days. One, it’s now clear that a data partnership with Facebook can create reputational risks for the companies making the deals. Every company named in the report will be held account for the Times’ findings, and they better have good and thorough answers when shareholders, lawmakers, and reporters start asking. Two, it’s amazing how much oxygen we all have given to the false notion that Facebook sells your data — when the real story was the data they were giving away.
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The Verge
Samsung’s stylish The Frame and Serif 4K TVs will soon come in more sizes with better picture quality
Ahead of CES, Samsung is announcing upcoming refreshes of its two most stylish 4K TVs, The Frame and Serif. These are lifestyle pieces that aim to make people rethink what a TV can and should look like. They don’t offer Samsung’s best picture performance — that’s still reserved for the proper QLED lineup — but they’re definitely good for attracting conversation in the home. The Frame is being upgraded with an improved picture over its previous two iterations. The 2019 model will feature Samsung’s quantum dot display technology for a wider HDR color palette. Aside from offering a better picture, The Frame will also now come in a new 49-inch size. (Last year’s edition came in 43-, 55-, and 65-inch sizes.) Samsung markets The Frame to... Continue reading…
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The Verge
Spam calls grew 300 percent worldwide in 2018, according to Truecaller
Spam calls grew by 300 percent worldwide this year, according to a new report from Truecaller, a caller ID service. But while the scourge continues to grow overall, some countries actually saw a slight decline — including the US. The United States fell from the 2nd most spammed country to the 8th in one year, according to Truecaller. Truecaller users received about 17 calls per month, down from 21 in 2017. The bulk of calls purported to be about insurance or debt collection, according to the report. While no reason was given for the drop, authorities have increasingly tried to crack down on illegal callers. The Federal Trade Commission has brought several lawsuits, while the Federal Communications Commission has considered various regulations to deal with the issue and in one case slapped an egregious robocaller with an $82 million fine. Brazil was the most spammed country The issue continues to escalate elsewhere. Brazil was found to be the most spammed country in 2018, with the average Truecaller user getting over 37 spam calls a month. This was likely due to calls from telecom operators and calls made related to the general election, the company said. India, which was the most spammed country in 2017, has dropped down to second place, with a decrease of 1.5 percent. Truecaller says that in total, its users received 17.7 billion spam calls between January and October. The report counted a call as spam if it was flagged by algorithms or manually by users. Since Truecaller doesn’t count data outside of its customer base, its results and rankings have to be taken with a grain of salt. Another report from a robocall blocking service called YouMail reported 28.5 billion spam calls occurring in the US within the first eight months of this year, a figure that vastly exceeds Truecaller’s numbers and seems more in line with the multiple-calls-per-day nuisance many of us are contending with.
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The Verge
What it means that the Surgeon General now calls vaping an ‘epidemic’
The US Surgeon General just declared youth vaping an epidemic, and called out e-cigarette giant Juul as part of the problem in an advisory today. The Surgeon General’s declaration isn’t a new policy or enforcement action against vape companies or retailers. But it is a call to action that follows news that teen vaping is skyrocketing. Surgeon General Jerome Adams’ advisory lays out why teen vaping is a public health concern: nicotine can mess with the developing brain, it may get people hooked on nicotine products — including cigarettes, and the chemicals in e-cigarette vapor may be unhealthy to inhale. The advisory says a recent surge in teen vaping “has been fueled by new types of e-cigarettes that have recently entered the market,” and calls out vape giant Juul for its high nicotine doses. “They are only issued rarely, when immediate action is called for.” The Surgeon General’s power is more about influence, and less about enforcement: the real regulatory power over vaping comes from the Food and Drug Administration. So this advisory doesn’t have any legal force, Micah Berman, a professor of health services management and policy at The Ohio State University, tells The Verge in an email. “They are a tool used by the Surgeon General to call attention to an issue and to provide guidance to the public,” Berman says. “They are only issued rarely, when immediate action is called for — which is what makes them so noteworthy.” The advisory asks parents, teachers, and health care providers to talk to teens about vaping, and why it’s risky. It also urges state, local, and tribal governments to create clean air policies, curb the sale of flavored e-cigarette products, and prevent advertising campaigns aimed at young people. “Our nation’s doctor sees this as a problem,” says Brian King at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office on Smoking and Health, who worked on today’s advisory. “We ultimately hope [this] will galvanize folks at multiple levels, particularly at the state and local level.” Juul was specifically name-dropped in the report because of its dominance over the e-cigarette market. “We’ve seen skyrocketing rates of sales of Juul within the past several years,” King says. The advisory notes that Juul’s sales climbed 600 percent between 2016 and 2017. The company’s market dominance combined with a spike in teen vaping leads to an alarming conclusion, according to King: “These specific USB-shaped products, including Juul, are helping to drive this marked increase we’ve seen among our nation’s youth,” he says. That’s in part because Juul uses a form of nicotine that’s less harsh, and therefore less unpleasant to people who aren’t used to inhaling the stuff, King says. “That’s particularly problematic when we’re talking about young people,” he says. In response to the Surgeon General’s advisory today, Juul spokesperson Victoria Davis says in a statement that Juul wants to prevent young people from vaping. “We cannot fulfill our mission to provide the world’s one billion adult smokers with a true alternative to combustible cigarettes if youth use continues unabated.” “Using the e-word, epidemic, takes it to a higher level.” The advisory adds the Surgeon General’s voice to a growing chorus of alarm-sounding from public health agencies. It refers to e-cigarette use among young people as an “epidemic,” which echoes language used by the FDA. It also follows in the wake of back-to-back reports of skyrocketing rates of teen e-cigarette use. Last month, the CDC and the FDA reported a 78 percent increase in vaping among high school students compared to last year. And yesterday, the nationwide Monitoring the Future survey reported that 21 percent of high school seniors say they vaped nicotine in the past 30 days — up from 11 percent last year. “These are simply unprecedented increases that we’re seeing,” King says. That’s why it’s particularly significant that the Surgeon General is using the word “epidemic,” says Kathleen Hoke, a professor specializing in public health law at the University of Maryland: “Using the e-word, epidemic, takes it to a higher level. From a public health perspective, we try not to use that word unless it’s warranted — otherwise you have the boy cried wolf,” she says. But she says, according to these health officials, youth vaping has reached that level: “It’s broad, vast in its impacts, and of deep concern about its lasting effects.”
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The Verge
Google updated its Street View Trekker to look slightly less dorky
Over the years, Google has loaned out its Street View camera to photographers, travelers, and organizations to bring 360-degree imagery of cultural landmarks to Google Maps. Today, the company announced it’s taken the feedback from partners who have used the Trekker, as the camera rig is called, around the world and updated it with their suggestions. The new Street View Trekker is lighter, sleeker, and the cameras have been updated with increased aperture and higher-resolution sensors. The Trekker is versatile enough to be worn like a backpack, or placed on top of everything from cars to boats to zip-lines. It’s especially useful for exploring areas that might otherwise be difficult to travel to with a Street View-equipped car, as well as for building maps for developing countries and cities. Below, you can see what the Trekker used to look like on the left, and the updated version on the right. Google’s Street View camera loan program is open to organizations like tourism boards, nonprofits, government agencies, universities, and research groups. You can also apply to borrow the Trekker here, if you’re interested in promoting areas of “cultural, historic, or touristic significance.” In the meanwhile, check out all the other places the Trekker captured, like scientist Jane Goodall’s office in Tanzania, and the view from the inside of the Eiffel Tower.
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The Verge
Apple sent iPhone owners unwanted push notifications to promote Carpool Karaoke 
Apple is starting to send unwanted push notifications to iPhone users, including ones designed to promote its own Carpool Karaoke show — even though Apple’s TV app never expressly asks for permission to send promotional notifications, and even though Apple’s App Store guidelines forbid developers from sending unsolicited promos. We’re not sure how many iPhone users received the notifications, but it looks like Apple has tried plugging its show at least twice in recent weeks: once on December 7th for an episode where Kendall Jenner and Hailey Baldwin grill each other using a lie detector test, and once on December 14 for an episode featuring joint singalongs with comedian Jason Sudeikis and the Muppets. Some people aren’t happy: Hey @Apple if I ever get a notification like this again I’m switching to Samsung pic.twitter.com/mpGKYXiSka— Lex (@Just_John10) December 8, 2018 Why did Apple just send me a notification about an all new carpool karaoke, something I've never watched and have absolutely no interest in?— Mark Fletcher (@wingedpig) December 14, 2018 Why did my phone just send a notification via the TV app that a new carpool karaoke episode featuring Kendall Jenner is out?? 1) I have never watched an episode of carpool karaoke2) I give no fucks about any Kardashian or Jenner.3) I have never used iPhone’s tv app— (@meagan_wilcox) December 8, 2018 With regard to the developer rules, Apple would appear to be violating the section of its App Store Guidelines — Section 4.5.3 —that expressly informs developers not to “spam, phish, or send unsolicited messages to customers.” Apple did not respond to multiple requests for comment. pic.twitter.com/UlESkew75z— John Lagomarsino (@johlag) December 15, 2018 Of course, this is just a notification setting issue that can be resolved rather quickly. You can either turn off all TV app notifications by swiping on the notification itself and tapping “manage,” or you can dig into your notification settings through the general settings app and tailor them further from there. The notification spam is not isolated to TV, either. If you’re part of the iPhone Upgrade Program, you may have received a push notification you never expressly signed up for informing you about upgrading to the newest iPhone. Apple did that earlier this month, seemingly to promote the iPhone XR, although some users report having seen the notification last year too. While that is more understandable — if you’re part of the program, it’s helpful to know that you’re eligible for an upgrade — the language around the notification and its suggestion that “your new iPhone is ready” seems specifically designed to get you to buy something. It’s an ad disguised as a helpful tip. Both of these new examples are less obtrusive than the most famous Apple push notification, which informed more than 500 million people that Apple had purchased and given them a free copy of U2’s Songs of Innocence. That move, which reportedly cost Apple more than $100 million, proved so unpopular that Apple created a special removal process and support website to help angered users get rid of it for good. But it’s these types of actions that undermine the trust Apple has built with its customers. If getting spam push notifications from @Apple about new episodes of Carpool Karaoke is a sign of the company’s tv strategy, we’re in for a rough ride. — Tim Schmitz (@TimSchmitz) December 7, 2018 Now, it’s understandable that Apple might want to plug its own show. Over the last couple of years, Apple CEO Tim Cook has said the company’s services business is its future, as iPhone sales stagnate. Clearly, Apple wants to sell customers not just hardware that works in its ecosystem — like Airpods, the HomePod, and the Apple Watch — but also a bundle of software services it can charge a monthly subscription for. It’s already got Apple Music as a viable Spotify competitor, but Apple is years late to streaming TV, a market it’s been trying to crack since it started selling TV shows and movies through iTunes. But I’d be curious if Apple is actually helping itself with these plugs. Even if these notifications are easy to dismiss, people tend to hate unsolicited junk on their phone.
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The Verge
Uber approved to restart self-driving tests in Pennsylvania
Uber has been given the green light by Pennsylvania officials to restart its self-driving car tests on public roads. The program was shut down last March after a self-driving Uber vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. The crash was the first death attributed to a self-driving car, and it was seen as a significant setback for the industry, which is racing to get autonomous vehicles into commercial use. Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation approved Uber’s request to start testing autonomously in Pittsburgh, where its Advanced Technologies Group is headquartered, according to The Information. The news comes a few days after the tech site reported that a former Uber manager sent an 890-word email to some of the company’s executives that raised safety concerns about its autonomous vehicle program just days before the fatal crash in Tempe. An Uber spokesperson confirmed that PennDOT granted the approval, but cautioned that the company has yet to restart its testing. “We received our letter of authorization, yes but we haven’t put cars back on the road yet,” she said. “we haven’t put cars back on the road yet.” In July, Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation issued guidance for safety oversight of highly automated vehicles. The voluntary guidance directs self-driving companies to submit a “notice of testing.” The state will collect data on a semiannual basis, including the approximate miles traveled by a company’s automated vehicles in the state. Around that same time, Uber’s self-driving cars returned to the streets of Pittsburgh, albeit in manual mode only. In November, Uber released its voluntary safety report to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Friday. In it, Uber commits to resuming testing with two employees in each autonomous vehicle, enabling automatic braking, and strictly monitoring safety drivers. The company said it now has real-time third-party monitoring of backup safety drivers, it sets limits on the amount of time drivers can work per day, and it has improved training.
9 h
The Verge
Tinder fires its head of comms, following her participation in a $2 billion lawsuit against Match
Multiple Tinder employees who sued the dating app’s parent company, Match Group, for $2 billion were fired this week, a source close to the employees tells The Verge. Among them is Rosette Pambakian, VP of marketing and communications, who, in the original lawsuit, claimed that former Tinder CEO Greg Blatt sexually assaulted her. Match spokeswoman Justine Sacco wouldn’t confirm the names of the employees affected, but did say a “number” of employees, including Pambakian, were let go because they were “unable to fulfill their job responsibilities.” The company initially placed these employees on administrative leave in August, which meant they weren’t allowed to work but continued being paid. Since being fired, Pambakian sent an email to Match Group CEO Mandy Ginsberg and Tinder CEO Elie Seidman, saying she was subjected to “ongoing intimidation and retaliation” designed to “pressure [her] into resigning.” The Verge received a copy of this email from a source close to Pambakian, which we’ve published at the bottom of this article. The email also says the firing had to do with Pambakian’s sexual harassment claims against Blatt and that she was never interviewed about those claims. She writes, “You told the world that a sham investigation (in which I was never even interviewed) determined the assault was some sort of ‘consensual cuddling’—as if there could by anything consensual about a CEO groping his subordinate in front of other employees after making sexually explicit comments throughout the evening of a company holiday party.” She also claims that Match fired her a day before her options vested. She mentions an arbitration agreement, which forced her to withdraw from Rad’s lawsuit, and that she “refused to sign a non-disparagement agreement presented to me by HR, which would have prevented me from speaking publicly about my experience in exchange for compensation.” Ginsberg responded to Pambakian’s email in her own email, which we’ve also published below. In it, she rejects Pambakian’s retaliation allegations and reiterates that the company investigated Blatt and prior sexual harassment claims. Pambakian, she says, never filed a sexual harassment claim in the first place. “I was not the CEO at the time, but I know you were interviewed on at least two separate occasions and you never alleged sexual harassment,” she writes. She goes on to say that Pambakian’s options “have already been accelerated, and should be exercisable in your account, along with the other equity awards that have vested since August,” and says that the arbitration agreement is standard and “there is no NDA in them and we never tried to force you to sign a non-disparagement agreement. You’re free to talk about anything publicly that you’d like.” Much of this correspondence has already played out in public. Match responded to Pambakian’s sexual harassment allegations in the lawsuit around the time of filing and said it, “conducted a careful and thorough investigation under the direction of independent Board members, concluded, among other things, that there was no violation of law or company policy, and took appropriate action.” The lawsuit itself centers on the allegation that Match purposely undervalued Tinder in an effort to avoid paying lots of cash to the original team, but it’s unclear what involvement Pambakian will have going forward as she had to withdraw. Rosette’s email: Dear Mandy, Six years ago I wrote the very first press release for Tinder. Since then, I’ve poured my heart and soul into this company and helped grow it into a global phenomenon and top-grossing app. I was the youngest and longest-standing female executive at the company. I love Tinder. And I love my colleagues. But you have now fired me from a company I was so proud to build in blatant retaliation for joining a group of colleagues and Tinder’s original founding members in a lawsuit against Match and IAC, standing up for our rights, calling out the company’s CEO Greg for sexual misconduct, and confronting the company about covering up what happened to me. While I truly hoped that decency and professionalism would prevail and that you would let me return to work, I knew that was probably unlikely when I was placed on leave the very day the lawsuit was filed and you continued to defend the actions of the executive that I spoke out against. Rather than acknowledge the truth and condemn his actions, you chalked it up it to “bad judgment.” To make matters worse, you told the world that a sham investigation (in which I was never even interviewed) determined the assault was some sort of “consensual cuddling”—as if there could by anything consensual about a CEO groping his subordinate in front of other employees after making sexually explicit comments throughout the evening of a company holiday party. No company that has faced allegations like this has gone to such lengths to protect one of its own – it’s truly despicable. Since being placed on leave, I’ve been subjected to ongoing intimidation and retaliation clearly designed to pressure me into resigning—from immediately removing my name from my office and converting it into a conference room, to trying to coerce me into turning over my private and personal data on my phone. Though I can think of no other company that has actually fired the woman who made sexual assault allegations against an executive—the company’s actions here, including firing me just one day before my remaining options vest, are totally consistent with the way you have circled the wagons around him from day one. Was the board aware that the company would publicly blame the victim? When I refused to sign a non-disparagement agreement presented to me by HR, which would have prevented me from speaking publicly about my experience in exchange for compensation, Match snuck an arbitration clause into its employees’ most recent compliance acknowledgements, causing me, Jonathan, James and Josh to have to withdraw from the lawsuit. Know that my former Tinder colleagues and I still vigorously support that lawsuit — IAC and Match cheated us out of what we were promised and rightfully earned in exchange for building Tinder into Barry Diller’s most valuable business. As the lawsuit progresses the evidence will emerge and the world will see how IAC and Match plotted against their employees and rewarded misconduct. I never imagined that I’d be pushed out of my company for standing up for what is right. But if that is the cost of being on the right side of history, I’ll pay it. As a woman CEO, I truly hope that you reconsider the safety of your remaining female workforce and allow Tinder and other Match owned companies to follow in the footsteps of Uber, Facebook and Google in eliminating forced arbitration for sexual misconduct claims. We deserve better. Rosette Mandy’s email: Dear Rosette, I’m glad you reached out to me directly and I would like to take this opportunity to clarify a few points, because there seems to be a very real disconnect here that I truly want to fix. You were not terminated because you reported Greg for sexual harassment. You couldn’t have been, as you never reported Greg for sexual harassment. When Sean Rad brought the subject up nearly five months later, right after the valuation process commenced, it was immediately and thoroughly investigated by the Board, independently without any involvement from Greg, which concluded that no sexual harassment occurred. I was not the CEO at the time, but I know that you were interviewed on at least two separate occasions and you never alleged sexual harassment. On the topic of sexual harassment at Tinder, you know how seriously reports are taken. You yourself reported two other male colleagues, whom Sean Rad hired, and they were very quickly dismissed. Clearly, it was taken very seriously given the company terminated those individuals. More importantly though, Greg is no longer here. I am. And I promise you, we do not retaliate against anyone who reports sexual harassment. Your position was never at risk due to any sexual harassment complaints. I wanted to find a way to keep you employed at Tinder. As explained in the letter we sent you, you were terminated because it was not possible for you to fulfill the duties and responsibilities of your role as Tinder’s spokesperson for a number of reasons, including your public position against the company over a valuation process. We also recently asked you to come to the office for a meeting with the HR department to discuss work-related activities and policies and were told that we can only contact you through your attorneys. Unfortunately, it’s impossible for you to do your work at Tinder if all communications related to your job have to go through your lawyers. As it relates to your personal information, any suggestion that we have been trying to access it is just not true. Like any company, we’ve asked for you, and all other employees involved, to return company laptops, phones and other devices to us. And unfortunately, we couldn’t retrieve a number of company devices from you and the others since you claimed that they were coincidentally all lost or damaged just before you decided to sue the company. There are two last points I want to make: on the point about your equity, those options have already been accelerated, and should be exercisable in your account, along with the other equity awards that have vested since August. However, on the arbitration agreements, there is no NDA in them and we never tried to force you to sign a non-disparagement agreement. You’re free to talk about anything publicly that you’d like. You have already done so and that’s your prerogative. But the arbitration agreement is attached again. As you already know from when you signed it, it’s clearly labeled “Agreement to Arbitrate.” I am a strong female advocate and have said to the women in the organization that as a female CEO in charge, I have zero tolerance for bad behavior and I am very much invested in every single employee’s success. If you’d like to discuss any of the above, or have a productive dialogue, I am here and will make myself available for an in person meeting. Just let me know. Mandy
9 h
The Verge
Google is giving away Assassin’s Creed Odyssey for free if you demo Project Stream
Google has a pretty sweet deal for any PC users eager to try its new, experimental Project Stream, a video game streaming platform built by the search giant’s cloud computing division. If you play just one hour of Ubisoft’s recently released Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, you’ll get a free copy of the game for PC / Mac through the publisher’s Uplay platform, via Eurogamer. (The game retails for around $20 on Uplay right now, but it costs around $35 on console.) The promotion is restricted to US users, and you have until January 15th to clock your hour of play time to claim the free title. Project Stream, first announced in the beginning of October, is an effort for Google to test the waters of game streaming. The only available title on Stream right now is Odyssey, mainly to test the viability of Google’s platform with a big fall launch game. Odyssey is a high-fidelity product that can only be played on a PC with a moderately powerful graphics card, and alternatively, it requires the latest PlayStation or Xbox hardware to play on console. Of course, Google is not alone in its efforts to build a game streaming platform. Both Microsoft and Sony are building out similar services. Sony’s PlayStation Now service already offers game streaming with a growing library of titles, while Microsoft recently took the wraps off its platform, to be called xCloud, that will reportedly run on a pair of next-gen consoles slated for 2020. Meanwhile, a number of other companies, like the French startup Blade and chip maker Nvidia, have existing game streaming services that are slowly but surely getting better. That Google wants in on the market is an interesting development. But right now, the company won’t say whether Project Stream will transform into a consumer product. There is the potential that Google is experimenting to see if its cloud computing infrastructure could support such a service from a third-party company, or if Google could offer the backend to a game streaming platform built by someone else. Right now, the company clearly needs more testers, and it’s giving away a game barely two months old in exchange for some valuable data. Correction: An earlier version of this article mistakenly said Google is giving away a free copy of Assassin’s Creed Origins. That is incorrect; the company is giving away a free copy of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, a game set in Greece instead of in Egypt.
9 h
The Verge
Target’s Shipt same-day delivery service will expand to take on Amazon and Walmart
Shipt, the same-day grocery delivery service acquired by Target last year, has announced plans to expand into more cities and offer a wider product selection starting in 2019. The company told TechCrunch that the service will begin deliveries of “all major product categories” next year, expanding from groceries and home goods into clothing, beauty products, and more. Shipt employs shoppers to pick up items and deliver them to customers in as little as one hour. The service currently excludes clothing, shoes, accessories, bedding, bath, and entertainment items from deliveries, but it appears that’ll change next year with the company’s expansion plans. Shipt says it’s now available in 200 markets across 46 states, and will continue to expand to new markets, though it hasn’t specified which cities yet. Target Today’s news is yet another sign of the competition between retail giants like Target, Walmart, and Amazon heating up as they try to lure shoppers with better delivery deals. A yearly Shipt membership is $99, $20 cheaper than Amazon Prime’s $119 annual fee, which includes same-day shipping. Amazon, which recently ended a partnership with Shipt rival Instacart inside of Whole Foods, also charges an extra $14.99 per month on top of the Prime membership for its own grocery delivery service, AmazonFresh. Meanwhile, Walmart has partnered with a long list of companies for its deliveries, which include Uber, Lyft, Postmates, and DoorDash. The company also recently announced it’s testing a crowdsourced last-mile delivery service called Spark Delivery. It also owns and sells its product stock on Jet.com, which offers three-hour deliveries in major cities. Walmart doesn’t have membership fees and instead offers free two-day shipping on orders over $35, which some shoppers may prefer. In any case, more options are opening up for shoppers who want the convenience of groceries and essentials delivered to their homes on the same day.
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The best of 2018 in entertainment and pop culture
With 2018 coming to a close, we’re taking stock of what we loved and hated in 2018, what we want other people to remember and what we really want to forget. It’s year-end list-making time, and this is our look back on the season.
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The 10 best documentaries of 2018
Between Netflix, PBS, and premium pay cable channels like HBO and Showtime, the market for documentaries has become much more robust over the past decade, giving filmmakers genuine hope that their movies might find an audience. But something unusual happened in 2018: A lot of people actually went to see documentaries in theaters… and not just at film festivals, but in arthouses and multiplexes. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Three Identical Strangers, RBG, and Free Solo have all made more than $10 million at the U.S. box office, which are blockbuster-level numbers for a documentary. Meanwhile, Shirkers on Netflix and Minding the Gap on Hulu drew almost as much attention from critics as the service’s scripted shows. In short, 2018 has been a phenomenal year for non-fiction cinema, in both the quality of the work and the excitement it’s generated. The films on the list below run the gamut from “strange but true” stories to impressionistic portraits of a forgotten America, with approaches that range from arty and elliptical to punchy and direct. There are movies here about crime, poverty, racism, and neglect, but also honest explorations of family ties, and poignant contemplations about what it means to be a good person. There’s a doc here for almost everybody, in other words — and this year, judging by the box-office receipts, everybody has been finding one to watch. BISBEE ’17 Experimental documentarian Robert Greene (director of Actress and Kate Plays Christine) tends to treat the barrier between “real” and “fake” in non-fiction as permeable. He’s found just the right subject to match his methods in Bisbee ’17, which was shot during one Arizona town’s commemoration of an infamous early 20th-century labor dispute. Greene shifts back and forth between re-enactments of a deadly miners’ strike and unscripted pontificating about politics from some of the locals. As these people don the costumes of warring workers and capitalists from 100 years ago, Bisbee ’17 notes how little has changed about the divisions with this country, while also raising subtle questions about how much of political grandstanding is really about playing a role. Where to watch it: The film was still in theaters as of November and isn’t on streaming services yet. Watch the official website for updates. DID YOU WONDER WHO FIRED THE GUN? Because Travis Wilkerson’s family doesn’t like to talk about the time his great-grandfather killed a black man in cold blood, the docu-essayist traveled back to the tiny Alabama town where the Wilkersons were once pillars of the community, and began digging through archives and asking questions, trying to find out what really happened. Did You Wonder Who Fired The Gun? is simultaneously a compelling true-crime murder-mystery and an uncomfortable (but vital) self-examination, as Wilkerson weighs the responsibility he bears for his ancestors’ racism. Where to watch it: Streaming on Amazon. FREE SOLO Digital effects have advanced to the point where just about anything a filmmaker can imagine can be believably faked on-screen. One big reason Free Solo has been such a hit is that its every astonishing moment actually happened, in front of cameras held by co-directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Vasarhelyi. Rock-climber Alex Honnold really scaled Yosemite’s towering El Capitan formation without ropes, while his friends watched from down below and his girlfriend waited nervously at home. And everyone was aware that a momentary slip or lapse in concentration would send him plummeting to his death, again in front of those cameras. Knowing Honnold will be okay doesn’t make this documentary any less awe-inspiring, or nerve-wracking. Where to watch it: Still in theaters, with current bookings through March 2019. Amazon, Google, YouTube, and Vudu are all taking pre-orders for the streaming version, but with no release date listed yet. HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING With Hale County, visual artist and basketball coach RaMell Ross has created a powerful hybrid of personal diary, fly-on-the-wall journalism, and abstract collage. While working at a rural school in Alabama, Ross started filming a few of his players on and off the court, and he later combined his home-movie-like footage of their daily lives with more experimental, off-kilter images of the area — from the pretty countryside to the crumbling small towns. The resulting movie presents a rare inside perspective on the American South’s black underclass, sharing the celebrations and stresses of a tight-knit but desperately poor community. Where to watch it: Still in theaters in limited release, with current bookings through April 2019. THE LAST RACE Accomplished photographer Michael Dweck converted a decade-long obsession with a dying Long Island stock-car track into an eerily beautiful documentary — like one of his art-museum exhibitions, but with moving pictures. Unlike the massive, sleek NASCAR arenas, the Riverhead Raceway is more a home for weekend hobbyists, competing in cars they modified themselves. Dweck assembles poetic footage of these people and their races into a mostly plotless series of vignettes. The Last Race puts across the filmmaker’s affectionate impressions of the track, through overhead conversations between foul-mouthed old-timers and dreamy shots of beat-up old automobiles roaring across the weary asphalt. Where to watch it: Amazon, Vudu. MINDING THE GAP Like a lot of the documentaries produced by Chicago’s Kartemquin Films (best-known for Steve James’ Hoop Dreams), Bing Liu’s Minding the Gap spends a long stretch of time with a small group of ordinary people, allowing the audience’s understanding of who they are and why they matter to evolve. For this film, Liu returns to his hometown of Rockford, Illinois, where not so long ago, he discovered his love of filmmaking while making skateboarding videos with his two best friends. Now all well into their 20s, these guys are still trying to party like teenagers, even as they struggle to find fulfilling jobs, maintain healthy relationships, and be good parents. Minding the Gap considers the social conditions and personality traits that have pushed these three men in different directions, but Liu doesn’t use statistics or social commentary, he just casually hangs around his friends — and carefully, incisively asks the right questions at the right times. Where to watch it: Hulu. SHIRKERS Some of the year’s best documentaries wedded rich themes to unusually twisty stories, hooking viewers with a narrative before doubling back to contemplate its meaning. Sandi Tan’s Shirkers is initially about the shaggy little indie movie she and her fellow punky cinephile teens made in their native Singapore in the early 1990s. But then it becomes more about the older man who became their mentor, their facilitator, and the reason their project never went anywhere. As Tan plays detective, investigating the mysteries of her youth, she also reconnects with her old friends, and has some frank conversations about the people they once were, what became of their relationships, and whether their disillusioning experience as amateur movie producers changed them for better or worse. Where to watch it: Netflix. 306 HOLLYWOOD When Elan and Jonathan Bogarin’s grandmother died, the artsy siblings decided to approach her cluttered old house like museum archivists would, turning decades’ worth of canceled checks, hand-sewn clothes, knickknacks, and junk-drawers into miniature exhibits, all as a way of better understanding this woman who meant so much to them. Some may initially find 306 Hollywood’s earnestness and tweeness off-putting, but the movie develops more depth with each segment, as the Bogarins reassemble old tapes and piles of junk into the shape of someone who’s no longer there, and they mournfully try to reanimate her soul. Where to watch it: In limited release with theaters still being added. The official site says it’ll be on iTunes in “early 2019,” and on Amazon in “mid 2019.” THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS The first half of this Tim Wardle documentary is a wild ride, especially for anyone who’s forgotten — or never heard about — the crazy story from the early 1980s about identical triplets who were separated at birth, then found each other again by accident. What starts as a fun look back at three young New Yorkers who became overnight celebrities takes a darker turn, once the boys learn the truth about why they were split up. It’s best not to spoil the surprises for those who still don’t know, but suffice to say that Three Identical Strangers becomes fascinating for entirely different reasons, as it digs deep into the questions of “nature vs. nurture,” and whether the basic outline of someone’s life is sketched-in from the moment of birth. Where to watch it: Amazon, Google, iTunes, various other streaming rental services. WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? Morgan Neville’s portrait of beloved children’s show host and moral philosopher Fred Rogers is 2018’s highest-grossing documentary for good reasons. As a movie, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is an emotionally wrenching experience, with one scene after another in which people who knew “Mister Rogers” are moved to tears by their memories of his superhuman compassion. Audiences have also been drawn to the film because of Neville’s craftily constructed argument for decency. Without naming names or criticizing anyone directly, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? reminds viewers that what they were taught in kindergarten and Sunday school — to share, to be honest, to care about others — is still the best way to make a lasting difference in the world. Where to watch it: Various streaming services. Honorable mentions: Gabriel and the Mountain, The Judge, King Cohen, On Her Shoulders, Quincy
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The UE Boom 2 is an excellent portable speaker that you can still get in time for Christmas
The UE Boom 2 is no stranger to discounts. We’ve seen it go as low as $59.99, though today’s deal at Amazon is nearly as good for a Bluetooth speaker that’s still easy to recommend, despite that it’s an older model. Normally $199 (though these speakers are rarely listed at full cost) the limited edition color scheme that mixes black and charcoal tones is $63.99, and if you purchase it today, Amazon says that it will arrive before Christmas. If you’re chasing after a good Bluetooth speaker recommendation, UE is likely to pop up in conversation. If you already own a UE Boom 2, these also make excellent gifts for those who want to liven up a party with great sound. The speakers are water resistant with a good battery life, too, making it great for the outdoors. If you’re buying an extra one for yourself, UE’s app lets you link up with the one that’s already in your home. Usually, it’s the more common, yet sort of garish red-and-blue model that’s discounted, so if you prefer a more muted palette to go with all your other gadgets, this is a nice deal.
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Twitter is relaunching the reverse-chronological feed as an option for all users starting today
Twitter is offering users another escape hatch from its ranked timeline. The company said today that it will introduce a prominent new toggle in the app to switch from the ranked timeline to the original, reverse-chronological feed. The company says the move comes in recognition of the fact that Twitter is often most useful in real time, particularly during live events such as sports games or the Oscars. Twitter began ranking the timeline almost four years ago. It was an effort to increase usage at a time when Facebook had pulled dramatically ahead of Twitter, raising doubts about the company’s future and setting it on a course to reinvent itself. Many users griped about the change, even though Twitter has always allowed users to switch back to the reverse-chronological feed temporarily. The latest incarnation of the original Twitter feed can be accessed by tapping the cluster of small stars — the company calls it the “sparkle” and now so shall we all, forever — and switching to see the latest tweets. Over time, the company will learn your behavior. If you routinely switch to the latest tweets, Twitter will default you to them. This marks a change from the past, when the app would switch you back to the ranked timeline at unpredictable intervals. Keith Coleman, vice president of product at Twitter, told The Verge that in tests, users who had access to the easy toggle participated in more conversations than average. I’ve been one of those users, and the toggle has been a welcome change. The flagship Twitter app’s strange aversion to real-time tweets — the lifeblood of the service since forever — is the main reason I continue to use Tweetbot on every platform, despite how it gets worse every year due to API restrictions. Twitter’s re-embrace of live tweets gives me hope that the company will continue to elevate real-time features across the platform. The company’s support for its pro app, Tweetdeck, is halfhearted at best. Investing more in features for power users will help ensure Twitter retains its place as the beating heart of breaking news around the world — and ignoring them creates opportunities for competitors. The toggle will begin rolling out today on iOS and will come to other platforms in the coming weeks, the company said.
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Instagram Stories’ question stickers can now be used to share music
Instagram is bringing some new features to its Stories format, including a new countdown sticker, and question stickers that can be used in Live videos and to share music recommendations. The latter are best described as “all of the current Instagram Story features remixed into each other,” which seems inevitable given how many there are now. The question sticker becomes more versatile today, as users can now respond to questions with music. Tapping on a viewer’s response will play the song, and users can choose to respond with a message or share the song to their own story. Sharing a song opens up the camera for the user to take a photo or video as the music plays in the background, and there’s also new camera effects that’ll respond to the music being played. Question stickers are also coming to Live videos to better organize Q&A interactions. Before, questions could get lost inside the chaotic chat stream, but with today’s update, questions chosen by the user streaming will be shown on-screen, so all viewers can see which questions are being answered. Questions can be asked on the Live user’s story before and during the Live video, and streamers can now also share photos and videos from their camera roll to their live video. Countdown stickers are interactive stickers within Stories which let users count down to upcoming moments that could be as big as New Year’s, or as small as the end of a workday. Creating a countdown sticker will keep it in your sticker tray to reuse until the countdown ends. Friends can tap the countdown to follow or share it to their own stories, and it’ll notify them when the countdown ends. The updates are rolling out on iOS and Android today.
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VR storybook game Luna is even more mesmerizing on Magic Leap’s headset
A year ago, virtual reality game Luna came out for the Oculus Rift and Microsoft’s Mixed Reality platform. Designed by Funomena, a studio founded by two of the designers who helped build acclaimed indie game Journey, Luna was unlike any other VR game to date. It looked like a storybook come to life. Instead of placing players in the body of a gun-slinging android or a Marvel superhero, it told a fairy tale about an owl, a bird, and a fractured moon. Through puzzle-solving, players traversed the bird’s narrative, rebuilt forests and lakes, and interacted with the creatures of nature. Now, inspired by the possibilities of augmented reality, Funomena has rebuilt a smaller version of Luna specifically for the Magic Leap One headset. It’s called Luna: Moondust Garden, and itbuilds on its original premise of an interactive storybook world by shifting the immersive aspects of VR to the creative, 3D world-building of AR. The game costs $4.99 and is out today for the Magic Leap One Creator Edition. The AR version of ‘Luna’ comes out today on the Magic Leap One Creator Edition “If you’re developing for a screen, you can do a camera cut. The players are at your mercy, like with a film,” says Funomena CEO and co-founder Robin Hunicke. “When you move to VR, suddenly the camera is the head. You have to think about encouraging the player to look somewhere. And with AR, you’ve lost control of the visuals.” So without the ability to control where exactly the visuals appeared, Funomena decided to give players the choice. Using the Magic Leap One remote, you build Luna’s world on any flat surface around you by planting seeds in the ground. In my time with the demo last week, I began by sprouting patches of grass, rocks, and ponds of water on the coffee table in front of me and on the floor next to my feet. The goal was to inspire a scared fox to come out of hiding by rebuilding his home. Because Magic Leap is an untethered device, you’re able to walk around with full motion, while the visuals stay fixed to where you’ve originally placed them. “Thinking about context and the environment itself is much more important and you have to be much more collaborative with the player,” Hunicke says. “Engaging with the tech with respect to scale, and how your intuition about space necessitated certain designs. People don’t look at a seed and naturally try to plant it in a wall.” Image: Funomena Funomena has worked in AR before, developing an experimental game called Woorlds for Google’s Project Tango platform (now known as ARCore) back in 2016. But with the Magic Leap — given its higher-fidelity visual capabilities, room tracking, and spatial audio — Funomena had much more sophisticated technology with which it could tell a unique story. According to Edgard Ortega, a senior producer on the project, Funomena had to think about the best way to tell. That meant adding a voice-over, which added to the overall storybook vibe Luna already communicates visually and with its narrative. The company also couldn’t just dump its original VR assets into AR. Instead, it had to build a smaller, more contained world. “That diorama quality meant we had to rework a lot of the assets,” he says. Funomena was founded by creators of Journey, a groundbreaking experiential indie game Hunicke says she and her co-founder Martin Middleton began talking with Magic Leap way back in 2013, and only just got their hands on a developer version of the Magic Leap One a year ago. But it’s a long-term goal of the company to create the kind of experiences that Moon Garden provides. In 2012, Journey took the industry by storm and racked up countless awards because it blended serene, awe-inspiring visuals and incredibly moving soundtrack with a simple, allegorical story about traveling to the peak of a mountain. What pushed it so far beyond your standard game experience was the ability to make that trek with another anonymous human player who could only communicate to you through emotive chirps. Hunicke and Middleton left the studio behind Journey, thatgamecompany, shortly after the release to found Funomena, with the intent of creating similar experiences that were centered on newer, next-gen hardware. Image: Funomena “We feel strongly about shaping new technologies to increase the joy and peace in the world, and considering how to make them humane as possible and positive as possible. It was immediately a fit on the vision side,” Hunicke says of Magic Leap. “We really love the idea of building an experience that exists in this world. They’re lower-fidelity graphically, but higher-fidelity in that [the game characters] can respond to you, see you, use the data of the environment.” Luna: Moon Garden is, of course, just the first step in Funomena’s exploration with mixed reality. Given that the Magic Leap One is still a very pricey headset, costing $2,295, Funomena is also focused on how to bring these kinds of experiences to more smartphones and bridge the gap between high-end and more accessible forms VR and AR. Hunicke says that creating for three-dimensional space — or “three-space” as she calls it — is the next big shift in interactivity. “Something like this technology can completely replace large, flat monitors and all the plastic and mercury in them. Attentional objects that pay attention to you in three-space is mind-blowing to me,” she says. “It gives the opportunity to dream very, very unique futures, creative futures. It’s really exciting.”
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Controversial ex-Uber engineer claims to have completed a coast-to-coast self-driving trip
Anthony Levandowski, the infamous self-driving car engineer whose shenanigans helped spur a multimillion-dollar lawsuit between Waymo and Uber, is back with a new project. According to The Guardian, Levandowski designed a camera-based advanced driver assist system (ADAS) called Co-Pilot, which is aimed at the long-haul trucking industry. And to help sell his new product, Levandowski took it for a test drive: a 3,000-mile journey from San Francisco to New York without any human intervention. The coast-to-coast self-driving trip has long been held up as the ultimate demonstration of this emerging technology. Elon Musk repeatedly promised to deliver an autonomous cross-country trip, only to delay it again and again. If Levandowski actually accomplished what he says he did, it would be the longest recorded journey of a self-driving car without a human driver taking over. “If there was nobody in the car, it would have worked.” The cross-country drive commenced on October 26th on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and finished nearly four days later on the George Washington Bridge in Manhattan. Levandowski claimed to be sitting in the driver’s seat for the entire 3,099-mile journey, but he says he did not touch the steering wheels or pedals, aside from planned stops to rest and refuel. “If there was nobody in the car, it would have worked,” he told The Guardian. Levandowski has posted a time-lapse video of his trip on the website of his new startup, Proton.ai. (The video includes a puzzling voice-over by Charles Bukowski reading his poem “The Laughing Heart.”) Levandowski also took freelance tech journalist Mark Harris for a 48-mile ride along the California coast, during which Harris reported that Levandowski only took control of the vehicle once when it failed to merge into highway traffic. The car he drove is a Toyota Prius that is outfitted only with seven cameras (six on the outside and one inside, facing the driver) and a trunk full of computing power. The driver-facing camera is intended to monitor driver attention and awareness. If the driver’s attention wanders, the vehicle will sound an alert and eventually shut down. Tellingly, Levandowski’s setup did not include the spinning LIDAR sensor on the roof that has become the most defining characteristic of self-driving cars, nor did it include the extremely detailed digital maps that other autonomous vehicle operators rely on. (In July, TechCrunch reported that Levandowski was behind a soon-to-launch startup called Kache.ai, but that appeared to be a placeholder name for Proton.) I took a 48-mile trip on highways in and around San Francisco with Levandowski. Performance was safe and competent, including lane changes. System did fail to merge into busy traffic once, and Levandowski took over. We also met a @Waymo car on city streets at the end.... pic.twitter.com/ZHepGx1iRI— Mark Harris (@meharris) December 18, 2018 Of course, Levandowski is a controversial figure whose claims should be taken with a grain of salt. During his time at Google, he secretly modified the company’s self-driving software so that the cars could drive on otherwise forbidden routes, according to The New Yorker. He was at the center of the lawsuit filed last year against Uber by Waymo, the self-driving division of Alphabet, for Levandowski’s alleged theft of 14,000 documents and the misappropriation of Google trade secrets. During depositions leading up to the trial, Levandowski repeatedly pleaded the Fifth. Uber fired Levandowski in 2017 and settled the lawsuit in February 2018. During the trial in February, lawyers for Waymo painted a picture of Levandowski as a problematic employee who clashed with his new boss over his slower, more cautious approach to self-driving cars. Waymo CEO John Krafcik said that Levandowski had vehemently held that redundant systems for steering and braking were unnecessary. “I think it’s fair to say we had different points of view on safety,” said Krafcik in court. New York magazine once attributed Levandowski as saying, “I’m pissed we didn’t have the first death” to a group of Uber engineers after a driver died in a Tesla on autopilot in 2016. (Levandowski has denied ever saying it.) His words would prove darkly prescient: in March, a self-driving Uber struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. In a Medium post, Levandowski referenced his reputation in the opening line: “I know what some of you might be thinking: ‘He’s back?’ Yes, I’m back.” He acknowledged that he has grown “frustrated... and impatient” with the slow pace of the self-driving industry. And he sounds off on the cautious approach to deploying cars — a characteristic that led him to take Uber’s “always be hustlin’” attitude to an alarming place. Levandowski is a controversial figure whose claims should be taken with a grain of salt Levandowski describes Co-Pilot as “highly capable level 2 system and not less,” which means it can handle most of the driving within confined parameters (highway driving), but it requires the human driver to stay alert. Proton’s first product will be an aftermarket kit “that will help truck drivers deliver their cargo anywhere in the world with greater safety and comfort than ever before.” According to the website, Proton is selling Co-Pilot for $4,999 per truck, which includes “bolt-on installation of our camera-based system, driver training and more.” This would seem to place Levandowski in the same category as George Hotz, famed iPhone hacker and founder of Comma.ai. Both are creating camera-based, aftermarket ADAS products that are intended only for highway driving, and both enjoy reputations as rebellious bad boys who flout the conventions of the industry. Levandowski also wears another, less obvious hat: church founder. Last year, he filed paperwork to create a religious organization called Way of the Future. According to Backchannel, the purpose is to “develop and promote the realization of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence.”
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This cable lets you charge your Surface Pro or Laptop from a USB-C battery
Earlier this year, I wrote about the long-awaited Surface USB-C adapter that finally added a versatile USB-C port to Microsoft’s Surface Pro and Surface Laptop computers. The adapter works as advertised, but it’s large, heavy, clumsy, and expensive. I outlined three ways that Microsoft could have designed a better cable, hoping that the company would listen. Turns out, someone was listening to at least one of those suggestions because you can now purchase a cable that lets you directly connect a Surface Pro or Surface Laptop to a USB-C battery or wall adapter for charging. The J-Go Surface Connect to USB-C Charging cable costs $19.99 and is available to order now. The cable is exactly as its name describes: one end of the six-foot cord has Microsoft’s proprietary Surface Connect adapter, while the other end is a standard USB-C plug. I tested the cable with both a Surface Pro and a Surface Laptop, and I was able to charge both devices using either a USB-C PD battery pack or a USB-C wall charger. J-Go rates the cable at 15V and says it will work with most USB-C power delivery (PD) devices, including portable batteries. If you’re using a Surface Go, the battery or wall charger needs to output at least 29W (though if you’re using a Go, you don’t really need this cable as it already has a USB-C port built-in). The Surface Pro and Surface Laptop demand at least 36W. The company says that best performance is found with 45W or 60W adapters. This cable is technically not as versatile as Microsoft’s adapter since it doesn’t support data transfer or video output; it’s solely used for charging. J-Go’s founder Jay Terry tells me that the company is in the process of developing a product that can support those functions, but he doesn’t know when that might come to market. Even with those limitations, the Surface Connect to USB-C Charging cable makes it easy for Surface device owners to charge their laptops with the same power brick they might use for their phones or use a portable battery pack to juice up on the go. Until Microsoft fully adopts USB-C across its devices, this is the next best thing. 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 year in Fortnite
From Drake to the World Cup Continue reading…
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GoPro CEO Nick Woodman on how the company is coming back into focus
It’s been a choppy few years at GoPro. The company that defined the action camera industry skyrocketed shortly after it went public in 2014, buoyed by the immediate success of the Hero 4 lineup. But it stumbled when it didn’t release a new flagship in 2015. Then GoPro’s entry into the drone market was delayed for months, leaving the product well behind what DJI had on offer when it hit the market in 2016. Then the drone was immediately recalled (on election night, no less) because some were dropping out of the sky. In an attempt to refocus, GoPro spent the last few years trimming its product lineup, it went through four rounds of layoffs, and eventually, it killed off the drone division altogether. This, among other things, was one of the topics we covered with GoPro founder and CEO Nick Woodman on this week’s interview episode of The Vergecast. The surfer executive, perhaps unsurprisingly, was a little zen about it all. “Constraint is a beautiful thing. It forces you to focus on those programs where you think you’re going to get the best return on investment, and frankly, they’re the programs you think are going to be most exciting for your customers,” Woodman said. That focus helped the company turn out the Hero 7 Black in September of this year, which quickly became the fastest-selling GoPro camera ever. But the new camera hasn’t gotten off to a hot start just because of the changes the company made in the background. GoPro’s also tried to shake its struggles by moving beyond soliciting feedback from pro athletes and super-users, and it has spent the last three years trying to find out more about the millions of people who buy one of the company’s cameras every year. It does far more consumer research now, and it also leverages the companion smartphone app to better understand who uses a GoPro camera and how. “We were very fortunate that we were successful early on with GoPro, and our gut seemed to be right all the time. This worked for... call it 12 years,” Woodman said. “The negative to that is that you think you’re always going to be right. ‘Wow, we must be really smart and really creative and really good at this.’ And because you never needed to use customer research to be successful, you don’t know how important it is. “As soon as we started to experiment... the springs started to come out.” “For the first 12 years of GroPro, we didn’t experiment very much. We had a winning formula and we just kept repeating that year over year over year, and we grew, and everything was terrific,” Woodman continued. “If you’re a historian of GoPro, you’ll see as soon as we started to experiment with the product lineup and with different price points, the springs started to come out. [It’s like,] ‘This is a beautiful watch. I want to take the face off and see how it works, and then, boom, the springs pop out. And we spent the last three years putting the springs back in.” A big part of why GoPro wasn’t doing this in the first place, Woodman said, was that it doesn’t have a ton of direct competition. Sure, Sony made (really good!) action cameras for a while, and other companies, like Garmin and TomTom, put out their own half-decent entries into the market as well. But no one company has been a sustained competitor to GoPro, which Woodman said made it easy for the company to lose its focus. “Not everybody in the world needs a GoPro.” “When we went public, we tried to make GoPro as broadly relevant and appealing as possible, and tried to reach everybody, arguably at the expense of our best customers,” he said. “Not everybody in the world needs a GoPro. We recognize that [now].” We also talked to Woodman about the ill-fated Karma drone, GoPro’s other new cameras (the Hero 7 White and Hero 7 Silver), and the recent news that the company is moving some production out of China as a result of the trade war.
The Verge
How and why we redefined the kilogram
An ounce is an ounce, and a kilogram is a kilogram, but how are these units actually measured? How do your scales know how much a pound or a gram weighs? Since 1889, the kilogram’s definition has been based on a metal artifact stored under lock and key in a vault near Paris. It’s called the International Prototype Kilogram, or Le Grand K, and it is the world standard. What it weighs, the kilogram weighs. No more, no less. Le Grand K was created (along with the rest of the metric system) during the French Revolution when scientists and revolutionaries were united in their desire to remake the world. This meant reforming the French language, the calendar, and the country’s weights and measures. The idea was to make these units accessible to every citizen and consistent across different nations. It was a utopian project. Read more: The kilogram is dead; long live the kilogram Photo: BIPM The original International Prototype Kilogram was cast in 1889 and is kept in a trio of vacuum-sealed bell jars in a vault near Paris. But in November, scientists voted to redefine the kilogram, replacing the International Prototype Kilogram with a definition based on a constant of nature. They did this partly because the kilogram artifact was losing weight, which was causing trouble with international calibration, but also because they wanted to fulfill the mission laid out by those 18th century revolutionaries. By defining the kilogram using a constant of nature, they are freeing it from physical constraints. You’ll still need some pretty complex machinery to actually measure the new kilogram, but, theoretically, anyone can do it. The kilogram is now truly accessible to all.
The Verge
Charter-Spectrum reaches $174.2 million settlement in New York AG’s speed fraud lawsuit
Charter Communications, the parent company of Spectrum, has agreed to a $174.2 million settlement with Attorney General Barbara Underwood, following the 2017 lawsuit that saw the AG’s office sue the internet provider over misleading internet speeds. The lawsuit, led by then-Attorney General Eric Schneiderman alleged that speeds were up to 80 percent slower than advertised. According to the New York Daily News, the $174.2 million payout will come in two forms: $62.5 million that will be refunded to 700,000 active customers (each will get between $75 and $150) and an additional $110 million in free streaming services and premium cable channels distributed to 2.2 million subscribers in New York. According to Underwood, the total settlement... Continue reading…
The Verge
Dirac Bass will trick you into perceiving deeper bass from your phone’s speakers
Dirac, a Swedish company that licenses out its audio-processing tech to big-name brands like BMW, Volvo, Xiaomi, and OnePlus, is today unveiling a new feature for mobile devices that it’s calling Dirac Bass. Aimed for use in smartphones and tiny portable speakers, Dirac Bass gets around the physical limitations of those small devices with a deft trick of psychoacoustics. Instead of trying to reproduce the deepest bass notes with micro-speakers that simply can’t operate at such frequencies, Dirac has designed a system that plays “a combination of artificially generated overtones that are several octaves higher,” which fools the human mind into perceiving deep bass. Dirac claims that Dirac Bass will make frequencies as low as 30Hz audible... Continue reading…
The Verge
How the new AT&T could bully its way to streaming domination
After decades of soaring cable TV prices, the streaming revolution has finally arrived. Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, and Amazon are all fully stocked services, entirely capable of competing with cable on content, and they’re all rated far higher in customer satisfaction than the companies they hope to supplant. The result is new competition for cable companies that’s pushing them into the streaming business. Nearly every broadcaster that’s currently in the cable TV lineup will offer some kind of direct-to-consumer streaming service by 2022. Most notable will be Disney’s looming Disney+ service, which will soon be the exclusive streaming home of must-have content from Pixar, Marvel, and the Star Wars universe. AT&T plans to launch its own... Continue reading…
The Verge
Byte’s creator culture will make or break Vine 2
Vine’s spiritual successor is slated to launch in 2019, yet it already faces two immense and conflicting expectations: that it will be a launching pad for another era of huge stars, and that it’ll recreate the low-key, relaxed, and goofy atmosphere that made Vine so fun. The app, called Byte, comes from Dom Hofmann, one of Vine’s co-founders. It’ll allow users to create similarly short-form videos, and ideally, find a community of like-minded creators. But the landscape has changed dramatically since the glory days of Vine. YouTube, Twitch, TikTok, and even Instagram cater toward people looking to build a brand they can turn into a career driven by instant fame. Just about every vibrant social platform now comes with the pressure to not... Continue reading…
The Verge
2018 was a weird notch year — what’s next?
Phone design got a little eccentric this past year. Reciting a mantra of “more screen is always better” under their breath, smartphone manufacturers did their utmost to kill the bezels around their displays, with most of them opting for the notch as the primary solution. Some copied the iPhone X’s wide notch, others boasted of their narrower notches, and Google went the other way by putting the biggest notch ever on the Pixel 3 XL. Apple chief designer Jony Ive has long expressed his desire to “create an iPhone that is all display.” Currently, his company appears momentarily content with claiming to have an edge-to-edge display, albeit with that substantial disruption at the top. That outline of Apple’s current notch shape has already become a brand identifier for Apple. Today, the technology exists to minimize or entirely eliminate notches, but Apple also has its Face ID system embedded in the notch. Plus, it’s a company that doesn’t often swim in the same experimental design waters as its more reckless Android rivals. Huawei Nova 4. Meanwhile, Android phone designers are already moving on from the notch. Just this past week, we saw the emergence of the hole-punch selfie camera at the front of phones such as the Huawei Nova 4 and Samsung Galaxy A8s. Most notches have been mainly justified by the essential nature of the front-facing camera, but with these new screen cutouts now viable, a company can eliminate yet more unsightly bezel from the front of its phone. At the same time, the Nubia X and the second-gen Vivo Nex present another way to sidestep the notch with their addition of a second screen on the back of the phone. That way, the main camera can be used for selfies and the front of the phone can be (almost) all screen. 2019 is shaping up to be extremely intriguing because it’ll force the confrontation of a lot of new display tech and possibilities with the familiarity of established designs such as the iPhone’s. Where 2018 was about shrinking or finessing the notch, this coming year will show us what the successor to the notch will look like. Here are the strongest contenders. The hole-punch display Galaxy A8s. This is the logical extension of the notch philosophy. When OnePlus adopted a notch in the OnePlus 6 earlier this year, the company went to great lengths to explain that it was only heeding its users’ desire for the largest possible display. As former Nokia lead designer Marko Ahtisaari used to say, a phone has to be as big as possible when in use and as small as possible when in the pocket — and that requires as close to zero bezels as possible. Even as the top bezel keeps melting away, the bottom chin is likely to stick around for a while The hole-punch display, where the only disruption to the screen is the selfie camera, is the simplest continuation of current trends. It doesn’t call for any fundamental design changes, as dual-screen phones do, or moving parts, as you’ll find on slider phones. It’s just the familiar dense monolith of technology, with the top bezel magically erased. The major downside to these screens, one that will be shared with most other designs in 2019, is that the bottom bezel of the phone — commonly called the chin — is likely to remain in place. None of the display improvements currently taking shape on the horizon promise to completely eradicate the chin. Samsung and Huawei have both started their hole-punch displays off on midtier phones, but speculation is already rampant that their flagship devices in 2019 will deploy similar tech. Asus’ ZenFone 6 has leaked with a hybrid idea: it’s a notch, in that it touches the top edge of the screen, but it’s still just a tiny cutout solely for the camera, and it sits off to the side of the screen. It’s in this realm of teardrop notches, selfie camera cutouts, and combinations of the two that we’ll see most phone makers cluster. The dual-display phone Vivo Nex dual-display edition. This category is hilarious for its degree of over-engineering. Instead of trying to cram a selfie camera somewhere at the front of the phone, some companies are choosing to install an entire second touchscreen on the back, letting you take selfies with the main camera system. The Nubia X is especially impressive about this because its rear screen completely disappears from view when it’s off, leaving only a shiny glass surface to look at. We shouldn’t anticipate dual-screen phones to be a high-volume class of smartphone in 2019, owing to the added complexity and cost associated with 1) a second screen, 2) custom software to make both sides usable, and 3) a battery large enough to power two displays. Vivo and Nubia are both using this design on their top-tier devices, and this will remain a premium gimmick until (if it ever) proves itself more than that. The return of the slider Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge Oppo Find X. Oppo’s glorious solution to the notch drama of 2018 was to hide it in a slider. The Find X has a mechanical slider that pops up from the top of the phone to reveal the selfie camera along with a face unlock system similar to what’s used in Apple’s latest iPhones. On the rear of the same slider is the phone’s dual-camera system, and the lenses are also protected by the mechanism. While novel and very nicely integrated with the upward swipe to unlock the phone, this slider setup does make the phone more vulnerable to malfunction and susceptible to dust and water ingress. Other than Oppo, Vivo had a periscope-like pop-up selfie camera on the Nex in 2018, Xiaomi introduced the slider-equipped Mi Mix 3, and Honor also released the notch-killing Magic 2. The latter two handsets require you to slide the entire front of the phone down to reveal their selfie cameras. None of these were exceptionally affordable devices this year, but if there’s sufficient demand for the design in 2019, we might see the proliferation of sliders into at least the middle tier of Android phones. Galaxy A8s. Phones in 2019 will not be distinguishable solely by their displays, of course. As we saw in the past year through experiments like HTC’s solid-state side buttons on the U12 Plus, phone designers are tweaking and manipulating every aspect of a device to try and squeeze out some more character or differentiation. The next year will also see a battle to determine exactly how many cameras make a phone most appealing, while the current trend of adding gradients and iridescence under the rear glass is likely to escalate to new heights of expressiveness. All of which is to say that the next year in phone design will be less predictable, more refined, and ultimately more satisfying than the one we’ve just had.
The Verge
Why Beat Saber is my game of the year
2018 has been a good year for video games. From blockbuster epics to smaller indie experiences to inventive takes on VR, the breadth and variety of games that came out over the last 12 months is astounding. To celebrate, Verge staff members are writing essays on their own personal favorite games, and what made them stand out above the crowd. I’m about to tell you about my favorite game of 2018, Beat Saber — even though I’m a little worried it will ruin my favorite part. Beat Saber, which was released by Czech indie studio Hyperbolic Magnetism in May, is one of virtual reality’s most popular and critically lauded games. It’s been on Steam’s VR best-seller list for most of 2018, and it just launched on Sony’s PlayStation VR headset last month, with new songs and new game modes. And it deserves all the accolades it gets, because it’s an intuitive, physically challenging, and almost unbelievably cool-feeling rhythm game. Beat Saber is essentially Dance Dance Revolution with lightsabers. When you start the game, it maps a red or blue saber to each of your motion controllers, and you see a floating stream of red and blue arrow-marked boxes, which you slash in the correct direction with the correct saber at the correct time. The notes are punctuated by barriers that you have to duck, or bombs that you have to avoid with your sabers. You’re not imitating any real-world activity with this process, but it all makes perfect sense after a few songs. It can also be incredibly hard if you care about playing at higher difficulty levels and climbing the game’s leaderboards. Unlike many rhythm games, skill in Beat Saber isn’t judged by precise timing. The scoring — which I had to learn from the developer’s Twitter feed, since early versions of the game didn’t describe it — is all about form. Beat Saber’s bare minimum for success is slashing a box in the right direction, but the game awards more points for making the arcs of your cuts longer, and by hitting a note box down its center. That doesn’t mean you’re supposed to be constantly making wild swings. (In my experience, good beat sabering is largely about the wrist snap.) But it emphasizes the game’s physicality, and at higher difficulties, it encourages training and forethought, as you figure out which arm placements will give you the best angle for your next cut. This is a great idea for a game, and I’ve enjoyed Hyperbolic Magnetism’s small collection of songs. But Beat Saber is my favorite game of 2018 because of a feature that’s unofficial, somewhat illegal, and possibly unsustainable: custom tracks. Beat Saber doesn’t license well-known songs, and while the developers are rolling out new tracks, it’s been a slow process. But a fan-built level editor lets you compose your own saber tracks with any audio file, then add it to a community-maintained database where anyone can download it with a modded version of the PC-based Oculus Rift or HTC Vive editions. (As far as I know, PSVR players are out of luck.) This opens up the game incredibly. For one thing, it provides more content that matches your musical taste, which is a major reason I’ve kept playing Beat Saber so long. But just as importantly, the custom songs realize Beat Saber’s potential as a creative choreography medium, not just a fun workout. Beat Saber custom tracks are often rougher than their official counterparts. The flow of boxes doesn’t always fit the song’s beat, or it forces you into motions that are awkward rather than flowing. They can also be hard to enjoy as a casual player, since many composers only build for the highest difficulty settings. But the custom tracks are designed with a clear, and fascinating, range of individual styles. Some are arranged to literally simulate lightsaber battles, and others seem scored for sheer manual dexterity, full of wide-ranging, rapid-fire patterns. Others capture the style of the artist: a track for “Bohemian Rhapsody” is full of bold theatrical gestures; one for Green Day’s “Holiday” evokes playing a bouncy pop-punk drumbeat; and a track for “Gangnam Style,” unsurprisingly, nudges you into imitating Psy’s infamous dance sequence. One of the best games VR has produced The custom tracks underline how creative Beat Saber level design really is, creating an interplay between song and motion that’s not nearly as evident with the vanilla tracks. And while games like Guitar Hero have homebrew design scenes, Beat Saber’s feel unusually central to the game, simply because that short song list naturally pushes people to explore what’s outside the official catalog. I doubt the modding community will remain so vital if Beat Saber becomes more than just “big for VR” and reaches true mainstream status. It’s already a little surprising that (as far as I know) Beat Saber hasn’t gotten a strongly worded copyright notice from Lucasfilm, although the PSVR update did tweak its sabers to be less clearly Star Wars-derived. The game’s custom songs are pretty unambiguous piracy, and Beat Saber could undercut a lot of them with official, downloadable tracks. That’s a shame, because while there’s a lot of appetite for downloadable songs, they probably won’t have the same artistic diversity as today’s community tracks. I’m talking about the extremely niche field of high-end virtual reality here, so I don’t foresee Beat Saber overtaking Guitar Hero any time soon; the Rift, Vive, and PlayStation VR are still just too pricey and inconvenient. But Beat Saber is one of the best games VR has produced, and one of the best rhythm games in any format. I hope that more people get to experience it the way I did: as not just a game, but a medium.
The Verge
How to watch four rocket launches on a banner day for the space industry
The space industry is rocketing through the last few weeks of 2018 — today, there are four rockets slated to launch from locations all over the Western Hemisphere. Thanks to how the orbital mechanics of these flights worked out, you could potentially watch a launch during breakfast, lunch, and dinner (depending on when you eat your meals, of course). Here are the four rocket missions set for takeoff today, including what they’re launching and how to watch them. First Breakfast: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 What is it launching?SpaceX is launching its latest national security payload for the US Air Force — a satellite called GPS III SV01. The satellite was originally scheduled to fly on a Delta IV rocket made by the United Launch Alliance, but the... Continue reading…
The Verge
Sling TV, ESPN, and Fox Now arrive on Oculus Go headsets
Sling TV, ESPN, and Fox Now are now available on the Oculus Go virtual reality headset (via Engadget). You’ll be able to watch the content inside of a virtual room, where it can be viewed on the equivalent of a large projector screen. Subscriptions will be required to access each streaming service, but Oculus is including $80 of Sling TV credit with the purchase of any Oculus Go headset until January 15th. Sling TV packages include access to dozens of live channels including AMC, CNN, and the Disney Channel, while ESPN supports six channels alongside the on-demand streaming service ESPN+. Fox Now supports a range of on-demand content, as well as live streaming both Fox Sports and FS1. YouTube VR also came to the platform earlier this year In addition to being available as separate apps from the Oculus Store (like the recently announced YouTube VR), the three services are integrated with Oculus TV where they sit alongside the likes of Hulu and Showtime. Unfortunately you won’t be able to share the viewing experience with friends, since this is a feature that’s only available in the separate Oculus Rooms and Oculus Video apps, which don’t support the new streaming services. Alongside gaming, video consumption has been touted as a growing use for VR headsets. However, it remains limited by both hardware and software. Due to the resolution of the screens in the VR headsets themselves, the virtual screens used to stream content aren’t able to even approach the detail of a real-world 4K screen. Meanwhile, the software used to watch video content remains confusing and fragmented, with Oculus itself offering three different viewing apps including Oculus TV, Oculus Video, and Oculus Rooms, while services such as Netflix and YouTube can only be found in standalone apps.
The Verge
Windows 10 October 2018 Update is now available for everyone to download
Microsoft has resolved a number of blocking bugs that prevented some Windows 10 users from installing the latest October 2018 Update. The software giant originally re-released this update last month, following some file deletion issues after its original release in October. Microsoft has since been working on ensuring all PCs can get the update, after blocking it on some systems that had incompatible software or hardware drivers. Some of those blocking bugs included compatibility issues with iCloud, VPN clients, and Trend Micro’s security software. Microsoft has been very transparent in detailing all of the issues over at the company’s support site, and it has now noted that Windows 10 October 2018 Update “is now fully available for advanced users who manually select ‘Check for updates’ via Windows Update.” That means you should be able to check for updates on any PC now and get the October 2018 update reliably. Microsoft is now planning to focus on Windows 10 quality after a buggy year of updates. That said, Windows is a complex system to test, as not every machine is the same and components, drivers, and software varies across the more than 700 million machines running Windows 10. Microsoft has been working through some of those complex scenarios in recent weeks to now get to the point where the update is ready for all PCs.
The Verge
This tank of a phone has lasted me a week on one charge
On Monday morning, I did something I often do when testing a new device: I took it off the charger to see how long it’ll last under regular use. This time around it’s an obscure phone called the Doogee S80, and at the time of writing this on Tuesday afternoon, the battery has just hit 30 percent left. Not bad, right? What if I told you I was talking about last Monday? The S80 belongs to a niche class of Chinese phones with really, really big batteries. This particular unit is built around a 10,080 mAh battery; for comparison, most current Android flagships come in between 3 and 4,000 mAh. Doogee claims it’ll be good for 76 hours of continuous video playback, 136 hours of talk time, and 1,308 hours in standby. I quite literally do not have the time to test those claims directly, but what I can say is that you probably can expect about a week of regular use out of the S80. As I said, I’ve been using my unit for eight days, and while it admittedly hasn’t been a particularly hardcore week for me in terms of phone usage, I’m still impressed with the endurance. What’s the catch? Well, if you’ve ever wished for phone manufacturers to stop focusing on thinness and just put bigger batteries in their devices, the S80 offers you an opportunity to put your money where your mouth is. This is a ridiculous tank of a phone, somewhere between Nolan-era Batmobile and potential murder weapon in Clue. You can put it in your jeans pocket, but you won’t want to. It weighs 398 grams — or almost a pound — and is 21.2mm thick — or almost three iPhone 8s. It feels like it could survive a fall down a mountain. Which, to be fair, is one of the intended use cases for a device like this. It has a port for a walkie-talkie antenna and a dedicated push-to-talk button, and is rated for IP68 and IP69K environmental protection. Coupled with the long battery life, this is a phone designed to be taken on multi-day hikes or used on construction sites rather than at an Instagram-friendly cafe. You can use it as a regular phone, of course — the 6-inch 18:9 1080p LCD is mostly fine, the camera is passable, and it actually feels kind of nice to hold something so chunky in the hand. It’s even nicer not to have to worry about battery life in the slightest. But performance out of the MediaTek Helio P23 processor is noticeably laggy, even though the phone runs something very close to stock Android 8.1 Oreo. And it’s a good thing you rarely have to charge this phone, because dealing with the rubber flap that covers the USB-C port is infuriating. (It does have wireless charging, surprisingly, which is a welcome — if slow — option.) Doogee is far from the only small Chinese company making phones like this. Oukitel, Ulefone, Blackview and others all have similar devices with comparable specs, and I’m sure they last just as long. The S80’s main point of differentiation is its walkie-talkie antenna, as far as I can tell. I’m not a survivalist, jungle explorer, or construction worker, so I don’t really have a need for a phone like this. I rarely worry about battery life on my regular phone, and for times when I do, I’d usually rather just use a USB-C PD battery pack. But it is definitely cool to see an all-in-one solution that more or less functions as a competent modern smartphone, and I think there are people with lifestyles more extreme than my own that would consider the Doogee S80 to be $379.99 well spent.
The Verge
UK police are testing facial recognition on Christmas shoppers in London this week
Facial recognition technology continues to be trialled by police forces in the UK despite warnings of high error rates. In the latest test, the technology is being used to scan the faces of Christmas shoppers in London, with police hoping to spot wanted criminals. It’s the the seventh time the Metropolitan Police, the UK capital’s police force, have trialled facial recognition in public. The technology has previously been used at large events, including Notting Hill Carnival in 2016 and 2017 and Remembrance Day services last year. This year, the technology is being used Monday and Tuesday this week in Soho, Piccadilly Circus, and Leicester Square — all major shopping areas in the heart of the city. Cameras are fixed to lampposts or... Continue reading…
The Verge
Microsoft’s next-generation Xbox is codenamed Anaconda
Microsoft is continuing its reptile-themed codenames for its Xbox consoles. The original Xbox One was codenamed Durango and the Xbox One X took the Scorpio codename. Now it appears the next-generation Xbox, expected to arrive in 2020, is codenamed Anaconda. Windows Centralfirst reported new codenames for Xbox over the weekend, and it reveals Microsoft is preparing to ship two new consoles as part of its next-generation Xbox plans. Codename Anaconda will be the equivalent of the current Xbox One X, with improved hardware and processors / graphics from AMD. Anaconda may also include SSD storage to reduce game load times. Microsoft is also reportedly preparing a second console, codenamed Lockhart, that will act as the more affordable Xbox (think Xbox One S). Naturally, both of these consoles will fully support existing backward compatible Xbox and Xbox 360 games, and of course Xbox One titles. A disc-less Xbox One S may be announced next month While these are the two next-generation Xbox consoles, Microsoft could also be preparing a disc-less version of the Xbox One S for 2019. Thurrott first reported on this last month, but Windows Central now claims the software giant may announce this cheaper Xbox as early as next month, with plans to ship it in spring 2019. More interestingly, Microsoft is also reportedly considering a disc-to-digital program that will convert physical disc libraries into digital ones. Microsoft did originally plan this same feature for the launch of the Xbox One, but the company canceled it after the controversial always online requirements and disc sharing concerns. Microsoft’s next consoles will also include a big focus on the company’s xCloud game streaming service. Microsoft is planning to open up public trials of the service next year, and it will make Xbox games available across PCs, phones, and consoles.
The Verge
YouTuber builds glitter bomb that farts on unsuspecting package thieves
If you’ve ever had a delivery stolen from the front of your house then you understand the desire for revenge. That’s exactly the situation YouTuber and former NASA engineer Mark Rober found himself in when a package was swiped from outside of his home. But despite his security cameras catching the thief red-handed, he was told by police that the crime wasn’t worth their time to investigate. So Rober took matters into his own hands, engineering a package that would shower a future thief with glitter when they opened the package. But while this could have been accomplished with a couple of loaded springs, Rober wanted to be able to film the entire incident as it unfolded. The result is an over-engineered bait package that took six months to develop, and used motion sensors, a GPS tracker, and the combined wide-angle cameras of four mobile phones. It even used fart spray to ensure the thief would throw it away, so that Rober could recover and reuse it. Like his other work, which includes giant Super Soakers, self-tracking dart-boards, and techie halloween costumes, Rober’s latest invention is meant primarily as a bit of lighthearted fun. Unfortunately, so-called “porch pirates” have turned into enough of a problem that police have started targeting them in sting operations. Although various solutions such as Amazon Key, have been proposed, the problem is unlikely to go away anytime soon.
The Verge
Microsoft has been hiding $10 gift cards in newsletter emails
Microsoft has been sneaking some holiday gifts into its email newsletters recently. Reddit posters noticed that if you click the red trees in a holiday promotional email from Microsoft then you’ll be sent to a separate site that provides a free $10 gift card. The software giant has even been hiding these gift cards in emails as far back as Black Friday, where you could click on a blue squirrel to receive a $10 discount. It appears only a limited number of gift cards were available, as the promotion on existing emails has finished. Microsoft could still email out more mysterious messages in the coming days before the holidays, so be prepared to hunt through any messages from the company for hidden clues. Microsoft’s holiday emails
The Verge
LG’s rollable TV will reportedly be an actual product in 2019
The LG Display rollable TV prototype from CES 2018 is set to go on sale as a consumer product next year, according to a source that spoke to Bloomberg. The 65-inch OLED panels are able to retract into a base when not in use, or can hide part of the screen so that content shot in wider aspect ratios can be viewed without letterboxing. Bloomberg also says that LG is likely to unveil its first 5G phone at Mobile World Congress in February, although that’s not too much of a surprise — Sprint and LG have already announced plans to release a 5G device in the first half of the year. Last month Engadget reported that it had seen internal documents indicating that LG would be displaying full-on rollable TVs at CES 2019, rather than the... Continue reading…
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The Verge
This is the first Xbox One mouse and keyboard, from Razer
Razer has revealed the first official wireless keyboard and mouse duo for the Xbox One, an announcement that’s sure to excite Xbox One players and intrigue PC gamers. (Technically, the company revealed it last month, but the image seems to have mostly flown under the radar.) Pegged for a full announcement on January 8th, the currently unnamed wireless mouse and keyboard duo will be a first for the Xbox One console, which added wired keyboard and mouse support back in November. We’ve known for half a year that Razer had partnered with Microsoft on mouse and keyboard support for Xbox One, and it could have major implications for future titles. Xbox One players have been asking for mouse and keyboard support for a long time — the console first came out in November 2013 — but Microsoft had long resisted because some fans feared precise mouse movement might give players an unfair advantage. We’re still wondering why Microsoft changed its mind so late in the game. Perhaps Halo Infinite, which is coming to both Windows 10 gaming PCs and Xbox One consoles, will offer cross-platform keyboard and mouse multiplayer. We’ll have to wait until January to find out how much the keyboard will cost, but we can see a few key details in this first official render, including an Xbox button on the bottom right of the keyboard, as well as what appears to be a slide-out mouse mat that’s probably meant to stay balanced on your lap while playing. If our eyes don’t deceive us, the new peripheral is a far cry from Razer’s previous couch keyboard effort for microconsoles and Steam Machines — this time, there’s a full-size PC gaming mouse (it appears to be a Razer Mamba?) instead of a tiny one, plus what appear to be full-size mechanical switches and Razer’s color-changing Chroma backlit keys. In June, we reported that Xbox developers would have access to those Chroma colors to augment their games.
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The Verge
Sphero discontinues its BB-8, R2-D2, and other licensed Disney products
Sphero’s hinted that it’s getting out of the licensed product game, but today CEO Paul Berberian confirmed to The Verge that the company is clearing out its remaining licensed inventory and won’t be restocking the supply. That means the company won’t be producing any more BB-8s, R2-D2s, Lightning McQueen cars, or talking Spider-Mans. The listings for all the toys list them as “legacy products” that are no longer in production. App support will continue for “at least two years, if not longer,” Berberian says. The Disney partnership lasted three years, but ultimately, the licensed toy business required more resources than it was worth, Berberian tells The Verge. These toys sold well when released with a movie, but interest waned over time as the movie became more distant, he says. Still, the company sold “millions” of BB-8s, although company data shows that the toys weren’t used much after initial play time and eventually sat on shelves. “When you launch a toy, your first year’s your biggest,” he says. “Your second year’s way smaller, and your third year gets really tiny.” The opposite is true of the company’s non-licensed educational robots, he says, which become more popular year after year. None of this means Star Wars fans don’t want a BB-8 to follow them around, but Berberian says all the Star Wars fans already bought their toy. The market has dried up, at least until the next movie in the franchise. Sphero Sphero dedicated lots of engineers to its Disney products, too. When it developed Lightning McQueen, it worked alongside Pixar employees to determine the facial expressions it should make, as well as how the body of the car should move. Sphero also hired voice actors to remain true to Disney characters. Disney, of course, took a cut of every sale, which meant these licensed products cost more than Sphero’s own toys. Sphero employs 100 people. Now, the company is focusing on building out its educational ecosystem with a particular interest in getting more products into schools, another built-in market with an expendable budget. It most recently released a programmable robot with LED lights and acquired Specdrums, presumably to bring some sort of music playback to its devices.
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The Verge
Hyundai’s Kona EV has great range and costs as much as the average car
Hyundai announced late last week that the Kona Electric, the company’s second fully electric vehicle, will start at $36,450 in the US when it goes on sale in early 2019 — basically dead even with the current average sale price of a new car in the United States, according to Kelley Blue Book. On one hand, that’s amazing. It’s a sign that automakers are now able to ship what is still pretty radical new technology — an entirely electric drivetrain — at a cost that’s on par with the auto industry’s most typical purchase price. And with 258 miles on a full charge, the Kona Electric is no slouch on range, which is one of the most important deciding factors when it comes to convincing people to switch to electric cars in these early days. But it’s also a reminder that many budget-minded buyers are going to remain priced out of electric cars in the near term. That’s a bit of a shock coming from Hyundai, which Kelley Blue Book says typically sells cars at an average price closer to $25,000. Hyundai still deserves a lot of credit. The Kona Electric’s 258 miles of estimated range eclipse the advertised range of most other EVs on (or about to hit) the market. That’s about 20 miles more than GM squeezed into the Chevy Bolt EV, and it’s 38 miles more than the base level Model 3 that Tesla plans to start making in 2019. (Tesla recently announced a mid-range version that is good for 260 miles, though that starts at $46,000.) And it crushes a similarly priced new Nissan Leaf by almost double (150 miles). The Kona will even outlast electric cars that cost far more. The Kona’s 258 miles beat out the range offered by the Jaguar I-Pace (234 miles), the base level Tesla Model X (237 miles), and will likely edge the Audi E-Tron (which is around 248 miles, though that’s based on the slightly more optimistic European standards), as well as the forthcoming Mercedes Benz EQC (expected to be in the low 200 mile range). Hyundai is known for making some of the more affordable cars on the market, but the Kona Electric won’t undercut much of its direct competition. The Chevy Bolt EV starts at $36,620. Tesla’s cheapest Model 3, when it arrives, will start at $35,000. And Volkswagen is targeting the low $20,000 range with the most affordable versions of its upcoming electric cars, though it’s still not clear how much range those models will offer. (VW is said to be preparing a top-end model with over 300 miles of range.) The Kona beats many electric cars on range, but it’s unfortunately in a similar ballpark of price The $7,500 federal tax credit offered to buyers of all-electric vehicles will help drag that sticker price down, as will certain state incentives. (Though the future of the federal tax credit is a bit cloudy, as Trump has threatened to weaponize it against GM for its recent plant closure announcements.) But even if the price is right for some, Hyundai’s rollout of the Kona will also be a bit slow in the US. The company says it will put the electric SUV on sale first in California, before shifting to “zero emissions vehicle-focused states” in the western and northeastern regions of the US ahead of a wider launch. GM has taken a similar approach with the Bolt, and while sales steadily increased in the electric car’s first year, they dipped in 2018 as the automaker struggled to both keep up production and foster demand. Hyundai has also had its own troubles maintaining production to meet demand of its first EV, the $30,000, 150-mile Ioniq. All told, the Kona Electric’s most intense competition might come from its sister company, Kia. The fellow South Korean automaker is nearing the release of the Niro EV, an all-electric SUV that’s largely built on the same technological platform as the Kona. It’s still early, but the Niro is likely to fall in a similar price range and appears to have a less bare-bones interior than the Kona. The Kona Electric and the Niro are exciting because they’re a signal that even more budget-conscious automakers are starting to bring competent and attractive electric vehicles to market. But they’re also proving how difficult it remains to strike that long sought-after balance of plentiful range and a price tag that’s within reach of most Americans.
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The Verge
Teens are turning away from cigarettes and alcohol and toward vaping
Teens are better-behaved than ever when it comes to alcohol and drugs, but seem to have turned to vaping as their vice of choice, according to results from a nationally representative survey of adolescent drug use. First, the good news. Teen smoking is still at the lowest point since the Monitoring the Future survey began 44 years ago. Only 3.6 percent of high schoolers are smoking daily, down from more than 22 percent a couple decades ago. Binge drinking is down, adolescents are using drugs like cocaine and MDMA at historically low levels, and, despite the ongoing opioid epidemic, less than 1 percent of high school seniors use heroin. Plus, the percentage of seniors using prescription opioids dropped to 3.4 percent from 4.2 percent a year earlier. When it comes to marijuana, the rates have held steady for the past few years despite increasing marijuana legalization. “We are not seeing decreases in marijuana, but we are not seeing increases,” says Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), at a press conference discussing the results. (NIDA and the University of Michigan administer the Monitoring the Future survey.) “Something about this delivery device really appeals to kids.” For Volkow and others involved in the survey, the new concern is that these positive trends might be reversed by the rapid rise of vaping. From 2017 to this year, the number of seniors who reported vaping daily jumped from 11 percent to 21 precent. That’s the largest single increase that the Monitoring the Future study has seen in its history, says Richard Miech, the survey’s principal investigator and a member of University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. About 37.3 percent of seniors reported vaping at all in the last year, up from 27.8 percent of seniors last year. And whereas teens used to just vape flavors, now they’re getting more adventurous. “Anything that can be vaped, it doesn’t matter, it goes up,” says Meich. “Nicotine vaping went up, marijuana vaping went up, we asked kids if they vapored flavors and that went up, too.” For example, 13.1 percent of seniors reported vaping marijuana in the past year, up from 9.5 percent. “Something about this delivery device really appeals to kids,” Meich adds. Overall, the results are consistent with a big shift in teen drug use. Previous research has suggested that teens are now trying marijuana before alcohol and tobacco, in part due to years of public health campaigns around the dangers of smoking and drinking. At the same time, e-cig manufacturers like Juul have been selling flavors that appeal to kids and marketing itself as a healthy alternative to smoking, even though its products are highly addictive. Even as users sue the manufacturer for getting them hooked on nicotine, vapes are increasingly the gateway drug of choice. To combat this, various organizations — including the US Food and Drug Administration — are kicking their anti-vaping campaigns into high gear. As tacky as these posters and ads might seem, they address a real issue. But we’ll have to wait until next year’s report to see if their message gets through.
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The Verge
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse directors on the film’s gorgeous style
The second half of 2018 was an eventful few months for animation. This summer, Cartoon Network and HowStuffWorks released Drawn, a miniseries dedicated to cartoon history; meanwhile, as expected, The Incredibles 2 broke records at the box office. Fall yielded Netflix’s The Dragon Prince, a new series from the head writer of the beloved Avatar: The Last Airbender, as well as news that the head writer of Rick and Morty would be developing a new Star Trek animated series in conjunction with Discovery producer Alex Kurtzman’s five-year CBS deal. Major projects like Noelle Stevenson’s She-Ra: Princess of Power reboot for Netflix and Disney’s internet-inspired Wreck-It Ralph sequel rounded out the year. But even with all this going on, the excitement over Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse seemed to rule 2018 in animation. Buzz about this first-ever feature-length animated Spidey film was fevered from the moment its first trailer hit in June; the art style felt fresh and thrilling in a way no animated movie had in years. And the movie didn’t disappoint: currently sitting at a solid 97 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s a critical success as well as a box-office hit. Maybe that was predictable, since the film was produced by The Lego Movie favorites Phil Lord and Chris Miller, but audiences have raved about the film’s unique aesthetics just as much as the story itself. The film’s eclectic, ambitious, constantly shifting visuals — which range from deliberately cartoony to abstract and psychedelic — are likely to help inspire a new wave of animators to start pushing past the Pixar Animation house style that so many animation studios are now rigorously emulating. Back in July, at San Diego Comic-Con, The Verge spoke with Into the Spider-Verse’s three directors — Bob Persichetti (Puss in Boots, The Little Prince), Peter Ramsey (A Wrinkle in Time, The Rise of the Guardians), and Rodney Rothman (Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) — about what it took to deliver the film’s iconic look, a blend of hand-drawn and digital animation techniques that birthed a whole new kind of cartoon. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. There’s been a bit of shifting in terms of who’s credited for what on the project. How did you all join the film? Bob Persichetti: I came on in December 2015, through a separate project that I was working on at Sony. Then Kristine Belson, the head of Sony Pictures Animations, said, “Hey, we have this other thing we’d like you to read, you might be right for it… Do you like Spider-Man?” And who says, “Nah, not really a fan”? BP: Right? It’s a trick question. Then she said, “Do you like Phil Lord and Chris Miller?” I was like, “Oh, okay. Very Interesting.” I read a 40-page treatment, and ended up saying I’d love to be a part of it. When the movie comes out December 14th, I will have been working on this project three years almost to the day. Peter Ramsey: I was actually working on another project with Into the Spider-Verse producer Avi Arad and got drawn into Spider-Man not too long after Bob, because of the scope of the project and then the schedule, which was pretty tight. The producers were kind of feeling like, “Okay, let’s make sure we have enough horses pulling the wagon to get this thing done in time.” Rodney Rothman: Peter and I have worked together in the past. PR: Actually quite a bit, so it was kind of a natural fit. RR: I had started on the movie and worked with these guys initially as a writer. Around the time when production was really ramping up, I came in to direct. We all basically worked on everything a little bit, but I focused a lot on script and some of the front-end stuff: records, editing. We all kind of bounced off each other basically. There are a lot of Spider-Man movies, both in the past and coming down the pipeline, and this is the big-screen debut for Miles Morales. How did you approach characterizing him in animation? BP: In the moment when you’re asked, “Hey, how do you feel about Spider-Man?” You go, “Yeah, I love Spider-Man, but do we really need another Spider-Man movie?” That was the first reaction, and then you go, “Oh! Miles Morales? Okay, cool.” As you start to peel back the layers of this film, that’s what really hooks me — a different take on an origin story for Spider-Man. We’ve seen it over and over, and that presented a really fantastic creative challenge. Everyone thinks they know the way Spider-Man was created. We have the same ingredients, but it’s through Miles’ point of view. He has a family — a mother and father, which is as rare as you can get in this world. He’s from Brooklyn. It felt natural to roll the idea of Miles Morales into Brooklyn, given the creation of the comics in New York. We feed all those things into this movie and it just felt like an expanding, natural, rhyming universe. For me, it was a blast. Miles stands out as the first non-white Spider-Man, but how did you approach making him distinctive among all the other spider-people in this movie? RR: A lot of it starts with the comic books, all of us reading them, reacting to them, trying to figure out what makes this person different and specific. A lot of it comes from building this world around him, visually and in terms of how it feels unique and different. We put a lot of energy into creating a world and experience for the audience that isn’t like other things they’ve seen, that has its own DNA and fingerprint. What did you bring to the project that wasn’t in the comics? PR: I guess it’s probably putting a finer point on the story to tell it in the time we have. We had to engineer certain things to have more focus or impact than the comics. They’re spooling out a continuing story. We have to boil down the essence of the journey Miles is taking. For me, it comes down to, what’s his version of “With great power comes great responsibility”? What does that mean to this 13-year-old kid growing up in Brooklyn, and his circumstance in the year 2018, that’s different from what is was for Peter Parker back in 1960-whatever? Also, like what Bob was saying, this kid has a mom and dad, and they have attitudes about Spider-Man, because it’s a universe that already has Spider-Man. All those elements take cues from the comics. In the script, Phil was basically like, “Boil it down to the essentials. From there, construct whatever new pieces we needed for the movie. The themes in the comics, how do we express those in our two-hour movie?” RR: It’s about Miles, the family around him, what they’re like, the city that’s around him, what that’s like. When we boil it down, it emanates from that. How did you develop your visual style? PR: [Deadpan] There’s this guy in Van Nuys who does it all. We don’t even know what he’s doing. BP: [More deadpan] We send him the script and we just keep getting this stuff. PR: We subscribe to a cool animation magazine, and this guy had an ad in the back! BP: A 15-year-old. RR: [Also deadpan] It’s being made out of a garage. It feels like a mash-up of different kinds of animation. It’s got the illustrative style of comic books. It’s got a Pixar or DreamWorks feel in the character design. It’s also a little psychedelic. How did you land on that combination? BP: In the same vein of “Why make another Spider-Man?,” it was, “Well this is part of that.” We have the cachet of making a Spider-Man movie, and that let us be more adventurous with the style of the filmmaking. With the power of the franchise behind us, it became, “Let’s try to create something that feels uniquely Spider-Man and Miles Morales-specific.” We looked at how comic books are made, going all the way back to silk-screening and printing-press ideas. Then we took the current CG animation pipeline and said, “Okay, how do we make something that looks like this and feels like this, but is still cinematic and large and produceable?” Because that’s the thing: you can do it on a super-small scale, but how do you make a whole movie look like that? That was really the biggest challenge, was just trying to come up with this really cool visual style and animation style and procedurally scale it up: “How do we deal with all the things that have been created in CG animation over the last 20 years?” All these algorithms do all this stuff naturally. They all depend on certain things. We took a lot of those certain things out. We had to have the people write new code and come up with new theories on how to make cloth move, all this in-the-weeds stuff that always prevented a new style. The existing algorithms took a really long time to develop, so nobody in animation had the ability to then say, “We’re not going to use that stuff you spent all that time and money developing.” We got lucky. We got that privilege, basically. We got to keep pushing, and we discovered something that ended up working. Can you give an example of what you’re talking about — those things you had to patch or remake? BP: For example, all our animation is on twos. In standard film, you shoot 24 frames per second. In old traditional hand-drawn animation, you would draw 12 drawings per second. Every other frame was repeated to give a certain crispness to the movement. If you wanted something to feel smoother, you’d put it on ones. The existing computer-animation process reads everything on ones. All the simulations, from hair to cloth to you name it, all those algorithms require an image on every single frame. What seems like it would be incredibly simple — “Let’s just drop every other frame out and animate this one on twos” — blows up the whole pipeline. At a base level, we animated the whole movie on twos, which makes it feel crisper and almost crunchy, and really sharp. That was an attempt to get to a place that felt like comic-book panels, where you really have impact with an image, and it burns into your psyche. You’re like, “Wow, that’s the most powerful version of that image I could get.” We’re trying to chase that, so we started stripping, animating on twos. A lot of these young animators never have done that, because it was passé. They’d only worked on computers, and they don’t know how it used to work. I was lucky enough to come into this industry right on the cusp of CG. Just that thing alone required months and months and months and months and months to figure out. “Okay, so we can animate on twos, but how do we finish it? How do we do everything else?” I got to meet all these wonderful people who wrote code that saved the movie. RR: And who are pumped to be trying something different. Once you solve all these crazy problems, then the next puzzle comes: “Well, how do we use all these cool new tools that were developed to express the story and emotion in a way that is more evocative than if we had just done it a normal way?” Once they build the playground— You have to create the language on top of that. RR: It really becomes, “How do we now tell our story in a way that only we can, using these cool new things?” BP: I think that was the biggest revelatory moment for us, when we went from our first teaser, which was mostly cityscapes and Miles, all this really cool-looking stuff. That was a lot of “Let’s paint this impressionistic version of New York and Spider-Man.” Then when we released our actual trailer, you saw a lot of good characters, these incredible emotional relationships developing. That was proof of the style not overwhelming the content. That was always the fine line we were trying to walk. Trying to maintain equal parts style and substance? PR: That was a huge challenge as we were developing the look. For the longest time, we would go, “Okay, what does just a normal character having a conversation in daytime look like?” For a long time, we didn’t have an answer for something that basic in this new style we were pushing. When we finally got to a place where you were looking at something that you thought the style was really cool, but you were able to look past it and get straight to the performance and the emotion, that was the hallelujah moment: “Oh, it’s actually going to work!” Action movies in general have gotten so much quicker in terms of how action sequences are staged, what audiences are expected to keep up with. How do you pace a movie like this? BP: There were moments where we leaned into that, where speed and pace is part of the propulsion of the movie. At other times, we sit back and slow down and let you enjoy character moments. We have a lot of that. There are just a lot of, hopefully, engaging moments, relationship-building moments. Also, it’s a Marvel movie, it’s a Spider-Man movie, it’s an action film. We want to break new ground on that as well. We can’t do it at the cost of engagement with the characters. It’s a fine balance. But you’re still working within the pacing of the larger superhero-movie canon. BP: I’d say very much so. If anything, we’re just trying to embrace what the tools can give us to push how exciting and dynamic can it get. How much can we exaggerate action or visuals or color— PR: —that no live-action Marvel movie could ever do. RR: One nice thing about telling this story with animation is that there isn’t a point of disbelief for the audience. So you can really do whatever with your characters? BP: Yeah, but it also goes the other way. RR: In the first couple of minutes of the movie, people are adjusting to a look and feel and a palette. We can’t lose them with effects. It’s all an integrated world. But you can do a lot in that world, and that’s part of what was exciting. The flip side — I think we do operate in some ways like the movies are talking about. In other ways, part of the fun challenge was seeing if we just do a scene between two characters, slow down for a few minutes, and let the characters communicate to us, what does that feel like in this new world that we’re creating? We’ve been really psyched and encouraged by the way it feels and looks.
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The Verge
T-Mobile now supports eSIM for iOS
T-Mobile is now supporting eSIMs on Apple’s latest iPhones, letting them use two different phone numbers on one device, which is ideal for traveling abroad or balancing work and personal numbers. You’ll have to install a new T-Mobile app in order to use the carrier on the eSIM inside the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR. Once you’re set up, you can select from one of three available plans: T-Mobile ONE Prepaid with unlimited voice, text, and data for $70 for 30 days Simply Prepaid with unlimited voice, text, and 10GB of LTE data for $40 for 30 days Tourist Plan with unlimited voice, text, and 2GB of LTE data for $30 for 21 days The company says the service is designed for international visitors, although existing T-Mobile customers can also use the app to select a prepaid option. AT&T was the first major carrier to support eSIM on the iPhone, rolling the feature out earlier this month. Verizon followed shortly thereafter. Your phone needs to be running iOS 12.1.1 to use the eSIM on any of these carriers. If you need a guide, you can check our setup instructions out here.
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The Verge
Google halted Chinese data collection program after Dragonfly backlash
Google has halted a data collection project in China and struck a major blow to the controversial Dragonfly project, according to a new report from The Intercept. According to the report, Google is still researching Chinese web searches in an effort to launch a search engine that complies with the country’s censorship regime, although an official launch seems to have been indefinitely postponed. But in the face of widespread opposition within the company, Google executives shuttered one of the project’s most central data sources, making the ongoing work far more difficult. In August, The Intercept reported that Google had set up a dummy search engine at 265.com as a way of researching the Chinese market. Any queries made through 265... Continue reading…
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The Verge
PewDiePie fans hack the Wall Street Journal
PewDiePie fans hacked the Wall Street Journal earlier today, claiming to offer an apology on behalf of the paper in an apparent attempt to get back at one of the YouTube creator’s longstanding opponents. A sponsored post on the Journal’s site was edited to say that the publication would “like to apologize to pewdiepie” and that he had been “misrepresented” by the paper’s journalists. The hacked note also said that the Journal would be sponsoring PewDiePie in an attempt to beat a rival channel in a race over subscribers. A Wall Street Journal representative told The Verge they’re aware of the issue and have launched a full investigation. “The page was owned by WSJ. Custom Solutions, a unit of the advertising arm, which is not affiliated with The Wall Street Journal newsroom,” the representative said. The Wall Street Journal quickly took down the defaced page, but it’s still available to read via The Internet Archive. PewDiePie fans have considered the Wall Street Journal to be an opponent of the creator’s since running an investigation into his channel in February 2017. The investigation highlighted his use of anti-Semitic language, which led to Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg losing his YouTube Red series, Scare PewDiePie and being dropped by Disney’s Maker Studios. A photo from the now deleted Wall Street Journal article. PewDiePie fans have used hacking to promote the creator’s channel at least once before. Just last month, a hacker claimed credit for breaking into a series of printers and printing out sheets asking people to subscribe to PewDiePie. The other motivation behind the hack stems from PewDiePie’s ongoing battle with T-Series, a Bollywood studio and popular YouTube channel. T-Series is poised to usurp PewDiePie as the most popular channel on the platform, but fans and creators have banded together to keep Kjellberg at the very top. He’s grown his channel exponentially since the battle started, adding an additional five million subscribers in one month. The Journal hackers said the paper would help PewDiePie “beat Tseries to 80million” subscribers. Beyond hacking, YouTube creators including Mr. Beast and Team 10 member Justin Roberts have taken out Times Square billboards and purchased signage around the US asking people to subscribe to PewDiePie. The Wall Street Journal “apology” also comes just days after Kjellberg found himself embroiled in another controversy. After trying to end the battle with T-Series, Kjellberg promoted a channel that regularly featured anti-Semitic, homophobic, racist, and sexist comments. Kjellberg addressed the controversy in a followup video, where he claimed to be unaware of the racist language. He also edited the original video to remove the remarks. lol they deleted it, WSJ is still on angery list— ƿ૯ωძɿ૯ƿɿ૯ (@pewdiepie) December 17, 2018
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The Verge
TCL’s excellent 6-Series 4K TV is only $499.99 at Best Buy
TCL’s 6-Series 4K HDR televisions with Roku software built in are an incredible value even at their usual asking price. You can spend thousands on a big 4K TV, but if your eyes are set on something cheaper, The Verge calls TCL’s latest “the best 4K TV under $1,000.” And today, you’ll be able to find it for far less than that at Best Buy. Normally $599.99, you’ll be able to check out with a $100 discount on the 55-inch model, which brings the final price down to $499.99. Black Friday and Cyber Monday offered better deals on 4K HDR TVs in this size range, but TCL’s offering is most likely a step above in terms of build quality and performance. However, compared to buying directly through TCL or another retailer, the Best Buy model’s included remote doesn’t support voice commands. Though, if you have a Google Home, you can control this television via Google Assistant. Alternatively, if you’re looking to bolster the 6-Series’ limited remote, the $200 Roku TV Speakers include a voice remote.
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The Verge
These faces show how far AI image generation has advanced in just four years
Developments in artificial intelligence move at a startling pace — so much so that it’s often difficult to keep track. But one area where progress is as plain as the nose on your AI-generated face is the use of neural networks to create fake images. In brief: we’re getting scarily good at it. In the image above you can see what four years of progress in AI image generation looks like. The crude black-and-white faces on the left are from 2014, published as part of a landmark paper that introduced the AI tool known as the generative adversarial network (GAN). The color faces on the right come from a paper published earlier this month, which uses the same basic method but is clearly a world apart in terms of image quality. These realistic... Continue reading…
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The Verge
Russian election meddlers started an anti-masturbation hotline, report claims
The Russia-linked Internet Research Agency (IRA) may have tried to blackmail potential American recruits by setting up a fake anti-masturbation hotline, according to a new report prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee. The IRA reportedly advertised its hotline on a fake Christian Facebook page, encouraging readers to reach out if they were “struggling with the addiction to masturbation.” This bizarre detail was part of a larger analysis of ongoing Russian political influence campaigns on social media that were produced by researchers at cybersecurity company New Knowledge, Columbia University, and Canfield Research. It’s meant to illustrate the reach and complexity of the IRA’s operations, although the report doesn’t say whether... Continue reading…
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The Verge
This black Microsoft Surface Pro 6 deal includes a Type Cover for $999
The Microsoft Surface Pro 6 is a versatile and capable Windows 10 computer, and the upgraded version donned in a matte black finish is on sale today at Best Buy. Normally $1,199 for the 256GB version in black (sans Type Cover keyboard), this deal loops the computer in along with a matching Type Cover for $999. That’s about $300 off of the usual price if you were to purchase these two items together. Comparing this midtier machine to the low-end model that usually sells for $899 (though you can find it for $799 right now), the differences are rather slight. At its base configuration, the Surface Pro 6 includes a modest 8GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, and a quad-core Intel Core i5. Though, as Apple did with its polycarbonate MacBook back in... Continue reading…
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The Verge