Verge, the

Watch this unsuspecting river quickly turn into a chaotic mess of ice chunks

2018-01-12 18:27:38

After a monster “bomb cyclone” and frigid Arctic blasts that set some new records on the US East Coast, temperatures have been a bit more merciful this week. And that’s setting the stage for some pretty cool phenomena — like this ice jam on the Ausable River in Au Sable Forks, located in upstate New York.

In a time lapse video posted on Twitter by the National Weather Service office in Burlington, Vermont, you can see the frozen river very quickly rise up, and then break up into chunks almost out of the blue. The chaotic mess of ice and tree branches then flows downstream, bringing the river level back down. The whole video condenses three hours of footage, taken today by a NWS webcam that runs 24/7.

Ice jam on the Ausable River in Au Sable Forks NY. Video starts at noon (17:00Z) and ends at 3pm (20:00Z). They happen fast! #icejam #nywx

— NWS Burlington (@NWSBurlington) January 12, 2018

Ice jams happen when ice-covered rivers get extra water from rain or snowmelt, rising up quickly and breaking up the ice in big chunks. They usually occur where the river narrows or goes under a bridge, or where the river slope flattens out, allowing the ice pieces to accumulate and clog. This happens usually in the spring, in March or early April, when temperatures are starting to rise, says John Goff, lead meteorologist at the NWS Burlington office. But ice jams are not unheard of at this time of the year either.

It’s been raining in New York today, and temperatures hovered between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. That allowed for the snowpack to melt and raise the Ausable River by 10 feet, Goff tells The Verge. In fact, there were several ice jams along the river, not just at Au Sable Forks, he says. Usually ice jams result in a little bit of flooding: if the ice functions as a dam, the river will start flowing around it, flooding the surrounding fields and lowlands.

But at times, the jams can cause serious damage. In 1992, one of these ice piles changed the course of the Winooski River in Vermont, burying parts of Montpellier in six feet of water and interrupting power in the process. In that case, big ice lumps had wedged under a bridge and had to be dislodged by a crane, according to a New York Times article about the event. The ice on the Ausable River shown in the video was probably only about 8 to 10 inches thick, Goff estimates, and it flowed downstream fairly quickly. In fact, the NWS office received just a few reports of minor flooding, not connected to the ice jam at Au Sable Forks.

Still, the time lapse looked so cool that the NWS decided to post it to social media. “That one was the most dramatic,” Goff says.

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Netflix’s My Next Guest Needs No Introduction proves the world still needs David Letterman

2018-01-12 18:16:46

When David Letterman left the Late Show in 2015, it felt like a generational changing of the guard. After over three decades as a late-night host, the comedian was stepping away, letting Stephen Colbert reinvent the show while Letterman enjoyed the free time to do, well, nothing — other than grow a really serious beard. So when Netflix announced last year that he would be coming out of retirement to host a talk show, it raised a couple of questions. What could Letterman do outside the limitations of network television that he hadn’t already done, and would a David Letterman series still seem relevant given that the late-night world has moved on?

The first episode of the show, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman, is out now, featuring President Barack Obama. As it turns out, there’s quite a few things that Letterman is able to do outside the bounds of network TV. And when compared to the quick-turnaround, snarky tone that permeates so much late-night material today, Letterman’s honesty and degree of emotional introspection don’t just make him still relevant; they make him absolutely essential.

Perhaps the most obvious way that My Next Guest Needs No Introduction breaks from Letterman’s other shows is that it’s not a daily, or even weekly, talk show in the way that audiences are used to thinking about them. It’s a monthly program, with Netflix giving the comedian the go-ahead to create six, one-hour episodes that will be released between now and June 2018. The lineup starts big with the former president, and continues from there: George Clooney, Jay Z, Tina Fey, Howard Stern, and Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai.

Judging by the Obama episode, the format is different, too: there’s no host desk or live band (something Obama himself notes early on in the first episode). There’s just a pair of chairs and conversation, with the show periodically cutting to an on-location segment — in this case, Letterman joining Congressman (and civil rights hero) John Lewis for a walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where Lewis was beaten by police officers in 1965 while taking part in a civil rights march.

The subject matter alone distances itself from the more irreverent stretches of Letterman’s career. My Next Guest Needs No Introduction is funny, but it is Letterman — replete with his now trademark beard — using his skills as a conversationalist first, and a comedian second. The result is a thoughtful, sobering discussion with Obama that ranges from family anecdotes (Obama describes how it took him a half hour to put together a lamp for his daughter Malia when she went to college), to the way that algorithmically driven social media results are hampering people’s abilities to understand perspectives outside their own, with truly troubling consequences for the American political system.

There’s a fine line to walk with interviews like this, and in talk show scenarios politicians usually resort to either easy talking points or bland anecdotes that make them seem as relatable as possible. There’s a bit of that in play, here — at one point Obama starts talking about embarrassing his daughters while dancing with his “dad moves” — but Letterman is able to keep the conversation feeling fresh, relevant, and genuinely insightful.

Part of that is simply 33 years of experience; Letterman has always been an effortless interviewer, able to guide his guests no matter how agreeable or confrontational they may decide to be. But freed from the promotional cycle merry-go-round that drives most late-night television, the Netflix show allows the host to dig in and tackle things from a more thought-out, thematic perspective. The interview with Obama is obviously about the former president’s return to normal life, and his reflections on this moment in our political history. But the episode is also about the broader context of what Obama meant, and how he came to win the presidency in the first place.

 Photo by Joe Pugliese / Netflix

Letterman’s segments with Lewis highlight the struggle of the civil rights movement, and how that fight was about moving one step closer to a world where a black man could be president of the United States in the first place. “We will redeem the soul of America,” Lewis says when Letterman asks him about the damage he feels the Trump administration is doing to the country, and it’s hard to imagine any of Letterman’s previous shows being able to deliver the moment with such weight and earnest resolve.

It’s also due to Letterman himself. Aside from the expected self-deprecating jokes, there’s a sense of true self-reflection that runs through My Next Guest Needs No Introduction. Perhaps it’s the subject matter of the Obama episode, or the interview with Lewis, but there’s a subtle throughline that’s hinted at several times: the idea that after Letterman took time off to travel and spend time with his family, he is now reassessing what he has accomplished in his life. And, perhaps, that he feels he could have done more.

“Mr. President, this is what I am struggling with at this point in my life. I have been nothing but lucky,” he says in the show’s final moments. A month after Lewis faced down the incident now known as Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Letterman explains, he and his friends were trying to get on a cruise ship so they could purchase alcohol without worrying about the local age limit. “Why wasn’t I in Alabama?” he asks, seemingly on the verge of tears. “Why was I not aware? I have been nothing but lucky.”

It’s a powerful moment, even more so because it’s coming from a person known as one of the most acerbic wits in late-night history. It’s also impossible to imagine this kind of revelation — or even this show — being welcomed on a broadcast network where ratings come at a premium. In that world, broad appeal is key, which has the unfortunate side effect of creating disposable shows that never push too hard or ask that much of the viewer. But with Netflix, it appears that Letterman has discovered a platform that drops many of those pressures.

It’s not a show that will be easily distilled down into disposable YouTube clips, though there are some great exchanges. And it’s not a program that should be viewed with attention turned halfway elsewhere. It’s thoughtful, funny, and moving, but more than anything else, it is proof that David Letterman still has something to say.

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Listen to the audio coverage of CES 2018 with The Verge crew

2018-01-12 18:06:00

The Verge crew is on our way back home after a week at the Consumer Electronics Show 2018. This week, we did a ton of reporting, a ton of videos, and four live Circuit Breaker shows, so we did not have a lot of time to sit down and tape a full-length Vergecast. But what we did do was collect a bunch of audio recorded throughout the show — including clips from Circuit Breaker Live — to give you an idea of what it’s like to be at CES, and what kinds of things we saw this year.

Enjoy, and we’ll see you next week.

00:44 - Day -1

03:14 - Day 0

24:54 - Day 1

45:30 - Day 2

1:05:02 - Day 3

If you enjoyed this podcast and want to hear more audio from The Verge, well you’re in luck. There’s a new show Why’d You Push That Button, hosted by Kaitlyn Tiffany and Ashley Carman, which you can subscribe to right now! This week’s episode is about sharing location.

Also! You can check out Lauren Goode’s podcast Too Embarrassed to Ask and stay tuned for a NEW podcast hosted by Casey Newton. You can find all these audio shows in Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, and anywhere you get your podcasts.

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Check out this web game where all you do is dunk on Donald Trump over and over again

2018-01-12 17:56:36

One brave soul went ahead and distilled the United States’ new national pastime into a simple web game in which you slam dunk over President Donald Trump over and over again until you simply lose interest in the activity. Created by artist Jayson Musson, Dunk on Trump is about as simple as a game can get: you simply tap the space bar of your keyboard while a green-clad baller approaches the president, leaps up high, and scores two while posterizing Trump, who’s sent sideways offscreen.

The experience isn’t a game so much as it is an interactive piece of art, and Musson says as much by describing his creation as “repetitive as shit with no win condition.” You can play it right now in your browser by heading to Musson’s website, where you can jam out to some delightful funk music from MegaPixel Music while you dunk on Trump. You can also download the game as a 58MB file for Windows or Mac on Musson’s website. Either way, It’s Friday — so why not go dunk on Trump a few dozen times?

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The first Lightning-based wireless Qi charger is here

2018-01-12 17:25:41

LXORY isn’t exactly a major company in the wireless charging business, but they’ve managed to become the first to release a wireless charger with an input for Apple’s Lightning cables, via 9to5Mac.

Almost every other charger out there uses either MicroUSB, USB-C, or a proprietary port to pass power from a wall plug to a charging pad. But LXORY’s new pad — officially, the “LXORY Dual Wireless Charging Pad” — offers an input for Apple’s own proprietary connector. That means that you won’t have to change cables if you’re switching between wired and wireless options to charge your iPhone.

But not only is the LXORY pad the first to offer Lightning, it also goes a step further by offering MicroUSB and USB-C inputs. So no matter what charging cable you have set up on your desk, you can just plug the LXORY pad right in and be on your way. The pad itself can also charge up to two Qi-enabled devices at once, and it features a USB Type-A port, too, to plug in another cable for wired charging.

 Image: LXORY

There are a few issues with LXORY’s pad. First off, you’ll need to provide your own wall plug, since one isn’t included in the box. Second, the LXORY pad only supports an output of 5W for each charging pad, so you won’t be able to take advantage of either Apple’s or Samsung’s wireless fast charging features, which need 7.5W and 9W output, respectively. And lastly, while LXORY supports Lightning as an input, it isn’t certified as an official Lightning product through Apple’s MFi program, which isn’t usually a great sign for the quality or usability of a product.

Still, you’re getting a double charging pad that costs $28.60 and supports any input you’ve got around. If you’re okay with the slower charging speed and possible problems of lacking Apple’s blessing, it’s a pretty good deal. Hopefully, other wireless charger manufacturers are taking note and will follow suit in the future.

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James Damore’s lawsuit partner says Google is dominated by a racist, man-hating ‘hate group’

2018-01-12 17:18:13

David Gudeman, one of two ex-Google engineers suing the company for alleged discrimination against conservative white men, says the company is dominated by a “hate group” illegally promoting “racism and misandry.” Gudeman and his co-plaintiff James Damore filed the lawsuit earlier this week, but he expanded on his motivations in a blog post, illuminating the reasoning behind the suit.

“I don’t hate Google, and I certainly don’t hate the people who work there,” writes Gudeman. “I wouldn’t want this suit to give people a bad opinion of Googlers, but, honestly, they brought this on themselves for tolerating the hatred, racism, and misandry of a small but vocal and organized subgroup who want to use Google as a vehicle of social change rather than as a vehicle of delivering excellent service and products to their customers.”

According to the lawsuit, Gudeman was fired after questioning a Muslim co-worker’s claims of being targeted by the FBI over his religion. Gudeman asked why his co-worker didn’t file a civil rights suit if his claims were true, and then asked whether the FBI might have “found something interesting” about the co-worker’s recent trip to Pakistan. In Gudeman’s words, he was “simply [questioning] the logic behind a coworker’s story of victimization on the basis of his race and religion,” but he alleges that Google said he had accused his co-worker of terrorism.

Gudeman writes in his blog post that he was attacked for “standing up for kindness, tolerance, and just getting along despite differences,” and that other employees failed to defend him because “everyone is afraid of the hate group that dominates the discussion at Google.”

The lawsuit references “hateful rhetoric” against conservatives at Google. But Gudeman’s post offers a more extreme take on the situation, by not just saying that Google allows discrimination against conservative white men, but that a minority hate group actually controls the company culture. And it makes clear that Gudeman believes others are chafing under this control, saying that many in Silicon Valley will “secretly welcome this lawsuit.” The lawsuit itself isn’t trying to prove there’s a hate group, of course — only that Google broadly allowed harassment against white men and penalized Gudeman and Damore for their political beliefs. That’s still a fairly bold claim.

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Hulu is making a Catch-22 miniseries with George Clooney

2018-01-12 17:02:16

Hulu is doubling down on the dystopian adaptation business. With the streaming service’s The Handmaids Tale continuing to rack up award wins, Hulu is adding another adaptation of a literary classic to its library: Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22, which George Clooney will co-write, direct, produce, and star in.

First published in 1961, Catch-22 recounts the story of a US B-52 bombardier named Capt. John Yossarian, who is caught in a frustrating position. He must fulfill a set number of missions before he can be discharged, but he finds that the number is continually revised, preventing him from escaping. If he tries to get out of his duty, he’ll be caught in a paradoxical, bureaucratic rule known as Catch-22.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the project will be a six-episode miniseries, and will mark the first series regular role for Clooney since his time on ER. Clooney was a fan of the original novel, and after reading a draft of the series written by Lion’s Luke Davies and War Machine’s David Michôd, he came onboard. (Clooney will reportedly be co-writing the final episode with the duo.) Along with directing the show, he’ll also play the role of Colonel Cathcart, the commanding officer who keeps increasing Yossarian’s missions.

Hulu has been on a roll recently: after primarily focusing on comedies, the service finally broke through as a provider of prestige drama when it won five Emmy Awards for The Handmaid’s Tale last year. The broader streaming marketplace, however, is only getting more competitive, with Amazon and Netflix continuing to expand their offerings with increasingly more prestigious talent. With his popularity as an actor and critical acclaim as a filmmaker, Clooney is the kind of collaborator that can help Hulu achieve two goals at the same time. Factor in that Catch-22 is the kind of politically relevant story that Hulu has already had success with, and the new series should help the service continue to build out its catalog.

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These three shows are reinventing the legacy of Star Trek

2018-01-12 16:40:02

2016 might have been Star Trek’s 50th anniversary, but 2017 was the year when no less than three shows reinterpreted, reimagined, or paid homage to Gene Roddenberry’s classic science fiction series. Each one follows the show’s familiar blueprint, joining the diverse crew of a starship as they zip around the universe. But each show also has their own new take on what Star Trek means, taking the classic form of the franchise and molding it in some new ways.

Star Trek: Discovery, the first official Star Trek show in over a decade, launched last fall on CBS, while Seth McFarlane’s interplanetary comedy The Orville debuted on Fox. And then there was Black Mirror’s dark take on the franchise in the episode “USS Callister.”

“USS Callister” is by far the most meta take, and it opens on a tonally perfect analogue of the original 1966 Star Trek series. It’s not until later in the episode that we learn that it’s all a video game that’s been lovingly crafted by a genius programmer with a childhood love of the show. Shy and underappreciated at the company where he works, he exorcises his workplace frustrations by cloning his coworkers into the procedurally generated VR universe, where he can control and abuse them as both hero and god.

The obsessed, regressive fandom on display is a pointed jab about nostalgia and fans who resist changing their ways, making this episode a commentary not only on the

show, but about the toxic individuals who inevitably emerge in any fandom. (There’s even a neat little nod at the end to the newer Kelvin universe created by the J.J. Abrams movies, where the simulation receives an update.)

When Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane first announced The Orville, it sounded like it would be a Star Trek parody in the vein of his animated show, packed full of weak jokes and shallow characters. Now that the show is midway through its first season, however, it has become the most faithful of the three to the original Star Trek and its successors (and reminds me quite a bit of Star Trek: The Next Generation). Rather than satire, it feels more like an earnest love letter to a beloved, influential franchise, but without some of the moralistic bumpers that Gene Roddenberry installed.

My wife described it best: it’s a more down-to-earth version of what people aboard a starship like the Enterprise would do had they not lived in the utopian world that Star Trek portrays. The crew watches old movies on the bridge’s central screen, makes pot brownies in the food replicators, and plays some pretty cruel practical jokes on one another. It’s a “what if” reimagining of Star Trek that takes its components and gives them a playful spin.

Conversely, the most radical departure from classic Star Trek is the latest official entry in the franchise, Star Trek: Discovery. While each successive series has changed up the canon in its own way, Discovery overhauls not just the look and feel of the universe, but the way the stories are told. Discovery’s bold new step is a result of its format: a streaming show debuting in a modern television environment. The show famously removed some barriers set in place by Roddenberry, allowing characters to refer to God and use profanity. The showrunners also changed up the form of the show, abandoning the done-in-one episodic model, which came out of the show’s original pitch as an anthology, in favor of a narrative arc that builds from week to week. The show introduces daring new crew members like we’ve never seen before, from the battle-hungry Captain Lorca to the disgraced mutineer Michael Burnham.

Despite the huge changes that it’s introduced, Star Trek: Discovery still carries its love of the franchise on its sleeves. The idealism of the Federation is front and center in the pilot episode, where Burnham and Captain Philippa Georgiou rescue a primitive species from destruction, while the episode “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” returns to the familiar theme of the crew getting caught in a time loop. There are bigger, classic Star Trek themes running through the show as well: the tension between scientific discovery and exploration is constantly butting up against more expedient and pressing dangers for the crew, like war with the Klingons, and survival. At its heart, Discovery is about maintaining the core mission of Star Fleet in the midst of adversity.

While each has a different take on Star Trek, it’s clear that each show is rooted firmly in a love of the franchise. It’s notable that each of these projects came out in the same year, after more than a decade of the show’s absence. The last series, Enterprise, went off the air in 2005, and the last film, Star Trek: Nemesis, aired in theaters in 2002. Trek had reached a point of transition, and the last offerings didn’t quite meet the expectations of its fans. J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the franchise changed that, both by going back to the show’s roots with the familiar characters of the original series and updating the look and style of the universe with a more modern face.

This year’s slate of Star Trek-derived offerings has done the same: Black Mirror, The Orville, and Star Trek: Discovery each put a distinct spin on the show’s legacy by looking to the past, the present, and the future. There’s more on the way as well: both The Orville and Discovery have been renewed for second seasons and Quentin Tarantino’s idea for a new Star Trek film was compelling enough to begin development. Thanks to all of these new interpretations of an old favorite, the future of Trek looks brighter and more vital than ever.

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US Supreme Court will revisit ruling on collecting internet sales tax

2018-01-12 16:31:13

The United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear the state of South Dakota’s argument that a 26-year-old tax-related ruling be overturned, which could free state and local governments to collect billions in internet sales tax, according to a report today from Bloomberg. The 1992 ruling, from Quill v. North Dakota, centered on a mail-order business and inadvertently set a far-reaching precedent for e-commerce companies by only allowing states to collect sales tax from businesses with a “physical presence” in a given state. Critics of the ruling have long decried the clause by saying it makes no sense in the age of Amazon and internet e-commerce, and that it disadvantages brick-and-mortar retailers and state and local governments.

South Dakota passed a law two years ago with the intention of overturning the ruling by demanding retailers with more than $100,000 in annual sales pay a 4.5 percent tax on all sales. The state government then filed suit to have the case heard by the higher courts, in an effort to get the measure deemed constitutional by way of overturning Quill v. North Dakota. “States’ inability to effectively collect sales tax from internet sellers imposes crushing harm on state treasuries and brick-and-mortar retailers alike,” South Dakota argued in its appeal to the Supreme Court, which this week agreed to take up the case.

The Supreme Court’s decision, which isn’t expected to come down for quite some time, could have far-reaching implications on online businesses of all stripes. Prominent e-commerce companies like furniture seller Wayfair and consumer electronics seller Newegg, which collect sales tax in only certain states, have expressed opposition to having the ruling overturned, as it would increase prices and remove an advantage over physical retailers. Amazon, which long ago decided to start collecting sales tax when it started building fulfillment centers around the country, will also be affected. That’s because third-party sellers on Amazon are responsible for collecting sales tax and do not follow through, according to Bloomberg. An overturning may push Amazon to demand its sellers be more thorough in sales tax collection.

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Watch Circuit Breaker Live from CES Day 4: The Verge Awards

2018-01-12 16:10:22

Another CES has come and gone, we finally made it everyone. We had a blast scouring for all the crazy gadgets from the show floor, and showing the best of what we found on Circuit Breaker Live. For our last episode, we gave out The Verge Awards for categories like “Best Robot” and “Most CES”, which you can see for yourself! This is our last episode for a while, but we can’t wait to do it again.

If you want to relive the good times, watch the full episode above, and check out our Storystream below for all the other episodes!

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The writer of 12 Years a Slave is making a DC comic about marginalized heroes

2018-01-12 15:48:53

Some of the most interesting glimpses into superhero universes have taken place from less conventional perspectives, from the gumshoe detectives of Gotham Central to the blue-collar construction workers of Damage Control. This winter, 12 Years a Slave screenwriter John Ridley will reexamine some of the most iconic moments of the DC Comics universe through the personal stories of John Stewart, Extraño, Vixen, Supergirl, Katana and Renee Montoya — all heroes from historically marginalized or underrepresented groups.

The comic book miniseries, titled The Other History of the DC Universe, will focus on “the lives of those behind the costumes, and their endeavors to overcome real-world issues.”

“I could not be more excited by the opportunity to excavate the canon of the DC Universe through a vast array of characters who’ve earned their seat at the table,” says Ridley in the DC press release. “I’m very impressed with DC’s commitment to making their history as reverent and urgent as it is engaging and entertaining for all its many fans.”

Ridley previously wrote a comic called The American Way for DC, which dealt with a black superhero joining a government-sponsored super-group in the 1960s. He is currently working on a sequel for DC’s Vertigo imprint.

He plans to discuss The Other History of the DC Universe in more detail at a DC in D.C. panel titled “The Many Shades of Heroism: DC Heroes Through the African-American Lens,” which will be streamed on DC’s YouTube channel on January 13th, at 11AM ET.

 Image: DC Comics

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Americans still deeply skeptical about driverless cars: poll

2018-01-12 15:37:21

Amid the daily cacophony of news and announcements about self-driving cars — Have you heard? They’re coming! — it’s easy to lose sight of a fundamental truth: most people still don’t know what to think about this new technology. What they do feel, however, is that Congress and the federal government should impose minimum safety requirements on these vehicles before they hit the road in mass numbers. But lawmakers and regulators in Washington appear poised to do just the opposite, and that has safety advocates up in arms.

A new poll was released today basically repeats data that we’ve seen in previous surveys: Americans still don’t trust self-driving cars, and are nervous about the coming onslaught. Asked how concerned they’d be to share the road with a driverless car, 31 percent said they’d be “very concerned,” while 33 percent said “somewhat concerned,” according to the poll which was just released by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

A majority (63 percent) said they would not support “mass exemptions” from federal motor vehicle safety standards for self-driving cars, and were not comfortable (75 percent) with automakers having the power to remotely disable vehicle controls, such as the steering wheel, and brake and gas pedals, when the autonomous vehicle is being operated by the computer. And people overwhelmingly support (75 percent) the US Department of Transportation developing new standards related to driverless vehicles. The poll surveyed 1,005 adults between December 7-10th, 2017, with a margin of error of +/- 3.09 percent.

The reason Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety commissioned this poll is because Congress is considering legislation that gives the industry wide latitude to deploy autonomous vehicles on public roads without having to adhere to existing safety standards. The legislation would preempt states from passing their own laws regulating driverless cars, which the industry argues is necessary to avoid a patchwork of state rules. The House of Representatives has approved its version of the bill, while the Senate bill is still awaiting approval before it comes to the floor for a vote.

“The Department of Transportation needs to issue some regulations as driverless vehicles are put onto the road to ensure a minimum level of safety and security,” said Jackie Gillan, president emeritus at the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “Right now, that’s not the case.”

Congress has been under intense lobbying by the tech and auto industries to take a hands-off approach to autonomous vehicles. And in large part, Congress has complied, passing bills that maintain the laissez-faire approach first perfected by the Obama administration and now carried over to the Trump White House.

For example, Congress is weighing whether to make the disclosure of accident data involving driverless cars voluntary, with only the requirement to revisit these rules in five years. The big companies are pushing back against efforts to make data disclosures mandatory, arguing it could stifle competition. Likewise, under current law, DOT can exempt up to 2,500 vehicles in a 12-month period from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration safety standards, such as the need for a steering wheel airbag. Automakers are seeking to lift that cap to 100,000 cars in a year, which would allow them to deploy vehicles without traditional controls like steering wheels or pedals.

Supporters of self-driving cars dismissed the findings in the new poll as largely a case of unfamiliarity. “I have repeatedly seen that when people ride in a fully self-driving vehicle for the first time, they quickly begin to recognize the tangible safety and mobility benefits this innovation will have for their daily life,” said David Strickland, a former administrator at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration who now runs the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, a lobbying group funded by Ford, Lyft, Uber, Volvo, and Waymo. “As more consumers across the country experience self-driving in action, I’m confident that Americans will become more trusting in the technology and its transformational potential.”

Safety advocates don’t deny that automated vehicles could drive down traffic fatalities, which have been steadily increasing in the last several years. Self-driving technology could be a “vaccine” to the epidemic of highway deaths, said Jack Gillis, director of public affairs for the Consumer Federation of America. But vaccines need to be “thoroughly tested before they are made available to public.” He cited concerns about cybersecurity and remote hacking of autonomous vehicles, which neither the House nor Senate bills adequately address.

“We live in a new reality where autonomous vehicles can be weaponized,” he said. “On AV cybersecurity, Congress is simply asleep at the wheel.”

At CES earlier this week, DOT Secretary Elaine Chao didn’t sound like someone eager to begin regulating the autonomous car industry. The Trump administration doesn’t believe in a “top-down approach” to regulation and was determined to “partner” with companies to roll out self-driving cars, Chao told the gathered crowds of techies.

Safety advocates were aghast by her comments. “There is nothing in the statute that authorizes Elaine Chao to be a partner of the auto industry,” said Joan Claybrook, former NHTSA administrator under President Jimmy Carter. “She is essentially a no-secretary secretary and not taking in the interest of the American public.”

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Apple made a section of the App Store to highlight apps that offer free trials

2018-01-12 15:22:27

For those who want to test out an app before making a purchase, Apple is now promoting a new section in the App Store, “Try it for Free,” that highlights apps that offer a free trial period before you have to pay for a subscription. The introduction of the new feature makes sense as Apple is also trying to promote its subscription-based apps as a new business model for app developers.

To get to the new section, go to Apple’s App Store on iOS, then tap the Apps tab. The new section is the second thing listed on the screen.

As of this writing, there are only four apps being offered in the section. Current apps with free trials include an annual membership for 1Password that’s normally $35.99, a subscription to USA Today for $2.99 a month, a subscription to Panna: Video Recipes & Classes for $71.99 a year, and a subscription to Lake: Coloring Books for $2.99 a week. It looks like annual, monthly, and weekly subscriptions are all lumped together, so users will have to be careful to note the frequency of a specific plan, lest it charge them more often than anticipated.

There is also the usual peril of free trials — accidentally forgetting to cancel the trial before it starts charging you, if you don’t end up wanting the service. With 1Password, you have to agree to pay for the service in order to get the free trial, which lasts for 30 days. The length of the free trial also varies by app as well, so that’s another thing to watch out for.

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These concepts are the most exciting cameras Canon’s brought to CES in years

2018-01-12 15:20:57

Tucked in a corner on a shelf at Canon’s booth are the two most exciting cameras the company has brought to CES in years. They’re not wholly unique ideas (and one of them doesn’t even work yet), but compared to the iterative releases and myriad of camcorders that usually make up Canon’s announcements for this particular show, they’re a welcome breath of fresh air.

The concept camera that does work is shaped a bit like the Samsung Gear 360, though it only has one lens. That lens and the sensor architecture sit on a movable platform inside the camera’s dome, which itself can quickly swivel a full 360 degrees.

The point is for the camera to be able to follow and film objects or faces in almost any direction. Canon imagines it using AI to track objects or faces and even learn to capture them better over time, something that sounds a lot like Google Clips. The company showed a working version of this concept, which was wired to a small external display that showed what the camera was seeing.

The second camera was just a dummy model, but it offered up other interesting ideas. It’s a small brick-shaped thing with a flip-out Lightning port on one side, which also pivots, meaning you would be able to plug it into your iPhone to use as a viewfinder. It would also presumably allow for the fast transferring of images from the camera to your phone.

This is almost exactly the same idea as the DxO One, a small connectable camera from image quality experts DxO. One difference is that Canon imagines its camera having a 100-400mm zoom lens built in, as opposed to the fixed wide-angle lens on the DxO One. (The Canon rep I spoke with said it’s unclear whether this would be a mechanical or digital zoom.) The other key difference is that Canon’s camera would come with an attachable viewfinder so the photographer could shoot with the camera up to their eye.

The company showed off a few different takes this concept, including two sphere-shaped versions with different button layouts and viewfinders.

Canon has the two concept cameras on display in a nondescript section of its setup in the Las Vegas Convention Center, and the company’s representatives stressed that these are concepts, not prototypes — a word that could imply that a product is coming.

It’s an understandable caution. You don’t want to mislead existing or potential customers, business partners, or investors. But the company should understand that some of those people also want it to be more vocal about these ideas, and any others it has in the works. (To its credit, Canon had cards out asking for feedback on the projects.)

The two new concepts borrow ideas from products that already exist in the market, but they twist those ideas in clever ways. And they conjure up questions worth asking. For example: is there a place for a camera that can mechanically point in all directions in a world where a true 360-degree camera will eventually be able to simulate the same kind of ability with software?

The rate at which some of these companies choose to innovate (especially in the face of a world full of startups with fresh ideas) leaves a lot to be desired, which is why it was disheartening that they all seemed happy to hibernate through CES in both 2017 and 2018. Seeing these two concepts on the show floor was like spotting a blade of grass in a yard full of snow. I want to believe it means a spring awakening is coming, but sometimes you just know in your gut that it’s about to snow again.

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Intel’s Spectre patch is causing reboot problems for older processors

2018-01-12 14:48:49

Intel is running into problems protecting its chips from the major Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities that became public last week. The company has been warning customers of three specific flaws in a recent firmware update and recommending that customers hold off installing the patch, according to emails first reported by The Wall Street Journal. According to a follow-up announcement by Intel, the issue may cause reboot issues in systems running older Haswell chips.

Intel has been aware of the Spectre issues since June, but rewriting processor firmware to address the vulnerability proved to be a significant challenge. The company has committed to protecting 90 percent of its CPUs produced in the last five years, with patches to be deployed by January 15th, but technical issues have marred those patches across the board. Earlier this week, Microsoft had to halt the deployment of AMD’s Spectre patches after they rendered some computers unbootable.

Patching the CPU firmware is widely seen as the most technically difficult element of Spectre recovery, far more challenging than the operating system or browser patches that were deployed last week. It’s also the patch most likely to slow computers down, although it’s still unclear how significant the performance hit will be. Intel’s recent benchmarks show less than 5 percent slowdowns on recent processors, but those tests did not extend to the Haswell processors affected by today’s issues.

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Waymo’s self-driving minivan spotted in San Francisco

2018-01-12 14:31:03

Publicly, Waymo, the self-driving unit of Google parent Alphabet, says the vast majority of its autonomous vehicle testing is taking place in five cities: Mountain View, California; Austin, Texas; Kirkland, Washington; Phoenix, Arizona; and most recently, Detroit, Michigan. But it would seem the company neglected to tell us about a crucial sixth city: its home base of San Francisco.

TechCrunch obtained pictures of a Waymo autonomous minivan on the fog-soaked streets of San Francisco, forcing the company to admit that it has returned to its city of origin, where it first began testing back in 2009. A Waymo spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Waymo's self-driving Chrysler Pacifica begins testing in San Francisco by @etherington

— TechCrunch (@TechCrunch) January 12, 2018

It’s a significant move for a couple reasons. The addition of San Francisco to its roster of test cities is a sign that Waymo is interested in tackling denser, more congested urban streets after several years of sticking to smaller, more low-slung communities. And it would appear to be a shot across the bow of GM, which has been testing its Cruise autonomous vehicles in San Francisco and plans to eventually launch a public ride-hail program in the city.

Waymo says it has tested its autonomous minivans in 24 cities across the US in an effort to expose its vehicles to a variety of environments, weather, and road conditions. In San Francisco, Waymo will have the chance to deal with heavy fog and the steep hills for which the city is famous, as well as thousands of bicyclists, pedestrians, and really bad drivers.

Last year, the company began testing its minivans on public roads in Arizona without human safety drivers behind the wheel. In the weeks to come, it says it will be opening these vehicles to the members of its Early Rider program for a ride-hailing trips. There’s no word on when this program will expand to other cities.

Update January 12th, 1:36pm ET: A spokesperson for Waymo said, “San Francisco was one of the first cities where we tested our self-driving cars, dating back to 2009 when we traveled everything from Lombard Street to the Golden Gate Bridge. Now that we have the world’s first fleet of fully self-driving cars running in Arizona, the hilly and foggy streets of San Francisco will give our cars even more practice in different terrains and environments.”

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Visa joins other major US credit card companies in getting rid of signatures

2018-01-12 14:29:17

Visa has announced that starting in April, it will get rid of the requirement for signatures on credit card purchases in North America. Now that Visa is on board, all four of the major credit card companies are removing signature requirements. (American Express, Discover, and Mastercard already announced that they’re doing away with signatures as well.)

Like the other companies, Visa claims that the improved security brought about by the recent addition of EMV chips, along with other security improvements, make it so signatures are no longer required.

According to Visa’s post announcing the change, the company is only doing away with signatures for merchants who have switched over to chip readers or completely contactless payments; stores that have yet to upgrade will still need signatures. Additionally, Visa is only making the signature requirement optional. Retailers can still decide to require it if they choose.

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Holiday PC sales grew for the first time since 2011

2018-01-12 14:24:09

The market for PCs grew during the holiday season last year, which is a first in six years of declining demand for computers, according to a report by IDC. The market, which includes desktops, notebooks, and workstations, grew by 0.7 percent over the holiday season last year. IDC had initially predicted demand would decline by 1.7 percent.

The overall year’s shipments were down by 0.2 percent, which was still better than 2016’s decline of 1.5 percent. The Asia-Pacific region and Latin America saw positive growth, while the US remained a challenging market.

HP saw the highest demand among the increased shipments, pulling in a market share of 22.7 percent and maintaining its lead from 2016. In order of highest demand, here are the top six of 2017:

  1. HP
  2. Lenovo
  3. Dell
  4. Apple
  5. Acer
  6. Asus

Lenovo came in second place, overtaken by HP for the first time in four years. The company underwent a restructuring last year as an attempt to reclaim domestic markets. It still performed well, especially outside the US with its notebooks. Dell struggled to do well in the US, coming in third place, while Apple came in fourth for another year, pulling only 7.6 percent of the market share, trailing behind Dell by 8.5 percentage points. Acer and Asus nearly tied, with Acer grabbing 6.8 percent of market share compared to Asus’ 6.6 percent. Unnamed brands enjoyed the remaining 19 percent of market share.

The PC market has been weak for the past six years as PCs have failed to excite consumers while smartphones and tablets detract from PC demand. But 2017 saw a slight improvement in demand, thanks to commercial upgrades and gaming PCs in Europe and Asia.

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TiVo will let you control your DVR with Google Assistant or Alexa soon

2018-01-12 14:01:01

At CES 2018, TiVo announced that it will be adding support for Alexa and Google Assistant to its DVRs, letting users control their TVs using voice commands, along with additional smart home integrations through IFTTT.

According to PCMag, the integrations will work a little differently, depending on whether you’re using Alexa or Assistant. The Alexa skill is said to be a little more basic, duplicating functions on a remote like “play,” “pause,” or “select.” The Google Assistant skill is reportedly more robust, allowing users to search for specific recordings directly through voice commands. Google Assistant will also add deeper integration into your smart home, so you can off the lights when you start watching a movie, for example.

Lastly, TiVo also announced that it would be adding support for IFTTT, which the company envisions as adding a new level of integration of your TiVo DVR into your smartphone. Using IFTTT, TiVo claims users will be able to do things like have your DVR automatically pause the TV if someone rings your Wi-Fi-connected doorbell, or recognize that you’ve come home from work and turn on the news for you.

As with so many other things announced at CES this week, there’s no word on when the Alexa skill, Assistant integration, or IFTTT applets will be coming to TiVo, but the services will presumably launch sometime this year.

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HBO’s first teaser for Fahrenheit 451 burns everything down

2018-01-12 13:18:52

HBO has released the first teaser for its upcoming adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s classic dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, revealing that the film will air sometime this spring.

The teaser highlights the most vivid part of the novel, showing a burning copy of Crime and Punishment that’s dropped onto a pile of other controversial books, which is set on fire by a firefighter yielding a flamethrower.

Bradbury’s novel is a classic work of science fiction. He originally wrote a series of shorter stories dealing with censorship and repressive governments in the 1950s, and later brought them into the novel in 1953. The story is set in a dystopian world where books are outlawed. It follows Guy Montag, a firefighter whose job is to burn those contraband books. He has a crisis of faith, and ends up on the run.

HBO began developing the project last year, with Creed star Michael B. Jordan and Man of Steel star Michael Shannon set to star as Montag and his superior Captain Beatty, respectively.

This new film is directed by Man Push Cart and Chop Shop director Ramin Bahrani, who told critics at the Television Critics Association winter press tour that Bradbury’s novel is pressingly relevant this year, but that the movie isn’t designed as an anti-President Trump film. Work on the film began a year before the election, he explained, and it’s part of a much bigger political cycle. “I don’t want to focus so much on [Trump] because I don’t want to excuse the 30, 40 years prior to that. He’s just an exaggeration of it now” Bahrani said.

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Facebook’s Oculus boss thinks standalone headsets are the key to getting a billion people into VR

2018-01-12 13:15:51

Barra thinks “standalone” VR is the future. Now he has to help Facebook ship it

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Pokémon Go ‘community days’ try to recapture the magic of the game’s launch

2018-01-12 12:57:14

In the spirit of Pokémon Go’s early days, Niantic is encouraging players to come together with official monthly meetups in a new initiative it’s calling Pokémon Go Community Day. The first Community Day kicks off on January 20th, and will feature double XP for trainers and unique items as well as special pokémon with unique abilities for trainers to hunt down.

The event will last for three hours across the world at local parks; players in the US should expect the event to last from 11AM to 2PM PT. “We’re constantly blown away by the passion of Pokémon Go players around the world, and we hope that each Pokémon Go Community Day will help add to the excitement of local events and meetups,” Niantic said. “Remember always to be alert and stay safe while playing and to be respectful of public spaces when exploring your community.” Additional info for each new event will be available on the Pokémon Go website.

Niantic pushed community events last summer, which it referred to then as “very much an experiment” for future events. The developer’s efforts to revitalize group meetups are a clear callback to the initial frenzy of Pokémon Go, when players would flock to local parks or attend player-initiated bar crawls. When Niantic tried to hold its own official event last summer, the day quickly soured as server and internet issues made the game unplayable and the crowds rowdy.

Monthly meetups may not come with all the bells and whistles promised by one giant gathering, but smaller crowds and no admission price make these events far more likely to succeed. Whether or not they can recapture the spirit of the original Pokémon Go launch roughly two years ago remains to be seen.

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Google deleted 60 games from its Play Store after pornographic ads were found

2018-01-12 12:31:44

Security firm Check Point has uncovered a malicious bug on the Google Play Store that displays porn in game apps, many of which are aimed at children. The bug affects about 60 apps, including those that have been downloaded over 1 million times, like Five Nights Survival Craft and McQueen Car Racing Game, which is based on the Disney Pixar character from the film Cars.

The malicious app is named Adult Swine, and Check Point says the bug displays inappropriate and pornographic ads, attempts to trick users into installing fake security apps, and tries to get users to sign up to premium services that charge the user’s account. A Google spokesperson told the Financial Times, “We’ve removed the apps from Play, disabled the developers’ accounts, and will continue to show strong warnings to anyone that has installed them. We appreciate Check Point’s work to help keep users safe.”

When the malicious code is installed onto your phone, it waits for the user to unlock the device to start the malicious activity. Users have left reviews on the Google Play Store for some of the apps, with one saying, “Don’t install for your kids. I did and my son opened it and a bunch off thilthy [sic] hardcore porn pictures popped up.” Check Point notes that the bug’s configurations also allow it to hide its icon to hinder potential removal.

 Image: Check Point
One of the displayed ads.

Some of the apps also display fake notices showing the phone has been infected by a virus and provides a malicious link to a fake virus cleaner. Other ads that play also try to trick the user into giving up their phone number by telling them they’ve won a prize. The phone number is then used to register for premium services.

Google does have a safety feature called Google Play Protect, which checks apps when you download them and periodically scans your device for harmful apps to remove them. Check Point has a list of the affected apps in its research post.

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Falling rocket booster explodes near a town in China

2018-01-12 12:20:40

Following a launch on Friday local time, a Chinese rocket booster fell near a small town in southwest China, where it exploded and caught fire, GBTimes reports. It was one of four strap-on boosters used on China’s Long March 3B rocket, which had lofted two satellites into orbit before the crash. People living in the town Xiangdu, located in China’s Guangxi region, caught video of the booster as it fell perilously close to buildings and then erupted in flames.

The Long March 3B takes off from China’s Xichang Satellite Launch Center, located in the country’s Sichuan province. Unlike most major launchpads in the US, the center is located many hundreds of miles from China’s coastline, so rockets launched from the site have to fly over land to get to orbit. That means when the rocket sheds parts during a flight, such as the strap-on boosters that give the vehicle extra thrust, these parts will fall in a designated drop zone over land. And many towns might be located in that zone.

“There are notices released for the drop zones, depending on what kind of launch and where it’s going,” Andrew Jones, a freelance journalist covering China’s spaceflight program, tells The Verge. “For some places, they’ll evacuate a town or an area, and they try to calculate these drop zones quite carefully to avoid as many inhabited areas as possible.”


— ChinaSpaceflight (@cnspaceflight) January 12, 2018

After the crash, locals trekked up to the fallen booster to capture more video of the burning wreckage. The booster appears not have to damaged anyone or any buildings. However, the Long March 3B does use toxic propellants, such as hydrazine, which can be dangerous if it gets on someone’s skin or it’s inhaled, according to Jones. Fortunately, most of the booster’s propellant should be exhausted by the time it falls off the rocket. Still, what’s left in the rocket could pose a health risk to onlookers.

Up close to the booster from the Long March 3B that landed near buildings in Guangxi province shortly after launch

— Andrew Jones (@AJ_FI) January 12, 2018

Many of China’s launch sites were built inland during the Cold War in order to keep them safe, since some of these facilities were also related to the country’s nuclear weapons programs. “Back in the Cold War, they had very high tensions with the Soviet Union and also the United States was considering a preemptive strike against China’s nascent nuclear weapons capabilities,” says Jones. “It was really to keep them away from the coast to keep them from being targeted.”

This decision has led to some fatal rocket accidents in the past. In 1996, a Long March 3B took off from the same Xichang Satellite Launch Center and accidentally strayed off course, landing in a nearby town. The crash destroyed dozens of homes, killed six people, and injured 57 others.

China is moving toward safer rocket launches, though. The country has been working on a new class of rockets, the Long March, 5, 6, and 7, which use less toxic propellants. And two of these vehicles, the 5 and 7, take off from China’s new Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on the island of Hainan in the South China Sea. That launchpad is located just off the coast, allowing rockets to launch over water instead of land.

However, these rockets are still fairly new vehicles, and the Long March 5 suffered a major failure last year. So China will likely continue to rely on its over-land rockets, which the country has been using for decades. “I think it’s going to be going on for a few years,” says Jones.

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HTC’s U11 EYEs will reportedly be released next week

2018-01-12 11:51:34

HTC’s newest phone, the U11 EYEs, has been a rumored addition to the U11 family, and we now know a few more details about its specs, thanks to details leaked by Venture Beat’s Evan Blass on Twitter.

The U11 EYEs has a 6-inch screen with a 1080 x 2160 Super LCD3 display. The phone is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 652 octa-core processor, 4GB of RAM, 64GB SSD, and a 3,930mAh battery. However, it’s still running the now outdated Android Nougat out of the box instead of the latest Oreo.

It has two front-facing cameras, built to the right of the earpiece, that are probably the “eyes” the phone is named after. We don’t yet know the specs of the front-facing cameras, but they likely have some kind of selfie portrait mode that’s been the standard on most HTC phones.

HTC U11 EYEs (Harmony): 6" FHD+ (1080 x 2160) Super LCD3, SD652 octa core, 4GB/64GB (+microSD), USB-C, 3930mAh, IP67, Android Nougat, Edge Sense. Black, silver, and red. Launches 1/15.

— Evan Blass (@evleaks) January 12, 2018

The rear of the phone has a single camera. It also has USB Type-C for fast charging and an IP67 rating for dust and water resistance. The U11 EYEs also features Edge Sense, like its predecessors, so that you can squeeze as a single-handed shortcut button.

In keeping with the red phone trend that’s taking off in Asia ahead of Lunar New Year next month, HTC — which is based in Taiwan, although part of its smartphone team was bought by Google — is releasing its latest phone in a shade of deep red. The phone also comes in black or silver, and will be available on January 15th. Its price is rumored to be around $510.

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Pikachu is a gun-shooting detective now, and his game is coming to the US

2018-01-12 11:38:24

The action adventure game Detective Pikachu is heading worldwide with a launch on the Nintendo 3DS March 23rd, The Pokémon Company announced today. As its title suggests, it features an oddly talkative Pikachu who also happens to be a detective. This coffee-slurping, gun-shooting version of Pikachu is helping a boy named Tim find his father.

The sleuthing Pikachu is also getting his own amiibo that will trigger in-game hints. Notably, Detective Pikachu is nearly double the size of your average amiibo ‘chu.

Coffee does weird things to pokémon.

The Pokémon Company initially released the game in Japan in 2016. A live-action version adaptation is currently in the works, with Ryan Reynolds attached as the voice of Detective Pikachu. (He won’t be lending his talents to the game, however.) Guardians of the Galaxy co-writer Nicole Perlman is handling screenwriting, while Gravity Falls creator Alex Hirsch will co-write.

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Google ‘fixed’ its racist algorithm by removing gorillas from its image-labeling tech

2018-01-12 11:35:45

Back in 2015, software engineer Jacky Alciné pointed out that the image recognition algorithms in Google Photos were classifying his black friends as “gorillas.” Google said it was “appalled” at the mistake, apologized to Alciné, and promised to fix the problem. But, as a new report from Wired shows, nearly three years on and Google hasn’t really fixed anything. The company has simply blocked its image recognition algorithms from identifying gorillas altogether — preferring, presumably, to limit the service rather than risk another miscategorization.

Wired says it performed a number of tests on Google Photos’ algorithm, uploading tens of thousands of pictures of various primates to the service. Baboons, gibbons, and marmosets were all correctly identified, but gorillas and chimpanzees were not. The publication also found that Google had restricted its AI recognition in other racial categories. Searching for “black man” or “black woman,” for example, only returned pictures of people in black and white, sorted by gender but not race.

Google Photos, y'all fucked up. My friend's not a gorilla.

— Jacky Alciné (@jackyalcine) June 29, 2015

A spokesperson for Google confirmed to Wired that the image categories “gorilla,” “chimp,” “chimpanzee,” and “monkey” remained blocked on Google Photos after Alciné’s tweet in 2015. “Image labeling technology is still early and unfortunately it’s nowhere near perfect,” said the rep. The categories are still available on other Google services, though, including the Cloud Vision API it sells to other companies and Google Assistant.

It may seem strange that Google, a company that’s generally seen as the forerunner in commercial AI, was not able to come up with a more complete solution to this error. But it’s a good reminder of how difficult it can be to train AI software to be consistent and robust. Especially (as one might suppose happened in the case of the Google Photos mistake) when that software is not trained and tested by a diverse group of people.

It’s not clear in this case whether the Google Photos algorithm remains restricted in this way because Google couldn’t fix the problem, didn’t want to dedicate the resources to do so, or is simply showing an overabundance of caution. But it’s clear that incidents like this, which reveal the often insular Silicon Valley culture that has tasked itself with building world-spanning algorithms, need more than quick fixes.

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Here’s what to expect at the 2018 Detroit Auto Show

2018-01-12 11:30:02

If CES is a car show disguised as a tech show, then where does that leave the Detroit Auto Show that begins next week? That’s a question plenty in the auto and transportation industry would like to know. But if the glimpse into the distant future was the mobility theme this year in rainy Las Vegas, frigid Detroit will be more about the cars and trucks you can buy in the much nearer future.

The Verge transportation team is headed to Detroit to cover new compact sedans, big SUVs, and everything in between. Surprises are inevitable, but here’s what we already know to look out for.

2019 Chevrolet Silverado


Michigan is the midwest, so it was already natural that there would be plenty of truck launches. But consumers are also overwhelmingly going from typical sedans and hatchbacks to SUVs and trucks, and not just in the US. That’s in part because these larger vehicles now offer similar features to cars with added practicality and less of a penalty on comfort and efficiency. Therefore, automakers are rushing to update their more utilitarian vehicles with new tech and improved comfort levels.

For Americans, there will be a clash between two domestic giants. General Motors will reveal the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado to the public for the first time (we’ve already seen photos of it). Chevy truck aficionados will recognize right away it shares more design cues with the car line than ever before, including a noticeable rounding of the wheel arches and face. But it’s also expected to pack more car-like features inside than ever before, meaning it’ll be a plush hauler.

Fiat Chrysler, meanwhile, hasn’t revealed its 2019 Ram 1500 yet, but it seems like the automaker will wait until the eve of the event to show off their breadwinner. The Ram has already been pushing a lot of the tech features on the typically traditional pickup truck market, with things such as adjustable air suspension, lockable storage boxes, large center touchscreens and a diesel model good for nearly 30 mpg on the highway (that’s good for a big truck). Look for this newest version to build on that, since the outgoing model has been a cash cow for FCA.

Ford is resurrecting an old name in the form of the new Ranger. A rival to the likes of the Toyota Tacoma and Chevrolet Colorado, it’s unlikely to break much ground in terms of tech, and certainly seems like a departure from Ford’s connected city talk at CES. But if the new Ranger can develop the reputation for simplicity and longevity as the old one did, the company will be happy in the near future.

However, if there were a Detroit Auto Show award for a long-lived car, it would have to go to the Mercedes-Benz G-Class. Released in 1979, it was basically already old and arthritic when it officially came to the US in 2002 and kickstarted a new life as a $100,000-plus twin-turbocharged monster that was also capable of going anywhere a military vehicle should. There’s a genuinely new G-Class coming to the show that’s dressed up to look like the old one, but adds up-to-date tech under the boxy exterior. Mercedes’ new voice assistant is likely to show up there, too. We’ll find out if it keeps that indestructible feel, though

Honda Insight Prototype

There will be touchscreens (and cars)

Cars are not forgotten, though. Audi will show their A7 for the first time in North America. The sweeping profile of the old one remains, but it’s joined a swath of touchscreens and dazzling exterior lights that are reminiscent of the new A8 we drove last fall.

A new Volkswagen Jetta is coming, too. Wow. But really, the Jetta is a popular starter car, and the company’s bread and butter in the US. A new version is promised to be more visually exciting and will likely inherit some of VW’s tech shown on models like the Golf and Tiguan, such as a large center touchscreen and the Digital Cockpit with gauges you can manipulate through steering wheel controls.

Mercedes is also set to unveil its line of AMG vehicles with a 48-volt electrical system to support mild hybrid technology. The new CLS should be the first to get the system that will effectively serve as a way to boost performance with a minimal impact to fuel economy. Cars like the new Bentley Continental GT and the Jeep Wrangler are going to use this technology this year, and expect many more to start before the new decade.

But for real hybrids, the Honda Insight will take center stage again. What was once a quirky, low-slung two-seater is now a much more conventional looking sedan with a rear seat. It’s Civic-sized and more conventional as part of Honda’s ploy to hybridize pretty much everything in their lineup. The current Civic is good (and efficient), but Honda says it will push past the 50 mpg mark with this new Insight. In an era of relatively low gas prices in the US, though, they may have been better off just bringing their cute EV concept from Frankfurt.

Infiniti Q Inspiration concept

The slightly less near future of concept cars

Of course, there will be concepts. We’ve already seen the backside of Infiniti’s Q Inspiration concept and hope to see the front of it, too, as the show draws closer. Vaguely Tesla-looking at the rear, it’s expected to brag about some futuristic powertrain. Infiniti is already experimenting with trick engineering like variable compression in an internal combustion engine you can buy soon, and parent Nissan is big on electrification and driver assistance tech. Expect the Q to be the indication of where Infiniti will fit into that.

Lexus, meanwhile, just wants to be sporty. They’ll show off the LF-1 Limitless concept. All we know so far is that it’s a rakish SUV that boasts some cool lights. Maybe Bradley Cooper will pop out of it or something like that.

Then there’s GAC. Yes, it’s a company you probably haven’t heard of. The Chinese automaker has been slowly inching into the Detroit Auto Show this year, with a full-blown stand there last year. They’re showing some new models next week, including an EV concept that’s designed with “American youth in mind,” according to Car and Driver.

Sure, let’s bring a little CES to Detroit.

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One Video: Supernova by Ansel Elgort

2018-01-12 11:18:08

Every week, a slew of new music videos hits the web. Watching them at your desk is not time theft because you deserve it; think of it as a nice reward for surviving another work week. But what if you don’t have time to watch every video — maybe you have a deadline, a hungry pet, or other grown-up concerns. In consideration of your schedule, Lizzie and Kaitlyn bring you a series called One Video. Each week we’ll tell you “one video” you need to watch, why, and for how long.

This week’s video: “Supernova” by Ansel Elgort

Kaitlyn: There were a lot of solid candidates for “the one music video you need to watch this week” this week, including Taylor Swift’s interpretation of a rap video (boats! high ponytails! yet another glitter hoodie! how many did she buy?), a Rock ‘em Sock ‘em robots-themed dance-off from Dua Lipa, and something by The Killers that allegedly “moved” some people. Also, Diplo bought Doc Martens. And Troye Sivan saw Footloose. A Boogie turned into a cartoon and Lizzie said “What does ‘you got a big body, but a little face’ mean?” Who cares! All of this was rendered totally irrelevant by the release of a new Ansel Elgort video.

ansel elgort

It was directed by Colin Tilley, who also directed Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” and Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda.” It stars Ansel Elgort as a sweaty person.

Lizzie: This Ansel Elgort video is for his song “Supernova,” which is also the title of his upcoming EP. “Supernova” sounds like Ansel woke up from a long nap during which he had a very believable dream that he was a rapper. It’s hard to say if this will hold up thematically with the rest of the EP, though apparently there’s a song on it called “Ansel Back in Time,” and I can’t wait till that one comes out.

Who is Ansel Elgort?

Kaitlyn: Ansel is hard to describe, but here are a few ways that we’ve described him before:

I would add that he strikes me as the type of guy who emailed this High School Musical-inspired country-rap song to his local radio station with the note “So... I did a thing :)” I would also add that I love him.

Lizzie: If you’re a longtime listener, first-time caller of One Video, you know that Ansel Elgort is actually a One Video veteran. His video for “Thief” was the one that inspired it all; the one video that needed One Video more than any other video had previously.

Ansel is also a graduate of New York City’s LaGuardia High School, and I think it’s a little suspicious that this song came out the same week we all discovered that Ansel’s high school nemesis, Call Me By Your Name’s Timothée Chalamet, began his own rap career years ago. I’ll admit, the songs are pretty different. Ansel’s is dark and sad, stuffing his emotions into his gut and begging us to like him, while Timothée’s is about statistics.

What’s special about “Supernova” by Ansel Elgort:

Kaitlyn: The tiny flight of standalone stairs in the alley behind Ansel Elgort’s apartment! Where did they come from? How much did they cost? Would they look good in the alley behind my apartment, and would I benefit from jogging it out on some elegant baby stairs whenever I am upset about such standard trials as “Look overhead at the stars, and the ocean / Foggy emotions, moments, erosion?”

Lizzie: Well, the song’s already been stuck in my head for an hour, so that’s not nothing. As for the video, I like that it’s so dark that you can barely tell what’s going on, and the only beacons of light are reflected in the droplets of sweat perched on Ansel’s upper lip.

How long everyone should watch “Supernova” by Ansel Elgort:

Kaitlyn: As much as you can handle. Then watch this similar clip from the frankly disturbing film High School Musical 2, in which Zac Efron plays a Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing-inspired character who is forced to choose between using his body for love and using it for money. How did this air on the Disney Channel? Just wondering!

Lizzie: Once you start watching this video, you might find it difficult to stop, and I mean that sincerely. The lack of any real lighting, paired with random events like Ansel doing hopscotch and a parade of umbrella men, will make you feel like you’re waiting for a big reveal, whether there’s one coming or not. I’m not going to say there is, and I’m not going to say there isn’t.

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This smart dishwasher can wash your dishes and cook seafood

2018-01-12 10:58:20

This dishwasher called Tetra from Heatworks and design firm frog is most likely a godsend for those who live in tiny apartments and would love a dishwasher. Tetra is an internet-connected countertop dishwasher (because everything is connected these days) that doesn’t require plumbing to operate — just a standard electrical outlet.

To use the dishwasher, you load it with water manually so you always know how much you’re using. Though the device is quite compact, it’s still able to fit two full place settings including bowls, cups, and plates, or 10 plates or 12 pint glasses. Heatworks says each load takes about 10 minutes, and there’s an internal detergent reservoir that lasts dozens of cycles.

Heatworks noted a need for a smaller dishwashing appliance as research the company undertook indicated that the average household is made up of 2.58 people, though dishwashers can hold place settings for 13 people or more.

The Tetra is powered by its patented Ohmic Array Technology. The appliance uses graphic electrodes and electronic controls that “excite” minerals in the water, directly heating it. The company claims that its hot water is purer than water from any other dishwasher available today. Because of that, you can use the device to sanitize baby products, wash containers, clean fruit, cook seafood, and apparently even wash your clothes (though maybe give it a thorough clean before cooking your fish if you’ve just had your dirty shirts in there).

Tetra is due for release in late 2018, and will cost $300.

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Japan has a new cryptocurrency-themed J-pop band

2018-01-12 08:57:55

If you prefer your J-pop bands to be a little bit more blockchain-y, we’ve got some great news! A new J-pop girl group from Japan is capitalizing on the recent hype surrounding bitcoin and singing about cryptocurrencies, as spotted by Quartz.

The group’s name is Kasotsuka Shojo, which translates as Virtual Currency Girls. Each one of the eight members represents a different cryptocurrency, including Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple, and Cardano. The women are outfitted in maid dresses and lucha libre-style masks that denote the currency they represent.

“We want to promote the idea through entertainment that virtual currencies are not just a tool for speculation but are a wonderful technology that will shape the future,” said the group’s 18-year-old leader Rara Naruse in a press statement.


今日もダンスや歌や、お勉強 ✍
いっぱい覚えることあって難しいけど楽しい♪( ᇂ ω ᇂ و(و "

簡単にわかりやすく説明出来るようにもっと勉強しよ ヽ(´・ω・`ヽ)もう少しまっててね✨

#ETH #イーサリアム

— 天羽あみ★星座百景☆青銅 (@amoami_ami) January 8, 2018

Japan passed laws last April that recognize bitcoin as legal tender, and cryptocurrency trade in the country accounts for around half of global trade volume. The band itself was started by entertainment company Cinderella Academy to educate the public about cryptocurrencies. Cinderella Academy also manages other J-pop bands.

Kasotsuka Shojo’s debut single is called “The Moon and Virtual Currencies and Me” and is a blistering electro-pop song that warns listeners to be aware of fraud and to maintain their security online.

The group takes payment for concert tickets, merchandise, and other products through — what else? — cryptocurrencies including bitcoin and ethereum. They’re also playing their first show on Friday in Tokyo, which has sold out. You can listen to their debut song below:

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Google executives stopped employees discussing diversity and hiring, claims former engineer

2018-01-12 06:46:48

A memo written by a former Google engineer claims that senior executives at the company intervened to stop employees discussing matters involving diversity and hiring policies.

The memo, written in 2016 and shared publicly this week on Google Docs, is the work of former Google security engineer Cory Altheide, according to a report from Gizmodo. Altheide was employed by Google between 2010 and 2016, and says he chose to leave after confrontations with executives and HR over the posting of pro-diversity comments and articles in internal discussion groups.

The memo is titled “What happened to Cory?” and was originally written as an explanation of his departure to co-workers. In it, Altheide says that from July 2015 he participated in a “sadly contentious” internal thread discussing the “pipeline problem” in tech — the idea that tech companies don’t hire more inclusively because of a lack of available talent.

Altheide says that two Google executives, senior VP of technical infrastructure Urs Hölzle and senior VP of ads and commerce Sridhar Ramaswamy, got involved in the thread to try and calm the discussion. The thread reportedly stopped when Ramaswamy posted the following message:

As both the tech diversity lead at Google and someone who cares deeply about our workplace culture, I respectfully ask that everyone stop engaging on this thread. [Emphasis his.] While there have been some great ideas and stories shared here, this thread as a whole has turned negative rather than constructive.

Google is not a debate club or a philosophy class. We are a workplace and we have an obligation to make sure our discussions remain respectful. Debates around topics like product excellence can support a wide variety of viewpoints and are great to have. I don’t think the same can be said for debates around sensitive issues such as gender, religion, race, or sexual orientation.

In September that year, Altheide started a new email chain titled “Just Asking Questions,” which he says was intended to highlight the fact that some Google employees may not be discussing questions of diversity in good faith. As evidence, he linked to external blogposts allegedly written by a Google employee that espoused views like “Blacks are not equal to whites. Therefore the ‘inequality’ between these races is expected and makes perfect sense.”

Later in the month, Altheide says he was called into a video meeting by a “HR business partner.” When he joined the call, though, senior VP Hölzle was also present, and told Altheide he was there to discuss his “worrying pattern of posting topics that are divisive going back to 2013.”

Altheide told Gizmodo that he thinks Hölzle saw his discussion as “rabble rousing.” He says that Hölzle’s attitude was one of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and claims that the VP, who is Google’s eighth employee, told him: “If the majority of your coworkers are Nazis, it is better if you don’t know about it.” Altheide says he wrote this comment down verbatim after the meeting “because I thought it was a savagely tactless analogy for a Swiss man to be making.”

After these events, Altheide decided to leave the company in January 2016. “I’m leaving because I don’t trust Urs. I’m afraid of Urs. He inserted himself into what should have been a conversation with my direct manager, and ‘requested’ I stop doing talking [sic] about things he doesn’t want me to talk about,” he wrote in his memo.

Altheide’s account provides a counterpoint to the description of Google by former engineers James Damore and David Gudeman. Damore was fired from the company last year for writing a 10-page internal memo that claimed biological differences between men and women accounted for the predominantly male staff at Google. Damore and Gudeman are now suing the company for allegedly discriminating against conservative white men.

In an interview with Gizmodo, Altheide said: “The idea of trying to alter a company’s culture all by yourself is almost as stupid as the myth of meritocracy the tech industry is so in love with. The only way to even begin to attempt to create positive change inside an organization purpose-built exclusively for the task of providing value to shareholders is through collective action.”

You can read Altheide’s memo in full here. We’ve reached out to Google for comment and will update this post when we hear back.

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GM will make an autonomous car without steering wheel or pedals by 2019

2018-01-12 01:01:01

General Motors plans to mass-produce self-driving cars that lack traditional controls like steering wheels and pedals by 2019, the company announced today. Its a bold declaration for the future of driving from one of the country’s Big Three automakers, and one that is sure to shake things up for the industry as the annual Detroit Auto Show kicks off next week.

The car will be the fourth generation of its driverless, all-electric Chevy Bolts, which are currently being tested on public roads in San Francisco and Phoenix. And when they roll off the assembly line of GM’s manufacturing plant in Orion, Michigan, they’ll be deployed as ride-hailing vehicles in a number of cities.

“It’s a pretty exciting moment in the history of the path to wide scale [autonomous vehicle] deployment and having the first production car with no driver controls,” GM President Dan Ammann told The Verge. “And it’s an interesting thing to share with everybody.”

The announcement coincides with the tail end of CES, where a number of big companies announced their own plans to deploy autonomous vehicles, and right before the Detroit Auto Show, where the industry will have on display all the trucks and SUVs that make its profits.

By committing to rolling out fully driverless cars in a shortened timeframe, GM is seeking to outmaneuver rivals both old and new in the increasingly hyper competitive race to build and deploy robot cars. Ford has said it will build a steering-wheel-and-pedal-less autonomous car by 2021, while Waymo, the self-driving unit of Google parent Alphabet, is preparing to launch its first commercial ride-hailing service in Phoenix featuring fully driverless minivans (though still with traditional controls).

Unlike those other companies, GM provided a sneak peek at how its new, futuristic cars will look on the inside. In some ways, its the vehicular version of a Rorsharch inkblot test. The bilateral symmetry of the interior looks both unnerving and yet completely normal at the same time. Instead of a steering wheel, in its place is blank real estate. Under the dash, more empty space. It’s kind of eerie, as you can see in this a video.

The automaker submitted a petition to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for permission to deploy a car that doesn’t comply with all federal safety standards. Ammann said the company wasn’t seeking an exemption from the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards — something the government caps at 2,500 — just a new way around a few of the requirements.

GM is proposing to “meet that standard in a different kind of way,” Ammann said. “A car without a steering wheel can’t have a steering wheel airbag,” he said. “What we can do is put the equivalent of the passenger side airbag on that side as well. So its to meet the standards but meet them in a way that’s different than what’s exactly prescribed, and that’s what the petition seeks to get approval for.”

(Of course, the issue of exemptions from federal safety standards may become moot if Congress passes a bill to lift the cap from 2,500 to 100,000. But as of now, the legislation is stalled.)

GM made this announcement to herald the release of its first 33-page safety report to the US Department of Transportation. The feds suggested in 2016, and again last year, that tech companies and automakers working on self-driving cars voluntarily submit a safety checklist to the government in order to help keep tabs on this fast moving technology. GM is only the second company working on autonomous vehicles to have submitted its report, Waymo being the first.

GM breaks its safety assessment into 12 sections: safety system; operational design domain; object and event detection and response; fallback (minimal risk condition); validation methods; human machine interface; vehicle cybersecurity; crash worthiness; post-crash behavior; data recording; consumer education and training; and federal, state, and local laws. It’s a detailed, sometimes boring, sometimes fascinating look at how GM designs and programs its cars to handle all the mundane and insane things that happen on US roads.

Cruise self-driving test vehicle navigates the urban streets of San Francisco, California. (Photo by Karl Nielsen) Photo by Karl Nielsen
Cruise self-driving test vehicle navigates the urban streets of San Francisco, California. (Photo by Karl Nielsen)

There are some standout elements in the announcement, such as GM’s argument as to why its testing in San Francisco is exponentially more important than its suburban testing. (Emphasis ours.)

While we also test vehicles in Phoenix, our San Francisco vehicles predict an average of 32 times as many possible interactions as those in Phoenix. Thus, San Francisco challenges our self-driving system more because, as the number of objects increase, there are exponentially more possible interactions with objects that the self- driving system must consider.

For example, GM’s self-driving Chevy Bolts encounter 270 emergency vehicles for every 1,000 miles driven in San Francisco, compared to just six in Phoenix.

The safety report excludes certain information, like the the number of times that human safety drivers were forced to take control of their driverless vehicles, or the number of accidents in which GM’s cars were involved. (Cruise Automation, GM’s self-driving unit, told California regulators that its cars were in six crashes in September 2017 alone. Under state law, companies with a license to test autonomous vehicles are required to disclose all accidents, even when they are not at fault.)

Speaking of accidents, GM has not one, but two data recorders in each of its autonomous vehicles to store and protect information in the event of a crash. The collected data includes information from the car’s sensors, vehicle actions, and any malfunctions that occur. Like a black box recorder on an airplane, the data logging machine is designed to withstand catastrophic accidents.

The report and the announcement about GM’s first fully driverless vehicle is sure to impress investors, which have been bullish on the company thanks to its unique ability to scale its product. The automaker has been on a buying spree, acquiring both Cruise and LIDAR startup Strobe to help it become a “full-stack” autonomous car company. It also plans to roll out at least 20 new electric cars by 2023, a goal that puts it in a position to bring battery-powered driving to the mainstream.

Ammann says its what gives GM a leg up over its rivals. “We believe this technology will change the world,” he said. “And we’re doing everything we can to get it out there at scale as fast as we can.”

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