Friday, 14 August

12:00 EDT

China Sets Trial Run For Digital Yuan in Top City Hubs [Slashdot]

Chinese authorities will expand test use of the country's prototype digital currency across the nation's three leading urban clusters centered on Beijing, Shanghai and the southern cities of Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong. From a report: The move, announced by the Ministry of Commerce, expands the coverage area for testing the cyber currency to a potential user base of around 400 million, or 29% of the country's population. It has been trialed since April in four cities with a combined population of 41 million, Work on the digital yuan, which is intended to be interchangeable with the country's paper currency, started more than five years ago but accelerated after Facebook unveiled its Libra digital currency project in June 2019. Rising concerns that the U.S. could try to throttle China's access to the global dollar-based financial system, amid mounting tensions between Washington and Beijing, have fed further interest in the effort. "The digital yuan as a competitor of the greenback is more of a long-term phenomenon," said Andrew Collier, managing director of financial research company Orient Capital Research in Hong Kong. "Digitalization doesn't address the lack of free convertibility of the yuan," he said. "However the digitalization of the currency and other settlement systems gives an advantage to its (China's) institutions, which will be significant when the currency is liberalized."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

The risk of going hungry in the U.S. is rising [Boing Boing]

Writing in The Week, Ryan Cooper says, "The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has collected data for the week ending July 21, before super-unemployment expired, and found that 12 percent of households were regularly short of food, 21 percent of renters were behind on their payments, and 28 percent of children were in households with one or the other problem. All that is certainly going to get much, much worse if another rescue isn't passed."

Cooper visited the r/unemployment subreddit and found many grim examples of people out of money, unable to pay for food, electricity, car payments, rent, and medicine.

"One wonders," says Cooper, "Is America about to see bread protests, or even riots?"

Candy corn in Thanksgiving flavors now exists [Boing Boing]

No one:
Brach's: "We have candy corn that tastes like Thanksgiving foods!!"

Turkey Dinner candy corn is described as "A full course meal presented in a unique mix of candy corn flavors. BRACH'S Turkey Dinner includes all of the traditional Thanksgiving favorites. From roasted turkey, green beans and stuffing to ginger glazed carrots, cranberry sauce and sweet potato pie."

]Aside: World's first meat-flavored candy corn…?]

TODAY Food:

…the Thanksgiving candies are real and already on shelves at Walgreens nationwide for $2.99 per 12-ounce bag through the fall season.

image via Brach's

For sale: Home built into the stern of a former US Navy boat from 1908 [Boing Boing]

This "house boat" for sale on Mercer Island, Washington was once the USS Manzanita, built for the US Coast Guard in 1908 and later part of the US Navy. It's now for sale for $2 million. From Realtor.com:

n 1949, the boat was going to be scrapped, when a local librarian and her father bought the stern portion of the vessel.

"So, they bought this boat for a thousand dollars, and they barged it over to Mercer Island. They cut down some trees, sort of winched it up onto the property, and put it on a foundation," [listing agent Lori] Holden Scott explains.

What was once one-fifth of a boat was then converted into a residence, permanently affixed to dry land. The converted boat is now a 1,390-square-foot home, with three bedrooms, one full bathroom, and two half-bathrooms.

images: NWMLS

Cory Doctorow experiments with AI writing partner Sudowrite [Boing Boing]

GPT-3 is a machine-learning trained language model that generates text based on a text prompt. Cory Doctorow has been playing around with a closed-beta implementation of Sudowrite, which he describes as a "GPT3-based text generator for fiction writers. You give it characters, plot summaries, dialogue, or twist endings," and Sudowrite generates one of more paragraphs of text based on that. Here's an example of one of Cory's tests of the software:

Here's Cory's prompt:

"The following is a conversation between Masha and Marcus, who are arguing about whether programmer have a moral duty to ensure their code does not contribute to human rights abuses.

"Masha: It's so easy to say that you should only work for good if you are a bro who can waltz into a job.

"Marcus: Come on, who do you think is most likely to be on the receiving end of cyberwarfare? Hint: it's not wealthy white dudes who get hit with stalkerware or lawful interception code."

Here's how Sudowrite completed it:

Masha: Sure, the privileged are the first targets for the digital equivalent of fire and brimstone. But even you have to admit that there are plenty of people who get hurt by our code every day.

Marcus: What's your point? I don't see what's controversial about that.

Masha: I'm not saying that people shouldn't fix bugs. But who are we to determine what constitutes a fix? When a programmer writes code that is responsible for cyberwarfare, or perpetuates rape culture, she's also part of that process.

Masha: And when you're part of something that's broken, your choice is to fix it or you're part of the problem.

Marcus: I don't have to agree with what someone's personal agenda is, but I think most people can agree that you should help when you can.

Masha: I'm not talking about altruism.

Marcus: You sound like an actual commie now.

Masha: Lok, it's true that the general assumption is that all we should do is code and shut up. But what if there's a chance that that's a social pathology that we can correct?

Marcus: Wow

Cory's conclusion: "This is pretty impressive. So far, Sudowrite hasn't helped me write anything, but I keep coming back to it, because this kind of machine language stuff is fascinating to see."

11:00 EDT

Disney+ will show a Lego Star Wars Holiday Special on Wookiee Life Day [Ars Technica]

Disney+ will show a Lego Star Wars Holiday Special on Wookiee Life Day

Enlarge (credit: Kristina Alexanderson)

Do you have celebration plans for Wookiee Life Day? According to Disney, it's the galaxy's "most cheerful and magical holiday," so on November 17, the company will celebrate the event on Disney+ with a Lego Star Wars Holiday Special. Set immediately after Rise of the Skywalker, Rey and BB-8 go on a journey through the nine-film timeline that promises to give screen time to goodies and baddies current and past. Except it's all done in Lego, so painted tongues will be firmly in plastic cheeks.

I've been a huge fan of the more irreverent take that Lego brings to the Star Wars universe since the cut scenes in Lego Star Wars II—whose heart wouldn't melt when Darth Vader whips out a Polaroid to prove to Luke that he's really his dad? And the more recent Lego Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures stands head and shoulders above Star Wars Resistance, at least to this middle-aged nerd.

All of this gives me faith that this new special won't suck. The original Star Wars Holiday Special is widely reviled by fans as the single worst thing to have come from that far, far away galaxy. It was a TV special aired in 1978, long before George Lucas' swashbuckling in space had become the cultural behemoth we know today. The plot involves Han and Chewie visiting Kashyyyk to celebrate Life Day, where apparently they meet his dad (called Itchy) and his son (called Lumpy). I say "apparently" because it never aired in the UK where I grew up, so I was mercifully spared as a child and I've never quite had a big enough masochistic streak to track down a copy in the decades that have followed.

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Spooky action at a distance: The future magic of remote collaboration [Ars Technica]

Spooky action at a distance: The future magic of remote collaboration

Enlarge

The global pandemic and the corporate office shutdowns resulting from it have wrought changes to how work works. While essential people in certain industries have continued their jobs in ways that are relatively familiar under layers upon layers of personal protective equipment, many companies have had to find ways to continue other work at a “social” distance. And in those situations, employees must find ways to continue collaborating as they did when they were packed into cubicles, open floor plans, and all the other various patterns of modern office spaces.

Workplace changes due to COVID-19 won’t go away anytime soon. Tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft have pushed back the return of employees to offices until well into 2021, and Twitter has declared that employees need never return to the corporate office. Companies in other industries are making the same sorts of calculations, while employees are rethinking not just how they work but even where they live.

All of this hinges on the evolution of tools that make this remote way of work possible. For some of us—well, like everyone who’s worked for Ars, for instance—that isn’t anything new. As I’ve noted previously, I’ve been working primarily from home for over 25 years, and being an early adopter of every technology that could reduce the remoteness of being remote means I’ve lived through the teething pains of collaboration software and distributed teams.

Read 23 remaining paragraphs | Comments

A Third of TikTok's US Users May Be 14 or Under, Raising Safety Questions [Slashdot]

If Microsoft or another company buys TikTok before President Trump bans the Chinese-owned video app on national security grounds, it will acquire a giant community of devoted fans and a lucrative platform for selling ads. It might be buying something else, too: a big population of users ages 14 and under. The minimum age for using TikTok is 13. From a report: In July, TikTok classified more than a third of its 49 million daily users in the United States as being 14 years old or younger, according to internal company data and documents that were reviewed by The New York Times. While some of those users are likely to be 13 or 14, one former employee said TikTok workers had previously pointed out videos from children who appeared to be even younger that were allowed to remain online for weeks. The number of users who TikTok believes might be younger than 13 raises questions about whether the company is doing enough to protect them. In the United States, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act requires internet platforms to obtain parental permission before collecting personal information on children under 13. The operators of Musical.ly, an app that was merged into TikTok in 2018, paid a $5.7 million fine last year to settle accusations from the Federal Trade Commission that it had broken those rules.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Snatcher: a superfast robotic tongue inspired by chameleons [Boing Boing]

Chameleons have evolved a superfast and long tongue to grab insects in an instant. Inspired by this marvelous bit of nature, engineers at Seoul National University of Science and Technology created "Snatcher," a robotic tongue design that could someday be mounted on drones to pick up packages. From IEEE Spectrum:

"For example, a quadrotor with this manipulator will be able to snatch distant targets, instead of hovering and picking up," explains Gwang-Pil Jung, a researcher at Seoul National University of Science and Technology (SeoulTech) who co-designed the new device.

There has been other research into robotic chameleon tongues, but what's unique about Snatcher is that it packs chameleon-tongue fast snatching performance into a form factor that's portable—the total size is 12 x 8.5 x 8.5 centimeters and it weighs under 120 grams. Still, it's able to fast snatch up to 30 grams from 80 centimeters away in under 600 milliseconds. 

"Robotic Chameleon Tongue Snatches Nearby Objects in the Blink of an Eye" (IEEE Spectrum)

Watch this hilarious video of a little duck released into the wild [Boing Boing]

Seeya!

Rough Google translation of the tweet: "It's a mini 4WD that has been tuned to be crisp."

The SATS were literally invented by a eugenicist to uphold white supremacy [Boing Boing]

There are many aspects of American culture that are secretly or not-so-secretly rooted in something absolutely abhorrent. I'm not just talking about the "original sin" of settler colonialism, or even the institution of slavery itself — although those things certainly help to inherently taint the nation's origins.

No, I'm talking about all the other things that seem innocuous today — activities or traditions that are just kind of generally accepted as part of the American status quo — that turn out to betray not only the mythologized ideals that our country espouses about itself, but also end up being kind of self-defeating to the entire purpose that they serve.

For example: the SATS.

There are plenty of criticisms that can be made about the collegiate system in this country: how it's an enormous non-profit industry that's also enormously profitable; how it's so terribly unrepresentative of the actual demographics of the country; how it claims to be a bastion of meritocracy while actually upholding the privileges of legacy; how much it costs, where that money goes, and why; how the funding structure enables already-powerful people and institutions to gain more money, power, and clout through tax-deductible donations; how the seemingly well-intentioned intra-campus tribunals and legal systems end up doing more harm than good, especially in cases of sexual assault; and so on. The entire concept of standardized testing is ripe with similar problems — how, even with the best intentions, it still ends up reinforcing certain problematic structures of our culture.

But nah, that's not the problem with the SATs. The problem with the SATs is that they were literally invented to be fucking racist. From The Atlantic:

The original Scholastic Aptitude Test was invented in 1926 by Carl Brigham, a Princeton alumnus and avowed eugenicist who created the test to uphold a racial caste system. He advanced this theory of standardized testing as a means of upholding racial purity in his book A Study of American Intelligence. The tests, he wrote, would prove the racial superiority of white Americans and prevent "the continued propagation of defective strains in the present population"—chiefly, the "infiltration of white blood into the Negro."

Even worse, Brigham admitted within 4 years that the SATs-as-eugenics-test failed, calling his own work, "one of the most glorious fallacies."

"In the history of science, namely that the tests measured native intelligence purely and simply without regard to training or school," he lamented in 1930. "The test scores very definitely are a composite including schooling, family background, familiarity with English and everything else, relevant and irrelevant."

In other words: a eugenicist literally invented the SATs to prove his theories, then was disappointed to learn that they failed their intended purpose. And yet, we continue to use them — ostensibly, for the same reasons that Brigham thought they were bad.

IMHO, when a self-avowed racist says, "Ah shit, this doesn't prove racism is good!" we should probably just throw that thing away, instead of using it as proof that equality is good. There are other ways to prove that part.

The Problem With the SAT's Idea of Objectivity [Sidney Fussell / The Atlantic]

Image: Public Domain via NeedPix

Reporter to Trump: "Do you regret all the lying you've done to the American people?" [Boing Boing]

The question was asked by Huffington Post correspondent SV Dáte, who told the Guardian:

I don't know why he called on me, because I've tried to ask him before [in March] and he's cut me off mid-question. Maybe he didn't recognise me this time. You know, he has this group of folks that he normally asks questions of. […] I had always thought that if he ever did call on me, this is the one thing that is really central to his presidency.

Image: Public Domain via White House Press Briefing

A (brilliant parody) letter from your child's school [Boing Boing]

In the last few weeks, school administrators have sent letters to parents and guardians announcing their plans for starting school in the middle of a pandemic. In McSweeney's, Kara Baskin penned a perfect parody of those letters. As a very wise person once said, "it's funny 'cause it's true." Teachers, you have my sympathy and deep gratitude. From the letter in McSweeney's:

Rest assured that your child's teacher will suffer from crippling anxiety while seamlessly policing non-masked students, overseeing a rigorous schedule of hand-washing, and ensuring that children remain confined to a six-foot square of personal space at all times. Despite this, we aim to create a robust learning environment where your child will also absorb the finer elements of sitting in place. Note that your child's temperature will be taken every hour, and students will vacate the building approximately every 20 minutes for a thorough deep-cleaning with new, fast-tracked chemicals. Students must be tested for COVID at the first sign of illness; please return your child to us in six weeks or when results come back, whichever comes first.

Hybrid
This model will combine the key elements of in-person instruction (see above) with remote learning, which we hopefully perfected this spring. Your child will be divided into a cohort (A, B, AB, BC, CC, XVY, MCXLVII, and Depeche Mode) based on careful consideration of his or her learning style, social-emotional needs, friendships, and an algorithm our intern designed this summer. You will need a reliable Internet connection, a work schedule that follows no concrete pattern, a forgiving supervisor, independent wealth, or a Xanax prescription. Please contact our school nurse for the latter.

image: one-room school in 1935, Alabama (public domain)

Library discovers stash of beer and gum hidden behind books for 30 years [Boing Boing]

In the 1980s, someone stashed some beer and gum behind books at the Walla Walla Library in Washington State. The library is closed due to COVID-19 and undergoing renovations. From CNN:

During the demolition three weeks ago, five full cans of Hamm's beer and an opened pack of Godzilla Heads gum was found in a disintegrated paper bag, Wells said. Facilities Maintenance Specialist, Luis Cuellar found the odd treasure when he removed a seven foot tall corner panel on some open top shelving believed to be original to the 1970s building.

I bet the owner will be disappointed when they return for a drink and chew.

PliimPRO eliminates the panic of sharing your screen with a single click [Boing Boing]

The year 2020 has basically kicked down that door and dragged us all into the Zoom age, whether we like it or not.

And now that we're basically inviting our boss, co-workers and other business associates into our homes via video, we've unwittingly stumbled into all kinds of new potential for embarrassment. Like when you're presenting…and a personal text message from a spouse pops on to the screen. Or when everyone sees our goofy family snapshot desktop. Or when we leave porn tabs open on our browser — like the reporteror the congressional candidate.

PliimPRO was created with the purpose of basically saving Mac users from themselves.

With PliimPRO on board, you can safely share your Mac screen with a click, with no fear of any unexpected surprises. By clicking PliimPRO's Presentation Mode, your screen immediately cleans up its act. All your desktop icons are hidden and notifications are momentarily disabled. Your active apps are out of sight and your speakers get muted. PliimPRO will even change your wallpaper if you choose.

During the course of your presentation, nothing will pop up and distract your audience from your information.

Even if you're in a meeting that isn't your own, PliimPRO also has a single click feature to mute your mic from a persistent touchbar icon or a customized shortcut. Rather than hunt for just the right meeting tab, one button can handle the problem for you.

From Zoom to Skype to all the biggest and most popular video meeting software, PliimPRO runs at the operating system level, so it's compatible with them all. PliimPRO has also been shown to run up to 300 times faster than other versions built with web technologies.

Rather than safety-proof your Mac before every video meeting, ticking through all the possible disturbances one by one, PliimPRO lets you handle it all with a simple button push.

That's a lot of peace of mind PliimPRO's usual $16 price. But it's even more of a steal with the current offer, cutting your total down to just $9.99.

Prices are subject to change.

Do you have your stay-at-home essentials? Here are some you may have missed.

 

PliimPRO: Safely Share Your Screen – $9.99

Share safe for $9.99

'Of Course Black Lives Matter,' Dolly Parton Tells Billboard [News : NPR]

Dolly Parton expressed her support for Black Lives Matter in an interview with Billboard.

"Do we think our little white asses are the only ones that matter? No!" the singer, songwriter, philanthropist and businesswoman told the music magazine.

(Image credit: Terry Wyatt/Getty Images)

How to change your name and add a photo to Zoom [The Verge - All Posts]

If you’ve been using Zoom to work from home over these last few months, it’s possible that the name you’re being identified by in the lower left corner is not what you’d prefer. Perhaps it’s your email instead of your name, or it’s all in lower case, or it includes that middle name that you’ve always hated. Whatever the case, it is easy to change your Zoom name — and to add a profile photo, if you want.

If you’re using the desktop Zoom app, here’s how you do it.

  • While you’re in a Zoom conference, click on the button labeled “Participants” on the bottom of the app’s screen. A list of participants will open on the right.
Click on “More” to change your name or profile picture.
  • Hover over your name and click on “More.”
  • C...

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Apple has finally met its Fortnite match [The Verge - All Posts]

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Apple’s walled garden gets an epic test

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The best Chromebooks to buy in 2020 [The Verge - All Posts]

The best Chromebooks for every type of user

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How romance scams are thriving during quarantine [The Verge - All Posts]

Illustration by William Joel / The Verge

Just when you thought dating during quarantine couldn’t get any worse

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Ubisoft fires former Assassin’s Creed Valhalla creative director following an investigation [The Verge - All Posts]

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Ashraf Ismail, the former creative director for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, has been fired by Ubisoft, Bloomberg reports. Ismail stepped down from his role and took a leave of absence in June after a fan accused Ismail of lying about his marital status in order to pursue a romantic relationship with her.

“As a result of investigations, Ashraf Ismail has been dismissed from Ubisoft and is no longer an employee,” a spokesman for Ubisoft told The Verge. Kotaku also viewed an internal message sent to employees confirming the company had terminated Ismail’s employment following an external investigation.

Ubisoft has been under scrutiny since June when dozens of people spoke out on social media about the company’s toxic work culture, which a...

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Google Nest and Eero’s mesh Wi-Fi systems are steeply discounted [The Verge - All Posts]

Photo by Dan Seifert / The Verge

A mesh Wi-Fi system is one of the best investments you can make during a time when most of us are stuck at home due to the pandemic. It can help you get more out of the internet that you pay for. Luckily for you, some of the best options are on sale today — and both are known for being very easy to set up. Eero’s three-pack of mesh Wi-Fi beacons, pictured above, are $200 (normally $250) at Best Buy and Amazon.

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

If you want something a little faster and more capable, Google’s Nest Wifi router and Point combination come in a two-pack for $200 at Best Buy, as well (usually $269). The Point that is included with that bundle doubles as a smart speaker, which is handy, but it lacks the...

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10:00 EDT

Chinese submarine defects, Bill Clinton's cancer nightmare, reading tabloids can kill you, in this week's dubious rags [Boing Boing]

Reading the 'National Enquirer' and 'Globe' magazines dramatically raises readers' chances of contracting a killer disease leading to death, according to doctors.

How do I know this?

I conducted the research personally, polling multiple sources (me, myself and I) and tomorrow I have an appointment to see a doctor who will not have treated any tabloid reader.

The evidence is incontrovertible: tabloid readers are an aging demographic (witness this week's ads for hearing aids, oxygen dispensers, Life Alert alarms, computers "designed especially for seniors' and Medicare supplements) and falling circulation figures that suggest readership is dying off.

This may seem unscientific and illogical bordering on insane, yet this is precisely the rationale behind many of the stories in this week's tabloids.

"Defecting Chinese Sub Spills Secrets To U.S.!" reports the 'Enquirer.'

A Chinese A-94 Jin-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine allegedly gave itself up to US authorities in San Diego, California, and its crew of 240 defected, according to the 'Enquirer.'

Why haven't we heard about this "World Exclusive!" from a gloating Trump administration or outraged Chinese officials?

Perhaps because a U.S. Navy spokesperson said that it has "nothing that indicates those reports are factual."

The story reportedly originates with Paul Preston, founder of the Movement for a New California State' – a man clearly with his finger on the pulse of the nation – who claims "he heard about the submarine from a high-level military contact." Can't argue with that, can we?

"Clinton Cancer Nightmare!" screams the 'Globe' cover story, claiming that former President Bill Clinton has "Wasted Away To Frail 137 lbs." This is the same tabloid that claimed last September that Clinton had only "months to live," allegedly "ravaged by Parkinson's and a failing heart!" In fact, the rag gave him "six months to live" in 2010, and he's still here.

This time Clinton is allegedly "battling a terrifying skin cancer nightmare." Tabloid-friendly doctors who "have not treated Bill Clinton" reportedly "are now fearing the worst." Well, they would, wouldn't they?

'Us' magazine jumps on the factually-challenged bandwagon with its cover story about singing lovebirds Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton: "Gwen & Blake – Ready For Baby! Name picked & building a nursery."

Congratulations! When is the little one due?

Don't ask 'Us' mag, because as their story eventually reveals, Gwen isn't pregnant. An unnamed source claims "They're trying. They'd love to have a child together." Right. Better put down a deposit on a pre-school while they're at it.

As ever, the British Royals are easy targets for the fantastical conclusions leaped to by the tabloids.

"Prince Andrew Evidence Destroyed By Police! Sex Scandal Cover-Up!" reports the 'Globe.' "Cops Shred Andrew Sex Case Records!"

Well yes . . . and no.

Buckingham Palace guard duty logs are reportedly routinely destroyed after two years, so evidence that Prince Andrew returned to the Palace in the early hours of March 11, 2001, would have been shredded after March 2003 – long before there was any criminal investigation into Jeffrey Epstein's sex crimes. It was hardly a deliberate destruction of criminal evidence.

Why do the logs matter?

The 'Globe' claims that the official documents would have shown that Prince Andrew was at Buckingham Palace that morning. This would allegedly demolish Andrew's claim to have been at home with his daughters 50 miles away in Berkshire the previous evening, rather than having sex with one of Epstein's sex slaves on the night of March 10 as she alleges.

But even if the Palace logs still existed they would not prove that Andrew did not spend the evening with his daughters; they would only prove that in the early hours of the following morning he was in London. The two are not mutually exclusive, and the "shocking cover-up" alleged by the 'Globe' is nothing more than routine housekeeping.

"Royal Bride Bea Escaping to America! Just like cousin Harry," reports the 'Enquirer,' ignoring the fact that Prince Andrew's daughter Princess Beatrice moved to New York in 2015 and since 2017 has divided her time between the Big Apple and London. Following her July marriage she is reportedly "running away to America!" which is certainly one way of describing her life for the past five years.

The tabloids can't ignore Harry and Meghan, of course.

"Harry in Position to Open Yoga Studio!" claims the 'Enquirer.' Meghan's mom, yoga teacher Doria Ragland, has allegedly been giving Harry yoga lessons, prompting an unnamed insider to assert: "Pals say he's become obsessed with the idea of opening a yoga studio." Right. If Meghan's mom fed him spaghetti bolognese one night presumably he'd be obsessed with opening an Italian restaurant.

"Meghan's One Ungrateful Birthday Girl!" claims the 'Enquirer.' The Queen posted kind wishes on social media for Meghan's 39th birthday, as did Prince William and Kate, but were allegedly upset that neither Meghan nor Harry phoned to say "thank you." Because as we all know, it's standard protocol that when anyone wishes you a happy birthday on social media: you must phone them up to thank them in person. The fair and balanced 'Enquirer' calls it "just another day of 'whatever Meghan wants, Meghan gets.'"

'Us' mag devotes a two-page spread to its dubious report: "All Hail King William & Queen Kate! William and Kate are on the fast track to succeed Queen Elizabeth, bypassing the heir apparent, Prince Charles."

How many times do we have to remind the tabloids that the Act of Settlement of 1701 prohibits a monarch from naming their successor. The law demands that Charles inherit the crown. Yes, he could then choose to abdicate if he wishes, but insiders note that Charles has been training all his life for the job and is unlikely to hand over the crown to his 38-year-old son, especially while Charles has so much he still hopes to achieve.

Jeffrey Epstein's sex scandal continues to fascinate the 'Enquirer,' whose cover story promises readers a "Who's Who On Epstein's Island of Sin. All the A-List names exposed & what really happened!"

But this "blockbuster special report" is just a rehash of old and recently-released court documents listing public figures who were named in Epstein's flight logs, along with self-confessed sex slave Virginia Giuffre's allegations from her semi-autobiographical memoir – which is her version of events, and not exactly "what really happened."

At the opposite end of the journalistic spectrum, 'People' magazine devotes its scandal-free cover to "Kelly Ripa & Mark Consuelos – Our Wild, Wonderful Family!"

It is as fascinating an insight into this orthodontically-blessed family as one would expect.. "We love each other," they say. "But we really like each other." Shocking. 'People' mag calls this week's edition its "Family Issue," which is exactly as exciting as it sounds.

Thankfully we have the crack investigative squad at 'Us' mag to tell us that Lucy Hale wore it best (though with only 20 per cent of the votes she can't be too happy about it), that as a child Soleil Moon Frye had a horse named Butterscotch Freeway (didn't we all?), and that the stars are just like us: they go running, play in the sand, collect their mail, wash their car and get takeout. Enlightening, as ever.

Onwards and downwards . . .

Lack Rack: Ikea's cheapest table is perfectly sized to rackmount computers [Boing Boing]

I recently saw a Lack Rack—an inexpensive Ikea Lack table put to use rackmounting servers—and now I keep running into them. Pictured above is Paul Curry's £5 example, replete with vinyl wood texture.

They need little explanation: Ikea makes a cheap little table whose legs are exactly 19" wide and (barely) sturdy enough to accept screws and the weight of most rackmount equipment. (I wouldn't chance a loaded Apple Rac in it). Here's an orphaned photo posted to reddit featuring a typical example:

Eth0 entertains a specification and offers a fantastic IKEA-style manial for the Lack Rack. The most notable recommendation: use cavity screws to increase the load-bearing strength of the mostly-hollow legs if you're putting in machines more than 5cm down from the tabletop.

Its low-cost and perfect fit are great for mounting up to 8 U of 19" hardware, such as switches (see below), or perhaps other 19" gear. It's very easy to assemble, and thanks to the design, they are stable enough to hold (for example) 19" switches and you can put your bottle of Club-Mate on top! Multi-shiny LackRack can also be painted to your specific preferences and the airflow is unprecedented!

And of course the tabletop is perfect for placing a monitor or laptop, like the one in Frank Denneman's lab:

A little finish goes a long way:


Things sometimes get quite out of hand.

09:00 EDT

Appeals court ruling for Qualcomm “a victory of theory over facts” [Ars Technica]

Appeals court ruling for Qualcomm “a victory of theory over facts”

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

A federal appeals court has tossed out a lower court ruling that Qualcomm abused its dominance of the modem chip market to force customers to pay inflated royalties for its patent portfolio. The appeals court forcefully rejected Judge Lucy Koh's 2019 analysis of Qualcomm's business practices and held that Qualcomm's behavior was merely "hypercompetitive," not anticompetitive.

The two rulings could not have been more different. In last year's 233-page ruling, Judge Koh explained Qualcomm's business practices in so much detail that it took us more than 3,500 words just to summarize her findings. This week's ruling by the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court was shorter—56 pages—and more theoretical.

The appeals court acknowledged that "from 2006 to 2016, Qualcomm possessed monopoly power in the CDMA modem chip market, including over 90% of market share." However, the court found that the Federal Trade Commission—which brought the lawsuit against Qualcomm—had failed to prove that Qualcomm had abused that power. The court reasoned that Qualcomm's licensing practices were simply designed to maximize the company's revenue—and that in itself isn't illegal.

Read 41 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Rocket Report: SpaceX’s South Texas resort, the Air Force makes its picks [Ars Technica]

The Space Launch System rocket core stage is shown installed on the top-left side of the B-2 Test Stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center.

Enlarge / The Space Launch System rocket core stage is shown installed on the top-left side of the B-2 Test Stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center. (credit: NASA)

Welcome to Edition 3.12 of the Rocket Report! We have plenty of serious news this week about rockets big and small. But our best story is a fun one, all the way from the Atlai Mountains in Siberia where SpaceX founder Elon Musk has a big fan in the clergy, apparently.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Mike Griffin joins the board of Rocket Lab. Who had NASA's former chief joining the board of directors at Rocket Lab on their 2020 bingo card? Not us. But on Wednesday, the company announced it added Griffin to its board, joining company founder Peter Beck and three investors: Sven Strohband of Khosla Ventures, David Cowan of Bessemer Venture Partners, and Matt Ocko of DCVC. The announcement came a little more than a month after Griffin resigned from his position as undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, SpaceNews reports.

Read 26 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Midsummer Shopping In Recovery Mode: July Retail Sales Rise 1.2% [News : NPR]

A pedestrian walks by Saks Fifth Avenue as New York City continues relaxing more restrictions imposed to curb the coronavirus pandemic.

People particularly stocked up on electronics and appliances, took more trips with stops at gas stations, and cautiously went out to eat as more stores and restaurants reopened.

(Image credit: Cindy Ord/Getty Images)

PSA: Games Done Quick’s summer speedrunning event kicks off on August 16th [The Verge - All Posts]

Image: Games Done Quick

Games Done Quick’s (GDQ) next big speedrunning marathon for charity will kick off on August 16th at 11:30AM ET / 7:30AM PT on Twitch. This year’s summer GDQ will be a bit different than past years due to the pandemic: instead of taking place in a giant room filled with people, it will be entirely virtual.

But just because the event is online doesn’t mean it should be any less interesting than past years. The schedule is packed with runs, like a Hollow Knight race on Monday, Virtual Boy Wario Land Any% on Wednesday, and Super Smash Bros. 64 Break the Targets All Characters Blindfolded (!!) on Saturday. There’s sure to be some more hidden gems in there. After all, half the fun of GDQ for me is just tuning into the stream whenever I can...

Continue reading…

Fortnite vs Apple vs Google: a brief and very incomplete timeline [The Verge - All Posts]

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

If you weren’t watching tech news yesterday, you missed an entire afternoon’s worth of cramming handfuls of popcorn in your mouth as you stared wide-eyed at the screen wondering what madness was coming next. It was A Day. Epic baited both Apple and Google into banning Fortnite from their respective app stores and did so with a full game plan in mind — including an in-game anti-Apple video event and two very public lawsuits.

Beyond Epic, I have many tech topics to weigh in on from this week that I haven’t had a chance to tackle because I’ve been working on our review and video for the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra — hit me up if you have questions you’d like to see addressed in that.

But before we get to the Battle Royale between these three...

Continue reading…

08:00 EDT

TikTok's US Employees Plan To Sue Trump Administration Over Executive Order [Slashdot]

TikTok's US employees are planning to file a lawsuit challenging a Trump administration executive order they say would make it illegal for their employer to pay them. From a report: Last week, President Donald Trump issued an executive order barring any US transactions with ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok, and its subsidiaries. The language of the order is broad, so it's unclear if it would bar TikTok from paying its employees. The Trump administration didn't respond to questions about how the order would impact TikTok's employees. The order, which would take effect Sept. 20, would effectively ban the short-form video app from operating in the US if ByteDance doesn't sell TikTok. Microsoft has acknowledged it's discussing a deal to buy TikTok's service in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Negotiations could be completed by Sept. 15, which is before the executive order's deadline.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Let's see how many lies were in the White House's official "Historic Coronavirus Response Brief" [Boing Boing]

On Monday, August 10, the White House released a fact sheet about "President Trump's Historic Coronavirus Response." It is — perhaps unsurprisingly — full of shit. While I suppose one could argue that any action taken during a 21st century pandemic is inherently "historic" inasmuch as it has no historical precedent due to the unstoppable forward progression of time, this is not what the brief is actually arguing. Instead, it makes such claims as:

  • Took early action to cut off travel from China
  • Built the world's leading testing system from nothing
  • Enacted mitigation measures to slow the spread
  • Mobilized public and private sectors to secure needed supplies
  • Took action to protect vulnerable Americans
  • Launched effort to deliver a vaccine and therapeutics in record time
  • Provided support to workers and businesses
  • Paved way for reopening to get America working again
  • Surged resources to hot spots as they arose
  • Confronted China as origin of the virus while Democrats and media cowered

Some of these might raise an eyebrow; others are deliberately vague and platitudinal enough to maybe pass muster, at least at first glance.

But the fact-checking team at Medium has done a fantastic and comprehensively-linked breakdown of each and every one of those "historic" responses — and succinctly eviscerates most of it.

They do give credit where it's due as well; for example:

The U.S. was neither ahead or after the curve in restricting travel from China. The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency of international concern on January 30. The same day, the State Department raised its travel advisory for China to "Level 4 — Do Not Travel." In doing so, the U.S. was acting in accordance with many other countries. According to ThinkGlobalHealth, a Council for Foreign Relations program that has tracked the countries that have imposed travel bans on China, 36 countries including the U.S. had imposed travel restrictions by February 2.

So yes, congratulations to President Donald J. Trump for gleefully enacting his xenophobic policies right when the W.H.O. that he despises recommended doing so for non-xenophobic reasons.

Anyway, if you're looking for a comprehensive resource for fact-checking the US coronavirus response, Medium's got you covered.

Fact-Checking President Trump's 'Historic Coronavirus Response' Brief [Coronavirus Blog Team / Medium]

Image: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead (Public Domain)

The deleted "Stairway to Heaven" scene from "Almost Famous" [Boing Boing]

I can't believe I never knew about this deleted scene from Cameron Crowe's 2000 semi-autobiographical film, Almost Famous. In it, main character William, loosely based on Crowe, tries to convince his conservative, over-bearing mother to let him write an article for Rolling Stone by playing her Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven," based on "the literature of Tolkien," to prove to her that rock n' roll isn't just about sex and drugs.

The scene had to be cut from the film when the members of the band refused to let Crowe use the song. This was obviously a critically important scene as he has allegedly said that he wouldn't have even bothered to make the film if he'd known this scene wasn't going to be in it.

Watching this, I have to admit that I got a massive nostalgia hit that almost knocked me off of my Aeron chair. From the moment that tone arm goes down on that final fat cut of side two of Led Zeppelin IV, with that iconic green and orange Atlantic Records label. And that lyric sleeve. Tears may have been shed.

I was that kid! I lived on the surface of that lyric sleeve. I poured over every minute detail of it and the rest of the record. Just like Cameron/William, I had similar desires of being an "almost famous" writer. And the same dreams of misty mountains, May Queens, and "music's mystical attempts to elevate humanity," as William puts it.  We had the same haircut.

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the film, Brian Hiatt and James Andrew Miller of the Origins podcast spoke with Cameron Crowe and castmembers Kate Hudson, Billy Crudup, and Patrick Fugit.

H/t Laurie Fox

Image: YouTube

07:00 EDT

Astronomers kill all the fun, blame dust for Betelgeuse’s dimming [Ars Technica]

Image of a star.

Enlarge / This image is a colour composite made from exposures from the Digitized Sky Survey 2 (DSS2). It shows the area around the red supergiant star Betelgeuse. (credit: ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2/Davide De Martin.)

Betelgeuse is one of the closest massive stars to Earth. It's also an old star, and it has reached the stage when it glows a dull red and expands, with the hot core only having a tenuous gravitational grip on its outer layers. This combination means that we're actually able to resolve different areas on the star's surface, despite the fact that it resides over 700 light years away.

That ability came in handy late last year when Betelgeuse did something unusual: it dimmed so much that the difference was visible to the naked eye. Telescopes pointed at the giant were able to determine that—rather than a tidy, uniform drop in luminance—Betelgeuse's dimming was unevenly distributed, giving the star an odd, squished shape when viewed from Earth. That raised lots of questions about what was going on with the giant, with some experts speculating that, because of Betelgeuse's size and advanced age, the strange behavior was a sign of a supernova in the making.

Now, an international team of observers is here to throw cold water on the possible explosion. Said researchers were lucky to have the Hubble pointed at Betelgeuse before, during, and after the dimming event. Combined with some timely ground observations, this data indicates a rather mundane reason for the star getting darker: a big burp that formed a cloud of dust near the star.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

After Beirut, Experts Warn Of 'Dangerous Gaps' In U.S. Oversight Of Ammonium Nitrate [News : NPR]

A helicopter puts out a fire at the scene of an explosion at the port of Lebanon

The experts and regulators are calling for the federal government to renew efforts to bolster safe storage, handling, use and transport rules for ammonium nitrate in the U.S.

(Image credit: STR/AFP via Getty Images)

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