Walt Disney World’s World of Avatar isn’t scheduled to open to the public until May 27th, so the theme park-loving masses won’t be able to enjoy the new attraction until the end of the month. However, members of the press got a preview this weekend, and helpfully gave everyone a look at what to expect from Pandora and the lifeforms that live there.
These special looks come courtesy of InsideTheMagic.net, and help paint a clear picture of how ambitious the World of Avatar is. It makes sense; after all, the park has been in development since 2011, and Disney started construction of the area back in 2014. In that time, James Cameron has been able to bring his 2009 film to life, showcasing both the flora and fauna as part of projections, animatronic elements, and even food.
You can see that in the Na’vi River Journey clip above, which shows an incredibly lifelike Na’vi shaman. There’s also the bioluminescent night attraction:
And then there’s the Satu’li Canteen. I can’t say I was ever the biggest fan of Avatar when it was released, but the food has me intrigued.
WhatsApp is testing a new feature that will let you pin three chats at the top of your conversation list in the beta version of its app, according to Android Police. If you’ve ever been chatting with a bunch of different people during the day and got tired of scrolling to find the person you want to respond to, this feature will definitely come in handy.
To pin a chat, simply tap and hold on the chat in the conversation list, and the option to pin will show up. Of course it may take a bit before the feature makes it to the public version of WhatsApp, but it’s something to look forward to. Hopefully other services like iMessage will adopt a feature like this soon.
SpaceX has been successfully landing its Falcon 9 rockets for more than a year now. It’s a goal that CEO Elon Musk has talked about since founding the company 15 years ago, and yet it still feels like SpaceX achieved it at lightning speed. The company even relaunched a landed rocket for the first time ever last month, paving the way to real rocket reusability.
But SpaceX didn’t get to this point without a few explosions along the way. So here’s a GIF recap of all the successes and failures — click the links for more info on each:
SpaceX spent a few years test-landing smaller scale versions of its rockets, too. So while the landings are almost becoming routine, it’s still pretty amazing how far things have come. “It’s been 15 years to get to this point, it’s taken us a long time,” Musk said after the historic relaunch and landing in March. “A lot of difficult steps along the way, but I’m just incredibly proud of SpaceX for being able to achieve this incredible milestone in the history of space.”
Sundance Institute, the nonprofit behind the annual Sundance Film Festival, has come up with a new way to support young filmmakers who don’t want to sell the rights to their movies to major distributors.
It’s a Kickstarter. That’s not a terrible idea; in fact it’s pretty noble to step up to the plate for filmmakers who don’t have the same name recognition that Sundance itself has, especially when they might find it impossible to host a fundraiser themselves.
Sundance is starting the project with two films that were critical favorites at this year’s festival: 28-year-old Jennifer Brea’s debut documentary Unrest, and former internet supercut wiz Kogonada’s first feature, Columbus. They hope to raise $150,000 in 31 days, with the funds going to the filmmakers so that they can “pioneer a creative marketing and distribution strategy in which they own the rights and receive all revenue from their films.” More specifically, the money will go toward “theatrical booking, advertising (social, print, radio) and publicity, creative marketing (poster design, trailer, website, etc.), and post production (subtitles, music, film deliverables).”
Like any Kickstarter, this one lists rewards for each level of investment in the project, and Sundance makes the logical assumption that anyone backing this campaign is interested in film. Makes sense! But somewhere along the line, they decided that anyone who was going to back this campaign would also necessarily be the thirstiest film nerd imaginable, eager to lick up crumbs from the reputable organization. The page lists prizes such as (emphasis theirs): “an exclusive Sundance Spotify playlist curated by our Film Music Program team,” “early access to a high-level, immersive case study on Columbus and Unrest’s distribution and marketing experience,” and “feedback on your script or play from our Feature Film, Episodic, or Theatre Program.”
That last one is available in exchange for a contribution of $1,000 or more. So struggling artists, why don’t you donate at least $1,000 to another struggling artist and someone will talk to you briefly about your struggles with art?
Pledging $15 or more is called a Dope contribution, and as a reward, Sundance has listed: “We’re thrilled to tag you in an official tweet from the Sundance Institute Twitter account.” Pledging $500 or more is a Fun Home contribution, and for that amount you can come to the Sundance office and drink coffee with some of the staff. For $7,500, Sundance director John Cooper will make you a piece of macramé art for your home. The prizes aren’t just bad, they’re pretty condescending.
But there are a lot of people in the world who would drop between $10 and $50 on a promising-looking movie in exchange for something normal and cool, like a T-shirt or a ticket to an early screening. I might. Why not? Sundance’s mistake here is all too common in crowdfunding — making the assumption that the only people you’re talking to are die-hard fans who will shell out for the tiniest brush with the thing they love. And then trying to squeeze way too much money out of those people in exchange for stuff that’s pretty useless.
While basically everyone loves movies, and plenty of people enjoy supporting artists, nobody alive is going to pay for a Spotify playlist.
It’s been a while since we heard news about the Gvido, an incredibly nice-looking double-screened E Ink tablet designed specifically for displaying sheet music. Originally announced back in June 2016, there were two big questions left unanswered: when (if ever) would the Gvido actually be released, and how much it would cost? Fortunately, we now have the answer to both of those questions: September 20th, for the eye-watering price of $1,600.
Price aside, the Gvido remains a really great idea, at least in theory, for musicians. E Ink seems like the perfect medium for displaying tons of digital scores or taking them on the go. And the ability to turn pages by just tapping on an IR sensor or using a foot pedal seems like a genuinely useful way to avoid rustling pages during a performance.
Spec-wise, things are unchanged from the original announcement: two 13.3-inch E Ink displays, 8GB of internal storage expandable by microSD, PDF compatibility, and a Wacom pen for annotating things. And the hardware itself is being produced by the formerly Sony-owned Vaio, which is a good sign. Whether or not that’s worth $1,600 will depend on how much you hate carrying around sheet music.
Silicon Valley is Mike Judge and Alec Berg’s biting comedy about the American tech industry, now in its fourth season. Every week, we’ll be taking one idea, scene, or joke and explain how it ties to the real Silicon Valley and speaks to an issue at the heart of the industry and its ever-lasting goal to change the world — and make boatloads of money in the process.
Spoilers ahead for the second episode of season 4, “Terms Of Service.”
It was written last year, but last night’s episode of Silicon Valley, “Terms of Service,” waded right into a heated privacy debate taking place right now in the tech industry. On the show, newly minted CEO Dinesh takes the reins of PiperChat, the video chat app that emerged from the smoldering remains of Richard’s failed idea for a platform. Little did Dinesh know that the terms of service he failed to import into his new chat app contained a very important legal protection.
Here in the stranger-than-fiction Bay Area, a controversy unfolded last month around a service called Unroll.me. The parent company of Unroll.me, which automatically scans a user’s inbox to cut down on junk mail, turned out to be bundling data gleaned from these emails and selling it to third parties. We know this because one of those buyers was Uber, which purchased data on Lyft customers from Slice Intelligence. (Slice bought Unroll.me back in November 2014.) That Uber was purchasing this data came to light because of a revealing profile of CEO Travis Kalanick published in The New York Times last week.
A VR Play
“It’s a VR play! That’s the frothiest space in the Valley right now,” Erlich says to Big Head when discussing Jin Yang’s new startup pitch that mentions the name Oculus multiple times. “Nobody understands it, but everybody wants in. Any idiot can walk into a fucking room and utter the letters ‘V’ and ‘R’ and VCs will hurl bricks of cash at them. Then by the time they find out that it’s vaporware, it’s too late.”
The joke here is that Facebook paid around $2 billion for Oculus VR back in 2014 and kicked off a huge swell of interest in the virtual reality market. Unfortunately for Erlich, he later learns Big Head heard Oculus, but Jin Yang was actually saying “octopus.” His big idea is a cooking app with eight ways to use octopus as an ingredient. It’s a roundabout, but ultimately clever, way to skewer the VR market for having a lot of hype that has yet to really pay off.
“Terms of Service” centers on Dinesh’s hubris and the quick death of PiperChat, as the team discovers they’d skirted some privacy regulations that led to 33 percent of the app’s users being under the age of 13. While Dinesh is coming to the realization that he might have to shut the app down, a visual counter on a screen behind him indicating how many users are opening PiperChat that very minute continues to jump higher.
With each new daily active user, Dinesh faces another $16,000 fine under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998. The sound of each new user is the perfect backdrop to this scene, because real startups everywhere are constantly obsessed with tracking visitors and user metrics to reach the next milestone they can use to sell VCs on another funding round. For reference: this scene from The Social Network.
The ensuing debate has been contentious, to say the least. Unroll.me CEO Jojo Hedaya offered what many called a non-apology when he said “it was heartbreaking to see that some of our users were upset to learn about how we monetize our free service.” Another Unroll.me co-founder no longer affiliated with the company then penned a brutally honest Medium post defending her “sweet, sweet friend Jojo.” The co-founder, Perri Chase, accused any user upset about data collection practices of being naïve about free internet services.
That brings us back to Silicon Valley’s inadvertently timely commentary on the expectations of privacy. The show certainly had no knowledge of Unroll.me’s activities, but the tech industry is flush with companies that hide unsavory practices behind impenetrable terms of service agreements.
“I checked the TOS box when I submitted it to the App Store, but then I didn’t end up doing it, alright!” Dinesh admits in last night’s episode. “But then when we caught fire, the last thing I wanted to do was bog our users down with legal bullshit. I mean, nobody reads that stuff anyway.” The endearing and lovingly ignorant Jared replies, “Well, first of all, everyone reads the terms of service.”
Of course, Jared couldn’t be more wrong. Virtually no one reads TOS agreements; the entire crux of a rather gruesome 2011 episode of South Park centered on a fictional Steve Jobs punishing iPad owners for failing to read the fine print of a recent iTunes update. The same is true of Unroll.me. The company never caught flak in the past for collecting and selling user data because it buried the details inside a lengthy legal document nobody reads.
Of course, the other side of the debate is about where to place blame. Chase, the Unroll.me co-founder who lambasted critics for their naïveté, had a point: “What exactly do you think is going on in your free Gmail inbox?” she wrote. Should we as users be expected to understand and accept every data collection practice underpinning every service we use? Or should tech companies stop exploiting consumers who just want to make their lives easier by masking questionable behavior with good intentions?
The court of public opinion suggests the latter, as the power dynamics here clearly afford tech companies the leverage to exploit their users. But as Silicon Valley makes clear, companies have incentives not to take privacy seriously. For PiperChat, Dinesh was worried his app’s meteoric growth would stall if he asked for broad user permissions. In the case of Unroll.me, talking too much about what the company did with its users’ data threatened to drive them away and scuttle its business.
Now, however, Unroll.me is in quite the predicament. Google it and you’ll find countless how-to guides explaining how to detangle your data from its service. Yet it’s unclear if the lesson the tech industry will learn here is to be more upfront, or to simply not to get caught. As for PiperChat, the young and scrappy engineers managed to steer the sinking ship to their longtime rival Hooli. Because the only thing better than owning up to your mistake in Silicon Valley is sending your enemy down the same doomed rabbit hole.
Oliver Stone, the filmmaker and conspiracy theory enthusiast behind political films such as JFK, Nixon, W., Looking for Fidel, World Trade Center, and Snowden, has confirmed that his next film will be about Vladimir Putin. Called The Putin Interviews, the documentary is the latest in a long line of Stone films about controversial world leaders.
In an interview with TheSydney Morning Herald, Stone said that he visited Putin four times over two years and conducted over a dozen interviews, initially while researching his 2016 Edward Snowden biopic and his 2016 documentary about the ongoing Ukrainian military crisis, Ukraine on Fire.(The latter has not been released in the United States.) Eventually the two developed a friendship.
Stone says the film is “not a documentary as much as a question and answer session.” It will cover global political events going back to 2000, the year Putin became Russia’s president. “It opens up a whole viewpoint that we as Americans haven’t heard,” he told the Herald.
Stone also referenced the ongoing conversation around Russia’s involvement in the US’s 2016 presidential election calling it “an internal war of politics in the US in which the Democratic party has taken a suicide pact or something to blow [Trump] up.” He also referred to the US government’s claims about Russian hacking as “fake news” and called WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange “a beacon of integrity and honesty.”
The four-hour documentary will air on Showtime sometime this year, as reported by Variety.
One of the startups in HTC’s Vive X accelerator is releasing an upgrade kit that will add eye tracking to the Vive virtual reality headset. The Beijing-based company 7invensun will open preorders for its aGlass lenses next month, selling them in China for the equivalent of around $220; according to UploadVR, they’ll be sold internationally around the third quarter of 2017.
The aGlass consists of two eyepieces that the “average VR user” can fit inside the HTC Vive’s face mask, including three pairs of interchangeable lenses. The eyepieces are connected to the Vive via USB, which will allow the headset to track pupil movement via sensors and infrared lights. It’s an example of HTC’s plan to expand the Vive ecosystem with third-party accessories, including custom controllers and other upgrade kits.
Several companies are working with eye tracking and VR, including headset maker Fove; major eye tracking company Tobii; and the startup Eyefluence, which was acquired by Google last year. The is the first time we’ve seen an eye tracking system made expressly as an easy upgrade to a major headset like the Vive, however.
Having not tried aGlass, we couldn’t say how well it works, but eye tracking is a potentially very useful addition to VR. You can use it to dial back the graphical quality of images when people aren’t looking at them — a technique called foveated rendering — to wring better performance out of lower-powered computers. Tobii has used non-VR eye tracking to enhance the experience of playing games like Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, and Fove has used it to play some clever narrative tricks. If aGlass works well, it will make it easier for more people to experiment with the technology on a major VR platform.
E3 is right around the corner, and developers are already starting to tease new titles for the biggest video game conference of the year. Take Bethesda: its “Bethesdaland” E3 invite shows off some of the developer’s biggest franchises, including Dishonored, Doom, Fallout, The Elder Scrolls, Prey, and Quake.
Of course, along with those already known titles are two areas marked as “Coming soon” and “Under construction,” which could be hinting at some new titles that may be announced at E3 this year from Bethesda.
While the idea of new games is interesting, I’m left mostly just wishing that the colorful, animated Bethesaland invite itself were an upcoming game. Imagine a Mario Party-style crossover party game where adorable illustrated versions of the Dovahkiin, Emily Kaldwin, and Doom Marine face-off in a series of theme park ride-styled mini-games? Or maybe a real-life board game of some kind? We can work out the details later, I suppose.
Bethesda will be hosting its E3 showcase onJune 11th, so we won’t have to wait long to find out whether my Bethesdaland dreams will come true (and presumably what new games the company is actually announcing). As in previous years, the showcase will be open to the public as well, so if you’re over the age of 17 and would like a shot at attending in person, you can sign up here.
The smartwatch is also supposed to have a software interface that matches the UI on the Blaze, although Fitbit has run into its fair share of software troubles along with its hardware problems, as previously reported by The Verge.
It’s not altogether surprising that Fitbit’s upcoming smartwatch would have an uncannily similar aesthetic to an earlier product, given that Fitbit is known for a more utilitarian design across all of its trackers, with occasional (and sometimes awkward) forays into fashion.
However, sources tell The Verge that this will be the first Fitbit designed entirely by Fitbit’s own in-house industrial design team. Previously, the company had worked with an outside firm on its fitness trackers, but the two parted ways last year. Clearly, Fitbit’s internal team felt the Blaze’s design was something worth iterating on.
The biggest question, of course, is whether Fitbit’s upcoming watch (codenamed “Project Higgs”) will be able to compete with Apple Watch. Love it or hate it, Apple Watch is undeniably Apple in its design and the Series 2 model is a solid fitness tracker. Fitbit has maintained its status as the market leader for fitness trackers in the US over the past few years, but if Apple were to continue its pace of selling millions of watches per quarter, as estimated by some analysts, then Fitbit will have even bigger problems on its hands (or, wrists).
The Apple Watch Series 2 is also waterproof, due to a mechanism in the watch that shoots water out of it, and supports third-party apps. Some of Fitbit’s struggles to build its new watch have been around waterproofing, sources say; and as The Verge reported exclusively, support for third-party apps is likely to be limited at the time that Fitbit’s watch ships — which is arguably one of the things that sets a “smart fitness watch” apart from a “smartwatch.” On the upside, Fitbit has managed to squeeze multiple days of battery life out of all of its trackers, something that can’t be said about Apple Watch.
A spokesperson for Fitbit did not immediately respond to a request for comment.