Netflix cancels Sense8 after two seasons

The Wachowskis’ Sense8 has been canceled by Netflix after two seasons and one holiday special. Cindy Holland, VP of original content at Netflix, confirmed the cancelation in a statement published on the platform’s press blog.

This marks Netflix’s second major series cancelation in as many weeks, with Baz Luhrmann’s incredibly expensive musical drama The Get Down (season 1 had an estimated budget of $120 million) canceled last week. Luhrmann cited a personal conflict between his status as showrunner and a preexisting film directing contract with Sony for that cancelation, but Netflix CEO Reed Hastings implied at Code Conference yesterday that the show had also fallen short of viewership expectations. There has also been speculation that the relationship between Netflix and Sony Pictures Television has somewhat soured.

Sense8’s budget was also pretty massive, estimated at about $9 million per episode for its second season. (For comparison, Game of Thrones’ early episodes were estimated at $6 million, and it wasn’t until season 6 that it broke an average of $10 million per episode.) The statement from Netflix does not cite a specific reason for the cancelation, stating only “[Sense8] is everything we dreamed it would be: bold, emotional, stunning, kick ass, and outright unforgettable. Never has there been a more truly global show with an equally diverse and international cast and crew[.]”

Statement from Netflix on the cancelation of #Sense8pic.twitter.com/w42kvlWypF

— Jarett Wieselman (@JarettSays) June 1, 2017

Though unexplained, the cancelation doesn’t come as a total surprise, as fans have speculated about the lack of a season 3 pickup announcement for weeks. Until recently, however, cancelations of Netflix original series were few and far between, with the only notable examples being Hemlock Grove, Marco Polo, and Bloodline. It seems Netflix is getting more aggressive about cutting its losses when shows don’t become major hits, in keeping with Hastings’ comment yesterday that he has been personally pushing Netflix’s original content team to take bigger risks and let things fail.

We’ve reached out to Netflix for comment and will update if we hear back.

Hyundai’s new electric bus has 180 miles of range and fully charges in an hour

After a lot of speculation, Korean automaker Hyundai finally pulled the wraps off of its first mass-produced electric bus this week. It’s called the Elec City. It has a range of 180 miles, thanks to a 256kWh battery pack, according to Hyundai. A report from the Yonhap news agency says the bus can also be fully charged in just over an hour. The company plans to launch the bus in 2018.

While that’s more than double what had been rumored for Hyundai, it’s still a far cry from the massive 660kWh capacity of the Catalyst E2, the newest bus from American manufacturer Proterra. The Catalyst E2 supposedly gets 350 miles of street driving on a single charge, and maybe more with some highway driving mixed in. Plus, Proterra’s new bus will hit the road in 2017.

It’s not clear if Hyundai would ever bring its bus to North America, but if it did, Proterra wouldn’t be the only competition. Chinese manufacturer BYD has sold buses in California. Canadian company GreenPower has a small footholdas well. Tesla CEO Elon Musk even flirted with the idea, though it appears that the project could be on hold while he works on tunneling under Los Angeles. Adoption rates could go up as electric buses get better and cheaper, too. Despite the fact that they’re about twice as expensive as their diesel counterparts in the early going, a recent study from Columbia University estimates that they could save cities money over the long haul.

Hyundai, like many other automakers, has been slowly increasing the number of electric (and hydrogen) vehicles it makes in recent years. Its most visible offering is the Ioniq, a sedan that Hyundai sells in three variants: hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and all-electric. The company has also promised that a long-range electric vehicle is coming in 2018.

An ancient Martian lake could have been teeming with lots of kinds of life

Once upon a time on Mars, there was a crater that had a massive lake that may have hosted life. Now researchers are saying that a whole variety of organisms could have flourished there. Sure, that life was probably just microbial, but this is another exciting step toward understanding just how habitable Mars may have been around 3.5 billion years ago.

Petrified mud that was once at the bottom of the lake suggests that, at the time, the lake had different chemical environments that could have hosted different types of microbes. The rocks also show that the Red Planet’s climate may have been more dynamic than we thought, going from cold and dry to warm and wet, before eventually drying out.

We still don’t know whether life once existed on Mars when the planet was warmer and had liquid water. But today’s findings, published in Science, give a much more nuanced and detailed picture of what this area of Mars could have looked like through time. The paper’s results will have to be tested by analyzing more rocks in the crater. But it could have big implications on how we think about the Red Planet’s climate and how habitable Mars was.

Gale Crater, where NASA’s Curiosity rover landed in 2012, contains a mountain called Mount Sharp rising from the crater floor.
Image: NASA / JPL-Caltech / ESA / DLR / FU Berlin / MSSS

“The data and interpretations presented here provide necessary clues to answer the big open question: ‘What happened to the water on Mars?’” Isaac Smith, a postdoctoral researcher at the Planetary Science Institute, who was not involved in the research, writes in an email to The Verge. Smith called the findings “impressive.”

Since landing inside the 93-mile-wide Gale Crater in 2012, NASA’s Curiosity rover has been drilling and analyzing rock samples. The rover has discovered the chemical ingredients — like carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur — needed for life as we know it on Earth. “The lake had all the right stuff for microbial life to live in,” says study co-author Joel Hurowitz, a geochemist and planetary scientist at Stony Brook University.

Curiosity is currently climbing up a three-mile-high layered mountain inside the crater. This mountain, called Mount Sharp, is believed to be the result of mud and sediments carried through time by rivers into the lake, where it eventually petrified into mudstone. Once Mars dried out, wind carved those layers of mud into the shape of a mountain, says study co-author Ashwin Vasavada, a Mars Science Laboratory project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

A self-portrait of NASA’s Curiosity rover taken in September 2016.
Photo: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS

The authors of today’s study analyzed the chemical and mineral composition of the mudstones that were drilled by Curiosity, to see what they could reveal about the lake and the ancient Martian climate. Certain minerals in certain rocks were shown to have interacted with oxygen, while others much less so. This is because some sediments were in shallow waters, where there was more oxygen, while others were in deep waters, where there was very little oxygen, according to the authors. The same happens in deep lakes on Earth, Vasavada says — deep down, there’s not much oxygen.

“This is a new level of detail in terms of our understanding of the chemical environment in this lake on Mars,” says Hurowitz. “It gives us a much more complete picture of the habitability of this lake.”

The findings basically show that the lake in Gale Crater had different areas — some rich in oxygen, some not — that could have supported different types of microbes. Some microbes thrive in low-oxygen environments, while others require more oxygen to survive. Reactions between oxygen and other chemicals also provide forms of energy certain microbes can feed off of. It’s further proof that, billions of years ago, the lake could have hosted life.

“Liquid water is important for habitability, but providing an energy source is also important,” Janice Bishop, a chemist and planetary scientist at the SETI institute, who was not involved in the research, writes in an email to The Verge.

A simulation depicts a lake partially filling Mars Gale Crater.
Illustration: NASA / JPL-Caltech

By analyzing the mudstones, the researchers were also able to figure out the types of climate in which the rocks formed before being transported to the lake. The chemical composition of the older sediments was altered less than in the younger sediments. That means that the older sediments were formed at a time when the climate was cold and dry, while the more recent ones were formed when the climate was warmer and wetter. This suggests that Mars’ climate — at least in this region of the planet — was changing over the years, going from cold and dry to warm and wet.

That seems counterintuitive, since the current idea we have of Mars’ climate is that it went from being warm, with liquid water, to cold and arid, as it is today. The findings suggest the story is more complicated than that, with wet and dry periods that possibly fluctuated through thousands or even millions of years. “This is going a step further, saying that yes… the climate transitions are more complex than we thought,” says Kristen Bennett, a postdoctoral research associate at Northern Arizona University who studies Martian sedimentary geology, who was not involved in the research.

The study has some limitations. It’s only about roughly 330 feet of sediment layers in one corner of Gale Crater, says Bennett. It also represents one interpretation of what could have happened to the sediments, but it’s definitely not the final word. As the study points out, rocks and sediments are altered by many things — like where they’re from, how they interact with the river water that’s transporting them, and how acidic the lake water is, says Bethany Ehlmann, a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who did not take part in the research. So there are many ways we can interpret, say, why certain minerals in the sediments show interaction with oxygen. Maybe it doesn’t have to do with the lake water, but with groundwater infiltrating the rocks, Ehlmann says.

A drill hole made by Curiosity.
Photo by NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS

So more research will need to happen to prove that the lake had different chemical environments and that Mars’ climate fluctuated as widely as today’s findings suggest. But as Curiosity keeps going up Mount Sharp, it is collecting more sediment samples. Several tens of meters of layers will be analyzed in the new few months by the rover, so within a year, “we’ll have a chance to test the conclusions of this paper,” Ehlmann says.

Still, if confirmed, today’s findings could change how we interpret the planet’s climate and just how habitable ancient Mars was. In fact, one suggestion from the paper — that Mars had warmer and wetter climates that permitted liquid waterin lakes as recently asabout3 billion years ago — is pretty significant, since that’s later than some scientists thought. “It pushes the existence of liquid water closer to the present,” Ehlmann says. And the closer we get to understanding what ancient Mars was like, the closer we come to answering the big question: whether the Red Planet actually hosted life.

Facebook’s new collaborative photo albums let users save text posts and check-ins

Facebook is overhauling how its photo albums work to let users drop in virtually any post from the social network to save for posterity. This includes of course photos and videos, but now text posts and check-ins as well. The company is also making it easier to add friends as contributors to create shared albums, and adding the ability to display a “featured album” prominently on your profile. The idea is to turn the sometimes forgotten photo albums feature into a way to store memories of all types.

Some users may be hesitant to store photos on Facebook that are not being deliberately edited and shared to a wider audience, as opposed to somewhere slightly more private like Google Photos or more curated like Instagram. Facebook it seems recognizes this, and the company wants users to think of albums as a place to dump scraps of daily life with a focus on which friends were involved and what you were doing with them.

Photo: Facebook

This could also be seen as a way to make Facebook sharing more casual, in the vein of Snapchat, especially given the success of the more lightweight and well designed Instagram Stories feature that disappears photos and videos after just 24 hours. With these updates, Facebook will now even let you subscribe to a friend’s album to receive notifications when updates are added, making it more of a personalized feed within the broader app itself. The company says the feature will be rolling out on the Android and desktop versions of Facebook starting today, with iOS coming later.

Qualcomm’s new Quick Charge 4+ standard is 15 percent faster than Quick Charge 4

Qualcomm loves its charging standards, which have become just as much a selling point for its Snapdragon chipsets as the processor power. Now, just a mere six months after announcing Quick Charge 4, which boosted charging times and safety considerably over its predecessors, Qualcomm is introducing the new Quick Charge 4+ standard.

Unlike previous standards, which required a new chipset, 4+ is something device and accessory manufacturers can implement by adding three enhancements to Quick Charge 4-compliant devices:

  • “Dual Charge,” which is already an option in earlier version of Quick Charge, but is “now more powerful”
  • “Intelligent Thermal Balancing,” which steers current through whichever of the dual charging pathways is coolest to keep temperatures down
  • “Advanced Safety Features” to monitor both the phone temperature and the connector temperature to protect against overheating and short-circuit damage

Qualcomm claims devices that implement this standard can get charging times up to 15 percent faster than Quick Charge 4, and will charge up to 30 percent more efficiently — an especially nice perk if you’re charging from a battery pack. Charging will also be up to 3 degrees Celsius (about 5 degrees Fahrenheit) cooler.

Unfortunately, you most likely won’t get these features with a software patch to existing devices, since these are mostly hardware enhancements. So far there’s one device confirmed to include 4+: the just-announced Nubia Z17, a Snapdragon 835 phone with a 3200mAh battery.

Lego’s new programmable robotics kit is up for preorder

Lego just opened preorders for Lego Boost, the simple programmable robotics kit it announced early this year. The $159.99 kit includes two motors, a color and distance sensor, and the parts needed to build a Lego cat, robot, guitar, vehicle, or imitation 3D printer. Kids can control their creations with an Android or iOS app, using a basic drag-and-drop programming system. Preorders will begin shipping in late July.

Boost is one of several options for programmable Lego. Outside the well-known Lego Mindstorms, there’s also the educational WeDo platform, as well as newly announced support for Apple’s educational programming app, Swift Playgrounds. Boost’s text-free drag-and-drop programming is designed for younger children than Mindstorms is, and it’s meant to be more for play than education. We tried it at CES, and while it’s far more limited than something like Mindstorms (and costs a lot of money), it’s also pretty fun!

LEGO Boost lets you build toys that talk, move and play

This new LEGO set makes it dead easy to program a robot cat.

Posted by Circuit Breaker on Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Google Sheets is making it easier to create charts through natural language commands

Google is issuing an update to Sheets today that’ll make it easier for users to visualize their data. People can already use Explore in Sheets to ask questions and receive data in return, like “which person has the top score?” Now, you can ask Google to make a chart or graph. So, for example, you could type “histogram of 2017 customer ratings” or “bar chart for ice cream sales” and receive that visual image in return. You can then instantly insert it into your sheet.

Today’s update will also let you sync data to tables from your Sheets to Google Docs or Slides. You can copy and paste your Sheets data to Docs or Slides and tap “update” to keep it synced. A new charts sidebar is launching, too, that allows for the creation of 3D charts. It’s available on iPhones and iPads, as well.

The print interface is also being refreshed so you can adjust margins, select scale and alignment options, or repeat frozen rows and columns before sending to the printer. Spreadsheet updates aren’t always the most exciting, but honestly, less time spent making charts is a positive for everyone.

Image: Google

Don’t buy the Chromebook Pro until Google fixes a critical bug

This should have been a big launch for Google.

The release of the Samsung Chromebook Pro was going to be the opening salvo in 2017’s battle of the cheap computers. It went on sale on May 28th, priced at $549.99. It’s a handsome and thin touchscreen laptop that looks like it costs twice as much as it does. Because it also comes with a stylus and performs at speeds you don’t usually get on Chrome OS, it should have been an inexpensive flagship that can prove that Chromebooks aren’t just for students and couches, but could be your main computer.

The operative word there is “should.” Because after a grand unveiling at CES, reality hit: the hardware wasn’t finished in time, and the software still isn’t finished. Even though it’s now on sale and shipping to customers, the software has a memory bug that crashes the computer if you push it too hard. Until Google fixes it, you should hold off on buying this laptop. I’m holding off on reviewing it, too.

I found that if I open more than a dozen or so tabs or web apps, the Chromebook Pro can become unstable — the whole device will freeze or even restart. The problem is intermittent and seems worse if you happen to open an Android app or had opened and closed one since you last rebooted.

Although Android apps are still in beta, they’re available for regular users out of the box. In fact, one of the core features of the Chromebook Pro is annotating images in the Android version of Google Keep. That means you can’t use the key differentiating feature of the Chromebook Pro without causing crashes.

To be clear, the bug rears its head even if you never open an Android app — it just seems to be worse when you do. Until Google solves these problems, you can only use a fraction of the Chromebook Pro’s capabilities without risking a freeze-up. Google says it’s working on the software fix.

What I should have been doing this week is judging this laptop by a new standard: standing toe-to-toe against Windows 10 S and the iPad as a complete vision for the next generation of simplified, secure, yet nevertheless powerful computing.

Instead of doing that, I’m doing this: telling you that the Chromebook Pro was delayed, that the main thing we were hoping it would do (Android apps) is still months away from being any good, and the people who ordered it on day one are going to experience a critical bug that breaks their experience until Google issues a patch.

Earlier this month, I wrote that Google prefers slow and steady iteration to flashy, change-the-world product releases. That slow and steady approach is admirable in its way and may ultimately win the race for Chrome OS. But if you’re going to take a measured approach to releasing products, you absolutely shouldn’t be tripping over your own feet as you do it.

We’ll update this article and post a review of the Chromebook Pro when Google issues the patch.

New BMW M6 GT3 art car runs on speed and VR imagination

Cao Fei makes art work that is a both a physical product and a reflection of internet culture. In 2008, she built a RMB City on Second Life, featuring the avatar China Tracy, and sold the real estate to an art collector. For the short film “La Town”she bought toys online and used stop animation to depict Santa Claus riding a high-speed train, influenced by an actual train crash in her native China. She made Haze and Fog in 2013, a 46-minute silent film about zombies. On a deeper level she engages with the challenges facing a rapidly changing China and how to reckon an ancient culture with an evolving technological society.

Her most recent work is the BMW Art Car #18, a carbon black M6 GT3 revealed today at the Minsheng Art Museum in Beijing. But unlike her well-known predecessors Andy Warhol and Alexander Calder who painted early BMW art cars, Fei works in multimedia and made a video that uses augmented reality and will be accessible through an iOS app.

Photo: BMW

She spent three years conceiving the project commissioned by BMW. For her research, she spent time on the track with race car driver Cyndi Allemann and visited a BMW factory in Tiexi, China. She is the youngest art car artist at 39, but she already has had an art career that spans two decades and includes prestigious exhibitions and a 2016 retrospective at MoMA PS1 in New York City. Her car follows the work of John Baldessari, revealed in December at Art Basel.

While she represents an emerging generation of artists, her work engages with China’s past in public and personal ways. Her father was a sculpture who adhered to the party standard in his works, according to a New York Times profile.

Photo: BMW

In the short clip featured from the film Unmanned, a young man dressed in traditional clothing is shown crossing a bridge where he encounters modern day China as a city and industrial society. In the next scene he is sitting cross legged, wearing a VR headset, surrounded by a parking lot stacked with white cars. The set transforms into the digital realm as he channels beams of neon lights through his fingertips and the dazzling art car appears as the bass-heavy hip-hop beat fades out in the background.

The multimedia installation of her work will be on view at the BMW Experience in Shanghai along with a VR experience at Art Basel in Switzerland in June. But at the core of the work is technical engineering, speed and 586 horsepower; in November, the Cao Fei art car will be raced at the FIA GT World Cup in Macau by BMW factory driver Augusto Farfus, who also raced the Baldessari art car earlier in the year. The art car series dates back to 1975 and come along at irregular intervals. Fei’s meditation on time and physical space suits the time and the pressing issues of the day.

Sony’s extravagant XZ Premium goes on sale this month for $799

It seems like a long time since Sony unveiled its flagship XZ Premium at MWC in February, but the luxe handset is finally going on sale in the US. The XZ Premium will be available to pre-order from Best Buy and Amazon for $799 on June 12th, or buy outright and unlocked on June 19th from the same retailers, plus Fry’s. Its stand-out features are a 5.5-inch 4K screen and camera capable of capturing slow-motion 720p, 960fps video footage, but in our first impressions earlier this year, we weren’t sure the XZ Premium didn’t belong in a museum (and not in a good way).

Also going on sale from Sony in June: the company’s Xperia Touch projector, which is capable of turning any surface into a touchscreen. It’ll retail for an eye-watering $1,699.99, and is available to pre-order online from June 16th or buy in-store exclusively at Sony’s flagship Madison Ave store in NYC. The projector is powered by Android and is supposed to be used like a digital hub for families, offering functions like Skype video chat and a shared notice board.

These are premium devices, and they follow Sony’s new strategy of focusing on the high-end of the mobile market. The company announced last week that it would be discontinuing its “premium standard” mobiles (aka mid-range) to concentrate on selling pricier handsets. Sony is launching at least two more Xperia phones later this year, and one of the last of its mid-range devices — the $299 Xperia XA1 — also goes on sale in June, available in-store from July 2nd.