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Updated: 8 min 53 sec ago

The ‘Most Haunted Island’ on Earth Is Now Up for Auction

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 16:29

For those who watched American Horror Story and thought, “Gee, it looks like Connie Britton is having a fantastic time, how can I recreate this living experience?”—you’re in luck. To pay off its public debt and appease the European Union’s budgeting guidelines, Italy is auctioning an island off of Venice that just happens to be considered one of the most haunted places on earth! Or as HuffPost puts it, “Like Hell, but in Italy.” Getting driven into madness by ghosts is so much more fun when you get to eat pasta while doing it!

Why should you be afraid of the deserted Venetian island of Poveglia?

For starters, it is deserted. Even though it’s beautiful and incredibly close to Venice, one of the most fannypack and Segway-tour-filled cities in the world. Literally 10 minutes from Saint Marco Square.

Poveglia’s sordid history serves asa good explanation for why no one wants to go there. The 17-acre island became a dumping ground for Europeans dying of the plague. And as the rumors have it, the ghosts of the plagued still haunt the island. Things took a turn for the lighter in 1922 when a hospital for the elderly—thought to be a cover for mental institution—was opened. Cue widely spread rumors of botched lobotomies and a doctor who threw himself to his death from a hospital tower. No doubt a side-effect of getting haunted by the patients he was maiming.

Other fun facts: there’s a local saying that goes “When an evil man dies, he wakes up in Poveglia,” there are rumors that the soil is made 50% out of human ash, and talk that an American TV host was possessed during a recent visit to the island.

Apart from that, though, we’re sure it will make a great spot for a destination getaway.

Categories: Magazines

U.S. Stocks Rise, Extending Gains Into Third Day

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 16:16

Stocks are higher for a third day in a row after more U.S. companies report solid earnings and on encouraging news about China’s economy.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 19 points, or 1 percent, to close at 1,862 Wednesday.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 162 points, or 1 percent, to 16,424. The Nasdaq rose 52 points, or 1.3 percent, to 4,086.

Yahoo rose 6 percent. The Internet pioneer said it was benefiting from its lucrative investments in Asia.

Airline stocks also rose sharply. Delta gained 5 percent, jetBlue rose 6 percent and American Airlines rose 5 percent.

Bank of America fell 2 percent after booking $6 billion in legal costs over its home loan practices.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.64 percent.

Categories: Magazines

Which Music Service Makes Artists the Most Money?

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 15:59

The digital music realm is complicated: artists like De La Soul want to sell their music online but can’t due to legal restraints on their sample-heavy music; meanwhile, while artists like Led Zeppelin, one of the biggest, longstanding holdouts of offering their music for streaming, are now poised to do so.

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Artists like Thom Yorke of Radiohead have pulled their music from Spotify, criticizing the service for doing little to help emerging artists but instead offering sizable advances to marquee bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers and Metallica for exclusive-access deals. Meanwhile, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails is now the chief creative officer of new subscription service Beats Music.

So what’s the best way to support a band or artist so they can continue making the music you love?

First off, know that broadcast radio stations don’t pay performers or copyright owners. Buy their music and merchandise (directly from the band or artist if possible), go see them live in concert (although not all musicians are live performers, and touring comes with many expenses for the artist), contribute to their Kickstarter campaigns and consider supporting the brands and products they endorse (perfumes, headphones, video games).

The individual deals that streaming services broker for licensing music vary widely, as do agreements with digital distributors like CDbaby or Tunecore. An artist’s role in the creation of their music, genre, and career trajectory also factor in. And there is much speculation as to how services like YouTube, Deezer, SoundCloud and Amazon will continue to change the landscape further. “Its an ever-shifting landscape, with many stakeholders,” says Kristin Thomson, co-director of the Future of Music’s Artist Revenue Streams Project.

Still, here’s a sampling of royalty rates to help gauge your digital streaming or subscription choices:

Pandora or Sirius XM = $0.0023 per song play

A Copyright Royalty Board sets rates for these non-interactive webcasters and digital streaming services, based on many variables: commercial vs. non-commercial, subscription vs. non-subscription. They pay annual fees between $500 and $50,000 to operate.

Spotify = between $0.006 and $0.0084 per song play

On-demand subscription services like Spotify, Rhapsody, Rdio, Beats Music, Deezer, and Google All Access Play negotiate rates privately, and rates vary due to listener status (paid vs. unpaid subscriber), ads vs. no ads, company revenue, and more. Spotify, who for many music fans has become a substitute for owning music, published their full formula a few months ago, in response to widespread criticism about how much they pay in royalties.

iTunes Radio = $0.0014 per song play

It acts like a webcasting service, but negotiates its own rates, works in tandem with the iTunes store and artists can pull in 19% of their net advertising revenues. Artist revenue generated from services like iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and eMusic varies widely depending on contracts (iTunes keeps about 30%), but even for independent artists like cellist Zoe Keating, an outspoken advocate for artist autonomy and musician’s rights, iTunes is the top revenue source.

BandCamp = varies

Everyone gets the same deal: artists selling on the site are paid directly by fans (roughly $3 million per month, total), and Bandcamp takes 15% on digital and 10% on sales of LPs, t-shirts, and tickets. But there ‘s no contract/agreement with Bandcamp: bands do as they please

YouTube = varies

For those who want to monetize their content, rights owners get a percentage of shared ad revenue; this can be hugely lucrative or relatively insubstantial, depending on the traffic.

Categories: Magazines

Kidnapped Nigerian Schoolgirls Said To Be Taken to Islamist Stronghold

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 15:58

Updated at 5:18 p.m. ET

More than 100 Nigerian schoolchildren abducted by gunmen Tuesday were released Wednesday after first being taken to an area known to be an Islamist stronghold. Nigeria’s defense ministry confirmed Wednesday that 129 schoolgirls in total were taken in the northeastern state of Borno before a few escaped their captors. All but eight of the girls have now been released, though it was not immediately clear why.

Some of the girls who escaped before the release said the kidnapped girls had been taken to an area where Islamist extremist group Boko Haram is known to have camps, a tribal chief told the AFP. Nigerian officials blame Boko Haram for a bombing in the Nigerian capital of Abuja just hours before the mass abduction that killed 75 people.

The governor of Borno said 14 of the hostages had escaped in total. The governor is offering 50 million naira, or approximately $300,000, to anyone who can provide information that leads to the rescue of the remaining hostages.

Gunmen on Tuesday reportedly torched buildings and opened fire on guards at the Government Girls Secondary School on before forcing their way into the school. They then loaded dozens of schoolgirls into trucks and drove off. Some girls jumped from the vehicles carrying them away while some of the gunmen were distracted, getting away from their captors.

Boko Haram has been attacking schools, universities and other targets over the past several years as a part of an ongoing rebellion against Nigeria’s government and Western influence. Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for attacks that have killed thousands since 2009, AFP reports.

[AFP]

Categories: Magazines

Major Reservations: Why Cities Are Worried About Airbnb

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 15:55

Using Airbnb in San Francisco and New York may not be so breezy by the end of this year. Right now, a visitor can hop on the site, find an apartment or house that a local isn’t using and click “Book It.” A few housekeeping matters later, a tourist has connected with someone willing to share their home, that host has made some extra money and Airbnb has taken a slice. Like business models driving other companies in the sharing economy—whether they’re promoting the shared use of cars, tools or driveways—the basic idea is simple. The reality isn’t. In dense urban areas on both coasts, many transactions taking place on sites like Airbnb are technically illegal. In San Francisco, renting out an apartment in a building with more than three units for less than 30 days is not allowed. New York City has similar prohibitions. In both metros, hosts have been evicted for breaking the law (or clauses in their leases), and lawmakers are struggling to legitimize a business that provides income for residents and is loved by travelers but also causes problems. “Clearly Airbnb and a few other companies are changing the universe of what people assume are their rights as residents in neighborhoods,” says New York state Sen. Liz Krueger, who helped write the law prohibiting short-term rentals in New York. “It’s challenging the model of business regulation and frankly it’s wreaking havoc in certain communities.” There are people who unknowingly break their leases by using Airbnb and lose their apartments, she says. There are neighbors kept awake by partying tourists or made nervous by a revolving cast strangers on their floor. And there are residents who get displaced so that landlords can rent out their apartments full time on sites like Airbnb. “It’s not OK and it shouldn’t be OK,” Krueger says. “There are reasons most cities have specific laws for hotels.” Other lawmakers think it should be OK—but with caveats. Two bills in the New York legislature, both currently in committee, would carve exemptions out of the law to help legalize shorter-term rentals in New York City. And on Tuesday, San Francisco lawmaker David Chiu proposed legislation that would regulate short-term rentals there. Like one of the New York bills, Chiu’s proposal would create a registration system run by the city: All would-be “hosts” who want to rent out their homes would have to apply for approval and let the city keep certain information about them on file. The San Francisco legislation limits eligible homes to primary residences where locals live at least three-quarters of the year, a clause aimed at keeping landlords from displacing renters to use apartments like hotels. David Hantman, Airbnb’s head of public policy, lauded the proposal in a blog post, but also wrote that “certain provisions… could be problematic to our hosting community,” like a “registration system that could make some of their personal information public.” Airbnb stresses that people abusing the system, which has been used by more than 11 million people, are exceptions in an otherwise happy home-sharing economy. In economic impact studies, Airbnb found that 82% of users share only the home in which they live. In an attempt to find out more about what business transactions are taking place, the New York attorney general’s office has subpoenaed data on thousands of Airbnb users in New York City. It’s part of an effort to separate hosts who are using the service to essentially run illegal hotels from the “casual users who are doing this once in a while,” says Melissa Grace, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office. She says the 82% who are renting out only their primary residence could account for a much lower percentage of the total listings. Airbnb, anxious to protect users’ privacy, is fighting to keep the information private, and the two are currently in settlement discussions. Another New York law currently prohibits Airbnb hosts from collecting and paying hotel taxes to the city, something that is required under the proposed San Francisco legislation. The company is fighting to change that, hoping it would help legitimize the business and estimating it could kick $21 million a year into New York’s coffers. Airbnb spent $120,000 to lobby New York City council members last year and has reported another $20,000 so far in 2014, according to lobbying records. Other cities have already found their balance between oversight and facilitating a popular service. Austin, Texas, a city where thousands upon thousands descend each year for events like SXSW, set up a licensing system for short-term rentals last year. Each applicant has to pay a $285 fee and provide certain documentation like proof of insurance. The city also limited the amount of homes that could be rented out in each building and area of the city, so no neighborhood would be overrun. No more than 3% of the units in one building, for example, can be used for short-term rentals. The promises and pitfalls of the sharing economy will be aired during upcoming hearings in San Francisco—and in oral arguments on April 22 if Airbnb and the New York attorney general fail to reach a settlement out of court. “We still have a long way to go before we get a good law enacted,” Hantman wrote in his post responding to the San Francisco legislation. “It is just the beginning of what promises to be a very long process during which the entire Board of Supervisors will look at this proposal, hear from all sides—including our community—and make decisions about how to proceed.”

Categories: Magazines

Boston Bombing Suspect Tsarnaev May Get Unwatched Family Visits

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 15:26

Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev may be able to receive prison visits from his family without being watched over by federal agents, a federal judge said Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. said he doesn’t believe the absence of an FBI agent during visits posed a serious security threat, the Boston Globe reports. Defense attorneys wanted Tsarnaev’s family to speak openly during the visits so they could see the “story” of the suspect and his relatives.

“I don’t think the safety, security issue looms very large,” O’Toole said.

O’Toole said he’s waiting two weeks before making a final decision as the U.S. Bureau of Prisons may want to give input on the matter.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for the 20-year-old Tsarnaev, who faces a 30-count federal indictment for his alleged role in the Boston Marathon bombings and subsequent manhunt that left five dead, including Tsarnaev’s older brother. Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

[Boston Globe]

 

Categories: Magazines

7 Powerful Tips for Great Parent-Child Communication

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 15:06

Greater openness is important because, while 21st Century kids are articulate beyond belief—“Did my five year old just bring up greening the house?”—children don’t always open up about what really bothers them or about their lives in what I call “the second family”: the peer group, pop culture, and the Internet out there. Knowing specifics about preschool through high school dramas, fears, or worries makes a profound difference in being an authoritative parent who can guide kids through an increasingly tough academic and social world. After all, information is power, and knowing the ways to talk naturally to your child, as one so poignantly put to his father, “makes me feel like you really care.”

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1. Talk during the in-betweens.

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What were you doing the last time you had a good conversation with your child? I know the answers: walking or driving to school, baking together, bath time, and, of course, bedtime. These times and activities loosen tongues because parent and child aren’t looking at each other. In fact, we are in parallel position. Most of us think talking is supposed to be about relating deeply, but kids actually open up in the middle of doing other things, during what I refer to as the “in-betweens” of life.

2. Create talking rituals.

Observe your child’s conversational style. You’ve heard about learning or attentional styles, but our kids have hard-wired conversational styles that don’t change much. One child may be a lively morning talker. Another is barely human before the bus arrives, but after school it’s no-holds-barred banter. One of your children likes a lot of back and forth, another needs to talk at a slower pace, a third can’t tolerate questions. The key to openness is to not change what is unchangeable, but instead to respect natural times and ways of talking. Build what I call “talking rituals” around them: 15 minutes of driving together or downtime side-by-side in the evening may be all you need to make that connection.

3. Be a person.

Respond to your child with real emotion. Don’t go over the top with reactions, but don’t be a therapist either. Nodding one’s head, naming feelings, and reflecting back is terrific when kids are extremely young or upset or sick or scared. But for the everyday tracking we need to stay in touch with their lives, it is far better to respond like an actual person. “Are you kidding me, Michael did what to Earnest?” “I love what you said to Jenny, it touches my heart.” After all, don’t genuine responses make you want to share more too?

4. Encourage emotional literacy.

Help your kids tell the story. We focus on academics, but our kids also need to be emotionally literate, able to tell a story from beginning to end. Problems are better solved when one can articulate them to another person and people find solutions together. I know, kids take so long to get to the point and schedules must be followed. But slow down for two minutes to ask action questions: “Who was there? What did they say? What happened next?” These help your child feel heard and show you are interested in the whole story. “Love is focused interest,” it has been said, and our kids can tell when we are interested in the story. As a 6-year-old said to me, “I want mom’s undivided attention.” “What do you mean, no siblings around?” “No,” she replied,” not thinking about 50 other things at once.”

5. Details matter.

Pay attention to the superficial. “You lost quarters under the vending machine. What year were they?” often leads to the real scoop. “I was at the vending machine because I didn’t think anyone would talk to me at lunch.” The trivial is where kids live; they get scared off when we delve for deeper feelings, as in “How did that make you feel?” So, commit to the superficial, and more often than not the trivial will lead to what’s really going on.

6. You count, too.

This is big in our child-centered world. Talk about yourself if you want your kids to talk about themselves. Next time at dinner, spend a few moments opening up about your day. Your child will interrupt, and I guarantee you won’t get to the end of the story. The reason it’s such a conversation trigger is that when you talk about yourself it reminds kids about things in their distant memory three hours earlier. For example, if you say, “I had an argument with one of my friends at work,” your child might well respond, “I had a fight with Jenny during gym.” And a special note about dinnertime: grill the food not your kids. Endless queries such as “How was school?” are conversation-busters. As one pre-teen told me, “It feels like I have to produce all over again at dinner.”

7. Give advice.

It’s hard to believe, but our precocious 21st Century kids of all ages still crave direction. After the story, after you’ve responded, then discuss together how your child might handle the situation differently next time. Ask for her ideas, and don’t be afraid to give yours. Try not to lecture, and pay attention to those subtle signals of going on too long. Keep it short, and use your life-wisdom to guide. Begin with, “I know my experience isn’t anything like yours, it’s very different now,” since even young children need to feel separate enough to discover what works. Powerful advice means recognizing your own limits to help kids make decisions without you. Tell them, “I can’t be there to make the decision about sharing that toy or sharing that secret with Joanne, but here’s what I think will happen.” When children know where you stand, they feel closer to you and more willing to open up.

If you follow just one of these suggestions, you will see change. You love your kids, as I do mine, so I know you’ll try. Many of the seven keys to great communication you’ve already sensed, and they will work for almost every child.

And speaking of conversation, contact me at rontaffel.com with questions and stories about how things turn out.

Categories: Magazines

Fed Survey: Growth Picks Up Across Most Of U.S.

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 15:04

(WASHINGTON) — A Federal Reserve survey shows economic growth picking up across most of the United States over the past two months as bitter winter weather subsided.

Ten of the Fed’s 12 regions reported an increase in economic activity, according to the Beige Book survey released Wednesday. In most places, the Fed described the improvement as “modest or moderate.” Only Cleveland and St. Louis reported slower growth.

In March and early April, consumers took advantage of better weather to go shopping. Manufacturing expanded across most of the country. Ports and highways were busier. Across most of the country, home prices rose modestly and homebuilding picked up. Tourism was “generally positive.” In several districts, ski resorts reported record years.

The Beige Book is based on anecdotal reports from businesses and will be considered along with other data when Fed policymakers meet April 29-30. Confident that the economy is improving, the Fed has been scaling back bond purchases meant to push long-term interest rates down, encourage consumer and business spending and spur economic growth.

Economists are hoping that growth will pick up as the weather gets warmer. Despite a slow, chilly start this year, the economy is expected to grow 3 percent this year, the fastest pace since 2005, two years before the Great Recession hit.

The job market has steadily recovered. Employers added a healthy 192,000 jobs in March and 197,000 in February. The economy has now regained all the private sector jobs it lost during the Great Recession. On Wednesday, the Fed also reported that U.S. factory output rose further last month, extending strong growth from February after harsh weather had caused production to tumble in January.

Still, the news is not all good. A government report on housing construction Wednesday was weaker than economists had hoped for. And the outlook for homebuilding was clouded by a drop last month in applications for building permits.

Categories: Magazines

WATCH: “Rapping Staff Sergeant” Teaches Little Girl How to Take Care of Her New Cast

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 15:00

In a video uploaded by YouTube user Amanda Luhr, a “staff sergeant” appears to be showing a little girl how to take care of the new pink cast on her leg for the next three weeks: “Don’t get the cast wet, don’t stick nothin’ in it ’cause if you did you’re the one who got to deal with it.” We dare you to watch this clip without smiling. (Viral Viral Videos)

Categories: Magazines

REVIEW: Transcendence Has Only Artificial Intelligence

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 15:00

Your late, loving husband Will Castor (Johnny Depp), now a disembodied computer brain, has wired himself into another man’s body, taken over his mind and voice and reaches out, saying, “I can touch you now.” If you’re his/its wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), you might be touched — at least literally. Anyone else among the characters or the audience of Transcendence is likely to be pretty seriously creeped out.

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A love story between a human and a computer: we got one for Christmas, and it was called her. Joaquin Phoenix fell hard for the voice of Scarlett Johansson — who wouldn’t? But in Transcendence, the provocative but ponderous science-fiction thriller written by Jack Paglem and directed by Wally Pfister, the dating game is an endgame. Will, a leading light in the study of artificial intelligence, and Evelyn, his devoted research assistant, are bound in love and work. To keep her love alive, she will enable his existence as a sentient being whose implications she may not have quite thought through.

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(READ: Corliss’s review of Spike Jonze’s her)

Smart machines that may serve or dominate mankind are as old as Samuel Butler’s 1872 noel Erewhon and Karel Capek’s 1920 play R.U.R. and as recent as this week’s episode of The Simpsons, in which Dr. Frink revives the dead Homer as a chatty screensaver. Next year, Marvel’s Avengers will reunite to battle a brilliant computer (and Oedipal wreck) in Age of Ultron. A.I. parables usually assume a Doomsday tone, preaching fear of the devices that keep the modern world running — including the computers whose magic makes today’s action-movie effects so very effective. A movie like Transcendence may be pertinent in its political reverberations of all computer data held in a Cloud and monitored by the NSA, but it also rails against the tools its makers so artfully employ. Just don’t tell the techies who masterminded the cool CGI stuff.

In the not-too-distant future, the world is without the Internet. Streetlights don’t work; a cell phone is discarded; a computer keyboard is used for a doorstop. Flashback to five years earlier, when Will and his friend and colleague Max Waters (Paul Bettany) speak at a Silicon Valley conference. Max hopes to cure cancer and Alzheimer’s, but Will wants to create an A.I. greater than the combined brainpower of all humans who have ever lived on Earth. He has devised a Physically Independent Neural Network (PINN) that could build on the work of another scientist who has managed to upload the brain of a Rhesus monkey. Will PINN be the next step in technological and possibly human evolution?

(SEE: Top 10 Japanese Robots)

That notion is toxic to blond Bree (Kate Mara) and her cohorts in a radical, back-to-basics group called RIFT (Revolutionary Independence From Technology). They’re sort of the 21st-century Amish, except that, in a 9/11-ish neo-Luddite attack, they kill computer programmers with exploding slices of birthday cake. One of the RIFTers shoots Will with a bullet that gives him radiation poisoning. Weeks away from certain death, he determines to upload his intelligence, his very soul and essence, into a computer. When he dies, a half-hour into the movie, Evelyn and Max unplug PINN and — in a lovely little frisson — the last thing we see among the tumult of digits on the computer screen is the blink of a message: “ANYONE THERE?”

With some misgivings but much love, Evelyn keeps the system functioning and growing. Under cyber-Will’s instructions she buys up a desolate, depressed town called Brightwood and builds an enormous facility, whose screens show Will’s omniscient visage and whose machines can perform miracle surgery like giving sight to a man blind from birth. Crystalline particles rise from the ground and catch the wind (as in the 1956 sci-fi essential Invasion of the Body Snatchers) to spread the new gospel across the Earth. Is this a Good Word, or a triumph of Will?

(FIND: Invasion of the Body Snatchers among TIME’s Top 10 Sci-Fi Movies of the 1950s)

Like God’s Not Dead, the fundamentalist Christian movie that has become a popular hit, Transcendence is essentially a dramatized debate. And as God’s Not Dead stacks the rhetorical cards for the Deity’s existence, the Pfister film eventually hangs back with the Luddites. The man who will soon shoot Will asks him if, by advancing artificial intelligence, he’s not creating a God, and Will wryly replies, “Isn’t that what man has always done?” That’s just what Will, the ghost in the computer, has in mind. When a posse led by old friend Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman, who has also played God a few times) and FBI agent Buchanan (Cillian Murphy) confronts Will in Brightwood, he tells Evelyn, “We’re not going to fight them. We’re going to transcend them.” He means subdue and inhabit them, engulf and devour.

The two lead actors have occupied similar roles before. Depp has played many an antic genius, and he slipped inside the body of an Old West chameleon in Rango. In Iron Man Three, Hall was the biologist who helps deranged scientist Guy Pearce create Extremis, a computer program that can “hack into the hard drive of any living organism” and overtake its DNA. In Transcendence, she represents the core emotion: of a woman who wants to hold on to her man even as his wits may be festering in a case of Alzheimer’s with a capacity for mischief on a global scale. That’s poignant, but Hall gets to express these feelings only with a mopey, mouth-agape unease. And Depp, who has gone studiously, sometimes entertainingly, bananas in the Pirates movies and his Tim Burton collaborations, is subdued to the point of entropy. If he can’t overplay, he doesn’t play at all.

(READ: Corliss’s review of Iron Man Three)

Pfister served as Christopher Nolan’s cinematographer on five films, including The Dark Knight and Inception. Borrowing many of Nolan’s favorite actors, Pfister also coopts some of Nolan’s weighty themes — of technology’s gifts and curses, and questing intellect run rampant. But clever ideas early on go rogue, or go missing, in the gallop toward an action-film climax that then, perversely, doesn’t materialize. The movie’s intelligence is artificial, its affect solemn.

(READ: The meta-musings of Inception)

It’s been said there’s one way to tell if a computer is human: Ask it to crack a joke; see if it can understand irony. This computer movie does neither. Bursting with unrealized potential, Transcendence ends up as a trance dance.

Categories: Magazines

If We Have Reached ‘Peak Beard’ It’s Bad News for Men Everywhere

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 14:53

It may not come as a surprise to anyone who has spent a lot of time in hipster coffee shops or gentrifying urban neighborhoods, but scientists say we are reaching “peak beard.” That’s the point when, according to researchers at the University of South Wales, facial hair becomes so prevalent that clean-shaven men are a comparative rarity and therefore more attractive to the opposite sex. More and more men will be inspired to grab their razors and start shaving, and the current era of the facially hirsute man will fade into history, at least until cyclical trends return the beard to favor.

The eggheads call it “negative frequency-dependent sexual selection.” I call it the worst thing to happen to men in years.

Just think what men would be losing if the beard was to slip out of fashion. A proud symbol of masculinity, that you can wear on your face, for the whole world to see. A whole new area of self-expression, where you can display your individuality through architectural grooming. A mask to cover unsightly blemishes, or an unusually large medial cleft. A facial trompe l’oeil to give the appearance of a chin.

Before beards became broadly fashionable in recent years, the metrosexual look prevailed — a disaster for those, like me, who awake every morning with a fresh dusting of stubble on their chin. Simpering, bare-faced men were our fashion icons in the 1990s/2000s — from the beta males of Friends to pre-teen lookalikes like Justin Timberlake — a depilatory trend that slowly crept from men’s faces to below their chins and inside their shirts. It was an era where the term “manscaping” entered the lexicon, the utterance of which geologists have discovered literally causes our cavemen ancestors to spin in their graves.

Is this really the world we want to return to? A world where those with above average testosterone must face the daily ritual of scraping a razor blade across their face, leaving their skin raw, shiny and unprotected? A time when bold, bristly men must go bare-faced into the world? Are guys really going to take that on the chin?

Those who would prefer their men to look more like a Canadian Sphynx than a Bearded Collie should remember what came before the naked-faced look. Something far worse, a trend that every man alive at the time looks back on with a shudder. Yes, the era of the mustache — from the 1970s version that drooped over the top lip like a fur scarf, to the 1980s Magnum P.I. edition. And that gave way to the 90s’ goatee, last seen nestling beneath Tom Green’s nose like a malevolent sea anemone.

So it’s in everyone’s interest to prevent this cycle from renewing again. Let the beard reach its peak and keep on growing.

Categories: Magazines

WATCH: China Zoo Builds Amusement Park to Cheer Up a Sad Panda

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 14:43

If you have ever been lonely after a good friend has moved away, then you’ll understand what one giant panda in southwest China is going through. Sijia has reportedly been depressed and not eating well since Meixi, her best friend for six months, left. So as a consolation, the staff at Yunnan Wild Animal Park set up parallel bars, swings, a climbing apparatus, and a flat screen TV that “plays video footage of her and her old companion,” according to The Telegraph. Now she is reportedly playing on her own more and more without any prodding.

Watch her play in this NBC video:

Categories: Magazines

12 Things to Know About Project Ara, Google’s Amazing Modular Phone

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 14:42
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When Google announced Project Ara last October, its plan to make modular smartphones, it shared some photos and very little else. This week, at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley, the company is digging into the nitty gritty, by hosting the first Project Ara developer conference. It’s showing prototypes in public for the first time and explaining the technology to the hardware engineers it hopes will build stuff for the platform.

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Back in February, I wrote the first in-depth look at Project Ara. It includes most of the key facts Google is discussing at the developer conference. (At least so far: It’s still in progress.) Here’s a recap of what makes Project Ara so ambitious, fascinating and — in some respects — odd.

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1. It’s an infinitely customizable phone. Every feature — the screen, the cameras, the battery, stuff nobody has invented yet — comes in the form of a tile-shaped module. You slip these modules into a framework called an “Endo” to build a phone with the features of your choice. And modules are interchangeable, so you could decide to skip the rear camera and slide in a second battery, for instance.

2. It’s not going to be for you, at least at first. The concept sounds like it’s aimed at lovers of bleeding-edge gadgetry. But Google wants to offer Project Ara phones to folks who’d otherwise be unable to afford any smartphone. It plans to roll out the platform in developing nations first, and isn’t saying when it might reach the U.S.

3. The cheapest, most basic phone will be very cheap and very basic. With the target market in mind, Google aims to offer a $50 “grayphone” starter model — no wireless contract required. That version wouldn’t have frills such as one or more cameras. It wouldn’t even be capable of working on cellular networks — just Wi-Fi. But owners could upgrade their grayphones on the fly as their needs changed and budgets permitted.

4. Google is trying to do this fast and efficiently. Work began on Ara in earnest only a little over a year ago, and only a handful of Google employees are involved, along with outside collaborators as required. The company plans to have its first phone on the market in January 2015.

5. It’s inspired by the U.S. Department of Defense’s approach to innovation. Project Ara is part of Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group, which models its small-team, tight-deadline approach on the Defense Department’s fabled Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which brought us the Internet and satellite navigation, among other things. Regina Dugan, who heads ATAP, is a former DARPA director; Paul Eremenko, who’s spearheading Ara, is also an alumnus.

6. Google thinks of it as Android for hardware. The company’s mobile operating system has done well because it’s essentially a joint effort between Google and the multitudes of software developers who have embraced it. The idea of Project Ara is to allow even tiny companies with inventive ideas to make modules and market them to phone owners — a big shift from the current situation, in which a few large manufacturers crank out one-size-fits-all phones designed to please the masses.

7. The phone isn’t as bulky as you’d expect. You can’t build a phone made out of multiple blocks and make it as skinny as the skinniest entirely-self-contained handsets. But Google’s prototype is 9.7mm thick, which is only half a skosh chunkier than the new HTC One M8. (The final shipping version may be slightly thicker.)

8. It won’t fall apart if you drop it. At least that’s the idea. The modules will use capacitive technology for electrical connections, and will lock in place using super-strong magnets (for modules on the back) and latches (for ones on the front). Google says an Ara phone should be as sturdy as a typical smartphone.

9. The project involves some 3D printing breakthroughs. Project Ara modules will be encased in covers that will be produced on demand using a new generation of 3D printers designed by 3D Systems. Consumers will be able to pick custom designs and snap new covers onto their old modules if they choose.

10. Google’s vision for how Project Ara phones will be marketed is pretty wacky. The company is designing portable stores, which it will be able to ship by sea to the first countries where Ara phones will be available. It’s also developing technology that will do things such as measure your pupil dilation and scan your social networks to help you choose an Ara phone that matches your personality.

11. The platform is going to require lots of enthusiasm from third parties. The only Google-branded part of the hardware will be the Endo. Everything else, like batteries, wireless subsystems, cameras and sensors will be produced by other companies, who will presumably only choose to get involved if they think they can make money. If only a handful of such companies buy the vision, it won’t work.

12. Being both excited and skeptical is a reasonable response. I’m glad Google is trying this: It involves both a big dream and multiple technological innovations, and it’s going to be awfully neat if it takes off.

But that doesn’t mean that I think the folks who are instinctively dubious — such as Daring Fireball’s John Gruber — are being unreasonable. Many things have to fall into place for Ara to evolve from a wild concept to a functioning product to something large numbers of people want. And if Google does indeed have a phone ready to sell in January of next year, it’s not the end of the journey, but the beginning.

I’m not placing any bets on its chances of success, but I can’t wait to see how the world — and especially the smartphone newbies who Google envisions would want this — will react.

Categories: Magazines

Drop Enemies Like They’re Hot While You Play Call of Duty, Now Narrated by Snoop Dogg

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 14:30

Fans of the first-person shooter game Call of Duty: Ghosts can soon enhance their playing experience by downloading an add-on pack featuring narration by Snoop Dogg.

Yes. Really. Snoop Dogg! The rapper has lent his voice to the game to provide commentary like “Ballistic vests ready. Those are some fine ass threads” and “Rack up points by reaching the enemy portal, ya dig?”

Snoop will also provide encouragement to players with pep talks like “Don’t stop! Cap ‘em and shank ‘em.” Oh man, now we kind of wish Snoop could just narrate out everyday lives.

“What interested me most about the project is that my voice could be connected with a game that’s so hip, that’s so hood,” Snoop said in the announcement video. “It’s the coolest game in the hood. All my homies play this game.”

The Snoop Dogg voiceover pack will cost $2.99, available on April 22 for Xbox One and Xbox 360. We suggest sippin’ on some gin and juice while you play.

Categories: Magazines

Washington State Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 39

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 14:22

The Washington State mudslide has claimed 39 victims, according to the most recent count by the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Agency officials have positively identified 36 of the 39 people killed in the March 22 slide, the Seattle Times reports.

Seven people remain missing after the devastating mudslide struck the small riverside neighborhood of Oso in Snohomish County on March 22.

[Seattle Times]

Categories: Magazines

The Americans Gets Picked Up for a Third Season

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 14:11

The Cold War espionage is far from over: FX has ordered a third season of The Americans. FX said Wednesday that the hit show would get 13 new episodes airing next year.

“We are so delighted and grateful to continue telling the stories of these characters,” executive producer Joel Fields told Variety.

The critically-acclaimed spy drama set in the 1980s is currently in its second season and has been averaging 3.08 million total viewers. “The Americans” was trending on Twitter within hours of the announcement.

The Americans continues be one of the best shows on television,” FX’s co-president of original programming Eric Schrier said in a statement. “Fans will be blown away by the rest of this season, and we can’t wait to see what they come up with next year.”

[Variety]

Categories: Magazines

Jenny McCarthy: I’m Engaged to Donnie Wahlberg

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 14:04

Jenny McCarthy is about to become Mrs. Donnie Wahlberg. The View co-host shared her engagement with the world on Wednesday, showcasing her yellow sapphire ring on the talk show, US Weekly reports.

McCarthy’s 11-year-old son Evan had a starring role in the proposal, handing his a series of cards with the words “will,” “you,” and “marry,” before former New Kid on the Block star walked in with a shirt with the word “me” on it, McCarthy said.

“Of course I said ‘yes,’” the 41-year-old McCarthy said. And her son was excited, too. “In that moment Evan yelled, ‘I have another dad!’ and it made all of us cry,” McCarthy shared.

The two have been dating since last summer. The upcoming nuptials (they haven’t yet set a date) will be the second time around for both stars. McCarthy was previously married to actor and director John Mallory Asher.

[Us Weekly]

Categories: Magazines

Richard Garriott Wants You to Remake His First Dungeons & Dragons Game

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 14:03
Portalarium

I have no idea how Portalarium creative director Richard Garriott’s Shroud of the Avatar is going to turn out, but I’m all kinds of interested to see how this clever little promotional retro-competition he’s sponsoring will.

It involves one of the oldest games he designed. No, not Akalabeth. I’m talking about D&D#1, a game young master Garriott designed on a teletype machine nearly four decades ago while in high school (he’s 52 today, and a pretty eclectic guy — he’s also been to space).

Back in 1977, Garriott typed the game onto paper tape spools, which he fed into a terminal that ran the D&D-inspired roleplaying scenario in the simplest sense: explore a top-down dungeon (it used ASCII characters to indicate geometry), while doing battle with enemies and excavating treasure along the way.

Tele-who? Teleprinter technology. You know the Selectric 251 from the TV series Fringe that let people send and receive messages? Kind of like that, only without the interdimensional communications module. They’re electromechanical typewriters older than me, and Garriott used one to craft a slew of D&D-inspired games: 28 in all, paving the way for his first Apple II game, which in turn anticipated his storied Ultima computer roleplaying series.

Garriott’s asking anyone intrepid enough to take the source code (in BASIC) for that original teletype game — created at Clear Creek High School in Houston, Texas on a teletype machine connected via an acoustic modem to a PDP 11 type mini-computer — and translate it into something that faithfully recreates the original game (the instructions specify “No fancy graphics, stick with a traditional font on ‘yellow’ paper”). The contest just kicked off yesterday, April 15, and the clock’s ticking — entrants have until May 15.

According to the contest overview, the game’s been MIA since 1979, when teletype was retired. The idea here is to come up with a playable version Portalarium can drop into Shroud of the Avatar. You can submit using Unity or design “a no-plug-in Browser Version,” and the winners will be announced shortly after the contest closes. Winners (in each category) get a Citizen-level pledge reward (within Shroud of the Avatar) that Portalarium values at $550, while two runners-up in both categories will receive a Collector-level pledge reward valued at $165 apiece. The only catch: all submissions become Garriott’s property.

Categories: Magazines

Judge Stays Ohio Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 14:01

A federal judge in Ohio stayed his ruling that the state must recognize out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples, though he carved out an exception for the four couples that originally filed suit against the state.

District Court Judge Timothy Black said he issued the stay for the benefit of the public because the state is planning to appeal his original decision, the Columbus Dispatch reports. “The federal appeals court needs to rule, as does the United States Supreme Court,” Black said, citing the potential for confusion and high legal costs if same-sex couples were to act on his ruling.

The state asked Black to stay his decision to avoid “premature” reactions from same-sex couples, such as traveling to other states to get married. The four couples’ attorneys argued the decision caused unnecessary harm because three of the couples are expecting children and want to name both parents on birth certificates. In Wednesday’s decision, Black said the state must recognize the marriages of the four couples that filed suit against the state. Three of the couples are Ohio residents and one couple lives in New York.

Judges have acted similarly in several cases where state bans on same-sex marriage and recognition of same-sex marriage have been challenged.

[Columbus Dispatch]

Categories: Magazines

Joe Biden Joins Instagram, Everyone’s Lives Improve Exponentially 

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 13:42

Well, it finally happened. Vice President Joe Biden has joined the selfie-snapping, brunch-loving, filter-abusing masses of Instagram, and we couldn’t be more thrilled about it.

His handle is @VP and everyone should probably start following him immediately.

Seriously, his first post is utter perfection:

Can’t wait to see what else you have in store for us, Amtrak Joe.

Categories: Magazines