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Alex Acosta's Resignation Tops This Week's Internet News Roundup

Alex Acosta's Resignation Tops This Week's Internet News Roundup

It's been such a busy seven days that there's been no time to talk about the fact that a federal grand jury is reportedly investigating a major Trump fund-raiser or that an appeals court has thrown out a lawsuit about whether President Trump is personally profiting from government visitors staying at his hotels. (Admit it; you never even knew that last one happened.) Last week also featured former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan admitting he was appalled by Trump, leading to Trump going on a Twitter tirade about him. Actually, the president was more active than usual on Twitter last week, perhaps in preparation for his so-called Social Media Summit at the White House, which didn't include any representatives from any of the social media companies theoretically under discussion. (They'll be invited later, it seems.) With all this going on, it's no surprise that Twitter crashed for an hour—amusingly, during Trump's summit. Consider it a silent protest, perhaps. Xbox Live also crashed last week. Maybe the entire internet is collapsing! While we still have the web, let's celebrate it together by remembering what else people were talking about last week.

The Jeffrey Epstein Arrest

What Happened: Businessman Jeffrey Epstein was arrested on sex-trafficking charges. If that wasn't enough of a story, it turned out that that he was a man friendly with not only the current president but a past president as well.

What Really Happened: News broke early last week that financier Jeffrey Epstein had been arrested on sex-trafficking charges. This was a big deal for a number of reasons beyond just the charges involved; most notably, the fact that Epstein had faced these kinds of allegations before, but also because Epstein is famously friends with Donald Trump (although the president is now distancing himself from Epstein) and Bill Clinton. He was, in other words, well-connected.

It took until Monday for details about his arrest to come out, but they were as bad as most expected. US Attorney Geoffrey Berman detailed the charges against Epstein in a press conference on Monday, making it clear just what was going on.

As details emerged about what lay ahead for Epstein—who pleaded not guilty to the charges—it became increasingly clear that federal prosecutors were taking this very seriously. Because justice moves agonizingly slowly, little has happened beyond Epstein's arrest and arraignment. But it did emerge by Thursday that Epstein's lawyers really want him out of jail if possible, despite what prosecutors would prefer; we'll find out this week if he gets bail or not. Some, however, feel as if they already know.

The Takeaway: How often do bail agreements include deregistering a personal jet? We're guessing not many.

So Long, Alex Acosta

What Happened: As the news followed up on the Epstein story, questions started being asked about the Florida prosecutor who'd cut him a plea deal a decade ago. Those questions included, "Why is he the current US Secretary of Labor?"

What Really Happened: Remember how we said Jeffrey Epstein had faced misconduct allegations before? Well, he'd been accused of sex trafficking in Florida, only to eventually get a light 18-month sentence after pleading guilty to prostitution charges in 2008.

The Florida prosecutor behind the deal was Alex Acosta, the man who currently serves as President Trump's Labor Secretary. The issue actually came up during Acosta's 2017 Senate hearing to confirm his appointment, but following Epstein's arrest, people had a lot of questions about what happened back then.

Acosta broke his silence on the issue via Twitter.

This was, shall we say, a selective reading of events, as others pointed out.

Many politicians joined in a growing call for Acosta to resign. (There were even dueling hashtags on Twitter about the subject, with both #AcostaMustResign and #AcostaResignNow trending during the week.)

Democrat politicians called for his resignation, at least; Republicans were much more reticent to do so.

Senate Leader Mitch McConnell refused to even address the issue when asked.

And how does the president feel about the matter? It turned out, he had a lot of empathy for the situation.

Acosta was forced to give a press conference midweek about the issue in which he attempted to defend his actions.

Was the press conference enough to save Acosta's job? It appeared so, until a surprise Friday morning announcement.

The Takeaway:

Use Your Inside Voice

What Happened: There are things that ambassadors can say about political leaders privately, and there are things they can say about them publicly. When someone leaks the former to turn it into the latter, things get complicated.

What Really Happened: What an international ambassador says privately to their bosses about the location where they're currently working is, of course, profoundly important; think of it as a kind of embedded reporting that cuts to the heart of international relations and doesn't have to deal with the public politeness of ensuring that there are no hurt feelings. It's the kind of thing that would be very embarrassing for all involved if such communiques were ever leaked and released to the public, and surely you can see where we're going with this.

Well, that was pretty embarrassing. Of course, after being publicly called inept, the president responded on Twitter.

Many were wondering the same thing, especially when Trump returned with even blunter criticism a day later.

For those curious, yes, Trump just thanked himself in the third person, calling himself "Mr. President." Even as other ambassadors were privately admitting that they have said similar things about the president, the tension between ambassador Kim Darroch and Trump grew to such a point where only one outcome was likely. And so, Darroch resigned from his position midweek.

Curiously enough, however, it wasn't Trump that pushed him out, according to some. Instead, it was the response to the whole situation from Boris Johnson, the man likely to be Britain's next prime minister.

For everyone who thought that Darroch's resignation would be the end of the matter, that's not true for the United Kingdom, where Johnson's comments have turned into a controversy in their own right. Who knew calling President Trump inept could have such an effect?

The Takeaway: Amidst all of the fallout, there's one basic fact that some people refuse to let be forgotten. Namely, no matter what you might think of the president's aptitude or lack thereof, ambassador Darroch was just doing his job in explaining what he thought of him.

The Zombie Issue

What Happened: The issue of whether or not a citizenship question would be added to the next US census appeared to be a zombie issue last week, returning when least expected all the way up until a surprise ending.

What Really Happened: Some might have thought that the issue of whether or not a citizenship question could be added to next year's US census had been resolved weeks ago when the Supreme Court blocked it from being added. And it definitely should've been settled when the Trump administration dropped the matter the following week. But then, a day after dropping it, the administration changed its mind and said that the issue was still an ongoing concern. Last week, everything came to a head once again on the subject, because of course it did.

The week started with attorney general and man with poor reading comprehension William Barr weighing in on the topic and suggesting that the president was going to do something pretty big.

Remember, this is a matter that was settled at the Supreme Court level, making Barr's somewhat vague comments all the more noteworthy, if not necessarily any more easily explained.

Soon after Barr's comments, the Department of Justice appeared to be preparing a new line of attack, or at least, gathering a new team to continue the fight.

But there was a snag: The judge refused to allow the existing lawyers to leave the case that easily. He wanted to know why they wanted to go—and he wanted their reasons to be on the record.

This wasn't something the president was happy with.

But the president didn't seem to fully understand what Judge Furman was saying, either.

As the week progressed, the issue refused to go away, with Trump floating the idea of adding the question via an executive order—not that that idea would work, mind you—and Kellyanne Conway lying about the citizenship question having been on the census in the past. By Thursday morning, the president was teasing a press conference on the issue that was many assumed would be the announcement of an executive order relating to the census. It wasn't.

Well, at least no DOJ lawyers have to explain to a judge why they want off the case now.

The Takeaway: Well, at least no DOJ lawyers have to explain to a judge why they want off the case now. Right?

A Victory Lap for the US Women's Soccer Team

What Happened: All hail the returning world champions, the US women's soccer team.

What Really Happened: Look, it's been a hell of a week. Can we finish with something good for once? Can we have nice things?

Apparently, perhaps we can have nice things after all! Yes, the US women's soccer team won the World Cup, and got to celebrate in the stadium to chants of "equal pay!"—a reference to the ongoing lawsuit demanding the players be compensated fairly.

Then, when the team returned to America, their arrival was an undisputed victory lap in all manner of ways, a sign of both their superstar status and team co-captain Megan Rapinoe's new position as queen of everybody's heart.

Well, not everybody...

Confoundingly, but also charmingly, those negative responses were welcomed by some on Twitter.

Let's just chalk that up to people being gracious winners, shall we?

The Takeaway: Of course, there are some questions left to be answered after the week’s celebrations…

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Original author: Graeme McMillan
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The UN Operation to Disarm Mosul's IEDs and Unexploded Bombs

The UN Operation to Disarm Mosul's IEDs and Unexploded Bombs

Two years ago this month, a US-led military coalition declared victory against ISIS in Mosul, liberating one of Iraq's largest cities after three years of occupation by the radical Islamist group. While the eastern part of the city is on the road to recovery, west Mosul, where ISIS made its final stand, remains in ruins, with the bodies of civilians and Islamic State fighters still buried under the rubble. Although most refugees have returned to the city, around 300,000 are still displaced, many living in camps outside Mosul because their homes were destroyed in the fighting.

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Long After ISIS Collapses, Its Empire of Explosives Will Reign

Photojournalist Cengiz Yar covered the Battle of Mosul for several international news agencies and has returned many times since to observe its recovery. Last year he partnered with the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) to document the organization's mine- and ordnance-clearing operations. Like the rest of Iraq, Mosul suffers from mines and unexploded bombs left behind from decades of war. The US-led coalition dropped thousands more bombs on the city during its assault in 2016–2017, a significant percentage of which didn't explode on impact. And ISIS planted countless mines and IEDs during its desperate last stand; it also left behind undetonated suicide belts. (Although officially defeated, ISIS is still trying to carry out suicide bombings in Mosul.)

"The amount of ordnance used by both sides in the battle was just staggering," Yar says. Wearing special protective gear, the Brooklyn-based photographer followed UNMAS teams as they carefully disarmed IEDs and unexploded bombs around the city. He also captured some of the risk-education classes that UNMAS conducts at schools around the country to educate Iraqi children about the dangers of buried bombs. "Some of the biggest victims of unexploded ordnance are children, because [the explosives] often look like toys," Yar says. "I've met children who picked up bombs and were injured, as well as parents who have lost kids to bombs."

Yar shot portraits of some of the Mosul residents trained by UNMAS to identify and disarm the explosive devices. It's dangerous work, but in Iraq's sputtering economy any job is a good job. "There aren't a lot of employment opportunities in Iraq, even for college-educated men, so any income helps," Yar says. "Often these workers are supporting not just their wife and kids but their brother's wife and kids."

While the US led the military campaign that liberated Mosul, it left other countries to pick up the pieces; Germany has provided the bulk of UNMAS' $84 million budget for its Iraq operations in 2018 and 2019, with 18 other countries pitching in. Yar is critical of yhe US' failure to fund the explosive clearance efforts. "If you destroy something, you should take some responsibility for fixing it," he says. "Especially for a nation like ours, that had a role in destabilizing Iraq [through the 2003 invasion] and then dropping thousands and thousands of bombs on the population, I think we have a duty to help."

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Original author: Michael Hardy
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19 Best Prime Day Deals on Amazon Devices: Kindle, Echo, Fire

19 Best Prime Day Deals on Amazon Devices: Kindle, Echo, Fire

Fire Tablets and Echo speakers aren't terribly expensive. They're built to be affordable, and some of them are especially cheap for Prime Day. Kindles are another story, they're more expensive and go on sale less often. We've compiled every decent deal on Amazon-branded devices happening on Prime Day. Amazon has a Device Deals page with many of its best deals, but we have them all organized below.

Note: When you buy something using the retail links in our stories, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Read more about how this works.

WIRED's Prime Day Coverage

Echo Speaker Deals

Echo Show 5

Amazon

Read our WIRED Best Echo & Alexa Speakers guide for recommendations on which Amazon Echos we think are worth your money. The short version is the Plus for music, the Dot for Voice, and the Show for a screen. Our Best Smart Speakers guide has even more options if you're still deciding which to buy.

Echo Plus for $110 ($40 off): The Echo Plus is the best-sounding Echo. It has a tweeter and subwoofer with impressive enough sound to justify its price compared to other Echos. Consider pairing them with an Echo Sub ($230, $50 off).

Echo Dot for $22 ($27 off): This hockey puck-shaped Echo handles spoken audio well and the new version sounds better with music, but it still lacks the quality you'll find in larger speakers. Still, if you want to add Alexa to more rooms in your house, the Dot is a cheap and easy way to do it. If you want a slight audio upgrade, try the standard Echo 2 ($50, $50 off).

Echo Show + Free Echo Dot + Philips Hue for $160 ($135 off): At first, it seems odd to have an Alexa speaker with a display. But after using it you'll understand the appeal. When you ask it for the weather, it tells you and shows you thanks to the 10-inch display and rear speakers. The sale price of the Echo Show is also $160 ($70 off) without these extras, so you may as well take them.

Echo Dot Kids Edition for $45 ($25 off): The extra cost of the Kids Edition covers the padded foam case and a year's subscription to Amazon's FreeTime Unlimited. We found the Echo Dot Kid's Edition wanting, but it's more appealing at this price point.

Echo Show 5 for $50 ($40 off): It’s the Echo Show! Just smaller and more adorable. And it has a physical shutter that covers the front-facing camera. Be sure to read WIRED's Echo Show 5 review for more details.

Echo Auto for $25 ($25 off): About the size and shape of a cassette, the Echo Auto sits on your dashboard and brings Alexa into your car. At the moment, you must request an invitation to buy it.

Fire Tablet Deals

Fire 7 Tablet Kids Edition

Amazon

Amazon's tablets are so cheap it's almost suspicious. We do have some reservations, but overall they're a good deal. Be sure to check out our updated guide to deciphering which Amazon Fire tablet is best for you.

Fire HD 10 for $100 ($50 off): The Fire HD 10 is a much more capable tablet than the 8. It’s faster, has more storage, and the 10-inch HD screen looks much nicer. Consider buying the standing case and getting the version without lockscreen ads.

Fire HD 8 for $50 ($30 off): While the 10 is nicer, the Fire HD 8 is a very capable tablet for the price. The even better deal really, is to grab two of these for $80 ($80 off). Just add a second one to your cart and the price should update before you check out.

Fire HD 8 Kids Edition Tablet for $80 ($50 off): The Fire HD 8 Kids Edition is our top pick for kids under 7.

2-Pack of Fire 7 Kids Edition Tablets for $100 ($100 off): The 7-inch Kids Edition is a step down from the 8-inch version, but for littler kids with smaller hands, it may do just fine.

Fire TV Deals

Amazon Fire TV Cube streams movies and television shows, and brings Alexa into your living room.

Amazon

Amazon's Fire TV platform is great if you subscribe to Amazon Prime or buy Amazon Instant Videos. It emphasizes Amazon content above Netflix and other providers, but it does have most of the major streaming apps. With Google and Amazon done feuding, you can once again get YouTube on FireTV. At these Prime Day deal prices, even the Fire TV Cube is mighty appealing.

Fire TV Stick 4K for $25 ($25 off): The Fire Stick 4K is the best of Amazon's Fire TV devices. All things considered, we prefer Roku devices for streaming, but if you're a heavy Prime Video user or have a 4K screen this works great. Much like the Fire tablets, you'll get used to the interface.

Fire TV Stick for $15 ($25 off): We encourage you to just buy the Fire Stick with 4K, but if you do not own a 4K TV and want to save that extra $10, knock yourself out.

Fire TV Cube for $70 ($50 off): The Fire TV Cube isn't our favorite mainly because it wants you to talk to Alexa to use it and that gets old fast. Still, if you love Prime Video and don't mind yelling at your TV, the Cube is considerably more appealing at this price. You can also just use its remote if you get tired of talking.

Kindle Deals

The 2019 standard Kindle has a light-up screen.

Amazon

Amazon's Kindle pretty much owns the ebook market and for good reason. The companies book readers offer more than a month of battery life per charge, the ability to hold thousands of titles, and unlimited book subscriptions. You can even get free books from your local library. Check out our guide to the Best Amazon Kindle.

Kindle for $60 ($30 off): The basic Kindle remains a solid offering and the latest model includes a backlight for the 6-inch E Ink touchscreen, meaning you can read in the dark. it comes with three free months of Kindle Unlimited, which gives you access to a massive library of ebooks. After the three months is up, Kindle Unlimited is $10 per month.

Kindle Paperwhite for $85 ($45 off): The Paperwhite is a Kindle upgrade worth considering. For a couple extra Jacksons over the plain Kindle, it opens up the joys of reading in the pool, beach, and bathtub without fear. The display is flush and the device is rated IPX8, meaning it can sit in 2 meters of water for two hours. The 32-gigabyte model is also on sale for $110 ($50 off) if you need extra space.

Kindle Oasis for $200 ($80 off): The Oasis is the luxury car of Kindles. It's not necessary, but it sure is nice. The processor is faster for smoother page turns, it's easier to hold with one hand and the screen automatically adjusts the brightness. This version also comes with 32 gigabytes of storage, which is enough to hold tens of thousands of books. There is a new Oasis coming later this month, but it starts at $250, and isn't much different.

Ring Smart Doorbell Deals

Ring Doorbell and the latest Echo Dot

Amazon

Ring is owned by Amazon. Read our review of the original Ring and our roundup of smart doorbells to learn more about what they do. Here's a video comparison of the various Ring models.

Eero Home Wi-Fi Router Deal

Ero Pro

Eero

Eero Pro and 1 Beacon for $150 ($150 off): A recent Amazon acquisition, the Eero is the mesh router Apple would have made if it had bothered. It comes as both a base station and a smaller, plug-into-the-wall Beacon model, though the latter does not work as a stand-alone, only in conjunction with the base station. Eero's app has some nice features like the ability to pause the internet on particular devices. At this price, our major complaint about the Eero—that it's expensive for a router—is solved.

Check our Amazon Prime Day Page for more coverage and deals.

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Original author: Scott Gilbertson
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Graphics card massacre: 6 GPUs you absolutely should not buy right now

What a week it’s been for gaming nerds. Over the past seven days, AMD kicked off its next GPU generation with the $350 Radeon RX 5700 and $400 Radeon RX 5700 XT, while Nvidia countered its rival by launching a barrage of souped-up GeForce RTX “Super” graphics cards. The $400 GeForce RTX 2060 Super and $500 GeForce RTX 2070 launched on July 9, with a faster GeForce RTX 2080 Super scheduled to land on July 23.

The RTX Super cards effectively shift performance down a pricing tier. The GeForce RTX 2060 Super performs on a par with the original $500 RTX 2070, and the new RTX 2070 Super is almost as powerful as the original $700 RTX 2080. AMD’s Radeon duo, meanwhile, outpunches their direct GeForce competition in raw frame rates despite Nvidia’s attempted Super spoiler.

These cards kick all kinds of ass—so much so, in fact, that they’ve rendered several once-compelling graphics card options obsolete practically overnight. The graphics cards listed below are still being sold, but you don’t want to buy them anymore. Instead, check out our guide to the best graphics cards for gaming to see the ideal picks for every budget and display resolution.

Got it? Good. Onto the cards you shouldn’t buy unless you find them at spectacular discounts:

$350 GeForce RTX 2060 (non-Super) $400 Radeon Vega 56 $500 Radeon Vega 64 $500 GeForce RTX 2070 (non-Super) $700 GeForce RTX 2080 (non-Super) $700 Radeon RX VII

Yep, these new graphics offerings upset the entire high-end market aside from the monstrous $1,200 GeForce RTX 2080 Ti, which remains at the top.

Consider the non-Super GeForce RTX 2060, which is sticking around. Nvidia’s card delivers ho-hum real-time ray tracing performance in games that support it. Meanwhile, the Radeon RX 5700 delivers a much better memory configuration and performance. We simply can’t recommend the plain RTX 2060 anymore—especially when the GeForce RTX 2060 Super cranks everything up for just $50 more.

dsc00570 Brad Chacos/IDG

RTX Super: So pretty, but so devastating to rival GeForce and Radeon Vega cards alike.

Likewise, most Vega GPUs are still selling near their launch pricing, which is just ludicrous. All of the fresh GPUs (and even the RTX 2060 non-Super we just said to avoid) are much better purchases than a $400 Vega 56 or $500 Vega 64. You can find a couple of Vega 56 models selling for $280. At that price, they’re worth considering as AMD’s last-gen star is a little bit faster than the similarly priced GeForce GTX 1660 Ti—but not by much. I wouldn’t buy a Vega 56 for more than that even with the three months of Xbox Game Pass for PC that it currently comes bundled with.

Everything else just gets walloped by new GPU options that cost scads less. Competition’s ramping up, and PC gamers are getting more for their dollars. Expect to see more casualties of war as AMD continues rolling out new graphics cards based on its next-gen “RDNA” architecture and Nvidia adjusts pricing—or shows off a few tricks of its own—to counter the 7nm Radeon push.

Again, be sure to check out our guide to the best graphics cards for gaming to see up-to-the-minute buying recommendations. We keep it updated to keep you informed.

Original author: Brad Chacos
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Google defends 'critical' language experts who listen to and transcribe your Assistant recordings

A report this week by VRT NWS seemingly outed Google employees for listening to users’ Assistant recordings. Now Google wants you to understand that they were just doing their job.

The Belgian broadcaster got ahold of the recordings after Dutch audio data was leaked by a Google employee. VRT says they received more than a thousand Google Assistant excerpts in the file dump, and they “could clearly hear addresses and other sensitive information.” The outlet then was able to match recordings to the people who made them.

It all sounds like a privacy pitfall, but a post by Google wants to assure you that the problem stems from the leak, not the recordings themselves. In a blog post, Google defended the actions as “critical” to the Assistant development process, but acknowledged that there may be issues with its internal security:

“We just learned that one of these language reviewers has violated our data security policies by leaking confidential Dutch audio data. Our Security and Privacy Response teams have been activated on this issue, are investigating, and we will take action. We are conducting a full review of our safeguards in this space to prevent misconduct like this from happening again.”

As Google explains, language experts “only review around 0.2 percent of all audio snippets,” which “are not associated with user accounts as part of the review process.” The company indicated that these snippets are taken at random and stressed that reviewers “are directed not to transcribe background conversations or other noises, and only to transcribe snippets that are directed to Google.”

That’s placing a lot of faith in its employees, and it doesn’t sound like Google plans on actually changing its practice. Rather, Google pointed users to its new tool that lets you auto-delete your data every 3 months or 18 months, though it’s unclear how that would mitigate larger privacy concerns.

In the recordings it received, VRT said it uncovered several instances where conversations were recorded even though the “Hey Google” prompt wasn’t uttered. That, too, raises serious red flags, but Google insists that the speaker heard a similar phrase, which caused it to activate, calling it a “false accept.”

toast cover touch sensitive Michael Brown / IDG

The LED lights at the top of the Google Home lets you know it’s listening.

While that’s certainly a logical explanation, and one that anyone with a smart speaker has experienced, it’s not exactly reassuring. Since we now have confirmation that Google employees are randomly listening to recordings, including so-called false accepts, people could be listening to all sorts of things that we don’t want them to hear. And while Google says it has "a number of protections in place" to prevent against accidental recordings, clearly some cases are still getting through, including, according to VRT, "conversations between parents and their children, but also blazing rows and professional phone calls containing lots of private information."

Unfortunately, users have precious few privacy alternatives when it comes to Google Assistant other than silencing the microphone so the Home speaker can’t listen. There’s no toggle to opt out of recordings being transcribed.

I understand why Google needs language experts to analyze recordings, but at the very least it should at least guarantee that they can only hear explicit Google Assistant queries. If employees are able to use actual queries of things like addresses and contacts to pinpoint users’ locations, we should at least be assured that only relevant audio is being transcribed.

Original author: Michael Simon
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GOG Galaxy 2.0 hands-on: The only game launcher you need? Not yet, but maybe someday

While Valve and Epic battle over storefront supremacy, there’s another battle quietly looming. As complaints mount against the proliferation of storefronts, there’s a chance for someone to make the ur-storefront. I’m talking of course about the launcher that will unify all the other launchers, the one launcher to rule them all and—in the darkness of your hard drive—bind them.

And GOG’s taken an early shot at it. Building off its Galaxy launcher, which was once a mere repository and auto-updater for your GOG library, it’s now begun rolling out “Galaxy 2.0” to a select few, including us. I’ve spent the last week or so testing its capabilities to see if I’m ready to condense my launcher loadout.

The verdict? It’s early days yet, and there are kinks GOG needs to work out—some niche, some broader—but Galaxy 2.0 makes an interesting and attractive bid.

Setting up

Getting started is easier than I expected, as well. GOG’s not the only launcher to allow games from other services, but usually the implementation is unwieldy. Steam’s “Add a Non-Steam Game” function, for instance, scans every single program on your hard drive and does little except make a Steam-specific shortcut within your game library. Useful, occasionally, but not a great long-term solution.

GOG Galaxy 2.0 IDG / Hayden Dingman

Galaxy 2.0 is a more automated process. Initially you’ll only see your GOG library, assuming you have one. It works the same as the original Galaxy launcher in that regard.

But you’re prompted to “Add Games and Friends” as well. Some of these potential third-party connections are official, created and supported by GOG, though at the moment that list only includes Xbox Live, and even that doesn’t actually allow you to access your Xbox Play Anywhere games yet.

The bulk of Galaxy 2.0’s connections have been built by the community using GOG’s SDK to implement the appropriate hooks, and already there’s a thriving plugin aftermarket, presented within Galaxy 2.0 as “Community Integrations – Popular.” Steam, Battle.net, Epic Games Store, Uplay, Origin, and more can be added through these pseudo-official channels. It’s everything you’d want, or at least everything you’re “forced” to use when you can’t use Steam. Yes, I see you.

GOG Galaxy 2.0 IDG / Hayden Dingman

Login takes seconds, each provider asking for your credentials individually. Once Galaxy 2.0 is authorized you’ll see a note at the bottom that says your library is “Importing,” though even with a Steam library in the thousands this took a minute or two at most. And then you’re done, free to peruse any and all of your games through GOG, to sort them alphabetically in one long list or split them up by storefront, and easily launch the one you want.

Rich data

They’re more than mere shortcuts. That’s what impresses me most about Galaxy 2.0 so far. Games you’ve purchased from other services aren’t treated like second-class citizens, as the aforementioned “Non-Steam Games” are.

GOG Galaxy 2.0 IDG / Hayden Dingman

No, Galaxy 2.0 pulls in your history with these games—Steam’s “Hours Played” metric, achievement data, and so on. It’s a rich resource in that regard, preserving important info even if you opt to use Galaxy 2.0 as your primary launcher.

It also shines a light on some of Steam’s shortcomings, in my opinion. Steam is useful. Steam has a lot of great functionality. Steam is also fairly dated, and could use a full-scale redesign. One’s reputedly in the works, sure, but that’s been the case for years now, with no indication when it’ll release.

Along comes Galaxy 2.0, which does stuff with my Steam library that seems obvious in retrospect, but genius in the moment. For instance, allowing me to sort by achievement percentage—of course!—and by time played. Valve’s tracking these metrics, but even if you use the more detailed (and less functional) list view in Steam you can’t sort by these. It’s nifty.

GOG Galaxy 2.0 IDG / Hayden Dingman

And I’m fast becoming a fan of Galaxy 2.0’s star ratings as well. They both serve as a way to quickly find my favorite games and mark which ones I’ve finished. Best of all, they withstand moving from PC to PC. I’ve installed Galaxy 2.0 on two different computers, gone through the setup on each, and can confirm star ratings for the Epic Games Store persisted across both. In fact, your entire cumulative, launcher-spanning library is forever attached to your GOG account, even though you have to reauthorize your third-party credentials on subsequent PCs.

Early days

That said, there’s more to be done. With GOG mostly relying on the community to develop its Integrations so far, support for any and all features can be a bit spotty. For instance, my Steam library display time played but (at least when I tested) all achievement data is listed at zero percent.

You can also add tags within GOG, but it won’t pull tags directly from Steam—a pain for me, given my meticulously cataloged and sorted Steam library. That alone has made me less likely to move over, as I don’t want to duplicate more than a decade’s worth of tedious filing work all in one go.

GOG Galaxy 2.0 IDG / Hayden Dingman

There’s also a minor irritation, in that Galaxy 2.0 can call up other launchers as needed( you still need Uplay running to play Uplay games, for instance) but it won’t close them after it’s done yet. This feature’s listed in the settings menu with a “Coming soon” tooltip, and for obvious reasons. Galaxy 2.0 wants to be a seamless environment, and having to close out other launchers manually breaks that illusion.

But worst of all, for me at least—and I admit this might be niche—is that Galaxy 2.0 doesn’t support Steam’s Family Sharing feature yet, nor can you add more than one account from the same service. It won’t list Family Share games even if they’re installed, which is doubly frustrating. As I said it’s most likely a niche case, but I make extensive use of Steam’s Family Sharing features and this alone is preventing it from being my go-to, given that my games are very much not all in one place.

Bottom line

For its part, GOG reiterates that this is a closed beta, little more than a proof-of-concept that’s evolving by the day, and that’s true. Since I started testing, there’s already been an updated release with some bug fixes and other minor improvements. I’m sympathetic, and am willing to overlook its flaws for the most part and focus on the bigger picture.

And bigger picture? I think it’s a neat idea. I don’t necessarily know if GOG’s going to be the one to come out on top in this upcoming battle, but Galaxy 2.0 is one possible solution to a growing problem and I’ll be curious whether others try and follow suit—or whether we keep juggling an ever-increasing number of launchers on our own and try to make do. Either seems possible.

Original author: Hayden Dingman
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This week in games: Blizzard sics DeepMind on its StarCraft II players, Cuphead heads to Netflix

Steam’s Summer Sale is over, which means summer is well and truly underway. I hope you’re all having a good July, the only month of the year where games sort-of stop releasing for a bit. I know I am.

There’s still plenty of news though—teases for Control and other August releases, plus Blizzard sics the AlphaStar AI on its StarCraft II players, The Bard’s Tale IV gets a director’s cut, Cuphead is getting a Netflix cartoon, Amazon announces a Lord of the Rings MMO, and Ion Maiden bows to Iron Maiden.

This is gaming news for July 8 to 12.

Free for the ages

Steam’s free games are usually free-to-try, not free-to-keep, but this week’s the rare exception. With Age of Wonders: Planetfall due out on August 6, Triumph’s made its previous game Age of Wonders III free to drum up excitement. You can grab it here from now through July 15.

And Epic continues to give away a free game every week on the Epic Games Store, though we’ve definitely entered the “Old Humble Bundle” era of offerings. This week’s freebie is Torchlight, and next week is Limbo—both great games, and worth grabbing if you haven’t before, but I’d guess most people have accumulated these venerable indies at some point in the last decade.

Bard’s Tale, told again

I suppose I should’ve guessed, but The Bard’s Tale IV is getting an overhauled “Director’s Cut” in August. InXile did the same with Wasteland 2, polishing up the graphics and the game in places. The Bard’s Tale IV will include “thousands of fixes and tweaks,” plus a new chapter of endgame content, a “refined and more feature-rich” interface, more character creation options, and rebalanced combat.

Given that I loved the opening hours of The Bard’s Tale IV but fell off due to bugs and poor optimization, I’m hoping this will get me to finish it.

Psycho-not-until-next-year

We’ve waited 14 years for a new Psychonauts. Might as well make it a round 15, yeah? I hope that’s your reaction, because the long-awaited sequel has indeed been delayed until 2020 as of the latest Fig update.

StarCraft Toon

Plenty of strange StarCraft news this week. First up, Blizzard announced that DeepMind’s AlphaStar—an artificial intelligence that dominated StarCraft II pros in early 2019—is being unleashed on the public ladder later this year. AlphaStar will be anonymous and will play “a small number of games,” for the purposes of science. When the robots kick in your door, just know it’s because they learned tactics from StarCraft.

And below you’ll find a very weird trailer for a very weird idea. Blizzard released a mod for 2017’s StarCraft: Remastered this week that swaps out the original art style—including the mission briefs—for a more colorful cartoon look, and it’s bizarre. I can’t really imagine playing StarCraft this way, but if you’ve stuck with it for two decades and just want a new look, might as well check it out.

Cuphead Universe

Speaking of cartoons, Cuphead secured itself a Netflix deal this week. Presumably it will continue to use Max Fleischer’s animations as inspiration, but expand upon the deep lore of Cuphead and Mugman, and their struggles against boxing frogs and dice-men and so forth. I’m in, as long as it has another snazzy soundtrack.

Control

The more I read of The Southern Reach Trilogy, the more clear it becomes that Remedy’s Control is pretty much an unofficial game adaptation. And uh, I’m definitely onboard for that. The game’s due out August 26, but this week IGN posted a look at the opening 13 minutes if you want a tease.

Truckin’ time

It’s been a while since I’ve sat down to play American Truck Simulator. I didn’t realize how far it’d progressed. This week SCS Software showed off its new Utah expansion, which is apparently the seventh state? I had no idea. Last time I checked in it was just California, Nevada, and Arizona, but New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, and now Utah have all joined up as well. Looking forward to heading eastward one day.

Moon wizards

Destiny 2 ’s upcoming Shadowkeep expansion is due to revisit Earth’s moon for the first time since the original Destiny (of “That wizard came from the moon” infamy). Below we have our first look at what that entails, courtesy of GuardianCon. It certainly looks impressive—though at 40 seconds long, there’s admittedly not much to take in yet. (Via PC Gamer)

Plastic army

I love when a mod is so good, it becomes official. That just happened to Rising Storm 2: Vietnam’s Green Army Men mod, which has been expanded and canonized as a full-featured add-on with new maps, toy weapons and vehicles, and so on. Anyone who owns Rising Storm 2 can play for free, though only as the Rifleman class. Ten bucks nets you the ability to play as the other classes, and the money reportedly goes toward the mod team. Pretty nifty, and I want to try out the Pool Party level in particular. It’s giving me Unreal Tournament flashbacks.

One more ring

Amazon already has a Lord of the Rings TV series in the works, and now there’s a video game adaptation in development as well. According to the press release, it will be a “free-to-play MMO set in the iconic world of Middle-earth,” and that’s about all we know. It’s being developed in tandem with Athlon Games, and apparently was technically announced last year before Amazon’s involvement. Some of the New World team will be contributing to the project now though, and it’ll probably leverage Amazon’s server tech if I had to guess.

That said, to date Amazon hasn’t released a single game, and New World’s future seems murky as well. I expect it’ll be a while before we see this one pop up again.

Madhouse

I demoed Moons of Madness at E3 2019 and never got the chance to write about it, one of those games that sort-of falls through the cracks. So let me say now: I liked what I played, a moody horror-adventure game that reminded me a fair amount of Soma, though I was a bit worried by hints of a chase scene or unbeatable monster at the end of the demo. I’m a bit burned out on those.

Still, it seemed interesting. Funcom put out 12 minutes of footage this week if you want to take a look at one of the earlier sequences.

I fought the law and the law won

Hey, remember how Iron Maiden sued Ion Maiden over its title after 3D Realms ignored a cease-and-desist letter? I expected this one to take a bit longer, but it played out exactly as expected: Ion Maiden changed its name, which really makes you wonder why they didn’t just change it the first time around. Anyway, Ion Maiden is now called Ion Fury and it’s releasing in August. Pick your battles better, people.

Original author: Hayden Dingman
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Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers review: Lighting the way for other MMORPGs

“Shadowbringers” is such a goth name, to the point that I wouldn’t be surprised if you entered Final Fantasy XIV’s latest expansion expecting to see, oh, broody anime antiheroes running a delivery service for vampires. But it’s so much more than that.

It’s a tale that reminds us that the world’s beauty depends on a balance of light and dark rather than a surfeit of one or the other, and that starry nights boast as much majesty as sunny afternoons. It’s an oddly timely tale that riffs off contemporary concerns about ignorant politics in the context of a sickened world, and its cutscenes command more interest than many series on television. It’s not only the best Final Fantasy XIV expansion so far (at least in terms of its launch state), but its story hits with such a force that there’s no longer any question that Square Enix’s MMORPG warrants inclusion in discussions of the best Final Fantasy games of all time.

That’s a big statement, I know, and I’m sad that I can’t discuss the story in great detail without giving too much away. So let’s suffice it to say that this is a tale about how you and FFXIV’s usual cast of NPC super friends—the Scions of the Seventh Dawn—get whisked away to a dying world that’s in danger not from an eternity of darkness, but rather from an all-consuming source of light. The light is bad, in other words, which is quite the culture shock for a band of fighters featuring someone called the “Warrior of Light.” So insidious is this light, in fact, that it’s whittled down the world to a single inhabitable continent, and the people who dwell within have gone generations without seeing the glory of a night sky.

Remarkably, though, it’s still a world that looks and feels like your old stomping grounds of Eorzea, right down to familiar races, styles of dress, and the fact that these “aliens” have zero trouble understanding what you’re saying. It’s not without its surprises, though, such as a race of hulking cat men called the Hrothgar and bunny-eared women known as the Viera, both of whom are now available as playable races. There are even dwarves!

And the wonders extend beyond people. To the south, a tsunami of frozen “light” looms over the horizon like dried icing, and far to the north, you’ll find a fairy kingdom where the natives make life hell for visitors more out of mischief than malice. To the west, a city of rich people who deviancy themselves away in a kind of Masque of the Red Death while they wait for the light to finish its job. It’s a planet that’s all but taken the end of the world for a given.

ffxiv shadowbringers wall of light Square Enix

No need to rage against the dying of the light here.

And yet life persists. People defy the inevitable fate by attempting to continue living normal lives, and there’s a lot to admire about that persistence. There’s a lot to admire about virtually everything. The writing here from Natsuko Ishikawa endows the Scions of the Seventh Dawn with a depth they’ve rarely had before, and in the tradition of so many other great stories, even the villains warrant sympathy. Even when their aims aren’t palatable, they’re at least understandable. When the final fight comes at last following an unforgettable closing act, the aftermath leaves an aftertaste of tragedy.

The basic themes tread familiar ground, but there is hope, love, and a sense of humanity here that’s seldom found in an MMO. I care about these characters. (There’s also a recurring bad guy who’s way too good at kicking ass, but he has good lines and a good outfit, so I’ll give him a pass.) Eventually the story goes in directions I barely would have dreamed of when I first set foot in this new world, resulting in a payoff that’s better than any other moment of the game so far. Much of the intensity of this moment owes its power to the gorgeous score by Masayoshi Soken, which enriches the experience of Shadowbringers at every turn.

Trust, if you must

Beyond all that, though, Final Fantasy XIV retains much of the core design of previous expansions. It still places a lot of emphasis on FATEs—the semi-random, dynamic events that pop up across the landscape—and it still requires you to venture into dungeons and the occasional eight-man raid as part of the leveling process. But Shadowbringers introduces a key change in the form of the new (and totally optional) “Trust” system, which lets you take along three NPCs from the main storyline in dungeons rather than having to deal with human players you match with through the Duty Finder.

final fantasy xiv stormbringers dungeons Leif Johnson/IDG

This is what Shadowbringers considers a creature of light. Kind of...dark, eh?

I don’t think it’s an utterly necessary feature, though, considering that FFXIV’s community isn’t anywhere near as toxic as what you’ll find in some other MMORPGs. Trust dungeons also don’t award as much XP as their counterparts with real people, and I found that negated their usefulness after I repeatedly found myself not having enough XP to level and unlock the next batch of main story quests. For that matter, they’re a lot slower than dungeon runs with real people.

Trust dungeons are, however, a fantastic way to learn the mechanics of dungeons and their boss fights without pressure if you’re worried about fouling up in the company of real people on your first visit. The NPCs stand in the right spots when they’re supposed to, which makes for easy runs—so long as you do your part. If you die, you’ll have to restart from before a boss fight, even if your merry band of NPCs is doing fine. As a bonus, Square Enix included in-character lines for each of your party members, so taking along buddies like Alphinaud or Y’shtola feels like you’re getting a tiny extra dose of story. They’re also a good way to get into dungeons quickly without having to wait out the often lengthy Duty Finder queues for damage-dealing classes, although fortunately such queues rarely last for more than five minutes this early into the expansion.

ffxiv trial Leif Johnson/IDG

Unfortunately, the trust system doesn’t work with the raid-like trials, so you might want to watch a walkthrough video before jumping in.

Still other changes await, such as the ability to choose which zone you want to start leveling in once the main story rolls into motion, and the enemies will sync to your level. World of Warcraft started doing this with Legion, and The Elder Scrolls Online essentially extends this kind of design to the entire game. It’s a welcome break from the dogged linearity of Final Fantasy XIV’s story as we’ve known it until now, and it’s all the more remarkable and the story’s coherence and impact don’t suffer as a result. There’s a still a lot of killing and twitching, but Square Enix smartly mixes it up by sprinkling quests with multiple dialogue options that occasionally have slight effects on a quest’s outcome. At other points, you may have to look for items through an interface that turns your field of view into a Hidden Object game.

Along with the new races, Square Enix also introduced two new “jobs,” the fancy name Final Fantasy XIV uses for its combat classes (which, in stark contrast to most MMORPGs, can all be learned by the same character). The Gunbreaker is a tank who wields a sword that doubles as a gun—that’s how you know you’re definitely playing a Final Fantasy game—while the Dancer frolics across the battlefield with slicing chakrams of death while vaulting and pirouetting.

They’re both well-designed and pack powerful punches, and the Dancer even comes with party-wide buffs to replace those that were stripped from Bards. More than that, they’re fun. That’s a big deal, considering how plodding many of FFXIV’s classes felt at launch. You’ll need to have a Disciple of War or Disciple of Magic class leveled to 60 to play either one, but from there you can level your Gunbreaker or Dancer to Shadowbringers’ new level cap of 80.

Storybringers

So here’s a catch. For all its strengths, Final Fantasy XIV remains one of the most traditional mainstream MMORPGs, which in this case means you have to level through six years' worth of story content before you can hop into Shadowbringers. And it’s not like World of Warcraft in that you can jump into the expansion content as soon as you reach the appropriate level for the content—instead, you have to experience the entire main story quest, and that includes part of the story that dropped in post-expansion content patches. If you level and play through the story the “right” way, you’re looking at a massive time commitment of well over 100 hours.

Fortunately, Square Enix lets you work around this by buying boosts through its Mog Station site for each expansion’s story in order to catch up with Shadowbringers. They cost more depending on how late in the story you want to start. For A Realm Reborn, you’ll only need to pay $11, but you’ll need to pay $18 and $25 to get past Heavensward and Stormblood respectively. These don’t level your character, though, so you’ll also pay $25 to level up any of the game's combat classes to level 70, which is the level when Shadowbringers’ story starts. Put it this way: If you’re a new player and you want to jump into Shadowbringers immediately, you’ll have to pay $50 on top of the $40 you’ll pay for Shadowbringers itself. But I’d recommend not skipping Heavensward and Stormblood so you’ll get to know the characters in Shadowbringers better.

final fantasy xiv races Square Enix

Got some real Dark Crystal vibes going on here.

Bring it on

But there is no doubt in my mind that Shadowbringers is a story worth experiencing. The quality of FFXIV’s story has been improving for years—and it was never bad, only slow—but this feels like a great leap forward. I’d even go so far as to say that it feels like an entirely new Final Fantasy game, were it not for the many skillful callbacks to events in the story that happened years ago. So many MMORPGs have expansion stories that stand well on their own, but each new expansion of Final Fantasy XIV feels like a new chapter in a much larger tale—and the sense of place is the better for it. Shadowbringers is an achievement.

With this release, Final Fantasy XIV towers so far over its contemporary rivals that it drowns them in its shadow, and that’s a remarkable achievement for a game that was originally plagued with so many troubles that it had to be remade. I don’t say this lightly. In terms of story, the difference between Final Fantasy XIV and its rivals is like the difference between night and day.

Original author: Leif Johnson
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Microsoft is shutting down its online versions of Hearts, Spades, Checkers and more

Chances are that you’re either obsessed with Microsoft’s Internet versions of Hearts, Backgammon, Checkers and more—or completely oblivious that such games exist. Unfortunately for the fans, Microsoft's online card games are going away entirely.

In a Community post, Microsoft has announced that its versions of Internet Backgammon, Checkers, Spades, Hearts, Reversi and MSN Go are indeed going away—if you’re still running Windows XP, they’ll vanish at the end of July. Support for the games on Windows 7 will end on January 22, 2020, the same day that support for Windows 7 officially ends.

“We truly appreciate all the time and passion you’ve put into Microsoft Internet Games,” Microsoft said in a blog post, reported earlier by Engadget. “This has been a great community. However, the time has come for us, along with our hardware and software partners, to invest our resources towards more recent technologies so that we can continue to deliver great new experiences.”

At the end of the support dates, the games will no longer be playable, Microsoft said. Microsoft didn't explain why the games would have a longer shelf life on its newer operating systems.

Microsoft doesn’t offer versions of its card games on Windows 10 aside from an updated version of Solitaire. That's sticking around, as is its premium ad-free subscription service, which costs $1.99 per month. You can also download versions of Mahjong, Jigsaw, Sudoku, Minesweeper, the Microsoft Treasure Hunt, and Microsoft Bingo in the App Store.

But if you want to play a game like Hearts online, you'll need to search out another version, such as this one. Or you know, just get together with a group of friends with an old-fashioned deck of actual cards. 

Original author: Mark Hachman
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Roborock S6 review: This premium robot vac/mop combo features Increased suction, carpet recognition, and more

I wasn’t familiar with Roborock when I reviewed its S5 robot vacuum/mop last year, so I was pleasantly surprised to find it performed on par with my favorite big-name-brand models. I was even more excited to see the Roborock S6 take all that I loved about that model and add a bunch of upgrades, including increased suction, carpet recognition, map editing, and more.

You wouldn’t know all this just by looking at it. The Roborock S6 wisely keeps the Roborock S5’s award-winning industrial design, including its clean white finish, and it’s roughly the same dimensions. Behind the top-side turret housing the robot’s laser distance sensor is the familiar lid-accessible compartment with a 0.6-liter dustbin, and a cleaning tool for untangling hair from the main brush.

Flip it over, though, and you’ll see the first of its improvements. The main roller brush has the same rubber-and-bristle construction as the S5, but the bristles on the S6 are softer and more dense—250-percent more dense, according to Roborock, making them tougher on dust without scratching your floors. Also new, the bearings on either side of the brush can be removed, making it easier to untangle pet and human hair.

s6 white 2Roborock

The Roborock S6 retains much of the award-winning design of the Roborock S5.

The spinning side brush has also been revamped. The bristles are gone, replaced by five strips of silicone, each split partway in half. This new design is apparently more efficient for sweeping debris into the vacuum’s vent.

The mopping module also has a welcome addition. A simple switch allows you to select how much water dampens the mopping cloth. The lesser level it dispenses is enough for maintenance cleaning, and it leaves your floor with a light sheen of moisture. The higher level provides more water for softening stains, making them easier to remove.

Setup and performance

The setup remains a simple affair. First, snap the moisture-proof mat onto the charging dock—it will keep residual water from dripping on your carpet after mopping—and then place the S6 on the charging pins and power it on. Download the Mi Home app and add the S6 as new device. The app guides you through connecting to the robot and then your Wi-Fi network.

s6 scene 3Roborock

The Roborock S6 is quieter than the Roborock S5—by as much as 50 percent, according to the manufacturer.

The first time you use the Roborock S6, it will map your space and display a floor plan in the app, partitioned into rooms. With this layout, it can plot the most efficient path through your home, and Roborock says improvements to the navigation algorithms can result in up to 20-percent faster cleanings.

In daily usage, the S6 managed to clean the lower level of my condo in 20- to 30 minutes. That’s slightly faster than what I experienced with S5. The robot vac/mop combo easily traversed transitions between hardwood, linoleum, and carpeted floors in my entryway, kitchen, bathroom, and living room respectively. The different flooring gave the S6 a chance to show off its new carpet-recognition feature, too, which automatically boosts the suction power to its max of 2,000pa. (Note that this function, and the map-editing feature discussed below, must be turned on in the app settings before you can use them.) The vac never got trapped, the way non-mapping robot vacuums often do, in the obstacle course that is my living room.

Most importantly, though, it was a whiz at sucking up all the pet hair, food crumbs, dust, and dirt from my floors. I was consistently amazed at the amount of debris filling the dustbin after each cleaning, since the floors never seemed that dirty to the naked eye.

roborock s6 app Michael Ansaldo/IDG

The Mi Home app automatically divdes the floorplan by rooms and lets you edit the map.

I like the mopping function much more here than I did with the S5. My complaint with the older model was that while it was fine for removing loose surface dirt, it left stains unchanged and required me to pull out my stick mop more than I like. The mopping method here is the same—you fill a flat tank with tap water, affix one of the supplied cloths to it, and then slot the tank under the rear of the vacuum, which drags the dampened cloth across your floor. But the ability to control the amount of water used on the cloth makes it much more effective on spills and stains. I still had to do some manual mopping from time to time, but not nearly as frequently.

The app

The Mi Home app is the same one used to control the Roborock S5 and the Xiaomi Mi Home Security Camera (Xiaomi has invested in Roborock), but the app has benefited from a makeover since I last used it.

When you select Roborock S6 from the list of devices, the app loads the current floor plan with several control options beneath it. An Edit button lets you modify the map. You can change the room divisions, set up no-go zones to keep the vacuum from entering forbidden areas, or restore the map to its original state. The app can store up to three maps—perfect for multilevel homes—and you can choose which map to load from here as well.

On the far right is what looks like a spinning-brush icon. Tapping this allows you to select one of four cleaning modes: Quiet, Balanced, Turbo, and Max. On the bottom is a pair of buttons, one to start/pause cleanings, and one to return the S6 to its dock.

When you initiate a cleaning job, you can opt to clean the entire floor plan, individual rooms, or “zones”—small areas you designate with bounding boxes on the map—by selecting the appropriate button under the map. As the S6 cleans, you can monitor its path, which is displayed as white lines on the map. The current cleaning time and area in square meters is always displayed at the top of the screen, along with the remaining battery percentage.

s6 scene 4 Roborock

The Roborock S5 recognizes when it’s on carpet and will automatically boost suction.

On top of this fine-tuned cleaning control, the app also provides a detailed cleaning history and some flexible scheduling options, tracks the life cycle of its brushes and filter, adjusts the volume level of the robot voice, and more. Pretty much any function not on the control screen can be accessed from the three-dot menu.

Smart home integration

In addition to working as part of the Mi Home ecosystem, the Roborock S6 supports both Amazon Alexa and Google Home integration. Curiously, the available Alexa skills only allow you to turn the S6 on and off, not actually run it. There are more Google Assistant commands, allowing you to start and stop cleaning jobs, dock the vacuum and ask if it’s running or charging.

Verdict

The Roborock S6 is an exceptional robot vacuum. With its improved navigation, mopping function, and app, it’s not only a thoughtful step up from the estimable Roborock S5, but a clear contender with big-brand robot vacuums, including iRobot’s Roomba 960 and Neato’s Botvac D7 Connected. It’s available at Newegg for $629.90. That’s still fairly low for the premium features it offers. If that falls within your budget, it’s well worth considering along with those more well-known brands.

Original author: Michael Ansaldo
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Best gaming keyboards: Our picks for the top budget, mid-tier, and RGB boards

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Note: During Amazon's Prime Day sale you can find deals on many of the top mechanical gaming keyboards, including the Corsair K95 RGB—our pick for best ultra premium keyboard—which is now $110, a $90 savings off the list price.

Choosing a gaming keyboard is a matter of personal taste. To that point, there are a plethora of options, with a dizzying mix of features. One person could be into Cherry Browns and white backlighting. Another might favor Razer Greens and a rippling RGB glow. Gigantic wrist pads, compact shapes, numeric keypads, macro keys, volume controls.... You get the picture

Gaming keyboard cheat sheet

To help you sort through the many options, we’ve rounded up a large number of planks, putting them through their paces, to come up with our top recommendations. All of these are mechanical keyboards, and for good reason—they’re simply more comfortable to use over the long haul. But we’re open-minded, so if we encounter an alternative that works well, you may see it appear on this list. We’ll keep updating it periodically as we test new keyboards.

Best budget gaming keyboard

imageBlackWidowX Tournament Edition

Not too long ago, the CM Storm QuickFire TK was the go-to recommendation for a sub-$100 mechanical keyboard. For good reason, too: Classic black-rectangle design, no number pad for those who hate them, and fully backlit (with the color varying based on the switch you choose). Plus, it uses genuine Cherry MX switches.

The budget-friendly mechanical keyboard market has expanded quite a bit in recent years, though. These days, I’d go with Razer’s new BlackWidow X Tournament Edition—so long as backlighting isn’t a must-have.

It lists for only $70, has the same trendy exposed-metal-backplate design of the larger BlackWidow X, and sports a discreet typeface on its keys. Oh, and unlike Razer’s other keyboards, you can get this one with Cherry MX Blues.

Runner-up

imageHyperX Alloy FPS Mechanical Gaming Keyboard

It’s not quite the industry-wide shakeup that ensued with the release of HyperX's Cloud headset, but the HyperX Alloy is a fine debut keyboard.

If you’re willing to go right up to $100, the HyperX Alloy FPS offers some nice perks. It comes with backlighting, features Cherry MX keys, and is the slimmest keyboard on the market. I also like that the Mini USB cable is detachable—you won’t have to RMA the board if only the cable busts.

HyperX Alloy FPS

The HyperX Alloy FPS offers thoughtful touches.

That said, the low end of the market is a free-for-all. Logitech’s G610, the Razer BlackWidow Ultimate, G.Skill’s Ripjaws KM570, the Corsair Strafe—these are all fine-to-excellent keyboards that feature (or at least can feature) genuine Cherry MX switches and per-key backlighting for under $100. The biggest difference is design, which is a personal preference. I happen to like the HyperX Alloy’s minimalist look, but someone else could prefer a bulkier body like that of the Strafe. And things are even more complicated now with a...

Best budget RGB gaming keyboard

imageCooler Master CK552

Cooler Master's CK552 has to make a few compromises to hit its entry-level price tag, but aside from the missing wrist rest it's a fantastic budget keyboard.

Mechanical keyboard prices keep falling and falling. Mere months ago we chose the Cougar Attack X3 RGB for our budget pick, amazed at its sub-$100 price point. Now Cooler Master’s dipped even lower, selling the full-RGB CK552 for $90—or less.
And it’s an attractive keyboard, as well. That’s one compliment I never would’ve paid to the Attack X3 RGB with its pseudo-industrial look. The CK552 is your standard minimalist black rectangle, with a brushed metal backplate and a thin sans-serif typeface on the keycaps. You could certainly use this in the office without drawing too many glances.

Although the sound of the CK552 could attract some unwanted attention. The CK552 is so cheap in part because it uses Gateron switches, not Cherry switches. As far as Cherry clones go, Gaterons are generally well-regarded by the community—but the Gateron Reds are loud. They clack a lot more than Cherry MX Reds. Something to be aware of.

The CK552 is also as bare-bones as a keyboard can get. There are no dedicated media keys, there’s no wrist rest, none of the frills you get with premium keyboards. You can see where Cooler Master cut corners.

But hey, it’s a great keyboard with full RGB backlighting, priced at a mere $90. As long as you don’t mind supplying your own wrist rest (or going without), this is the best deal you’re going to find. (Read our full review.)

Best mid-range RGB gaming keyboard

imageFnatic Streak RGB

The second-generation Fnatic Streak is one of the best mechanical keyboard deals on the market, with full RGB lighting and real Cherry MX keys for under $150—and a gorgeous design, too.

Fnatic’s second-generation Streak is probably the best bang-for-your-buck RGB keyboard on the market right now. Listing at $130, it’s barely more expensive than our budget pick, and absolutely packed with benefits to justify the price bump.

It’s classy looking, for one. Much classier than the G.Skill Ripjaws KM780 that used to rule this subsection. With rounded corners, a slim chassis, and minimal branding, the Streak barely looks like a gaming keyboard at all.

There are some clever features too. This is one of the few gaming keyboards I’ve seen equipped with a Function Lock button, a standard on laptops but a rarity otherwise. Press it, and your F1 to F12 keys will default to their secondary functions. The wrist rest is also smart. Only about two inches wide, you’re able to move it to any of three different positions. It’s both compact and comfortable.

But it’s the backlighting that really wins me over. Fnatic uses Cherry keys, which are notorious for having an offset LED. You’ll notice on every RGB keyboard except Logitech’s, the letters are shifted towards the top—that’s to let the light through. Fnatic flips the entire switch on the Function row though, putting the LED at the bottom of the key and then front-printing the alternate commands so both are lit up. It’s an elegant solution to a longstanding issue, and indicates how much thought went into reworking the Streak. (Read our full review.)

 

Runner-up (Cherry MX switches)

imageCorsair Gaming K70 LUX RGB Mechanical Keyboard

The LUX refresh of the Corsair K70 fixes the original’s limitation of 512 colors, plus you get the new-old Corsair “Sails” logo instead of the ghastly tribal monstrosity that shipped on the old K70. 

 

Runner-up (non-Cherry MX switches)

imageLogitech G513

Logitech's G513 is more than an attractive, professional-looking keyboard. It's also the debut of Logitech's new Romer-G Linear switch, a Cherry MX Red-like switch that finally gives Logitech lovers some options.

For years and years I hated Logitech’s proprietary Romer-G switch. I often compared its original, tactile form to a rubber dome keyboard—unsatisfying to type on for any length of time.

But Logitech finally got around to releasing a new switch this year, the Romer-G Linear. As you might expect, it’s a linear (non-tactile) switch in the vein of the Cherry MX Red. I’d still prefer a clicky keyboard, but you know what? The Romer-G Linear is perfectly usable, and probably one of the better Cherry knock-offs I’ve tried.

I liked it so much, I even kept Logitech’s G513 keyboard on my desk for a few weeks. The only real downside is a lack of dedicated media keys, but otherwise it’s a pretty great deal for $150. (Read our full review.)

 

Best low-profile gaming keyboard

imageCorsair K70 RGB MK.2 Rapidfire Low Profile

Corsair's K70 Low Profile recreates a scissor switch's ergonomics with a new, slimmer Cherry MX mechanical switch. The new switch will be great for laptops, but it's pretty damn nice on desktops as well.

Muscle memory is a powerful force. Given how many people use laptops day-to-day, it’s no surprise some of them want a similar typing experience on a desktop.
Enter the Corsair K70 RGB MK.2 Low Profile. It’s a clumsy name, but all you really need to know is that Corsair is first out of the gate with Cherry’s new Low Profile switches. We got our hands on the Low Profile MX Speed, which is 35 percent smaller than the full-sized MX Speed but retains the same mechanical feel. As I wrote in our review:

“The full-sized MX Speed features a travel distance of 3.4mm, an actuation of 1.2mm, and requires 45 grams of force. The Low Profile MX Speed sits at 3.2mm, 1.0mm, and requires the same 45 grams of force.”

Any differences are so small as to be negligible, even for the most devoted mechanical keyboard enthusiasts. And with this new Low Profile switch, Corsair’s reworked the K70’s ergonomics. The K70 RGB MK.2 Low Profile is laid out like a laptop keyboard, not completely flat but much more so than a standard desktop keyboard with its staggered rows.

Personally I prefer a desktop typing experience, but as I said: Muscle memory is powerful. If you use a laptop all day at work and want a similar feel for your gaming keyboard, this new Low Profile switch is your best friend.

And while Corsair’s first out the gate here, it’s not winning this recommendation purely on timeliness. Aside from the Low Profile switch, this is your standard K70, meaning a set of dedicated media keys and a volume roller in the top-right corner, USB pass-through on the rear, a durable brushed-metal chassis that can really take a beating, a wrist rest, and more. There’s a reason the K95 is on this list as well (as our ultra-premium pick)—Corsair makes quality keyboards.

 

Best wireless gaming keyboard

imageCorsair K63

Corsair's K63 is only the second wireless mechanical keyboard from a mainstream manufacturer, and the first with backlighting. The battery's a bit short, but everything else about it is fantastic.

“Wireless mechanical keyboard.” Until recently the category didn’t exist, and now there are two options: Logitech’s G613 and Corsair’s K63 Wireless. Of the two, Corsair’s version (available on Amazon for $110) is the one were happy to recommend. Not only does it use our preferred Cherry MX switches (as opposed to Logitech’s proprietary Romer-Gs), it also packs full per-key backlighting—the only wireless mechanical keyboard to do so.

Sure, the K63 is a battery hog. At full brightness you’ll eke out a mere 8-10 hours of battery life. Half-brightness, however, can bump that up to about 20 hours per charge, and Corsair claims turning off the backlight extends life to 75 hours.

Having the backlight is great though, especially if you plan to use the K63 Wireless in a dark living room environment. It feels like a full-featured gaming keyboard. There’s also the option to pair the K63 with Corsair’s Gaming Lapboard ($60 on Amazon)—a refresh of the old Lapdog, but one that takes advantage of the K63’s wireless capabilities so you can game on the couch without stringing USB cables across your entire living room. 

Either way, it’s an excellent keyboard. I don’t personally see the need for a wireless keyboard as much as, say, a wireless mouse or headset—devices you move around a lot. But for those who want a clutter free workstation, or those looking for a living-room-ready solution, the K63 is by far the best option available today. (Read our full review.)

 

Best ultra-premium gaming keyboard

imageCorsair Gaming K95 RGB Platinum

The K95 RGB Platinum is a beautiful keyboard with excellent switches, top-tier lighting, and one of the biggest footprints you'll ever find. And it's still smaller than the old K90!

There is zero reason to buy Corsair’s K95 RGB Platinum keyboard. Then again, there’s no reason to buy a Lamborghini either. It’ll get you to the same destination as a Honda Civic, right?

At $200, the K95 RGB Platinum is the most expensive gaming-centric keyboard on the market. It’s almost three times as expensive as an entry-level mechanical keyboard, and nearly twice as expensive as the G.Skill KM780 recommended above.

Put that way, the K95 RGB Platinum seems like an absurd luxury—and it is. Most of its appeal is purely aesthetic, with some of the best RGB backlighting I’ve seen on any keyboard, plus an ostentatious and purely decorative light ribbon stretched across the upper edge. 

Corsair K95 Platinum IDG / Hayden Dingman

If looks matter to you, you can’t do better than the K95.

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Original author: Hayden Dingman
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Acer Aspire E15 E5-576-392H review: A bargain-priced laptop with plenty of productivity power

During Amazon's Prime Day sale even more on this already affordably priced laptop—it's now a low $280, a whopping $90 off its list price.

The Acer Aspire E15 (E5-576-392H) is a bargain laptop that delivers solid productivity performance. Given its low price, mainstream users may be willing to overlook the laptop’s extra weight, so-so display and lack of keyboard backlighting. But if you have any high-demand applications (or a bit of a gaming bug), it would be better to consider one of its pricier cousins. 

Note: This review is part of our best laptops roundup. Go there for more information about competing products and how we tested them.  

Price and specifications

This $379 Acer Aspire E15 (E5-576-392H) comes with an 8th-generation, dual-core Core i3-8130U processor (which sits on the low end of Intel’s line of Core CPUs for laptops), 6GB of DDR3 RAM (up a couple of gigabytes from last year’s budget model), and a 1TB hard drive. For visuals you get a 15.6-inch HD (1920x1080) display, integrated Intel UHD 620 graphics (so don’t expect much in the way of gaming), and a feature that you’ll have a hard time finding on a laptop anymore: an honest-to-goodness 8X DVD-RW optical drive.

We’ll dive into benchmark numbers in a minute, but based on the raw specs, the 8th-gen Core-i3-powered Acer Aspire E15 stacks up nicely as an everyday workhorse, perfect for web browsing, productivity applications, casual photo editing and even spinning your old DVDs. That’s a pretty impressive package for a sub-$400 laptop, and it’s easy to see why this model regularly sits at the top of Amazon’s laptop best-seller list.

If you’re looking for a peppier Aspire E15 that can handle more CPU-intensive tasks and even some gaming, you can spring for a $599 version (The E5-576G-5762, which we've reviewed), which boasts a quad-core Core i5-8250U processor, a discrete Nvidia GeForce MX150 graphics card, a 256GB solid-state drive, 8GB of RAM, and a better IPS-technology screen. There’s also a $799 Aspire E15 that ups the ante with a Core i5-8550U CPU.

Design

Measuring 15 x 10.2 x 1.2 inches and weighing about 5 pounds, 1 ounce (or 5 pounds, 10 ounces if you include the 65-watt power brick), the Core i3-8130U version of the Acer Aspire E15 looks and feels almost identical to last year’s budget model—which is to say, sleek and professional but unquestionably on the heavy side. While the Aspire E15 is no ultraportable, good luck finding a slim-and-light clamshell with similar specs for anything less than double the price.

acer aspire e15 e5 576 392h keyboard top lid detail Melissa Riofrio/IDG

The Acer Aspire E15's etched lid looks both understated and professional.

The E15’s etched lid looks understated and reasonably stylish, while the brushed aluminum finish of the palm rest looks pretty sharp. The plastic feel of the E15’s shell may give it away as a budget model, but the laptop as a whole still feels reassuringly sturdy, complete with a stiff display that barely wobbled as I typed. My only real complaint (a repeat from last year) is that the slide-out DVD tray feels worryingly flimsy.

One particularly thoughtful design touch on the Acer Aspire E15 is a removable bottom panel that gives you access to the RAM slots and drive bay, handy for upgrading the E15’s meager 6GB of memory. Opening the panel is a simple matter of loosening three screws and pulling on a thumb tab.

Display

The Acer Aspire E15’s 15.6-inch display comes with the same pluses and minuses we saw in last year’s budget model. Viewed straight-on—and I do mean directly straight-on—the screen looks reasonably sharp and vivid, perfectly adequate for browsing the web, editing Word documents or fiddling with pivot tables.

acer aspire e15 e5 576 392h 3qtr1 Melissa Riofrio/IDG

The Acer Aspire E15's non-IPS display looks blown-out or even inverse when viewed from an angle.

However, the Aspire E15’s display betrays its budget pedigree once you move your head side-to-side or tilt the screen up or down. Indeed, brightness and contrast vary wildly depending on the viewing angle, and the display blows out and goes inverse as you tilt the lid down. These are the telltale signs of a non-IPS display, and it goes with the Aspire E15’s sub-$400 territory.

The E15’s display is also disappointingly dim, registering only 230 nits (or candelas) according to our measurement; we prefer a reading of at least 250 nits. I had no trouble viewing the Aspire’s display while in my den, but expect to squint if you’re using the laptop near a bright window or outdoors.

Keyboard, trackpad, speakers, and extras

No question about it: the $379 version of the Acer Aspire E15 has a keyboard with a distinctly budget feel, manifested in the matted design of the key caps, the slightly bendy middle of the main keyboard, and the lack of backlighting. The squished 10-key numeric keypad (which also appears on pricier models of the E15) is a bother, as is the funky design of the navigational arrows.

acer aspire e15 e5 576 392h keyboard detail right2 Melissa Riofrio/IDG

The Acer Aspire E15's budget keyboard lacks backlighting, but it was still a pleasure to type on its snappy keys.

That said, I actually enjoyed my time typing on the Aspire E15’s keyboard. Boasting a decent amount of travel, a nice tactile bump in the middle of each keystroke and a springy rebound, the Aspire’s keys felt snappy and refreshing. Kudos to Acer for doing a lot with a little in the keyboard department.

The Aspire E15’s mid-size trackpad sits centered beneath the space bar, which means it’s actually somewhat left of center thanks to the numeric keypad on the right. The E15’s trackpad is pretty much par for the course as far as budget laptops go: smooth and responsive, a tad tough to click, and prone to the occasional mistaken input for your palms.

Also standard-issue are the Acer Aspire E15’s down-firing speakers, which deliver loud but somewhat squished and muddy sound, with essentially zero bass. The fact that the E15’s speakers sound decent at all is impressive given the laptop’s price tag. If you’re planning to bliss out on Spotify, go ahead and plug in a pair of headphones.

Acer claims the 720p webcam in the top bezel of the Aspire E15’s display boasts HDR (High Dynamic Range) technology, and indeed, the video captured by the camera includes bright spots punctuated by deep shadows. On the other hand, the video looks so muddy that the image appears out of focus, rendering the camera useless for all but the most rudimentary Skype chatting.

Ports

Those looking for Thunderbolt 3 ports on Acer's budget-minded Aspire E15 will be disappointed, but if you’ve got an old VGA display you want to connect to your laptop, get ready to be happy.

On the left side of the i3-powered E15, you’ll find a USB 3.1 Type C port (up to 5Gbps), an ethernet jack (with a hinged dropjaw), a VGA port, a full HDMI port, and a pair of USB 3.0 Type A ports. Also on the left side: a Kensington laptop lock.

acer aspire e15 e5 576 392h keyboard detail left ports Melissa Riofrio/IDG

Among the left-side ports on the Acer Aspire E15 are USB 3.1 Type C, an ethernet jack, and a VGA port.

On the right, you get a barrel-shaped charging port, the aforementioned DVD tray, a USB 2.0 Type A port, and a combo audio jack.

acer aspire e15 e5 576 392h keyboard detail right ports Melissa Riofrio/IDG

The Acer Aspire E15's DVD drive is a rarity in laptops these days.

General performance

The Acer Aspire E15's budget status means you need to manage your performance expectations. The integrated Intel UHD 620 graphics can't do much in the way of gaming (I could barely get Fortnite to run, even on its lowest setting). Its Core i3-8130U processor is the lowest-end Core laptop chip available, a mere dual-core in an otherwise quad-core family. But it has one secret weapon: a Turbo mode that can take it from its base clock of 2.2GHz to as high as 3.4GHz. That can come in handy on certain jobs. 

We didn't have other Core i3 laptops to compare it to, so it's going to come in at the bottom compared to the quad-core Core i5-8250U we had on hand. But as we’ll see in the moment, those simply needing to surf the web, manage their photo libraries or get things done with Office should be satisfied.

PCMark 8 Professional Work

Because most Acer Aspire E15 owners will probably be using it for everyday computing duties, we jumped right in with PCMark 8, a benchmarking tool that simulates such typical desktop activities as web browsing, word processing, spreadsheet tinkering, and video chat. Any score over 2,000 is good here. 

acer aspire e15 e5 576 392h pcmark work 8 conventional Melissa Riofrio/IDG

The Acer Aspire E15's PCMark score looks low because it's a dual-core machine up against a bunch of quad-cores, but it's still well over the bar for capable everyday productivity.

Last year’s budget Aspire E15 snagged a pretty decent PCMark 8 result of 2,500, and this new 8th-generation model posts an 18-percent improvement. In anecdotal everyday use I was consistently impressed with the pep of the Core i3-powered Aspire E15, even given its traditional hard drive (which is much slower than the SSDs you find on pricier models).

HandBrake

Composing Word documents is one thing, but encoding video files is quite another. Our next test involves converting a 40GB video file into an Android tablet format using the free HandBrake utility, a task that puts considerable strain on even the most souped-up CPUs.

acer aspire e15 e5 576 392h handbrake Melissa Riofrio/IDG

The HandBrake encoding test is hard on a CPU, especially a dual-core like the Core i3-8130U, but it isn't too far behind some quad-core competition.

While it falls well behind compared to the quad-core laptops in our comparison chart—no surprise, given that this particular benchmark favors systems with the most cores—the Acer Aspire E15 notches a respectable score given its dual-core processor, not to mention a solid uptick over last year’s budget E15 model.

Still, it should be noted that the Aspire E15 labors mightily to achieve its Handbrake score. We observed CPU temperatures spiking above 92 degrees Celsius (197.6 degrees Fahrenheit), and the system repeatedly engaged thermal throttling to cool things off.

Cinebench

Another CPU-intensive benchmark, our Cinebench test involves rendering a 3D image in real time, a task that pushes laptop processors to the limit. Unlike the lengthy Handbrake test, Cinebench only takes about five minutes to run, giving us a good idea how a particular system handles short bursts of stress. 

acer aspire e15 e5 576 392h cinebench Melissa Riofrio/IDG

Running Cinebench on a single thread, the Acer Aspire E15 could keep up just fine. When we upped the ante to multi-threaded performance, its dual-core status couldn't keep up with quad-core competition.  

We ran the test in both single-threaded and multi-threaded mode. Few applications are multi-threaded, but this test shows off the capabilities of higher core-count chips. In other words, more cores are better when it comes to Cinebench.

It shouldn’t come as a much of a shock that the Core i3-powered Acer Aspire E15 brings up the rear in our comparison chart, behind a series of quad-core laptops. That said, the new budget E15 again shows an impressive uptick over last year’s version.

Battery life

We test battery life on a laptop by looping a 4K video using the stock Windows 10 video player, with screen brightness set at about 250 nits (or, in the case of the display-challenged Acer Aspire E15, its subpar maximum of about 230 nits). We also dialed the speaker volume to 50 percent, with headphones plugged in.

acer aspire e15 e5 576 392h video rundown battery Melissa Riofrio/IDG

The Acer Aspire E15 lasted 8 hours and change in our video rundown test, a good midrange duration that should get you through the workday. 

The Aspire E15’s 496-minute result (about 8 hours and 15 minutes) is a slight improvement over last year’s budget E15, but it’s also more than two hours shy of the battery life of this year’s $599 model, which boasts the same 62 watt-hour battery. 

Conclusion

The budget version of 2018’s Acer Aspire E15 delivers good value for the price as well as a significant performance boost over its predecessor. That said, this laptop comes saddled with a so-so display, and we wish its battery life were a little longer.

 

Original author: Ben Patterson
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Best external drives for backup, storage, and portability

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During Amazon’s Prime Day sale you can find savings on a number of external drives, such as this amazing offer on a Seagate Backup Plus Hub 10TB for $170—a $100 savings. We’ve compiled picks of the most attractive deals.

Anyone who uses a PC should have an external drive. It’s not only a useful means of data backup and storage, it also allows you to transport files from your desktop or laptop to another device.

Xbox One X users, as well, would be wise to invest in an external drive as a way of augmenting the console’s measly 1TB hard drive (the external drive needs to be USB 3.0-compatible and will be formatted when you insert the drive). 

The best external drives 2019

WD My Passport 4TB: Best external backup drive [amazon.com] Samsung T5 SSD: Best external performance drive [amazon.com] Samsung Portable SSD X5: Best portable Thunderbolt 3 drive [samsung.com]

The question is, which external drive is right for you? To answer that, we’ve combed through our reviews of both external hard disks and SSDs to pick the top drives we’ve tested. We’ll also walk you through what you need to know to buy the best external drive for your needs.

Updated March 27, 2019 to add two reviews that put style on an equal footing with performance. 

The G-Technology G-Drive mobile USB-C external drive (available on Amazon) performs well, and G-Technology always delivers attractive designs that seem intended to harmonize with Apple products. Alas, along with the Apple design cues, comes an relatively Apple-like price. Read our full review.  The Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Touch (available on Amazon) is a svelte drive that sports an attractive basket-weave polyester fabric, as well as good benchmark results. The price is pretty affordable, too. Read our full review.  

Best external backup drive

imageWD My Passport 4TB

Lots of storage for less than the competition, attractive styling, and good performance with small files highlight this USB 3.0 portable hard drive. An excellent bargain.

Our pick for best portable external backup drive for 2017 is Western Digital’s My Passport 4TB drive. Although it’s a tick or two slower than other backup drives (like our runner-up, for example) in sequential file writing (think copying movie files), it does better at writing small files (think hundreds of Word or Excel documents.) It’s not flashy or super-fast, but for most people who only whip it out once a month to run backups and then shove it back into a drawer, those things don’t matter as much as the capacity, price, and reasonable performance. (Read our full review.)

Runner-up

imageSeagate Backup Plus Portable

If capacity and portability are your primary concerns, and the Backup Plus Portable fits up to 5TB in pretty much a standard 2.5-inch USB external package. It's fast with large files, but on the slow side with small ones. Regardless, it's a worthy drive that gives you more space for your movies and games.

Our runner-up for this popular category is Seagate’s slightly larger and somewhat faster Backup Plus Portable. Like the WD above, it’s a USB 3.1 Gen 1 (5Gbps) drive. It tops out at 5TB in a single drive and can also be had in 1TB, 2TB, and 4TB capacities. There’s even a “fast” 4TB version that uses two hard drives in RAID for more performance.

In our tests of the 4TB version, we found the Seagate to be slightly faster with large file transfers (think movies) but worse with small file transfers (think Office documents). It’s still a worthy runner-up, though. (Read our full review.)

Best performance USB drive

imageSamsung T5 SSD

The T5 is easily the fastest non-RAID portable USB SSD we've tested. It makes full use of its Gen 2, 3.1 interface while retaining the svelte profile of the T3. A winner for sure.

Remember that scene in Office Space where Peter Gibbons is desperately trying to save files to disk before getting out of the office? Yeah, mmkay. If you need ultra-fast performance in a package that you can put in your pocket, look no further than Samsung’s new T5 . Not much larger than a book of matches, the T5 comes in sizes from 500GB to 2TB. The best part is its speed. The drive features a USB 3.1 Gen 2 (10Gbps) over USB Type C.

And no, unlike most USB “thumb drives” this baby doesn’t hit the wall when writing files. It can write 20GB of files in just 110 seconds. If it’s a single large file, it’ll write it in 58 seconds. (Read our full review.)

imageSanDisk Extreme Portable SSD (1TB)

The Extreme Portable SSD's convenient form factor trumps the drive's slight performance deficit compared to the Samsung T5. With its fast USB 3.1 Gen 2 (10Gbps) capability, this is currently our favorite portable SSD.

Runner-up

The new drive here is the runner-up, which some may consider an even better pick than the Samsung T5: The Sandisk Extreme Portable. You can read our review of it here, where we give it 4.5 stars and an Editor’s Choice Award. It’s a seriously fast USB 3.1 Gen 2 (10Gbps) drive, just not quite as fast as the Samsung T5.

You might still choose it instead of the Samsung T5 because it’s more comfortable with its rubberized grip finish. It comes with a nifty combo cable that adapts to old-school square USB Type A and also works with USB-C ports.

The Sandisk Extreme Portable displaces the Sandisk Extreme 900 drive, but we think it’s a fair decision because the Extreme 900 is, well, pricey. At $700 for 1.92TB, it’s hard to justify over the Extreme Portable’s $521 for 2TB.

Best portable Thunderbolt 3 drive

imageSamsung Portable SSD X5

Portable Thunderbolt 3 drives have been long overdue, but we’re happy to recommend Samsung’s new Portable SSD X5 drive. The full review is on our sister site Macworld, but let’s just say it’s stupidly fast and kinda like putting a scorching Samsung 970 Pro in an enclosure that fits in your pocket and not giving up much performance at all.

Notice that we don’t say “best portable performance Thunderbolt 3 drive,” because by very definition, a Thunderbolt 3 drive should be blazingly fast. The only reason we’re not universally recommending the Portable SSD X5 is the relative rarity of Thunderbolt 3 ports on PCs. You’d need to be driving a brand-new Dell XPS 13 or HP Spectre x360 13 to be able to use Thunderbolt 3.

What you need to know before you buy

usb ss10 USB IF

SuperSpeed USB 10 Gbps is the official name for the USB 3.1 Gen 2 spec used in the fastest USB external hard drives today.

Capacity and price

External-drive shopping can pull you deep into specs and features, but the most important two numbers for consumers are capacity and price. Many assume the lowest-cost drive gets you the most value, but it often doesn’t. In fact, dollar for dollar, it’s often the worst deal.

For example, we took the WD Black My Passport portable drive and compared the prices of the 1TB, 2TB, 3TB, and 4TB drive, on capacity and price. Keep in mind, this is one drive on one day (July 11, 2017), and just one vendor, Amazon, but it illustrates the point.

july 11 drive cost per gb tb IDG

Despite the low cost, the 1TB drive gives you the worst bang for the buck

If you look at the chart above, you can see the worst deal is that $58 1TB HDD, while the 4TB nets the most storage capacity for the money. Here are the same numbers in a bar chart form:

wd my passport cost per tb IDG

In bar chart format, the false economy of the lower-capacity drive becomes obvious.

So yes, if you’re buying an external drive, you pay more for the lowest capacity. However, this doesn’t mean you should automatically shell out for that 4TB drive. In the end, it still costs more. If you really don’t need the storage capacity of a 4TB drive, put that extra $57 toward something you actually do need.

Interface

The vast majority of drives today are USB drives. From there it gets confusing. Today, the flavors include: USB 3.0, USB SuperSpeed, USB 3.1 Gen 1 (which is basically USB 3.0), and USB 3.1 Gen 2.

For the most part, it doesn’t matter which of these versions you get (beware the much older USB 2.0, though). USB 3.0 allows transfer speeds up to 5Gbps, as does USB 3.1 Gen 1. USB 3.1 Gen 2 is the fastest USB version and can move data up to 10Gbps. No single hard drive today can surpass the throughput of USB 3.1 Gen 1, though. The sleight of hand to watch for is if a drive vendor lists “USB 3.1” in the specs without specifying Gen 1 or Gen 2. 

The only place Gen 2 can help is with an SSD. The good news is that while USB 3.1 Gen 2 used to be only in crazy expensive SSD external drives, it’s fairly affordable today. A Sandisk Extreme Portable SSD that is our runner up for portable storage can be had for $125 in a 500GB capacity.

usb portable drives IDG/Gordon Mah Ung

The top drive uses the older, slower Mini-USB interface. The second drive features today’s standard: SuperSpeed Micro B connector. The Orange drive features both a SuperSpeed Micro B and Thunderbolt 2. The bottom drive features USB-C or USB Type C at up to 10Gbps.

Ports

External drives come with a variety of confusing and esoteric ports. Here’s what you need to care about.

USB 3.0 Micro B port is the most common port on portable backup drives today. It’s basically the same Micro USB port used on your phone, but beefed up with more connectors to hit USB 3.0 speeds. It’ll hit 5Gbps and for everything but the fastest portable SSDs is still fine.

USB 3.0 Type B port is the larger, blocky version of USB 3.0 Micro B. USB 3.0 Type B is often used in larger external drive enclosures. As its name implies, it’ll hit USB 3.0 speeds at up to 5Gbps. 

USB Type C is the newest of the USB connectors and features a nifty reversible design that’s being used on phones, tablets, and PCs. Its most important feature is that it supports up to 10Gbps transfer speeds. The key phrase here is “up to.” USB Type C is just the connector and port on the drive (or phone), but the rules allow USB Type C to support transfer speeds from USB 2.0’s 480Mbps to USB 3.0’s 5Gbps and USB 3.1’s 10Gbps. So don’t caught up thinking that because a drive you buy has this nifty new interface and port, you’ll get awesome speeds. And no, hooking up a hard drive to a USB Type C port doesn’t make anything faster.

Outside the theoretical speed advantage of USB Type C is a power advantage. A standard USB Type C port on your desktop or laptop should be able to support a minimum of 15 watts, so you should be able to run larger, more power-hungry drives.

Thunderbolt 3 was designed as one cable to rule them all, and it’s rapidly looking like it will. The port basically adopts a USB Type C port and connector but also offers the ability to run pure PCIe at up to 40Gbps. For the performance-minded, Thunderbolt 3 is the natural alternative. One negative, though: It ain’t cheap. Our recommended portable, the Samsung Portable SSD X5 is $697 for 1TB of capacity. A 1TB Samsung T5 on USB is only $278.

There’s no reason to pay extra for a Thunderbolt 3 drive unless it’s high-performance. A Thunderbolt 3 portable hard drive would be a complete waste of time and money for most people.

Thunderbolt 2 is, at this point, a dying port. Using a miniDisplayPort connector, it only really gained popularity on Macintosh PCs and is now being put out to pasture. Unless you have an older Mac, there’s really no need to invest in a pricier Thunderbolt 2 drive or port today unless it’s for legacy support issues.

eSATA is another mostly dead port. Made as an extension of SATA, eSATA was a cheap way to get beyond the 60MBps performance of USB 2.0. USB 3.0 put the last nail in its coffin, though, so you can ignore this port today. Like Thunderbolt 2, the only reason to invest in an eSATA drive is for use with older computers.

Buy two?

There’s an old saying that “one is none and two is one.” You can apply that phrase to space capsule oxygen tanks, plane engines, or whatever mission critical system you depend on, including hard drives.

The philosophy on external drives used for backup is that copying 10 years’ worth of photos onto an external drive and then erasing it on your PC’s local drive isn’t actually a backup at all. If that drive gets chewed up by the dog or otherwise dies, you’ve lost it all.

If you’re paranoid about backups, consider getting two backup drives, possibly in different colors, and then alternating complete backups of your PC to the drives every few month. This should mitigate data loss should a drive die. Truly paranoid people will even take the second drive to work so there’s no chance of losing both drives to the same local disaster.

dsc09424 IDG/Gordon Mah Ung

Our storage test bed is a Core i7-5820K with 32GB of RAM on an Asus X99 Deluxe board with an Asus Thunderbolt EX 3 card or AFT USB 3.1 add-in card.

How we tested

We use our standard storage test bed to evaluate the performance of the drives we review. It’s an Intel six-core Core i7-5820K on an Asus X99 Deluxe motherboard with a Thunderbolt 3 card and 32GB of RAM running Windows 8.1. We use various synthetic benchmarks including Crystal Disk Mark 5, AS SSD, and Iometer. We also use a manual file-copy test where 20GB of small files and another 20GB single file are written to and read from the storage drive. The test bed boots to a plain SATA drive, but all targets and sources for drive performance use a 24GB RAM disk.

We also use an Asus Thunder EX3 discrete Thunderbolt 3 card and Asus USB 3.1 10Gbps card for testing. The Asus card uses an Asmedia 1142 controller.

Our external drive reviews

If you’d like to learn more about our top picks as well as other options, you can find links below to all the external drives we’ve reviewed. We’ll keep evaluating new ones on a regular basis, so be sure to check back to see what other drives we’ve put through their paces.

At a Glance

Quite frankly, the best portable storage product on the planet. Far faster than the average USB 3.x thumb drive, not that expensive (for an SSD), and available in capacities up 2TB—it's the one you want. At least until the USB SuperSpeed+, Gen 2 version shows up in a year or two.

Pros

Multiples faster than the average USB thumb or hard drive Roughly on par with the price of internal SSDs Type C, USB 3.1

Cons

HIgh cost per gigabyte

The T5 is easily the fastest non-RAID portable USB SSD we've tested. It makes full use of its Gen 2, 3.1 interface while retaining the svelte profile of the T3. A winner for sure.

Pros

Excellent performance Super small and light

Cons

Expensive

Pros

A drive that can hit 10Gbps USB 3.1 speeds! Includes both USB Type C and USB Type A cables Gives you all the speed you demand in a portable drive

Cons

As big as a portable hard disk drive Not exactly cheap A 10Gbps USB 3.1 port is needed to take advantage of it

Though not nearly as tiny as Samsung's T1 or T3, the G-Drive Slim can perform considerably faster thanks to a 10 gigabit USB 3.1 interface.

Pros

Good looking Fast Thin profile Apple-like styling

Cons

Expensive compared to hard drives

If you want to impress your mates or office compatriots, pulling this drive out of your briefcase will do it. Slim and light, it's also a good overall performer. That said, it was one of the slowerUSB 3.x drives we've tested when writing large batches of smaller files and folders. Still, a very nice product.

Pros

Impressive styling Excellent performance with large files Creative setup routine provides FAT and OS specific partitions

Cons

Weak performance when writing lots of smaller files and folders Expensive for the capacity

If capacity and portability are your primary concerns, and the Backup Plus Portable fits up to 5TB in pretty much a standard 2.5-inch USB external package. It's fast with large files, but on the slow side with small ones. Regardless, it's a worthy drive that gives you more space for your movies and games.

Pros

Up to 5TB in a 2.5-inch package Affordable

Cons

Slow writing small files and folders

Lots of storage for less than the competition, attractive styling, and good performance with small files highlight this USB 3.0 portable hard drive. An excellent bargain.

Pros

Excellent cost per gigabyte Nice styling Comprehensive software suite

Cons

Slower than average with large files
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Original author: Gordon Mah Ung
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The Simple Idea Behind Einstein’s Greatest Discoveries

The Simple Idea Behind Einstein’s Greatest Discoveries

The flashier fruits of Albert Einstein’s century-old insights are by now deeply embedded in the popular imagination: Black holes, time warps and wormholes show up regularly as plot points in movies, books, TV shows. At the same time, they fuel cutting-edge research, helping physicists pose questions about the nature of space, time, even information itself.

Quanta Magazine

author photo

Original story reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine, an editorially independent publication of the Simons Foundation whose mission is to enhance public understanding of science by covering research develop­ments and trends in mathe­matics and the physical and life sciences.

Perhaps ironically, though, what is arguably the most revolutionary part of Einstein’s legacy rarely gets attention. It has none of the splash of gravitational waves, the pull of black holes or even the charm of quarks. But lurking just behind the curtain of all these exotic phenomena is a deceptively simple idea that pulls the levers, shows how the pieces fit together, and lights the path ahead.

The idea is this: Some changes don’t change anything. The most fundamental aspects of nature stay the same even as they seemingly shape-shift in unexpected ways. Einstein’s 1905 papers on relativity led to the unmistakable conclusion, for example, that the relationship between energy and mass is invariant, even though energy and mass themselves can take vastly different forms. Solar energy arrives on Earth and becomes mass in the form of green leaves, creating food we can eat and use as fuel for thought. (“What is this mind of ours: what are these atoms with consciousness?” asked the late Richard Feynman. “Last week’s potatoes!”) That’s the meaning of E = mc2. The “c” stands for the speed of light, a very large number, so it doesn’t take much matter to produce an enormous amount of energy; in fact, the sun turns millions of tons of mass into energy each second.

This endless morphing of matter into energy (and vice versa) powers the cosmos, matter, life. Yet through it all, the energy-matter content of the universe never changes. It’s strange but true: Matter and energy themselves are less fundamental than the underlying relationships between them.

We tend to think of things, not relationships, as the heart of reality. But most often, the opposite is true. “It’s not the stuff,” said the Brown University physicist Stephon Alexander.

The same is true, Einstein showed, for “stuff” like space and time, seemingly stable, unchangeable aspects of nature; in truth, it’s the relationship between space and time that always stays the same, even as space contracts and time dilates. Like energy and matter, space and time are mutable manifestations of deeper, unshakable foundations: the things that never vary no matter what.

The first page from Albert Einstein’s manuscript on general relativity.

Public Domain

“Einstein’s deep view was that space and time are basically built up by relationships between things happening,” said the physicist Robbert Dijkgraaf, director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, where Einstein spent his final decades.

The relationship that eventually mattered most to Einstein’s legacy was symmetry. Scientists often describe symmetries as changes that don’t really change anything, differences that don’t make a difference, variations that leave deep relationships invariant. Examples are easy to find in everyday life. You can rotate a snowflake by 60 degrees and it will look the same. You can switch places on a teeter-totter and not upset the balance. More complicated symmetries have led physicists to the discovery of everything from neutrinos to quarks—they even led to Einstein’s own discovery that gravitation is the curvature of space-time, which, we now know, can curl in on itself, pinching off into black holes.

Over the past several decades, some physicists have begun to question whether focusing on symmetry is still as productive as it used to be. New particles predicted by theories based on symmetries haven’t appeared in experiments as hoped, and the Higgs boson that was detected was far too light to fit into any known symmetrical scheme. Symmetry hasn’t yet helped to explain why gravity is so weak, why the vacuum energy is so small, or why dark matter remains transparent.

“There has been, in particle physics, this prejudice that symmetry is at the root of our description of nature,” said the physicist Justin Khoury of the University of Pennsylvania. “That idea has been extremely powerful. But who knows? Maybe we really have to give up on these beautiful and cherished principles that have worked so well. So it’s a very interesting time right now.”

Light

Einstein wasn’t thinking about invariance or symmetry when he wrote his first relativity papers in 1905, but historians speculate that his isolation from the physics community during his employment in the Swiss patent office might have helped him see past the unnecessary trappings people took for granted.

Like other physicists of his time, Einstein was pondering several seemingly unrelated puzzles. James Clerk Maxwell’s equations revealing the intimate connection between electric and magnetic fields looked very different in different frames of reference—whether an observer is moving or at rest. Moreover, the speed at which electromagnetic fields propagated through space almost precisely matched the speed of light repeatedly measured by experiments—a speed that didn’t change no matter what. An observer could be running toward the light or rushing away from it, and the speed didn’t vary.

Einstein connected the dots: The speed of light was a measurable manifestation of the symmetrical relationship between electric and magnetic fields—a more fundamental concept than space itself. Light didn’t need anything to travel through because it was itself electromagnetic fields in motion. The concept of “at rest” — the static “empty space” invented by Isaac Newton—was unnecessary and nonsensical. There was no universal “here” or “now”: Events could appear simultaneous to one observer but not another, and both perspectives would be correct.

Chasing after a light beam produced another curious effect, the subject of Einstein’s second relativity paper, “Does the Inertia of a Body Depend Upon Its Energy Content?” The answer was yes. The faster you chase, the harder it is to go faster. Resistance to change becomes infinite at the speed of light. Since that resistance is inertia, and inertia is a measure of mass, the energy of motion is transformed into mass. “There is no essential distinction between mass and energy,” Einstein wrote.

It took several years for Einstein to accept that space and time are inextricably interwoven threads of a single space-time fabric, impossible to disentangle. “He still wasn’t thinking in a fully unified space-time sort of way,” said David Kaiser, a physicist and historian of science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Unified space-time is a difficult concept to wrap our minds around. But it begins to make sense if we think about the true meaning of “speed.” The speed of light, like any speed, is a relationship—distance traveled over time. But the speed of light is special because it can’t change; your laser beam won’t advance any faster just because it is shot from a speeding satellite. Measurements of distance and time must therefore change instead, depending on one’s state of motion, leading to effects known as “space contraction” and “time dilation.” The invariant is this: No matter how fast two people are traveling with respect to each other, they always measure the same “space-time interval.” Sitting at your desk, you hurtle through time, hardly at all through space. A cosmic ray flies over vast distances at nearly the speed of light but traverses almost no time, remaining ever young. The relationships are invariant no matter how you switch things around.

Gravity

Einstein’s special theory of relativity, which came first, is “special” because it applies only to steady, unchanging motion through space-time—not accelerating motion like the movement of an object falling toward Earth. It bothered Einstein that his theory didn’t include gravity, and his struggle to incorporate it made symmetry central to his thinking. “By the time he gets full-on into general relativity, he’s much more invested in this notion of invariants and space-time intervals that should be the same for all observers,” Kaiser said.

After being forced out of the University of Göttingen by the Nazi regime in 1933, the German mathematician Emmy Noether relocated to the United States, where she lectured at Bryn Mawr College and the Institute for Advanced Study.

Bryn Mawr College Library, Special Collections

Specifically, Einstein was puzzled by a difference that didn’t make a difference, a symmetry that didn’t make sense. It’s still astonishing to drop a wad of crumped paper and a set of heavy keys side by side to see that somehow, almost magically, they hit the ground simultaneously—as Galileo demonstrated (at least apocryphally) by dropping light and heavy balls off the tower in Pisa. If the force of gravity depends on mass, then the more massive an object is, the faster it should sensibly fall. Inexplicably, it does not.

The key insight came to Einstein in one of his famous thought experiments. He imagined a man falling off a building. The man would be floating as happily as an astronaut in space, until the ground got in his way. When Einstein realized that a person falling freely would feel weightless, he described the discovery as the happiest thought of his life. It took a while for him to pin down the mathematical details of general relativity, but the enigma of gravity was solved once he showed that gravity is the curvature of space-time itself, created by massive objects like the Earth. Nearby “falling” objects like Einstein’s imaginary man or Galileo’s balls simply follow the space-time path carved out for them.

When general relativity was first published, 10 years after the special version, a problem arose: It appeared that energy might not be conserved in strongly curved space-time. It was well-known that certain quantities in nature are always conserved: the amount of energy (including energy in the form of mass), the amount of electric charge, the amount of momentum. In a remarkable feat of mathematical alchemy, the German mathematician Emmy Noether proved that each of these conserved quantities is associated with a particular symmetry, a change that doesn’t change anything.

Noether showed that the symmetries of general relativity—its invariance under transformations between different reference frames—ensure that energy is always conserved. Einstein’s theory was saved. Noether and symmetry have both occupied center stage in physics ever since.

Matter

Post Einstein, the pull of symmetry only became more powerful. Paul Dirac, trying to make quantum mechanics compatible with the symmetry requirements of special relativity, found a minus sign in an equation suggesting that “antimatter” must exist to balance the books. It does. Soon after, Wolfgang Pauli, in an attempt to account for the energy that seemed to go missing during the disintegration of radioactive particles, speculated that perhaps the missing energy was carried away by some unknown, elusive particle. It was, and that particle is the neutrino.

Starting in the 1950s, invariances took on a life of their own, becoming ever more abstract, “leaping out,” as Kaiser put it, from the symmetries of space-time. These new symmetries, known as “gauge” invariances, became extremely productive, “furnishing the world,” Kaiser said, by requiring the existence of everything from W and Z bosons to gluons. “Because we think there’s a symmetry that’s so fundamental it has to be protected at all costs, we invent new stuff,” he said. Gauge symmetry “dictates what other ingredients you have to introduce.” It’s roughly the same kind of symmetry as the one that tells us that a triangle that’s invariant under 120-degree rotations must have three equal sides.

Gauge symmetries describe the internal structure of the system of particles that populates our world. They indicate all the ways physicists can shift, rotate, distort and generally mess with their equations without varying anything important. “The symmetry tells you how many ways you can flip things, change the way the forces work, and it doesn’t change anything,” Alexander said. The result is a peek at the hidden scaffolding that supports the basic ingredients of nature.

Video: David Kaplan explains how the search for hidden symmetries leads to discoveries like the Higgs boson.

The abstractness of gauge symmetries causes a certain unease in some quarters. “You don’t see the whole apparatus, you only see the outcome,” Dijkgraaf said. “I think with gauge symmetries there’s still a lot of confusion.”

To compound the problem, gauge symmetries produce a multitude of ways to describe a single physical system — a redundancy, as the physicist Mark Trodden of the University of Pennsylvania put it. This property of gauge theories, Trodden explained, renders calculations “fiendishly complicated.” Pages and pages of calculations lead to very simple answers. “And that makes you wonder: Why? Where does all that complexity in the middle come from? And one possible answer to that is this redundancy of description that gauge symmetries give you.”

Such internal complexity is the opposite of what symmetry normally offers: simplicity. With a tiling pattern that repeats itself, “you only need to look at one little bit and you can predict the rest of it,” Dijkgraaf said. You don’t need one law for the conservation of energy and another for matter where only one will do. The universe is symmetrical in that it’s homogeneous on large scales; it doesn’t have a left or right, up or down. “If that weren’t the case, cosmology would be a big mess,” Khoury said.

Broken Symmetries

The biggest problem is that symmetry as it’s now understood seems to be failing to answer some of the biggest questions in physics. True, symmetry told physicists where to look for both the Higgs boson and gravitational waves—two momentous discoveries of the past decade. At the same time, symmetry-based reasoning predicted a slew of things that haven’t shown up in any experiments, including the “supersymmetric” particles that could have served as the cosmos’s missing dark matter and explained why gravity is so weak compared to electromagnetism and all the other forces.

In some cases, symmetries present in the underlying laws of nature appear to be broken in reality. For instance, when energy congeals into matter via the good old E = mc2, the result is equal amounts of matter and antimatter — a symmetry. But if the energy of the Big Bang created matter and antimatter in equal amounts, they should have annihilated each other, leaving not a trace of matter behind. Yet here we are.

The perfect symmetry that should have existed in the early hot moments of the universe somehow got destroyed as it cooled down, just as a perfectly symmetrical drop of water loses some of its symmetry when it freezes into ice. (A snowflake may look the same in six different orientations, but a melted snowflake looks the same in every direction.)

“Everyone’s interested in spontaneously broken symmetries,” Trodden said. “The law of nature obeys a symmetry, but the solution you’re interested in does not.”

But what broke the symmetry between matter and antimatter?

It would come as a surprise to no one if physics today turned out to be burdened with unnecessary scaffolding, much like the notion of “empty space” that misdirected people before Einstein. Today’s misdirection, some think, may even have to do with the obsession with symmetry itself, at least as it’s currently understood.

Many physicists have been exploring an idea closely related to symmetry called “duality.” Dualities are not new to physics. Wave-particle duality—the fact that the same quantum system is best described as either a wave or a particle, depending on the context—has been around since the beginning of quantum mechanics. But newfound dualities have revealed surprising relationships: For example, a three-dimensional world without gravity can be mathematically equivalent, or dual, to a four-dimensional world with gravity.

If descriptions of worlds with different numbers of spatial dimensions are equivalent, then “one dimension in some sense can be thought of as fungible,” Trodden said.

“These dualities include elements—the number of dimensions—we think about as invariant,” Dijkgraaf said, “but they are not.” The existence of two equivalent descriptions with all the attendant calculations raises “a very deep, almost philosophical point: Is there an invariant way to describe physical reality?”

No one is giving up on symmetry anytime soon, in part because it’s proved so powerful and also because relinquishing it means, to many physicists, giving up on “naturalness”—the idea that the universe has to be exactly the way it is for a reason, the furniture arranged so impeccably that you couldn’t imagine it any other way.

Clearly, some aspects of nature—like the orbits of the planets—are the result of history and accident, not symmetry. Biological evolution is a combination of known mechanisms and chance. Perhaps Max Born was right when he responded to Einstein’s persistent objection that “God does not play dice” by pointing out that “nature, as well as human affairs, seems to be subject to both necessity and accident.”

Certain aspects of physics will have to remain intact—causality for example. “Effects cannot precede causes,” Alexander said. Other things almost certainly will not.

One aspect that will surely not play a key role in the future is the speed of light, which grounded Einstein’s work. The smooth fabric of space-time Einstein wove a century ago inevitably gets ripped to shreds inside black holes and at the moment of the Big Bang. “The speed of light can’t remain constant if space-time is crumbling,” Alexander said. “If space-time is crumbling, what is invariant?”

Certain dualities suggest that space-time emerges from something more basic still, the strangest relationship of all: What Einstein called the “spooky” connections between entangled quantum particles. Many researchers believe these long-distance links stitch space-time together. As Kaiser put it, “The hope is that something like a continuum of space-time would emerge as a secondary effect of more fundamental relationships, including entanglement relationships.” In that case, he said, classical, continuous space-time would be an “illusion.”

The high bar for new ideas is that they cannot contradict consistently reliable theories like quantum mechanics and relativity—including the symmetries that support them.

Einstein once compared building a new theory to climbing a mountain. From a higher perspective, you can see the old theory still standing, but it’s altered, and you can see where it fits into the larger, more inclusive landscape. Instead of thinking, as Feynman suggested, with last week’s potatoes, future thinkers might ponder physics using the information encoded in quantum entanglements, which weave the space-time to grow potatoes in the first place.

Original story reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine, an editorially independent publication of the Simons Foundation whose mission is to enhance public understanding of science by covering research developments and trends in mathematics and the physical and life sciences.

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Original author: K. C. Cole
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Cheaper Lidar, a Self-Driving Deal, and Other Car News This Week

Cheaper Lidar, a Self-Driving Deal, and Other Car News This Week

By now, anybody watching the self-driving car space is familiar with the “trough of disillusionment,” the stage of the Gartner hype cycle that follows the “peak of inflated expectations,” and—for the lucky ones—precedes the “slope of enlightenment.” This is the part where instead of puffing their chests out, the technologists put their heads down to work on delivering what they’ve promised. It’s also where self-driving has been for a few years now, but encouraging signs have emerged that robocars have started the climb.

Like, for example, Luminar’s announcement this week that it has developed a lidar scanner it will sell for just $500—cheap enough to bring a new level of autonomy to consumer cars. Or that after breaking up with self-driving developer Aurora earlier this year, Volkswagen on Friday invested $2.6 billion in Argo AI, with plans to use its tech to launch an autonomous service (likely meaning robotaxis or trucking, somewhere, sometime). These are small signals, to be sure, but every springtime starts with green shoots.

Elsewhere in the world of transportation, we have a look at Sikorsky’s nimble new helicopter, a dispatch from electric-loving Norway, an airplane seat design that might make you want to sit in the middle, and more. It’s been a week—let’s get you caught up.

Headlines

Stories you might have missed from WIRED this week

For all Facebook’s efforts to connect people around the world, new research from Princeton, NYU, and the social media giant itself shows that in New York City, friendships form along subway lines. Let the elbow wars end in peace: Colorado-based Molon Labe has received FAA certification for a staggered seat design that makes the middle seat a comfort zone and gives everyone their own place to rest their arms. The company has already locked down its first (unnamed) customer. You use Waze to predict where you’ll get stuck in traffic and cut your stress levels. Turns out that data can also be used to predict where crashes will happen—and cut emergency response times. It’s been four decades since American Airlines invented the frequent flier mile—and now the idea has hit the ground. Along with Uber and Lyft, public transit agencies around the country are launching rewards programs to attract and keep riders. Norway has so many electric cars, wandering its streets is like seeing the future. And now the Scandinavian country invites you, tourist, to come for a ride. The US Army is on the hunt for a new light attack and scout helicopter, and Sikorsky thinks its funky, fast, and nimble S-97 Raider is the chopper for the job. When Elon Musk pooh-poohs lidar for self-driving, he cites cost as a key weakness. Now, Luminar has introduced the Iris, a laser scanner it plans to sell to automakers for just $500 apiece. Volkswagen announced Friday it’s investing $2.6 billion in Argo AI. The move further tightens its relationship with Ford and makes it the latest automaker to seek outside help in developing its driverless future.

Drone Hero of the Week

Sure, drones are a fun toy to bring to the beach. But did you know they can also spot sharks hanging out near where your kids are swimming?

Stat of the Week

The amount of money cities will be spending on “smart city” tech by 2023, according to a new report from International Data Corporation. Big ticket items include smart grid and lighting tech, visual surveillance, and better public transit.

Required Reading

News from elsewhere on the internet

Say goodbye to the Beetle: Now that the iconic Volkswagen Bug has wrapped up production, NPR invites you to share your memories of the little critter. The Wall Street Journal reports that millions of Google Maps listing are fake, and it’s good for the search giant’s business. Late last week, BMW said CEO Harald Krueger will step down next year, after the automaker frittered away an early lead in electric cars. The Chinese company that makes more electric vehicles than anyone else doesn’t look like Elon Musk’s Tesla—at all. In a country where driving is effectively mandatory for many, deadly crashes aren’t really avoidable. In Manhattan’s West Village, residents are furious over a billionaire’s allegedly illegal commandeering of a prime street parking spot. A California bill that would make it harder to classify gig workers as independent contractors takes another step toward becoming law. The National Transportation Safety Board finds that a self-driving shuttle crashed in Las Vegas last year in part because its manual controls were locked away. The Information reports that Elon Musk has shaken up his Autopilot team—the folks charged with delivering “full self-driving” by next year—yet again.

In the Rearview

Essential stories from WIRED’s canon
While we wait for the Army to decide which new helicopter design it will take to war, have a look back at that time Tom Cruise insisted on learning to fly a chopper for the latest Mission Impossible—and pulled off a horribly dangerous stunt.

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Original author: Alex Davies
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Amazon Prime Day 2019: 17 Best Early Deals and Shopping Tips

Amazon Prime Day 2019: 17 Best Early Deals and Shopping Tips

Like winter in Game of Thrones, Amazon's fifth annual Prime Day sale has come. Prime Day began in 2015 as a day-long sale celebrating Amazon's 20th anniversary, a chance for Amazon's millions of Prime subscribers to score some sweet deals. That first Prime Day was so successful that Amazon made it a yearly event. It's been growing, Hydra-headed, ever since.

Last year, Prime "Day" stretched to 36 hours; this year it has become Prime Days, running for a full 48 hours, likely with more deals then ever: Amazon Fresh is in on the action, as is Twitch Prime, along with some new offerings like the just-launched Happy School Year store aimed at students, parents, and educators looking to stock up on back-to-school supplies.

Updated at 1:30 am ET Monday: We've added an Amazon Music trial and made several other swaps and changes, including adding the Kindle Paperwhite, which is $45 off.

Note: When you buy something using the retail links in our stories, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Read more about how this works.

When Prime Day Starts

Started: Prime Day kicked off on Monday, July 15, at midnight PT.

Ends: 48 hours later on Tuesday, July 16 at 11:59, pm PT.

That's not all. Amazon already has a bunch of deals on its own devices, which we've highlighted below, and more are on the way. Be sure to also read below for some smart shopping tips.

More WIRED Prime Day Coverage

The Best Early Prime Day Deals

Amazon's light-up basic Kindle is cheaper than it's ever been.

Amazon

Many of these deals just went live, and we think they're a safe bet to purchase before Prime Day begins, if you're in the market.

New 2019 Kindle for $60 ($30 off): The basic Kindle is our top pick for an Amazon book reader right now. It includes a backlight for the 6-inch E Ink touchscreen, meaning you can read in the dark. It comes with 3 free months of Kindle Unlimited, Amazon's Netflix-style book subscription, and you get a $5 ebook credit.

Kindle Paperwhite for $85 ($45 off): The Paperwhite is a Kindle upgrade worth considering. For a couple extra Hamiltons more than the plain Kindle, it opens up the joys of reading in the pool, beach, and bathtub without fear. The display is flush and the device is rated IPX8, meaning it can sit in 2 meters of water for two hours. It also comes with 3 free months of Kindle Unlimited, Amazon's Netflix-style book subscription, and you get a $5 ebook credit.

Fire TV Stick for 4K TVs for $25 ($25 off): The Fire Stick 4K is the best of Amazon's Fire TV devices. It works with all modern TVs, no matter the resolution—HD or 4K. We prefer the Roku all things considered, but if you're a heavy Prime Video user this makes a good streaming device. YouTube now works on Fire TV, as well.

Fire TV Recast for $130 ($100 off): It's not much to look at, but this plain black box can handle all your DVR needs, recording and streaming your over-the-air broadcasts to a Fire TV-friendly device. If you need more, you can also get the 4-tuner model with 1TB of storage for $179 (also $100 off).

BackBeat Pro 2 Noise Canceling Headphones for $132 ($67 off): These are some of our favorite affordable wireless headphones. They typically hover around $200 and brown isn't the greatest color, but their noise canceling is decent, they sound great, and they're especially good for wearing as you walk because they'll auto pause and sit around your neck without chokeholding you.

Sony WH1000XM3 Noise Canceling Headphones for $298 ($50 off): These are the best noise-canceling headphones you can buy (Read our review). They sound better and cancel more noise than Bose, though they aren't good for phone calls.

Fire HD 8 for $50 ($30 off): The Fire HD 8 is a very capable tablet ... for the price. Be sure to check out our updated guide to deciphering which Amazon Fire tablet is best for you.

Fire HD 8 Kids Edition Tablet for $80 ($50 off): The Fire HD 8 Kids Edition is our top pick for kids under 7. If your kid's hands are especially tiny, they'll appreciate the Fire 7's smaller size. It's also on sale.

Fire HD 10 for $115 ($50 off): The Fire HD 10 is a much more capable tablet than the 8. It’s faster, has more storage, and the 10-inch HD screen looks much nicer for watching video.

Amazon Fire HD 10 is down to its cheapest price.

Amazon

Ring Video Doorbell with Echo Dot for $70 ($80 off): We liked the Ring Video Doorbell and pairing it with an Echo means you don't have to search for your phone every time someone's at the door.

Echo Dot 3rd Gen for $22 ($27 off): If you want an Alexa speaker, but don't plan on rocking out with it, the Echo Dot is for you. It’s a hockey puck-shaped speaker that puts out decent spoken audio and can add voice control to your smart home gadgets.

Echo Show for $160 ($70 off): At first, it seems odd to have an Alexa speaker with a display. But after using it you'll understand the appeal. When you ask it for the weather, it tells you and shows you thanks to the 10-inch display and rear speakers.

Echo Dot Kids Edition for $45 ($25 off): The extra cost of the Kids Edition covers the padded foam case and a year's subscription to Amazon's FreeTime Unlimited. We found the Echo Dot Kid's Edition wanting, but it's more appealing at this price point.

Amazon Subscription Deals

Twitch Prime is offering Apex Legends gear for Prime Day.

EA

3 Free Months of Kindle Unlimited: If you haven't already signed up for Kindle Unlimited, you can score your first three months of unlimited reading for free. After that it's $10 per month and it will auto-renew so set a calendar reminder if you plan to cancel.

3 Months of Amazon Music for $1: This is a good opportunity to see if you like Amazon Music more than other services. We still prefer Spotify, but Amazon Music does work well with Alexa speakers.

Audible 1-Year Subscription + an Echo Dot for $120: Amazon has been running this deal for a few weeks, but it's still good. Prime members can sign up for a full year of Audible for $120 and get a voucher to by an Echo Dot for a buck. If you don't want to commit to a full year there's also an option to get three months of Audible for $5/mo, but no Echo Dot.

Twitch Prime Offers Apex Legends Gear: Amazon is offering the ability to unlock exclusive legend and weapon skins for Apex Legends and some in-game content for multiple EA Sports titles, including FIFA Ultimate Team.

Prime Day Rival Sales

Amazon isn't the only one with Prime Day sale, it's just the only one calling them Prime Day. Historically, retailers like Walmart and Best Buy have gotten pretty worked up about Amazon Prime Day and offered their own defensive sales to try and steal some of Amazon's thunder. This year we've heard that around 250 retailers will join the fray.

There's even been some effort to rebrand Prime Day "Black Friday in July" by some retailers. As distasteful as that phrase is (one Black Friday is more than enough per calendar year), it's worth bearing in mind that Amazon isn't the only place to score deals on Prime Day. Below are a few stores with their own sales. We'll highlight some of our favorite rival deals on Monday.

Shop Smart

As the name indicates, the deals of Prime Day are only available to Prime members. You can sign up for Amazon Prime here. There is a 1-month free trial, and students can get 6 months free (and a discount), but odds are you're already onboard.

If not, you should know that Prime is about $10 a month (if you subscribe annually) and offers free 2-day shipping on many items and access to the Prime Video service. There are other perks, like free Kindle books, and you can read them all here. If it's not for you, after the sale is over, you can cancel your membership before the 30-day period is up and you won't be billed. Just don't forget to cancel.

There are deals on almost everything on Prime Day, but not all of them are great. To figure what's a good deal and what's not it pays to do some research.

Tip 1: Set Up Deal Alerts for Particular Products

If you're hoping a particular item will go on sale, there are ways to keep an eye on it. First, install the Amazon Shopping app for iPhone or Android so you can get instant notifications. Then add the items to your Amazon Cart (You can "Save for Later"). Amazon should notify you if the price changes.

That works great if you know what you're looking for ahead of time, but what if you find something on Prime Day and you want to know if it's a good deal or not? For that we love CamelCamelCamel.com. It lets you search up the price history of any product on Amazon and track them at a click. Better yet, if you sign up (free), it can import and track prices on your entire Amazon Wish List. (You can easily make wish lists on Amazon by clicking on the "Add to List" button on every product page.)

Tip 2: Track Upcoming Lightning Deals

Lightning Deals can be super stressful. It's so easy to miss them, but if you have the time to browse through deals in the morning, you can track upcoming Lightning Deals using the Amazon Shopping app. Click on the hamburger icon in the upper left, then Today's Deals > Upcoming. You can click the "Watch this Deal" button on any deal that's more than 10 minutes away to add it to your "Watching" list. The app should then notify you the moment Lightning strikes.

Tip 3: Set up an Echo for Alexa Exclusive Deals

If you own an Echo device, you can set up voice purchasing. In the Alexa app on your phone, head to Settings > Accounts and select "Purchase by Voice." Once you're set up, just ask, "Alexa, what are my Prime Day deals?"

More Tips

For more smart shopping tips be sure to check out our other Amazon stories, including tips for shopping safe on Amazon, what Amazon's star ratings mean, and what it means when something is "Amazon's Choice". Also be aware that scammers are trying to get in on the act as well, with a new phishing scam. Luckily there's nothing unique about this scam, the usual rules for protecting yourself from email scams apply and, hopefully, are old hat at this point.

Check our Amazon Prime Day Page for more coverage and deals.

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Original author: Scott Gilbertson
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Robots Alone Can't Solve Amazon's Labor Woes

Robots Alone Can't Solve Amazon's Labor Woes

Today is Prime Day, that time of year when shoppers swarm Amazon’s discounted digital shelves. A few days later all that stuff will show up at your door, as if by capitalistic magic. But it’s not magic—it’s the product of an army of human packers in warehouses.

And some of those workers are angry. Amazon warehouse employees in Minnesota plan on striking today, demanding better working conditions and less intense productivity quotas. In a photo published by Bloomberg last week, the workers held a sign reading: “We Are Humans, Not Robots!”

Which brings us to an uncomfortable idea in this new era of robotic automation: If human workers are working like robots, why can’t they just be robots? Can’t Amazon replace everyone with machines and wave goodbye to its labor woes? But, in asking that question, we’re not giving these workers enough credit for how smart and versatile and dexterous they are, and we’re forgetting just how inept robots still are. Yes, Amazon is scrambling to automate its warehouses to boost its efficiency. But in so doing, it’s creating a new human-robot hybrid workforce, which means it would do well to keep these people happy. We have to praise—nay, venerate—humans for what makes them such good laborers.

What’s actually happening right now, in automation generally as well as in Amazon’s own warehouses, is robots performing parts of jobs.

Matt Simon covers cannabis, robots, and climate science for WIRED.

“The human element is not going away anytime soon,” says John Santagate, research director of service robotics at IDC, which does market research. “There are just too many things people can do that robots and automation can't do. It's about identifying the right tasks to automate and allowing your people to do other more fulfilling things, or do the things humans do better and faster.”

Take Amazon’s approach to a Colorado sorting center (where packed boxes are sorted and shipped, in contrast to fulfillment centers, where the boxes are packed with your products). With the original process, which still churns in half of the building, humans stand at the bottom of chutes fed by conveyor belts, picking up often hefty packages and organizing them by location, sending them via more chutes to more humans below to organize on pallets bound for delivery trucks. With Amazon’s new system, human workers sit at stations in front of a giant elevated grid of chutes that correspond to zip codes. They grab packages, scan them, and place them on little robots that transport the packages to the chutes, which empty into bins on the floor below. So it’s the robots doing much of the organizing and transport.

The robots didn’t obliterate jobs in the facility; they assumed the part that machines are pretty good at right now: moving from point A to point B. Humans still do the very human task of fine manipulation by picking through piled up packages. This also comes with the very human skill of problem-solving: If a box has broken and spilled its contents, the worker has to set it aside and figure out what to do next. Robots are still far too stupid to do that task.

Same goes in fulfillment centers like the one in Minnesota where workers are striking today, where human workers fill boxes with products. Existing robot arms and grippers aren’t deft enough to handle the diversity of objects that Amazon sells and pop them all in boxes. We’re nimble, and machines are notoriously rigid. So as automation intensifies, humans can retrain to adapt. Indeed, last week Amazon announced it was pledging $700 million over the next six years to retrain 100,000 employees in technical skills.

LEARN MORE

The WIRED Guide to Robots

Would Amazon benefit from fully automating its order fulfillment process? Hell yeah it would. But it can’t, because even if the machines could do everything, you’d need someone to supervise them. The fabled human-free, lights-out warehouse, where machines zip along in darkness because only puny humans need photons, wouldn’t even make sense in Amazon’s robotic sorting center, because these robots navigate with cameras.

“I think the current step we're in, which is human-robot collaboration, is going to be more effective for a long period of time,” says Santagate. “I think it's a step toward greater levels of automation, but I think the next one is a leap to go from collaborative environments to lights-out warehouses.”

Just look at the auto industry: For decades now, robots have helped assemble cars, yet humans still work in those factories doing quality control and fine manipulation tasks. Their jobs are less dangerous and strenuous because they’re no longer hefting heavy components into place. In turn, the increased speed and precision makes the automaker better able to compete in the marketplace. “If the company is profitable, it's good for all of us,” says Maryville University's Richard Kilgore, who worked on automation efforts while at Ford. “But that's a difficult sell when you're a manager and they’re an employee, and you're getting stock options and they're not.”

In the case of Amazon, that argument is even less compelling, considering a worker’s increased productivity via robotics is further enriching the richest man on the planet. But as robots penetrate more and more industries, we need to value human workers for just how exceptional they are. These fulfillment center workers in Minnesota say they’re being treated like robots, but the reality is they’re far more capable than robots probably will ever be.

“This is a real opportunity for Jeff Bezos to get in front of this thing and show up there in Minnesota and say, hey, I'm here to listen,” says James Bailey, who studies leadership at the George Washington University School of Business. “These are valued employees, and we want to treat everybody well, as opposed to this disembodied PR representative that comes out with a statement about how great Amazon is.”

And certainly don’t send Jeff in as a telepresence robot. Not a good look.

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Original author: Matt Simon
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Star Wars News: 'Rise of Skywalker' Reshoots Are Happening, Apparently

Star Wars News: 'Rise of Skywalker' Reshoots Are Happening, Apparently

It is, as the saying goes, a dark time for the Rebellion—and for everyone else involved in the Star Wars franchise, as things are astonishingly quiet out there right now. Could it be that the silence persists because everyone is working on projects in the lull between Star Wars Celebration and D23? Perhaps the looming shadow of Comic-Con International in San Diego is soaking up the conversation in the nerd sphere. Or maybe, there's just … nothing to actually talk about right now when it comes to Star Wars. Well, nothing aside from the news below, of course.

The Rise of Skywalker Reshoots Are On

Source: Multiple online outlets

Probability of accuracy: It would certainly appear to be true, and definitely checks out in terms of timeline before the movie gets released.

The real deal: Apparently, additional shoots are underway for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, with a couple of sources reporting that Black Park in the UK has been closed off for either reshoots or pickups, with an X-wing fighter being part of the additional shots. Apparently, there's a notice that the shoot might continue through early September, which feels unexpectedly late considering the movie is scheduled to hit theaters in December. If true, expect some very late nights for editors and the visual effects team. But don't worry about the movie having reshoots this late in the game; these days, such things are common, so this is unlikely to be some kind of Rogue One situation where the entire movie gets significantly changed after the first pass at production.

Expect an Unexpected Adventure In Rise

Source: Rey herself, Daisy Ridley

Probability of accuracy: This is vague enough to be easily explained away in multiple directions depending on what the finished movie is like, but let's go with "accurate" for now.

The real deal: Daisy Ridley, who's currently doing press for her appearance in Ophelia, has been teasing the upcoming Rise of Skywalker in the vaguest of terms, telling USA Today, "Genre-wise, it's different from the other two [installments Ridley has appeared in], which will become clear when the film comes out. It's quite emotional. There's a different drive than the previous two films, but there's a lot of fun. I really missed John [Boyega] during the last one, but we're back together, and now Oscar [Isaac] is part of it. To me, it felt like kids going on an adventure." This lines up with previous statements made by director J.J. Abrams and others about the tone of the movie, and also rumors that Rey, Finn, and Poe would spend the majority of the movie together. Now, if only we could find out more about the rest of the movie.

The Throne Room Duel Was Just a Warm-Up for Rey and Kylo

Source: Once again, Daisy Ridley

Probability of accuracy: We'll have to wait until the movie's out to know for sure, but it sounds pretty credible right now.

The real deal: Elsewhere, Ridley is now confirming that, yes, the lightsaber fight between Rey and Kylo Ren wasn't just something staged for a Vanity Fair photo shoot, but is an important part of the finished movie itself. "We have a great fight," she said on the Happy Sad Confused podcast. "A great fight. And I was really happy that the Vanity Fair pictures did show a bit of it. It's a great fight. Like I've become such a better fighter, and they made the lightsabers lighter, so it actually looks like we're swinging light and not like heavy, heavy [blades] … It feels really epic, and it felt epic even at the time." This suggests that those hoping for a redemptive story arc for Kylo Ren might end up just a little disappointed by what's onscreen this December. (Mind you, Return of the Jedi did have a very last minute about-face for its central villain, so who can tell?)

The Worlds of Rise of Skywalker Are Hot and … Pretty Blurry, Actually

Source: Anonymous sources providing blurry photographs, it seems

Probability of accuracy: We can’t even make out what’s in these images, how are we supposed to know if they’re accurate? (And accurate to … what?)

The real deal: Underscoring just how quiet it is out there in the Star Wars universe, Making Star Wars made headlines with some very blurry, indistinct photos that may be concept art from the new movie. What can be gleaned from the images? Not much. They're so unclear they could be almost anything, with even the report noting, "it would be an overstep to pretend we know what any of this stuff actually pertains to." For what it's worth, it appears to be images of an unknown location that, in some shots, appear to be covered in lava. Could this be where the Knights of Ren have been hanging out all these years, or some other hideaway relating to the First Order? One thing's for sure, it certainly doesn't look like somewhere the good guys want to be, wherever it is.

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Original author: Graeme McMillan
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'Spider-Man: Far From Home' Continues to Rule the Box Office

'Spider-Man: Far From Home' Continues to Rule the Box Office

Hello! Welcome to another edition of The Monitor, WIRED's culture news roundup. What's in store this fine day? Well, for one, Spider-Man: Far From Home is still a blockbuster. For another, there might be a new 007 soon, and Avengers: Endgame just lost a box-office battle. Keep reading to catch up.

Spidey Swings in to No. 1—Again

Spider-Man: Far From Home continued its box-office domination this weekend, bringing in $45.3 million domestically. With no new tentpole movies hitting theaters on Friday, it was a pretty easy victory for the web slinger, whose latest film has made $850 million globally. His dominance, however, likely won't last long. Disney's remake of The Lion King hits theaters this weekend and is already making bank in China, so chances are it'll bring in a pretty big haul when it opens stateside.

Is Captain Marvel’s Lashana Lynch the New 007?

OK, this one takes some explaining. Over the weekend, thanks to a report in the Daily Mail, rumors started circulating that Daniel Craig's James Bond was going to pass the torch, er, martini glass to a new 007 in the next Bond film. The next person rumored to be playing the iconic British spy? Lashana Lynch, the actress perhaps best known as Captain Marvel's Maria Rambeau. Reportedly, Lynch won't take over as James Bond but will be given his codename in the upcoming 25th Bond film. The news still seems unconfirmed, so take this with a grain of salt, but don't be surprised if the next 007 movie comes with a really big twist.

The Farewell Defeats Avengers: Endgame in Key Metric

The Farewell, A24's indie dramedy starring Awkwafina, just beat Avengers: Endgame at the box office in one key metric: per-screen average. The film, which opened in four venues this past weekend—two in New York and two in Los Angeles—brought in just $351,330, which is far from the millions Endgame earned, but that translates to a $87,833 per venue. The latest Avengers flick made $76,601 per screen, placing it second behind The Farewell for best average of 2019.

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Original author: Angela Watercutter
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Prime Day 2019: What You Should Know About Amazon

Prime Day 2019: What You Should Know About Amazon

Amazon’s official shopping holiday has arrived, so we pulled together the best of our shopping tips and coverage.

With more than 100 million subscribers, Amazon Prime has more members than many medium-size countries have citizens. WIRED has reported extensively on the company, reviewing its products, covering its practices, and examining how they convince us to make the online purchases we do. Before you plunk down a couple hundo on a new vacuum cleaner or microwave during Amazon Prime Day (which starts Monday, July 15, and runs 48 hours), read on to learn exactly what "Amazon's Choice" means and how to avoid shady products and scams on the site. And if you're interested, check out our favorite Prime Day Deals and the rest of our Prime Day Coverage here.

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Paul Hennessy/Getty Images

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Casey Chin

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Casey Chin; Getty Images

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Elena Lacey; Getty Images

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Elena Lacey; Getty Images

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KYLE JOHNSON/The New York Time​s/Redux

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Cole Barash

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Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg/Getty Images

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Gumball Poodle

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Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg/Getty Images

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Mark Makela/Getty Images

Original author: Adrienne So
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About Terminal Madness

Terminal Madness started out as a Computer Bulletin Board, ( BBS ) back in the early 90's. Fascinated that one could get all the information they ever wanted "on line", for FREE, the "BBS" was named Terminal Madness.

Now, about 22 years later, that fascination with computers and information continues.

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