Is Disney's Star Wars Franchise In Trouble?
Disney's Han Solo movie was
the first Star Wars movie to lose money. But is there a larger problem?
Comic book news website Cosmic Book News reports that even though Disney put bucketloads of Star Wars out there in 2018, revenues from all things Star Wars have actually fallen, according to Disney SEC filings. Disney made more Star Wars money in 2017 -- when only Rogue One hit cinemas -- than in 2018, when Solo, Last Jedi and SW Battlefront 2 were released.
A Rian Johnson-led Star Wars trilogy appears to have been delayed or cancelled entirely. Rumored spinoff movies for Bobba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi appear to have been put on the backburner or cancelled. Disney's CEO has confirmed that the Star Wars movies are being slowed down.
LucasFilm Rescues Darth Vader Fan Film From YouTube Copyright Fight
A Star Wars fan named "Toos" told Newsweek he'd spent $150,000 of his own money on a fan film about Darth Vader -- and what happened next:
Before the camera started rolling Toos said he contacted an employee at Lucasfilm [and] claims Lucasfilm gave him permission on two conditions: he couldn't crowdfund and he couldn't monetize the fan film on YouTube. Toos agreed to those conditions and shot for three full days in September. They ran post-production up until the release of "Vader Episode 1: Shards of the Past" on December 20. Star Wars fans, a notoriously tough group to please, had overwhelming praise for the video, which gathered more than six million views in one month and 40,000 likes.
On January 14, music group and corporate collective Warner/Chappell filed a copyright claim against the video. After filing the claim, the company (publisher for the Walt Disney Music Company) began to collect ad revenue for Toos' video by claiming that one of the songs used a rendition of "The Imperial March"... If Toos attempts to appeal and Warner/Chappell refutes his claim, he could get a copyright strike on his channel and lose complete ownership of the video...
Fan response on Reddit has been massive, with the post about Star Wars Theory and the strike reaching over 90,000 upvotes... In a new video on the StarWarsTheory channel, Toos told his fans that the claim on his video had been lifted due in part to the intervention of LucasFilm."They stepped up and told Disney or the other company that this wasn't okay, that this wasn't going to stand."
Newsweek points out that Disney doesn't own Warner/Chappell. "The music group merely licenses their music" -- and has been accused of making erroneous claims before.
They're the same group that
claimed they owned the music rights on a YouTube clip from
with all the original music removed.
Inside DJI's 'Robomasters' Robotics Competition
Every year, DJI hosts a robotics competition called Robomasters. It draws in hundreds of engineering students from around the world for two weeks of all out robotics mayhem. The students build and then control robotic vehicles that blast away at each other with rubber bullets, while drones strafe from overhead. Bloomberg Businessweek did a short documentary on the competition and everything that goes with it, including a reality TV show, an anime series, and final battle attended by thousands of people at a stadium in Shenzhen. The Chinese teams usually do the best, and the winners get some money and sometimes a job offer at DJI -- all part of the country's quest to dominate the robotics industry in the years to come.
Asteroid Strikes 'Increase Threefold Over Last 300 Million Years,' Survey Finds
According to a survey of asteroid craters at least 6.2 miles wide, the number of asteroids slamming into Earth
has nearly tripled since the dinosaurs first roamed. "Researchers worked out the rate of asteroid strikes on the moon and the Earth and found that in the past 290 million years the number of collisions had increased dramatically," reports The Guardian. "Before that time, the planet suffered an asteroid strike about once every 3 million years, but since then the rate has risen to once nearly every 1 million years." From the report:
The findings suggest that the dinosaurs may have been unfortunate in evolving 240 million years ago, just as the odds of being wiped out by a stray asteroid were ramping up. It was one of those impacts, on top of other factors, that did for the beasts 66 million years ago. Many scientists had assumed that asteroid strikes were a rare but constant threat in Earth's deep history, but the latest study challenges that belief.
Writing in the journal Science, the researchers describe how they turned to the moon to examine the violent history of Earth. The Earth and moon are hit by asteroids with similar frequency, but impact craters on Earth are often erased or obscured by erosion and the shifting continents which churn up the crust. On the geologically inactive moon, impact craters are preserved almost indefinitely, making them easier to examine. Using images from Nasa's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the scientists studied the "rockiness" of the debris surrounding craters on the moon. Rocks thrown up by asteroid impacts are steadily ground down by the constant rain of micrometeorites that pours down on the moon. This means the state of the rocks around a crater can be used to date it. The dates revealed that the moon, and by extension the Earth, has suffered more intense asteroid bombardment in the past 290 million years than at any time in the previous billion. On Earth there are hardly any impact craters older than 650 million years, most likely because they were eroded when the planet became encased in ice in an event known as Snowball Earth.
Researchers Created Artificial Cells That Can Communicate With Each Other
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org:
Friedrich Simmel and Aurore Dupin, researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), have for the first time created artificial cell assemblies that can communicate with each other. The cells, separated by fatty membranes, exchange small chemical signaling molecules to trigger more complex reactions, such as the production of RNA and other proteins. Scientists around the world are working on creating artificial, cell-like systems that mimic the behavior of living organisms. Friedrich Simmel and Aurore Dupin have created such artificial cell assemblies in a fixed spatial arrangement. The highlight is that the cells are able to communicate with each other.
Gels or emulsion droplets encapsulated in thin fat or polymer membranes serve as the basic building blocks for the artificial cells. Inside these 10- to 100-micron units, chemical and biochemical reactions can proceed uninhibited. The research team used droplets enclosed by lipid membranes and assembled them into artificial multicellular structures called micro-tissues. The biochemical reaction solutions used in the droplets can produce RNA and proteins, giving the cells a of a kind of gene expression ability. Small signal molecules can be exchanged between cells via their membranes or protein channels built into the membranes. This allows them to couple with each other temporally and spatially. The systems thus become dynamic, as in real life. Chemical pulses thus propagate through the cell structures and pass on information. The signals can also act as triggers, allowing initially identical cells to develop differently. "Our system is the first example of a multicellular system in which artificial cells with gene expression have a fixed arrangement and are coupled via chemical signals. In this way, we achieved a form of spatial differentiation," says Friedrich Simmel, Professor of Physics of Synthetic Biosystems at Technical University of Munich.
Google Faces Renewed Protests and Criticism Over China Search Project
On Friday, a coalition of Chinese, Tibetan, Uighur, and human rights groups organized demonstrations outside Google's offices in the U.S., U.K., Canada, India, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Sweden, Switzerland, and Denmark,
protesting the company's plan to launch a censored version of its search engine in China. The Intercept reports:
Google designed the Chinese search engine, code-named Dragonfly, to blacklist information about human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest, in accordance with strict rules on censorship in China that are enforced by the country's authoritarian Communist Party government. In December, The Intercept revealed that an internal dispute had forced Google to shut down a data analysis system that it was using to develop the search engine. This had "effectively ended" the project, sources said, because the company's engineers no longer had the tools they needed to build it.
But Google bosses have not publicly stated that they will cease development of Dragonfly. And the company's CEO Sundar Pichai has refused to rule out potentially launching the search engine some time in the future, though he has insisted that there are no current plans to do so. The organizers of Friday's protests -- which were timed to coincide with Internet Freedom Day -- said that they would continue to demonstrate "until Google executives confirm that Project Dragonfly has been canceled, once and for all." Google "should be connecting the world through the sharing of information, not facilitating human rights abuses by a repressive government determined to crush all forms of peaceful online dissent," said Gloria Montgomery, director at Tibet Society UK. "Google's directors must urgently take heed of calls from employees and tens of thousands of global citizens demanding that they immediately halt project Dragonfly. If they don't, Google risks irreversible damage to its reputation."
Firmware Vulnerability In Popular Wi-Fi Chipset Affects Laptops, Smartphones, Routers, Gaming Devices
Embedi security researcher Denis Selianin has
discovered a vulnerability
affecting the firmware of a popular Wi-Fi chipset deployed in a wide range of devices, such as laptops, smartphones, gaming rigs, routers, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices. According to Selianin, the vulnerability impacts
ThreadX, a real-time operating system that is used as firmware for billions of devices. ZDNet reports:
In a report published today, Selianin described how someone could exploit the ThreadX firmware installed on a Marvell Avastar 88W8897 wireless chipset to execute malicious code without any user interaction. The researcher chose this WiFi SoC (system-on-a-chip) because this is one of the most popular WiFi chipsets on the market, being deployed with devices such as Sony PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Surface laptops, Samsung Chromebooks, Samsung Galaxy J1 smartphones, and Valve SteamLink cast devices, just to name a few.
"I've managed to identify ~4 total memory corruption issues in some parts of the firmware," said Selianin. "One of the discovered vulnerabilities was a special case of ThreadX block pool overflow. This vulnerability can be triggered without user interaction during the scanning for available networks." The researcher says the firmware function to scan for new WiFi networks launches automatically every five minutes, making exploitation trivial. All an attacker has to do is send malformed WiFi packets to any device with a Marvell Avastar WiFi chipset and wait until the function launches, to execute malicious code and take over the device. Selianin says he also "identified two methods of exploiting this technique, one that is specific to Marvell's own implementation of the ThreadX firmware, and one that is generic and can be applied to any ThreadX-based firmware, which, according to the ThreatX homepage, could impact as much as 6.2 billion devices," the report says. Patches are reportedly being worked on.
Identical Twins Test 5 DNA Ancestry Kits, Get Different Results On Each
Freshly Exhumed writes:
Uh-oh, something is not right with the results of most popular DNA ancestry kits, as a pair of identical twins have found. Charlsie Agro and her twin sister, Carly, bought home kits from AncestryDNA, MyHeritage, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA and Living DNA, and mailed samples of their DNA to each company for analysis. Despite having virtually identical DNA, the twins did not receive matching results from any of the companies. "The fact that they present different results for you and your sister, I find very mystifying," said Dr. Mark Gerstein, a computational biologist at Yale University. Gerstein's team analyzed the results, and he asserts that any results the Agro twins received from the same DNA testing company should have been identical. The raw data collected from both sisters' DNA is nearly exactly the same. "It's shockingly similar," he said.
Giving Algorithms a Sense of Uncertainty Could Make Them More Ethical
An anonymous reader quotes a report from MIT Technology Review:
Algorithms are increasingly being used to make ethical decisions. They are built to pursue a single mathematical goal, such as maximizing the number of soldiers' lives saved or minimizing the number of civilian deaths. When you start dealing with multiple, often competing, objectives or try to account for intangibles like "freedom" and "well-being," a satisfactory mathematical solution doesn't always exist. "We as humans want multiple incompatible things," says Peter Eckersley, the director of research for the Partnership on AI, who recently released a paper that explores this issue. "There are many high-stakes situations where it's actually inappropriate -- perhaps dangerous -- to program in a single objective function that tries to describe your ethics." These solutionless dilemmas aren't specific to algorithms. Ethicists have studied them for decades and refer to them as impossibility theorems. So when Eckersley first recognized their applications to artificial intelligence, he borrowed an idea directly from the field of ethics to propose a solution: what if we built uncertainty into our algorithms?
Eckersley puts forth two possible techniques to express this idea mathematically. He begins with the premise that algorithms are typically programmed with clear rules about human preferences. We'd have to tell it, for example, that we definitely prefer friendly soldiers over friendly civilians, and friendly civilians over enemy soldiers -- even if we weren't actually sure or didn't think that should always be the case. The algorithm's design leaves little room for uncertainty. The first technique, known as partial ordering, begins to introduce just the slightest bit of uncertainty. You could program the algorithm to prefer friendly soldiers over enemy soldiers and friendly civilians over enemy soldiers, but you wouldn't specify a preference between friendly soldiers and friendly civilians. In the second technique, known as uncertain ordering, you have several lists of absolute preferences, but each one has a probability attached to it. Three-quarters of the time you might prefer friendly soldiers over friendly civilians over enemy soldiers. A quarter of the time you might prefer friendly civilians over friendly soldiers over enemy soldiers. The algorithm could handle this uncertainty by computing multiple solutions and then giving humans a menu of options with their associated trade-offs, Eckersley says.
Microsoft Suggests Windows 10 Mobile Users Switch To iOS or Android As Support Winds Down
Windows 10 Mobile devices
will be officially unsupported starting on December 10, 2019. As a result, Microsoft is recommending users move to an Android or iOS device instead. Mac Rumors reports:
Microsoft made the recommendation in a Windows 10 Mobile support document (via Thurrott) explaining its plans to stop offering security updates and patches for Windows 10 Mobile: "With the Windows 10 Mobile OS end of support, we recommend that customers move to a supported Android or iOS device. Microsoft's mission statement to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more, compels us to support our Mobile apps on those platforms and devices." All customers who have a Windows 10 Mobile device will be able to keep using it after December 10, 2019, but no further updates will be available.
Tesla Is Cutting 7 Percent of Its Workforce To Reduce Model 3 Price
Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced today that the company
would cut 7% of its workforce in order to cut costs as the company prepares to ramp up production and boost margins as they get closer to releasing the long-awaited $35,000 version of the Model 3. CNBC reports:
Musk says Tesla faces "an extremely difficult challenge" in making their products a competitive alternative to traditional vehicles, adding that he expects Q4 profit to come in significantly lower than Q3. Five experts weigh in on whether it's a challenge Musk and Tesla can overcome:
- Oppenheimer managing director Colin Rusch agrees with Jed Dorsheimer on Tesla's job cuts, but isn't bullish on what they'll accomplish.
- Canaccord Genuity's Jed Dorsheimer thinks the workforce cut is just fine, calling it "clean-up" after the company's latest push to ramp up Model 3 production came with a wealth of new hires.
- "They're certainly in a better position than they were eight or nine months ago," says ROTH Capital's Craig Irwin. "Where we're going to see pressure on the stock today is the 'copy-paste' expectations of Q3 going through 2019 need to be reset."
- Needham's Raji Gil thinks that Tesla may have overestimated how many people can actually afford a high-end electric vehicle. "Clearly, in my mind, they have an issue with demand," says Rusch, " If you do the math, you have to conclude that 90 percent of the reservations that have been built up over the past couple of years are folks that wanted the standard battery version of the vehicle, which is $35,000."
- Westly Group founder Steve Westly loves where Elon Musk's company is right now, calling Tesla "the iPhone of electric vehicles," and saying they're well ahead of the game when it comes to a quickly-changing auto market.
Russian Hackers Allegedly Attempted To Breach the DNC After the 2018 Midterms
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Fortune:
Russian hackers attempted to breach Democratic National Committee email addresses in a spear-phishing campaign just after the 2018 midterms, according to a DNC court document filed Thursday night. "The content of these emails and their timestamps were consistent with a spear-phishing campaign that leading cybersecurity experts have tied to Russian intelligence," reads the complaint. "Therefore, it is probable that Russian intelligence again attempted to unlawfully infiltrate DNC computers in November 2018." The complaint [...] said there is no evidence that the attempted hack in Nov. 2018 was successful.
Spear-phishing campaigns involve sending emails that appear to be from a trusted source in order to gain confidential information. According to CNN, the emails in question appeared to have been sent from a State Department official and contained a PDF attachment that, if opened, would allow the hacker access to the recipient's computer. The timing and content of these emails were consistent with the practices of the Russian hacking group known as Cozy Bear, one of the two groups that hacked the DNC prior to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. According to the cybersecurity firm FireEye, Cozy Bear attempted to hack over 20 entities in Nov. 2018, including clients in local government, transportation, defense, law enforcement, and military.
The Government's Secret UFO Program Funded Research on Wormholes and Extra Dimensions
Documents released by the Department of Defense reveal some of what its infamous Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program was working on. From a report:
The Department of Defense funded research on wormholes, invisibility cloaking, and "the manipulation of extra dimensions" under its shadowy Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, first described in 2017 by the New York Times and the Washington Post. On Wednesday, the Defense Intelligence Agency released a list of 38 research titles pursued by the program in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy.
The list provides one of the best looks at the Pentagon's covert UFO operation or study of "anomalous aerospace threats." According to Aftergood's FOIA request, the document marked "For Official Use Only" was sent to Congress on January 2018. One such research topic, "Traversable Wormholes, Stargates, and Negative Energy," was led by Eric W. Davis of EarthTech International Inc, which describes itself as a facility "exploring the forefront reaches of science and engineering," with an interest in theories of spacetime, studies of the quantum vacuum, and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.
Cassette Album Sales in the US Grew By 23% in 2018
An anonymous reader shares a report:
Thanks to such acts as Britney Spears, Twenty One Pilots and Guns N' Roses, along with soundtracks from the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise -- which boasts the year's top two sellers -- and Netflix's Stranger Things series, cassette tape album sales in the U.S. grew by 23 percent in 2018. According to Nielsen Music, cassette album sales climbed from 178,000 in 2017 to 219,000 copies in 2018. While that's a small number compared to the overall album market (141 million copies sold in 2018), that's a sizable number for a once-dead format. In 2014, for example, cassette album sales numbered just 50,000. But, 20 years before that, back in 1994, when cassettes were still very much a hot-selling format, there were 246 million cassette albums sold that year, of an overall 615 million albums.
Europe's Controversial 'Link Tax' in Doubt After Member States Rebel
Copyright activists just scored a major victory in the ongoing fight over the
European Union's new copyright rules. An upcoming summit to advance the EU's copyright directive has been canceled, as
member states objected to the incoming rules as too restrictive to online creators. From a report:
The EU's forthcoming copyright rules had drawn attention from activists for two measures, designated as Article 11 and Article 13, that would give publishers rights over snippets of news content shared online (the so-called "link tax") and increase platform liability for user content. [...] After today, the directive's future is much less certain. Member states were gathered to approve a new version of the directive drafted by Romania -- but eleven countries reportedly opposed the text, many of them citing familiar concerns over the two controversial articles. Crucially, Italy's new populist government takes a far more skeptical view of the strict copyright proposals. Member states have until the end of February to approve a new version of the text, although it's unclear what compromise might be reached.
EU Cancels 'Final' Negotiations On EU Copyright Directive As It Becomes Clear There Isn't Enough Support.