Netflix is letting adults in on choose-your-own-adventure shows

Netflix’s choose-your-own adventure TV shows for kids went down so well that it’s planning one for adults, reports Bloomberg. Or was the decision fueled by HBO’s entrance into the field with Steven Soderbergh’s Mosaic series and accompanying smartphone app? Originally unveiled in June, Netflix’s interactive programming lets iOS and TV viewers control parts of the storyline (including up to 13 choices for children’s animation Puss in Boots: Trapped in an Epic Tale).

Less forward-thinking auteurs will likely bemoan the format, which has been kicking around with little success for years. Other "branched narratives" (as Netflix likes to call them) include Buddy Thunderstruck: The Maybe Pile.

And if the new series is successful, who knows? Maybe, Netflix will start adding interactive elements to future seasons of existing "grown-up" shows. Because, who doesn’t want to decide Queen Elizabeth II’s fate in The Crown, right? Wait, that’s a bad example. Targeting who Frank Castle picks off in The Punisher would make more sense. Either way, Netflix has deep enough pockets to go nuts with its new fave fad in 2018.

Via: Bloomberg

from Engadget

My $200,000 bitcoin odyssey

This was not what I expected to be doing with my October. But there I was, on a flight to Hong Kong, hoping I would be able to retrieve $200,000 worth of bitcoin from a broken laptop.

Four years ago, I was living in Hong Kong when a fellow journalist named Mike* and I decided to invest in bitcoin. I bought four while Mike went in for 40; I spent about $2,000 while he put in $15,000. At the time, it seemed super speculative, but over the years, bitcoin surged and Mike seemed downright prescient. I had since relocated to Los Angeles and had been texting Mike about the 2,000 percent rise in our investment.

*Name changed for anonymity.

Strangely, I wasn’t getting much of a response from him. He had 10 times as many bitcoins as I did — shouldn’t he at least have been excited? Finally, when the price of one bitcoin broke $4,000 this summer, I sent him this message: "You do still have those bitcoins right?" That’s when he broke it to me: "Maybe not …"

Here’s what happened: At some point in 2013, Mike had rightfully become concerned about security. He initially kept his coins in an exchange called LocalBitcoins. Exchanges are commonly used to buy and sell cryptocurrency, but you shouldn’t keep your coins there. The most infamous bitcoin scandal to date was when Mt. Gox, an exchange based in Japan, lost 850,000 of its users’ bitcoins.

Exchanges can also suddenly close, as some did in China this year when the Chinese government suddenly made them illegal. Any serious cryptocurrency investor will tell you that your coins are best kept in "cold storage" (an offline hardware wallet). That’s what I’d done with mine, but Mike hadn’t gone that far three years ago when he started thinking about security. Instead, he set up a software wallet. It was a good step, but he would soon learn, it was not foolproof.

Today, there are many sophisticated and intuitive wallet options, but choices were narrower in 2013. Mike used MultiBit, which was popular at the time but has since been discontinued due to numerous flaws.

It’s obvious MultiBit was written in a hurry: The interface is counterintuitive, presenting you with a prominent button that says "create wallet" that allows you to generate new wallets inside the software. Most users only need one wallet, but MultiBit practically demands that you set up multiple. On top of this, it allows you to add multiple passwords to each wallet, even though these aren’t required. With only a few minutes of clicking, you could create dozens of wallets, each with dozens of passwords. In short, it has a lot of room for error.

In March 2014, on an unseasonably sweaty night in Hong Kong, Mike created a new wallet on Multibit, moved his 40 bitcoins into it and then added a password. In the infinite wisdom of the MultiBit programmers, there was no option to double-confirm the password. Hope you typed it in right! The problem was, Mike knew he hadn’t. He tried what he thought was the password, and it was rejected. Again and again he was bounced. His finger had slipped when he entered the password, he was sure of it — there was an extra keystroke somewhere. But which key, and where?

Since Mike was in the bitcoin game for the long haul, he moved on after a week or two of trying and retrying his password. The years ticked by, and the bitcoin price languished for between $200 and 400, so it didn’t feel urgent. He figured that there would be a solution one day, and so he put his 2007 MacBook with his MulitBit wallet in a safe corner of his office, where it quietly died from a motherboard failure.

Mike called me earlier this year. "I have to tell you the truth, and this is a major mental block for me, but I may have totally lost my bitcoins." He told me about the now dead laptop and the MultiBit fiasco. He spoke like he was in a confessional, cowed with shame and begging for forgiveness. The price of bitcoin at that time put Mike’s loss at about $180,000 and rising. He told me he was planning to fly to the offices of KeepKey, the new owners of the legacy MultiBit products, and … pray maybe? I told him to wait.

As I listened to his problem, I got it into my head that I could fix this for him, even though I wasn’t sure how. I knew a fair bit about how bitcoin wallets work, but I was certainly no expert. I guess I liked the tantalizing challenge — after all, bitcoin was skyrocketing, and we were approaching $200,000 of real stakes here. In short, it was worth a shot.

Getting the hard drive from his old MacBook would be easy, just a matter of plugging the drive into a new computer. The challenge was the MultiBit side of things. I tracked down an old version of the now discontinued software and discovered that there were multiple ways to restore wallets using MultiBit. The software generates encrypted backups for each wallet, and it also encrypts separate backups of the private keys. The entire program and all wallets inside of it could also be restored from the seed words, but Mike had, of course, lost those too.

It soon became clear that we had, at best, a 50 percent chance of success: We could either decrypt a wallet backup or a key backup. To do either, we’d have to use a password that Mike would have to remember. I broke the news to him, and he offered to pay me a percentage of whatever we could recover. Although I could try to restore his wallet remotely, he wanted me to come and sit there with him. This was as much a personal failure as an IT failure, and he needed someone to share the experience with.

I arrived in Hong Kong at the beginning of the Mid-Autumn Festival. This is the full moon festival, celebrating the fall solstice. In Hong Kong, this means several days of public holiday.

First things first, we had a technician from one of Hong Kong’s bustling computer malls transfer the data off the dead hard drive — we got him on his last day before the holiday. Retrieving the data was an easy enough operation. Soon, we were looking at the MultiBit backup files on my computer: So far, so good.

It’s helpful here to understand what a bitcoin actually is. The best explanation I’ve heard is metaphorical: Money began as a physical object, and then it shifted to become your identity (i.e., your name on your bank account). But cryptocurrencies like bitcoin are virtual objects, which means they exist in the digital space, not tied to anyone’s identity.

Like a digital dollar bill, a bitcoin can be traded, stolen or lost. But this is still just a symbolic representation of the actual fact: A bitcoin is really just a cryptographically locked address on the blockchain, so rather than having a bitcoin "on" your computer, what you actually have is the private key that can unlock a bitcoin’s location on the blockchain. It was that key that we were searching for in Mike’s mess of MultiBit folders.

Now that we had the backup files, it was time to get to unlocking. Mike had seemingly created half a dozen or so different wallets when he was securing his bitcoins — no doubt, a result of the software’s baffling interface. The good ol’ process of elimination would narrow this down to the wallet that was the ultimate destination for the bitcoin. We loaded up the first wallet file and entered the password Mike had intended to type all of those years ago, and it unlocked. That was a good sign: It meant we knew the password Mike remembered actually worked with at least some wallets — just not, perhaps, the only one that mattered. The wallet started syncing to the blockchain.

The blockchain is often described as a decentralized public ledger. In practical terms, that means it’s a long list of every transaction that has ever occurred. It’s "decentralized" because every transaction is confirmed via a math problem solved by computers set up as "miners." Updating the chain from years ago would take time — about 80 minutes in our case. The full moon was rising in Hong Kong, and we ate Thai food, anxiously waiting for the blockchain to sync.

Each time we saw the $200,000 worth of coins arrive on Nov. 20th, 2013, and vanish on March 20th, 2014.

We watched as the wallet displayed 40 bitcoins arriving on Nov. 20th, 2013. It also displayed the current value: $200,000.

This looked like success, but I urged caution: The chain was still four years behind present day. And sure enough, when March 20th, 2014, rolled around, the balance in the wallet dropped to $0 as all the bitcoins were transferred out.

We went through four or five other wallets, waiting more than an hour for the blockchain to sync to each one, and each time we saw the $200,000 worth of coins arrive on Nov. 20th, 2013, and vanish on March 20th, 2014. At some point it stopped being tragic and started becoming darkly comical.

At 1 AM, we checked another wallet. This time, March 20th, 2014, passed, and the coins remained. We waited an agonizing additional half hour for the blockchain to finish syncing, and … the balance stayed. We had found what we were looking for.

All that was left was to transfer the coins out of this mess and into a modern wallet (we decided on using Exodus, which is easy to use, simple and secure). But the transfer asked for another password. Remember, MultiBit lets you add additional passwords to wallets. This is what Mike had done on that sweaty night back in 2014. We tried the password we knew, and … wrong. We tried again and again, carefully calling out each character as we entered it. Wrong, wrong, wrong. We had found ourselves on the bad side of the fifty-fifty.

Why does MultiBit encourage you to use multiple passwords? Why doesn’t it at least ask you to confirm your password before saving it? So many questions, shouted into the obsolete software void.

Mike, despairing, wanted to give up, but I hadn’t flown halfway around the world for nothing. We opened a spreadsheet and started logging different permutations of the password, trying to brute-force our way through his keystroke error. But after 50 attempts, it seemed like a Sisyphean task. MultiBit accepts all characters, cases, symbols and spaces as valid password characters — the number of potential solutions were staggering. We turned the air conditioning off in Mike’s apartment in an attempt to recreate the "sweaty" temperatures Mike recalled from the fateful night, but nothing worked.

We checked all of his email correspondence from around that date. We found that, teasingly, he had emailed himself three times the day after March 20th about his MultiBit fuckup, but each email was useless, containing irrelevant information Mike thought was important. Mike was a journalist: Perhaps he wrote down password possibilities in a notebook when it was fresh in his mind? But as soon as I asked that question, we found a 2014 Google Chat he had with me five days after the fiasco: In it, Mike told me he was feeling flustered and did some cleaning and threw out all of his notebooks.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

We then resigned ourselves to a new eternal hobby: We figured we’d be trying out various password combinations for as long as we lived, and if the value of bitcoin continued to rise, then we’d be all the more determined to crack this puzzle. Even in my cloud of optimism, this was clearly a recipe for Lovecraftian madness.

I began looking into writing a program that could brute-force permutations of the password, and Mike was becoming increasingly Zen-like. He sat on his sofa, stewing over the nature of the loss, while I turned to sift through his backup files. Suddenly, I was struck with an idea: The additional password that Mike created applied to the wallet itself, but perhaps it didn’t apply to the key backup file.

He sat on his sofa, stewing over the nature of the loss, while I turned to sift through his backup files.

I created a new wallet in MultiBit, loaded the key file and unlocked it with the password that we knew worked. As Mike rambled therapeutically about the fleeting nature of money, hopes, dreams, our lives and this very world, I watched as the blockchain synced. Nov. 20th, 2013, rolled around, and $200,000 showed up, as expected. Then March 20th rolled around, and … the balance stayed.

Interesting. I went to the "send" tab, where we had just spent five hours banging our head against the wrong password rock only to discover that the "send" button was active now, glowing and ready to click — no password required. This meant that I could click it and …

Holy bejesus, it worked.

The balance dropped to zero as the transaction was broadcast to the blockchain, and my heart rate spiked. This meant that, as soon as the transaction was confirmed, we would have control of these bitcoins in a new secure wallet.

You typically need two confirmations before a transaction clears to most wallets or exchanges, but you really want seven, which is considered irreversible. After 15 minutes, there were no confirmations. An hour passed. We still had zero confirmations.

We had just stumbled upon another reason that MultiBit is irretrievably broken software: The transaction fee is hard-coded at a miniscule amount. Transactions on the blockchain are confirmed by miners in exchange for a small cut — but in the three years since this wallet was first written, fees have climbed a magnitude over what was hard-coded into MultiBit. This meant that our fee was pathetically small and the transaction could be left to languish in the mempool (the list of pending transactions) forever. No miner would ever see it, let alone confirm it.

Hong Kong is beautiful at night, especially during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Everyone is at home or on vacation, and the streets are empty — and yet, the city does not feel turned off. It’s idling, waiting to start again. That night, the moon was the brightest and biggest it would be that year. And something unexpected happened in the strange moonlight.

The next morning, I checked the blockchain explorer to find that our transaction had five confirmations. How?! Mike and I rushed to a café to wait for the final two confirmations. As we waited, I furiously Googled and discovered that the mempool could get pretty low sometimes during periods of low transactions, such as … the Mid-Autumn Festival in China, where most bitcoin miners are located.

Eventually, the confirmations rolled in. By luck, the blockchain had delivered. In a weird way, Hong Kong, and the Mid-Autumn Festival, had delivered. It was a quiet morning in the cafe, but for a moment, the peace was broken by two idiots, cheering and high-fiving in front of a laptop.

In the darkest moments of that night with Mike, it seemed absurd that this encrypted address on a digital ledger mattered so much. But it’s no less absurd than the bills in my wallet or the figures in my bank account. Our economy is built on mutual belief and hope.

If something goes wrong in the traditional economy, there’s supposed to be someone there to help you. A hotline. A customer service rep. A support ticket. But with bitcoin, there was no institution to save us. We had to do that ourselves. People like JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon ridicule cryptocurrencies, dismissing bitcoin as a scam, a Ponzi scheme or a bubble. But he is the institution, after all. He wants a world where we need a JPMorgan Chase to manage our money.

Wealth disparity is at record levels and the ultrarich have cornered the market on every asset class, but with bitcoin, an entirely new economy has sprung into existence. That’s the pitch for decentralized cryptocurrencies: They offer hope that there might be another, fairer way of doing things.

Just make sure you secure your hope properly.

Images: Steve Fung (inline Hong Kong); Mat Smith (plane wing)

from Engadget

Boom’s supersonic jets get $10 million boost from Japan Airlines

Boom’s plan to revive supersonic passenger jets just got an important financial boost. The startup has revealed that Japan Airlines is investing $10 million, and that the carrier also has the option of buying up to 20 of the company’s faster-than-sound airliners. If it does, that would give Boom a total of 76 pre-orders, making the Concorde seem like a modest experiment. JAL has actually been working with Boom for "well over a year," Boom said, but the investment makes the alliance official.

Notably, Boom said, this is the first time an airline has actually made a financial commitment to supersonic aircraft before they’ve been available. Air France and British Airways technically pre-ordered the Concorde, but they didn’t put any money down and had their costs heavily subsidized to the point where BA paid just £7 for its entire fleet.

The payoff for the investment is likely years away when Boom doesn’t expect the first aircraft to enter service until 2023. However, it’s understandable why JAL would be willing to take a chance on Boom so soon. For obvious reasons, many of its international flights are long — Boom’s jets could dramatically reduce that travel time for passengers willing to pay a premium.

Via: TechCrunch

Source: Boom Supersonic (Medium)

from Engadget

HP and ASUS unveil Snapdragon-powered laptops

Since teasing us with a preview of what Windows on Snapdragon will look like at Computex this year, Qualcomm and its partners are ready to reveal actual devices. Today, at Qualcomm’s second annual tech summit, we saw the HP Envy x2 and the ASUS NovaGo — two of the "Always Connected PCs" that Microsoft has talked about since last year.

Both laptops use the Snapdragon 835 chipset which you’ll find on this year’s premium smartphones like the Pixel 2, Galaxy Note 8, LG V30, Xperia XZ Premium and Razer Phone. The chip comes with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X16 modem which supports gigabit LTE where available. Although Windows on Snapdragon PCs are meant to support eSIM for easier switching between carriers while traveling, the ASUS NovaGo models will still have a standard nano SIM card slot. It’s currently unclear when the eSIM built into the NovaGo’s wireless modem will be activated for use, but at least it has one — the HP laptop will rely solely on a traditional nano SIM.

At just 1.54 pounds, the HP Envy x2 is a detachable that’s lighter even than the 12-inch MacBook (2016), which weighs a mere 2 pounds. The Envy has a similarly sized 12-inch display, though its 1,920 x 1,280 resolution isn’t as sharp as the MacBook. Meanwhile, the ASUS NovaGo weighs 1.39 kg (or 3.06 pounds) and packs a slightly larger 13.3-inch full HD LTPS touchscreen with ASUS Pen support (1024-level pressure).

Both the ASUS and HP convertibles offer up to 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, although the NovaGo uses UFS 2.0 that should allow for faster memory access and lower power consumption. The ASUS laptop also sports a full HDMI socket and a microSD slot, while we don’t yet know for sure if the Envy x2 has those ports.

The main thing to note here is that these are two Snapdragon-powered PCs that can run full Windows 10 while providing smartphone-like connectivity to gigabit LTE networks. Both devices will ship with Windows 10S, but ASUS and HP are offering free upgrades to Windows 10 Pro before Sept. 30, 2018.

The HP Envy x2 will be available in spring next year, while no timeframe has been shared for the ASUS NovaGo yet. ASUS did say that it will release the device first in the US, UK, Italy, France, Germany, Mainland China and Taiwan, and that it is working with T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon to offer the NovaGo.

from Engadget

MIT researchers made a living ink that responds to its surroundings

Researchers at MIT have developed a 3D printable hydrogel that can sense and respond to stimuli. The hydrogel is loaded with bacteria that can be genetically programmed to light-up when they come in contact with certain chemicals and, therefore, could be used as living sensors.

To demonstrate the living ink’s abilities, the researchers printed the hydrogel in a tree pattern with different sections of the tree’s branches containing bacteria sensitive to different types of chemicals. They then smeared those chemicals on a person’s skin and put the 3D-printed tree-shaped "living tattoo" on top. When the branches came in contact with those chemicals, the bacteria were triggered to fluoresce.

"This is very future work, but we expect to be able to print living computational platforms that could be wearable," researcher Hyunwoo Yuk said in a statement. Some examples of possible future applications of this type of technology could be living sensors programmed to monitor inflammatory biomarkers or ingestible versions that can affect gut microbiota. Bacteria-loaded materials like this could also be used to sense pollutants in the environment or changes in temperature, for example.

The research was published today in Advanced Materials and you can check out the video below for more information on the project.

Image: Liu et al.

Via: MIT

Source: Advanced Materials

from Engadget

Google Maps motorcycle mode finds shortcuts for India’s bikers

Although, Google’s Android Oreo Go OS and Files Go! storage app were the headliners at its India event, the company also had two more surprises in tow: a two-wheeler mode for Maps and a bi-lingual version of its Assistant for Indian feature phone JioPhone.

India overtook China to become the world’s leading motorcycle and scooter market last year. With millions of two-wheelers in the country, it’s no wonder Google is creating a dedicated update for the bikes. The new mode will scout shortcuts that aren’t accessible to cars and trucks, and provide customized traffic and arrival time estimates. Google claims it’s an "India-first" feature, so chances are it will spread to other regions too.

While Android OreoGo will pre-install Assistant on budget smartphones, the digital helper is also heading to a feature phone. A Hindi and English language variant of Assistant is coming to the $25, 4G-enabled JioPhone. Aside from slight tweaks to its interface, Assistant will retain all its voice-based functions, despite being downgraded to a bargain-basement phone. Though, it will have to tussle with JioPhone’s existing Assistant (HelloJio) while there.

Source: Google

from Engadget

Advocates Say Cyntoia Brown’s Case Is Part Of The ‘Sexual Abuse-To-Prison’ Pipeline

Yasmin Vafa, the executive director of the human rights organization Rights4Girls, says Cyntoia Brown’s case is an example of the “sexual abuse-to-prison” pipeline that leads some of the most vulnerable women and girls into the criminal justice system.

Bethany Bandera

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Bethany Bandera

Yasmin Vafa, the executive director of the human rights organization Rights4Girls, says Cyntoia Brown’s case is an example of the “sexual abuse-to-prison” pipeline that leads some of the most vulnerable women and girls into the criminal justice system.

Bethany Bandera

In a moment when the country is grappling with issues of sexual misconduct and the abusive treatment of women and girls, a murder case involving a then-teenager who says she was forced into prostitution is back in the national spotlight more than a decade after the key events took place.

A number of A-list celebrities, including Rihanna, LeBron James and Kim Kardashian West, have taken an interest in the case of Cyntoia Brown, a 29-year-old serving a life sentence for the murder of a Nashville man in 2004.

Brown says she was forced into prostitution when she was 16 and repeatedly raped and abused by her pimp. That year, a 43-year-old man picked her up in a parking lot and took her to his home for sex, where she says she thought he was going to kill her for resisting him. That’s when she fatally shot him.

When she was tried as an adult in the murder, the jury rejected her claim of self-defense. Now, though, advocates say her case should be reopened so she can be seen as the victim of sex trafficking that she was.

Along with broader issues about the justice system, advocates are also highlighting this case as an example of what they call the “sexual abuse-to-prison pipeline.” Yasmin Vafa, the executive director of the human rights organization Rights4Girls, tells NPR’s Michel Martin about her research into the “pipeline” and why the way the criminal justice system treats victims of human trafficking needs to change.

Interview Highlights

On the importance of Cyntoia Brown’s case

I think that what is interesting about Cyntoia’s case is that she was arrested back in 2004, which was a year before our federal anti-trafficking laws even contemplated the fact that Americans could even be victims of sex trafficking. And so now of course we know all these years later that not only are American citizens able to be victims of sex trafficking, but in fact the vast majority of sex trafficking victims here in the United States are U.S.-born and are U.S. citizens.

Many of them, like Cyntoia, are girls of color, many of them have suffered multiple instances of childhood sexual abuse, have had some interaction with the foster care system. And so her story really shows a narrative of so many young women and girls that we know.

On the 2015 report examining the “sexual abuse-to-prison” pipeline

In a number of states that had available data looking at girls in the [prison] system, the overwhelming majority of girls behind bars had suffered instances of sexual and physical violence. In some states like South Carolina it was 81 percent of girls; in places like Oregon it was upwards of 93 percent. So when we looked at those high rates of traumas together, with the most common offenses that girls were being arrested for, it really made clear that it was that victimization that was driving the abuse.

So sometimes that looks like a young girl who’s running away from an abusive home or foster care situation who is then arrested for the offense of running away. And sometimes that looks like a girl who is engaging in substance abuse to cope with the years of trauma. And in the most extreme cases, it looks like what happened to Bresha Meadows, what happened to Cyntoia Brown — in the case that they were actually forced to take more extreme measures to protect themselves as a result of society essentially failing them.

And I think that it’s not a coincidence that the whole issue of Cyntoia Brown has made a kind of resurgence during the wake of these “me too” disclosures because I think it shows what “me too” looks like for some of our most vulnerable girls.

NPR Digital News Intern Isabel Dobrin produced this story for the Web.

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