Tech Billionaires’ Quest to Build a New City in California Is Already Mired in Trouble

The cohort of Silicon Valley tech titans who have been hoovering up Bay Area farmland in the hopes of converting it into a new city have been accused of deploying “strong-arm tactics” and a “divide-and-conquer” strategy to gobble up as much acreage as possible. A number of local farmers say Flannery Associates, the parent company behind the quixotic California Forever project, has used underhanded tactics in its pursuit of a regional real estate hegemony. The allegations were divulged in a recent court filing connected to a lawsuit involving the land disputes.

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In August, the New York Times reported that Flannery, which was then a totally mysterious company, had managed to buy up $800 million of farmland in the Solano County region. The Times also revealed that Flannery was backed by a coterie of influential Silicon Valley billionaires, including folks like Marc Andreessen, Reid Hoffman, and a variety of other big names in the tech industry. Flannery’s grand plan, it was revealed, was to use the land it had purchased to create a utopian new city, which the Flannery cohort is calling “California Forever.” This supposed city is purely hypothetical for now, but its backers say that one day it could be a beautiful, bustling city of the future.

Of course, the first step to building this new libertarian wonderland was to buy up as much land as possible, and to do that, Flannery had to buy out the people who were already living there. For the most part, the folks who were already living there were the operators of longtime, family-owned farms.

In some cases, negotiations between the company’s lawyers and prospective sellers did not go the way Flannery wanted it to go and, in May, the company sued a number of the farmers, claiming that they were engaged in anti-competitive practices and price fixing. The farmers, in turn, have accused the billionaire-backed corporate entity of trying to bully and manipulate them and their families into selling away their land. In the recent court filing, the farmers dismissed the lawsuit’s claims, alleging that Flannery had repeatedly engaged in “strong-arm tactics” in an effort to pry loose the land.

Such tactics allegedly included attempts to “play one family against another by misrepresenting the families’ intentions regarding Flannery’s offers, in hopes that families otherwise unwilling to sell would feel pressure not to disappoint their friend and neighbor,” the filing states. In one specified case, the farmers claim Flannery approached one family member, acquired an eighth of a large tract of family-owned land from them, then sued the other seven members of the family in an attempt to acquire the full parcel.

On its website, California Forever has denied the charge that it acted in any way untoward, instead characterizing the farmers in question as “a small group of individuals [who] have engaged in a targeted campaign to slander Flannery Associates” and who are engaged in a nefarious “secret conspiracy.”

In general, it seems really hard to imagine that this project will ever materialize. Even if Flannery somehow manages to smooth things over with the locals, the project still needs to clear a number of state and regional regulatory hurdles. Those hurdles are looking dubious, since a lot of local politicians have expressed doubts about the viability of the project. If those hurdles, somehow, are cleared, the project’s backers then have to actually build the majestic metropolis that developers are envisioning. After that, people have to move there and the city has to retain a certain level of population density for the foreseeable future. Then the city’s creators have to actually, like, run the city…you know, forever.

This inspires a whole lot of questions. For instance, will California Forever have a government? If so, what kind of government is it going to be? Or is it just going to be some sort of corporately owned series of planned communities, sorta like an expanded version of Disney’s Storyliving? The whole thing seems like a giant expensive mess that is doomed to fail but I guess you should never count out the disruptive potential of a tech mogul’s unquenchable hubris.

via Gizmodo

November 1, 2023 at 07:33PM

World’s First Commercial Spaceplane Faces Crucial Test at NASA

Dream Chaser, built by Sierra Space, is being prepped for transport to a NASA facility in Ohio, where it will undergo a series of tests to make sure the spaceplane can survive its heated reentry through Earth’s atmosphere. Starting these tests is crucial, demonstrating Dream Chaser’s readiness for flights and potentially transforming commercial space travel.

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Sierra Space is hoping to see its spaceplane fly to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2024 as part of a contract with NASA. The first commercial spaceplane is currently at the company’s facility in Louisville, Colorado, and will soon make the roughly 60 mile (96 kilometer) journey to the Neil Armstrong Test Facility in Sandusky, Ohio, local media outlet Denver 7 reported.

The Colorado-based company was awarded a NASA Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) contract in 2016, under which it will provide at least seven uncrewed missions to deliver cargo to and from the ISS. Sierra Space is targeting 2024 for the inaugural flight of the first model of the Dream Chaser fleet spacecraft, named Tenacity, from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

At the company’s facility, the spaceplane is finally coming together. “We’re almost done with everything,” Angie Wise, Sierra Space’s chief safety officer, told Ars Technica on Monday. “We’re finishing all the closeout panels. We’re essentially getting it ready for shipping. We’ve checked out the landing gear. We’re going to put everything back in, stow it, and then move it onto the (transport) fixture and get it out of here.”

Tenacity will stay at NASA’s Neil Armstrong Test Facility for one to three months, during which engineers will test the spaceplane’s ability to withstand the vibrations and acoustics of a rocket launch, as well as the temperature extremes it will experience during flight, according to Ars Technica. The spaceplane will be placed inside a giant thermal vacuum chamber. In June, Sierra Space will put its Dream Chaser spaceplane to the test, powering it up for the first time at the company’s test facility.

Dream Chaser is designed to fly to low Earth orbit, carrying cargo and passengers on a smooth ride to pitstops such as the ISS. The spaceplane will launch from Earth atop a rocket, and is designed to survive atmospheric reentry and perform runway landings on the surface upon its return. Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser is designed with foldable wings that fully unfurl once the spaceplane is in flight, generating power through solar arrays. The spaceplane is also equipped with heat shield tiles to protect it from the high temperatures of atmospheric reentry.

Unlike Virgin Galactic’s suborbital spaceplane, Sierra Space designed Dream Chaser to reach orbit and stay there for six months. The U.S. Space Force has its own spaceplane, which wrapped up a mysterious two-and-a-half-year mission in low Earth orbit in November 2022.

The commercial spaceflight industry may not be too focused on spaceplanes as companies race to design fully reusable rockets, but spaceplanes do have an advantage of a smooth landing on their way back down to Earth. In terms of those exact advantages, spaceplanes offer safety, efficiency, operational flexibility, and potential for future commercial opportunities.

For its debut flight, Tenacity will ride atop United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur rocket. The spaceplane is scheduled for the rocket’s second mission, although Vulcan is yet to fly for the first time due to several delays. The spaceplane is tentatively slated for an April launch, but that still depends on the rocket’s first test flight.

In the future, Sierra Space also wants to launch crewed Dream Chaser missions to its own space station, as opposed to the Orbital Reef space station, which it is designing in collaboration with Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin—a relationship that appears to be in doubt.

For more spaceflight in your life, follow us on X and bookmark Gizmodo’s dedicated Spaceflight page.

via Gizmodo

November 2, 2023 at 11:42AM

The Morning After: YouTube is seriously cracking down on ad blockers

YouTube’s no longer just experimenting with ad-dodging viewers. The platform has gone all out in its fight against add-ons, extensions and programs that prevent it from serving ads to viewers worldwide, it confirmed to Engadget.

“The use of ad blockers violates YouTube’s Terms of Service,” a spokesperson said. YouTube started cracking down on the use of ad blockers earlier this year. By June, it took on a more aggressive approach and warned viewers they wouldn’t be able to play more than three videos unless they disable their ad blockers.

It may be an overly aggressive push: Some people apparently can’t play videos on Microsoft Edge and Firefox browsers even if they don’t have ad blockers, according to Android Police, but we could not replicate that behavior.

— Mat Smith

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Apple Music’s Siri-only $5 voice plan gets silenced

It’s no longer listed on the streaming service’s website.

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LinkedIn’s latest premium perk is an AI job coach

The platform is ramping up its AI-powered features as it hits 1 billion users.

LinkedIn is adding a new AI-powered job coach for its premium subscribers. The feature will tap into LinkedIn data to help job seekers find, research and apply for roles, and it arrives as the company announced its user base has grown to one billion members. For now, the most prominent feature for job seekers will be AI-generated insights alongside each job posting. The tool can summarize lengthy job descriptions and weigh in on whether the role is a good fit for a user, based on their LinkedIn profile. For example, it can highlight specific work experiences users’ may want to emphasize in their application.

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Disney will buy out Comcast and take full control of Hulu

It will pay $8.61 billion for the deal.

Disney is buying the rest of Hulu from Comcast. It will acquire the 33 percent of Hulu Comcast still controls and expects to pay NBCUniversal around $8.61 billion for the deal, though the final amount will be determined sometime next year. Disney CEO Bob Iger said when he announced the combined streaming app that it’s “a logical progression” of the company’s direct-to-consumer offerings. And hey: Comcast still has Peacock.

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This article originally appeared on Engadget at

via Engadget

November 2, 2023 at 06:21AM