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Top – Apex Legends’ ranked mode will be the key to keeping it alive

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Apex Legends is one week into its second season, which features a drastically changed map, a new character to master, and a pleasantly revamped battle pass with much-needed new rewards. But the most pivotal addition to the battle royale game is its ranked mode. Split into six tiers, this new mode will likely be the lifeblood of Apex Legends going forward, keeping it engaging for competitive players and carving out a community of top-tier streamers and aspiring pros who can form the backbone of a future e-sports scene.

The good news is that Apex Legends’ ranked mode is wonderfully designed. It fixes almost every big complaint I’ve had about such modes in other games, giving me a rewarding way to spend my time in a way that never feels like a second job, as so many games-as-a-service titles like Bungie’s Destiny 2 can feel. I’ve only just started playing, but can already see myself spending dozens to hundreds of hours here, so long as Respawn keeps it from growing stale and finds ways to combat the inherent toxicity ranked modes are infamous for.

Everything about Apex Legends’ take on ranked feels considerate, and it’s clear Respawn took stock of the current competitive field, from Overwatch to Rainbow Six Siege to Fortnite. The result is something smarter. This mode feels more fairly designed, punishes you less, and rewards you better for your time compared with pretty much any other comparable mode out there. Just like its approach to core battle royale, which feels like a best-of compilation of the genre’s smartest features mixed with much-needed innovations, Respawn’s take on ranked play will make you wonder why other developers don’t borrow from it more often.

The big difference I noticed after a week of playing is progression feels far less oppressive than in other games, where winning a match is usually the only gauge of performance. Naturally, because it’s a battle royale game, you don’t have to win every match, or even any matches whatsoever, to rank up. Similar to Fortnite’s ranked mode, you just need to place high, which earns you anywhere from two points for the top 10 and 12 points for the victory, or rack up knockouts, with up to one point per kill for a maximum of five per player on your three-person squad. Both winning a game and getting five kills in the process will earn you an individual match maximum of 17 points.

But Apexs combination of increasingly demanding rank up requirements, alongside an entrance fee system that forces you to spend your earned points to enter matches as you rank up, creates a unique dynamic you can’t really find in any other game. Each tier is split up into four sub-tiers, but the difference in points between those sub-tiers gets bigger in each new division, while the cost of entering a match also increases.


Image: Respawn Entertainment

That way, as you get better at the game and rank up, you have to simultaneously adjust how you play, what you strive for, and how you measure success, or else you’ll start losing more points than you earn with each new match. In this way, Respawn’s ranked mode feels like it could engage huge scores of casual players that would normally be turned off from a highly competitive playlist like this, while also giving clear avenues for improvement to the players that in other games might just languish in the lower tiers without knowing how to get better.

For instance, the point system and entry fee policy both feel fair and encourage drastically different styles of play as you move up each tier. In bronze and silver, where the entry fee is zero and then one point, ranking up requires you either earn a few early game kills or play it safe and last until you get into the top seven, or if you’re lucky or particularly skilled, a combination of both. But move into gold and then platinum, where the fees are two and three and teams are hungrier to engage in combat, you’ll have to know how to survive a firefight and crack at least the top five to earn back your entry fee and progress meaningfully.

This colors how you play Apex Legends in every division and also gives you a wide variety of routes to take at the beginning, middle, and end of each match. Rarely is a game a total wash, even when you lose a team member to a disconnection or early exit, and there are always smart moves to make to ensure you earn some points even when you’re not at all confident you’ll win the match.

Missed an opportunity to revive a teammate? Just camp the center of the circle or play at height to avoid getting seen by full squads and try to squeeze out a higher placement. Feeling particularly outskilled or low on loot? Make use of your class abilities, like Pathfinder’s zipline or Wattson’s electrical traps, to keep engagements at a distance and retain an advantage.

This diversity of styles and options makes playing this mode much more refreshing than, say, Overwatch’s competitive playlist. In Blizzard’s take on competitive, you might play a game for a literal half hour, only to lose over a completely arbitrary element of the tug of war contest that not only just wasted 30 minutes of your life, but also knocks points off your rank as a penalty for losing.


Image: Respawn Entertainment

That approach, combined with the fact that Overwatch places you around your previous season skill level, gives all but the most determined players few means to rank up and improve. And it leaves everything in Overwatch feeling like a boring stalemate by design. Apex Legends’ point system ensures that, so long as you play smart and consider your options, you’ll never feel like you’re throwing your time out the window. Often when you do lose, you can easily identify what went wrong and how to do better next time.

But this setup also means you might find yourself progressing steadily but not necessarily improving your core gunplay and positioning skills. That’s an understandable byproduct of a battle royale ranked mode, but it also offers griefers a multitude of opportunities to make other players miserable.

I don’t see toxicity as a big problem right now, although the freedom you’re given in Apex Legends could spell trouble for players who play solo and have to rely heavily on the skills of random strangers who may not be keen on engaging in fights. (Apex Legends’ ping system makes a huge difference here, but it still pales in comparison to voice chat with two other dedicated teammates.)

For instance, If you’re making your way into gold, platinum, or even diamond tiers, it’s likely because you’re earning it through a mix of good match placements and genuine firefight victories. In other words, you’re good at the game, getting better, and take it seriously. I can’t imagine a scenario, outside the rarest of exceptions, when someone can climb the ranks through sheer pacifist play and cheap strategies like full-match camping. But playing with those players would certainly be annoying, and we have yet to see how Respawn plans to handle ranked participants who actively won’t revive teammates or who will blatantly separate from the team to camp in a corner the whole game.

Right now, punishments exist predominantly to discourage quitting. Respawn says it will ban players for five minutes to start, and up to a week or longer for repeated violations of the early disconnect policy, which in an excellent touch includes quitting when you can still be revived by a teammate. The studio also says it has server-side features that will help it identify connection issues versus manual disconnects, a good-faith effort to avoid penalizing players with shoddy internet hiccups that I have yet to really see in action.

But every once in a while, if you’re playing solo or with only one other person, you’ll find someone who just isn’t interested in sticking together or making use of the ping system. It sucks, but again, Apex Legends’ very design makes it so you can still go on without them if you have to.

There are still a lot of open questions about the ranked mode. Will it get overrun by cheating and smurfing, plagued by unrepentant jerks and trolls, or just outright fail to attract enough players to keep it appropriately balanced? Or will it remain vibrant and fun, creating whole new styles of play that require you totally rethink your strategies? I’m hoping the latter, because I don’t think I’ve ever played a serious first-person shooter with this combination of strategy, teamwork, and fun factor. It’s clear Respawn has something special on its hands — if it can keep evolving and improving it.

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Top – Wyze adds AI-powered people detection to its $20 Wyze Cam line

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Wyze is slowly but surely catching up to larger smart security camera makers. Today, the Seattle-based startup has added an integral feature to its product lineup: people detection. Using artificial intelligence software from neighboring company Xnor.ai, Wyze says it’s now capable of doing cloud-based people detection on its existing cameras, which will gain the ability through an over-the-air firmware update.

Previously, Wyze cameras couldn’t tell you anything about what was happening through the video feed beyond motion detection. But it couldn’t differentiate between a pet and a person, and it was a far cry from the robust AI features of competing midrange and high-end options.

The feature is available today for the Wyze Cam V2 and the Wyze Cam Pan, which retail for the low prices of $20 and $30, respectively. That’s the real news here: Wyze may not be Amazon or Google, but you could buy five to 10 of its cameras for the price of one Amazon Cloud Cam or Nest Cam IQ. Now, those cameras can perform a key AI feature that used to set those big smart home players apart.


That Wyze is continuously able to add features that were once considered hallmarks of cameras that are many times the price is a testament to the company’s success in the smart home, a market bursting at the seams with identical-seeming products that are all trying to charge you a couple hundred bucks for slightly smarter versions of gadgets you may not need or already own. Wyze’s approach is different. It sells absurdly low-cost products, starting with cameras, and it urges consumers to build out that ecosystem with similarly cheap companion products, like the Wyze Sense security kit ($20) and the new Wyze Bulb ($8).

Inexplicably, Wyze products don’t seem to compromise on quality, although there are some key features you miss out on when using Wyze over pricier options, like continuous cloud recording (Wyze can only record continuously onto a local microSD), browser viewing, and facial recognition. That said, for the price, the Wyze lineup is hard to ignore, and it’s getting even harder now that features like AI-powered people detection are getting added at no charge.

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Top – Facebook is trying to entice creators with more monetization options

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Ahead of VidCon, Facebook has announced a slew of monetization options for its creators, which include more paid groups, ad placement options, and packs of Stars that viewers can buy and send as tips during live streams. Facebook has been trying to lure video creators away from competitors like YouTube and Patreon with monetization features like Fan Subscriptions, a $4.99-a-month digital tip jar that gets fans exclusive content, which opened up to more creators earlier this year. The features announced today are meant to add more ways for creators to make money from the platform and customize fans’ experience when they visit their Facebook pages.

Facebook is also updating a bunch of backend tools to make managing pages and profiles a bit easier. There’s an updated Brand Collabs Manager that lets creators better manage audience engagement and improve ad-targeting, and the Creator Studio, a dashboard for admins to keep track of page metrics, is getting updated with a Monetization Overview section that shows earnings from Facebook, Instagram, and IGTV. Here, creators will also be able to choose where to place ads on their videos so viewers don’t have to be subjected to interruptive ads in the middle of videos and decide if the ads will be pre-roll or image-based if it’s a shorter video.


Facebook is also testing Stars, a tipping feature currently in use for gaming streams, which is now being expanded to a small group of video creators. Viewers can purchase packs of 100 Stars for $1.40, and streamers will get 1 cent per Star sent during live streams. For fans who want even more access, Facebook is testing paid, supporter-only groups for monthly subscribers, which let them connect with creators in a more private space.

If you’re a creator who runs a Facebook page and you received an invitation to Fan Subscriptions, make sure to read the terms of service thoroughly before joining. The contract stipulates that Facebook can take up to a 30 percent cut of subscriptions when the feature formally launches, and it asks for a lifetime license to use creators’ work even after they stop using Fan Subscriptions.


Image: Engadget

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Top – Microsoft’s prototype Xbox controllers for phones look ideal for xCloud

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Microsoft is experimenting with prototype Xbox controllers for phones and tablets. The controllers attach to the sides of devices to provide an experience that’s similar to Nintendo’s Switch. “The success of the Switch is testament to the value of mobile gaming with physical controls,” explains a Microsoft Research paper, spotted by Windows Central.

Microsoft has been experimenting with a variety of slide-in grips that can make the attachments far more flexible and less bulky than solutions that already exist like GameCase, GameVice, and ION iCade mobile. Microsoft Research first documented these prototype controllers back in October, and now Microsoft has even patented the idea.


The patents and research don’t necessarily mean that we’ll see these controllers in time for the xCloud game streaming launch, but Microsoft has been overhauling its research division in recent years to ensure its inventions become reality. These prototypes look like a far better solution than connecting up a separate Xbox controller, or relying on touch screen controls for games.

Microsoft is working on a Touch Adaptation Kit for xCloud so developers can make their games more touch-friendly, but the company has always publicly demonstrated its cloud gaming service with an Xbox controller attached to an Android phone. We’ve been waiting for a company to step up and create a good controller design for phones, and Microsoft might just be ready to fill that gap. Microsoft also makes the best pro gamepad (the Xbox Elite controller), so extending to phones and tablets looks like the next logical step.

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Top – The first electric Mini helps explain why BMW’s CEO just quit

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BMW has unveiled the first all-electric Mini Cooper. Coming in early 2020, the car will start at around $35,000 and travel 235 kilometers (146 miles) per charge. Compared to similarly priced EVs on the road now with more than 200 miles of range, like the Kona Electric or the Tesla Model 3, the Mini’s mileage figure looks paltry. It will only look worse next year as more capable electric cars hit the road, and the Mini gets a more realistic EPA mileage rating. It’s a curious thing to see from a company that was early to electric cars, and it helps explain why BMW’s CEO Harald Krueger resigned last week.

Krueger was BMW’s CEO for four years, coming in not long after the company’s i3 electric crossover SUV hit the market. But in a message to employees on his way out the door last week, he reportedly cited the “enormous changes” happening in the auto industry as a reason for leaving. BMW, it seems, fell behind the curve on Krueger’s watch.

Bloomberg recapped some of the things that happened during Krueger’s tenure, especially when it comes to his attempts at future-proofing the automaker’s business. It wasn’t pretty. He delayed BMW’s first long-range EV, which reportedly led to an exodus of talent in that field. Sales of the i3 stumbled. He also doubled down on internal combustion engine cars at a time when European countries moved to restrict or outright ban them, especially diesels. Amid all of this, the company still lost market share to rivals like Daimler, which owns Mercedes-Benz.

BMW’s vision of the future became so disjointed under Krueger that, just two weeks ago, one of its lead executives said electric vehicles were “overhyped” at an event where BMW announced a new plan to accelerate its adoption of electric vehicle technology.

It’s no surprise, then, that the new electric Mini’s spec sheet reads like something that was announced three or four years ago. It has a respectable 184 horsepower for a car so small, but it will only do a 0 to 100 km/h (0 to 62 mph) run in 7.3 seconds. That’s slower than the two-year-old Chevy Bolt. A longer-range version (270 kilometers or 168 miles) will be available for more money, though BMW didn’t say how much more.

BMW is known for the quality of its cars, and the Mini brand has such loyal followers that the new electric version will certainly find some fans. But while the rest of the industry is undergoing those “enormous changes” that Krueger cited, the first all-electric Mini looks more like a capitulation from BMW, down to the fact that — according to Automotive News — it’s little more than the i3’s technology shoe-horned into the 2014 Mini hard-top.

Most people only need to travel 200 or 300 miles by car once every few months, if that. So 146 miles could still handle a number of everyday trips. It could also slot nicely into its car-sharing fleet, depending on what shape that service takes following the merger with Daimler’s mobility arm. The Mini also won’t be the only EV with shorter range to be released moving forward. The adorable Honda E will only get about 124 miles of range when it hits the road later this year, for example. And BMW’s forthcoming electric SUVs, like the iX3 and iX4, should be far more capable when they eventually arrive.

But BMW was decidedly ahead of the curve on electric and hybrid cars just a few years ago. The new Mini is a sign that Krueger may have squandered that advantage.

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Trump White House shelves ‘adversarial’ review of climate science | Science – News

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iStock.com/bboserup

Originally published by E&E News

The proposed White House panel that would conduct an “adversarial” review of climate science is dead for now, as President Donald Trump grapples with negative perceptions of his environmental record at the outset of his reelection campaign.

The months-long push from within the National Security Council to review established science on climate change divided White House advisers and generated sharp opposition from researchers across the country. The effort, led by a physicist overseeing technology issues at the NSC, William Happer, stalled indefinitely amid internal disagreements within the White House, according to two sources.

“It’s been totally stymied by the forces of darkness within the administration, but also by the looming election campaign,” said Myron Ebell, a senior fellow at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., who led the Environmental Protection Agency transition team under Trump.

Happer has consulted conservative groups that attack climate science in an attempt to recruit members for the proposed panel. He’s spoken with policy analysts at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Heartland Institute in Arlington Heights, Illinois, and the CO2 Coalition, a group Happer founded and that claims that the world would be better off with higher levels of carbon dioxide emissions. The theories promoted by those groups are rejected by NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the world’s top science academies.

Happer initially wanted Trump to issue an executive order to create the “Presidential Committee on Climate Security.” He wanted the panel to review assertions within the National Climate Assessment related to risks from climate change on national security. Happer briefed Trump on climate science at least twice (Climatewire, June 24).

The idea to create the panel has caused strife within the White House. Among its critics are deputy chief of staff Chris Liddell; Kevin Hassett, the outgoing chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers; Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council; and Kelvin Droegemeier, the president’s science adviser. Those supporting the plan include Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and Brooke Rollins, assistant to Trump in the Office of American Innovation.

An official at NSC disputed the characterization that the panel was dead, even while confirming that it had been indefinitely delayed. The plan has suffered several downgrades over the months. It was initially proposed as a rapid response team of climate science critics who would challenge government publications on human-caused warming. Recent discussions have centered on the idea of forcing government climate scientists to participate in a debate with critics of their work who deny that humans are causing widespread changes on Earth (Climatewire, June 6). Most recently, the plan was diminished to creating dueling white papers that would elevate climate denialism to the level of consensus science.

Those in talks to participate as critics of mainstream science include John Christy of the University of Alabama, Huntsville, and Judith Curry, former head of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Georgia. A potential leader of the exercise was Paul Robinson, a former Department of Energy official who oversaw talks about nuclear weapons tests with the Soviet Union, but who is not trained in climate science.

Trump supporters who want the administration to be more aggressive in its rejection of climate science were frustrated that the climate review panel had been sidelined. Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute sees it as a sign that the Trump campaign is sensitive to Democratic attacks on climate change.

“The reelect campaign has been completely taken over by the usual cast of Republican establishment consultants who are primarily concerned with making very large amounts of money on the campaign,” Ebell said.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. Copyright 2019. E&E provides essential news for energy and environment professionals at www.eenews.net

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Top – Moment is making an anamorphic lens for DJI drones

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Moment is expanding its line of add-on camera lenses beyond smartphones for the first time, with plans to launch an anamorphic lens for DJI drones.

The lens clips on to DJI’s Mavic 2 Pro or Mavic 2 Zoom and works with either drone’s existing camera to capture a wider field of view, complete with cinematic lens flares. A crowdfunding campaign for the lens is launching on Kickstarter today. It sells for $199, with plans to ship in November. Moment says it’ll sell the lens at retail for $300.

Moment made its name selling lenses that clip on to the back of a phone, offering different fields of view and more options for photographers. As interest in traditional Instagram posts has waned, Moment co-founder Marc Barros says the company has found room for growth by appealing to vloggers and filmmakers. Drones, he says, were the other key tool filmmakers have started relying on.

“We just looked at what people were using,” he says. “They all had a phone, a big camera, and a drone.” Moment’s team says they were able to fly the Mavic 2 Pro in heavy winds with the new lens attached, and it didn’t affect the drone’s performance

In addition to the new lens, Moment is selling clip-on ND and CPL filters for both its own lens and the drones’ built-in lens. It’s also made a new iPhone case that’s slim enough that the phone can slip inside the drone’s controller without it being removed. The filters will sell for $99 on Kickstarter ($120 at retail), and the case will go for $25 ($30 at retail). Because the Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 Zoom have different cameras, separate lenses and filters will be sold for each model.


Moment’s ND filter.
Image: Moment

Moment launched its first anamorphic lens last year. At $150, it’s Moment’s most expensive lens, but it’s also one of the cheapest ways to start shooting anamorphic, a format that usually requires pricey lenses for high-end cameras. Barros says Moment expected it to be a niche product, but it’s become the company’s “number one selling lens,” with around 50,000 units produced so far.

Creating a lens for a drone comes with some added complications. DJI’s drones use a gimbal to stabilize the camera and record smooth footage, and clipping a heavy lens on the front would disrupt its ability to properly balance. To fix that, Moment has reduced the weight of its existing anamorphic lens by changing the housing from metal to plastic. (The glass remains the same.) A clip that secures the lens on the camera also includes a weight in back to properly counterbalance the added heft.

Because the lens is being added on top of an existing lens, it comes with some drawbacks. You’ll have to reattach it every time you start up the drone. It also doesn’t work as well at all focal lengths. Since the drone camera is already pretty wide, the effect is limited unless you punch in.


The lens hooks around the camera and onto a clip that serves as a counterweight.
Image: Moment

Then there’s the problem with shooting anamorphic: anamorphic lenses squeeze footage to fit more on the sensor, and that footage then needs to be de-squeezed in order to properly view it. That means panorama photos won’t turn out properly. It also means that, when monitoring your footage, it’s going to look a little strange. Moment says it’s talking to DJI about potentially adding the ability to automatically de-squeeze footage inside the drone’s controller app, but that’s not a sure thing at this point.

Still, in a world where drone footage is increasingly common and all looks about the same, Moment thinks its anamorphic offering will win over a lot of filmmakers who are looking to stand out. It also appears that Moment will be one of the only companies — if not the only company — to offer clip-on lenses for DJI drones.

Barros says the development of the lens is mostly done and that Moment now needs to figure out how many units to actually make. “This is the least risky of all the Kickstarters we’ve done,” he says.

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Top – MacBook Pro vs. MacBook Air: the spec differences in the latest revisions

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Apple simplified its laptop lineup today by discontinuing a few models. The 12-inch MacBook and the pre-2018 MacBook Air are no longer sold through the Apple Store. Now, it’s just the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. Simpler, right?

On the surface, Apple seems to have made deciding between those two laptop models even easier, too. The MacBook Air’s price has dropped by $100, bringing it down to $1,099 ($999 for students and teachers). At that price, it’s $200 less than the new baseline 13-inch MacBook Pro configuration.

And $200 is enough of a price difference that you might find yourself leaning toward the new MacBook Air. But there are a few reasons why spending that extra $200 on a MacBook Pro might be worth it in the long run.

Keep in mind that we haven’t reviewed either of these machines yet, so this is less of a recommendation and more calling attention to the main differences in case you were interested in taking the plunge right now.

The major differences are subtle

The MacBook Air now has a True Tone display, giving it the ability to auto-adapt its color temperature to make it easier on the eyes. It also has the “new material” keyboard, which aims to reduce the widespread issues spurred by Apple’s butterfly keyboard. Both of those changes are great, and it helps to more closely align Apple’s now-cheapest laptop with the MacBook Pro.

However, if you’re a power user or you just want to get the most for your money, the latest updates to the MacBook Pro 13-inch will probably catch your eye. The new baseline Pro also includes a True Tone display, the Touch Bar (your mileage may vary with this feature), and a notably more powerful quad-core Intel Core i5 processor. The latter spec is a big jump forward for the entry-level model, and Apple currently doesn’t offer a quad-core CPU option for the MacBook Air. The Pro’s display is also brighter than the MacBook Air’s, even though they share the same size and resolution.


Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Pro.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

The MacBook Pro and MacBook Air mostly mirror each other when it comes to specs. But for everything you get by paying a $200 premium, the MacBook Pro might work out to be a better choice for you. You might be wondering if it’s better to spend $200 for the Pro’s faster processor and better screen or putting that same amount toward getting 16GB of RAM in the MacBook Air. That’s a tough call to make, and it will depend greatly on your own computing needs and habits.

We’ll be testing both models in the near future to find a definitive answer to which one is the best MacBook for most people, so stay tuned for that.

Here’s a look at the spec differences:

Comparing the latest baseline MacBook configurations

Comparison MacBook Air MacBook Pro
Comparison MacBook Air MacBook Pro
Price $1,099 $1,299
Screen 13.3-inch Retina Display with True Tone 13.3-inch Retina Display with True Tone
Processor 1.6GHz dual-core 8th Gen Intel Core i5 1.4GHz quad-core 8th Gen Intel Core i5
Graphics Intel UHD Graphics 617 Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645
RAM 8GB 8GB
Storage 128GB 128GB
Thunderbolt 3 ports Two Two
Biometrics Touch ID Touch ID
Includes Touch Bar No Yes

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Top – EPIC 6.0: Holosphere behind the scenes: inside DJ Eric Prydz’s massive LED orb

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Two weeks from now, Eric Prydz will stand inside a glowing sphere that’s more than two stories tall as he performs to a crowd of thousands. The world-famous DJ is set to debut his latest Eric Prydz In Concert (EPIC) show — a big and ambitious experience that draws tens of thousands of fans and gets the entire dance world talking. Every EPIC is a limited engagement that pushes the limits of how tech and music interact. This year, Prydz is pulling off the most grandiose performance to date, in the form of a giant transparent LED sphere called EPIC 6.0: Holosphere.

“Ever since we started doing EPIC,” Prydz says, “our goal has always been to try and blow people away, but in a way that they haven’t been blown away before at an electronic dance music event.” The first EPIC was in 2011, and over time the show has grown into one of dance music’s most bombastic multi-sensory events, employing hundreds of laser beams, digital screens larger than a jumbo jet, and colossal holographic effects.

Prydz has set a high bar, but this new show might be his most ambitious. He and his team have been working on the Holosphere for the past two years and will reveal it at Belgium’s Tomorrowland festival on Saturday, July 20th. The centerpiece is an eight-meter wide sphere, and the whole production is so large the festival had to redesign its grounds in order to accommodate it. While Prydz DJs on a riser inside, millions of pixels and hundreds of lights will flash futuristic scenes around him that tower over the crowd.

On paper, the EPIC shows make little sense. They’re extravagant, complicated, laborious, and expensive, making them jaw-dropping, custom-built spectacles that are almost impossible to tour. Few venues have the space and resources to host EPIC shows, so each one is only performed a handful of times before being shelved. Prydz says he’s lost hundreds of thousands of dollars on EPIC shows — for him, it’s not about profit, but about using technology to create an experience no other DJ is offering.

“Huge confetti cannons and flamethrowers are very primitive,” Prydz says of the usual attention-getting tricks. “I thought, we can do better than this. We can do something different and more exciting.”

The EPIC shows have centered around increasingly grand holographic effects in recent years. In one instance, a 44-meter-wide projection was winged out over the audience, making it look like entire scenes appeared out of thin air. In another, a larger than life astronaut “hologram” hovered over the crowd.

The upcoming Holosphere is a complete redesign that does away with projected holographic effects. In their place is the multi-story sphere, kitted out with over 2.4 million LEDs. During the performance, the Holosphere will illuminate with swirling galaxies, crackle with darts of electricity, and transform into slowly rotating alien planets. Depending on how much of the sphere lights up and at what intensity, Prydz can be clearly seen inside, or nearly disappear. If you look closely at the show’s lighting map, you’ll get a sense of the Holosphere’s sheer scale — that tiny gray stick figure standing inside? It’s Prydz.


http://www.theverge.com/

Image: Ross Chapple

Getting rid of holographic trickery seemed like the next logical step for EPIC, says Prydz’s longtime collaborator Mark Calvert from London-based tech company Realtime Environment Systems (RES). “All these [EPIC] shows have been amazing,” he says, “but at the end of the day they were two-dimensional projections.” Using a physical sphere not only provides actual depth but will let the audience see the Holosphere’s larger-than-life visuals from all sorts of different angles without any distortion.

72 handmade panels in varying shapes interlock onto a metal skeleton to construct the Holosphere, and they’re laced with LEDs both inside and out. Light Initiative founder Bryn Williams designed the panels to be modular, so if an LED fails, the individual strip can be popped out and replaced within seconds.

At a warehouse in London, Williams has me help assemble a panel: I peel off an LED strip’s backing, stick it into a custom plastic extrusion with raised sides, and then snap the strip in tiny grooves that run along the panel. There are big gaps between each strip, so the sphere has a lower resolution than most traditional LED panels. But that won’t be noticeable from far away. That space is crucial to trick the eye into thinking the sphere is “transparent,” allowing audiences to both see animations displayed on the sphere and Prydz DJing inside of it.


http://www.theverge.com/

Sketch: Liam Tomaszewski (Show Design: Liam Tomaszewski, Ross Chapple, Mark Calvert, Dave Green, Bryn Williams)

A sphere sounds simple enough, but bringing the Holosphere to life was a difficult endeavor. Any show has to hang or sit on something, and a stage can only handle a certain amount of weight. Temporary structures, like the ones at Tomorrowland, generally support less weight than permanent ones, like an arena or stadium. Williams’ design weighs five tons, but it splits the load in two to deal with this constraint: the weight of the sphere’s upper half is supported by four dumbbell-sized bolts affixed to the roof, while the bottom half is supported by the stage.

Williams says he had two primary goals in designing the Holosphere’s architecture — create something that could withstand being knocked around, and if something fails, keep the failure localized. “It needed to be robust to stop problems from happening,” he says, “and resilient to stop a problem from cascading.” Every LED strip has been stress tested by alternating them between hot and cold temperatures, and the test panel dropped from different heights to see when it will deform or break. “It’s had a proper bashing,” says Williams with a grin.

The physical sphere is only half the story. There’s also the animations, lighting, and visual effects, all of which bring the Holosphere to life. Throughout the course of the show, the sphere’s original animations will include everything from the tiniest of molecules to immense galactic forms. At the RES office, designer and VJ Liam Tomaszewski shows me some of what he’s been working on: there’s a burnt orange Mars-like planet, what can only be described as a sparkling disco Death Star, and a wonderfully grotesque eyeball.


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Image: Liam Tomaszewski

While the sphere is being built, Tomaszewski creates the Holosphere’s mind-bending animations using a mishmash of Cinema 4D, Houdini, Maya, and Adobe After Effects, along with “hundreds of plug-ins and different tools.” Off the bat, many of his animations from previous EPIC shows had to be tossed because they were created for flat surfaces. Wrapping a flat image on a sphere mangles and pinches things, so he learned how to animate with spherical distortion using a method called equirectangular projection. ”It caused a lot of headaches,” Tomaszewski says. “This is a really scary project from a content perspective because I don’t get to fall back on some of the tricks that I know work.”

To demonstrate the difference, Tomaszewski loads up the eyeball on screen. As a sphere, the realism is both amazing and instinctually off-putting. It darts about frenetically, with a slight wetness on its surface, and curls of small, pinkish veins that creep around the sides. He recorded his own pupil for this, tracking its motion in Adobe After Effects to make the animation as lifelike as possible.

Then, he shows me the flat version. It’s the same image, but is almost unrecognizable. Fleshy and smooshed, the image is more reminiscent of roadkill than a human eye. “Trying to get my head around creating content within that world was a real challenge,” Tomaszewski says of animating for a sphere.

When I visit in June, there’s no Holosphere for Tomaszewski to see his work on, so to test ideas, he projects animations on a yoga ball. It’s not the real thing, but seeing the work in three dimensions makes a difference. Sometimes what looks great on his screen doesn’t translate once it’s on the yoga ball. Other times, like with the eyeball, it looks even better. “Whether people define it as an actual hologram or not is up to them,” Tomaszewski says, “but we’re just trying to do what we can to create visuals in three dimensions. I don’t know anybody who’s created three-dimensional visuals and displayed them in three dimensions.”


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Image: Ross Chapple

The sphere will be front and center, but it’s only one component of the show. It’s also flanked by two massive video screens that jut out from behind. And when it comes to lighting, designer Ross Chapple has stacked the stage with over 500 fixtures that give him an array of sharp, directional effects including 150 individual laser diodes, lamp beams, and LED bars that spoke out from around the center. The bars are on motors and can move up and down around the sphere, like the curve of a manta ray’s fin. There’s also a lighting rig at the top of the sphere that will lower inside and strobe to look like a “nucleus exploding.”

What’s even more incredible is that everything during the show is done live. Big shows like this are usually synced with timecode with portions pre-mixed to ensure certain visuals, fireworks, and other effects happen at precise moments in songs. But Prydz insists on improvising during EPIC shows. To make this happen requires a bit of intuition from everyone involved and some additional tech. First, cameras over the crowd feed to video monitors beside Prydz while he performs. All of the lights blur his view from the stage, so this lets him see audience reactions and decide what to play next. “A lot of people don’t realize that with the technology that we’ve been using, it’s very hard for me to see through these sort of things from the inside out,” he says. “One of the worst things about doing these shows is that the one person who this is all done around can’t see the bloody show … Sometimes I wish I was in the crowd.”

Meanwhile, Tomaszewski and Chapple work in tandem in a front of house booth during the show. They know every Prydz song inside and out but have no idea when any of them will be played. Some songs are always paired with certain animations and effects, and others allow for experimentation. When they hear Prydz mixing in the next track, they immediately cue up animations and lighting schemes in response.


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Image: Ross Chapple

As a result, no two EPIC shows are the same. “I would just be so bored, and I would never get away with it,” says Prydz when I ask why he does EPIC live. “If I even played two or three of the same tracks in a row, someone would say, ‘You did that two years ago at this show in Pennsylvania,’ or ‘You’ve lost it now. You’re getting lazy.’” The audience holds him to a high standard, but more simply, he doesn’t understand why any DJ would plan everything ahead of time. “I can’t see how preparing a full set in a quiet hotel room, while eating a club sandwich and having the TV on in the background, is going to resonate with the people at the festival you’re playing, or the club. I don’t believe that exists.”

Prydz and his team have no idea if there will be other Holosphere dates. For now, they’re only concerned about making sure everything is set for the show’s debut. At Tomorrowland, two years of work will result in a two-hour visual extravaganza, setting a new goalpost not just for Prydz, but the entire industry. He’s excited to see their “nearly impossible idea” come to life and hopes the people watching are as wowed by the sphere as he is. “It’s fun to see how far you can push it,” he says with a smile, “how extreme you can make things, and how you can come up with ideas that people haven’t seen or experienced before. Then, the joy of seeing people going absolutely crazy over it is an amazing feeling.”

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Top – Twitter will now remove tweets that dehumanize religious groups

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Twitter is announcing updates to its policies today to address hateful language directed at religious groups, a significant in how the platform moderates against hate speech. The policy will go into effect starting today, with moderation practices immediately updated to enforce the new rules. If the new policy is successful, Twitter said it could apply a similar standard to other protected groups of people in the future.

Last year, Twitter put out a call for people to help rewrite its dehumanization policies, initially proposing a policy against dehumanizing “identifiable groups” in general. The company received 8,000 responses from people in over 30 countries in the wake of the proposal, with much of the feedback suggesting that this category was too broad and smaller groups needed to be defined. As a result, Twitter is testing out the policy with a ban on dehumanization of religious groups in particular.

The new policy lays out specific examples of content targeting members of religious groups that should be removed if reported. Tweets that dehumanize people on behalf of their religious alignment — for instance, referring to them as “rats,” “viruses,” and “filthy animals” — are now explicitly forbidden by the platform’s rules.


Examples of tweets that now violate Twitter policies

“We create our rules to keep people safe on Twitter, and they continuously evolve to reflect the realities of the world we operate within,” Twitter’s safety team wrote in a blog post. “Our primary focus is on addressing the risks of offline harm, and research shows that dehumanizing language increases that risk.”

Twitter has long struggled to detect and police harassment at scale, resulting in significant ongoing changes to the platform’s moderation policy. Late last month, the company announced that it would notify users when tweets posted by prominent political figures violated the platform’s rules. If a world leader tweets something harmful, the company will now place a grey box before the tweet telling users that the content was in violation of its policies. Users would then need to click the box before they would be able to view the content.

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