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Gaming News

Far Cry 5 Players Hoped The Game Was Changing Seasons, But The Truth Is Different 

September 6, 2018 — by Kotaku.com0

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Screenshot: Kotaku (Far Cry 5)

Far Cry 5 finally got a new game plus mode last week along with its third and final DLC, a set of brief new zombie missions. The new additions have inspired players, always looking for mysteries in the game’s fictional open world of Hope County, Montana, to desperately search for signs the game may be changing seasons to match our planet’s actual orbit around the sun.

“I noticed while playing earlier that some trees had began to turn orange and leaves can be seen falling,” wrote one player on the game’s subreddit yesterday. “Is the game slowly cycling to autumn in real time, or have there always been trees like this?” A fascinating question indeed! To see Far Cry 5’s foliage change from cascading greens to a sea of glowing golds, warm reds, and bright oranges would be truly magnificent.

Other players clearly think so as well, which is why some of them took the whisper of possible changes to the world as a call to hunt for further signs of a coming autumnal equinox. “You know, I was playing yesterday and thought the same thing,” another Far Cry 5 player wrote in the same thread. “I got the game on release but having a little one running around it takes me a long time to finish a game. I don’t think I’m 50% done yet, but I was playing yesterday and thought damn those trees looks alot more yellow than usual. If this is actually it would be epic.”

Others weren’t convinced, but a seed once planted, in the Far Cry community at least, has a knack for taking on a life of its own, even if the mystery never amounts to something more. First there was the hunt for Bigfoot based on various hints off the game’s beaten paths. Then there was the investigation into strange voices heard through the game’s radio static in certain locations when tuned to certain stations. Nothing came of either of these searches, and it’s unlikely anything will come of this latest one, either.

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I walked around a little in the game this morning and didn’t spot anything out of the ordinary. The leaves were as green as ever. When it comes to the changing of the season, as one player on the subreddit pointed out, Ubisoft isn’t the type to just let massive updates begin taking shape unannounced. When asked by Kotaku for comment on the subject of season weather getting added to Far Cry 5, Ubisoft did not immediately respond.

But perhaps the best proof that Far Cry 5’s deciduous fauna aren’t slowly changing color comes from an August presentation about rendering open worlds delivered by one of the game’s designers at the educational conference SIGGRAPH 2018. The slides for the presentation by Ubisoft’s Steve McAuley were recently put online, and as NYU Game Center professor Robert Yang pointed out, they show that something akin to seasons had originally been planned for the game’s lighting but was ultimately left out.

One of the design problems, apparently, was that every day and night being different would lead to difficulties with lighting, especially in regards to modelling the moon at night as it changed. Instead of trying to model the complexities of a planet hurtling through space, the game loops the same day over and over, while playing with the elevations and things like fog effects that burn away as it gets brighter to give the sense of a dynamic environment. In reality though, Hope County is trapped in a Groundhog Day-like purgatory which, all things considered, feels appropriate for Far Cry 5.

Gaming News

Next-Gen Baggies Are Transforming Legal Weed

August 16, 2018 — by Kotaku.com0

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After a recent trip to her local dispensary, my mom recalled how, when she was young, black-market cannabis was really only available by the “lid”—usually, a sandwich bag partly filled with ground-up plant, the official size of which tended to vary. Today, she can choose rich, cleverly named buds by the gram or quarter ounce from hundreds of California locations; they come tucked into dark plastic pop-top vials, or windowed envelopes lined with golden, scent-blocking mylar, or—increasingly, as mainstream tastes and funds flow in—are served up as a prerolled botanic experience for a few dollars more. 

Across the state, cannabis businesses are struggling to make sense of new options for packaging their products, as well a shifting set of rules for making them legally compliant. As a result, manufacturers and retailers face rising costs that can easily snuff out small operators, and a trend of increasingly stylized marketing that often seeks to leave the cannabis industry’s history of conflict and culture behind.

According to those who have watched and helped grow the industry since its grey- and black-market days, regulators’ current trajectory may make buying and selling cannabis even harder for many. At the same time, innovations inspired by legal weed could soon change pharmacy as we know it.

New laws, new look: A millennia-old drug gets a makeover

After close to a century of U.S. cannabis prohibition, and decades of continuing, racially biased arrests and incarceration, legal cannabis businesses are working overtime to combat stigma around the drug, which remains federally illegal and excluded from most mainstream medicine.

Even as many cannabis growers, distributors, and consumers from the previous black-market industry continue serving jail and prison sentences around the country, new investors in legal markets are trying to tip the scales of cannabis perception directly from ‘criminal’ to ‘healthful,’ or even ‘couture.’

A general view of the MedMen Abbot Kinney store ribbon cutting ceremony on June 9, 2018 in Venice, California.Photo: Getty

At the same time, as cannabis attorney Hilary Bricken, who co-writes the website Canna Law Blog, said in a phone interview, businesses are under increasing pressure to build brand recognition and loyalty in a veritable sea of green products. As the industry moves toward standardization, she said, businesses are trying out ways to promote their products within a competitive—and sometimes overwhelming—new legal marketplace.

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“Packaging is one area that is becoming increasingly sophisticated and stylized, from branded [infused beverage] bottles and tins to really put-together boxes,” Bricken said. “It’s a narrow way for brands to distinguish themselves—and one way they can try to beat the black market and end prohibition.”

As the legal industry struggles to keep ahead of the black market, companies in California and other states are trying a somewhat psychological approach, Bricken said. “The idea is, why would you buy a gram on the corner when you could buy something that looks like it’s from Whole Foods?”

Henry’s Original “all natural, small batch” pre-rolls.Photo: Henry’s Original

To that end, seemingly, many large operators have started taking similar aesthetic cues in how they package their buds and pre-rolls. In a direct rejection of the “lids” and Playboy bunny- or smiley face-stamped dime bags that ruled weed until just a few years ago, packaging now tends to feature handwriting-style text and abstract, herbal designs in an assortment of soothing colors.

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This spring, Packaging Digest reported that the top five trends in cannabis packaging are “Leafy imagery; Green in color and in ethos; A focus on health; Minimalism; Playing with stereotypes.” AdWeek also reflected recently that the best cannabis brands are “creating marketing history while simultaneously changing public opinion with their perfectly packaged creations … [and] raising the bar at the intersection of wellness, compliance and luxury branding.”

Cannabis products are displayed at MedMen on January 2, 2018 in West Hollywood, California.Photo: Getty

Canndescent, for example, wraps its cannabis flower and pre-rolled joints “in an entirely new way, throwing traditional slang-sounding strain names to the wind and instead using their packaging to tell a story about how the product will make the user feel or painting a picture of the type of occasion that strain might best accompany.”

The firm also reportedly put together “collectible single-strain gift sets complete with branded matches and rolling papers [into] cross body bags inspired by designers such as Coach and Hermes,” and distributed them last year to “exclusive” party guests during California’s Coachella music festival.

Other design choices in the current market are somewhat simpler, if also plying ‘chill’ themes. According to packaging manufacturer StandupPouches.com, for example, rapper, entrepreneur, and renowned weed supporter Snoop Dogg chose to bedeck his signature Leafs By Snoop line with “California-inspired imagery, pastels, and gold colors that are inspired by T-shirts he would wear poolside or at the beach.”

Image: Leafs By Snoop

As money has poured into the legal industry, totally new forms of cannabis packaging have also been springing up. From child-resistant jars to reusable cans, a wave of updated containers has swept legal weed recently, tapping areas of design that pharmaceutical and over-the-counter (OTC) drugmakers have mostly ignored.

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There are increasingly slick, customizable bottles and boxes, prerolled-joint vials, quaint jars, and all number of cartridges vape-pen users. Because child resistance has been a key area of most states’ packaging regulations, there are also patent-ed (or -pending) tins and tubes, and sturdy ‘exit bags’ with proprietary zip/pull/stand-up features.

Image: Hisierra

Some manufacturers have also been exploring greener alternatives to popular mylar and plastic containers. HISIERRA co-founder Mike Greenfield, who chose to enter cannabis packaging after 30 years in more mainstream bag-making (his claim to fame: the Subway sandwich carrier bag), said he decided to look beyond plastic cannabis ‘barrier bags’ after clients complained that there were no available products with both high performance and a low eco-footprint.

A couple years later, the company is now producing exit bags almost entirely composed of a plastic that’s derived from sugarcane, a “renewable, sustainable material,” Greenfield said. Unlike with most normal plastic manufacturing, with is usually a “filthy” process, he explained, the company’s Texas manufacturing plant has nixed the smokestack, turns out cleaner air and water than goes in, and relies entirely on nearby wind power.

California’s green rush grows up

Last year, Californians voted to legalize adult recreational cannabis use and sales starting January 1, 2018, requiring a range of brand-new regulations. After more than 20 years’ experience under medicinal cannabis laws, operators have had to re-calibrate everything from labels to processing to accommodate the new rules—three sets of them since California went rec.

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State lawmakers officially began tackling comprehensive recreational cannabis legislation back in 2017. But between the industry’s many different needs, cash-fueled interests, and the usual political sticky gears, they only delivered their long-term proposal in July. In the meantime, the entire legal cannabis supply chain has had to adopt a set of temporary rules known as “Emergency Regulations,” which saw significant changes halfway through the year.

Some rules appear in all three versions, but others have forced operators to quickly change directions, or even sent them in circles.

For example, for the first six months of 2018, California retailers needed to ensure that all departing customers had their cannabis products contained in child-resistant ‘exit bags.’ These are reusable plastic and/or mylar bags, available in stores and online for around $1 a pop, which allow its contents to be protected, more or less, from the wandering eyes and hands of kids.

Because there’s a limited number of bag-makers out there, and only so many ways (mostly patented) that bags can be both child-proof and resealable, they have also raised costs for businesses and consumers, and added to some groupsconcerns about the huge amount of plastic being used in the industry.

The Compliant Packaging-brand patent pending LocTin was designed as a recyclable, unbreakable, more child-proof alternative to current plastic and glass cannabis containers.Photo: Todd Golden

Starting July 1, however, exit bags were no longer to be included in California’s temporary regulations for packaging weed. Instead, the state said it would require cannabis products to be packaged and labelled only by licensed manufacturers and distributors, taking the whole process—including the task of weighing out fresh flower—out of the hands of retail-only businesses.

And then, about two weeks later, California released a set of proposed permanent rules requiring products to be both made individually child-proof by manufacturers or distributors and contained in child-proof bags when customers are exiting stores. Meanwhile, businesses have also had to adjust to new requirements for lab testing, portion size, and other key factors in the cannabis production process—making compliant packaging just one of many issues operators have to keep track of.

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“I think operators are very annoyed by it,” said cannabis attorney Hilary Bricken. “After having no oversight in this area for 20 years, they now have to comply with very specific packaging requirements, and if you get it wrong, there are severe penalties for violating those rules.”

Numerous cannabis industry members said they had planned to continue stocking and using exit bags despite the (ultimately brief) rule change, since they expected things to evolve. Overall, they said, being forced to stay ahead of potential future regulations is simply too costly for most, and—when businesses can afford it—may jam up the already understaffed, shortageprone supply chain.

Jamie Warm, CEO of Henry’s Original, said new packaging rules are “changing the face of the whole industry,” where retailers have traditionally made their own packaging, prerolls, and other products. “Essentially we’re seeing an enormous amount of regulations that are creating more barriers to entry into the market, and forcing brands to consolidate. There are positive and negative sides to that.”

“Without any enforcement, companies striving to be compliant are at risk of going out of business because they’re competing against companies not playing by the same set of rules,” Warm said.

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“But compliance is difficult, and adds a lot of cost, material, and labor,” he continued. “It’s hard to get into the business right now unless you’re extraordinarily well-capitalized; unfortunately, we’re seeing smaller retailers and producers fall by the wayside.”

Weed invites Big Pharma to the 21st century

According to some experts, the tradition of medicinal containers in general is long overdue for an update, and cannabis innovators could offer the solution—or at least help smoke it out.

Dr. Laura Bix, a professor at Michigan State University’s School of Packaging and an adjunct associate at Clemson University, explained by phone that years of research around medical packaging and containers have taught her that the pharmaceutical industry is slow to change its formats. It’s also drowning in those push-and-turn “amber vials” that have ruled pharmacies since she was a kid in the 1970s, and which many of the most common weed containers are based on.

Photo: Getty

Bix, who previously investigated the “senior-friendly” package tests required for pill bottles, said that she and her team have been examining the “paradox and paradigm” of child-resistant packaging (CRP) to find ways of improving current methods. “You’ve got these increasingly adept toddlers who are reading earlier, and are wired to explore the world and try different things. At the older end of the spectrum, we’re increasingly moving people into home care, and away from acute or ambulatory care,” she commented.

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“As a result, we increasingly have very sophisticated drugs and devices in home environments, where children may be present; it’s a very difficult paradox that designers have to deal with and accommodate, and we’ve tried to look at how we can separate the increasingly frail older group, who’s engaged in polypharmacy, from the younger end of the spectrum according to ability.”

Like the push-and-turn pill bottles we’re all familiar with, Bix noted, most CRP relies on “tripping kids up” at a later stage in the mental process—typically, when they have already absorbed a bottle’s instructions and comprehended its meaning, and are at last trying to push and turn simultaneously. These kinds of tasks are tricky when using toddler-level strength, motor skills, and coordination, but not impossible, and can pose issues for senior patients, Bix said.

So after ruling out other potentially useful variables between the two age groups, Bix and her colleagues are now testing a totally new and pretty darn funny strategy for protecting curious kids: distract them. Bix commented, “We know young children are perceptual processors, not cognitive ones, so we thought, what if we try a distraction?” And they did just that.

With support from researcher Rita Chen and others, Bix’s team conducted a study in 2014 called “The Red Herring Project” to see whether a lenticular image placed on the bottom of a package would help keep toddlers busy, and out of its contents. They found that kids took three times as long to get into packaging when the non-functioning end had a tantalizing lenticular, thereby adding another layer of protection.

Currently Bix and her team are working on revising their study for publication, and conducting a follow-up study to explore whether such images become “an attractive nuisance,” drawing kids to bottles or boxes they’d otherwise ignore.

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Overall, she said, “The big takeaway from both studies is there’s a lot of room for new thinking in CRP, particularly in the US, where we’re married to the amber vial and cap—the rest of the world doesn’t take that approach, and as we’ve invested so much infrastructure in that shape, it’s in many ways become a sacred cow.”

Bix added that she’s been excited to see new packaging ideas coming out of the cannabis industry, too, and hopes such innovation will also catch on in pharmacy. “It’s interesting that cannabis comes in so many formulations and delivery mechanisms, and it strikes me as maybe a more creative industry. We may see some innovations on that side [of medicinal packaging] that end up on the other side as well.”

As packaging pushes weed forward, roots may be left behind

According to those on the front lines, California regulators haven’t actually started enforcing the state’s temporary regulations too much yet (understandably, given their seemingly low numbers), but businesses say they’re bracing for it more now that July 1 has come and gone.

Amber Senter, an Oakland-based manufacturer and co-founder of Supernova Women, an organization that offers networking for women of color interested in entering the cannabis industry, commented by phone that she’s mostly heard of regulators issuing warnings so far, regarding products with more-than-allowable THC and the like.

However, she expects to see more action soon. Now that products are required to be laboratory tested and clearly labelled to that effect (among other info), Senter believes regulators are likely to target dispensaries, where they can quickly spot products that don’t measure up, and start issuing fines. And packaging is only one thing that’s on would-be compliant operators’ minds.

“The biggest problem right now from the manufacturing side right now is testing,” Senter said. Packaging and labeling “sucks,” and is expensive in its own right, but laboratory compliance tests—which cost roughly $1,000 per cannabis substance, rather than per product, and require large samples — are “putting a nail in people’s coffins,” Senter continued. Such costs are also the reason that her company’s signature pre-roll, which comes dipped in concentrate and dusted with keef, is no longer on offer.

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And while lab testing itself remains California’s most expensive and bottlenecked requirement, Senter said, the issue of best practices for packaging is still vital, and far from settled.

For one thing, the amount of plastic materials required to keep businesses compliant has skyrocketed, forcing both eco-friendly and small businesses to reconsider their models.

Under the newest set of rules, businesses must sell only laboratory-tested products that are pre-measured, don’t exceed 1000mg total THC content (or 100mg, split into 10mg servings, if the product is edible), and were created no later than January 1, 2018.

Senter, who manufactures cannabis-infused popcorn, said that in order to be compliant she would now have to pre-package each 10mg serving of her product within the 100mg bags she sells. Instead, she’s pivoted to selling individual 10mg bags for now, rather than create the extra waste.

She also bought a “really expensive” full-color label maker, so she won’t have to order new labels every time the rules change about what info must be displayed.

“Hopefully, in time, regulations will catch up to the demand of what people actually want, and regulators will realize there is no huge public safety risk, because we’ve been doing this for a while,” Senter noted.

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For another thing, the exact definition of CRP isn’t totally set in stone, either by California cannabis regulators or the market at large.

The California Department of Public Health does require cannabis packaging to meet standards outlined in the federal Poison Prevention Packaging Act, which already applies to pill bottles and other dangerous-substance containers. However, the actual testing occurs at contracted labs, which may differ slightly in their appraisals of certain product types.

Scott Martin, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for cannabis packaging distributor N2 Packaging Systems, commented by phone that his team spent the past 10 months observing testing for their two new, patent-pending products—one a reusable child-resistant beverage lid, and the other a nitrogen-sealed reusable and recyclable can inspired by a way of preserving ammunition, with tomato-can-quality lining to preserve terpenes—through the course of some eye-opening methodology.

In order to test a container’s capacity for both child resistance and senior friendliness, as required by law, it must be given to a large number of young children and older adults (generally 50 of the former and 100 of the latter, each with equal gender dispersal) who are instructed to open them. In kids’ case, Martin said, they have five minutes to do anything they want to get it open, including using their teeth. If they fail, they are then given instructions on how to open it, and five more minutes to attempt this.

After seeing this testing first-hand, Martin said, “I am very surprised that some of the containers out there with pop lids are considered child-resistant, and have a hard time understanding how the kids who destroyed our lids wouldn’t be able to get through that.” He continued, “If we’re serious about restricting children from getting into certain things, glass should be eliminated from the venue, too—even most shatter-resistant glass will smash if you drop it.”

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Overall, Martin said, “The packaging in our industry is extremely poor. I think plastic cans are a terrible idea, and metal cans are the most recycled item on the planet, which is why we continue to look outside medicine for other options like that—and in this industry, looking at more environmentally friendly packaging is a priority.”

George Sang, a Chicago-based trial attorney and CEO of Compliant Packaging, believes that significantly more stringent rules for cannabis processing and CRP are likely to be imposed down the road, anyway, assuming the U.S. gets with the program.

“It’ll be a different ball game in the future, especially with automation coming around the corner, because the labor cost of packaging these products for cultivators is expensive,” Sang said. In some ways, weed manufacturing and processing regulations may even start to mirror those of food production, and other closely supervised fields.

“When and if it becomes federally permissible to produce cannabis, workers will probably have to be washed down before they go into a grove, and checked for metals in the production line,” he said. As far as packaging goes, Sang commented that federal legalization will certainly bring in new standards that are “much more pharmaceutical,” too.

For their part, cannabis operators are aware that numerous changes to how products are made and sold are almost inevitable in years to come, in individual states and across the country.

Cesar Muro, Project Coordinator for the packaging distributor MarijuanaPackaging.com, and Brittny Peloquin, Marketing Manager for the company, commented by phone that they’ve heard lots of concerns from clients about how sudden rule changes could uproot their business plans, including their very careful packaging investments.

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“The manufacturing process for bags or products can take 90 days,” Muro said. “Everyone wants to brand their products, and let people know theirs is the best. That’s hard to do when you’re using blank bags because you don’t know what regulations will be in 90 days, or a month.”

Peloquin also commented, “Dispensary owners are some of the most well-informed people I’ve ever worked with. They’re so good at staying on top of these things while they basically have a target on their backs, they’re pioneers, and they’re there to make a living.”

For now, they’ll probably have to keep planning ahead in several directions, and stocking up on plastic bottles and vials indefinitely, too. And maybe—if personal preference and state regulations permit—finding time away from the ‘green rush’ to recoup with some Cali gold.

Janet Burns is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn.

Tech News

We won't see a 'universal' vape oil cartridge anytime soon

July 30, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Pre-loaded cartridges of cannabis concentrate are currently among the most popular means of consumption, and for good reason. They’re discreet to use and easy to handle, a far cry from the dark days of 2016 when we had to dribble hash oil or load wax into narrow-mouthed vape pens by hand. But, frustratingly, an ever increasing number of oil cartridge manufacturers employ one-off design standards so that their products won’t work with those of their competitors, thereby locking customers into proprietary ecosystems.

We’ve already seen this with nicotine vaporizers — which has a seen a massive rise in “pod systems” in the last few years, each outfitted with a unique canister and battery built to be incompatible with those of their competition. Is it too late for the burgeoning cannabis industry to set a universal standard for their product designs?

This unfortunately is not a unique occurence. Companies have long sought to retain customers by ensuring that what they buy only works with what the company sells. Just look at Apple’s “walled garden” filled with patented charging and data ports that won’t work with other brands’ devices. Luckily, the personal computer industry is mature and ubiquitous enough to have already sorted that issue through the implementation of standardization practices. That is, whether you’re using a Chromebook or a MacBook, you can rest assured that your USB plug is going to work with both.

What’s more, as of August 2016, the Federal Drug Administration has classified e-cigarettes (technically, “electronic nicotine delivery systems” or ENDS) as drug delivery devices, subjecting them to the rules of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The FDCA regulates aspects like the ingredients that can be used and various product features, as well as health risks associated with their use and how they’re marketed. Cannabis vaporizers suffer from few such regulatory impediments since cannabis itself is still a Schedule 1 drug and illegal at the federal level.

That’s not to say cannabis vapes are completely lacking in standardized components. Many vape models, especially smaller pen-style vapes like the Bloom Farms Highlighter use 510 thread for connecting the atomizer (the bit with the oil in it) to the battery housing — the same connection used in non-proprietary e-cigarettes. However, just because two parts fit together, doesn’t guarantee that they’ll work properly. Bloom Farm’s atomizers “will fit with any 510 thread, but we recommend using ours so the voltage is correct for the cartridge,” a Bloom Farms rep told Engadget. “This will save you from burning your oil.”

Often, those parts won’t even fit together to begin with. Take the Pax Era or the Grenco G Pen Gio, for example. These popular cannabis vapes do away with 510 threading altogether in favor of a simple drop-in cartridge. But you’re out of luck if you’ve got a Gio and your local dispensary only has Era pods in stock.

Unsurprisingly, some people in the industry think the move towards more

Tech News

In nuclear politics, one size doesn't fit all

July 26, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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No one wants to use nuclear weapons. Even President Harry S. Truman, the only leader in history to actually order and carry out a nuclear strike, was hesitant to use the United States’ atomic arsenal after witnessing the power of the bombs first-hand.

On July 16th, 1945, the US successfully detonated the world’s first atomic warhead, an implosion-type plutonium bomb that transformed the New Mexico desert into radioactive green glass. Six days later, President Truman wrote the following passage in his journal:

“We have discovered the most terrible bomb in the history of the world. It may be the fire destruction prophesied in the Euphrates Valley Era, after Noah and his fabulous Ark. … This weapon is to be used against Japan between now and August 10th. I have told the Sec. of War, Mr. Stimson, to use it so that military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children.”

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The first strike on Hiroshima, Japan, killed 80,000 people and injured 70,000. The bomb was a uranium-based gun-type model and it scorched the earth bare. A second strike followed three days later on the city of Nagasaki, killing 40,000 people and injuring 60,000. In both attacks, most of the victims were civilians.

Truman ordered the first strike. It’s unclear if he asked for the second one or if military leaders took the initiative themselves — but it is obvious that Truman stopped a third strike in its tracks. When the president received a memo with plans for a third nuclear attack in Japan, he responded immediately with a note scrawled directly on that message, reading, “It is not to be released over Japan without express authority from the President.”

There hasn’t been another hostile nuclear strike in 73 years. Today, there are an estimated 15,000 atomic warheads in the world, with more than 90 percent of those owned by the US and Russia. Nine countries are known to have nuclear weapons: the US, Russia, the United Kingdom, India, Pakistan, France, Israel, China and North Korea. International treaties and agreements over the decades have attempted to curtail the growth of existing nuclear stockpiles and prevent new programs from going live.

Nagasaki, before and after the nuclear strike

That was the idea behind the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal. Iran has flirted with nuclear technology and covert weapons programs since the 1970s, when it ratified the Non-Proliferation Treaty alongside the US, Russia, the UK and 40 other regions. Despite signing on to the world’s most binding agreement to halt the creation of nuclear weapons, Iran (and many other countries, including the US and Russia) secretly continued developing its warhead programs.

Hidden enrichment and testing facilities have been found buried in Iranian mountains

Tech News

Lamborghini’s high-performance Spyder turns physics into fun

July 26, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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If you’re a car person, you’ve at least looked at a Lamborghini and wondered, “Are they as awesome as the mystique around them?” Sure, they conjure up images of guys wearing too much cologne while blasting bad covers of popular songs over an EDM beat. Also, there’s probably a gold chain thrown in there somewhere. If you toss aside that weird stereotype and really look at the vehicles coming out of Italy, you’d realize they’re more than just fodder for posters. They’re actually pretty remarkable.

Gallery: 2019 Lamborghini Huracán Performante Spyder review | 46 Photos 46 +42

The 2019 Lamborghini Huracán Performante Spyder (starting at a savings-draining $308,859) looks like a Lamborghini supercar should. It has the aggressive angles you’d expect from the company that brought us the Diablo, Countach and Aventador. Plus it has the mid-engine power to back up that slightly insane design. Behind the seats is a 640 horsepower 5.2 liter V10 that’ll go from zero to 62 miles per hour in 3.2 seconds. That’s from a naturally aspirated engine. No turbos, superchargers or hybrid electric motor help.

Yes, the pure electric Tesla Model S P100D will do zero to 60 in 2.5 seconds for about $150,000 less than the Huracán Performante Spyder. But there’s more to life than going fast in a straight line, and while the Tesla is full of semiautonomous tech, you would never dream of letting a robot drive a Lamborghini for you. The Huracán demands both hands on the wheel. Driving a Lamborghini is not a passive activity; it requires all your senses. Especially with a car that doesn’t seem to lose traction. Believe me, I tried repeatedly to get it to break loose and I’ll tell you know, it was tough.

You expect a supercar to stick to the road, but this Lamborghini uses an all-new active aerodynamics system called ALA (Aerodinamica Lamborghini Attiva) and it’s very clever. Instead of adding a mechanically adjustable wing to the back — which adds weight thanks to motors, levers and wiring, — the Italian automaker created wind channels on both sides of the car. Air enters behind the cockpit, flows through the wing and exits via ports on the underside of the element.

Then Lamborghini added actuators to the channels that either let air flow through (reducing drag) or block it, creating downforce. The result is a system that can create downforce on the inside side of a car while it’s cornering to increase traction.

For example, when you take a right turn, the left side of your car (the outside) dips while the right-hand side (the inside) lifts up due to centrifugal force. Lamborghini counteracts that lift by creating downforce with ALA by closing the right actuator in the wing,

Tech News

Why Xbox spent a year designing the Adaptive Controller packaging

July 25, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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Kevin Marshall takes boxes very seriously. It’s his job as Microsoft’s creative director of global packaging and content, where he oversees design and practicality aspects of the containers for Surface, Windows, HoloLens, Xbox and other products.

“Packaging is really important to us as a brand at Microsoft,” he said on a Skype call stacked with technology reporters. A slim cardboard box rested on the table between him and industrial designer Mark Weiser. “It’s critical to the successful launch of a product and it’s certainly a key element in a rewarding consumer journey.”

For the past year, Marshall has been in charge of the packaging for the Xbox Adaptive Controller, a revolutionary gamepad designed to help people with limited mobility play video games. Microsoft revealed the controller, priced at $100, in May, and it should start shipping in September.

Much like the designers behind the gamepad itself, Marshall and his team approached the Adaptive Controller packaging from a new perspective, keeping players with disabilities at the forefront of their decisions. After all, it wouldn’t matter how great the new controller was if players couldn’t get it out of the box.

Weiser shepherded the Xbox Adaptive Controller packaging through all of its design phases. He said the team relied on an iterative approach, creating dozens of different prototypes with methods like 3D printing and die cutting, which allowed designers to rapidly generate new boxes based on feedback from beta testers.

“Every single step in the process we wanted to make as simple as possible,” Weiser said. “And it was really the insights that we got from the beta testers that really helped us see clearly what these gamers needed throughout the process.”

The final packaging for the Xbox Adaptive Controller has a number of features that should make a big difference for people who normally use their teeth, feet or appendages other than fingers to open boxes and play video games. Even the shipping box is designed to be accessible: It’s taped down at the top, but the tape has a non-sticky loop on one end so it’s easily removed.

Loops are a big component of Xbox’s approach to accessible packaging. Once the shipper falls open, the actual controller box is taped shut as well, but there are also loops on either side of that adhesive. Pull off the tape and a gray cloth strap falls from the front of the box, allowing customers to slide the top of the package up and open.

There are multiple ways to actually get the Xbox Adaptive Controller out of the box, whether through sliding, picking it up or wiggling it out with yet another loop. The loop under the controller is attached to a thin board that’s also a quick-start guide; the rubbery feet of the gamepad stick to the board, allowing both components to slide out at once. Underneath, another loop helps secure a single wire, loosely wrapped around

Tech News

Google video teases all-white look for Gmail and other apps

July 24, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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Nicolo Bianchino/Ron Amadeo

Google has been revamping its Material Design guidelines for internal and third-party products. We’ve already seen previews of how the look of Google’s own products will change, from Android to Gmail to Chrome. A video just surfaced showing a glimpse of what those redesigns may end up looking like: Clean, all-white interfaces, according to Ars Technica.

The video was made by known Google design collaborators Adam Grabowski and Nicolo Bianchino, and per its description, seems to be a showcase of the Google Material Design team’s updated system for internal use. Unfortunately, it has been either made private or taken down. But screenshots taken by Ars Technica show a much cleaner look for Google’s mainstay products: Gmail on mobile, for example, has ditched its signature top red bar for a less noticeable white bar on the bottom. Google Photos has ditched its gray background for white and dialed down its vibrant buttons in favor color-outlined ones.

The previews of Drive, Travel and Google Maps have been similarly refreshed for minimalist looks with more white space. Of course, these are just work-in-progress shots, so there’s no guarantee that these resemble the final designs — but they do suggest a greater visual cohesion is coming for Google’s apps.

Tech News

The science behind the 'beats to study to' craze

July 23, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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I sit at my desk at least eight hours a day. Between the steady pings from Slack, my trusty group chat and the siren song of the greater internet, staying focused can be difficult. As I write this, I’m swiping between a full-screen Scrivener window and a full-screen Chrome window because… I honestly don’t know. Some people listen to podcasts at work to make mindless tasks go by. Unfortunately, I can’t simultaneously pay attention to a conversation and write, so to help combat the incessant distractions, I listen to music — a lot of it. Usually I turn to original scores from movies and video games, but I switch it up with instrumental hip-hop, industrial and downtempo electronic.

A side effect of my efforts to fight against distraction is that I’m always on the lookout for new music to help me focus. And I’m not alone.

Tune into ChilledCow’s “lofi hip hop radio – beats to relax/study to” on YouTube at any given moment and you’ll find thousands of people watching simultaneously. But it’s not the visuals people are interested in — it’s the music. Every copyright-free track on the never-ending playlist sounds like the type of tune you’d put on at a backyard barbecue: mellow beats with an analog flair. Over the past three years, ChilledCow’s channel has amassed over 74 million views. There’s just one problem: It didn’t exist when I started writing a decade ago, so I had to find my own music to study to.

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When I started my search, I quickly discovered that Slayer didn’t help me concentrate, and that, combined with how bored I was with metal after a lifetime of listening, I was ready to expand my musical horizons. Two years into this journey, Trent Reznor and writing partner Atticus Ross released their Academy Award-winning score for director David Fincher’s Facebook origin story, The Social Network. I wrote to that album for three years, exclusively, and to this day it remains my go-to music when I’m on deadline.

The instant the opening track starts, with its unsettling housefly drone and a melancholy piano melody, my brain knows what time it is. By the time the beat drops on second song, I’m nodding my head along, fingers pounding at the keyboard. I love the album because it’s sparse enough to fade into the background while I bang away at a draft, and there are enough layers to hold my attention when I listen AFK. But despite how intimately acquainted I am with the album, I can’t tell you what makes it my perfect working music.

Reznor has said that when he’s writing a pop song, he wants all your attention on the hook, but when he’s writing a film score, that isn’t the point. There, he’s either trying to underscore or punctuate emotion. Perhaps that’s what makes the

Tech News

The Macallan distillery opens up for 4D virtual reality tours

July 21, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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Denis Balibouse / Reuters

Not everyone has the means to travel to Scotland and visit their favorite distillery a la Ron Swanson. To help connoisseurs live out their dreams of traipsing through its facilities, The Macallan has created the Macallan Distillery Experience. VRFocus describes it as a “4D multi-sensory” group tour that guides folks through the company’s process for making its Single Malt spirit. Along the way you’ll explore the Scottish distillery an the estate it resides on, learning about the outfit’s history along the way. Visitors will step into a “15x15x15 cube-like projection structure” with 360-degree videos beamed to the installation’s walls.

This won’t be the first time Macallan has experimented with VR-tech. Back in 2016, it released a 360-degree video featuring its 12-year double cask liquid. The experience apparently makes use of scents and wind machines to help sell the illusion.

It will debut next week in New York at a private event in Brooklyn on the 23rd, and a few days later it’ll take up temporary residence at Grand Central Station, running from the 25th through the 27th, National Scotch Day. Everyone not in New York will have to make do with talking a walkthrough via their home VR devices. Hopefully if Macallan hands out samples it’ll happen after you take the headset off. Shooting the spirit is kind of beside the point, VR can make you sick while sober and adding booze to the mix can exacerbate that uneasy feeling.

Gaming News

The One Thing Windows Vista Did Right

July 20, 2018 — by Kotaku.com0

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Photo: Justin Sullivan (Getty)

Vista was bad. Coming five years after XP, it was heavily anticipated by Windows users who were impatiently awaiting something interesting from Microsoft as Apple’s star was on the rise. Yet when the OS dropped publicly in January 2007, it was immediately reviled by, well, everyone (except our expert reviewers). It was slower than XP, had annoying DRM that grossly restricted what people could do, and removed a ton of features people liked. It is not hyperbole to say it might be the most hated software product Microsoft has ever produced—impressive for the company that gave us Internet Explorer and Clippy. But Vista did one thing very, very right, and 11 years later, it’s never been more in fashion.

So what was Vista actually prescient about? Translucent design elements.

All the way back in Vista, Microsoft introduced Aero, a design language intended to be a futuristic update to XP. Aero’s most eye-catching feature was the Glass theme, which could make elements throughout the UI transparent. When it was released, it didn’t get more than a passing nod from reviewers who noted it was slick if somewhat irrelevant to the actual performance of the OS.

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Aero lasted through Windows 7—Microsoft’s most critically lauded OS until Windows 10. Then in Windows 8, Microsoft introduced a new design language: Metro. Metro actually kicked off another major trend in user interface design: flat design elements. But it still maintained some of the cool translucent effects introduced in Aero.

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Those translucent effects were carried over to Windows 10 and are easily seen in Edge, the Start menu, and the Notifications panel. They’re so popular, some Windows 10 users are even hacking the OS to add translucency and transparency to everything else!

The effect is super noticeable in the start menu.Screenshot: Windows 10

The trend isn’t reserved to Windows. Apple seems to have been inspired, too. That’s because UI designers, like everyone else, are subject to trends. Once upon a time, everyone tried to make their app icons and buttons look rounded because of iOS. Then, after Windows and Android embraced a flatter look, iOS followed suit with iOS 7 in 2013. It also began sprinkling that sweet, sweet translucent design throughout.

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Look at these pretty menus!Screenshot: macOS Mojave

The translucent elements first appeared in Mac OS X Leopard 10.5 as an option to turn the menu bar translucent. That was in November 2007, nearly a year after Vista launched. Apple seriously began showing off translucent elements when iOS 7 added translucent menus and notifications in 2013. MacOS 10.10 Yosemite began embracing translucency a year later.

Since then, both Apple operating systems have added more and more translucent elements. The most recent additions come courtesy of the betas for macOS Mojave and iOS 12. That’s because both are adding dark translucent elements, which seem to highlight the translucency effect even more. It is reminiscent of glass that’s been frosted and tinted. It’s very attractive. Sometimes I get distracted into marveling at it instead of doing work.

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I mean just look at it in Safari!

GIF: Alex Cranz (Gizmodo)

It’s so good, I find myself using Safari instead of Chrome just so I can watch stuff I’m scrolling through turn blurry as it hits the browser frame.

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The transparent elements, while not as ubiquitous in iOS, are still present there too—particularly in the iOS 12 beta, which has done away with the garish white panels in the notification center and embraced a dark and translucent look.

Screenshot: iOS 12 Beta

Since Microsoft introduced Aero in 2007, the transparent elements of the Windows UI have evolved and been refined from an operating system’s splashy party trick to an elegant element you might not even notice. Apple has embraced the trend, and even Android is now flirting with translucency. Since Android Oreo was released last year, more and more translucent design elements have appeared throughout Android. It’s especially noticeable in the beta for Android P, the next version of Android expected later this year.

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From left to right: The Notification menu in Android P. Top view of open apps in Android P. The notification menu on a Samsung Galaxy S9.Screenshot: Android

Google’s Android, like Apple, is embracing the trend begun with Vista. Which means, yeah, one of the touchstone design ideas in operating systems and apps today didn’t come from Microsoft’s best operating system. It came from its worst.