Workers protest outside Minnesota Amazon warehouse

    Summary
    Yesterday afternoon, Somali-American workers marched outside of Amazon’s Shakopee, Minnesota fulfillment center, chanting “hear our voice.” Estimates of the exact number of marches vary from source to source, but The Minneapolis Star Tribune puts it at around 100. It’s a fairly familiar refrain for the company, after years of reports about questionable working conditions. Some of that came to a head earlier this year when pressure from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders led the company to adopt a $15 minimum wage for warehouse workers. The protesters cited unfair working conditions and the insensitive treatment of a local workforce that’s approximately 40 percent East African. “We needed secured jobs, we are not robots,” one employee told a local Fox affiliate. The protest comes the same week employees at a New York City warehouse announced plans to unionize. It is, of course, an inopportune time for the online retail giant, with the Christmas holiday a mere 10 days away. In a statement, a spokesperson for the company expressed “disappointment,” telling Gizmodo, “The majority of the people participating in today’s events are not Amazon associates because most Amazon associates are at work today sending out thousands of holiday packages for customers. We are disappointed in today’s efforts to undermine the dedicated and hard-working people who are the life and soul of our business. For them, it was business as usual.” The spokesperson goes on to defend the company’s work and safety record and inclusion of paid prayer breaks, writing, “Prayer breaks less than 20 minutes are paid, and productivity expectations are not adjusted for such breaks. Associates are welcome to request an unpaid prayer break for over 20 minutes for which productivity expectations would be adjusted.”

    Discord announces 90/10 revenue split for self-published titles on upcoming games store

    Summary
    After gaming chat app startup Discord announced in August that they were building out a games store, today, they’ve detailed that they’ll be pursuing a very competitive 90/10 revenue split for self-published titles in 2019. In addition, the company revealed that they now have 200 million active users on their chat app, up from 130 million users in May. The announcement follows a storefront launch from Epic Games last week with an 88/12 revenue split. Valve’s Steam store had typically offered a constant 70/30 revenue split for all developers regardless of the revenues they were pulling in. The company recently announced that Steam would give a more favorable split to devs pulling in more revenue. Discord called up some of their thinking in a company blog post: Why does it cost 30% to distribute games? Is this the only reason developers are building their own stores and launchers to distribute games? Turns out, it does not cost 30% to distribute games in 2018. Fortnite-maker aims for Steam’s head with Epic Games Store Steam’s efforts are largely focused on holding onto big developers, but indie devs now have to balance what advantages they’re earning by establishing their central home on a platform filled with tons of titles that’s also taking a more substantial cut. This leaves some room for Discord to attract the self-publishing indies, though it’s still an uphill battle for the company that’s up against some big competitors.

    Apple is producing new content about Snoopy and other Peanuts characters

    Summary
    Apple has signed a deal with DHX Media that will see the Canadian broadcaster producing new shows, specials and short films about Snoopy, Charlie Brown and the rest of the Peanuts gang. That includes exclusive short-form content for Apple starring astronaut Snoopy, aimed at getting kids excited about STEM. Peanuts was created by Charles Schulz, who wrote and illustrated the popular comic strip for five decades, starting in 1950. The characters moved to television in the 1960s with “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” which was followed by a long list of specials. And they recently returned to the big screen in the computer animated “Peanuts Movie,” which grossed $246 million worldwide. DHX acquired a controlling stake in Peanuts last year (the remaining 20 percent stake is still held by the Schulz family). Apple, meanwhile, has been lining up lots of new, family-friendly content for its upcoming streaming service. That includes also enlisting Sesame Workshop to create original programming (not Sesame Street, which recently moved to HBO). By the way, if you only know Peanuts secondhand, through Snoopy dolls or other merchandise, it’s worth revisiting the early strips (restored to print by Fantagraphics), which are among the finest you’ll ever read. There, you can fully appreciate Schulz’s art, as well as his ability to craft unforgettable jokes from Charlie Brown’s bleak outlook and constant heartbreak. Netflix will create a ‘story universe’ based on the work of Roald Dahl

    Facebook restructures Building 8, separating projects into Reality Labs and Portal groups

    Summary
    Facebook is restructuring its experimental hardware efforts and giving its moonshot projects a home within its AR/VR research division. The restructuring, reported by Business Insider (paywalled), didn’t result in any layoffs but did see some shifts of teams as the old Building 8 group rebranded to Portal and some projects moved to the former Oculus Research group (now, Facebook Reality Lab). A Facebook spokesperson confirmed the reorganization to Business Insider. TechCrunch has reached out to Facebook for further comment. This is misleading. We renamed the Building 8 team Portal after that device launch. The research we initially started in Building 8 continues in our Facebook Reality Labs research group. — Boz (@boztank) December 14, 2018 The Building 8 brand is dead but the big change seems to be Facebook moving its more headline-grabbing experiments further away from its nearly ready-for-production ideas. With some of the more experimental hardware projects at Facebook, like a computer brain interface, “soft” robotics, and a project to “hear” through a skin-worn device, moving to Facebook Reality Labs, it’s clear that the organization once centered around AR/VR technologies is seeing its scope expand to more distant reaching technologies that aren’t vaguely ready for consumer products yet. Meanwhile, the Portal group seems to be where some of Facebook’s more in-reach consumer hardware products are living with the newly-released video chat device serving as the foundation. The leader of Building 8, Rafa Carmago, who took over after the departure of Regina Dugan, is the VP of the Portal team now. Meanwhile, Facebook Reality Labs is still led by Michael Abrash who has long held a senior presence in the company’s AR/VR ambitions. Having products like Portal that are already for sale fall under the same leadership as invasive brain chips research probably didn’t make a ton of organizational sense, especially when Facebook has already gone to lengths to separate projects focused on immediate product needs compared to ones that are more far-out in other areas of the company. Facebook’s hardware ambitions are nascent but now that they have a product on shelves, it’s probably more clear that there are some completely different leadership needs and an organizational restructure makes sense.

    Propel raises $12.8M for its free app to manage government benefits

    Summary
    Propel, maker of the Fresh EBT app for managing food stamps and other benefits, announced today that it has raised $12.8 million in Series A funding. Fresh EBT (the EBT stands for the Electronics Transfer Benefit card, which is how food stamp participants receive their benefits) allows users to check their food stamp/SNAP balance and find stores that accept food stamps. Users can also track their spending. The app is free for consumers and government agencies — the company makes money through digital coupons and a job board. Propel says Fresh EBT is now used by more than 1.5 million Americans each month, and that more than 30,000 people have applied for jobs this year that they discovered through the app. For example, the announcement quotes one user, Tracy B. from Fairland, Virginia — she described Fresh EBT as her “personal financial adviser,” and also said she used it to find discount zoo tickets, and even her current job. When Propel raised its $4 million seed round last year, founder and CEO Jimmy Chen described his mission as building “a more user-friendly safety net.” He argued that there’s no conflict between Propel’s social mission and its structure as a for-profit business, a position he reiterated in today’s announcement. “Our investors are world-class experts in their respective fields,” he said. “They share an understanding of the challenges of low-income Americans and a belief that Propel can build a massive business by fighting poverty.” Those investors include Nyca Partners, which led the round. Andreessen Horowitz, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Omidyar Network, Alexa von Tobel and Kevin Durant’s Thirty Five Ventures also participated. “It’s not hard to see the huge opportunity in building better financial services for low-income people,” said Nyca Managing Partner Hans Morris in a statement. “We just haven’t seen many companies in this space that have an opportunity to have such a large impact at massive scale. That’s why we’re so excited to invest in Propel.”

    Watch Blue Planet II this weekend along with scientists on Twitter

    Summary
    If you’re looking for a nature documentary to watch this weekend, and you’d like some expert company, you’re in luck. The first season of the BBC Natural History Unit’s stunning documentary *Blue Planet II* is now streaming on Netflix. And, starting this weekend, fans have the chance to sync up their favorite episodes with a live Twitter commentary from ocean experts. The documentary explores the oceans from the coasts to kelp to the creatures that live in the sea. The first season premiered in the US on BBC America earlier this year, and it’s now available to cord-cutting Netflix subscribers in the US and Canada. “It’s supposed to be one of the most amazing wildlife documentary series ever filmed,” says David Shiffman, a postdoctoral... Continue reading…

    This week’s best deals include cheap iPads, video games, e-readers, and more

    Summary
    The holidays are just over a week away, though you still have time to buy gifts and have them delivered in time without gouging your wallet from expedited shipping charges. Best Buy is offering free shipping until December 25th, Target is shipping items for free until December 22nd, and Amazon will end its free two-day shipping for non-Prime members on December 18th. What’s more, some retailers are pulling out the stops by lowering prices to what we saw during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Consider this your last call to get gifts before prices go back up. Smart speakers and streaming devices - Apple HomePod is $249 at B&H Photo (usually $349) - Should B&H Photo sell out, Best Buy is offering HomePod for $279 - Google Home Mini and... Continue reading…

    Trump’s Interior Secretary will step down at the end of the year

    Summary
    Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke will step down from his post at the end of the year, according to President Donald Trump, who tweeted the announcement this morning. The announcement comes after several high-profile departures from the Trump administration this year, including White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt. Secretary of the Interior @RyanZinke will be leaving the Administration at the end of the year after having served for a period of almost two years. Ryan has accomplished much during his tenure and I want to thank him for his service to our Nation....... — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 15, 2018 .......The Trump... Continue reading…

    The Star Wars Archives is a monster behind-the-scenes book

    Summary
    You could fill an entire library with books about the production of *Star Wars*. There are extensive making-of compendiums, behind-the-scenes reference guides, volumes of concept art, official biographies, narrative nonfiction, and more that are full of every imaginable nugget of information about how George Lucas created his universe. The arrival of a new *Star Wars* book is hardly news, but *The Star Wars Archives** —* a new, massive tome from art book publisher Taschen — is nonetheless worth picking up. Written by film historian Paul Duncan, the book is an exhaustive collection of behind-the-scenes interviews, pictures, concept art, and script pages that charts the course of production for the first three *Star Wars* films and the sometimes... Continue reading…

    11 new trailers you should watch this week

    Summary
    I finally got around to watching one of the movies I’d been most interested in seeing last year: *Columbus*, the debut feature from the film essayist Kogonada. It’s a deliberately slow, gentle movie that’s largely about two people talking through their problems while stuck together in a slow-moving town. What’s really neat about the film is how deeply integrated its plot and dialogue are with its locations. The film is set in Columbus, Indiana, a city filled with modernist architecture. It provides a really strong visual backdrop, but it’s also the subject of so many of the characters’ conversations, since both have deep relationships with architectural studies. Having the setting so deeply integrated gives a purpose and a drama to each... Continue reading…

    Recommended Reading: How technology is changing entertainment

    Summary
    The future of entertainment Rolling Stone Whether it's music, movies or television, technology is rapidly changing the ways we experience entertainment. Rolling Stone offers a look at a number of ways things like AI, social media and more are alte...

    What we're watching: Best of 2018

    Summary
    With 2019 just around the corner, we're ready to look back and pick a few favorites from the flood of TV shows that arrived in 2018. Senior Editor Kris Naudus explains why Netflix already has an anime series you should watch with Hi Score Girl. But f...

    The Morning After: Facebook's latest data leak

    Summary
    Hey, good morning! You look fabulous. Welcome to your weekend! We regret to report there's more bad news to share about Facebook and how it's protecting your privacy. Some of the highlights from earlier this week include an incredible tech demo, tec...

    Stardew Valley' creator is working on more content and a new game

    Summary
    In a blog post and a few tweets, solo game developer Eric Barone laid out plans for 2019 that will expand his hit indie game Stardew Valley and extend to a new title. Now that he has regained the right to self-publish the top-down farming RPG on most...

    Amazon adjusts the outlook for its in-car Echo setup

    Summary
    With time running out on 2018, Amazon has suddenly started delivering a bunch of the Alexa-connected devices it announced in September. However, it's looking more and more like the Echo Auto that links its virtual assistant to your car stereo won't b...

    What the world needs now is a $250,000 power amplifier - CNET

    Summary
    High-end cars, watches, planes, clothes prices have all gone through the roof, and now the high-end audio market is ready for the $250,000 Dan D’Agostino Relentless amplifier.

    Spellbound by the sound of Kinter’s $33 stereo amplifier - CNET

    Summary
    The Audiophiliac gets smitten by Kinter’s flyweight K2020A+ amp that costs and weighs next to nothing.

    Bumblebee director on replacing Michael Bay: 'I couldn't go bigger' - CNET

    Summary
    Travis Knight reveals how Bay and Steven Spielberg inspired the Transformers spin-off.

    The 29 best AR apps for iOS that you need try - CNET

    Summary
    Here are our favorite augmented reality apps for Apple devices.

    Celebrities who died in 2018: Stephen Hawking, Stan Lee, other geek greats - CNET

    Summary
    Remembering the many big names in pop culture, science and politics who left us this year.

    These eBooks will help you build robots of your own for under $20

    Summary
    What’s the best way to avoid Robo-pocalypse? Well, be one of the rampaging automatons' creators, of course. Start building your in with the android world now with the training in The Complete Robotics eBook Bundle. This collection of five jam-packed eBooks full of hyper-specialized mechanical knowledge is only $19 (90 percent off) from TNW Deals.

    How social media dilutes scientific discoveries into clickbait

    Summary
    When news breaks – whether the story of a disease outbreak, a terrorist attack, or a natural disaster – people increasingly turn to the internet and social media. Individuals use Twitter and Facebook as primary sources for news and information. Social media platforms – including Reddit, Wikipedia, and other emerging outlets such as Snapchat – are distinct from traditional broadcast and print media. But they’ve become powerful tools for communicating rapidly and without intermediary gatekeepers, like editors. The problem is social media is also a great way to spread misinformation, too. Millions of Americans shape their ideas on complex and controversial… This story continues at The Next Web

    Meet the $212 selfie drone that does all the work for you

    Summary
    The Hover Camera Passport Self-Flying 4K Drone is cool. Like, ridiculously cool. Even at almost 47 percent off, it’s $212.50 price tag with promo code 'MERRY15' may make it cost prohibitive for anybody who’s not among your nearest and dearest. But if the recipient and price point fit, this may well be the ultimate Christmas morning hit.

    Day 4 of TNW’s Advent Deals: headphones and a hybrid laptop

    Summary
    This holiday period, Plugged is running a very special advent calendar. Over the course of 12 days, we’ll be sharing a selection of sweet, sweet deals. You can thank us later. Want yesterday’s advent deals? You can find that post here. So, here we go! On the fourth day of TNW’s advent, the lovely team gave to me… $39 off the Backbeat Go 3 headphones from Plantronics If you’re on the hunt for a decent pair of wireless headphones for day-to-day use, the Plantronics Backbeat Go 3 could be right down your alley. They don’t just sound good, you can… This story continues at The Next Web

    Study: Bizarre ‘dark fluid’ with negative mass could dominate the universe

    Summary
    It’s embarrassing, but astrophysicists are the first to admit it. Our best theoretical model can only explain 5 percent of the universe. The remaining 95 percent is famously made up almost entirely of invisible, unknown material dubbed dark energy, and dark matter. So even though there are a billion trillion stars in the observable universe, they are actually extremely rare. The two mysterious dark substances can only be inferred from gravitational effects. Dark matter may be an invisible material, but it exerts a gravitational force on surrounding matter that we can measure. Dark energy is a repulsive force that makes… This story continues at The Next Web

    Space Photos of the Week: It’s Love vs. Hate in Star vs. Star

    Summary
    Binary stars have a sort of relationship, but not one you’d want to be in.

    ‘The Endless’ Is a Masterful Low-Budget Sci-Fi Movie

    Summary
    The latest from Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead is everything studio movies are not.

    Taylor Swift's Facial Recognition, the Year's Worst Passwords, and More Security News This Week

    Summary
    Chinese hackers targeting the Navy, charity scammers, and more security news this week.

    The Best Sales on Xbox, PS4, and Switch for Christmas 2018

    Summary
    Game consoles, controllers, and critically acclaimed games like ‘God of War’ are on sale at multiple retailers for Christmas.

    Barry Jenkins' New Movie and the Future of Black Filmmaking

    Summary
    With his new feature, 'If Beale Street Could Talk,' already prompting award predictions, the writer-director discusses his approach and what comes next.

    Were Taylor Swift fans tracked at her gig?

    Summary
    A stadium in LA confirms it uses facial recognition technology at pop concerts.

    New Facebook bug exposed millions of photos

    Summary
    Photos of up to 6.8 million Facebook users, including ones they never posted, could be accessed.

    Wetherspoons fake accounts to be exposed

    Summary
    Twitter must reveal the identity behind two parody accounts, the high court rules.

    Tumblr returns to App Store after porn ban

    Summary
    The social network has returned to Apple's app store after revealing plans to ban adult content.

    Half of UK homes could get faster broadband

    Summary
    New research suggests that people have not taken up faster services, even though they are available.

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