The Real Reason That Crazy Wheel of Time Pilot Was So Awful

End of an epic day #winterdragon

A photo posted by Seda (@celestialdragon) on Jan 22, 2015 at 8:20pm PST

Sunday night’s biggest televised offerings were all about spectacle—the furor over Kanye’s stage-rushing recidivism, Better Call Saul‘s big debut—but over on FXX one event attempted to skate by undetected. At 1:30 a.m. EST/PST, the network aired Winter Dragon, a pilot based on Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time fantasy series.

Much as you might expect from an all-but-unannounced pilot running during the wee hours of the night, it was abysmal. The CGI during the opening exposition sequence recalls the opening to Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy run through a PlayStation 2; the performances are histrionic. No one but Wheel Of Time superfans would have any reason to be interested in this, and fewer still would come away hopeful for a full series. But quality aside, this was a stealth adaptation of one of the most beloved genre sagas of all time, running on an otherwise respected network—how the hell did it come to pass? The question has no easy answer, but here’s everything we know about the production so far.

Data Science Darling Kaggle Cuts One-Third of its Staff

Kaggle—the San Francisco startup that has spent the past five years trying to push hardcore data science across the business world—has cut about a third of its staff as it tries to find new ways of making money.

The company has cut seven of its approximately 20 job positions, according to a person familiar with the matter, who requested anonymity because he or she is not authorized to speak with the press about the company’s situation. Kaggle CEO Anthony Goldbloom declined to comment on any job cuts at the company. But he says that Kaggle is shutting down its energy-industry consulting business, first launched about a year-and-a-half ago.

Kaggle will continue to develop its popular competition platform, he says, and it plans to announce a re-focused business plan sometime in the next few weeks. “We’re not ready to unveil just yet where the company is heading,” he tells WIRED.

The news raises questions about the commercial viability of the company and the popular data science competitions it runs on its website. Data science has attracted huge attention in recent years, but some question just how useful it is, and Kaggle’s struggles may point to a larger hole in this movement.

Kaggle is best known for running competitions that invite anyone and everyone to contribute their own algorithms, solving a variety of problems. The startup Jetpac used code that had won a $5,000 Kaggle prize to power its vacation travel app, and Microsoft is currently offering $16,000 to whomever can help it to a better job of classifying malicious software families.

The competitions typically attract a lot of participants. Microsoft’s malware contest, for example, already has 167 entries. But insiders say that they haven’t been lucrative enough for Kaggle. And the algorithms that win them aren’t always general enough to be useful to the company sponsoring the competition.

So a year-and-a-half ago, Kaggle pivoted and started developing building out an energy consulting business. The idea was to leverage Kaggle’s big science expertise into lucrative contracts with oil exploration companies and the like—and to eventually build out more lines of business serving other industries.

“This decision was motivated by the fact that we believe there’s a large market for end-to-end solutions that can’t be satisfied by the competition product alone,” Goldbloom in a Quora post at the time.

But Kaggle’s energy business suffered from a downturn in world oil prices and a slowdown in oil exploration research and development, Goldbloom says.

With $11 million in VC funding, Kaggle has struggled sometimes to line up big contracts from large corporations who are often reluctant to subject their data to the kind of open scrutiny that comes via the Kaggle contests. “The major concern is even if you can obfuscate data, you will have a hard time from your legal department,” says Alexander Linden, a research director with the Gartner analyst firm.

Kaggle’s main problem right now may be that it is simply ahead of its time. “The idea, I think, is sound,” says Linden. “You just cannot expect a 200 percent growth rate in this area.”

Review: Dell Venue 8 7000 Tablet

Dell’s latest 8-inch Android tablet is a statement product. Hey world, it says: remember that company that made crappy laptops you hated seven years ago? Well, it can make great things now. Beautiful things. Thinner-than-the-iPad things. Things that redefine what a tablet is for, that add something to your life other than just another screen.

This tablet, the Venue 8 7000, is designed to make an impression, to wow you the minute you take it out of the box. Then, with its fancy new Intel processor, its unique accessories, and its three-camera array that can see the world in strange new ways, it’s supposed to blow you away with what it can do.

Well, Dell nailed at least one thing: it’s beautiful. Big, clunky name; thin, sleek device. At 6mm, it’s impossibly thin, even thinner than the iPhone 6. And at just over a half of a pound, there’s a distinct feeling to the Venue 8 7000 that you’re just holding a screen in your hand. It’s even more impressive that the tablet feels sturdy despite such waif measurements; the sharp edges and rounded corners of the aluminum body are strong. Even when powered off, the gray and black rectangle looks good just sitting on your desk.

That screen-in-your-hand feeling only becomes more pronounced when you turn the thing on. The Venue’s 8.4-inch, 2560 x 1600 OLED display is crisp, clear, and bright, even if it does have that Alice in Wonderland oversaturated look to it. Even more impressive than the ridiculous resolution or eye-popping vibrancy is that there are basically no bezels around the screen. Big bezels usually make a screen feel smaller and more cramped, but these slim ones make everything feel more immediate. It’s gorgeous, even if I would prefer something with a little less pop and a little more color accuracy.

One of the four bezels sticks out, though. And I mean that literally; this thing has a chin like Jay Leno. Makes sense—you have to put all the camera parts and wireless radios somewhere—but Dell made some serious sacrifices in the name of tiny bezels. It’s not just the ugly asymmetry, either: since everything is crammed into that one strip, you’re almost always covering either the front-facing camera lens or the impressive front-facing speaker when you hold the device. The screen rotates to any orientation, so you can theoretically hold it however you want, but you basically have to grip that side, since everything else is just screen. In portrait mode, you can just dig it into your right palm and it mostly works, but it’s still awkward.

Still, I can’t deny the Venue 8 7000 exhibits some smart industrial design. It is every bit as impressive as the top tier tablets like the iPad. The tricky part is convincing tablet buyers that their $399 is not only better-spent on the Venue than on the iPad, but also other, cheaper Android tablets as well.

The Venue 8 7000 is the first tablet to use Intel’s RealSense technology, the hardware/software combo that can sense your motions and emotions, recognize powerful gestures, and even 3D-scan people and things.

Dell’s answer: the three cameras. The Venue 8 7000 is the first tablet to use Intel’s RealSense technology, the hardware/software combo that can sense your motions and emotions, recognize powerful gestures, and even 3D-scan people and things. We’ve seen RealSense program a drone to fly itself, and enable a jacket to alert its blind wearer to danger nearby. The technology is impressive, its implications are huge. And its execution here is totally boring. On Dell’s tablet, all the cameras allow you to do is refocus an image after you’ve shot it, a la Lytro’s lightfield cameras, or HTC’s Duo Shot. It’s also able to measure the height and width of objects within a photo, which is really cool but only useful in incredibly specific instances. The refocusing works OK, except for all the shots that are too noisy to tell anything’s in focus at all. There are a lot of those on this 8-megapixel camera.

Dell’s other big idea is accessories, specifically the $80 Dell Cast dongle that plugs into anything with an HDMI port and turns that screen into a monitor and the Venue 8 7000 into something like a laptop. It’s a clever idea, and does sort of work. I can see it being useful in a conference room. But it’s not something most people will need. It’s slow, too, which is the real problem. The lags and stutters that are acceptable on a tablet become totally unbearable when I’m sitting at a monitor with a mouse and keyboard. At one point, I started shaking the mouse furiously, hoping something will happen.

The Venue runs the latest, cutting-edge Intel processor—one with a PC architecture too, theoretically making it a perfect processor for a PC-style setup in a tablet form factor. The chip is fast as hell on paper, and promises to be both efficient and powerful. The first is true: I got days and days of heavy use from the tablet before it died. In regular use (meaning I’m not flying or playing FIFA for eleven straight hours), it’s more like a week. But during all that time, there are a number of places where the device just doesn’t work right. It’s always small things: the multitasking menu stutters open, or a game will default to much lower graphics. But it happens enough to make me worry.

Dell’s best chance to solve this problem might be giving the Venue the software update it already desperately needs. For such a world-beating design, it’s frustrating to boot the Venue and see Android 4.4 KitKat, not 5.0 Lollipop. This is very much your father’s version of Android, and it’s missing a lot of Google’s latest functionality and design. Android’s tablet app selection is still a long way behind the iPad’s, but the software itself is terrific—Dell couldn’t keep the software current, but at least it kept it clean. Dell says an update is coming, but that knowledge and a quarter will get you… whatever a quarter buys.

In general, though, the Venue 8 7000 runs fine. It’s a solid, but not perfect, Android tablet. For its screen and hardware design alone, it’s among the best Android tablets you can buy, even if that’s somewhat faint praise.

What it doesn’t offer is a good argument for spending your $400 on a Venue 8 7000 instead of a Nexus 9, a Galaxy Tab S 8.4, or an iPad mini. (It’s actually $100 more than the iPad mini 2, which is probably the best choice of the bunch.) It’s thin and nice, but so is the iPad. Intel’s RealSense software might someday be a real advantage, but not yet.

Still, it does one of the jobs Dell needs it to: serve as a reminder that this company can make really nice things. Dell can make thin devices, and it can make beautiful devices. But nothing here indicates Dell has figured out the future of tablets, the next thing we’ll all do with these huge screens in our hands.

Kohler’s New Shower Has Touchscreen-Controlled Speakers and Mood Lights



I used to think there was no better way to kickstart my day than blasting “So Fresh, So Clean” in the shower while loofaing my shoulders. But I was wrong—turns out I could be having a multi-temperature water and steam shower experience while blasting Outkast in four-speaker surround sound with a full-on light show.

Kohler calls its new DTV+ shower system a “Digital Showering Experience.” It refuses to simply call it “a shower,” because it’s so much more than just a stall for cleaning yourself. Sure, it is a shower, or at least it has the components of one. But depending on how much money you want to spend pimping it out, it’s also a touchscreen-controlled surround-sound booth, a disco light show, a two-temperature standing spa, and a steam bath/shirt dewrinkler.



The base package includes three components for $1,940: A touchscreen interface that’s installed in the shower itself, a mounting bracket for that interface, and system controller that’s installed outside of the shower.

The controller acts as a power supply for the touchscreen and a connection hub for all the system components. It also provides a way to control valves and water temperature independently for each shower head in the system—important for those multi-temperature standing spas.

From there, you can customize the system with different audio hardware, steam modules, showerheads, and “chromatherapy” components. For example, the system supports up to four SoundTile speakers, and a separate amplifier module allows you to stream tunes from a Bluetooth-connected device. The amplifier component also has two 3.5mm inputs for hardwired audio sources.

Kohler says a fully kitted-out system runs around $9,000. That’s with four speakers, the amplifier unit, a steam adapter, some steam heads—and of course the WaterTile Ambient Rain showerhead unit, which features 88 nozzles and includes a multicolor light show. Once everything is hooked up, you can use the six-inch touchscreen to access personal presets, switch up the lighting and water temperature, control your music, or take a schvitz.



You can also cue up a few “spa experiences” with the system: A Well-Being mode that targets your pulse points, a Relaxation mode that cranks on your stressed-out muscles, and an Energy mode that wakes you up by alternating between hot and cold water. If you want to save a few thousand dollars, rest assured you can simulate Energy mode by having someone flush the toilet while you’re in a normal shower.

A Drone That Bounces Around Disaster Sites Like a Beach Ball

The GimBall's flying parts are suspended inside a flexible lightweight cage.

The GimBall’s flying parts are suspended inside a flexible lightweight cage. Source

For drones to really be useful, they’ll need to be able to manage the world around them. That could mean harnessing advanced sensors and sophisticated computer vision to help drones detect and avoid obstacles. Or it could mean turning them into flying beach balls and letting ‘em bounce around willy nilly.

That’s the idea basic idea behind the GimBall, which recently won $1 million in a drone competition sponsored by the UAE. Created by Swiss startup Flyability, it’s designed to find victims in disaster areas. The flying parts are suspended inside a flexible carbon fiber cage, which lets the drone keep flying even after minor collisions. Instead of trying to avoid debris, the GimBall just sort of bumps into it and keeps on going.

The Internet of Anything: The Startup Bringing the Smart Home to Apartment Renters



Smart homes are here.

You can use motion sensors to trigger smart light switches. You can program smart thermostats to warm only the rooms that people are actually using. You can even control smart power outlets with your mobile phone, setting appliances to turn on and off at certain times of day.

The problem is that all this gear is pretty expensive. And generally, you’re forced to install each system by hand—or hire someone to do it, which makes things even more expensive. And if you’re renting? Forget about it. These devices are almost completely out of reach you’re not allowed to retrofit your home.

All those barriers make it particularly difficult for young people to embrace what we now call the Internet of Things—and they’re typically the ones who are most interested in experimenting with new technologies. Sce Pike, the co-founder of the Portland, Oregon-based startup IOTAS, points out that only 36 percent of people under the age of 35 own their own homes, according to the chief economist for the National Association of Realtors.

But Pike and IOTAS aim to solve this problem. The company works with real estate developers to build Internet-of-Things tech into apartment buildings, so that renters get access to it without having to pay upfront costs. The idea is to bring the smart home to everyone, to finally push it into the mainstream.

Starting Simple

IOTAS is starting simple, with motion sensors, light switches, and power outlets. Using the company’s mobile app, you can create custom rules for your apartment. You could have IOTAS turn off all your apartment’s lights when you go into your bedroom after 10pm. Or maybe even tell it to blink your kitchen lights when you get a text message from your boss.

The system operates via a central online service. This could be included with your rent, or offered for an additional fee, like a utility. If you opt-out of the service, all the lights and outlets would still work just as they do in a normal apartment. And if your internet connection goes down—or if the cloud service can’t be reached—existing rules will still work. You just won’t be able to create new ones or use the app as a remote control.

That may seem limiting, but the cloud service does offer some intriguing possibilities. If you move houses, your rules and settings could follow you from apartment to apartment. And eventually, if IOTAS can expand far and wide enough, your profile could follow you to hotels and Airbnbs as well. Users will also be able to share custom rule sets, so that if someone comes up with something really clever, everyone else will be able take advantage of that ideas well.

The Old and the New

IOTAS hardware is wireless and designed to plug right into standard light switch and power outlet fittings, so that there’s no need for construction contractors to receive special training to install and maintain the gear. It’s already installed in 100 units of the Grant Park Village apartment building in Portland, Oregon, where the service is being offered to residents as a free trial for now.

Chris Nelson, the principal of Capstone Partners, which developed the property, says the installation process was very simple. “It was just a matter of taking out the old outlets and switches out and putting the new ones in,” he says.

Grant Park Village is a new building, completed just last year, but Pike hopes to help retrofit existing properties as well. “That’s a much bigger market,” she says. According to Nelson, there aren’t many other companies trying to woo real estate developers into installing smart home technologies—at least not in the Portland area. But IOTAS is a start.

And it hopes to take these efforts even further. Eventually, Pike says, the company wants to offer integrations with other smart home products, such as smart locks, Google’ Nest thermostat, or wearables such as the Pebble smart watch, so that IOTAS can become a central hub for the connected devices in your home. So many other companies are making the same pitch—including Google—but that’s what the Internet of Things needs: Many companies pushing the market forward, in many different ways.

Once Again, The Internet Made a Boring Grammys Telecast Worth Watching

In what came as no surprise to anyone, last night’s Grammys ceremony was a downer (so many ballads!). Not a problem, though; by now, we can entertain ourselves, so GIFs and Twitter jokes helped sustain us. Lots of GIFs and Twitter jokes.

Globally, there were 20.9 million tweets about the telecast between 5 p.m. and 11:40 p.m. Easter time—you can see them in the map above—and 45 million Facebook reactions. Compare that to the 25 million people who watched in the U.S., and it’s clear that the second screen was the first and only destination for many of us.

As for popular topics, Kanye West topped the conversation—his am-I-or-nah fakeout crashing Beck’s Album of the Year acceptance speech got the most tweets-per minute, followed by Madonna’s minotaur-laden performance and Sam Smith’s win for Record of the Year. Meanwhile, Smith’s win for Record of the Year also topped Facebook conversations, followed by AC/DC’s opening number (remember, your dad’s on Facebook now), Madonna’s performance (so is your mom), and Smith’s win for Best Pop Vocal Album.

Smith’s win for Record of the Year got more shine than any of his other three wins largely because he thanked the man who broke his heart, inspired his song “Stay with Me,” and “got me four Grammys.” (Not thanked: Tom Petty.) It was an “Awww, shucks” moment that everyone wanted to chime in on—but it was also just the beginning. People took to social media to weigh in on the beef-ending reunion of Kanye and Taylor Swift (the last person whose acceptance speech he crashed), Prince’s umpteenth reminder that he’s a national treasure, and Kristen Wiig’s interpretive dance during Sia’s “Chandelier” performance (taking a page from Kate McKinnon and Jim Carrey). And in case you missed them—after all, Bob’s Burgers and The Walking Dead were on—here are all the best moments—and the snark that grew out of them.

The Happy Reunion of Kanye West and Taylor Swift

Back in 2009, Taylor Swift won a MTV VMA that Kanye West thought Beyoncé deserved, leading to his infamous “Imma let you finish” speech. Now these many years later, they seem to have put that all behind them. And maybe West has moved on to other artists to interrupt … ?

Kanye West (Maybe?) Starts a Beef with Beck

When Beck beat Beyoncé for album of the year, West faked like he was going to … well, pull a Kanye. Much to Bey and Jay Z’s relief, though, he played it off like a joke. Which isn’t to say he didn’t feel some type of way about it; speaking to E! News after the show he did say “Beck needs to respect artistry and he should have given his award to Beyoncé.”

Sam Smith Dedicating His Award to the Guy Who Broke His Heart


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Kleenex for everyone.

Kristen Wiig Pwning Sia’s ‘Chandelier’ Performance


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Did anyone see this coming? Because we didn’t. In a night light on levity, Wiig was a sight for very sore eyes.

President Obama Speaking Up to End Violence Against Women

Sure, Katy Perry left Left Shark at home for her somber Grammys performance, but this video that played beforehand was the best non-music-related moment of the show. It’s already been re-watched on YouTube more than a half a million times—not bad for a politician.

Madonna’s ‘Living For Love’ Exit


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Proper divas know how to make an entrance. Life-long members of the Diva Club like Madonna also know how to make an exit. When her cadre of minotaurs hoisted her into the air at the end of her “Living for Love” number, she looked like the best prize you could ever hope to get out of a bowling alley claw machine.

Pharrell’s Ferguson Homage During ‘Happy’


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Pharrell’s performance crammed in so many elements it sounded like a Stefon sketch: “a bellhop outfit, a classical pianist, legendary film composer Hans Zimmer on electric guitar, a gospel choir, and a tribute to one of the saddest stories of 2014.” Still, it was a lovely version of a song you’ve probably heard too many times by now, with an unexpected poignancy.

Prince Being the GOAT Yet Again


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We would like to nominate Price for Best Awards Presenter of All Time.

Tony Bennet and Lady Gaga’s ‘Cheek to Cheek’ Performance

Tony Bennet & Lady Gaga – Cheek To Cheek… by artoonnii

Fine, we’re convinced; these two are great together. Bring on the Las Vegas cabaret residency!

Annie Lennox Saving Hozier’s ‘Take Me to Church’ Performance


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Last night, Hozier turned in another boring performance of his boring track “Take Me to Church.” Luckily, Annie Lennox showed up halfway through to sing “I Put a Spell On You” and take control of the whole damn thing—while also causing a lot of Facebook chatter. More like “take me to school,” amirite?

Rihanna Slays Everything


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If you haven’t heard the Rihanna/Paul McCartney/Kanye West collaboration “FourFiveSeconds” you may not know what a crazy earworm it is. (You also probably haven’t been reading our Audio Visuals column, which you should be doing.) Anyway, the trio brought the song’s incredibly infectious sound to the Grammys stage last night. RiRi only made the above expression once, but it made up for rarity with intensity. TAKE THAT, GRAMMYS STAGE.

Beyoncé Finally Performs

The night concluded with Beyoncé’s rendition of “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” followed by Common and John Legend’s performance of “Glory” from Selma. It was perfect. The story behind it was fantastic, too.

Taylor Swift’s Happy Feet


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Swift opened the night by presenting Best New Artist to Sam Smith. In doing so she joked that she once lost that award in 2008 (to Amy Winehouse) and advised this year’s losers to “shake it off” if they didn’t take home the Grammy. She then proceeded to shake it throughout the entire night, dancing at every turn—even to ELO. (Or, at least, she was dancing when she wasn’t on Tumblr.)