How Global Warming Helped Cause the Syrian War

Kurdish People's Protection Units soldiers walk near the town entrance circle heading to their strongholds in Kobani, Syria, Nov. 19, 2014. Kurdish People's Protection Units soldiers walk near the town entrance circle heading to their strongholds in Kobani, Syria, Nov. 19, 2014. Jake Simkin/AP

The bloody conflict in Syria—which enters its fifth year this month—has killed almost 200,000 people, created 3.2 million refugees, and given rise to the murderous extremist group known as the Islamic State. The roots of the civil war extend deep into Syria’s political and socioeconomic structures. But another cause turns out to be global warming.

When violence erupted in Syria during the Arab Spring in 2011, the country had been mired in a three-year drought—its worst in recorded history. Government agricultural policies had led to an overreliance on rain, so desperate farmers had to turn to well water—and they ended up sucking most of the country’s groundwater reserves dry. What happened next upended the country. “A lot of these farmers picked up their families, abandoned their villages, and went en masse to urban areas,” says Colin Kelley, a climate scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara and author of a new paper on the conflict. Add 1.5 million refugees fleeing the US-led invasion of Iraq, and the population of Syrian cities grew by 50 percent between 2002 and 2010. The influx led to illegal settlements, rampant unemployment, and inequality. But the government hardly did anything in response (corruption didn’t help, nor did the fact that the hardest-hit areas were populated by Kurdish minorities, who have long been discriminated against and ignored). Soon, frustrations boiled over.

The drought didn’t cause the violence—it just made Syria susceptible. But what’s more important here is that the drought, Kelley found, was severe likely because of human-caused global warming. It’s behind the drop in precipitation researchers have seen since 1930, the beginning of the data record. The researchers compared two climate models of the region: one that included the warming effects of greenhouse gases and one that didn’t. They found that in the model with global warming, severe, multiyear droughts like the one that preceded the Syrian uprising were two to three times more common than in the other model. A statistical analysis of the data also showed that the long-term trends of rising temperatures and drier climate make droughts more likely and severe. While it’s impossible to link global warming to this particular drought, climate change makes such droughts much more probable. “Climate change isn’t causing it by itself,” Kelley says. “But if you combine it with all the preexisting factors, it can multiply that threat.”

Researchers have linked abrupt changes in climate to the rise and fall of civilizations from the Roman Empire to the Khmer Empire that built Angkor Wat in Cambodia. In modern times, droughts or hotter temperatures have contributed to Hindu-Muslim riots in India, civil wars in Africa, and even violence and crime in the US. But the new study stands out, because it’s proof that the cause has a non-natural component. “This is a serious piece of work,” says Andrew Solow, a statistician at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. “It’s certainly plausible that the drought increases the chance of civil conflict—you’re putting stress on a society and it’s plausible that that tends to lead to violence.” But, he cautions against making a direct connection between drought and war. Other geopolitical factors probably play a bigger role in causing conflict.

Kelley is now studying how global warming is influencing the climate of Yemen, which is on the verge of collapse after rebels seized power last month. Meanwhile, the normally dependable spring rains have been in steady decline since 1980. Yemen isn’t exactly a poster child for stability, but like in Syria, you might not want to ignore the climate.

I Spent $500 Trying to Stump the Magic Delivery Service

By now, you’ve probably heard about Magic, the “we will bring you whatever you want” service. Send a text to the company saying what you desire—food, drink, hard goods, soft goods—and they’ll both procure it and deliver it unto you for a reasonable fee. It started as a small company’s experimental side project, like, a week ago, and has since exploded. The waiting list to give the app a shot now runs over 30,000 names deep.

We wanted to know just how magical Magic is. So I was given a mission: Spend $500 stress-testing Magic. Bring it.

I should note that I had to play the press card to gain access. This was not ideal, since it comes with the possibility that I’d receive preferential treatment. The company stressed that we’d be treated just like anyone else, but realistically, I think it would be naïve to think we weren’t seeing Magic putting its very best foot forward. Still, I think it’s valuable to see what the platonic ideal of this service would be. How would Magic work when firing on all cylinders in a near-perfect world? So we went for it anyway.

I’m Hungry

“Hey guys, I’d love two meatball sandwiches from Tommy’s Joynt. Can you get them to me while they’re still hot?”

The sandwiches took just a few messages back and forth. I gave them the address and set up a payment account through a secure link to Stripe, and that would pretty much be the last time I’d have to think about that stuff.

The food would be 45 minutes for delivery, and it would cost $25 total, including tax, Magic’s fee, and tip for the delivery guy. Having not seen the menu at Tommy’s in many years, that’s about what I’d expected to pay for a couple gargantuan sandwiches. It felt like a fair price. I said yes. It wasn’t until later that I looked up Tommy’s menu and saw a meatball sandwich only costs $5.25. A sizeable markup. But it seemed fair to me then, and it seemed like a downright bargain when I took that first bite. It was even better than I’d remembered. So Magic got paid, and everybody was happy.

I’m Thirsty

It was the same story for a pair of 22-ounce Ninkasi Tricerahops Double IPAs. Seventeen bucks and within 45 minutes. I deliberately picked a semi-obscure beer that I knew would be tough to find. They’re about $6 a bottle, plus tax, so $17 seemed like a steal. They arrived on time, in a bucket of ice shaped like a red plastic cup. I really started warming up to this premise.

I was feeling warm and fuzzy (a beer and a sandwich will do that), but I wondered what was happening on the other side of the line. What’s it feel like to be working at Magic? I asked CEO Mike Chen.

“For the people working here, there’s this attitude and culture of them kind of feeling like heroes,” Chen said. “There are a lot of standard requests that come in. ‘I need a pizza.’ That’s pretty easy to solve, right? But the ones that occupy more time, the challenging and interesting ones, where someone really has a problem they need to solve, that’s when the person working on their request will get really excited about: ‘OK, so how to I solve this? Who do I need to call? What do I need to do?’ And when they finally do figure it out, they’ll usually jump up and cheer, like, ‘Yeah! I got him the thing!’ Everybody’s just so excited to get people what they want, against the odds.”

Against all odds, eh? Time to step up my game.

I Need Some Clothes

Authentic Mexican wrestling mask and a ukulele chord book? No problem, we’ll have it for you within an hour and it’ll cost $70.

Now, I have no idea if this was a good deal or not (probably not), but knowing nothing about the price of luchador finery, I just went ahead and said yes. Besides, I still had $458 left to spend. Well, $388 after approving the purchase of the mask—Magic will always quote you a price and ask you if it’s OK.

Next up, something more decadent. I recently spilled candle wax on my favorite grey hoodie. It was from Uniqlo and cost $35. But what the hell, might as well upgrade, right? There’s a small company in San Francisco called Betabrand that makes some fun stuff. Searching its website, I found a ridiculous hoodie-blazer type thing. They’re normally $168, which is roughly $120 more than I’d ever normally spend on a hoodie, but it was on sale for $95. I asked Magic to send someone to the Betabrand store in San Francisco, try on the hoodie, then take a selfie and send it to me. I promised I’d buy it if it looked good.

I’d already seen that Magic was good with goods, so it was time to see how it does with services. This task ended up being more of a challenge. The store didn’t have the hoodie I wanted. They had it in black, but it was the original $168, not the sale price of $95.

My Magic guy sent the photo. It looked pretty good. But $168? I balked. Magic said, “…we’re seeing if we can get you a discount.” Impressive service, but again, I had to wonder if they were going above and beyond because they knew it could all end up in an article on WIRED.

“We were able to get 20 percent off the $168 jacket. So with all fees, it would cost $145 and you’d get to wear it today.”

It was too much. I knew it was too much. But wasn’t that kind of the whole point of this experiment? You’re paying more for added convenience. To get it now, to have it delivered, to have someone else haggle for you. I said yes. I now own a hoodie that is dry-clean only. I’m that asshole.

Some Accounting

It wasn’t until the next day that I crunched the numbers and saw that things didn’t really add up. Twenty percent off of $168 is $134.40. They were charging me $145. So ten bucks for the runner to go there, take a selfie, haggle with the store, and then deliver it to me seemed like a good deal, but it wasn’t. At least not for Magic. San Francisco has a sales tax of 8.5 percent, which means that Magic paid Betabrand $145.82 for the hoodie, and then also had to pay the guy they were hiring to run around and do all of that. I don’t know what the hourly rate they’re paying the people that run errands for them, but Magic definitely took a loss on this one. Such are the mistakes you pay for when your business is four days old and has completely exploded.

Things Get Weird

With $243 left to go, I fired off my next text.

“I’m unexpectedly spending the night at a friends’ place,” I said, and told them that I needed a toothbrush, toothpaste, a condolences greeting card, and a box of condoms. Also a house plant over three feet tall but under $50, which seemed like a good addition to a sexy sorry-for-your-loss package.

Magic didn’t bat an eye. 13 minutes later came the quote: “Okay about stuff for your sleepover. We can get you everything for $100. That includes the plant. Want to do it?”

The price seemed high, but sure, yeah. An hour later, there it was.

Now I had $143 left. This was all going entirely too smoothly. So I lobbed a grenade.

“I would really like a joint made of high CBD medicinal cannabis.”

Magic clearly states on its website that you can use it for “anything you want. As long as it’s not illegal.” Marijuana is federally illegal, but this is California, where medicinal marijuana is legal at a state level, provided you have a prescription from a doctor, which I did. How would Magic navigate this grey area?

With aplomb. They had to set up an account for me with a medical marijuana dispensary that delivers. I needed to text them a photo of my prescription and driver’s license. I would receive a code from the dispensary to verify my phone number (See? If pot-shops are using two-factor authentication you can too), which I would have to send to Magic. For this service, Magic would charge me $15 in addition to whatever I paid the dispensary directly.

The dispensary’s delivery driver showed up within the hour, ready to take cash or debit card. Because I was a first-timer, they even threw in an extra joint, a brownie bite, and a sample vial of hash oil. America! I collected the weed and retreated back inside.

Something felt off. I’d had fun, but I also kind of felt like a jerk, blowing through all this money, trying to trip up a week-old company full of very polite people. We had $78 left. One last errand before I’d surrender.

A High Note

Ten turkey sandwiches on whole wheat would be distributed to individual homeless persons around the Mission district of San Francisco, and it would cost $90. I figured we would never know for sure whether this task had been carried out—I wasn’t there to watch, and I certainly wasn’t going to request selfies to prove it. I took it on faith. An hour and twenty minutes later, Magic texted me a screenshot of the message they’d received from the runner: “Handed out all 10. They were all really grateful.”

The whole day had gone really well. Both for us and for Magic. But that hadn’t always been the case in the company’s long, four-day history.

“There were definitely some moments where we were adjusting the models in our head for supply and demand,” Mike Chen said, “There were some cases where people didn’t get the type of service that they should have, and we were pretty pissed about that. We went back and refunded those guys and gave them a call, and almost everyone was pretty happy with that and are still using our service.”

Chen said that running at full speed the last few days has helped his fledgeling company get a handle on the pace.

“We’re actually getting a chance to run models and predictions and know better how many people we can let in at a time,” he said. “Right now, though, our number one concern is quality, not trying to let in as many people as possible. That’s our philosophy. We know that what makes this magical is when it actually works.”

Which is exactly right—at the end of the day, it really did feel pretty magical. Obviously, the company was putting its best foot forward for me, but I had just spent $512 explicitly trying to inflict stress on its system. Would I use it again? Definitely. Not for something simple like a burrito—if I can’t handle that, I’ve got bigger problems. But if somewhere down the line there’s something I don’t know how to get, or if I just don’t have time/energy/mental bandwidth to deal with the logistics, I’d absolutely fire off a text and see if these guys can work some Magic.

Sony Unveils the Next Generation of Xperia Mobile Devices

BARCELONA, SPAIN—Sony continues to crank out some impressive mobile hardware. And while not all of the company’s latest handsets and tablets will be available in the U.S., they are still cool enough that we want to show them to you.

Here at the Mobile World Congress show, Sony trotted out a line-up of new Xperia mobiles: a very light and slim 10-inch tablet, an impressive mid-range smartphone, and two low-end phones, all with Android 5.0 Lollipop on board.

First up is the most intriguing announcement of the day: the Xperia M4 Aqua handset. It’s a mid-range waterproof smartphone with a premium look, and it has some top-shelf specs inside even though its very reasonably priced. Much of the M4 Aqua’s design comes borrowed from the flagship Xperia Z Series. The body is both dustproof and waterproof, with an IP65/68 rating. Magically, it retains the waterproof rating even though the microUSB port remains cap-less, thanks to a new nano coating technology. It’s nice that you get a waterproof port without a little dangling rubber plug to worry about. The display is 5.2 inches with 720 x 1280, 293 ppi pixel resolution. A second plate of tempered glass is embedded on the back side, and there’s a color option for the metallic plate beneath the glass. Choose between white, black, silver, and coral red.

Inside, the M4 Aqua packs a 1.7 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 octa-core 64-bit processor. There’s a nice 13-megapixel camera powered by Sony’s Exmor RS mobile sensor with bright f/2.0 aperture and ISO sensitivity up to 3200. The front camera has a 5-megapixel sensor.

Those aren’t sky-high specs, but they are more than modest, and the Xperia M4 Aqua should be a very capable Lollipop phone. The build quality is also quite high. So consider that it will be priced at “less than $350″ according to Sony—that’s a deal. It’ll be available across Europe in Spring, and there’s no word yet on U.S. carriers.

An Android Tablet With an Excellent Screen

Also debuting today is Sony’s latest top-tier Android slate, the Xperia Z4 tablet. It follows the company’s previous efforts, the Z2 Tablet and the Z3 Tablet Compact, straight-up borrowing features from those models in some places, and improving upon them in others.

Like the Z2 before it, the Z4 sports a 10.1-inch IPS display. But here, the resolution has been improved up to 2K level: 2048 x 1080 pixels. Given the brilliant and sharp screen, the Xperia Z4 Tablet should be an excellent device for watching movies and playing games. The Z4 is built on an updated Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 octa-core 64-bit processor, with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage—not a lot, but there’s a microSD card slot. Also, the 6,000mAh battery has a power-saving mode (which Sony calls “STAMINA”) that turns off background functions to extend your battery life. Even without that enabled, Sony says the Z4 should give you up to 17 hours of video playback. There are also front-facing stereo speakers that can (via a software toggle) generate an impressive surround sound effect. And just like its predecessors, the Z4 Tablet is waterproof and dust tight with IP68 rating.

While all that makes it sound like the ideal machine for watching movies and killing time, it does have another, more serious trick up its white, lightly starched sleeve: the Z4’s premier accessory is a Bluetooth keyboard docking case. Like other keyboard cases, the tablet snaps into place, pairs wirelessly, and gives you an arrangement that’s very much like a laptop.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet will be available starting June 2015 at a price tag yet to be announced—but rumored to be right around $400. The Bluetooth keyboard will cost extra, though we don’t know how much.

And Two Cheap Phones Too

The last two devices Sony demonstrated here in Barcelona are the low-end Xperia E4 Dual and Xperia E4g, its LTE variant. These phones were already announced in the past couple of weeks, but the company was showing them off again here. Both handsets have thicker, less-than-elegant bodies. They each have a 5-inch qHD (540 x 960) IPS display, a 1.3GHz Mediatek quad-core processor, 1GB of RAM, 8GB of internal memory, and a microSD slot for up to another 32GB. The main cameras shoot at 5 megapixels; the front ones at 2 megapixels.

Already available in classic Black and White, E4 Dual and E4g have a price tag of around $150.

The Internet of Anything: A Shortcut to Your Drone License

Adam Cockerill decided that becoming a drone pilot was the perfect the way to escape the daily grind of corporate life. So he quit his job as a marketing guy at an education technology company in the Camen Islands and founded AirVu, a company that provides aerial photography and other stuff via drones. But he hit a snag when the company applied for a drone license.

Regulators asked him to put together what’s called an aviation standard operations manual, and that’s not something he could do.

So Cockerill called on SkyWard, a Portland, Oregon-based company that helps drone operators navigate local regulations. With SkyWard’s help, AirVu finally secured a license in the Camen Islands, and now, Cockerill says, the company may expand throughout the Carribean.

In addition to helping customers determine what they need to do in order to follow laws, Skyward offers mobile apps and other software for logging flights, tracking pilot certifications, and managing other information that regulators and insurance companies require. “It’s essential,” Cockerill says. “I honestly don’t know how other operators are managing—if they’re managing—without a software system.”

But eventually, Skyward wants to automate the entire compliance process. Not only would you be notified if you’re flying your drone too close to an occupied airspace, but you’d actively be prevented from doing it—making it much harder to accidentally break the law, or do something potentially unsafe.

The Geeky Pilot

CEO Jonathan Evans spent about 17 years as a helicopter pilot, first in the U.S. Army and later as an emergency medical services pilot. In 2012, he decided to start a drone company after reading WIRED‘s cover story on drones. “I was really inspired by the idea that drones are going to be a physical extension of the internet,” he says. “And I thought I was well suited for that being a particularly geeky pilot.”

His original idea was to create a service for connecting customers to companies like AirBue that can provide drone-based services. But as he made the rounds on drone conferences, he realized that though there was demand from customers, there weren’t many companies to meet that demand. The big problem, he heard again and again, was that the regulations were too complex and it was difficult or impossible to get insurance. That’s when he realized that he would be better off creating a company that helped operators comply with regulations.

The Rules of the Road

SkyWard works with companies all over the world, but its biggest challenge in the near future is the fuzzy state of regulations in the U.S. Although the FAA has finally published its proposed rules last month, it could take years for the regulations to make it through the courts, and in the meantime the FAA has little ability to even enforce its existing rules.

Evans says it’s easy to get frustrated by the FAA, but that, as a pilot, he values the agency’s role in keeping both him and the public safe. “For me, the rules of flight are as banal and as important as traffic lights on the ground,” he says. The problem is that the FAA hasn’t been able to translate the rules that govern helicopters to the world of unmanned vehicles.

“It’s a totally new transportation system,” he says. “The air is a great place to build a new highway, but we need to build the rules of the road.”

Disease-carrying fleas abound on New York City's rats

In the first study of its kind since the 1920s, rats in New York City were found to carry a flea species capable of transmitting plague pathogens.

In research appearing March 2 in the Journal of Medical Entomology, lead author Matthew Frye, an urban entomologist with Cornell University's New York State Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program, reported collecting more than 6,500 specimens of five well-known species of fleas, lice and mites from 133 rats. Among them: 500-plus Oriental rat fleas, notorious for their role in transmitting the bubonic plague, also known as the Black Death.

The Cornell and Columbia University research team looked most closely at the rat flea because of its potential as a vector for human diseases.

"If these rats carry fleas that could transmit the plague to people, then the pathogen itself is the only piece missing from the transmission cycle," says Frye.

Where is the plague found these days? In the U.S., it's found in the American Southwest among ground squirrels, prairie dogs and the fleas they harbor, infecting roughly 10 people each year. In other parts of the world, the incidence of plague is higher.

The plague wasn't the only disease of concern. Co-author Cadhla Firth, a research scientist at Columbia University's Center for Infection and Immunity, and her colleagues used molecular screening methods to look for two other pathogenic bacteria the Oriental rat flea could vector: Rickettsia (which they didn't find) and several species of Bartonella.

"These pathogens can cause a wide range of clinical syndromes, some severe," says Firth.

The study's results suggest that public health officials closely monitor city rats and the fleas that call them home. But everyone can contribute, Frye says, by implementing IPM practices. "Removing food and water and preventing access to shelter are key to knocking back rodent infestations," he says.

When we evict rats from our homes and workplaces, we need another core IPM practice -- careful sanitation. It's critical to rid buildings of the fleas, lice and mites that are left behind. "It's not that these parasites can infest our bodies," Frye says, "but they can feed on us while seeking other rats to infest."

In research published in 2014 in the journal mBio with Firth as lead author, the scientists noted a disturbing number of viral and bacterial diseases that those same 133 rats carried. Some were unknown until now, including a handful that could infect humans.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cornell University . Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Mark Zuckerberg Tells Telecoms Why They Shouldn’t Fear Facebook

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook and Google get too much credit for their efforts to connect the “second half” of the world to the internet with connected balloons, drones, and satellites. The real leaders, he assured an industry audience, are the telecom operators.

“We can help, because Facebook is one of the primary apps people want to use,” Zuckerberg told WIRED’s Jessi Hempel on stage at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona today. “But it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that the real companies that are driving this are the operators and all the investments they’re putting together.”

It was just one of many ways that Zuckerberg attempted to woo telecom operators and convince them that, the initiative he launched to help bring more of the developing world online, is not a threat to their businesses. The app offers people in countries like Zambia and India access to free basic services, like Facebook, health information, and educational resources.

Building all the infrastructure that needs to get built to connect everyone costs a lot of money. The only way to accelerate is to grow the operator business faster. Mark Zuckerberg

For telecom companies, that has been a scary proposition. After all, these operators have traditionally made money on offerings such as text messaging, which is among the services that wants to give away for free. “Any company would be careful to deliver the keys to their house to the competitor,” said Telenor CEO Jon Fredrik Baksaas, joining Zuckerberg on stage.

At the same time, if were to eat into the telecom industry’s bottom line, that would prevent from expanding its offerings, because, as Zuckerberg said on stage, the organization depends on the operators that are “laying all the fiber and building all the towers to actually get this done.”

Facebook is currently working on some infrastructure technology of its own, including satellites and drones that would roam the skies, providing connectivity to some of the world’s most rural areas. But Zuckerberg admitted that those efforts still have a long way to go before they become practical alternatives to standard cables and cell towers. “Right now some of the technology we have is not yet efficient enough to cost effectively serve everyone in the most rural areas,” he said. “People like talking about that stuff, because it’s sexy, but it’s not the big bit.”

Which is why Zuckerberg used his time on stage to pay deference to the telecom industry, assuring them that he and the rest of the team are on their side. “It’s expensive work, and building all the infrastructure that needs to get built to connect everyone costs a lot of money,” he said. “The only way to accelerate is to grow the operator business faster.”

That requires, however, a fundamental shift in how operators think about their revenues. In the smartphone age, Zuckerberg says, it’s data usage, not voice calls and text messages, that will drive these telecom businesses. And, for people who have never had access to the internet, Zuckerberg believes can be an on ramp to that data. “Facebook, we know, drives data usage, especially in developing markets when people are getting data for the first time,” he said.

In fact, some of’s telecom partners confirmed that is the case. According to Mario Zanotti, senior vice president of operations at Millicom, in Paraguay, data usage is up 30 percent since partnering with What’s more, he also said that a good portion of customers who started off using the free product, have now upgraded to paid services. “There are a bunch of people who didn’t use any data service who are now actively using it and paying,” he said.

And yet, no matter how Zuckerberg sugarcoats it, there’s no doubt that these telecom operators are canaries in a coal mine. There’s no telling whether the market dynamics that played out in the developed world will replicate themselves in the developing world, nor whether the uptick in data usage revenue will be enough to offset the decline in money coming in from other services. And if the telecom industry stalls, so too, will, which depends on the fact that these companies will continue to pay for new infrastructure.

As Baksaas put it: “There’s a perception of the internet being free, but as Mark said, it doesn’t happen for free. The connectivity part is expensive. There’s lot of hardware and software, taxes, and spectrum fees that in total establish a cost structure. So those investments won’t happen, unless the longer term business proposition holds.”

Uber Puts Out A Magazine to Make Nice with Its Drivers

Screenshot 2015-03-02 11.32.33 Uber

Now that it’s valued at $41 billion for its ambitious plan to transform transportation, Uber has decided that the future of its business is … print? Just kidding. Well, sort of.

Today, Uber did launch a print magazine aimed specifically at its drivers. Dubbed Momentum, the planned quarterly is rolling out in several markets across the country. The inaugural issue includes features on staying healthy behind the wheel, news on Uber’s regulatory victories, and—the perennial concern for drivers—tips on where to find bathrooms around the clock. (“In Boston, MA, partner Richard says, ‘Dunkin’ Donuts is a savior.'”)

The publication plays a curious role given Uber’s unusual relationship with its 150,000 drivers. It’s part employee handbook—except, of course, Uber drivers are not Uber employees. And it’s part marketing, because just as Uber has to convince passengers it’s the best app for getting a ride, it has to convince drivers it’s the best app for giving one. To keep the rides coming, Uber has to keep drivers happy.

Uber appears to recognize that it won't be able to generate the returns its backers expect if its reputation suffers among its most vital constituents: its own drivers.

Recently, however, getting drivers to maintain a positive view of the ride-hailing company has been a challenge. Just last week, Uber reported a data breach in which 50,000 names and license numbers of its drivers had been exposed. To make amends, the company said it would notify the affected drivers and offer them a free one-year identity-monitoring service. The company confirmed a “one-time unauthorized access” in May 2014, though drivers don’t appear to have reported any serious identity misuse so far.

Along with the risk to drivers, the breach was a setback in Uber’s ongoing effort to reinvent its image in the media. In past months the company has been plagued with a seemingly endless stream of bad press, lawsuits, and clashes with regulators around the world. Though Uber’s image problems haven’t curbed the enthusiasm of investors, who continue to pour billions into the company, Uber appears to recognize that it won’t be able to generate the returns its backers expect if its reputation suffers among its most vital constituents: its own drivers. To that end, the first issue of Momentum includes a interview with one of Uber’s longest-serving drivers, who has than 20,000 trips under his belt in and around San Francisco.

Less overt driver-mollifying measures undertaken by the startup recently include releasing a study that claims Uber drivers make more per hour and work fewer hours than taxi drivers. That hasn’t kept some drivers from suing Uber to be classified as official employees rather than independent contractors. The case is ongoing, but the implications are quite clear. As instant gratification has become the default expectation, on-demand companies need to keep finding new ways to keep everyone—workers as well as customers—happy.

Your Car Doesn’t Care What Phone You Use

Parrot RNB 6 This auto infotainment unit from Parrot has maps, voice controls, maintenance alerts, and it can stream and record video from any front and rear cameras you attach. Best of all, it supports both Android Auto and Apple's CarPlay out of the box—anyone in your family can connect to it regardless of what kind of phone they own, and your car's in-dash system won't determine whether your next mobile is an iPhone or a Moto X. Parrot RNB 6 This auto infotainment unit from Parrot has maps, voice controls, maintenance alerts, and it can stream and record video from any front and rear cameras you attach. Best of all, it supports both Android Auto and Apple's CarPlay out of the box—anyone in your family can connect to it regardless of what kind of phone they own, and your car's in-dash system won't determine whether your next mobile is an iPhone or a Moto X. Josh Valcarcel/WIRED

Buying a smartphone today feels less like choosing a gadget than picking sides in an endless feudal conflict; your allegiance to House Apple or House Android can shape most of your tech purchases thereafter. But there’s one place where an unlikely ceasefire in the platform wars has emerged: the dashboard of your car.

Apple and Google’s race take over your hardtop was probably inevitable, even before Eddy Cue showed off the germ of what would later become CarPlay at WWDC in 2013. The proprietary infotainment systems automakers have foisted on customers for years have ranged from annoying to abominable, each with their own proprietary shortcomings. It’s gotten so bad that, according to a recent Consumer Reports study, infotainment systems and their trappings cause more reliability issues than any other part of the car in the first year of ownership. In the most extreme case, more than one in five new Infiniti Q50 sedan buyers experienced issues. That car is like 40 grand.

Let the Experts Do It

Handing off that responsibility, then, to people who actually understand software and the finer points of UI makes all the sense in the world. Better to give your customers a solid and familiar experience than to make them learn a new, uneven one at 60mph.

What was less clear until recently, though, was how that implementation would play out, especially after Google announced its CarPlay rival, Android Auto, at its I/O developer conference last year. It was tempting, given how frequently Mountain View and Cupertino clash, to foresee a future in which your choice of smartphone didn’t just dictate your set-top box; it would be a major factor in deciding one of the biggest ticket purchases of your life.

Fortunately, and maybe miraculously, that future already has already turned out to be far less dire than it could have. More than half of the 32 automakers listed by Apple and Google as in-dash partners have already backed both CarPlay and Android Auto. Meanwhile, aftermarket pacesetters Pioneer and Parrot both recently showed off systems that can give your dumb jalopy Google Maps and Siri smarts alike.

A Fight That Nobody Really Wins

All of this nets out to automobiles being among the first truly operating system-agnostic gadgets we own, a coexistence that would have been almost unthinkable just a few years ago. That’s partly because there aren’t many technological limitations to bringing them together—both platforms spec out about the same, although Android Auto is a little more strict on size requirements—and, as Pioneer exec Ted Cardenas explained in an interview, because there’s little upside for tech titans to make the car a contested territory.

“I think both companies recognize that… in the context of either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, the vehicle becomes an accessory to the device,” Cardenas said. “And when you start thinking about it in that context, the fight over the consumer necessarily wanting either an Apple device or an Android device has already been done at that point. They’re fine coexisting knowing that ultimately the consumer who’s using it will never see both. They’ll see one or the other.” In other words: Just because you have Android Auto in your car doesn’t mean you’ll ever know it’s there, much less let it lure you away from your iPhone 6.

But why have more all these major automakers, all of which have invested at least some money into their own infotainment systems, opened the door to Google and Apple? Simply put, they don’t want to risk alienatating potential customers by not offering the system that works with their phone. Take Ford. The next major update to its Sync infotainment platform—a mainstay since its introduction in 2007—will embrace CarPlay and Android Auto alike by the end of the year. While that could be read as a capitulation—Sync was such a sore spot that the automaker recently ditched Microsoft, its partner since the beginning, for BlackBerry’s QNX operating system—Ford infotainment guru Gary Jablonski insists that embracing all comers has been a priority for Sync since the very beginning.

“We don’t want the customer to base the choice of a $40,000 car on the $300 phone that they carry in their pocket,” Jablonski explained. “Our philosophy with Sync from day one has been about being device-agnostic and giving customers choice.” The real difficulty, says Jablonski, isn’t so much adoption as it is implementation.

“There’s a challenge between getting a customer into CarPlay because they want to go to Maps or listen to music on the iPhone, and to then get them out of CarPlay… You wouldn’t be using CarPlay to tune your radio or adjust your climate controls.” Making that switch elegant and intuitive is trickier than you’d think.

Early Days

Not to mention that for all the polish of iOS and Android, their vehicular equivalents are still first-generation products, likely to be in need of refinement. The hiccups of early adoption that are bearable in your living room become a little less so on I-95.

Jablonski downplayed those concerns, but it’s worth noting that CarPlay and Android Auto won’t launch day and date with Sync 3 (Ford anticipates they’ll be available as an OTA update within a few months of that), and that Ford is still promoting its AppLink infotainment feature on top of Apple and Google’s offerings.

This may also help explain why Toyota recently backed away from its CarPlay commitment, explaining to the New York Times that it “currently had no plans” to deploy it or Android Auto in the U.S., opting instead to focus on its existing, homegrown in-dash solution. Not to mention major automakers like BMW and Mercedes-Benz, who are on board with CarPlay but absent from the Android Auto roster.

So it’s not all perfect. There are still some land mines in the DMZ. But the fact that, within a year or so, you’ll be able to drive a car off the lot that not only doesn’t care what phone you own but actively works with whichever one you do (obligatory Windows Phone exception/apology here) is a remarkable, unprecedented joy.

Yes, you can dual boot a PC with a little determination and know-how. You can piece together Android/Apple harmony with Google apps and Chrome. But the flexibility we’re seeing in a car comes out of the box (or in this case, off the line). It’s seamless, built-in. It’s a respite from the otherwise exhausting, ongoing effort to make all the things you own acknowledge each others’ existence.

Is CarPlay and Android Auto shacking up in the same dashboard a harbinger of even more collaboration—or at least, accommodation—down the line? Not likely. But it’s still a welcome vision of an alternate universe, one in which our gadgets don’t just work; they work together.

One Free iPhone App Now Enables Encrypted Voice Calls and Texts

If you own an iPhone or Android handset and care about your privacy, there’s no longer much of an excuse not to encrypt every conversation you have. Now a free, zero-learning-curve app exists for both text and voice that can keep those communications fully encrypted, so that no one but the person holding the phone on the other end can decipher your words.

On Monday the open-source encryption software group Open Whisper Systems announced a new upgrade to Signal, its iOS app that enables end-to-end encrypted voice calling. With the update, Signal will end-to-end encrypt text messaging, too. And in WIRED’s testing of that updated all-in-one app, it’s just as idiot-proof as the two most basic, lime-green iPhone communication buttons it replaces.

“The objective is to be a complete, transparent replacement for secure communications,” says Open Whisper Systems founder Moxie Marlinspike. “We want to have a texting and calling experience that’s actually better than the default experience and is also private.”

In fact, the Signal update completes a suite of mobile encryption apps that Marlinspike has been developing for nearly five years. In May of 2010, Marlinspike released Redphone and Textsecure for Android, two apps that enabled end-to-end encrypted voice calls (using VoIP and the ZRTP protocol developed by PGP creator Phil Zimmermann) and text messages. But users of those apps could communicate only with other Redphone and TextSecure users, leaving iPhone users in the cold. Soon after, Marlinspike’s startup Whisper Systems was acquired by Twitter, putting his encryption app work on a two-year hiatus.

Users of the two biggest smartphone operating systems can finally both call and text each other with encryption that foils virtually any eavesdropper.

Marlinspike left Twitter in 2013, and in July of 2014 his newly recreated Open Whisper Systems released Signal, a free voice-calling app that’s interoperable with Redphone. That meant iPhone users could have free, secure voice conversations with their Android owning-friends (and each other). Today’s update includes TextSecure’s functionality, too, so that users of the two biggest smartphone operating systems can finally both call and text each other with encryption that foils virtually any eavesdropper.

Before Signal, the only widely used end-to-end encrypted calling and texting app for iPhone was Silent Circle, which was aimed mostly at corporate users and cost between $13 and $40 a month compared with Signal’s free service.

It’s important to note that Apple’s own iMessage uses end-to-end encryption, too. But the security community has long warned that iMessage’s closed-sourced approach may include vulnerabilities that could allow snooping. Signal, unlike iMessage, lets users check the fingerprints of each others’ keys (with a long press on the user’s contact name) to verify that they’re not sending their messages to some man-in-the-middle who stealthily passes them on to the intended recipient. iMessage doesn’t let you verify those public keys of the people you’re communicating with, potentially leaving you open to man-in-the-middle attacks by Apple or any government agency that forces its cooperation.

“It’s possible that anyone in control of Apple’s servers could intercept your communication without you knowing it,” says Marlinspike. iMessage also lacks a feature built into Signal called “perfect forward secrecy,” which changes the encryption key with every message so that codebreakers would have to crack each one individually.

The best feature of Signal is that despite its heavy security and new texting functionality, it remains just as simple as the iPhone’s default calling and texting apps. Marlinspike says that Open Whisper System’s usability is the focus of most of the group’s efforts. “In many ways the crypto is the easy part,” he told WIRED when Signal launched last year. “The hard part is developing a product that people are actually going to use and want to use.”

Porting TextSecure to the iPhone opens it up to millions more potential users. But it’s already seen impressive adoption on Android: the standalone TextSecure app has been downloaded to about 500,000 Android phones. It also got a boost of about 10 million users when it was integrated as the default texting app in the Cyanogenmod version of Android in late 2013. And it got another gigantic bump last year when Whatsapp turned on TextSecure for its half-billion-plus Android users, in what’s likely the largest end-to-end encrypted messaging system of all time.

With partnerships like those, TextSecure may have the potential to serve as the protocol for practically all encrypted messaging in the mobile era. Now iPhone users are finally invited to the privacy party, too. Better five years late than never.

Flight Brings Us Closer to Balloon-Powered Space Tourism

Late last week, a company came one step closer to sending tourists to the edge of space using ginormous balloons, breaking a record for the world’s highest parafoil flight.

Arizona-based World View carried the parafoil—a large, wing-like parachute—to the edge of space using its ballon, and had it fly back to the ground. It also carried experiments designed by students from Montana State University and the University of Northern Florida.

The experiments, which tested high-definition video and computer equipment at high altitudes, aren’t the news here. Neither is reaching that altitude. World View has flown to this height and higher before. Last year, it acquired the tech Paragon StratEx used in October to float Google exec Alan Eustace up to 135,000 feet before he detached and dove/plummeted back down. Researchers have been sending similar balloons to edge-of-space altitudes for years, transporting payloads and collecting data.

The significance of World View’s latest endeavor lies in the downward flight of the parafoil, a fundamental piece of the projected designs its manned tourist expeditions. The company wants to load its passengers into a flight capsule, attach that to a massive (as in roughly-the-size-of-a-football-stadium massive) polyethylene balloon filled with gas, and float them up to the destination altitude. After a leisurely two-hour jaunt through near-space, the capsule will begin its return trip, using the balloon initially and then transitioning to the parafoil to glide back to Earth.

WorldView_FlightProfile copy World View

For this variety of manned near-space travel to become even remotely feasible, World View must first prove its parafoil (which it calls the ParaWing) can be relied upon to act as both the safety net and the landing mechanism from 100,000 feet. Setting this record proves parafoil flight from that height is possible. From here, World View will move forward to testing parafoil descents with heavier payloads.

Compared to rocket-powered offerings from space tourism companies like Virgin Galactic and XCOR, World View’s balloon scheme has some advantages. Visitors get to spend several hours in the near-space environment, rather than a few minutes outside of the atmosphere. Floating up to altitude, instead of rocketing up, promises to be a more serene experience and doesn’t require special training or equipment. Passengers won’t be weightless, but there is a bar onboard (who doesn’t want to pop bottles 100,000 feet up?). And it will be less expensive than other suborbital flights.

Don’t confuse “less expensive” with “inexpensive.” A ticket to reserve your ride in the flight capsule is still going to set you back $75,000. And even though the capsules will float to the edge-of-space, they don’t actually go into space, which is something of a bummer for anyone looking to say they’ve actually been to the final frontier and willing to spend that kind of cash.

World View doesn’t have plans to launch their first flight until the end of 2016, but if a balloon ride to the point where aeronaut meets astronaut sounds like your idea of a good time, you may want to get a head start on setting aside some money.

Intel’s New Chip Could Give Cheap Smartphones a Big Boost

The Atom X3 system on a chip will bring a power and speed boost to low-end smartphones in the $50 range. Mobile manufacturers have begun signing on to use it in their hardware. The Atom X3 system on a chip will bring a power and speed boost to low-end smartphones in the $50 range. Mobile manufacturers have begun signing on to use it in their hardware. Intel

The arrival of new mobile processors rarely qualifies as big news. But Intel’s latest family of chips, announced at Mobile World Congress today, are both powerful and cheap, and are sure to drive the industry trend of high-capability, low-cost smartphones to even greater extremes.

The Atom X3, X5 and X7 processors will show up in a wide range of 2015’s smartphones and tablets. The processor family is arranged much like its desktop Core “i” line, with the X3 being the lowest end of the bunch. The X3 is Intel’s previously announced Project SoFIA (“Smart or Feature phone with Intel Architecture”). It’s a cheap, entry-level system-on-a-chip with with either a 3G or 4G LTE modem, Bluetooth, and x86 architecture-based application processors.

More than 20 device manufacturers have signed on to incorporate this chip into their hardware designs.

This chip is notable because it could enable much more capable phone hardware at the $50 price point, which will be a huge boon to smartphone adoption in developing nations. More than 20 device manufacturers have signed on to incorporate this chip into their hardware designs. The first devices incorporating the Atom X3 chip (in a dual-core 3G variety) will arrive this quarter, while quad-core 3G and LTE versions will arrive by the end of the first half of the year.

The X5 and X7 series, meanwhile, are Intel’s mainstream and high-end mobile chipsets, and the first 14 nanometer SoCs for tablets. They have double the graphics capabilities of Intel’s previous generation chips, without compromising battery life, and support features like Intel’s RealSense 3D experience (which we checked out on the Dell Venue 8 7000 tablet) as well as its TrueKey face-recognition-based password authentication. You’ll find these two chips on Android and Windows tablets from Acer, Lenovo, Dell, HP, Asus, and Toshiba debuting during the first half of 2015.

Intel’s last hardware announcement for Mobile World Congress is a new LTE Advanced modem, the XMM 7360. This is the chip that connects you to your carrier’s wireless network, and with this one, Intel is promising more stable connections and faster speeds. Appearing in devices beginning the second half of the year, it’ll offer 450 Mbps down as well as something called carrier aggregation, which basically makes data usage more efficient, so users can get higher peak data rates.

You may wonder, with Intel’s huge focus on wearables in 2014, where the smartwatches at? Intel hasn’t forgotten about your wrist—company reps tell me we should expect more news on that front very soon.

Google+ As We Knew It Is Dead, But Google Is Still a Social Network

As a Facebook and Twitter competitor, Google+ never really stood a chance. By some combination of odd design, confusing nomenclature—remember Circles? Sparks?—and the simple fact that no one ever really used it, Google’s grand plan to unite its many products into a single social product just didn’t pan out. So it should surprise no one that three and a half years after its launch, Google has re-organized the product, and put Bradley Horowitz, Google VP and one of Google+’s key architects, in charge of “Google’s Photos and Streams products.” Sources confirm that Google has no immediate plans to ditch the name “Google+,” but what that name represents is about to dramatically change. It appears Photos and Streams will cease to be simply features of Google+, and will become two distinct products under Horowitz’s watch. (Google wouldn’t elaborate on its plans except to say no product changes are happening right now.)

The change comes on the heels of Google SVP Sundar Pichai telling Forbes that “I think increasingly you’ll see us focus on communications, photos and the Google+ Stream as three important areas, rather than being thought of as one area.” Google+ was originally supposed to be a one-stop shop for all the ways we interact with each other. Clearly the vision has changed.

But don’t write the obituary yet. It would be a mistake to call this a retreat, or an admission of failure. This is actually Google doing what Google does best: relentlessly optimizing its products based on data and feedback. There’s a small but very dedicated core of Google+ users, for whom Streams will now simply be a cleaner, more focused product. (At least, until Google kills it off, as is its ruthless tendency with power-user products like Reader. Actually, let’s not talk about that, I’m still not ready.) The truth is that when Google launched Google+, it actually launched three things. What it didn’t realize was that the two that weren’t “the social network,” Hangouts and Photos, were actually the future of social networking.

Google+ was secretly the best photo service around.

Google+ was quietly the best photo-storing platform on the internet, and quickly became the place I dumped all my photos. It comes with a truckload of storage, really easy tools for editing and sharing, and an ultra-visual layout that was copied by basically every other photo-storage site on the planet. You can build albums with friends, even storing photos you share in messages in a constantly-updating album accessible to only you and a buddy. There’s some amazing machine-learning happening there, wherein Google can ditch your crappiest photos and even combine a few to make sure you get one with everyone smiling—which, at least in my family, is essentially a miracle. My favorite tool is the one that stitches together into a GIF a bunch of photos you took in rapid succession, which always looks either perfect or totally insane, and is really fun either way.

Hangouts, meanwhile, quickly became a powerful and versatile communications tool. It’s both the evolution of GChat and Android’s answer to iMessage, and it supports voice, text, photos, emoji, more emoji, and basically every way people communicate on any platform. It’s been bigger than Google+ for some time now, but it was a core piece of the early offering.

Bradley Horowitz, Google VP and new head of Streams and Photos. Bradley Horowitz, Google VP and new head of Streams and Photos.

Combine those two things—communication and photos—and what do you have? A social network, right? Google thought so, anyway. What Google believed it was launching three years ago was a series of products built around a stream, a list of status updates and links that at that time was the core element of a social network. But social networking is bigger than that, and as it has shifted to mobile it has split largely into two camps: messaging and photos. For every Facebook and Twitter, there’s also Instagram (photos), WhatsApp (messaging), Facebook Messenger (messaging), Tumblr (mostly photos), YikYak (messaging), Snapchat (photos), and on and on. It’s to Facebook’s credit that it owns basically half that list—it understood before anyone that our online social interactions can’t be captured in a single feed. Instagram, Messenger, and Facebook all have different purposes, different uses; trying to cram them all into a single bucket doesn’t make any sense. It took Google a while, but it too seems to be finally recognizing that.

Google as a social network is very much alive. Pichai told Forbes that Google+ was always at least as much about identity as socializing—the goal was to connect and cohere who you are across all its different products. In that sense, Google+ worked; from your horrifically racist YouTube comments to your Blogger blog to your Gmail, you’re the same person everywhere. That helps Google know more about you so that it can place more and better ads in front of you. And it makes your social experience more cohesive. The difference with these changes is that your social, interactive experience isn’t relegated to a single screen with too much white space and not enough people.

It’s everywhere, on every platform, based around what we want to share, where, and with whom. And it makes automatic GIFs out of your photos. If that can’t be a successful social network, well, I don’t know what can.

Why It’s Time To Buy Wireless Headphones

Sol Republic's new Shadow Wireless earbuds come in black or gray with rose gold. Sol Republic's new Shadow Wireless earbuds come in black or gray with rose gold. Sol Republic

It’s winter in New York City, which means every time I go anywhere I spend fifteen minutes getting dressed. Sweater. Coat. Scarf. Hat. Boots. Gloves. Steely reserve against miserable cold. And for the past few days, the last thing I put on are Sol Republic’s new Shadow Wireless, the company’s first Bluetooth earbuds. They’ve been my companion everywhere I go, and they’ve sold me completely on wireless headphones.

These new $99.99 ‘phones will be out later this month. They have a flexible gray collar that wraps around your neck, with short cables connecting to two mushy silicon tips that jam deep into your ears. They’re a much more comfortable, better-looking take on the LG Tones, the massively popular and terribly awkward combo you’ve probably seen people wearing at the gym. But the setup is a little odd no matter how you slice it: since all the controls are on the collar, it constantly looks like I’m scratching my neck when all I want to do is change the song. Eventually, Sol says it’ll make a sporty version without the collar—I’m looking forward to those, since I found wearing what amounts to a necklace pretty weird. But even with the necklace, the Shadows are pretty innocuous and comfortable for all-day listening. The upside? They’re all but impossible to lose.

Reasons not to buy wireless headphones are rapidly disappearing

The biggest reason not to buy wireless headphones used to be that they didn’t sound very good. The Shadows aren’t perfect, either, but they are certainly good enough. As long as you really stuff the tips into your ears (I recommend making the requisite ear-opening yawning face while you put them in), you get impressively full and even sound out of the headphones. It’s the mids where they’re most impressive; bass is present but not quite thumping; and the highest highs get clipped a bit. Bottom line: there’s a really nice indie-rock sound profile here.

Truthfully, the entire “they don’t sound as good” argument has become overblown. Just about any half-decent pair of wireless buds will sound a hell of a lot better than the white EarPods that came with your iPhone, and those are what most people are using anyway. If you’re a particularly picky audiophile, wireless headphones aren’t for you–and that goes for the Shadows, too. But for most people, the convenience and simple joy of a pair of headphones that never tangles in your pocket or gets caught on your jacket is worth any auditory tradeoff.

The Beats Solo Wireless, which are great until their inevitable and inconvenient death. The Beats Solo Wireless, which are great until their inevitable and inconvenient death.

The more compelling argument against wireless headphones is that they have batteries, and batteries die. That’s a fact. I’ll never forget digging my Beats Solo Wireless out of my bag on a cross-country flight, only to find that they were dead and I was stuck buying the ear-destroying $2 horrors from Delta. The Shadows do OK in this respect, lasting seven or eight hours on a charge. As the battery gets low they start reminding you every few minutes that, hey dude, it’s charge time. I haven’t been caught battery-less with the Shadows yet, but I do still carry around my wired Bose IE2s—just in case.

Thing is, I don’t think I’ll be fishing that tangled old pair out of my bag any time soon. I’m sold on the Shadows.

By all indications, wireless headphones are taking over. They’re one of the fastest-growing parts of the headphone market, and stores like Best Buy are starting to heavily promote them. (The Shadows will be sold exclusively at Best Buy, at least for now.) And they are getting better and better. First it was the cans— those big over-the-ear Beats models—now it’s the earbuds. Prices are coming down, too, so there are more options than ever. Since Bluetooth 4.0 uses very little power, you won’t be killing your phone and your headphones just to get rid of a wire. Companies are also starting to make their connections stronger, solving for the fact that your body is a wireless signal’s greatest enemy. (While I’ve been using the Shadows, I’ve had the occasional blip in a song, especially when I’m wearing my wintry getup, but it’s only been a few times and I’ve never completely lost connection.)

The best thing about wireless headphones is just that they’re wonderful

It’s hard to explain the best thing about wireless headphones, which is just that they’re wonderful. You can dump your phone in your bag or leave it on the table, and keep listening; you don’t have to jockey around the headphone jack when you want to play a game. I listen to music while I brush my teeth, while I work, and while I work out, and not having a cord get in the way is the best. Your headphones won’t get tangled when you take off your coat. They won’t get stuck on a stranger and yanked out of your ears. You can connect to multiple devices at once, so you’re not plugging and unplugging every time you stand up. All these improvements are small, but they add up to something huge. Tech is supposed to feel natural, invisible; wireless headphones just do. I wouldn’t buy anything else.

Amanda Palmer: Internet Rage Is Just Part of Being a Celeb

Amanda Palmer is an indie rock star who ran a record-breaking $1.2 million Kickstarter to fund her 2012 album Theatre Is Evil. That success, along with her high-profile marriage to bestselling fantasy author Neil Gaiman, catapulted her into the stratosphere of Internet celebrity, and she was soon the subject of intense scrutiny and no small amount of hatred. At the time she was devastated, but these days she’s more philosophical about it.

“It’s just this thing that happens that’s part of the job,” Palmer says in Episode 139 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “The way that if you decide to go into stand-up comedy, it’s just part of the job that people are going to come and heckle you, and you’re going to have to learn how to deal with it.”

Back in 2012, having what seemed like the entire Internet gunning for you was new and scary, but Palmer says that by now practically everyone she knows has found themselves on the wrong end of the Internet outrage machine at one time or another, from her husband to author Daniel Handler to any number of stand-up comics, and now it all feels a bit more routine.

“Now that it seems like everybody is angry at everybody on the Internet, I feel way less alone than I used to,” she says.

She also notes that Internet outrage can be unpredictable. Sometimes she warns her staff to brace for the backlash to a controversial post, only to find that no one is bothered by it, whereas some offhand remark on Twitter can unexpectedly blow up into front page news. Though the fervor does seem to have died down lately, at least when it comes to her.

“It’s been a good couple of years since I was in a nice, big, proper shitstorm,” she says. “Which is surprising. I used to go through them like clockwork, every six months.”

Palmer reflects on those experiences in her new memoir, The Art of Asking , which explores the many ways people ask for and receive help, both online and off. And though many of her online encounters were painful, she does feel that receiving so much criticism has had some positive effects.

“It has made me so much more aware of who I am and what I believe,” she says. “As corny as that sounds.”

Listen to our complete interview with Amanda Palmer in Episode 139 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above), and check out some highlights from the discussion below.

Amanda Palmer on writing The Art of Asking:

“I was at the point where I was doing printed-out proofs of the book, looking for rough spots and mistakes—it was like the 11th-hour edit. And the Harvard Lampoon —I’m a member, and so is Neil—this was in July, and the book was supposed to be out two months before, and they called me and they were like, ‘Amanda, you’re not going to believe this, but Katy Perry‘s going to be at a party at the Lampoon tomorrow!’ And I was like, ‘Good for you.’ And they were like, ‘You’ve got to come! You’ve got to see Katy Perry and meet Katy Perry.’ And I was like, ‘OK, that is something in my life that I should do.’ But I had to be editing my book, because I was at the point where I could not take any time off, so I threw my three hundred pages in my backpack, drove over to the Harvard Lampoon, and sat in their den, nursing a whiskey from upstairs and doing my line edits, kind of as a joke, but also because I had to get it done and I didn’t want to let these threads leave my brain, because I’d been working on them all day. I mostly just did it so I could say I went to a party with Katy Perry and barely talked to her, and instead drank whiskey in the basement and edited my book.”

Amanda Palmer on writing about her marriage:

“I didn’t want to throw [Neil] under the bus. I wanted to give him a voice. If I was going to literally make him a character in this book and write words into his mouth, I wanted to give him his own voice. So I sent Neil passages as I was writing them—the ones that were about him. And I would send him five pages of a Neil and Amanda argument and say, ‘This was my take on it. I’m sure you probably remember it differently, but go ahead and write your own dialogue, because I’m not going to put this out there unless you feel like it’s fair.’ And my writing the book, and giving him a hand in editing the parts about us and our relationship, was a kind of marriage therapy. … And it actually worked, because I could see things from his point of view, and he would look at things and say, ‘God, Amanda, maybe I sound like that in your head, but I would never have said that.’ And I’m over in the corner grumbling, ‘Well, you kind of did say that.'”

Amanda Palmer on science fiction:

“I was one of those teenagers—and super-judgmental college/early twenties people—who was like, ‘What I love is very strictly defined … and I don’t listen to hip hop, I don’t listen to metal, and I don’t like sci-fi and fantasy, I don’t like all that dorky stuff,’ without even realizing that a lot of my favorite books, and the stuff in my collection, particularly the stuff I loved as a kid, was fantastical realism. I loved Ray Bradbury, and I loved Kurt Vonnegut, and my favorite children’s book was The Velveteen Rabbit , which is one of the most beautiful pieces of fantastical fiction ever written. And what I’ve loved is having to confront my own outsider self as kind of this snotty girl who’s like, ‘Oh, I don’t like sci-fi and fantasy,’ and then meeting someone like Neil, and being invited into that world, and going, well, clearly I was not only wrong, I was really wrong, this world encompasses so much more than I thought, and I was a fan of so many of these things without knowing it.”

Amanda Palmer on the Internet:

“I can’t hate a human being in a room. I actually find it impossible to despise anybody, because all I do is look at this flesh-and-blood human being and see them and all of their hopes and fears and flaws, and I can’t help but love them, even if they’ve slagged me or reviewed me badly. And I think that’s true of everybody. And the thing that makes the Internet so difficult is we don’t get to have that experience of one another’s humanity. We’re so two-dimensional on the Internet that it makes it really easy to lash out, really easy to act sanctimonious, really easy to see things in black and white, even when we know, intellectually, that things are way more subtle, way more complicated, way more multi-dimensional. And if I’ve learned anything from living pretty much half-time on the Internet for the past 15 years, as a full-time connector and communicator and social media user, I think the challenge is to remember that behind every single piece of binary code is a flesh-and-blood human being.”

While You Were Offline: Renegade Llamas Win the Internet

If you happened to take a sick day on Thursday to catch House of Cards’ return to Netflix, there’s every possibility you would have been very confused by the Internet you returned to. Llamas? Dresses? What is this strange new world? Don’t worry, the answers are below, along with primers on the FCC net neutrality vote, awkward post-Oscar comments that meant well, and why emojis are more complicated than it might appear at first. Here are the weirdest moments from the last week on the World Wide Web. (But, seriously: that dress, though.)

What’s the Opposite of Hung Up, Anyway?

What Happened: Madonna’s triumphant return to the Brit Awards ended up being a bit of a crashing disaster. Emphasis on the “crashing.”

Where It Blew Up: Twitter, blogs, media think pieces

What Really Happened: Well, it all started with a massive fall during her performance of “Living for Love” (watch above).

It was a tumble heard around the Internet, with everyone offering a weird schaudenfreude over what looked like a pretty painful fall. Twitter, of course, was far more understanding:

Madonna took to Instagram to explain what had actually happened soon after:

Let it be noted, however, that she still managed to finish the song as if nothing had happened. That woman’s a professional.

The Takeaway: The moral of this story? Despite the many jeers from Twitter, it’s not “never wear a cape onstage,” but one far simpler: Never perform at the Brit Awards. Does no one remember this?

Vote For Me and I’ll Set You Free

What Happened: Ending months (years, really) of debate, activism, and outright scaremongering, the FCC finally voted on the issue of net neutrality on Thursday. The Internet, as you might expect, had opinions.

Where It Blew Up: Twitter, blogs, media think pieces

What Really Happened: Congratulations, Internet: you’re now a utility, after the Federal Communications Commission passed new rules governing the control of the Internet, apparently (according to more than one think piece) at the behest of John Oliver. The ruling ended months of campaigning on behalf of both sides: free speech advocates and President Obama one one of them, and cable companies and Republicans on the other. At least one cable company was prepared to publicly respond to the decision, with Verizon complaining via morse code that the vote was imposing “rules on broadband Internet services that were written in the era of the steam locomotive and the telegraph.”

They weren’t the only ones unhappy with the way things turned out, with Time and Fox News united in their grumbling, albeit for different reasons. (Fox, amusingly, called the ruling the “worst example of government intervention… ever,” which we can probably all agree is a victory for hyperbole everywhere.) Comcast, meanwhile, is said to be considering legal action, while Netflix—which had been active in the discussion prior to the vote—explained that, in a battle between consumers and ISPs, “consumers win.”

On Twitter, the reaction was… well, about what you’d expect, really:

The Takeaway: We can all wish the FCC some congratulations on a job well done, right? Unless, of course, you happen to own a cable company or inherently believe that government oversight is the first step towards an inevitable fascist conspiracy, in which case it’s clearly the end of the world and you have our condolences.

No, Please, Someone Needs To Talk To Her About Privilege

What Happened: Patricia Arquette decided to use her Academy Awards win as a platform to promote equal wages between genders … and then, to the upset of many, kept talking about the issue off-stage.

Where It Blew Up: Twitter, blogs, media think pieces

What Really Happened: When Patricia Arquette used her Oscar win for Boyhood to draw attention to the lack of equal rights and pay for women, it made a lot of people very happy (as the cheering and applause in the audience suggested). Unfortunately, Arquette then upset many of those same people with later comments, when she said it was “time for all the women in America and all the men that love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of color that we’ve fought for to fight for us now.”

Needless to say the backlash quickly got underway, with think pieces pointing out how offensive Arquette’s latter comments were, while Twitter took to pointing out how ill-considered they were in other areas:

Arquette herself took to Twitter to defend herself, albeit in a way equally as clumsily as the comments that got her in trouble in the first place:

While the Internet tried to analyze what we should learn from the backlash (Spoilers: “Don’t be insensitive” wasn’t on there), future Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton showed the actress some support, while wrestler A.J. Lee spoke out about the lack of pay equality amongst WWE employees.

The Takeaway: It’s tempting to be distracted by Arquette’s inability to see that arguing “Hey, other minorities, stick up for us as payback” was clumsy—and the less said about the “don’t talk to me about privilege,” the better—but watching the backlash fade while the equal pay campaign continues (and, perhaps, grows) suggests it’s an issue that will deservedly get more attention in the upcoming weeks and months as we head into a presidential campaign. That, at least, is about time.

Insert Non-Smiley Face Here

What Happened: Apple finally reacts to criticism about its lack of racial diversity in its emojis.

Where It Blew Up: Twitter, blogs, media think pieces

What Really Happened: File under: “Why Did This Take So Long?” Apple has announced that the next version of its iOS will come with 300 new emojis, including six different skin tones. While many were happy for the change (especially considering that same-sex couples and parents would be represented as well), it wasn’t an entirely unanimous reaction. Maybe it was the bright yellow faces that unnerved some, or perhaps for others—like Alpesh Patel of Oju, a company that has been making Afro-centric emoji for some time—it’s simply that the company’s attempts are too little, too late (and maybe missing the point altogether).

The Takeaway: If we’re looking to a multi-national company to lead the way in terms of diversity, maybe we’re doing it wrong. And yet, it’s nice to see them trying nonetheless, and the attempts should be appreciated. Maybe split the difference and think that it’s a nice move, even if one that should have come about earlier?

That Time When the World Stopped to Watch Llamas

What Happened: That headline says it all, really.

Where It Blew Up: Twitter

What Really Happened: On the face of it, it was the simplest of stories: Two llamas got loose in Sun City, Arizona, and the local authorities tried to catch them. Surprisingly, it was a simple story that caught the attention of the Internet, prompting international news coverage (plus, of course, the pre-requisite BuzzFeed quiz) and a lot of excitement on Twitter:

The Takeaway: The fact that that simple story ended up going viral online means one of two things: Thursday was an astonishingly slow news day for the Internet, or the Internet really loves llamas. Given that Thursday was also the day of the FCC net neutrality vote, it definitely wasn’t a slow news day.

The Internet and Its Amazing Technicolor Dream Dress

What Happened: Apparently, it’s very difficult to tell what color a dress is online.

Where It Blew Up: Twitter, Tumblr, media think pieces

What Really Happened: It all started with this simple Tumblr post, which showed a photo of a dress and asked “is this dress white and gold, or blue and black?” You’d think that would be straightforward enough, but apparently not; Tumblr was suddenly overrun with responses, both on the original post and elsewhere. Before too long things had spread to Twitter (blame Taylor Swift, although perhaps Mindy Kaling has a hand in this as well):

The Takeaway: Wait, you guys see a dress ?

Kristen Wiig Is Off Her Meds in the Week’s Best Trailers

This week has a handful of things we love a lot: AI, Kristen Wiig, supernaturals, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. They’re not all in the same movie—that might be too much—but together are sprinkling the future movie landscape with an oddly charming brand of fairy dust. Here is your latest batch of WIRED-approved trailers.

The One You Wish Everyone Would Talk About: Welcome To Me

There are roughly 73,000 reasons to be so excited for this movie, and Kristen Wiig’s comedic abilities account for roughly half of those reasons. When we saw the new movie Nasty Baby at Sundance, we were impressed and encouraged by how weird and against-the-grain Wiig is willing to be with her script choices, and Welcome To Me is building on what we hope is a trend in her career that we’ll call “surreal quirk” for now. The Me of this movie is Borderline Personality Disorder patient Alice Klieg (Wiig). Alice wins an $86 million lotto jackpot, goes off her medication, and—thanks to her obsession with Oprah—buys her own talk show. In just this trailer we see her demand to enter the set on a swan boat and devote possibly an entire show to making and eating a meatloaf cake. It’s produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay and co-stars Wes Bentley, James Marsden, Tim Robbins, Joan Cusack, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Linda Cardellini.

Pause at: 0:43. The viewing audience for this movie. Swan boat at 1:28. Meatloaf cake at 1:46. Winning at 2:11.

Essential Quote: “You’re off your meds. You’re living in a reservation casino. And you’re hosting your own talk show.”—Dr. Moffat (Tim Robbins)

The Small Screen Standout: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Inhumans alert! Inhumans alert! S.H.I.E.L.D. is about to make its mid-season return, and now that we’ve been made aware of the Inhumans, Marvel is ready to plant the seeds for its July 2019 movie about the mutant subset. Remember when intricate co-dependent storylines didn’t exist to guide us through years of televised and cinematic entertainment? Ha ha, neither do we!

Pause at: 0:19. Danger! Keep away!

Essential Quote: “There was something inside of me, something I didn’t even know was there, something possibly… inhuman. And if it gets out, nothing will ever be the same.”—Skye (Chloe Bennet)

The Documentary: Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made

But, like, who hasn’t considered making their own shot-for-shot remake of their favorite movie? Not many people? Oh, well then that probably makes what Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala did pretty exceptional in the realm of superfandom. Over the course of seven years starting in 1982, the two friends—who were 11 years old at the time—recreated one of the greatest movies ever made, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Strompolos and Zala weren’t able to finish the project, but armed with nothing besides passion, determination and DIY know-how, the pair still produced a legendary work of fan art. Then, as fate and the Internet would have it, some influential Hollywood types, specifically Eli Roth, got a hold of the incomplete project many years later and started passing it around to friends and colleagues. This documentary is the story of how the Raiders recreation was made, and what happens when Strompolos and Zala get the chance to complete their film 30 years later by shooting the iconic plane scene. Such a better way to express your fan devotion than writing Fifty Shades of Grey.

Pause at: 0:43, 0:46, 1:06, 1:18, 1:27, 1:33, and 2:04 for major commitment to the craft.

Song: John Williams, “The Raiders March (Indiana Jones Main Theme)”

Essential Quote: “I mean, did anybody get hurt in the making of this film?!”

The Science Fiction One: Eva

High five if you’re excited about the onset of moody, haunting AI movies on the horizon! In April, we’ll finally get to see the wide release of Ex Machina. Chappie is on the way. (OK, so that one is more big-budget action than moody/haunting, but we’ll take sentient robots where we can get them!) And now we’ve got Eva. Daniel Brühl continues to make interesting and smart career choices as he takes up the role of Alex, a “renowned cybernetic engineer” living in a future where humans and robots exist peacefully alongside one another. Alex works for an impossibly cool sounding entity called the Robotic Faculty, and he’s been assigned the task of creating a child robot. In addition to that, he also reunites with his former flame who is now married to his brother, and together the two have a child, Eva, that Alex develops an immediate bond with. The tired love triangle trope could use a shot in the arm, and we think artificially intelligent machines are just what the robotic overlords ordered.

Pause at: 0:20 for Ironman hologram technology and 0:21 for a robot dog! Stop at 0:26 for Alex’s robot progeny. Meet niece Eva at 1:28. Beyond human at 2:05.

Essential Quote: “It doesn’t really matter if robots feel or not. What really matters is they make you feel.”

The Biopic: Love and Mercy

First of all, Paul Dano looks eerily similar to a young Brian Wilson. Second, is there anyone better to play a doctor who exploits a patient through an abusive relationship than Paul Giamatti? Well, this movie has both of those things! The combination of mystery and tragedy and genius that defines the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson makes him one of the most interesting figures in music history—certainly one deserving of his very own biopic. And Love and Mercy tells his story from the professional boom times of the 1960s through his deeply troubled, but ultimately triumphant, period in the 1980s, with Dano and John Cusack sharing the role of young and older Wilson, respectively.

Pause at: 0:17. Hey look! It’s Brian Wil—oh, sorry. That’s Paul Dano! Some pet sounds at 0:29.

Song: The Beach Boys, “I Get Around” and “God Only Knows”

Essential Quote: “I got different stuff inside me! I gotta get it out.”—Brian Wilson (Paul Dano)

The Arthouse Indie One: Her Wilderness

So here’s a curious little number. This movie’s official description calls it “both wildly operatic and quietly mysterious, while blending memory with fantasy … a portrait of four women wondering just how much power they wield in choosing their next stage in life.” It looks positively Malick-ian in tone, managing to be at once vague, hyper-intimate, and expansive in scope. And here’s the twist, writer/director/editor Frank Mosely has spread the work across multiple platforms, with an interactive online component meant to accompany the feature length film.

Pause at: 0:44, 1:13, 1:34, 1:42, 1:49—yep, that’s about all we’ve got!

Essential Quote: “It’s just funny how it’s so hard to part with something, even when you already know how it’s going to end.”

Looking for alternatives to antibiotics

Bacteria that talk to one another and organize themselves into biofilms are more resistant to antibiotics. Researchers are now working to develop drugs that prevent bacteria from communicating.

The aim is to find alternatives to antibiotics and reduce the number of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

"Understanding how bacteria communicate could provide a new means of controlling them and preventing and treating infectious diseases," says Professor Anne Aamdal Scheie at the Department of Oral Biology at the University of Oslo.

Together with Professor Fernanda Cristina Petersen, Aamdal Scheie is shedding light on one of the most important health challenges facing the world today, namely antibiotic resistance. The researchers believe that understanding bacterial communication has a key role to play in the fight against resistant bacteria.

Organized bacteria

About 80 percent of our infectious diseases are caused by bacteria organized into biofilms.

"Biofilms are found almost everywhere. They are a kind of society in which millions of bacteria work together. Biofilms form easily wherever there are bacteria, moisture and a few nutrients, such as in the mouth, in the intestines, on the skin, on ships, oil rigs, and in machinery and pipes," says Aamdal Scheie.

In good biofilms, such as those on the skin, in the mouth or in the intestines, the bacteria protect us from dangerous intruders.

"We have ten times as many bacterial cells as ordinary cells in our bodies, and we are completely dependent on them to be able to function, but we need them to be in balance. A biofilm that forms in the wrong place, such as in an organ, on an implant or in a wound, can spell trouble. If undesirable bacteria are able to evolve, the situation can become dangerous," says PhD student Ingun Lund Witsø, who works on E. coli bacteria.

More resistant

To form a biofilm, bacteria communicate using various signalling molecules. Within the biofilm, they acquire new properties. They communicate more effectively with one another and exchange information more quickly. In addition, they can switch on and off genes that make them harmful.

"These properties make the bacteria more resistant to antibiotics and to the host's immune response. Certain antibiotics can penetrate biofilms, but their efficacy is usually greatly reduced. We generally need to increase the concentration of an antibiotic 10-1,000 times to get an effect equivalent to that seen in free-floating bacteria," says Aamdal Scheie.

Research groups at the Faculty of Dentistry therefore want to understand how bacteria talk to one another -- precisely to prevent them from communicating and becoming hazardous.

Disrupts communication

In collaboration with Professor Tore Benneche at the Department of Chemistry, the researchers are examining chemical substances that they believe can inhibit or disrupt communication in bacteria. They are particularly interested in a substance called thiophenone.

"Thiophenones are sister molecules of furanones, which are produced by particular marine red algae and which prevent the algae from becoming coated in bacteria. We have replaced an oxygen molecule with a sulphur molecule to create a more potent drug. Our synthetic thiophenones seem able to inhibit a number of bacteria, including E. coli, which is found in the intestines of animals and humans and which can cause disease," says Aamdal Scheie.

The researchers are testing the new group of drugs in transparent worms called C. elegans, in which they can trace the bacteria while infection develops. They do this by feeding the worms with fluorescent bacteria.

"We feed harmful bacteria into the worm's body to induce infection. Then, when we supply the worms with thiophenone, we see that the number of bacteria in the stomach and intestines of the worms decreases. A greater number of the worms survive, and they live longer than those not given thiophenone," says Ali-Oddin Naemi, who is head engineer in Aamdal Scheie's research group.

Some of the drugs affect the microorganisms' ability to form communities. Biofilms become smaller with the use of thiophenone, and genes that contribute to disease are also switched off. Thus thiophenones do not kill the bacteria, as antibiotics do, but instead render them harmless. This means that selection pressure is not applied, and so there is little risk of developing resistance to thiophenones.

"It will be some time before these drugs can potentially be used in humans. Nevertheless, the aim is for thiophenone to be able to replace antibiotics, to work in combination with them or, in some cases, to restore the normal bacterial flora," says Aamdal Scheie.

Editing the DNA

Every year, 25,000 Europeans die from diseases caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Indeed, the World Health Organization believes that current antibiotic usage is the greatest threat facing public health. Norway has been good at keeping antibiotic usage relatively low and has long had a low prevalence of resistant bacteria. However, in a recent doctoral thesis, medic and researcher Jon Birger Haug shows that there has been a marked increase in the use of antibiotics in Norwegian hospitals.

"If we get to the stage where we no longer have antibiotics that work, there will be many types of treatments that we will not be able to perform. Even the simplest operations could become impossible," Petersen says.

While Professor Aamdal Scheie's group have shown that they can influence bacterial communication with thiophenones, Petersen and her group are studying how communication occurs in bacteria by editing the bacteria's DNA.

"In the lab we are trying to crack the code used by the bacteria and work out how they communicate with one another. We are focusing in particular on streptococcus, which accounts for around 40 per cent of the bacteria inside our mouths. By editing bacterial DNA, we can study the effects of signalling molecules and discover new functions. Each new signal can open up novel ways of fighting infections. Part of the battle will also be to recruit good bacteria in the fight against the disease-causing ones. The ultimate goal is to understand the bacteria's ability to communicate and collaborate so that we can use this knowledge to disarm them," says Petersen.