Megacities Might Not Save the Planet After All

You learn to put up with a lot when you live in Mexico State. The electricity is always going out, and there’s never enough running water. Commutes of two to three hours are common. Kidnapping is a booming business, and security is weak. But you decide it’s worth it, because Mexico State is close to Mexico City. And Mexico City is the country’s economic and cultural beating heart.

People in Westchester county feel the same way about New York City. That’s where their jobs are. That’s where they go out. Westchester is expensive, sure, but it’s worth it to have access to New York without, you know, actually having to live in New York. And have you checked out those public schools lately?

Sure, the mansions and parks and well-maintained roads of Westchester are a far cry from the self-built houses and flooded sewers of Mexico State. But they are two sides of the same 21st-century coin: the megacity. New research suggests that only one of them is an environmental disaster—and it’s not the one you think.

Megacities are metropolitan areas with more than 10 million people. The world had 27 of them in 2010; by 2020 it’ll be closer to 40. Megacities encompass the architecturally coherent, energy efficient, culturally vibrant urban cores of New York or London or Tokyo—what we like to think of cities—but they include places like Westchester and Mexico State: the sprawl, the slums, the suburbs, the factories, the ports, and everything else that keeps that central city’s engine running.

In 2010, 6.7 percent of the human beings on Earth lived in a megacity. That number is only going to go up. Those people are going to need resources, and they’re going to generate waste. Christopher Kennedy, an engineer who studies “the metabolism of cities” at the University of Toronto, decided to calculate just how much. It wasn’t easy. Megacities tend to incorporate dozens of municipal governments, each with its own way of providing resources to its residents. Twenty-eight researchers in 19 countries helped Kennedy collect the data about what each megacity consumed and produced in a year, and they’ve published their results today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Here’s what they came up with:

Mega_Cities WIRED

Cities tend to produce more than their per-capita fair share of economic and social activity, but consume fewer resources than you would expect. When it comes to cities, density equals efficiency. Heating an apartment building that houses 100 people requires less energy than heating 100 separate farmhouses, for example. A subway can transport millions of people per day and requires far less energy than the cars it would take to move an equivalent number of commuters. “Many people, including myself at times, have said cities are going to be the saviors to our global environmental challenges because of these efficiencies,” Kennedy says.

But his data tell a slightly different story. Megacities, he found, produce a staggering 15 percent of the world’s GDP. But they also generate 13 percent of the world’s trash, and use 10 percent of its gasoline. If only about 7 percent of the people live there, that’s disproportionately high. (Water use appears impressively efficient, but remember that megacities generally don’t support agriculture.) What happened to all that urban efficiency?

It turns out that while density equals efficiency, “megacity” does not necessarily equal density. Many megacity dwellers live outside those hyper-efficient city centers, Kennedy explains. Look at New York—if you live in Manhattan or parts of Brooklyn and Queens, you’re probably getting around on the subway. But if you live in Westchester, New Haven, or Newark? You’re probably driving your car—maybe not into the city center, but around it. And there are a lot of you. That’s why New York is almost off the chart in its consumption of transportation fuel, despite all its great rail.

Mega_Cities3 WIRED

But not all megacities consume as many resources as New York. Look at the ones clustered at the bottom end of transportation energy use: Mumbai. Karachi. Lagos. Cairo. Delhi. These are also some of the cities that use the least amount of electricity per capita. Unfortunately that’s not because their electrical grids are super-efficient. It’s because not everyone living there has electricity. “There’s huge disparities between the amount of resources being used between the wealthiest megacities and the poorest ones,” Kennedy says. In the latter, the resource inputs aren’t enough to support a basic standard of living for all citizens.

Mega_Cities2 WIRED

Counterintuitively, this might change as these megacities grow. Energy use in megacities tends to grow faster than population does, Kennedy says. As their economies improve, so does their infrastructure, filling in the gaps that so many people previously fell into. Informal settlements become official neighborhoods as citizens demand representation and access to services (a process that has happened over and over in Mexico State).

So while developed-world megacities should consider reining in their gasoline and electricity use—or expanding center-city style efficient infrastructure to the ’burbs—growth (combined with smart policy) may be the answer to developing-world megacities’ woes. Which is good, because if one thing’s for sure it’s that megacities are growing, and they’re not going to stop.

Silk Road Judge Says No New Trial Despite Agents’ Alleged Corruption

Skip to story In this courtroom sketch, courtroom deputy Joseph Pecorino reads the jury's verdict against Ross William Ulbricht, Feb. 4, 2015. In this courtroom sketch, courtroom deputy Joseph Pecorino reads the jury's verdict against Ross William Ulbricht, Feb. 4, 2015. Elizabeth Williams/AP

Just two months after Ross Ulbricht was convicted of running the billion-dollar online black market for drugs known as the Silk Road, he was offered what looked like a slim new hope of a retrial: Charges that two of the agents involved in investigating the anonymous drug market had themselves engaged in massive corruption, including blackmailing Ulbricht and stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars of the site’s bitcoins. But now the judge in the case has made clear that neither those new corruption charges nor a pile of other complaints from Ulbricht’s defense is going to win Silk Road’s creator a second chance at freedom.

In a ruling filed Monday afternoon, judge Katherine Forrest denied a motion from Ulbricht’s defense for a new trial, shooting down a series of arguments made by his defense team. Those arguments had included that the prosecution gave the defense insufficient time to review the evidence in the trial, that warrantless investigative attempts to identify the Silk Road server had violated Ulbricht’s fourth amendment privacy rights, and that new corruption charges against a Drug Enforcement Administration agent and Secret Service agent required a new examination of whether the case had been tainted.

Forrest was utterly unconvinced. “The evidence of Ulbricht’s guilt was, in all respects, overwhelming. It went unrebutted,” she wrote in her ruling. “This motion for a new trial…does not address how any additional evidence, investigation, or time would have raised even a remote (let alone reasonable) probability that the outcome of the trial would be any different.”

Forrest wrote in her ruling that the defense hadn’t proven that it had insufficient time to examine any of the prosecution’s evidence or what significant argument it would have raised had it had the time. And she emphasized that any additional argument would have had to combat the overwhelming evidence of Ulbricht’s guilt, which included the fact that he was arrested with his hands on the keyboard of a laptop full of his recorded chat logs and personal journal from his time running the Silk Road’s massive drug operation. “The Government presented overwhelming evidence of Ulbricht’s guilt. Ulbricht was caught red-handed—logged in and chatting [under his pseudonym the Dread Pirate Roberts] on a personal laptop, which Ulbricht unquestionably owned, filled with Silk Road files,” she writes. “In the face of this mound of evidence, there is no faint possibility, much less ‘reasonable probability,’ that the jury would have reached a different verdict.”

She went on to attack an argument the defense had made against the legality of law enforcement’s investigative techniques. In a motion to suppress evidence and declare a mistrial, the defense had pointed to communications from a Department of Homeland Security agent who had attempted to circumvent the anonymity software Tor used by the Silk Road. But just as in the pre-trial, when the defense made a similar claim about the FBI’s attempts to locate or hack the Silk Road’s server, the judge caught Ulbricht on a technicality: He had claimed no privacy rights to that server. Doing so, after all, would have incriminated him. “Defendant’s pre-trial suppression motion was denied principally on the basis that he had failed to establish a personal privacy interest in any Silk Road servers or the items thereon,” Forrest wrote. “That has not changed: defendant still has not provided an affidavit attesting to his personal privacy interest in the affected servers at the relevant time.”

Finally, Forrest also shot down the defense arguments that the two allegedly corrupt agents in the case had somehow planted evidence or otherwise dirtied the investigation. She pointed out, as the prosecution had done since the allegations against the two agents were first made under seal last year, that the two agents had been part of a separate, Baltimore-based investigation, rather than the New York-based team that had ultimately busted Ulbricht. “The Rogue Agents did not participate in the [Southern District of New York’s] investigation of Silk Road that resulted in defendant’s arrest and indictment, and none of the evidence at defendant’s trial came from the…Baltimore investigation in which the Rogue Agents participated,” she wrote. “That the Rogue Agents may have exceeded the scope of their authority in the…Baltimore investigation does not, in any way, suggest that Ulbricht was not the Dread Pirate Roberts.”

She went on to point out that one of the charges against those agents, the DEA special agent Carl Force, included that Ulbricht had paid him for counterintelligence information about the law enforcement investigation of the Silk Road. Force was, in essence, allegedly working as the Dread Pirate Roberts’ mole inside the DEA. “The investigation of SA Force is, if anything, inculpatory as it suggests that Ulbricht, as DPR, was seeking to pay law enforcement for inside information to protect his illegal enterprise,” she adds.

Ulbricht’s defense team didn’t immediately respond to WIRED’s request for a comment on the judge’s ruling.

Forrest’s decision against Ulbricht’s call for a new trial is perhaps no surprise. It comes after no less than five other calls for a mistrial from Ulbricht’s defense, all of which she rejected. The defense has nonetheless vowed to appeal the case, a decision that will fall to a panel of three appellate court judges. Ulbricht was convicted in February of all seven counts against him, including narcotics trafficking and money laundering conspiracies, and even a kingpin charge usually reserved for mafia dons and drug cartel leaders. He faces sentencing on May 15th, though his defense has asked for that date to be delayed to better argue against the prosecution’s calls for a life sentence.

The criminal case against Carl Force and the allegedly corrupt Secret Service agent Shaun Bridges, meanwhile, will continue to proceed in the Northern District of California, where charges were filed against them late last month. But regardless of those two agents’ guilt or innocence, it seems Ulbricht’s own guilty verdict is now one step closer to finality.

Here’s the judge’s full ruling:

Forrest New Trial Denial

Valve Nixes Paid Skyrim Mods After Huge Backlash

Skip to story Modders are a little upset at Valve and Bethesda's decision to introduce a payment system for Skyrim mods. Some are responding with satirical mods of their own.Modders were a little upset at Valve and Bethesda's decision to introduce a payment system for Skyrim mods. Some responded with satirical mods of their own. Nexus Mods

Last week, Valve announced that creators of game mods would be able to sell their creations on its Steam service. It didn’t expect the huge backlash, from players and modders alike. On Monday, it pulled down the feature entirely.

“The Steam Workshop has always been a great place for sharing mods, maps, and all kinds of items that you’ve created,” the original announcement read. “Now it’s also a great place for selling those creations.”

Fast forward to this week: “We understand our own game’s communities pretty well, but stepping into an established, years old modding community in Skyrim was probably not the right place to start iterating,” Valve wrote. “We think this made us miss the mark pretty badly, even though we believe there’s a useful feature somewhere here.”

“Even though we had the best intentions, the feedback has been clear—this is not a feature you want,” wrote Bethesda on its blog.

The Price of Change

Since its 2011 release, Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has developed an incredibly robust moddding community. User-generated modifications have taken Bethesda’s original design all kinds of different, unexpected places, from overhauling its graphical capabilities to rebuilding the entire worlds of the previous Elder Scrolls games within the Skyrim engine.

User-created mods can be more painstakingly elaborate, and more worthwhile, than even the downloadable content that publishers like Bethesda create to modify their own games. If those modders could sell their work, Bethesda says it believes it would spur them to create more and better mods, which would result in a win for the publisher, Valve, the modder and the players.

But what happened instead was that threads on Reddit, NeoGAF, and the Steam Workshop forums filled up instantly with angry users, calling the move “anti-consumerist” and “unbelievably sad.”

A petition calling for Valve to remove the pay-for-mods system quickly garnered more than 130,000 signatures. Valve boss Gabe Newell even took to Reddit to address the controversy directly and “to make sure that if people are pissed off, they are at least pissed off for the right reasons.”

Those reasons are manifold. Many think that the profit-sharing model is unfair to modders. In the case of Skyrim, 75 percent of the profit from a mod’s sale was split between Valve and Bethesda, with only 25 percent making its way to the mod creator’s pocket.

Some contrasted this unfavorably to Apple’s App Store, in which content creators receive a 70 percent share. But Valve’s cut, just like on iOS, was indeed only 30 percent. The game’s publisher determines how much it wants to skim off the top. In this case, Bethesda’s 45 percent seemed excessive to players and modders.

But for some purists, the issue wasn’t about percentages—it was about money entering the equation at all.

“This is ridiculous. They expect me to shell out money for mods that were previously free, for a 4 year old game? Fuck that,” said one commenter.

“My hobby is being ruined right before my eyes. So many wasted years,” said another. Modding is traditionally a community-driven hobby in which passionate gamers to build additional content as a labor of love, some argue, and locking mods behind a paywall goes against that spirit.

The Skyrim mod "Give Me Money For No Reason" adds a "well-dressed" beggar outside your city.The Skyrim mod “Give Me Money For No Reason” adds a “well-dressed” beggar outside your city. Nexus Mods

It didn’t take long for modders to start putting their complaints into—you guessed it—mods. One Skyrim mod uploaded over the weekend adds “Gaben Trolls” with the visage of Newell into the game, with dollar signs over his eyeballs.

Another more subtle satire is “Beth the Beggar,” a character that will sit around your game and ask for money “for no reason.”

“She actually seems to be pretty well-off already, based on her expensive clothes and jewelry,” reads the mod’s description, “but rain or shine you can find her out there begging for more money with a smile on her face.”

The Power of Mods

Mods can do things that traditional developers often are not able to. Mods aren’t subject to quality assurance standards from publishers or console makers. QA isn’t a bad thing, but it can hamstring the development of fixes if said fixes only work for most users, not all. This is how some gifted modders can push out bug fixes for games like Deadly Premonition in less than 24 hours after the game is released.

On the other hand, traditionally, paid downloadable content from a publisher has traditionally meant a higher standard of quality. One of the caveats of playing with mods is you know that you might break your game by doing so. When it’s free (and unauthorized), who cares? But when money enters in to the equation, players have higher standards.

When the first paid mod popped up on Steam last year, a $7 Portal 2 mod called Aperture Tag, it was flooded with negative reviews. Many objected to the fundamental idea of paying for a mod, but the biggest complaint was that it was not worth the money. People said they would have been perfectly happy had the mod been free, but that it wasn’t worth shelling out cash for.

In the mod community, many mods use and rely on the framework, scripts, and assets of other mods. SkyUI, for example, overhauls the clunky standard Skyrim user interface, but it also provides a framework that many other mods are built upon. Under the new system, SkyUI became a paid mod, which means future free mods that would normally rely on its framework would have required you to pay for SkyUI before you could use them.

In response to these possible implications, some modders formed a “Forever Free” movement, “a public promise that that content is here to stay, and will never disappear behind a paywall. Fellow modders may feel safe in the knowledge that that work is safe to build on, and players have a guarantee that they will never be asked to pay for future expansions, bug-fixes, or premium content.”

On Monday, Bethesda posted a passionate defense of the program on its blog.

“We believe most mods should be free,” the Skyrim maker wrote. “But we also believe our community wants to reward the very best creators, and that they deserve to be rewarded. We believe the best should be paid for their work and treated like the game developers they are.”

Bethesda noted that only eight percent of Skyrim players have ever used a mod, and it wants that percentage to increase. “[Valve] presented data showing the effect paid user content has had on their games, their players, and their modders. All of it hugely positive. They showed, quite clearly, that allowing content creators to make money increased the quality and choice that players had.”

Even amidst all of the backlash, some modders did out in favor of—or at least not completely damning the idea of—paid mods.

“I’m all for it,” wrote Garry Newman, creator of the popular physics sandbox Garry’s Mod, which originated as a mod. In a blog post, he wrote, “I sold a mod once and everyone was angry that it was happening, until it happened and they got a much better product than they’d have gotten when it was released for free, then they seemed to calm down a bit.”

The iPhone Is Now Crazy Popular in China, Too

Skip to story Workers set up a giant advertisement for Apple's iPhone 6 in Beijing. China. Workers set up a giant advertisement for Apple's iPhone 6 in Beijing. China. Ng Han Guan/AP

As expected, Apple is smashing records again. The world’s most valuable company sold a whopping 61 million iPhones during its second fiscal quarter compared to 42.7 million phones from the same period a year ago, according to Apple’s latest earnings report released today. Most importantly for Apple’s future, a big chunk of those sales were to customers in China, which has now surpassed Europe as Apple’s second-largest market.

Apple reported $13.6 billion in profit and $58 billion in revenue, handily beating both its own guidance for the quarter—between $52 billion and $55 billion—and Wall Street’s expectation of $56.1 billion. Of that $58 billion, $16.8 billion came from sales in the greater China region, according to the company—a 71 percent year-over-year increase. Sales in Europe were $12.2 billion.

“We’re seeing a higher rate of people switching to iPhone than we’ve experienced in previous cycles,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook during the company’s earnings call this afternoon. Cook called this latest report Apple’s best March quarter ever.

Big, Bigger, Biggest

In keeping with an ongoing trend, iPad sales were lukewarm; Apple moved 12.6 million units, which represented the smallest piece of the Cupertino company’s revenue pie this quarter at $5.4 billion—a decline in sales of nearly 23 percent. On the other hand, Apple did sell a respectable number of Macs even as PC shipments continue to slide industry-wide, a boost likely helped by the release of new MacBook Airs and the MacBook Pro in March. The company sold 4.6 million Macs, 11 percent more than it sold in the same period last year. Notably, this segment produced a seemingly less impressive 1.8 percent increase in revenue for Apple, but this could change in the next quarter if the new Retina-screened Macbook takes off.

Another surprise tidbit during the earnings call was Cook’s revelation that Best Buy would begin to accept Apple Pay, the company’s mobile payments service, in-app as of today, and that retail stores would be fully equipped to support Apple Pay later this year. The electronics chain was a known member of MCX, the consortium of top US retailers that had been planning to roll out its own mobile payments system, called CurrentC, sometime in 2015. Last year, some members of the coalition actively blocked the use of Apple Pay in their stores in anticipation of CurrentC’s arrival, but later eased up as Apple Pay’s popularity has grown.

With another quarter gone by, Apple is dominating on almost all fronts—smartphones, computers, and mobile payments. Not to mention that this quarter was too early to start counting Apple Watch sales. Apple is big. But with the world’s largest country now showing a surging appetite for its products, “big” may soon take on a whole new meaning.

Google Wants to Buy Your Patent to Keep It Away From Trolls

The US patent system isn’t just broken. It’s being abused to curb innovation, handicap inventors, and redirect company resources toward pointless and lengthy litigation.

Now, Google says it has a new idea for fixing the mess. Today the search giant unveiled a program it’s calling Patent Purchase Promotion, a new marketplace where patent holders are invited to tell Google about patents they’re willing to sell, at a price they themselves have set. The marketplace will be open from May 8 to May 22, according to the company, and Google will let submitters know whether it’s interested in purchasing their patents by June 26, with most payouts happening by late August.

“Unfortunately, the usual patent marketplace can sometimes be challenging, especially for smaller participants who sometimes end up working with patent trolls,” wrote Allen Lo, Google’s deputy general counsel for patents, in a blog post announcing the program. “Then bad things happen, like lawsuits, lots of wasted effort, and generally bad karma. Rarely does this provide any meaningful benefit to the original patent owner.”

The program is geared toward companies, but Google intentionally left participation requirements open so that individual inventors could also take part, Kurt Brasch, a senior patent licensing manager at Google, wrote in an email to WIRED.

Opening the Process

The patent landscape has long been fraught with dysfunction. Some firms tangle themselves up in patent wars, filing suits against each other ostensibly over the right to push the limits of innovation. But it can often seem like the end goal is merely to hamstring the competition or make massive amounts of money through litigation rather than actually making something.

Then there are the “trolls”—typically shell corporations that don’t actually make or sell anything—who seek to enforce patents they own. Inventors, whether they work within companies or independently, have to navigate this minefield of ill-intentioned players when thinking about creating new technologies. Firms and activists, meanwhile, hope to avoid having valuable patents fall into the hands of the trolls. For Google, offering to buy patents first before the trolls have a chance to snag them makes sense as a company with the ability and desire to put them to use.

It’s good for everybody to know what Google finds out. Adi Kamdar, EFF

But the process could also offer Google other advantages as a kind of market research. The company could find out what good patents are out there and what their holders think they’re worth. Google’s open-submission approach would seem to be a novelty in the arena of protective patent-buying. Yes, there are patent management firms like RPX, which buys up patents defensively so they can’t be used as ammunition in the patent wars. But the process of how these companies acquire new patents—and for how much—tends to be hidden from the public.

For that matter, Google itself would not say exactly how much it will reveal about the results of its own experiment, or how open it will be about what it does with the patents it acquires. Whatever its goals, the company is in a unique position to reach out to patent holders both large and small. The more interesting question, however, is how well the end result of the program will align with Google’s famous corporate motto: “Don’t be evil.”

The Week in Trailers: The Little Prince Will Make You Weep

Tomorrowland is the major contender in this week’s trailer roundup, but if you ask us, the emotional standout is The Little Prince. Ex Machina also stepped back into the ring this week with yet another pulse-pounder, which is a little weird since our overall impression of the movie was more “thoughtful” than “high octane.” But it wasn’t just new trailers for known properties this week, either. Johnny Depp’s fantastic-looking crime thriller Black Mass finally stepped onto the scene, and we’ve got a host of sci-fi thrillers and creeptastic horror entries to round out the bunch. Oh, yeah, and M. Night Shyamalan showed up with something that doesn’t look completely horrible. Rejoice! Because every edition of trailers is the first day of the rest of your life.

The One More People Should Talk About: Tomorrowland (Above)

Tomorrowland has rolled out story details very gradually, keeping a lot of mystery in tact. This latest trailer keeps with that trend, but is much more action-oriented than its predecessors. Men with guns! Or are they robots?! Explosions! So much running! It’s not that we don’t like a new look at the movie, but it feels like someone said “Guys, we really need to upsell this one. Give the people some more red meat to chew on!” Are they worried that people are losing interest? Are people losing interest? Are we just over-reacting? This movie looks really good, and it’s an original fantasy story with a major budget, so we really hope it turns out well.
Pause at: 1:20 and 1:31 for explosions and future tech. At 1:32 and 1:54 we’ve got a robot problem.
Essential Quote: “When I touched this pin I saw this place, someplace amazing, and it felt like anything was possible.”—Casey Newton (Britt Robertson)

The One You Wish Everyone Would Talk About: The Little Prince

Wow. This is adorable! It looks touching and wondrous and unique and the voice cast is incredible, including Jeff Bridges, Mackenzie Foy, Rachel McAdams, James Franco, Marion Cotillard, Benicio del Toro, Paul Giamatti, Paul Rudd, Budd Cort, Ricky Gervais, and Albert Brooks. Like we said: Wow! The stop-motion animation adds to the already high level of charm. Even though they’ve got a tall order here in satisfying legions of people grew up with The Little Prince, it looks like director Mark Osborn (Kung Fu Panda) is up to the challenge.
Pause at: 0:48, 0:54, 1:08, 1:13, 1:46, 1:52, 2:00, 2:15, and 2:28 for so many sentimental tears.
Song: Gabrielle Aplin, “Salvation”
Essential Quote: “What is essential is invisible to the eye.”—The Fox (Franco)

The Biopic One: Black Mass

Helloooooo, Mr. Depp! It’s been a long, long time since we saw Johnny Depp in a role that let him stretch his legs as a real, live actor, but this biopic about the real live—and real dangerous—gangster Whitey Bulger looks like the picture to put him back in the credibility conversation. This clip is mostly just intense, but it’s entirely effective. The story is set in the 1970s when an FBI agent convinces Bulger to partner with the Bureau to take down the Italian mob—the shared enemy of the state and Bulger, and Irishman. Obviously, Bulger took advantage of the situation and things spiraled out of control. Also, this cast is unreal: Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Dakota Johnson, Peter Sarsgaard, Jesse Plemons, Corey Stoll, Rory Cochrane, Sienna Miller, and Adam Scott. Please be amazing!
Pause at: 0:53, 0:57, and 1:53 for an Oscar-worthy makeunder.
Essential Quote: “‘Just saying’ gets people sent away. ‘Just saying’ got me a nine-year stretch in Alcatraz. You understand? So, ‘just saying’ could get you buried real quick.”—Whitey Bulger (Depp)

The AI One: Ex Machina

Ex Machina has gotten another trailer to herald its wide release into theaters, and this one takes a different approach from the others, using the words of real-life tech luminaries and legends to scare the hell out of us about AI. We can’t say we disagree! If Ava marched through our doors tomorrow, it’s 99 percent certain she’d either be able to persuade us into giving her whatever she wanted, or she would just kill us and take it. In case you haven’t made up your mind yet: Go see Ex Machina!
Pause at: 0:20, 0:48, 1:02, 1:17, and 1:50 for humanity’s final invention.
Essential Quote: “Caleb, you have to help me.”—Ava (Alicia Vikander)

The Sundance One: The Overnight

Here’s a fun one. Of all the so-called “sex comedies” at Sundance this year, Overnight managed to be the warmest. Taylor Schilling, Adam Scott, and Jason Schwartzman (and even the mostly unknown Judith Godréche) were unsurprisingly hilarious and possessed of a fantastic on-screen chemistry, but it also had a lot of heart. Schilling and Scott are a married couple recently relocated to Los Angeles, and Schwartzman and Godréche are the seasoned neo-hippy locals. A welcome-to-the-neighborhood evening starts as a play date for the kids, but turns into a majorly adult affair once the little ones are put to bed. To explain any of what happens would rob you of the gleeful surprises peppered throughout the movie. But we feel confident saying you’ll have a lot of fun.
Pause at: 0:30. This hat is so right. Note the closeness at 1:00.
Song: Pearls, “Big Shot” and Northeast Party House, “The Haunted”
Essential Quote: “Give me 20 minutes and I will give you parental bliss.”—Kurt (Schwartzman)

The Scary One: The Visit

All right, all right. We’ve got a lot of mixed feelings about this one. Scratch that, we’ve got one mixed feeling: This movie looks great, but it’s written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Four years ago, that might not have been such a damning assessment, but thanks to a string of insultingly bad movies (The Happening, The Last Airbender, After Earth), the would-be man of mystery’s goodwill is pretty well spent. However, this trailer looks genuinely scary, and presents better material in two minutes than any of his last three movies did across their entire cumulative run time. Two kids are off to spend the weekend and grandma and grandpa’s house, but it looks like their kindly relatives have some huge secrets they’re keeping. Who knows what the twist will be, because there’s always a twist, but this movie looks damn scary.
Pause at: 1:00, 1:16, 1:19, 1:24, 2:01, 2:04, and 2:08 for all kinds of messed up.
Song: Fiona Apple and Jon Brion, “Everyday”
Essential Quote: “Bedtime here is 9:30. It’s probably best you two shouldn’t come out of your room after that.”—Grandpa (Peter McRobbie)

The Action One: Yakuza Apocalypse

Pause at: 0:12, 0:29, 0:45, 0:52, 0:53, and 0:58 for a bunch of stuff!
Essential Quote: ?

The Alien One: Area 51

The first rule of Area 51: Don’t break into Area 51! If what you think is being kept under wraps behind its walls is actually there, then you are definitely not equipped to deal with it! Now, this project was initially announced back in 2009 and it was supposedly almost finished in 2011. When movies get hung up in turnaround for, you know, years, it’s typically a bad sign. But, hey, aliens and horror and Area 51? We’ll turn out for that.
Pause at: 1:07, 1:15 for scary non-alien things. Then stop at 1:35, 1:37, 1:43, 1:58, 2:04, 2:10, 2:23, 2:30, and 2:33 for scary, probably alien things.
Essential Quote: “I didn’t think it was actually gonna get this far. Are you really ready for the consequences?”—Fred (Michael Caine)

The Off-World One: Infini

Sometimes you just need a B-level science fiction thriller featuring the third Hemsworth brother, you know? A search and rescue team is sent to the Infini mining facility to save the only survivor of a biological outbreak. We foresee things falling apart very quickly.
Pause at: 0:24, 1:12, 1:25, 1:33, and 1:40 for extra terrestrial zombie disease horrors.
Essential Quote: “I promise you I will come home.”—Whit Carmichael (Daniel MacPherson) with those famous last words

The Thriller One: Estranged

Families are a bitch, am I right?
Pause at: 0:29 for totally normal unfrightening people. Right? Mom is packing at 0:51. More completely non-threatening lovely parents at 1:05. 1:29 is so gross.
Essential Quote: “We are your family. You don’t need anyone else.”—Albert (John Cosmo)

The Teen Comedy One: Barely Lethal

What more could you want from a frivolous action comedy? Hailee Steinfeld, actress and delightful young woman, is a teen assassin named Megan who’s been raised to be one thing: a weapon. Her trainer is Samuel L. Jackson (obviously); her arch-rival is Sophie Turner, and Jessica Alba is her nemesis. Are we having fun yet? When Megan realizes she’s missing out on having an actual life she fakes her own death after a mission and takes the identity of Canadian exchange student. Her host mom is played by Rachael Harris and the boy she will probably eventually learn to love is played by Thomas Mann, who’s oh so hot right now with the festival success of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Steinfeld had a respectable Sundance as well, appearing as a pregnant teen in Ten Thousand Saints, and she’s about to go boffo with Pitch Perfect 2. For as much as we’ve seen Hailee around and as much as she’s been working since her breakout in True Grit, she’s still been a little under the radar since Ender’s Game. But with two releases coming up next month, we are fortunately going to be swimming in Steinfeld soon enough. It’s gonna be May.
Pause at: 0:06 and 1:25 for girl power. Oh, hey there Steve-O at 1:41. Glam squad Sophie Turner at 1:52. The usual at 1:58.
Song: Tod + Teufel feat. St. Pauli, “Kapitel 6″ and Machine 22, “A Million Things”
Essential Quote: “Mission high school was a Go.”—Megan (Steinfeld)

Overstock Files to Offer Stock That Works Like Bitcoin

Patrick Byrne, CEO and chairman of Patrick Byrne, CEO and chairman of Joe Pugliese/WIRED is one step closer to offering a new kind of stock intended to remake the stock market in much the same way the bitcoin digital currency remade our money system.

On Friday, the Salt Lake City-based online retailer filed a prospectus with the Securities and Exchange Commission that indicates it may issue up to $500 million in stock or other securities using technology akin to the online software system that underpins bitcoin. “We may decide to offer securities as digital securities…the ownership and transfer of which are recorded on a cryptographically-secured distributed ledger system using technology similar to (or the same as) the distributed ledger technology used for trading digital currencies,” the filing reads.

This past summer, Overstock’s free-thinking CEO, Patrick Byrne, said that the company was hoping to issue a “cryptosecurity” using bitcoin-like technology, and he hired both the developers and the lawyers needed to do so. Now, he and his company have taken the idea to government regulators. As Byrne puts it, he’s calling on the SEC to “sprinkle holy water” on his push towards digital securities. “This is a decision point for the establishment,” he says.

Byrne hopes to offer stock that's controlled not by a central stock exchange such as the NYSE or the NASDAQ, but by a network of machines spread across the internet.

Basically, Byrne hopes to offer stock that’s controlled not by a central stock exchange such as the NYSE or the NASDAQ, but by a network of machines spread across the internet—machines outside the control of any one central authority. Using cryptographic algorithms, these machines would mathematically verify all trades and record them in an online ledger that anyone could examine at any time, much as the worldwide bitcoin network verifies and records the exchange of money. Byrne and Overstock have long complained of loop holes in our existing stock markets, and he believes that technology can help shore up these holes.

“The prospect of using a blockchain-like public ledger to hold securities or other assets is quite exciting and one that should be explored,” says James Angel, a professor of finance at Georgetown University who specializes in the details of the U.S. financial system. “This will make a great test case as to whether it really works or whether it will suffer Mt. Gox-like problems.” Mt. Gox is the popular bitcoin exchange that descended into bankruptcy after hackers broke into its online system and eventually made off with the equivalent of $460 million in bitcoin.

A Free Market

Last year, Overstock became the first major online retailer to accept payments in bitcoin. Like so many others, Byrne argues that the digital currency can free our economy from the grip of big banks and big government. Now, he’s bringing this same attitude to stocks. His project is just one of many that seek remake the stock market using bitcoin technology, such as NXT, Mastercoin, Bitshares, and Counterparty. At one point, Overstock hired some of the primary developers behind Counterparty, but these engineers have since left the company.

On Friday, Overstock filed what is called a “shelf registration.” Basically, this would allow the company to sell any kind of security—common stock, preferred, debt, warrants, etc.—if and when it chooses to. Such filings are not uncommon–though this one is unusual in that it says the company could issue the securities in digital form.

According to Overstock’s filing, the company would offer its digital security through what’s called an alternative trading system, or ATS. This is essentially a stock market alternative that must be registered with the SEC. Overstock would have to make arrangements with an existing ATS or somehow create a new one. It must also answer any SEC objections from the SEC.

Initially very few shareholders will choose to hold their shares in digital form because of the technological uncertainty. James Angel, Georgetown

Georgetown’s Angel expects the SEC to approve the filing, but he says this may take a while. “The SEC staff in corporate finance is notoriously risk averse when it comes to new technology, so they may delay things for a long while and request lots of additional disclosures,” he says. “[But] the parade of horribles in the disclosure is very complete, so I would think that it would get approved eventually.”

Angel adds, however, that if Overstock does offer a digital security, he expects few investors to take advantage of it—at least initially. “My own prediction is that initially very few shareholders will choose to hold their shares in digital form because of the technological uncertainty. Investors tend to be very risk averse about things such as custody,” he says. To succeed, he says, such an offering must have proper regulatory oversight by the SEC and carry insurance from an organization such as the SIPC.

The SEC declined to comment on Overstock’s filing. But according to Byrne and company spokesperson Judd Bagley, Overstock expects the SEC to open a review of the filing. Byrne has an unusually combative history with the SEC, but he says that he intends to take a more diplomatic route towards a cryptosecurity. Of the filing, he says, “I wouldn’t have taken all the time and trouble and expense to do this if I didn’t plan on using it someday soon.”

‘Mad Men’ Recap: Children of All Ages

Seeing Mad Men through its ads: Every week, WIRED takes a look at the latest episode of Mad Men through the lens of the latest media campaign by advertising agency Sterling Cooper & Partners.

At Sterling Cooper, having fun is now mandatory. Attempting to cast a kids’ commercial with non-actors, Peggy and Stan have gathered a group of young hopefuls and provided them with a table full of Play-Doh, Slinkys, and assorted other geegaws. “I’m giving you permission to play with all these great toys!” Peggy chirps. “Do what you’d do if we weren’t watching.” The children, however, aren’t buying what she’s selling. They sit there silent and sullen until Stan takes charge, asking a kid how far he can throw a ball, which the boy promptly lobs past Peggy’s head.

But before that happens, Peggy comes up with a plan of her own. “They all have their own toy,” she observers. “If we want enthusiasm, we should just have one toy.” “Like a battle royale,” Stan deadpans back. “Just throw it in there and the last kid standing gets the gig.” “It would work,” Peggy insists.

She’s got a point. Directed by Mad Men alumnus Jared Harris (aka the late great Lane Pryce, whose boyish Mets pennant currently adorns Don Draper’s office wall right next to Gene Draper’s crayon scribbles), “Time and Life” is all about the flurry of frantic, enthusiastic activity that can result when people are forced to fight over dwindling resources. Unfortunately for the firm, things go no better than they would have if Peggy and Stan had forced five kids to do battle for a single Hula-Hoop.

John Slattery as Roger Sterling and Christina Hendricks as Joan Harris.John Slattery as Roger Sterling and Christina Hendricks as Joan Harris. Courtesy of AMC

The trouble begins when Roger discovers that someone, somehow, neglected to renew SC&P’s lease on their two-floor office in the Time-Life Building. This was no oversight, but rather part of parent mega-agency McCann Erickson’s plan to absorb their previously independent operation into the main entity. Four of the five partners left standing—Roger, Joan, Don, and Pete—dread the loss of clients, employees, and autonomy sure to accompany the move. Only Ted, who’s become something of a house cat since his relationship with Peggy, his time in California, and his marriage all went up in smoke, welcomes the chance to ensconce himself comfortably in a company he doesn’t have to run. Still, he’s nothing if not a team player, so the fab five present a united front against absorption.

And while kids’ stuff bedevils Peggy, it presents Don with an opportunity to save the firm from oblivion. When his goofy rival Lou Avery quits the company in order to move to Japan and develop a children’s cartoon based on his chimp-in-the-military comic-strip concept Scout’s Honor (“They made Speed Racer, Don!”), it leaves SC&P’s West Coast satellite office vacant. If they can persuade the clients they’d otherwise have to drop due to conflicts at McCann to stay with them, Don argues, they can move to California, set up shop in a smaller, cheaper building, and earn their owners money while saving them rent.

But McCann’s not interested, and its head honcho Jim Hobart lets them know in the most shocking way possible: He interrupts a Draper Pitch, which is to Mad Men what the Red Wedding was to Game of Thrones. He sees the move as a reward, not a punishment. Indeed, he rattles off a list of clients he’ll be giving to the Sterling Cooper crew that the smaller agency would have killed for in any of its many incarnations. This includes the mother of them all, Coca-Cola; to continue talking in GoT terms, this is like giving Don Draper a flock of dragons and telling him to go seize the Iron Throne, and the moment is no less exciting. “It’s done,” he tells them. “You passed the test.”

That childlike metaphor has extra resonance for Pete, who’d come to this meeting straight from a disastrous one with the headmaster of a prestigious day school into which Pete’s daughter has failed to gain admittance. The official excuse is that she flunked the “draw a man test,” producing only a head, mustache (“mustache?” Pete asks, suddenly curious about how his ex-wife Trudy’s been spending her nights), and necktie instead of a full figure. But it turns out that this, as well as a subsequent story about being turned off by Trudy’s arrogance, is all a smokescreen for the real reason: an absurd grudge that Headmaster McDonald bears against Clan Campbell over a 300-year-old massacre in Scotland. Pete, cold-cocks the guy. Boys and their toys, folks.

2a4a4b9a-4de6-ef6d-1cae-0e8f51461d4d_MM_711_JM_0508_0314Justina Mintz/AMC

The timing of the move is exquisitely poor for Peggy as well, given her task of casting those kids. Stan’s constant ribbing about how bad she is with children and a blow-up with an obnoxious stage mother (“You do what you want with your children, I’ll do what I want with mine!”) provide painful reminders of the baby she gave up for adoption at precisely the moment when, facing a future as a cog in the McCann Erickson machine, the value of the trade-off is easy to question. Ultimately she stands up for herself and her decision, but anyone who’s found their professional and personal lives in conflict will recognize her sensitivity and self-doubt even as they’re overcome.

b3c88d0c-1762-82f9-fe57-7efbd75c5619_MM 711 Pete PeggyCourtesy of AMC

Her superiors at work have all made similar sacrifices, but the majority of them are currently maintaining some kind of balance. After a beery send-off to the old firm, the partners go their separate ways—Pete to comfort Trudy, Ted to see the old college girlfriend with whom he’s reunited, Joan to a date with her apparently very serious long-distance boyfriend Richard, and Roger to a liaison dangereuse with Don’s former mother-in-law Marie Calvet. All a drunken Don can do is attempt to track down Diana, the forlorn diner waitress who’d previously left him a message she then instructed his answering service to delete. Instead he finds a gay couple who now live in her old apartment, and who, despite the younger half’s obviously propensity for infidelity, still have a happier home life than he does.

a Mintz/AMCJustin Mintz/AMC

The next day, Roger and Don attempt to put a positive spin on the merger at a companywide meeting, but their employees see right through it; they don’t even stay long enough to hear the end of the spiel. That’s the second time Don’s failed to sell his most important product: the agency built on his genius. He and the other partners are left alone in the crowd, losers in the proverbial battle royale. His lover, his furniture, his apartment, now his company: Mad Men’s final episodes are stripping Don down piece by piece. You can’t take your ball and go home if you’ve got no home to go to.

Swirly Stained Glass Made Out of…Melted Gummy Bears?

Artisans in ancient Mesopotamia discovered colored glass when rogue chemicals snuck into the firing process. In the Middle Ages, manufacturers of stained glass created an array of colors by applying metal oxides to glass and setting them on fire.

These gorgeous light boxes were made with melted gummy bears.

Marta Alonso Yebra discovered the unlikely technique in 1998, when she was an architecture student in Madrid. She had to design a temporary pavilion for an architecture competition in Germany and faced a touch challenge: The structure needed to allow a view from within, but the staging area for student designs was an all-white room. She had to figure out how to build a pavilion that either had windows or was transparent, but that wouldn’t get washed out against the white backdrop.

She decided to “build a wall full of colors.” But building with colored glass was impossible because “we didn’t have the tools or skills.” Yerba considered melting plastic to replicate stained glass, but she worked in a cramped space and couldn’t risk hot-boxing it with the toxic fumes that often coat plastic.

“I tried to think of every material we could find in ordinary life that wouldn’t be toxic,” she says. One day, by total chance, she was snacking on gummy bears. “I realized, wait: This is very beautiful, and it’s similar to plastic, but we can eat it. I was sure if I melted it, it wouldn’t be toxic.”

Most gummy bears are made of corn syrup, sugar, dextrose, and gelatin (sugar-free gummies use a hydrogenated syrup called Lycatin). It was a perfect cocktail of ingredients for creating gooey tie-dye that became rigid again as it cooled. Yerba and her colleagues melted gummies by the potful, dribbling the goo into glass cases to create color gradients and splotchy patterns. She experimented with cooking her own dyed gelatin, but prefers brand names. “Haribo—I don’t know why, but the German guys are doing it the best—works really, really well,” she says. Plus, “it smelled terrific.”

Years after creating the student pavilion, Yebra was still obsessing over the material. She’s even dabbled in painting with melted gummy bear pigments. Eventually she returned to a more architectural form: light boxes.

She and her design partner Imanol Caldéron Elósegui, who work together as Mayice design studio, have spent five years crafting a series of thin square-foot metal boxes with gummy bear-infused glass fixtures. In essence: They boil down pots of gummies—Yebra says each piece requires about two pounds of bears, or about six standard bags of Haribos—and drip different colors into the glass case, creating a marbled effect. Even after it settles, Yebra says there’s a fruity aroma.

The designer hopes to someday create an entire wall or even a building using the melted snacks, in which case we can think of the light boxes as small-scale prototypes or bricks hinting at a much larger ambition. “It’s completely possible,” she says. “I’m working with a glass company and they think it would be really amazing to have a room where the floor and the falls were white floors, and in the middle as a divider you have this wall made by the colored glass.” Until then, Mayice will be showing the light boxes this May at Wanted Design, during ICFF in New York.

How The NY Times Is Sparking the VR Journalism Revolution

Skip to story A scene from "Walking New York"—a VR experience on the creation of the latest New York Times Magazine cover. A scene from "Walking New York"—a VR experience on the creation of the latest New York Times Magazine cover. courtesy VRSE

Street artists normally work in the shadows. But on April 11 French artist JR threw up a new stunning piece right in the heart of Manhattan in broad daylight. His handiwork was removed within 24 hours, which means like many of the magical moments that happen in New York City, you probably missed it. But hey, that’s okay—you can relive it in virtual reality.

JR’s piece—a 150-foot-tall black-white-grey image of a 20-year-old Azerbaijani immigrant named Elmar Aliyev pasted onto the sidewalk in front of the Flatiron Building—was created for the cover of Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. The publication commissioned the artist to create the piece, as well as photograph it from a helicopter’s-eye-view. The magazine captured the entire enterprise for a VR experience it’s releasing today at its NewFronts presentation.

“Quite apart from the virtual reality part of it, this cover was wildly ambitious and kind of insane,” says Times Magazine editor in chief Jake Silverstein. “We took a photograph, pasted it on the ground, flew up in a helicopter, and took a picture of it. Part of me thought, ‘Nobody’s going to believe that we did that.’ They’re going to think it’s Photoshop or something. It was a wonderful opportunity to use VR to transport a reader not to a place that’s unattainable—because this is just right in the middle of Midtown Manhattan—but to a time, a time that is now lost.”

The cover of the New York Times Magazine on Sunday.The cover of the New York Times Magazine on Sunday. courtesy New York Times Magazine

If you want to watch “Walking New York” yourself, and have Google Cardboard or another mobile VR solution, you can access it through the app for VRSE, the outfit that produced the video. The experience won’t reach the millions of people that the Times does, but being backed by the paper of record is a huge step for what is still a medium in its infancy.

In the last two years, VR has been touted as the future of a lot of things: videogames, filmmaking, gender-swapping. Now, the Times Magazine is showing what it can do for journalism. It’s a small step, sure, but Silverstein says it’s also a test case for what’s possible when it comes to actually bringing people into news stories. “We’ve been excited to try to figure that out,” he adds. “You can imagine the ways in which VR can really amplify some of the work we do—particularly with international reporting.”

A lot of the questions about the importance of VR for journalism go back to empathy—the current buzzword in VR filmmaking. Taking a page from Roger Ebert’s assertion that a movie is an “empathy machine,” people excited about VR’s storytelling potential like to point out that nothing will make a person more empathetic to a protagonist than virtually living in their world. So when that protagonist is actually a resident of a war-torn country, say, or protester in the streets, that potential for empathy is quite sizable. Even Oculus VR Palmer Luckey alluded to this just last week, telling WIRED “because virtual reality has the ability to put you in places in a much more real way, it has the potential to be a much better canvas.”

Chris Milk gets this. Not only is his company VRSE the one that the Times Magazine tapped to make the VR experience for its cover—the experience will also be released on his VRSE app—he’s done this before. Earlier this year he released a collaboration with Vice and director Spike Jonze that allowed viewers to experience the Millions March in New York in late 2014. Around the same time he also released a piece he did with the United Nations called “Clouds Over Sidra,” which followed a 12-year-old Syrian girl’s life at a refugee camp in Jordan.

“VR is such a fascinating medium for journalism because two huge factors of VR are the feeling of transporting you to some place,” Milk says, “and secondarily, but just as importantly, connecting you to the people inside of that place.”

Not that we can start sending out journalists with VR filming rigs tomorrow. For one, not everyone has the eight-custom-cameras-and-binaural-microphones rigs that Milk uses. (His company is working on that, though.) There’s also a huge learning curve for those who want to know how to make VR (obvi), and the audience is still limited. (“One of the challenges of VR is that the delivery of it to a user can be challenging and there are so many friction points there,” Silverstein says.) Then there’s the fact that news and journalism moves a lot faster than VR production. “The timeline on this has been a little bit insane,” Milk says somewhat ruefully.

But former Newsweek reporter Nonny de la Peña is already using VR to show reconstructions of the Trayvon Martin shooting and has said the platform “will be a common part of how journalists make stories in the future.” The Columbia Journalism Review even calls VR “the next frontier” for newsrooms that “need to consider telling stories in a different way.”

Just as young people in journalism school five years ago learned that Twitter was important to reporting, soon enough they might be learning how to film with a 360-degree camera. The same goes for documentary filmmakers. “As these younger journalists are coming out of J-school they’re all learning how to use every single way of telling and reporting stories,” says Rebecca Howard, the Times’ head of video. “They are coming out excited to get their hands on any way they can to tell stories and technologies to do it.”

But that’s the future. For right now it’s about what we can do with the tools we have. And it’s not so bad. Watching the VR experience for the Times Magazine cover is cool not just because it’s beautiful and arty, but also because it takes you up in a helicopter and hangs you out a window of the Flatiron Building itself. It’s short, sweet, and hypnotic. But what does JR think of his work going virtual?

“It’s magic,” he says. “I try to use virtual worlds to bring people into action in the real world. I hope that this film will show ‘Whoa, the fun part of that image is making the image.’ Hopefully we can get people to make their own.”

To put it another way, VR is great—especially when it gets you out into the world around you.

Researchers Plan to Demonstrate a Wireless Car Hack This Summer

110918861 Pawel Gawul/Getty Images

A note of caution to anyone who works on the security team of a major automobile manufacturer: Don’t plan your summer vacation just yet.

At the Black Hat and Defcon security conferences this August, security researchers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek have announced they plan to wirelessly hack the digital network of a car or truck. That network, known as the CAN bus, is the connected system of computers that influences everything from the vehicle’s horn and seat belts to its steering and brakes. And their upcoming public demonstrations may be the most definitive proof yet of cars’ vulnerability to remote attacks, the result of more than two years of work since Miller and Valasek first received a DARPA grant to investigate cars’ security in 2013.

“We will show the reality of car hacking by demonstrating exactly how a remote attack works against an unaltered, factory vehicle,” the hackers write in an abstract of their talk that appeared on the Black Hat website last week. “Starting with remote exploitation, we will show how to pivot through different pieces of the vehicle’s hardware in order to be able to send messages on the CAN bus to critical electronic control units. We will conclude by showing several CAN messages that affect physical systems of the vehicle.”

Miller and Valasek won’t yet name the vehicle they’re testing, and declined WIRED’s request to comment further on their research so far ahead of their talk.

Academic researchers at the University of Washington and the University of California at San Diego demonstrated in 2011 that they could wirelessly control a car’s brakes and steering via remote attacks. They exploited the car’s cellular communications, its Wi-Fi network, and even its bluetooth connection to an Android phone. But those researchers only identified their test vehicle as an “unnamed sedan.”

Miller and Valasek, by contrast, haven’t hesitated in the past to identify the exact make and model of their hacking experiments’ multi-ton guinea pigs. Before their presentation at the Defcon hacker conference in 2013, they put me behind the wheel of a Ford Escape and a Toyota Prius, then showed that they could hijack those two vehicles’ driving functions—including disabling and slamming on brakes or jerking the steering wheel—using only laptops plugged into the OBD2 port under the automobiles’ dashboards.

Some critics, including Toyota and Ford, argued at the time that a wired-in attack wasn’t exactly a full-blown hack. But Miller and Valasek have been working since then to prove that the same tricks can be pulled off wirelessly. In a talk at Black Hat last year, they published an analysis of 24 automobiles, rating which presented the most potential vulnerabilities to a hacker based on wireless attack points, network architecture and computerized control of key physical features. In that analysis, the Jeep Cherokee, Infiniti Q50 and Cadillac Escalade were rated as the most hackable vehicles they tested. The overall digital security of a car “depends on the architecture,” Valasek, director of vehicle security research at security firm IOActive told WIRED last year. “If you hack the radio, can you send messages to the brakes or the steering? And if you can, what can you do with them?”

Miller, who aside from his car hacking work holds a day job as a senior security engineer at Twitter, did offer what might be a hint of their target in a tweet last week:

Jeep, after all, received the worst security ratings by some measures in Miller and Valasek’s earlier analysis. It was the only vehicle to get the highest rating for “hackability” in all three categories of their rating system. Jeep-owner Chrysler wrote last year in a statement responding to that research that it would “endeavor to verify these claims and, if warranted, we will remediate them.”

Valasek and Miller’s work has already led to serious pressure on automakers to tighten their vehicles’ security. Congressman Ed Markey cited their research in a strongly-worded letter sent to 20 automakers following their 2013 presentation, demanding more information on their security measures. In the responses to that letter, all of the auto companies said their vehicles did have wireless points of access. Only seven of them said they used third parties auditors to test their vehicles’ security. And only two said they had active measures in place to counteract a potential digital attack on braking and steering systems.

It’s not clear exactly how much control Miller and Valasek have gained over their target automobile’s most sensitive systems. Their abstract hints that “the ambiguous nature of automotive security leads to narratives that are polar opposites: either we’re all going to die or our cars are perfectly safe,” and notes that they’ll “demonstrate the reality and limitations of remote car attacks.”

But in a tweet following the announcement of their upcoming talk last week, Valasek put it more simply:

“[Miller] and I will show you how to hack a car for remote control at [Defcon],” he wrote. “No wires. No mods. Straight off the showroom floor.”

You Can Fiddle With Your BMW or Porsche From an Apple Watch

Automakers are jumping on the Apple Watch app wagon.

This is to be expected. After all, it’s common to see luxury cars connected to the cloud through iOS and Android apps that let you do things like unlock your ride, keep track of routine maintenance and even find the damn thing in the parking lot. Everyone from Alfa to Volvo offers smartphone apps these days.

But the Apple Watch shipped Friday, providing a new platform for the tech-obsessed (and the automakers eager to woo them) to embrace. And so Porsche and BMW released Watch apps that keep the well-heeled from having to dig out their phones to make sure they locked the car.
P15_0489_a5_rgb_inline Porsche

The Watch apps offer much the same functionality as smartphone apps, but from your wrist. Porsche’s Car Connect lets owners track travel time, distance driven, average speed and fuel use. It’ll also alert you if the doors are unlocked, or the drop-top is down. It even lets you fold in the exterior mirrors from afar, because why not? Owners of plug-in hybrid Porsches (yes, they exist, and they’re pretty sweet, actually) can track the car’s state of charge and turn on the climate control to cool (or warm) the interior while the car’s still plugged into the wall.

Wondering how much gas you’ve got in the tank? Or the best route back to your car in an enormous parking lot? Want to flash the lights? Done. Just check your wrist and fiddle with that cool Digital Crown. It’s pretty much the same story and features with the Watch app BMW’s got, but that one’s limited to the electric i3 and (amazingly awesome) plug-in hybrid i8.

Knowing how much gas you’ve got left in your Porsche 911 or how much juice is in your i8 is all fine and well, but if the automakers wanted to make their Watch apps truly helpful, they’d have them warn you when Johnny Law is closing in…

Turns Out Satellites Work Great for Mapping Earthquakes

Skip to story Satellite radar image of the magnitude 6.0 South Napa earthquake.Satellite radar image of the magnitude 6.0 South Napa earthquake. European Space Agency

The Nepal earthquake on Saturday devastated the region and killed over 2,500 people, with more casualties mounting across four different countries. The first 24 hours of a disaster are the most important, and first-responders scramble to get as much information about the energy and geological effects of earthquakes as they can. Seismometers can help illustrate the location and magnitude of earthquakes around the world, but for more precise detail, you need to look at three-dimensional models of the ground’s physical displacement.

The easiest way to characterize that moving and shaking is with GPS and satellite data, together called geodetic data. That information is already used by earthquake researchers and geologists around the world to study the earth’s tectonic plate movements—long-term trends that establish themselves over years. But now, researchers at the University of Iowa and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have shown a faster way to use geodetic data to assess fault lines, turning over reports in as little as a day to help guide rapid responses to catastrophic quakes.

Normally, earthquake disaster aid and emergency response requires detailed information about surface movements: If responders know how much ground is displaced, they’ll know better what kind of infrastructure damage to expect, or what areas pose the greatest risk to citizens. Yet emergency response agencies don’t use geodetic data immediately, choosing instead to wait several days or even weeks before finally processing the data, says University of Iowa geologist William Barnhart. By then, the damage has been done and crews are already on the ground, with relief efforts well underway.
The new results are evidence that first responders can get satellite data fast enough to inform how they should respond. Barnhart and his team used geodetic data to measure small deformations in the surface caused by an 6.0-magnitude quake that hit Napa Valley in August 2014 (the biggest the Bay Area had seen in 25 years). By analyzing those measurements, the geologists determined how much the ground moved with relation to the fault plane, which helps describe the exact location, orientation, and dimensions of the entire fault.

Then they created the Technicolor map above, showing just how much the ground shifted. In this so-called interferogram of the Napa earthquake epicenter, the cycles of color represent vertical ground displacement, where every full cycle indicates 6 centimeters (e.g. between every green band is 6 cm of vertical ground).
According to the Barnhart, this is the first demonstration of geodetic data being acquired and analyzed the same day of an earthquake. John Langbein, a geologist at the USGS, finds the results very encouraging, and hopes to see geodetic data used regularly as a tool to make earthquake responses faster and more efficient.

Barnhart is quick to point out that this method is only meant for moderate earthquakes (between magnitudes of 5.5 and 7.0). Although the Nepal earthquake had a magnitude of 7.8, over 35 aftershocks continued to rock the region, including one as high as 6.7 on Sunday. The earthquake itself flattened broad swaths of the capital city of Kathmandu, and caused avalanches across the Himalayan mountains (including Mount Everest), killing and stranding many climbers. But the aftershocks are stymieing relief efforts, paralyzing citizens with immobilizing fear, and creating new avalanches in nearby mountains.

It’s also worth remembering that the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti—and killed about 316,000 people—had a magnitude of 7.0. Most areas of the world, especially developing nations, aren’t equipped to withstand even small tremors in the earth. It’s those places that are also likely to have fewer seismometers, making the satellite information even more helpful.

As the situation in Nepal moves forward, the aftermath might hopefully speed up plans to make geodetic data available just hours after an earthquake occurs. Satellite systems could be integral in allowing first responders to move swiftly in the face of unpredictable, unpreventable events.

Google Faces Enormous Forces In Fight Over the Future of Android

Google and its Android mobile phone operating system are facing an antitrust investigation in Europe. But the roots of the probe stretch across the Atlantic and well into the past.

In 2010, enterprise software giant Oracle sued Google over the way Android made use of the Java programming language. Oracle had assumed control of Java a year earlier, after purchasing one-time tech powerhouse Sun Microsystems, and its suit claimed that Google had infringed on Java-related patents and copyrights. But the case turned up documents that would help spark a very different investigation in the Europe.

The trial revealed various contracts in which Google required phone makers to bundle certain Google services when using its Android operating system, such as Google Search, Google Maps, and the Google app store (a.k.a. Google Play)—and bundle them at the expense of other services from third parties. These contracts—which had been discussed in the press and behind closed doors for years—became the basis for an antitrust complaint brought to the EU by FairSearch, a consortium of companies that includes Oracle, Microsoft, Nokia, and many others, alleging that Google’s Android practices are anti-competitive.

“One way in which this case was helped forward was the trial between Oracle and Google,” says Dieter Paemen, a Brussels-based lawyer with the multi-national law firm Clifford Chance, who represents FairSearch and was part of the team that filed the complaint in the EU. “The core evidence comes—originally—from there.”

Paeman and FairSearch filed their complaint in April 2013. A Portuguese company called Aptoide lodged an additional complaint more than a year later. And this month, the European Commission announced that it’s opening a formal investigation into Android, indicating that it’s probing the kinds of contracts that surfaced during the Oracle trial.

Google denies any wrongdoing. “Anyone can use Android without Google and anyone can use Google without Android,” a company spokesman tells us. “Since Android’s introduction, greater competition in the smartphone market has given consumers more and better choices.” And it points out that the United States Federal Trade Commission and the Korean Fair Trade Commission have examined Google’s agreements around Android and did not sanction the company.

Nonetheless, enormous–and enormously complex—forces that have gathered against Google in Europe. The ties to the Google-Oracle only begin to show the scope of this battle. As the commission investigates Android—nudged by Oracle, Microsoft, Aptoide, and others—it has issued a formal statement of objections against Google’s search practices, which could lead to penalties against the company later this year. A much longer list of rivals, including many of big German online publishers as well as U.S companies such as a Yelp, Expedia, and TripAdvisor, are pushing for changes in other Google services that threaten the core of Google’s mobile business model. And the various threads running through these cases reinforce each other in so many ways.

It’s the EU’s biggest antitrust action against an American tech company since it levied charged against Microsoft and its Windows operating system in 2000, which eventually resulted in huge fines for the company and notable changes to its technology. This time, the tables have turned, but the case is playing out in similar ways. Like the Microsoft case before it, the Google Android case is about bundling applications with an operating systems (though the arguments are somewhat more complicated because Android is open source). And according to some, it could also result in large fines or remedies or both.

It’s telling that before serving the Microsoft-backed coalition that brought a complaint against Google, Paeman was part of the legal team that fought against Microsoft the last time around. At one point, he fought against Microsoft on behalf of Oracle. This time around, many of the positions have changed. But the stakes are just as high. And the forces are just as strong.

‘The Android Case Is More Conventional

The EU’s search case is closer to completion. After five years of investigation and a formal statement of objections, the commission could issue a remedy by the end of the year. But according to Paul Lugard, a Brussels-based antitrust lawyer with the multi-national firm Baker Botts, who has no connection to the many companies involves in this legal melee, the Android case may be the greater threat to Google. “The competitive harm is a little bit easier to establish than in the search case,” he says. “The Android case is more conventional.”

American regulators haven’t pursued action against Google in this area, but as Lugard says, the burden of proof in such cases isn’t as high in Europe as in the U.S. “The process in Europe is more formalistic and less economics-effects driven than in the U.S,” he says. In other words, the EU doesn’t have to work as hard to show that consumers and competitors have been harmed.

Because the commission has now opened a formal investigation—after a long informal investigation, so to speak—the chances are good that regulators issue a statement of objections involving Android, according to Lugard. It should be noted, however, the search case dragged on for five years before a formal statement of objections arrived.

The End Result

The search case—and the Java trial in the States—have also shown that Google’s rivals are intent on fighting for remedies for years on end. At one point, the search case seemed close to a settlement, but many Google competitors continued to push for something more. And many of the same names are behind the push against Android, including Microsoft, Oracle, and Foundem, the tiny UK company that filed the first search complaint against Google.

The forces mounting against Google are sometimes difficult to understand. What is Oracle’s interest in services bundled on Android? It’s a company that sells databases and computer servers. But these forces are enormous, and whatever their motivations, their case—as Lugard says—has some teeth to it.

What is the end result? If the commission does crack down on Android, we may see a large fine against the company, Logan says. Or we may see a dissolution of those Google contracts with handset makers. That may be the biggest threat to Google. Googles doesn’t make money from Android. It makes money from the ad-driven services that run atop the OS. And with Oracle, Microsoft, and so many others pushing so hard, those services may lose at least part of their foothold.

Location Is Your Most Critical Data, and Everyone’s Watching

164945796 Jasper James/Getty Images

A few years ago, one foolproof way of saving the battery on you phone was to turn off GPS. You didn’t really need it. At most, it was an added convenience in a few apps.

But it’s time to turn GPS back on. Your location has become one of the best things about your phone, your smartwatch, and every other connected device you carry. Our tech is learning to adapt to us, nestling into every aspect of our lives so it is more responsive, more useful, and more intuitive. This is awesome, and it’s happening because of three things: location, location, location.

Your phone’s ability to pinpoint your exact location and use that info to deliver services—a meal, a ride, a tip, a coupon—is reason for excitement. But this world of always-on GPS raises questions about what happens to our data. How much privacy are we willing to surrender? What can these services learn about our activities? What keeps detailed maps of our lives from being sold to the highest bidder? These have been issues as long as we’ve had cellphones, but they are more pressing than ever.

Follow Me

One frigid and rainy winter day in New York City a few months ago, I sat in Foursquare’s SoHo office as CEO Dennis Crowley drew dots on a whiteboard. He was explaining Foursquare’s “shapes,” the polygonal map of the world Foursquare has built to accurately and automatically locate you. It uses GPS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth to determine where you are, then maps your coordinates and sensor readouts to a real place. (There really is good reason your phone tells you to leave Wi-Fi on to improve location accuracy.) Through years of recording this data alongside check-ins, Foursquare can figure out whether you’re inside the coffee shop or just walking by, or whether you’re on the first floor or the seventh. It doesn’t need you to input where you are; it already knows, and can offer you tips, deals, and ads to match. Foursquare is as much a data company as a mayor-maker now.

I moved to San Francisco three weeks ago, and Foursquare’s invisible tracking beam has been an amazing asset for learning the city. When I walk into a new restaurant, my phone dings with a suggestion for something to try. When I get off the Muni (inevitably in the wrong place because SF’s public transit system is a nightmare hellride of trains that never go where they’re supposed to), a Foursquare notification offers a couple of places nearby where I might drown my sorrows in a beer. I’m never stuck, even when I’m lost.

Imagine life without Tinder's deity-like knowledge of who's both ready to hook up and only half a mile away.

Apps used to just provide a record of your whereabouts alongside a photo or a check-in. Now, they’re using your location to tailor the experience not just to you, but to right now. Dark Sky, a terrific weather app for iOS, sends you a notification if it’s going to rain—and tells you how long it’ll be until the first drops fall on your head. If you fire up Snapchat at Coachella, you’re going to get different filters and different content, and it’s going to be about indie rock, EDM, and casual drug use. Oh, and try to imagine life without Tinder’s deity-like knowledge of who’s ready to hook up and only half a mile away.

“Context is the new black,” says Aparna Chennapragada, head of product for Google Now. The app, built into Android phones, probably is the best example thus far of the power of location: It can do things like dig up your boarding pass when you get to the airport, or remind you about your meeting at exactly the moment you need to leave. “In the past, in the desktop-web world, If I wanted to know something, I’d actually have to go spell the damn thing out,”Chennapragada says. You go to, type in a bunch of keywords, “and then there’s a bunch of links and potentially some useful information that I have to wade through.” But Google found that users have certain needs at certain times. And they’re pretty predictable. When you’re at the airport, you’re probably looking for a terminal map, flight times, or a place to eat. When she was at Disney World, Chennapragada remembers wanting to know what rides to go on, “so I don’t get FOMO. But what are the wait times? How do I make the decisions on what to do next?” Rather than make you dig for that information, Google Now just shows it to you.

The whole goal of Android Wear or the Apple Watch is to quickly offer information you need, without making you bury your face in a screen for minutes at a time. These quick bursts of useful info appear on the screen automatically. They are the interface. Collecting contextual data like location lets Google, Apple, and others figure out what you’re likely to need right now, and deliver it to you front and center.

Powerful location-tracking also is unlocking entirely new kinds of tech. Detour, the new audio-tour app from Groupon founder Andrew Mason, uses your location to lead you on a walk through San Francisco literally step by step, building by building.

“We have Detours where you’re walking past a fish shop,” Mason says, “and we want to tell you in the two seconds, the three-meter width as you’re going past the fish shop, to look at the turtles.”

The difference between that and museums, where you walk up to the painting and press a button to hear its story, is the difference between location today and location only a few years ago. “Other than being practical,” Mason says, “it’s just this surreal, magical thing—you’re still aware of the fact that you’re interacting with a robot, and it must’ve known, somehow, exactly where you were. It feels very cool.” Hours before we spoke, I was standing on top of a bank building in San Francisco’s financial district, in a secret garden Detour’s narrator had led me to through hidden doors and shopping malls. It really does feel like magic.

Retracing Steps

Location-tracking lets developers build fast, useful, personalized apps. They’re enticing, but they come with tradeoffs: your gadgets and apps maintain a log of where you’ve been and what you’re doing, and more of them than you think are sharing that data with others.

It’s going to advertisers, mostly, so they can lure you into the Starbucks a block away or the merch tent at Coachella. It’s as creepy as any other targeted marketing, but most of us have come to accept that it comes with the territory. Jennifer Lynch, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says it goes deeper. Your data might get sold to your credit reporting agency, which wants to know more about you as it determines your credit score. It might go to your insurance company, which is very interested in your whereabouts. It might be subpoenaed by the government, for just about any reason. Maybe none of that is happening. Maybe all of it is. There’s really no way for us to know.

Your gadgets now keep a log of where you've been, and more of them than you think are sharing that data with others.

“This information is all collected and stored by a third party,” Lynch says, “and once the third party has the data, as the user you don’t have any control over it.”

Lynch is careful to say this is hardly a new problem. In fact, your phone’s been tracking you for as long as you’ve had a phone—and your data’s been all too accessible most of that time. “Law enforcement agencies send subpoenas to cell service providers and try to get access to this information,” she says, “which they collect just as a byproduct of offering service.” They don’t need a warrant, either. “And of course that information is incredibly revealing,” she says. Combine it with the other data we’re storing in the cloud, she says, and there’s little left to the imagination. “It reveals not just where you are, but what you’re thinking about, whether you’re at the doctor’s office, who you’re with.”

A 2010 Wall Street Journal report found that more than half of popular apps were storing and sharing your information, sometimes to many sources at once. More recently, a Carnegie Mellon University study found users’ locations were captured hundreds of times a day, as many as 5,000 times in two weeks. Personally, I have an ESPN soccer app that asks for my location, vaguely threatening to withhold match highlights without it. SoundHound wants to know where I am so it can tell me exactly which coffee shop I was in when I first heard that new Earl Sweatshirt jam. Dropbox, too, for some reason that has to do with uploading photos and locations and other things that make no sense. Your location is valuable data, both to the app makers and to the people who pay them for it.

Regulators and consumers are starting to make noise about this, seeking a stricter standard for collecting and sharing your data. In a few states, law enforcement must now have a warrant to access your phone’s location data. But the short version of the story is this: Your exact location is being recorded and stored. It’s happening frequently, and by many sources, including a bunch you wouldn’t expect. And there’s almost no way for you to know what happens next.

So do we fry the GPS chip, turn off Location Services, and give up on some of the coolest, most personal tech currently available? Probably not. After all, it never stopped us from buying phones in the first place. And it’s allowing us to develop more intimate relationships with our tech. But just as we’ve learned to be careful about where we store photos, and where we share personal information, we’re going to need to start being more careful about who we trust to follow us wherever we go.

Game of Thrones Recap: A Wedding and Some Funerals

Spoilers for the third episode of Season 5 of Game of Thrones follow, obviously.

We’ve reached a fascinating point in the Game of Thrones television series: Not only is the show departing dramatically from the plot of George R. R. Martin’s books, but they’re starting to catch up to them, and even move beyond them. Throughout this season I’ll be dissecting the changes between the show and the books, and I’ll do my best not to spoil any important plot points. But remember: We’re entering thorny and uncharted territory here, where we won’t always know what a spoiler really is—or what the “real” story is.

This week, there’s a wedding, talk of more weddings, and plenty of deaths as power shifts in both King’s Landing and the North.

GOT_503_Margaery Helen Sloan/HBO

Cersei and Margaery

The bells ring out over King’s Landing, as the day that Cersei dreaded finally arrives: the wedding of Tommen and Margaery. There’s a sick look on her face as she rides in her litter to the Sept, listening to the people cheer. Is she thinking about the prophecy of the beautiful young queen who will cast her down? By contrast, Margaery’s face is all triumph as she turns to the crowd after the ceremony. It only took three tries and two dead husbands, but she did it: She’s finally Queen. She wastes no time in consummating the marriage, and sweet, pliable young Tommen couldn’t be wrapped around her finger any tighter. “I think we’re going to be very happy, you and I,” she tells him as they lie in post-coital bliss. After marrying a gay man and sociopath, she’s finally got something to work with here.

But then, of course, the real work begins. “It’s so wonderful to have [Cersei] watching over you, a lioness guarding her cub,” she says, gently emasculating her child-husband. When he insists that he’s a man now, she chides him that so long as Cersei is in King’s Landing, “you’ll always be her baby boy.” Cut to Cersei and Tommen walking arm in arm down the ramparts of the castle, as Cersei takes her own turn throwing shade at her son’s new wife. “Do you think she’s intelligent?” she asks. “I can’t quite tell.” Tommen starts to ask whether Cersei wouldn’t be happier back in Casterly Rock, and Cersei isn’t having it—but she knows exactly who planted the idea.

Cersei goes to visit her new daughter-in-law, only to be greeted with more insults disguised as courtesies: “What’s the proper way to address you now, Queen Mother or Dowager Queen?” Margaery asks when her mother-in-law pays a visit, noting that thanks to Tommen’s sexual enthusiasm, “the Queen Mother will be a Queen Grandmother soon.” Margaery’s knives are palpably sharper now that she’s been crowned. She isn’t afraid anymore, perhaps isn’t even cautious.

The religious subplot continues as the High Septon—who is basically the Pope of the Faith of the Seven—gets interrupted in the middle of roleplay session at Littlefinger’s brothel involving prostitutes dressed as the Seven. It’s the Sparrows again, who drive him into the street naked shouting about blasphemy and beat him with sticks. By the time he makes his way back to the Small Council, he’s demanding that Cersei throw the Sparrows in the Black Cells and execute their leader.

Instead, Cersei goes to visit the High Sparrow herself, a humble man serving soup to the poor and walking barefoot. Instead of executing him, she tells him that she’s imprisoned the High Septon instead. Smiling a dangerous little smile, she says that the Faith and the Crown are the two pillars of society, and naturally they “must do everything necessary to protect one another.” Sounds like there might be a price for her sudden piety. I wonder what it could be?

In the books: Cersei gets super drunk at the wedding. Also, Margaery and Tommen don’t consummate the marriage because Tommen is about nine years old, though Margaery does endear herself to him in other ways, like giving him three kittens named Lady Whiskers, Boots, and (yup) Ser Pounce. Although little Tommen is never in a position to try and send Cersei anywhere, we learn via Ser Kevan that Tywin was planning to send her back to Casterly Rock before his untimely death.

There’s no indication that the High Septon engages in any type of sexual misconduct, and Cersei never imprisons him, though she does find her own way to remove him from power. Not only had he been appointed by Tyrion, but he heard Lancel’s confession about sleeping with Cersei, and it is implied that she orders him killed.

arya-2 Macall B. Polay/HBO


Now an acolyte at the House of Black and White, Arya is tired of constantly sweeping floors, and wants to get to the cool shit. “You said you’d teach me how to be a Faceless Man!” she complains. Jaqen asks if he really needs to explain the whole “valar dohaeris” thing to her yet again. “All men must serve. Faceless Men most of all.”

He serves a supplicant a cup of water, and then the man quietly bows at the feet of a statute. There are icons of many gods within the House, both old and new: the Drowned God, the Lord of Light, a Heart Tree, and what I think are the Weeping Lady of Lys, the Lion of Night, and the Black Goat. But according to Jaqen, all gods are just facets of the Many-Faced God, the singular deity that claims dominion over all men. “A girl knows his name,” says Jaqen. “All men know his name.” Whatever god the characters of this show have claimed to serve, it is the one their actions have served the most. Arya watches as a man who drank a cup of water sprawls out dead on the floor, his eyes open and empty.

Later, a young girl comes in, and asks Arya who she is. When she says “no one,” the girl hits her with a stick. It escalates until Jaqen walks in, and says that Arya’s not ready to play “the game of faces.” When Arya insists that she is, Jaqen asks whose sword, whose clothes, whose silver she’s carrying. “How is it that ‘no one’ came to be surrounded by Arya Stark’s things?” And so Arya wraps them all up in heavy stones and throws them into the water—all but Needle, the last relic of her former life. In the end, she hides it in a pile of rocks. She still isn’t no one—not yet.

In the books: It is not Jaqen, but a priest known as “the kindly man” who trains Arya. The girl Arya meets is known in the books as “the waif,” a woman who looks like a child but is actually 36 years old. Rather than attacking each other, Arya and the waif teach each other their languages—the Common Tongue and Braavosi.


Winterfell is a different place these days, festooned with the Bolton banners of the flayed man. Ramsay Bolton (er, Snow) has come back from tax-collecting with more flayed bodies, and his dad sighs, because what are you gonna do with kids these days? “We can’t hold the North with terror alone,” he lectures. They had a pact with Tywin, but he’s dead, and Lannister power is both on the decline and thousands of miles away. If the North turns on them—say, because they are constantly murdering people in terrible ways—they’ll be on their own. The best way to strengthen their hold on the North isn’t murder, but marriage. And Lord Bolton has found the perfect girl.

Smash cut to Sansa! Yes, Littlefinger is taking her back to her childhood home, which is currently occupied by the man who stabbed her brother to death, and a dangerous sociopath who castrated her foster brother and hunts women for sport. The plan is to marry her to Ramsay, allowing the Boltons to secure the North—and giving Littlefinger a Northern ally in whatever long game he’s currently playing. When Sansa arrives, all of House Bolton is waiting to greet her in Winterfell, in a sick subversion of the scene from the first episode of the show, when her family greeted the Baratheons. Even Ramsay is on his best behavior. Seriously though: It’s hard to believe Littlefinger would actually turn Sansa over to the one guy in the Seven Kingdoms who’s more sadistic than Joffrey and then just peace out.

Littlefinger gives Sansa a whole speech about how she’s been a passive bystander to the tragedies of her family, that it’s time to stop running and start taking control. Which is all well and good, but I’m not sure how being traded like a piece of chattel to the people who murdered your loved ones qualifies as taking control of your life? He does mention something about Sansa “avenging” her family, so maybe there’s a more insidious plan at work. Since this entire plotline is almost entirely new, who can say? Maybe Sansa poisons them all at her own wedding feast, and then her direwolf comes back from the dead and jumps through a window and lands by her side, and everyone cheers and high fives and crowns her Queen of the North as she dropkicks Ramsay’s head into a ditch. We’re off book here, people. Anything is possible.

In the books: Again, Sansa never leaves the Eyrie, at least so far. Instead, Lord Bolton marries Ramsay to a girl that they claim is Arya Stark—but is really Jeyne Poole, Sansa’s one-time best friend from Winterfell. The false Arya scheme is contrived by Littlefinger to help the Boltons, but with the full knowledge of the Lannisters, who seem pleased to help their Northern allies.

brienne-pod Helen Sloan/HBO


But Sansa and Littlefinger haven’t arrived in the North alone; Brienne and Pod watch them pass by Moat Cailin from a distant cliff, though Brienne isn’t worried about tracking them. “I know where they’re going.” After they make camp for the night, they end up trading origin stories: Pod was originally a squire to a knight during the War of Five Kings who got drunk and stole a ham, and split it with Pod. The knight was hung for theft, but Lord Tywin heard Pod’s family name—he’s related to Ser Ilyn Payne, the mute executioner—and sent him to squire for Tyrion instead. Pod tells Brienne he’s proud to squire for her too, that she’s the best fighter he’s ever seen. Softening a bit, Brienne agrees to finally start teaching him how to use a sword.

When he asks how she became part of Renly’s Kingsguard despite not being a knight, she tells the story of a ball her noble father once threw her as a girl in hopes of finding her a match. Instead, it became one of those stories of feminine humiliation that haunts girls for their entire lives, when the boys turn it into an elaborate prank on her. But when she tried to run away in shame, Renly took her in his arms and danced with her instead—and none of the other boys could say a word against the dashing young brother of the King. She says that he saved her from being a joke, but that she couldn’t save him—though she still plans to avenge him. She remembers the face she saw on the living shadow that killed him; she knows his name. “Stannis is a man, not a shadow,” says Brienne. “And a man can be killed.”

In the books: Brienne never finds Sansa, at least she hasn’t in the books so far, and has no reason to go North. Instead, she wanders around in the Riverlands, seemingly forever. Although Renly did show Brienne kindness at a dance in their youth, there was no unusually cruel game going on at the time. She does deal with her share of false suitors at other points, however, including an incident at a camp where the knights made a wager about who could take her virginity.


The road to Volantis grows tedious for Tyrion. “I can’t remember the last face I saw that wasn’t yours,” he tells Varys. Despite the price on Tyrion’s head—and the fact that he is very visually distinct—Varys tires of his complaints and agrees to let him wander on the streets of Volantis, where he encounters a red priestess speaking of a new savior anointed by the Lord of Light: “From the fire, she was reborn to remake the world.” Their next stop is a brothel, where they discover that the influence of the Dragon Queen extends not only to priests but also prostitutes, who are making a killing by cosplaying as Daenerys in brothels.

Tyrion introduces himself to a prostitute who seems jealous of the attention the cut-rate Khaleesi is getting, and charms her by insisting that queens aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. When the woman agrees to sleep with him, however, he finds that he simply … can’t. “Believe me, no one is more shocked than I am,” he laments. He leaves to take a piss into the sea, and quickly learns that his plan to be famous, drunk, and reckless in a huge city with a price on his head was not actually a very good one when Jorah Mormont sneaks up behind him and takes him captive. “I’m taking you to the Queen,” says the dishonored knight. I think we’re supposed to wonder whether he’s taking Tyrion to Cersei or Daenerys, but c’mon—have you met Jorah? He’s taking him to Daenerys.

In the books: Although Tyrion sets out for Volantis—with a whole other cast of characters I believe the show is cutting—he gets kidnapped by Jorah before they reach the city, in a town called Selhorys. Tyrion originally goes to the brothel there drunkenly looking for his lost love Tysha, although he has no problem having sex with the prostitutes.

gameofthrones15_49 Helen Sloan/HBO


After much consideration, Jon gives his answer to Stannis: Even though he spent his entire life dreaming about being Jon Stark, he can’t claim his father’s name and help Stannis retake Winterfell because of honor and vows and also honor. Basically, he can’t become a Stark because he is already Starking too hard. Stannis, who has started gazing at Jon like the son he never had, leaves with grudging respect, after warning Jon to deal with the Wildlings and ship his enemies at Castle Black off to distant, frozen places.

When he’s back with his men, Jon announces that someone needs to dig a latrine, and Allister Thorne braces himself for vengeance. Instead, someone else gets poop duty and the fair-minded Jon names him First Ranger instead. The loathsome Janos Slynt doesn’t fare quite so well; Jon decides to send him to Greyguard, one of the abandoned castles not currently garrisoned by the dwindling Night’s Watch.

Slynt—who once commanded the City Watch of King’s Landing and played a major role in putting Ned Stark’s head on a pike—does not react well to this, and tells Jon where he can stick his orders. What would Eddard Stark do? I think we know.

The new Lord Commander tells his men to take Janus outside. They bring out a chopping block, and at first Janus seems convinced that this is some sort of Scared Straight exercise, talking smack about his powerful friends and how he’s not afraid. But as Jon unsheathes his sword and things get realer, fear finally finds him. He says he was wrong, that he’s been afraid his whole life, and begs for mercy. Jon hesitates a moment—and then cuts off his head anyway. On a distant rampart, Stoic Stepdad Stannis nods approvingly.

In the books: Allister Thorne isn’t named First Ranger; instead, Jon sends him ranging beyond the Wall to get him out of his hair. Also, Jon originally orders that Slynt be hung, but then changes his mind and decides to dispense justice the Ned Stark way.