The 10 Most Googled People of 2018 (Who'd You Look Up?)

There’s perhaps no better log of what’s on your mind than your browser search history. (Who hasn’t deleted their search history on a shared computer?)

It stands to reason, then, that getting a window into our collective psyche is as simple as perusing Google’s list of most-searched terms of the year. Google recently released The Year In Search–a comprehensive breakdown of everything we searched for this year, organized by category.

So what was on our minds in 2018? When it comes to people, these individuals were. Don’t worry–if you don’t know one … I Googled it for you:

10. Cardi B

American rapper whose standout hits include Bodak Yellow and this year’s breakout, I Like It, which currently has 674M streams on Spotify and counting. 

9. Stormy Daniels

Her legal name is Stephanie Clifford, and she is an American stripper, porn star, and director who got into a legal battle with Trump and his lawyer Michael Cohen this year. Trump and company paid Daniels $130,000 to stay quiet about an affair she says had with Trump in 2006.

8. Hailey Baldwin

Daughter of Stephen Baldwin, she’s a model and TV personality who married Justin Bieber this year. While legally married, the couple has yet to stage a large-scale wedding with family and friends.

7. Brett Kavanaugh

A polarizing figure, Kavanaugh was appointed to the Supreme Court this year following what some described as an excruciating and exhausting battle for confirmation. Multiple allegations of sexual misconduct were levied against him. 

6. Jair Bolsonaro

Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil in October, 2018. A very right-wing figure, many have compared him to Trump.

5. Khloé Kardashian

Younger sister of Kim Kardashian, Khloe nearly broke the internet this year when she had her baby girl, True Thompson, in April 2018.

4. Logan Paul

On December 31, 2017, controversial vlogger Paul uploaded a YouTube video showing the corpse of a suicide victim. The video gained 6.3M views within 24 hours, sparked outrage on many fronts, and almost cost Paul his YouTube channel. Paul has since been reinstated on the platform and contributed $1M to suicide prevention agencies.

3. Sylvester Stallone

Stallone did not die this past year, but a lot of people feared otherwise. In February, popular searches included “Sylvester Stallone dead 2018” and “Did sylvester stallone die.” The countries where the hoax was passed around the most? South Africa, Ghana, and Bolivia (the U.S. came in 22nd on the list of Stallone searches).

2. Demi Lovato

A Grammy-nominated musical artist, Lovato was hospitalized this year for a suspected overdose. “I have always been transparent about my journey with addiction,” Lovato said on social media. “What I’ve learned is that this illness is not something that disappears or fades with time. It is something I must continue to overcome and have not done yet. I will keep fighting.”

1. Meghan Markle

Markle married Prince Harry in a royal wedding this year, the guest list of which included Serena Williams, George Clooney, Oprah, Elton John, and the Spice Girls.

This Evening of Food Theater Goes Beyond Inspiring Innovation. It's a Master Class in the Art of Possibility

Entrepreneurs and other creators want to innovate, to create meaningful new things that people love. Once in a while someone delivers at an extraordinary level, devoting themselves to expressing themselves so personally and authentically that they inspire us to seek greatness in ourselves to share.

I was fortunate enough to experience such a leap forward–unexpectedly and contrary to my expectations, as I’ll explain. I’m not a restaurant critic, nor a musician, but an evening at an innovative dining establishment in Culver City, California, has me convinced that its proprietor, Jordan Kahn, may be a Mozart of food. Stay with me. 

My goal is not to praise Kahn or his establishment, Vespertine, whose name is derived from the Latin vesper, “of the evening” or “evening star.” Few readers will be able to experience Vespertine in person. As a teacher and writer on leadership and initiative, I’m compelled by my experience to share how, even in a field such as fine dining, combed over for novelty for generations, even centuries, dimensions of new possibility are available.

Envisioning the Scope

If you lived in the time of Bach, could you have imagined a Mozart opera or Beethoven symphony? Very few could. It took Mozart and Beethoven to create them. 

To say that the later musicians added new dimensions to music takes nothing from Bach as an artist. I love the Brandenburg Concertos and always will, but Mozart’s operas involve many more instruments, many more performers of different types (singers, players of instruments, a conductor), architectural design, ornate sets, wardrobes of clothing, and the contributions of teams of people, many geniuses themselves, who devote careers to deliver a complete, comprehensive work–performers, architects, financiers, carpenters, and others.

Every great artist cares about every detail, but Mozart added dimension and scope of type of details to care for. Earlier generations could not likely have envisioned the scope.

The Paris Opera House and New York’s Lincoln Center are not just other buildings to play music in and seeing an opera in a great opera house is not just hearing some music. It’s an event. An evening at a world-class opera or symphony will affect you for years, maybe the rest of your life. I remember operas I saw in decades ago. The experience begins months before an evening’s performance, before buying the ticket. You learn about the event, its history, the artists. You see how it fits into your life. You accommodate it.

It unfolds in countless ways beyond “just” the music: How you arrive at the venue, walk up the entry stairs, interact with other patrons, are greeted and directed by staff, applaud, and so on.

Mozart’s operas required vision and execution beyond Bach’s and his contemporaries’. We can’t compare Bach to Mozart as artists–each is unique–but we’re glad Mozart did what he did. No one wants music to stagnate with later composers fiddling around the edges of what Bach nearly perfected.

Experiencing Added Dimensions

Kahn’s Vespertine is a Mozart opera amid Bachs in the culinary arts.

To say you ate dinner at Vespertine implies a regular restaurant experience, which it isn’t. An evening at Verpertine involves more dimensions, evolving in space, time, color, sound, and more. It involves the whole building. You actively move from room to room and floor to floor, unpuzzling food you remember seeing prepared as you passed the kitchen an hour or two before. The architect’s voice matters. The manufacturer of the bowls and the land from which its materials were mined matters.

Every great chef pays attention to every detail. Kahn added dimensions and scope of type of detail. The experience begins months before, with research and figuring out how to fit it into your life, figuring out what to expect from articles like this one. It unfolds in countless ways beyond “just” the food, and stays with you for a lifetime.

Composition in the Culinary Arts

I’ve long marveled how the same elements–color, shape, line, form, rhythm, melody, and composition, for example–apply in different arts with parallel meanings. A novel or poem contains rhythm as a song does. Composition involves space in painting, time in music, and multiple dimensions in sculpture, yet we recognize the same underlying meaning of composition.

Before Vespertine, I hadn’t noticed culinary artists using all those elements. Composition might mean how the chef arranged food on a plate or designed a room and matching menu. At Vespertine, it involves more. It uses elements I’m not aware of chefs using, as Mozart expanded beyond the limits of his time.

One early hint in my evening: When making reservations, I mentioned that I was staying within walking distance and could meet my companion at Vespertine. They suggested we arrive by car together–the valet and greeter receiving us would be part of the experience. They were, as was the space where we waited outside, the temperature of the furniture we sat on that chilly evening, the sight lines to Vespertine the building (the restaurant uses the entire several-story building, which reveals itself throughout the evening), the scents, the garden, the first tastes of the evening, how we entered the building, and how we came to expect the evening to unfold.

The night unfolded in distinct scenes and acts, using elements in time and space, with rhythm and melody, of color, form, shape, and composition. Kahn told a story beyond what I thought a restaurant could.

The Evening Begins

I’m risking florid language because of how my evening began, when I was predisposed to dislike the experience. As a New Yorker, I learned of Kahn and Vespertine while researching food and sustainability panelists at an industry event in Greenwich Village a few months before.

Online, I read Kahn’s interviews in which he said he transformed food so you couldn’t tell where it came from. I prefer my food minimally processed, to show off the vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, and all the ingredients for their innate beauty and taste. I’ve been known to describe processing or covering food with salt, sugar, and fat with such as “assaulting” or “molesting” it.

I found the videos on the site over the top. I didn’t see the point of talking about the building in interviews so much. I could go on, but I wasn’t that interested in seeing more.

Things changed at the food and sustainability event. Each panelist talked about revenue models, funding sources, and other business first, taste second. Kahn wasn’t a panelist. He came on after and prepared food, interactively, describing each ingredient’s origin, its place in nature, its role in sustainability, his experiments to learn it, how and why he processed each as he did, the point of his combining them, and other parts of his craft. His presentation struck me as more honest than rehearsed, from the heart as much as from the hands and head.

Experiencing the ingredients transformed–yes, processed, but the opposite of assaulted–after knowing why, then tasting the results revealed a different purpose to the processing, based in caring and personal expression. The result told a story in flavors and textures over time of tart, sour, sweet, crunch, chewy, oil, crisp, and so on. He didn’t process to cover, hide, or assault, but, in my view, to express his appreciation for the plants, fungi, and microorganisms that went into a simple dish.

I felt I experienced art amid businesspeople. Since I knew I would visit L.A. a few months later, I began looking into an evening there. The place seats only 22 people per evening.

The Evening

The actual experience began with a lunch at Kahn’s casual restaurant across the street, Destroyer, whose layout is more mainstream, though its open kitchen allowed me to see Kahn and his team at work and to speak briefly. Vespertine, the building, was visible, but mysterious. What was the relationship between its style and the food that Kahn’s videos and interviews described?

About 24 hours later, my companion picked me up from around the corner, and we arrived. After the aforementioned welcome, the staff walked us in, told us to take the elevator up, to where Kahn greeted us, standing before another open kitchen, or area of food preparation, because it didn’t look like a kitchen. What his team was preparing, I couldn’t guess from looking. He walked us up more stairs, giving more view of the floor.

A staff member sat us at a bench. The staff alternated between bringing us food, giving us space, serving neighbors, explaining what was in the food, and answering questions. The descriptions created as much mystery as they answered. The dishes, utensils, and napkins were various shades of black, their textures various shades of earth. There was rhythm between the architectural design and clothing, between seeing the food prepared an hour before its presentation, and between the periods of sitting and walking to new rooms.

There was line, shape, color, and form also in time and space, not merely physical lines of the tables or walls, but of the experience. Every restaurant composes the food on the plate. Vespertine’s composed our countless and various interactions–walking, talking, eating, listening, overhearing, climbing, descending, entering, exiting, and so on–into a composed, curated, orchestrated evening.

Each dish was a character in its scene, with a back story giving it depth, development to carry me forward, relationships with every other character, and plot twists to keep me interested. How the giant kelp was served related to the spruce about 10 courses later. The split cone from which emerged a hidden garden (I can’t explain it better) resonated with the open sphere I spelunked to find submerged treats beneath subterranean pools of frankly I don’t know what.

Every dish was presented simply, yet became complex as you broke it open, cracked the surface, sought the ingredients the server mentioned, and otherwise solved what Kahn and his team riddled for you. Initial discoveries yielded new mysteries, which yielded delights, wonderment, and fun. Each scene stood on its own while arising from the scene before and propelling to the next. That is, each dish, absent the rest of the Vespertine experience, was delicious, harmonious, and the equal of any dish I’ve had at any ordinary restaurant, as each Mozart song would stand on its own.

It would be a mistake to think the food, wine, and service dominated the evening. On the contrary, despite the artistry, it prompted and supported meaningful reflections and conversation. Great art adds to, not distracts from life and relationships. For all its artistry, Vespertine didn’t overpower but nourished.

Over a dozen courses later–a story with many plot twists–we left, amid curtain calls of tastes, scents, and staff members as we traversed and explored the outdoor garden nearby which we entered.

I received an email reminding me of some of the evening’s players: giant kelp, sea lettuce, burnt onion, black currant, salsify, abalone mushrooms, concord grape, tradescantia (a wildflower), rose apple, almond, radish, yam, smoked soy, salted plum, leek, rose, begonia, pumpkin, guava, sunchoke, lovage, parsnip, juniper…that’s about half the list.

I’m writing these words six weeks after the event. The writer in me felt challenged to communicate the experience authentically and accurately, and it took this long to digest.

General Electric: My Best Stock Pick For 2019

General Electric (GE) has been the worst performer in my portfolio this year, by far. Nonetheless, I am optimistic that 2019 will be a much better year for the industrial company, and I believe investor pessimism with respect to GE has seen its low in 2018. General Electric is my top rebound bet for 2019 that could produce high risk-adjusted returns for investors. Though GE could test its most recent lows, the risk/reward remains very attractive as long as General Electric is out-of-favor.

A Year In Review

It was a devastating year for General Electric: The company continuously disappointed investors throughout 2018 with poor earnings, the announcement of an SEC investigation with respect to the company’s insurance reserves, a scrapped dividend, and the appointment of yet another Chief Executive Officer. To top things off, General Electric has so far failed to restructure its ailing power business which is in a prolonged slump. Adding insult to injury, General Electric’s stock got booted from the Dow Jones Industrial Average earlier this year, too.

On the back of such developments, General Electric’s share price slumped 58.3 percent this year, making it the worst performing investment for a lot of investors.

Testing New Lows?

Market volatility roared back in the fourth quarter with a vengeance. On the back of deteriorating investor appetite and decreasing investor confidence in the U.S. economy, stocks have corrected sharply to the downside since October. General Electric’s shares, for instance, dropped to a devastating 52-week and multi-year low @$6.66. Two years ago, GE traded at ~$30.

Though GE is now longer oversold, and managed to bounce back up to $8 in December, shares could very well test this year’s lows in case investor sentiment takes another hit. Should GE fall through its latest lows, this would point to more downside for GE’s stock over the short haul.

Source: StockCharts

GE In 2019

General Electric will focus on three major businesses going forward: Aviation, Power and Renewables, which will make up GE’s new core business.

The power business, which brought in ~$35 billion in revenues in 2017, will be the center of investors’ attention in 2019. GE took a $22 billion impairment charge in its power division in the third quarter of 2018, and investors will closely monitor management’s progress with respect to the restructuring. Should GE’s new management be able to turn things around in light of a weak gas turbine market (and in the absence of a U.S. recession), investor sentiment could gradually recover and improve prospects for share price appreciation.

In any case, General Electric will not be the same company in the future that it is now. General Electric will execute on its strategic actions plan in 2019 that calls for a healthcare spinoff and the divestiture of its stake in Baker Hughes, an oil field services company General Electric bought in 2016.

Here’s GE strategic action plan:

Source: General Electric

There are also more asset sales in the cards for 2019. General Electric has loosely guided for $20 billion in asset sales, and the company could step its divestiture game up next year in order to shed underperforming businesses and raise cash. Together with the dividend, General Electric could potentially invest billions of dollars in new growth initiatives in sectors such as aviation, digital and renewable technologies. In 2018, for instance, General Electric sold its rail business to Wabtec in a $11.1 billion deal and agreed to sell its Distributed Power Business to private equity company Advent International for $3.25 billion.

Valuation

General Electric is dirt cheap, and has a very attractive risk/reward, in my opinion. Though downside risks exist with respect to both the U.S. economy and General Electric’s ability to restructure its power business, GE’s shares are priced for disaster, selling for less than nine times next year’s estimated earnings.

Chart

GE PE Ratio (Forward 1y) data by YCharts

General Electric has widely underperformed its peers in the sector, Honeywell International (HON) and 3M Company (MMM), especially since October.

Here’s how GE compares against its industrial peers in the sector in terms of forward P/E-ratio. GE’s earnings multiple today is about half the earnings multiple of its closest peers.

Chart

GE PE Ratio (Forward 1y) data by YCharts

Risk Factors Investors Need To Consider

There are three major risk factors that could affect the investment thesis negatively:

1. General Electric fails to turn around its power division, and, as a result, cash flow and margin problems continue to weigh on GE’s financial performance and investor sentiment in 2019;

2. A U.S. recession (should it manifest itself) could hit GE’s cyclical industrial businesses, such as aviation and oil & gas, hard;

3. Should GE’s stock price fall below the most recent low at $6.66, more downside looms over the short haul.

Your Takeaway

General Electric is taking massive action right now, and there are reasons to be optimistic and give management time to execute on its turnaround plan. Management is super focused on driving this restructuring home, and will leave no stone unturned to show improved capital efficiency going forward.

Honestly, I can’t see how things could get much worse from here, and GE’s shares are already priced for disaster. So much bad news is already baked into General Electric’s valuation that the industrial company can almost only surprise to the upside in 2019.

GE remains widely out-of-favor, which points to huge recovery potential next year as investor sentiment could gradually shift if GE’s financial performance improves. I am prepared to add to my long position if GE drops below the latest low at $6.66. GE is my top stock pick for 2019.

Disclosure: I am/we are long GE. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

3 Ways to Eliminate Self-Doubt

I specialize in confidence training and research, which means I have an interesting view into the minds and thoughts of numerous high-level individuals with a significant level of wealth, fame and success–and most struggle with negative self-talk. I’ve heard it described as a megaphone playing your deepest doubts and fears at the moment you are about to take the greatest leap of your life.

Negative self-talk happens to everyone. It is a fear-based reaction that is designed to protect you from the “threat” of potential failure. I’ve struggled with it–and I’ve developed accountability strategies that limit the megaphone in my mind from drowning out my optimism.

Hopefully, they help you too. Here are three ways to eliminate negative self-talk once and for all:

1. Stop confirming your fears .

I gave a talk at a university recently where I discussed the impact of confirmation bias for founders. I discussed how fear is an emotional response to moving forward in unknown territory without knowing the outcome. As a result, we look for data and information that support our fears, and remain paralyzed by the thought of challenging ourselves.

Fear has a natural kinetic reaction to language. Avoid words and phrases which imply doubt and skepticism, so you can challenge yourself to avoid confirming your fears. Phrases such as “what if I can’t,” “I don’t know how,” or “I don’t think I can” are disabling to your confidence. The most powerful illusion of negative self-talk is what we chose to believe.

2. Focus on the life you desire, not the challenges you’re facing.

I believe in proximity and visualization. Most of the professional aspirations that I have focused on, I have achieved. I understand it may seem a bit cliche, but it’s the story of my life.

A while back, I wrote an op-ed about Steve Harvey. It launched a thought into my head: I want to appear on his talk show. I began following his journey and other charity work. I visualized myself on his show. A year later, the producers from the show called.

It’s not that simple all the time. Here’s the secret: If you focus on your challenges, you will continue to feed your own limitations. Your language will begin to reflect your reality, rather than the optimism of the journey ahead. Your language and vision will set the intention for your growth as a leader. Focus on what’s ahead. 

3. Network with other established founders and leaders  .

Find the time to fill your calendar with networking events to meet established founders. You will gain the assurance that you are not alone and gain the confidence to continue moving forward.

You may think you don’t need this, or you already have it. You do need this, and you should always seek out more of it.

Avoid events that don’t fit your goals. Gaining the sound advice from people who have overcome challenges and achieved a level of measurable success is an effective way to change your relationship with doubt.

Your presence “in the room” has a lasting and powerful impact: It mutes the noise in your mind. Socializing outside of your comfort zone will reprogram your mind to believe that your goals are possible, while providing you with a person to reference who has achieved what you want to do.

Advice for New Managers: Meet Your People As Soon As Possible

I had a client who hired a brand-new director to manage an eight-person team. Three weeks into the job, the new director still hadn’t met everybody on their team. He had eight peopleHowever, when we checked in with him, he was “upset” that his boss had only met with him once, and for half an hour. Self-perspective…

We live in a global world where companies have people all over the world reporting to one another. But if you’re in a domestic situation in your first month of employment, there isn’t an excuse to not meet with your reports. If you can’t get on a plane, use technology. It’s easy in today’s day and age. And if you’re international, you should set a timeline, either six months or a year, to meet with everybody; all of your direct reports all over the globe. It sends a positive message to people.

Establish time parameters for these meetings. Tell people, “Hey listen. I’ve got a cramped schedule. My boss has me running around like crazy. However, I wanted to make sure that I got 15 minutes with you to introduce myself and to hear any tidbits of wisdom you can lay on me or areas of frustration you’re experiencing. Then, depending on where it goes, we can have a follow-up with some other people to make sure that we’re moving forward.”

Use your empathy skills, and ask yourself, “What would happen if I had a new boss, and a month, six months or a year went by, and he or she never took the time to meet me. How would I feel?” Remember, people are the most important asset you have. If you’ve got hundreds or thousands of people under you, you might choose to meet them all in a big town hall-type forum, but again, what you do and how you do it sends a message. Doing nothing sends an even louder message.

If you like this post, follow @TomGimbel for more.

Saving Your Retirement From A Stock Market Crash

Disclaimer: I am not a financial advisor. The advice given below is not a financial advice, even though my excitement might make it look like such. In fact, what follows below are just my thoughts, those of an ordinary person who works hard and tries to save and invest as sensibly as he can.


I received a call from a 59-year-old gentleman, a distant relative, yesterday. We have not met in the past two decades, so the sudden call was surprising. But it was not after the first minute of our talk when he asked, “I’ve heard from your aunt that you work in the stock market. I wanted to discuss my investments. Can you please help?”

“Hmmm… sure,” I said, almost sensing that he wanted to discuss his stock portfolio with me. But he started talking about his upcoming retirement – planned for 2019 – and about a plot of land sitting in his hometown waiting to build his retirement home next year.

He said he had been saving and investing as much money as he could for his retirement and for building this home. He had almost 90% of his money invested in stocks and equity funds, a lot of those bad decisions – and mis-selling by his advisor and broker – as I realized on knowing his portfolio. The stock market’s recent volatility – and especially in the banking and finance space, where my uncle is invested heavily – has made him lose around 30% of his portfolio value in a span of just a few weeks.

Now, this discussion is not about banking and finance stocks, how good/bad they are, and how quick/long they would take to recover. This discussion is about lessons from how my uncle’s retirement seems to have gotten compromised at least for another few years, thanks to the decline in his stock portfolio less than a year from his retirement, and how you may avoid a similar fate when you stare your own retirement on the face.

My uncle told me how the recent dip in his portfolio brought back some painful memories, like from 2008, when he had seen his retirement portfolio lose around 50% value. At the time, while he was more than a decade away from retiring, the decline in portfolio value was still a significant portion of his total family savings.

He now worries it will be harder to recover another big loss so close to retirement. “It’s impossible to try and time the market,” he told me. “To sit there and watch your investments fall apart is hard, but if you take it out and it goes up, that’s not good either. It’s hard!”

* * *

I am not a financial advisor, but when people ask me how much money they should invest in stocks versus other avenues like bonds and fixed deposits, etc., my response is consistent – “It depends on when you need the money.”

My general rule of thumb is that any money that you need in less than three years (maybe five years, if you so want) must be protected as far as the core capital is concerned. You are not seeking growth here but safety. And thus, this kind of money may be kept in liquid funds, fixed deposits, and some part cash. Don’t invest this money in the stock market, because if the tide turns for the worse during this period (like it had done for my uncle), your financial life and retirement may get compromised.

Any money you need between the third and fifth year from now may be invested in stocks/MFs versus bonds/FDs in a ratio of 50:50 (again, choose your own ratio based on your comfort levels).

This leaves us with money that is needed beyond the next five years. This may be invested fully in equities. History has proven that equity returns improve with an increase in holding periods. So, the probability is on your side when you invest your long-term money (needed beyond five years) in equities.

You may also divide this long-term money into two separate buckets. The first bucket could be the money you need between the fifth and tenth years of your retirement, say between 65 and 70 years of age (assuming you will retire at 60). This money could be invested in high-quality, well-diversified mutual funds or high-quality, stable businesses that provide not just the possibility of some growth but, more importantly, capital preservation.

As for the second bucket of your long-term money, which you will require beyond ten years from retirement, you can be more aggressive and invest that part in high-quality mid- and small-cap stocks and/or funds. Here, the risks you take will be higher than the first bucket, but the probability of growth is higher too. Just that you must ensure that you don’t buy businesses that may lose you capital permanently here too. This is a non-negotiable, even when you extend your investment horizon.

The idea of such allocation across buckets is that the more time you have before you need the money, the more aggressive your investment strategy. You may probably live another fifteen to twenty years or more after you retire, leaving you more than enough time to ride out not one, but multiple stock market crashes. So why not take advantage of the potential time on hand?

However, that’s not a mandatory thing. As Warren Buffett has said, “It’s insane to risk what you have for something you don’t need.”

* * *

Let’s move ahead from the allocation part to a bit about cash flows.

Having enough cash on hand to avoid withdrawing funds during severe market declines can be reassuring to people in or close to retirement. That means if you are three years away from retirement, a good rule of thumb will be to keep one year of expenses out of the market and then increase that for every year closer to retirement you get.

So, by the time you retire, you will have three years of expenses as cash in hand. Combining this with the allocation part mentioned above, keep this cash safe in liquid funds, fixed deposits, and some part cash.

I am assuming here that we don’t have a period of negative equity returns that extends beyond three years. So, with three years’ cash in hand and the market crashing around the time you retire, you don’t need to touch that money and can live off the cash. And replenish the three-year buffer every year.

(All that I have mentioned above assumes that active income stops coming in after you retire, which is true in most cases. But then, starting a part-time work or a second career that does not take a toll on your time and can be managed easily is a great idea. Just ensure that you don’t become a full-time investor.)

* * *

If you’ve still got more than a decade to go before you retire, you can follow the above-mentioned rules too. Both in terms of allocation and cash flows. Just that you can be more aggressive in terms of allocation to (high-quality) equities, as doing so would likely increase the long-term growth potential of your savings – which could increase your chances of achieving a secure retirement even more.

Also, save more, especially if you’ve been delaying it and effectively relying on market gains to compensate for your savings deficit in recent years. Markets have no obligations to carry your bidding.

When you save more, you create for yourself a buffer to deal with big declines in the stock market and your portfolio value and raise the chances of success back to where it was before the market setback.

The bottom line is this: You can’t predict when a bull market will stumble or know for certain how severe the ensuing bear market will be. No one can. But giving your retirement planning a stress test before the market slumps and thinking rationally about how to react will put you in a much better position to weather any crisis than making decisions on the fly while you’re under duress.

Hope this makes some sense.

Grande Arrival: The Year Digital Native Pop Stars Took Over

Within the first 24 hours that Ariana Grande’s music video for “thank u, next,” went live in late November, it broke the internet. Well, sort of. YouTube reported that comments on the video, an extended homage to rom-coms like Mean Girls, Legally Blonde, Bring It On, and 13 Going on 30, were delayed from posting—likely due to the record-setting 55.4 million views Grande garnered as she bopped from one re-enactment to the next. Grande’s response, though, wasn’t elation or even concern: it was a practiced online apathy so palpable you could almost see the eye roll.

The dispassionate tone continued over the next day. “true love might exist i was just hungry,” she tweeted at one point. No caps, no comma, no period. Barely a whiff of Emotional Sincerity, that deceptive fragrance sprayed by pop stars (and publicists) to dial online cacophony down to a mere murmur. What excitement she did express forced its way out through the proper social-media idioms: When Mark Hamill praised the video, she responded, “thanks, luke skywalker. i’m gonna go sob in a corner and watch all your movies again now. have a good one.”

But what did you expect? In 2018, the first generation of digitally native pop stars truly came of age—maneuvering across social platforms as comfortably as they do musical scales. Hayley Kiyoko shares a picture of her feet before trying to goose her video for “Girls Like Girls” over 100 million views. latest video. Singer Halsey calls herself “sad little bitch™,” then criticizes the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show for the company chairman’s recent comments about trans inclusion. And Grande’s semiotics are perfectly calibrated to match her followers’, from emoji to punctuation (or lack thereof). This is the online identity of a new class of female artists: savvy without being sentimental, sensitive but decidedly still cynical.

Someone at a party once told me that tweets are like texts you send to your best friend, only made public. They’re snippets that require little explanation, context, or—much to our own detriment—research. They don’t even need to be grammatically correct; punctuation is reserved for distant acquaintances and extended family.

Grande seizes on this, sprinkling her captions with deadpan language and using capitalization sparingly. All the song titles on her 2018 album Sweetener are lowercase. She spells “you” phonetically, hence “thank u, next,” which is either Grande pandering to our nostalgia for early 2000s SMS-based text or inviting us in—or maybe it’s both.

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The effect is humorous, even warm. When Grande tells us she “sobs” over a praising tweet from 13 Going on 30 co-star Mark Ruffalo, it’s the online behavior of a real person versus yet another celebrity with a promotional agenda. (Even if it’s really kinda both.) For contrast, look at the way Taylor Swift or Blake Lively wiped their Instagram accounts clean, replacing their personal photos with posts foreshadowing their latest projects. Swift posted videos of a snake, a harbinger of the serpentine imagery in to her video for “Look What You Made Me Do.” The intent was to make something eerie and exciting, something fans and conspiracy theorists alike could wade in for hours (which they did). But mostly it fell flat, the silver penny in the background gleaming a bit too brightly.

In many ways, Grande is no different, teasing her followers with hazy countdowns to each new video. But it feels less like the work of a public-relations campaign than the excitement of a person who just wants people to see what she’s been working on. That spills over into her appearances on shows like Saturday Night Live or The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, where she wrings laughs from her spot-on singing impersonations of Britney Spears’ nasal tone or Celine Dion’s soprano.

Or, most recently, the “thank u, next” video, an empowering bit of pastiche. Its genius isn’t just the movies Grande selects to reenact—the lot of which appeal to multiple generations of rom-com fans—but the moments within them. There’s the toothbrush exchange from Bring It On, Legally Blonde’s “bend and snap,” and the jingle bell rock performance in Mean Girls. In articulating the moments of camp and casting herself as the protagonist, Grande weaponizes them, effectively making herself the only heroine we’ll ever need. It’s Grande-ganda, subtly working in her own agenda within the context of something familiar.

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But even beyond the self-anointment by homage, the video acts as an exercise in subliminal messaging. There’s the Immigration and Refugee Law and Politics textbook Grande’s version of Legally Blonde’s Elle Woods reads on the Harvard lawn. The “Needy” t-shirt she wears as Mean Girls’ Regina George, which fans believe to be a clue for the title of Grande’s next album. The note to her ex-fiance, Pete Davidson, that Grande scrawls across a faux burn book (“sry i dipped”). These glimpses keep us watching more closely, desiring to better understand Grande The Enigma who somehow looks good in the myriad of personas she tries on (activist, ex-girlfriend, comedian, businesswoman), each one looking a bit like us.

Are we mistaking marketing for authenticity? Maybe. Grande is made that much more potent in her ability to sound just like her followers. She and her cohort have relinquished the role of the editor, passing their thoughts unfettered into the world with the same vulnerability that we might send a text to an ex without running it by a friend first.

That’s not to say an editor wouldn’t come in handy sometimes. Last week, Kanye West reignited his simmering feud with Canadian rapper Drake via prodigious tweetstorm. Ever the keen observer, Grande flipped the moment to tout her latest music–as well as a new song from friend and fellow superstar Miley Cyrus—by couching it as a reclamation of spotlight. “guys, i know there are grown men arguing online rn,” she wrote in her now-deleted tweet, “but miley and i [sic] dropping our beautiful, new songs tonight so if y’all could please jus behave for just like a few hours so the girls can shine that’d be so sick thank u.” Kanye accused Grande of taking advantage of his mental health to promote her single (a sentiment Davidson echoed, much to the chaos of the internet). The singer apologized for her initial tweet but denied any opportunism, tweeting, “regardless of how i feel about a situation, i can also care about their mental health.”

Grande is skilled in the art of the tactful apology, recognizing those mistakes that are actually hers—like a 2015 incident in which she licked a doughnut in a shop and said “I hate America”—and identifying those larger concerns that are often projected onto her as a public figure. Her delicate sidestepping shows that Grande is actually listening to what we’re saying. And, at the end of the day, whether on Twitter or IRL, don’t we just want to be heard?


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12 Best Xbox One Games (2019): Sidescrollers, Shooters, and More

After 2006’s macabre platformer Limbo proved to be one of the most enjoyable indie titles available for the Xbox 360, people wondered—OK, we wondered—if Danish studio Playdead could meet its own bar for the current generation. we shouldn’t have worried. Inside begins with the same gloomy monochrome that made Limbo so affecting, and adds a healthy dose of danger; it’s not just the treacherous environment you have to worry about as you navigate the world, but people and things that are actively looking to kill you. You will die, and you will die often. But when the game enters its final act, you’ll be treated with that rarest of gaming moments: a sincere “what the f*ck?” spectacle, a jaw-dropping hybrid of body horror and slapstick that you’ll feel, fittingly enough, inside.

A Looming Government Shutdown Tops the Week's Internet News

Welp, 2018 is going out with a bang. In the last week, America got a reminder that Russia hacked the 2016 US election by hijacking social media; acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker rejected legal advice to recuse himself from overseeing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe; drones attacked British airports; and California dealt with potential UFOs. Actually, considering how the rest of the year has gone, that’s not much of a bang at all—just a standard week in 2018. But what else are people talking about on this wreck that is the internet? Let’s find out, shall we?

Trump’s Big Move

What Happened: President Trump announced the US would be pulling troops out of Syria, leading to some instability, to say the least.

What Really Happened: Trump’s surprise holiday gift to the Middle East arrived early Wednesday, as reports surfaced suggesting that the United States was about to withdraw troops from Syria. Those reports were soon confirmed via Twitter, because of course.

No, wait; I mean these tweets—but please remember that Trump announced that the US has defeated ISIS all the same.

It was, to put things mildly, not a popular decision, even within Trump’s own, traditionally kowtowingnomatterwhat party.

The decision came as a surprise to many, with a lot of people unsure how, exactly, the decision had been reached, especially considering the president’s own national security team was apparently against it. Others believed that he had a pretty good idea.

So, if his own defense secretary had no say, who exactly was consulted?

OK, sure; for any other administration, that would seem like a wild conspiracy theory. However, when you look at who benefits from this decision, you do start to wonder just a little

Funny thing about those actually arguing in favor of this move: the president doesn’t seem to be aware that it’s happening, judging by his public statements.

Wait. They have to fight ISIS? Wasn’t ISIS defeated, according to a tweet made by exactly the same person just a day before? Man, international politics moves so quickly these days.

The Takeaway: An unexpected casualty of the decision might point to larger problems with Trump’s attitude towards geopolitics: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned Thursday over the matter, penning a letter that makes his feelings on the matter clear.

The Incomplete Sentencing of Michael Flynn

What Happened: Just in case anyone forgot: There’s still an investigation into potentially illegal activity surrounding the presidential campaign of the man currently in the White House, and it’s continuing to bear strange, surreal fruit.

What Really Happened: As if anyone could forget the ongoing legal trouble surrounding the Trump administration, this week saw a sentencing hearing for one of the president’s former advisors—in this case, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. If it seems like it was just last week that one of Trump’s former advisors had a sentencing hearing, that’s because it was. But like the seasoned pro he is, the president was eager to get out in front of the story.

Still, it’s just a sentencing. How exciting or surprising could that be, unless you’re Michael Cohen making statements about being free once you get three years in jail? Turns out, the answer was “very surprising.”

These would be the circumstances alleged by Flynn’s lawyers that he was, essentially, hoodwinked into confessing because no one at the FBI told him that lying to the FBI was a crime. Things only continued from there.

Well, yeah; that sounds pretty wild, especially the whole not hiding disgust thing. But that was just the start.

So, that was a surreal event. Who saw an abrupt postponement coming? Definitely not Flynn’s attorneys, who were judged to have badly miscalculated by the media. But, at least it ended well, at least in regards to the irony of the whole thing.

Roll on, March, I guess?

The Takeaway: When it comes to the surreal developments in a legal case like this, there’s a sensible response and a non-boring response. Guess which one this is.

Paul Ryan’s Retirement Party

What Happened: Paul Ryan is just days away from retiring as Speaker of the House, so clearly it’s time for a farewell tour that perhaps doesn’t get the response he’d like.

What Really Happened: We’re not saying that some politicians have an exaggerated sense of their own importance, but outgoing Speaker of the House Paul Ryan had a “farewell address” at the Library of Congress last week, and the invitation looked like this:

Actually, never mind the invitations, the actual speech didn’t look too much better—

—but let’s not think about the optics. Let’s focus on the substance, shall we? Ryan complained about the “broken politics” of Washington, while congratulating himself on a tax bill that hurts the poor. So, you know, pretty much what you might expect, all things considered.

Let’s just say that not everyone was impressed with Ryan’s speech—or, for that matter, his legacy as a political figure. Headlines like “Good Riddance, Paul Ryan,” “So Long, Paul Ryan, You Won’t Be Missed,” “Paul Ryan Is the Biggest Fake I’ve Ever Seen in Politics,” and “Paul Ryan Was a Villain and No One Will Miss Him”—all of which are actually real, and from a 24-hour period, amazingly—might give that away.

In fact, we’d go so far as to say that some were particularly unimpressed.

So, uh, happy retirement…? (We’ll always have your creepy workout photoshoot, Paul. Nothing will ever take that away from you. Sadly.)

The Takeaway: Meanwhile, the woman who is likely to replace Ryan had perhaps the greatest response to the entire thing.

Shaft the Messenger

What Happened: You weren’t being paranoid after all; someone else really was able to get access to all your messages on Facebook. Doesn’t that make you feel better?

What Really Happened: In case you thought that things couldn’t get much worse for Facebook considering its recent public relation woes, guess what: It could get much worse. Take it away, New York Times.

Yes, you read that right, as unbelievable as it may sound.

Not enough yikes for you just yet? Oh, just keep going, because it gets worse.

Many people were wondering what the solution was. A recurring theme kept popping up.

Meanwhile, the media took a different, and far less surprising, tack, with everyone talking about deleting Facebook a lot.

How serious was this as a threat? Well, Facebook released two different responses to try and clear up rumors … by pretty much confirming the reporting. That’s almost a start, kind of?

The Takeaway: On the plus side, at least this was the only PR disaster for Facebook this week related to other people having access to private information on the platform.

The Shutdown Looms

What Happened: It’s been teased throughout 2018, but as the year draws to a close, perhaps the US has finally reached the point where the government is going to shut down. Just in time!

What Really Happened: The US government has been wavering around a shutdown for some time now. There have been short-term fixes and last-minute deals for months in an attempt to ensure that there isn’t what Rep. Nancy Pelosi memorably called a Trump Shutdown. Last week, for example, with just days to go before funding ran out, there was a move towards one more before-the-buzzer save—not that anyone seemed to think it would work.

Funny story; it never even got a chance to fail in the Senate.

Yes, it’s Paul Ryan again, a day after bemoaning “broken politics,” helping politics be that little bit more broken.

So … maybe the shutdown is back on?

Well, perhaps not…

President Trump, at least, spent Friday morning doing what he could. Which is to say, he tweeted about the subject a lot.

People were not incredibly impressed.

At the time of this writing, it’s not been voted on by the Senate. But here’s a funny story: the president is refusing to sign a bill that doesn’t fund the border wall that was, originally, going to be paid for by Mexico (hey, remember those days?), but … what if there was an alternative? What if someone else wanted to pay for the wall so that the government could stay open?

Well, that seems entirely legit.

It’s surely a sign of 2018 that it’s actually impossible to reject this plan entirely out of hand. Maybe we should just run a GoFundMe to keep the government open? Oh, no, wait; that’s called paying taxes.

The Takeaway: Assuming that we are almost certainly going to have a shutdown for the holidays—everyone’s favorite gift—let’s just take a moment to appreciate what’s happening, shall we?

See you all in 2019!


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Robocars, Elon, and More This Year in the Future of Cars

Well, it’s been a year in transportation. There were self-driving cars and electric trucks. There was the old guard of tech—now-ancient companies like Uber and Lyft—and new upstarts, like the scooter mavens at Bird and Lime. Lots of people got in trouble. Some emerged victorious. CEOs said outrageous and surprising things. We got to go and see very cool places: control rooms, helicopters, Senegal, Detroit.

So in honor of 2018, this week we’ve got a roundup of roundups—a meta-roundup, if you will. Here you will find some of our favorite stories we’ve written in 2018. You’ll find some usual suspects, like Elon Musk and Dara Khosrowshahi. And also some more surprising characters: mathematicians willing to chat airplane peeing, members of the British Royal Air Force, a bunch of transportation planners. It’s been exciting. It’s been a year. Let’s get you caught up.

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Our favorite stories that you might have missed from WIRED this year

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“Hey, buddy, this doesn’t work!” Musk shouted at the engineer, according to someone who heard the conversation. “Did you do this?”

The engineer was taken aback. He had never met Musk before. Musk didn’t even know the engineer’s name. The young man wasn’t certain what, exactly, Musk was asking him, or why he sounded so angry.

“You mean, program the robot?” the engineer said. “Or design that tool?”

“Did you fucking do this?” Musk asked him.

“I’m not sure what you’re referring to?” the engineer replied apologetically.

“You’re a fucking idiot!” Musk shouted back. “Get the fuck out and don’t come back!”

Tom Cruise Transportation-Adjacent Content of the Year

Jack and WIRED’s intrepid video team flew to Texas to learn how Tom Cruise does helicopter stunts. Everyone survived, mostly because we weren’t allowed to recreate the gnarliest Cruise movies.

Stat of the Year

26,000,000

The number of scooter- and bike-share rides that Lime users have taken since the company launched 18 months ago, according to a year-end report.

Required Reading

Our favorite 2018 stories from elsewhere on the internet

After What President Trump and Congress Did on the Friday Before Christmas, the Government Is (Partially) Shutting Down. Here's What That Really Means

Less than two weeks ago, President Trump warned he’d shut down the U.S. Government if he didn’t get $5 billion for his border wall with Mexico in the new budget.

Democrats called his bluff; Trump didn’t blink. And so, a partial shutdown began at midnight.

So, what does it mean in practical terms to have a partial shutdown, which Trump himself predicted could go on for a “very long time?”

1.    About 75 percent of the government stays open.

Let’s start with the fact that it’s just a “partial” shutdown. There are some agencies that will be hit much harder than others, but most of the truly essential functions of government will continue.

Among these, the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Health and Human Services are already funded through 2019, so they shouldn’t be affected.

2.    But about 38 percent of employees will be hit.

There are 2.1 million federal employees. Of them, about 400,000 will be sent home without pay, and another 400,000 will be required to come to work, but won’t be paid.

Some of the affected departments here include Homeland Security, Justice, State, Transportation, and Treasury. As an example, all 60,000 employees of the Customs and Border Protection would be required to go to work without pay. 

This also includes Transportation Security Administration officials — so airports should remain open and more or less unaffected. It also includes the Border Patrol — ironic, since Border Patrol officers will have to work without pay, in a dispute over funding a border wall.

Also, “air-traffic controllers, prison guards, weather-service forecasters and food-safety inspectors, and would continue coming to work. Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, Forest Service firefighters” have to work, according to the Journal.

3.    The National Parks stay open

This is interesting — in earlier shutdowns, the spectacle of National Parks closing became big symbols of government ineptitude in a shutdown. But this time, the Parks Service is keeping most of its facilities open, even as about 80 percent of its employees will be furloughed.

On the National Mall for example, you’ll still be able to tour the monuments, but there won’t be Park Rangers available to offer information and assistance. The Smithsonian museums will remain open, too– at least through Jan. 1.

4.    It’s a good time to cheat on your taxes.

That’s because nine out of 10 IRS employees will be furloughed, so far fewer audits and return exams. That also means less chance of being able to call the IRS to ask for help on a tax issue.

5.    The Mueller investigation continues.

About 85 percent of Justice Department employees still have to go to work, even if they don’t get paid. The special counsel investigating possible collusion with Russia in the 2016 election however, will continue apace. That office’s funding is guaranteed.

6.    You can get your passport (probably) and the mail will still be delivered.

The Postal Service basically continues unaffected too, “because the Postal Service funds its operations through its own sales rather than tax dollars.”

7.    We sort of get a four-day repreive.

The shutdown began at midnight on Saturday December 22, which also happens to be the first of a four-day weekend for the government, since next Tuesday is Christmas.

All of which means that many of the 800,000 employees who won’t be paid, weren’t planning to work anyway the next four days. (In most past shutdowns, they ultimately got back pay when the government reopened.)

So, next Wednesday is that day when people will really start to notice — and then, if it lasts long enough, into the day after New Year’s Day.

8.    Weirdly, many workers have to come in, only to be told to go home.

Acording to the Post: Some will have to — briefly, anyway.

“This is what’s known as an “orderly shutdown,” during which employees who are furloughed can be allowed up to come in for up to four hours to preserve their work, finish timecards or turn in their government-issued phones. … What can we tell you? The federal government is a quirky enterprise.”

9.    Meat will be okay

At the Agriculture Department, the government will still inspect meat and other food. And support programs like food stamps will keep going.

10.    Sandwiches will be free. 

This is mostly for Washington DC area employees anyway, but if they’re affected by the shutdown, celebrity chef Jose Andres says his restaurants will offer free lunch sandwiches

China watchdog flags video game approvals; Tencent shares jump

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Tencent Holdings Ltd’s shares surged on Friday after a local regulatory official said some new video games had been cleared for sale, ending a lengthy freeze in approvals that has spooked players in the world’s largest gaming market.

FILE PHOTO: A Tencent sign is seen during the fourth World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province, China, Dec. 4, 2017. REUTERS/Aly Song

Feng Shixin, a senior official of the ruling Communist Party’s Propaganda department, said in a speech at a gaming conference in the southern city of Haikou that a first batch of approvals for games had been completed, according to a transcript of the speech and the organizers of the event.

That helped propel Tencent’s shares up by as much as 4.6 percent, putting the gaming-to-social media giant on course for its steepest daily share price jump in over a month.

China stopped approving new titles from March amid a regulatory overhaul triggered by growing criticism of video games for being violent and leading to myopia as well as addiction among young users.

The freeze on new approvals has pressured gaming-related stocks and clouded the outlook for mobile games, rattling industry leader Tencent and peers like NetEase Inc.

“We hope through new system design and strong implementation we could guide game companies to better present mainstream values, strengthen a cultural sense of duty and mission, and better satisfy the public need for a better life,” Feng said.

Earlier this month, state media reported that Chinese regulators had set up an online video games ethics committee, raising hopes the government was preparing to resume an approval process that has been frozen for most of this year.

“This is clearly exciting news for China’s gaming industry,” a Tencent spokesman said in written comments.

“We’re confident that after the publishing license approval, we will provide more compliant, high-quality cultural works to society and the public.”

The gaming freeze in China has dragged down Tencent’s shares this year and wiped billions of dollars off its market value. The firm’s stock is down more than 20 percent in 2018.

According to a Hainan propaganda department official at the gaming event, a new pilot approval mechanism is set to be rolled out in the tropical province, which would include positive and negative lists, combining artificial intelligence audits and expert censorship.

Some industry insiders, however, said they remained cautious to see what the new mechanism would look like in action.

“While there is no clear legislation on video game regulation, it’s up to the regulator to decide what they pass and what they don’t. There is still a lot of uncertainty,” said an executive at Tencent’s game division, asking not to be named.

Reporting by Adam Jourdan and Brenda Goh in SHANGHAI and Pei Li in BEIJING; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Christopher Cushing

An online battle for 900 million hearts and minds: India braces for election

JAIPUR/TONK, India (Reuters) – When India votes in a general election next year, it will be the world’s largest democratic exercise, and the biggest ever test of the role of social media in an election.

Volunteers of India’s main opposition Congress party monitor TV news channels and social media inside their war room which was setup for a state assembly election, in Jaipur in the desert state of Rajasthan, December 3, 2018. REUTERS/Aditya Kalra

As the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) readies for battle with the newly energized Congress party-led opposition in the election that must be held by May, the role of Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp could be crucial in deciding who wins.

India already has close to 900 million eligible voters, and an estimated half-a-billion have access to the Internet. The country has 300 million Facebook (FB.O) users and 200 million on Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging service – more than any other democracy. Millions use Twitter (TWTR.N).

“Social media and data analytics will be the main actors in the upcoming India elections. Their use would be unprecedented as both parties now use social media,” said Usha M. Rodrigues, a communications professor at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, whose research has focused on social media and Indian politics.

The potential for abuse is also immense, with incendiary news and videos capable of fanning violence in the sprawling multi-religious and multi-ethnic nation.

Fake news and messages circulated on social media have led to more than 30 deaths since last year, data portal IndiaSpend says, mostly rumors about child kidnapping gangs.

Political differences have in the past been no less deadly.

“Social media discourse, already bitter, will turn bilious,” Milan Vaishnav, a senior research fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, said of the coming campaign for the general election.

“It will be no-holds barred on social media given that the opposition smells blood and the ruling party has its back against the wall.”

Both the main parties accuse each other of propagating fake news while denying they do so themselves.

Nevertheless, the battlelines between them are clearly drawn. Congress has attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s economic policies and his party’s Hindu nationalist ideology, while the BJP dismisses the Congress as incompetent liberals out of touch with the people.

This month, Congress won elections in three major states that have been the bastion of the BJP, setting the stage for a tight contest in 2019. Helping the opposition party was a revamped social media strategy.

WAR ROOMS

At the last election in 2014, Congress was crushed by the techno-savvy Modi and his array of social media weapons, including a flurry of Tweets from his personal account, a BJP campaign on Facebook and holographic displays of Modi in remote villages.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi got a Twitter account only in 2015. But the opposition party is catching up and the playing field has gotten a lot bigger.

India now has 450 million smartphone owners against 155 million at the last election in 2014, according to Counterpoint Research. That’s more than the entire population of the United States, the crucible for election campaigns on social media.

Reuters visited one of the hubs of Congress’s online operations in Rajasthan, one of the three states it won this month – a drab three-bedroom apartment up a dimly lit staircase in the city of Jaipur.

Inside, party workers tracked news channels and social media posts on a wall of television screens. A three-member team of audio, video and graphic experts designed campaign material that was posted to public websites, while other volunteers used WhatsApp to send instructions to party workers.

“We were kids back then, but we are going to outmaneuver them now,” said Manish Sood, 45, who runs his own social media marketing business and was managing the Congress volunteers at the Jaipur war room.

Still, fighting Modi online isn’t easy. With 43 million followers on Facebook and 45 million on Twitter globally, he is among the world’s most followed politicians. Congress’s Gandhi still only has 8.1 million followers on Twitter and 2.2 million on Facebook.

A request by Reuters to visit the BJP’s social media center in Jaipur was declined, but a member of the party’s Rajasthan state IT unit, Mayank Jain, said it ran similar social media operations from two city apartments.

“Congress understands social media a bit now, but they do not have the volunteer manpower,” Jain said in an interview, showing dozens of BJP WhatsApp groups on his phone, one of which was named “BJP RAJASTHAN’S Warriors”.

RISE OF WHATSAPP

While Twitter and Facebook were embraced by Indian politicians – mainly in the BJP – in 2014, it’s WhatsApp that has now become the social media tool of choice.

In Jaipur city and the nearby rural town of Tonk, where traditional methods like public speeches and poster campaigns were widely used during the state poll, Congress and BJP party workers showed a Reuters reporter dozens of WhatsApp groups they were part of and used for campaigning.

Congress said its volunteers managed 90,000 WhatsApp groups in Rajasthan, while the BJP said it controlled 15,000 WhatsApp groups directly, with its workers campaigning through roughly another 100,000 groups.

But WhatsApp has been at the center of controversy. After the false child kidnap messages were spread on the platform in India, it was flooded with falsehoods and conspiracy theories ahead of the October election in Brazil.

WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption allows groups of hundreds of users to exchange texts, photos and video beyond the purview of authorities, independent fact checkers or even the platform itself.

“WhatsApp is the biggest challenge for us right now on the social media front,” said Nitin Deep Blaggan, a senior police officer in charge of monitoring online content in Jaipur.

WhatsApp has limited the number of messages a user can forward in one go to 20 but in India specifically the ceiling was fixed at five. The company blocked “hundreds of thousands” of accounts in Brazil during the election period, and the same was expected ahead of India polls, a source aware of the company’s thinking said this month.

“We have engaged with political organizers to inform them that we will take action against accounts that are sending automated unwanted messages,” Carl Woog, WhatsApp’s head of communications, told Reuters in a statement. He did not name any parties.

A Facebook spokeswoman said the company was “committed to maintaining elections integrity” and making efforts to “weed out false news”. Twitter said it had made efforts to protect the electoral process and better detect and stop malicious activity.

During the Rajasthan election, police ran a 10-man social media monitoring unit, tracking tweets and Facebook posts related to the state polls. Inside the monitoring room, the posts were shown on wall-mounted screens and automatically filtered into neutral, positive or negative sections.

The negative posts received special attention – they were manually checked and, sometimes flagged to senior police officers for further investigation and action.

An officer looks at computer screens inside a police war room setup to monitor social media posts in Jaipur in the desert state of Rajasthan, December 3, 2018. REUTERS/Aditya Kalra

The sole aim, members of the monitoring team said, was to ensure that no online post spilled into violence.

One of the posts flagged by police when Reuters visited was a video from a Congress leader’s rally where people appeared to be shouting slogans in favor of Pakistan, India’s old enemy.

Congress’ nearby war room had already debunked the video they said was doctored. Within hours, party workers posted what they said was an “original” video, that showed that nobody shouted such slogans at the rally.

Reporting by Aditya Kalra in Jaipur; Editing by Martin Howell and Raju Gopalakrishnan

Micron sales, profit miss estimates as chip glut hurts prices

(Reuters) – U.S. chipmaker Micron Technology Inc (MU.O) gave on Tuesday quarterly sales and profit forecasts well below Wall Street estimates, citing a market glut of memory chips as consumer and business demand for phones and computers is weakening.

Memory chip parts of U.S. memory chip maker MicronTechnology are pictured at their fair booth at an industrial fair in Frankfurt, Germany, July 14, 2015. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach/File Photo

Micron said it expected industry output, including from South Korean rivals Samsung Electronics Co Ltd (005930.KS) and SK Hynix (000660.KS), to outstrip demand from the makers of phones, PCs and servers, pushing down Micron chip prices.

Samsung had already warned of a slowdown in demand and drop in chip prices, flagging an end to a two-year boom in memory chips as global demand for mobile and other electronics devices wanes and fresh supplies from Hynix and Toshiba Corp (6502.T) hit the market. Hynix has also offered a downbeat outlook.

Micron Chief Executive Sanjay Mehrotra told investors on a conference call on Tuesday that the company was taking “decisive actions in terms of reducing our production output” to hold the line on prices.

“We are always reviewing how to best align our output with market demand to focus on delivering healthy profitability,” Mehrotra said in an interview.

But the glut will hammer Micron in the short term, with the company estimating revenue of $5.7 billion to $6.3 billion for its fiscal second quarter and gross margins of 50 to 53 percent, compared to analysts’ estimates of $7.3 billion and 55 percent, according to I/B/E/S data from Refinitiv.

Shares of the Boise, Idaho-based company fell as much as 8.5 percent in extended trading after the forecast, before paring losses to 2.8 percent.

Asked about Micron’s comments, Hynix told Reuters that in the short term, the memory chip sector would struggle through a period of relatively low growth due to weak demand in the smartphone and PC markets, but the outlook would brighten in the long term.

Hynix shares were down 1.6 percent in late morning trading in South Korea. Samsung shares were up slightly.

“The worse may not be over yet if the end-market demand weakens further,” said analyst Kinngai Chan of Summit Insights Group.

Micron is responding to the oversupply of DRAM and NAND memory chips by investing more in its next generation of chips. Major suppliers to smartphone makers such as Apple Inc (AAPL.O) have lowered their sales forecasts, citing weak demand from device makers.

Data centers, which have been a boon for Micron as cloud computing providers like Amazon.com’s (AMZN.O) Amazon Web Services have become massive businesses, were a weak spot in Micron’s earnings. On the post-earnings call, Mehrotra cited “inventory adjustments” at data centers for the pressure on revenue.

Several chipmakers have cited strong demand in the months before U.S. tariffs were imposed on some Chinese goods, leaving analysts wondering if data center owners had tried to get in orders ahead of the levies.

“We expect this headwind will persist for a couple of quarters. We are seeing some cloud customers go through a digestion period following very strong growth over the last two years,” Mehrotra said.

Stifel analyst Kevin Cassidy said Micron was making the right move by slashing output instead of cutting prices to gain market share as it had in the past.

“We see today’s announcements as prioritizing profitability over market share gains,” he said.

Micron’s gross margin was 59 percent for the fiscal first quarter, and executives said U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods cut its gross margins by about half a percentage point, at the lower end of the negative impact it told investors in September.

Micron is ahead of schedule in addressing the expected impact of U.S. tariffs on its products, Manish Bhatia, Micron’s executive vice president of global operations, said in an interview.

“We made very good progress across multiple sites in our (factory) network taking the products that were being made in China and destined for the United States and quickly transferring them to other sites outside of China,” he said.

Net sales rose 16 percent to $7.91 billion, short of analysts’ expectations of $8.02 billion.

Excluding items, Micron earned $2.97 per share, narrowly beating the analyst average estimate of $2.96, according to I/B/E/S data from Refinitiv.

Reporting by Sonam Rai in Bengaluru and Stephen Nellis in San Francisco; additional reporting by Heekyong Yang in SEOUL; Editing by Richard Chang and Muralikumar Anantharaman

How Dense Does a Body Have to Be to Break a Concrete Floor?

I often miss some cool stuff the first time I watch a movie. This is probably a good thing—it shows that I’m focused on the story and not the small details. In this case, the movie is 2016’s Captain America: Civil War and the scene involves the density of a character named Vision.

OK, I am going to give a SPOILER ALERT—but if you haven’t seen this movie yet, I have a feeling you won’t be upset about spoilers. Anyway, this scene doesn’t reveal any huge plot points.

So here’s the deal. Vision is trying to keep Wanda (Scarlet Witch) safe in the Avengers’ headquarters. Hawkeye comes to help her leave, but Vision catches them. Although Vision could easily defeat Hawkeye, the same cannot be said for the powers of Scarlet Witch. Scarlet Witch has some ability to control matter—and in this case it appears that she can activate Vision’s powers. One of Vision’s primary powers is his ability to change his density.

So with a bit of magic, Scarlet Witch increases Vision’s density up to the point were he becomes too massive to move. He grows so massive that he breaks through the floor. With Vision out of the way, Wanda and Hawkeye are free to leave and finish the rest of the movie.

Density and Mass of Vision

Now for the fun part. What was the density and mass of Vision when he crashed through the floor? How about a quick review of density? Take a look at these five objects.

Rhett Allain

These blocks are all different, but there is something similar about them. If you took the three blocks on the left, they all have the same mass (about 45 grams). The three blocks on the right all have the same volume (I’m disappointed that they are almost exactly 1 cubic inch—they should have some value in cm3). But wait! What if you take the mass of each block and divide by its volume? This is how we define density. The density is a property that doesn’t depend on the size of the object, just its material. So the two white objects (on the ends) have different volumes and different masses, but the same density. The same is true for the two black objects.

To estimate the mass and density of Vision, I need some particular event that gives a hint about his mass since you can’t “see” the mass of an object. Yes, you guessed it: I can use moment that Vision breaks through the floor to estimate his mass.

Here is what I’m going to do. I’m going to assume the floor is made of concrete and that the gravitational force on Vision (due to his large mass) is enough to exceed the compressive strength of concrete to initiate the break.

What is “compressive strength”? This is the pressure a material can withstand before breaking. Yes, it’s the pressure and not the force (remember that pressure is the force divided by the contact area). This is why you can more easily break a material with a sharp pointy object than you can with a big flat object. The pointy object has a smaller area and therefore you get a bigger pressure for the same amount of force.

But what about the compressive strength of concrete? It’s perhaps between 20 and 40 mega Pascals (MPa) where a Pascal is the same as one Newton per square meter. This means that if the floor breaks, I know the pressure from the force between Vision and the floor. If I estimate his contact area, I can then calculate the force and next his masses.

Really, the only thing left to estimate is the contact area. I could perhaps do a more detailed analysis, but I think it’s fine to just get a rough value. What about a contact area that is a rectangle with a length of 1 meter and a width of 0.5 meters? That would put the area at 0.5 m2. I’m going with that.

Oh, one more thing. If I want to calculate the density of Vision, I also need his volume. He looks like a normal human—at least in terms of size. Humans have a density close to 1000 kg/m^3 (the density of water). If a human has a mass of 75 kg, the volume would be around 0.075 m3. I’m going with that value.

Let’s crunch the numbers. I’m including the calculations in this python script so that you can put your own values in (if you don’t like mine). Just click the “pencil” to edit and “play” to run it if you change any of the values.

Just to be clear, that is massive. The density is extreme (it’s not neutron-star-level density though). Actually, it’s sort of difficult to visualize a mass that large. How about this? What would be the size of a spherical asteroid of that same size? If the asteroid is made of normal stuff, it might have a density of 3,000 kg/m^3. With the same mass as Vision, a spherical asteroid would have a diameter of around 10 meters (30 feet). That’s one big old rock.

Homework

You know (or you should know) that I can’t just stop there. There are many questions left unanswered. I would normally just assign these as homework, but let me answer two of these questions for you.

Would there be a noticeable gravitational force between Vision and Hawkeye due to the large mass?

There is a gravitational interaction between all objects with mass. Normally on the surface of the Earth we only deal with the gravitational force between an object and the other. Interactions between two objects (like people) are usually so small that you would never be able to measure them. In this case, however, one of those people has a giant mass.

The magnitude of the gravitational force depends on both the masses of the objects and the distance between them. If you assume the objects are point masses (not true but an OK approximation), then the following equation calculates the force.

The G is just the universal gravitational constant with a value of 6.67 x 10-11 Nm2/kg2. If I assume a distance of 1.5 meters between Hawkeye and Vision, the gravitational force between them would be 0.0034 Newtons. That is a pretty tiny force. In fact, if you put a paperclip on top of Hawkeye’s head, the weight of this paperclip would be more than twice the gravitational pull from Vision. I don’t think Hawkeye would notice it.

Assuming Scarlet Witch increases Vision’s density at a constant rate, how long will it take for him to have a mass equivalent to the Earth?

If you watch a clip of the scene, it seems clear that Scarlet Witch starts influencing Vision’s mass when his head gem turns from yellow to red. Vision drops to his knees 13.9 seconds later. The floor also starts to crack at this point. Finally, after 20.4 seconds, Vision crashes through the floor.

Assuming a constant rate for the increase of mass (and thus density), the mass increases at 100,000 kilograms per second. If this mass increase rate stays constant, it would take 5 x 1019 seconds to get up to the mass of the Earth (6 x 1024 kg). Hint: that time is super, super, super long. It’s not going to happen. But it was still fun to calculate.

Here are a few more homework questions for you:

  • How long (assuming a constant mass increase rate) until Vision’s mass reaches the point where Hawkeye gets pulled to Vision?
  • If you consider the relationship between mass and energy (E = mc2), how much energy would it take to increase Vision’s mass? What about the power? How does this compare to the power output of the Sun?
  • How large would Vision’s mass need to get before he became a black hole?

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If Your Business Strategy Looks Too Complicated, It Probably Is. Here's Why

Once a year, I spend two days with my client companies developing their annual plan. While we continuously review strategy throughout the year, the annual plan is a chance to do a deeper dive into the internal and external factors that inform how to go to market.

Getting this strategy right, and keeping it right, is key to long-term growth and success. However, many teams get it wrong. They don’t get it wrong because the strategy they develop won’t work, but because it’s impossible to explain it in simple terms. If it’s not easy to explain, it will be impossible to execute.

Your employees, your partners, and your customers are the ones who will actually be implementing your strategy. If it’s too complicated to understand, they won’t understand it.

After you’ve decided on all of angles you’re going to play and all of the moves you’re going to make, set to work developing a simple, clear, and effective way to communicate it to everyone on the team. Here are three things every strategy must communicate easily and effectively to all stakeholders.

1. Set a clear (and limited) set of focused priorities.

In essence, strategy is about choice. And the first objective is to set a clear and decisive set of priorities for the organization. The fewer the better. These need to be above and beyond the day-to-day work and focused on long-term goals and key moves needed to get there.

Strategic moves include things like creating new products or services, developing new capabilities, entering new markets, scaling up capacity, or even researching technology. While all of these might help the organization, trying to do all of them at once won’t. Pick three to five for the year, max.

Another trick I often employ is to list all of the strategy options that the team  eliminated or de-prioritized. By publishing these strategies as well, you’re making specifically clear what you’re NOT doing in the coming year.

2. Set a clear definition of success and a timeline.

Beyond direction, a good strategy needs a clear desired outcome and definition of success. Too many strategies stop at big ideas without nailing down specifics. The devil lies in the details. Too often, I see a team of people agree to a high level strategic priority, only to discover they are on vastly different pages when the details are fleshed out.

For each strategic direction, create a set of specific goals that are both measurable and time bound. It should be clear to everyone what constitutes completion, and it ideally should include a handful of objective criteria. I generally suggest a simple checklist or short description of the outcome or product.

3. Create a compelling vision of future success.

Now that you have a clear set of priorities and a definition of success, it’s time to paint a vivid picture of success. As humans we’re wired to be compelled by stories and visual images. Turn the goals you’ve selected into a narrative  explaining why you’ve chosen these objectives, why they are the most important ones, and how achieving these will lead to organizational success.

If someone on your team has a creative bent, try illustrating your desired future with photos and illustrations. If you’re developing a new product or service, find images that reflect the impact you want to create on your customer. If you’re expanding into a new geography, create a slideshow highlighting the city or region and explain why it’s such an attractive market.

Having a strategy with a clear set of priorities and objectives with actionable outcomes will increase your stakeholder alignment. By creating a rich vision for future success you’ll drive engagement and motivation. When in doubt, keep it simple, clear, and compelling. A basic strategy, well-executed, will always beat a brilliant one whiffed.

Japanese electronics firms look to re-engineer their design mojo

TOKYO (Reuters) – Akihiro Adachi, a 31-year-old audiovisual equipment designer at Panasonic Corp, longed for some personal space during his lengthy train rides from Osaka to Tokyo. So when his company set out to encourage innovation, he joined with some colleagues and came up with “Wear Space,” a headset that limits noise and peripheral vision.

A designer of Panasonic demonstrates a prototype of ‘Wear Space’ during a photo opportunity in Tokyo, Japan, October 29, 2018. Picture taken October 29, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Many at Panasonic were puzzled.

“Someone said the office full of people wearing this would look weird,” said Kang Hwayoung, another member of the 10-person design team.

But the prototype unexpectedly won a global design award and received positive feedback from unexpected quarters, such as sake tasters who wanted to limit sensory input.

The project is among a range of efforts in the Japanese electronics industry to reinvigorate industrial design. After years of losing ground to design-first rivals such as Apple and Dyson, Japanese companies are now trying to recover the processes and creative flair that produced iconic products such as the Walkman.

Panasonic, Sony and Mitsubishi Electric are among those implementing practices that have been routine at many U.S. and European companies, such as engaging designers at every step and treating packaging as part of the product.

“We used to have designers involved only in final stages of our product development process, just for an aesthetic fix,” Yoshiyuki Miyabe, Panasonic’s technology and manufacturing chief, told reporters. “We are revamping the process so that designers can join us from the planning phase.”

The Japanese government is promoting the efforts: a report in May urged corporate executives to pursue “design-driven management, whereby a company leverages design as a primary driver of competitiveness.”

It also called for tax incentives for design-related investments and new laws to better protect intellectual property. The government is set to revise such laws next year.

“Of course, we had an argument over how much the government can do and should do with private-sector issues like this,” said Daisuke Kubota, director at the government’s design registration system planning office, who was involved in the panel.

“But a lot of design experts asked us for government initiatives, saying that this is really the last chance and Japan would never be able to catch up with global rivals if this opportunity is missed.”

Another member of the panel, Kinya Tagawa, visiting professor at the Royal College of Art and co-founder of design firm Takram, says there has been a sharp increase in major companies’ requesting design lectures for their executives.

“I’m seeing a sign of change,” he said.

THE ROAD AHEAD

All agree there is a long way to go. C-suite designers remain a rarity at most electronics companies while technologists reign supreme, company officials and industrial designers say.

Japan last year received 31,961 applications for design registrations, only a fraction of China’s 628,658 and half of South Korea’s 67,374. In the heyday of the Japanese electronics industry in the early 1980s, Japan had nearly 60,000 applications every year.

Tagawa said the root of today’s problems was the failure of Japanese firms to absorb lessons from the software revolution, which showed the importance of user-centered design principles and easy-to-use products such as Apple’s iPhone. Instead, they remained fixated on engineering.

Ryuichi Oya, who retired as design chief of Sharp Corp last month, says he saw that attitude up close when he moved to Sharp four years ago after a long stint at automaker Mazda Motor.

“Designers at home electronics companies have little say compared to engineers,” he said. “When engineers dismiss design proposals as too costly or difficult from an engineering point of view, designers easily succumb.”

Oya said he found it particularly hard to convince management of the need for a design vision.

“It’s not about whether you like this color or that shape,” he said. “There have to be design principles unique to Sharp and consistent across its product line.”

COMPETITION

Japanese designers cite the contrast with South Korea’s Samsung Group, where its patriarch, Lee Kun-hee, said in 1996 that design was a core management resource “imperative for a company’s survival in the 21st century.” He sharply boosted both the number and status of designers.

At Sony, insiders say design began its return to the forefront after chairman Kaz Hirai took over in 2012. Change has been slow as the company went through a painful restructuring, but the results can be seen its approach to the revival of Aibo, a robot dog.

Designers worked to craft a holistic user experience, starting from the moment a customer opened the box, tapping into a community of Aibo owners, Sony design chief Yutaka Hasegawa said.

“We had intense discussions over how Aibo should be packaged, to make it look closer to a living creature. It’s important because opening the container box marks the customer’s first encounter with the dog.”

Slideshow (6 Images)

They decided to lay Aibo sideways with its head tilting to the left, a more expensive option than placing it face down because the interior packaging must be asymmetrical.

The result was a buzz among Aibo owners, with some posting on the Internet videos showing a “ceremony for opening the Aibo container.”

($1 = 112.7200 yen)

Reporting by Makiko Yamazaki; Additional reporting by Yoshiyasu Shida; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Gerry Doyle

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

Over the past five years, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have released a trio of amazing low-budget sci-fi/horror films: Resolution, Spring, and The Endless. Science fiction author Christopher Cevasco says that what sets these films apart is their focus on compelling characters.

“The performances have to be really strong to pull off movies like these,” Cevasco says in Episode 339 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “They’re not reliant on special effects or crazy visuals. You’re immediately pulled in by the characters.”

Benson and Moorhead are real-life friends, which definitely shows in the way that they portray male friendship. For writer Sara Lynn Michener, that’s a welcome change from horror movies in which the characters are both disposable and detestable.

“I really appreciate that they are putting a lot of emotionally intelligent male characters in their films,” she says. “We see a lot of stereotypical male behavior in film, and it’s really lovely to see a film about a man taking care of his friend.”

Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy host David Barr Kirtley hopes to see more low-budget sci-fi films like The Endless. “I just think this should be so inspiring to other filmmakers, that you can make movies like Resolution for $3,000 and have 92 percent on Rotten Tomatoes,” he says. “This is a model for other people who want to do that.”

Benson and Moorhead are currently at work on a bigger-budget movie, Synchronic, starring Jamie Dornan and Anthony Mackie. TV writer Andrea Kail hopes the new film is able to maintain the same sensibility as their earlier work.

“I just hope they retain their creative independence, because they’re amazing storytellers, and that should be encouraged, and not reined in by a bunch of idiot studio executives,” she says.

Listen to the complete interview with Christopher Cevasco, Sara Lynn Michener, and Andrea Kail in Episode 339 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.

Andrea Kail on film school:

“Let me say this—and I’m sure NYU will come after me now—but if you want to be a filmmaker, don’t go to film school. Just don’t. It’s useless. You’re wasting your parents’ tens of thousands of dollars. All you need to do to figure out how to make a great film is watch movies—watch a ton of movies, read the scripts. You can download a million scripts off the internet. Watch the movies, read the scripts, take it apart, deconstruct it, figure out how it works, put it back together—like an El Camino on your front lawn. That’s how you figure out how to be a filmmaker, that is the way to do it. Don’t waste your parents’ money, don’t go to film school. It’ll ruin you.”

Sara Lynn Michener on religion:

“I went to Vacation Bible School growing up, and I was watching [The Endless] thinking, ‘Nope, this is terrifying.’ I always wonder whether it’s more terrifying for me or for anyone else who was raised in a restrictive thought environment, because there’s a very thin line between Vacation Bible School—which is this super-happy friendly innocent thing—and cults where people just decide to kill themselves. There’s a very thin line between those things. So I love movies that explore the horror of groups of people that get together and formulate these terrifying ideas. But yeah, the cult was totally believable to me.”

Christopher Cevasco on H. P. Lovecraft:

“There are some overt references [in The Endless] describing this entity as something we can’t quite see because its colors are off of our spectrum, and so of course those are all references to ‘The Colour Out of Space,’ which is a short story by Lovecraft. It’s about a meteor that crashes in a farm district and starts driving all the people in the area mad, turning the livestock into monstrosities and making all the vegetation really big and overgrown but also rotten and disgusting. A lot of those themes were used in the movie Annihilation which came out last year—I think Jeff VanderMeer is explicitly playing with a lot of the themes from ‘The Colour Out of Space’ in his book that the movie was based on. So there are definitely a lot of overt references to that.”

Andrea Kail on Hollywood:

“When you make an indie film, you’re the creator, and you have creative license because you’re not beholden to anybody. The minute you make a studio film, you are accountable to a bunch of accountants and a bunch of mid-level studio executives who went to the Peter Stark program at USC and then took a McKee seminar and suddenly think they’re film geniuses, and then they start giving you notes and telling you what to do. That’s what I fear. I hope it doesn’t go that way, because [Benson and Moorhead] have a very clear voice and they know what they’re doing, and I hope some dingbat 27-year-old kid doesn’t go, ‘Well I think it should be this.’”


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

The universe does not believe in Christmas, though this photo of a stellar nursery called NGC 346 might remind you of a seasonal decoration. It’s actually a combination of images: NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope provided the infrared, the ESO’s New Technology Telescope added the visible light spectrum, and the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton spacecraft sent in the x-ray. Clusters like these, dating back to just a few billion years after the Big Bang, are the source material for scientists looking to understand star formation, and by combining data from several telescopes they gain a better understanding on the goings-on at these nurseries.

Two’s the charm: You’re looking at a white dwarf and a red giant, a binary star called R Aquarii. As they orbit, material gets sucked from one star to the other, creating these tendrils of gas and dust. The European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope has a new instrument called SPHERE (short for Spectro-Polarimetric High-Contrast Exoplanet Research), and it’s primarily for hunting planets, but it ran a system test on this stellar pair.

More R Aquarii from the ESO’s Very Large Telescope, this time from 2012, with rather different details visible on the nebula surrounding the pair. While the white dwarf hoovers material from its partner, the red giant spews out loops that can be seen here in red. So the stars’ relationship isn’t exactly mutual. Like George and Martha from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, this couple may seem charming, but don’t let that fool you.

Zooming out quite a bit, let’s take a distant view of R Aquarii courtesy of the ESO’s Digitized Sky Survey 2. The pair of stars can be seen right at the center of the image as a bright orange dot. Even at this remove, you might notice the red loops of gas jutting out from the sides of the stars.

Cut loose, Speculoos: In the clear-skied Atacama desert of Chile, ESO astronomers built a prototype telescope to search for Earth-sized, potentially habitable planets orbiting smaller stars. For its starter snap, Speculoos appears to have done a splendid job with M83, otherwise known as the Southern Pinwheel galaxy, a bright barred spiral about 15 million light years away.

Jupiter’s coming atcha! This photo series comes from Juno last April—April Fools’ Day, to be exact. The changing angle in each image offers a sense of the spacecraft’s trajectory as it flew past the planet. There’s the bright, famous, always-be-photobombing Great Red Spot, but the white, gray, and brown undulating clouds that encircle the gas giant are mesmerizing in their own right.

Amazon Releases $30 Echo Wall Clock

In September, Amazon announced plans to launch an Echo-powered wall clock to help users visually track their timers.

Today, the clock officially became available to the masses.

On the surface, it looks like any other wall clock. The device, however, has 60 LEDs around the clock face to show any active timers you’ve initiated.

For example, if you set a timer for when you need to take a pie out of the oven and another for when your kids absolutely need to stop playing video games and get ready for dinner, you’ll see two LEDs on the clock.

While the clock sports the Echo name, you’ll need to have Alexa set up on another device such as an Echo Dot or your phone to use it. The clock itself doesn’t have any speakers or microphones. It’s meant to work in tandem with another Echo device.

You can snag one of the wall clocks from Amazon for $29.99.

And if you want something a little different, that Billy Big Mouth Bass Echo device has a speaker and microphones, so it works like a traditional Amazon Echo and is definitely bound to start a few conversations with your guests this holiday season.

Richard Branson Says He Will Travel to Space in Mid-2019, With Tourists to Follow Soon After

Following a successful test launch of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Thursday, Richard Branson said he’s planning on heading up to space “in the middle of next year” and that space tourists will also make the trip shortly afterward.

Thursday’s test, the fourth so far by Virgin Galactic, carried two pilots and a passenger dummy on a spacecraft more than 50 miles into the air, high enough to meet the Federal Aviation Administration’s definition of space. Afterward, Branson was asked on CNBC when the company would start ferrying human passengers.

Branson said that SpaceShipTwo would first be examined to see if changes are needed before facing a few more rounds of tests. “Then we will move the operation to a space port in New Mexico,” he said. “Then I will then go up, and we’ll do another set of tests. If every box is ticked we will start to be able to take members of the public up.”

In the past, Branson noted, his timing estimates have erred on the side of the optimistic. “I always get these estimates wrong. It’s been 14 years to get to this stage. I thought it would be seven,” he said. “But I would hope sometime in the middle of next year, I’ll be going up and quite soon after that members of the public will go up.”

The cost of a trip on a Virgin Galactic spacecraft has been estimated to be between $200,000 and $250,000. In the interview, CEO George Whitesides said that the price for early trips might be higher than that range, although the company hopes it will eventually be lower in the longer term.

To accommodate more passengers, Virgin Galactic is building two more spaceships. Branson said all three may be taking humans to space “in the not too distant future.”

Starbucks sales growth to be steady despite UberEats deal, plans for China expansion

FILE PHOTO: A Starbucks store is seen inside the Tom Bradley terminal at LAX airport in Los Angeles, California, United States, October 27, 2015. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

(Reuters) – Starbucks Corp (SBUX.O) said on Thursday it was partnering with UberEats for delivery from about 3,500 U.S. stores and would nearly double its outlets in China over the next four years, but forecast that same-store sales would remain steady, sending shares down 3 percent.

The company said it expects its global same-store sales growth between 3 percent and 4 percent annually in the long term, roughly in line with a forecast that estimates sales growth to be at the lower end of 3 percent to 5 percent this year.

Starbucks has been struggling to lure diners to its restaurants as it faces severe competition from smaller coffee chains that offer exotic coffees as well as fresh food.

In its attempt to withstand competition, the Seattle-based chain that owns about 14,000 restaurants in the U.S. has been revamping its owned and licensed businesses, improving delivery, closing Teavana stores, laying off workers and adding new food as well as drinks to its menu.

The latest delivery initiative, which will commence from the beginning of 2019, builds on a pilot program launched in Miami in September, the company said.

The company said last month it was partnering with UberEats to deliver coffee and food in Tokyo, as part of its plan to boost sales in Japan, one of its major Asia-Pacific markets.

Starbucks also said on Thursday it would raise its store footprint in China, its fastest growing market, to 6,000 stores across 230 cities over the next four years, up from 3,600 stores in 150 cities.

Starbucks has partnered with Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (BABA.N) earlier this year for delivering food and coffee in China, as it looks to compete with local coffee chains.

The world’s biggest coffee chain’s shares were down 3 percent at $64.84 in after-hours trading.

Reporting by Aishwarya Venugopal and Nivedita Balu in Bengaluru; Editing by James Emmanuel

Bitcoin ransoms just are not what they used to be

(Reuters) – Give me bitcoin or your life. Seriously?

FILE PHOTO: A collection of Bitcoin (virtual currency) tokens are displayed in this picture illustration taken December 8, 2017. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/File Photo

The people behind a rash of bomb threats made across the United States and Canada on Thursday demanded a $20,000 ransom to be paid in bitcoin. Authorities said none of the threats – emailed to hundreds of businesses, public offices and schools – appeared credible.

Frankly, the perpetrators would have been better off asking for Turkish lira.

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have long been a favorite ransom tender for cyber criminals thanks to the currencies’ anonymous nature. U.S. cyber security firm Chainalysis estimates that from 2012 through 2017, global ransom payments using bitcoin totaled at least $31 million.

Anonymity aside, of course, the big appeal was an incredible run-up in bitcoin’s value over that time. It shot from $5 a coin at the start of 2012 to nearly $20,000 at this time last year, according to data from Bitstamp, one of the larger bitcoin exchanges.

Today? Not so hot.

Bitcoin on Thursday was trading at around $3,250, down more than 80 percent from its record high. In the last three months alone it has plunged 50 percent.

Even the currencies of some crisis-hit economies like Turkey have done better: The lira is up 30 percent since August.

(GRAPHIC: Bitcoin falls on hard times – tmsnrt.rs/2zWLEJH)

Reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfus and Anna Irrera in New York; Writing by Dan Burns; Editing by Matthew Lewis

U.S. tribunal to review ruling on Qualcomm request for iPhone ban

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) said on Wednesday it would review a ruling that a ban on imports of some iPhones into the United States was not in the public interest, even if Apple Inc (AAPL.O) infringed a Qualcomm (QCOM.O) patent.

FILE PHOTO: People look at iPhones at the World Trade Center Apple Store during a Black Friday sales event in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., November 23, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Apple and Qualcomm are locked in a wide-ranging legal dispute in which Apple has accused Qualcomm of unfair patent licensing practices. Qualcomm has in turn accused Apple of patent infringement.

Qualcomm initiated the ITC case against Apple in July 2017, alleging that iPhones containing Intel (INTC.O) chips infringed six patents describing technology that helps smartphones perform well without draining the battery.

Qualcomm did not allege that Intel chips violate its patents, but that the way Apple implemented them in the iPhone does. It later dropped three of the six patents from the case.

Administrative law judge Thomas Pender, a now-retired member of the ITC tribunal that hears patent infringement cases, ruled in September that Apple infringed one of the patents, but cleared the company of infringing the other two.

Pender recommended the agency not grant Qualcomm the relief the San Diego, California-based chipmaker had sought, saying it was not in the U.S. interest.

The ITC said on Wednesday it would review whether the one patent was indeed infringed and also whether it was right to not grant Qualcomm relief. Pender’s decision on the other two patents would not be reviewed, it said.

The agency would also consider how long it would take Apple to design around Qualcomm’s patented battery-saving technology, what national security concerns would be implicated by an sales ban and whether a limited import ban could be adopted, it said.

“We are pleased that the Commission is going to review the Administrative Law Judge’s recommendation that no ITC remedy should result from a finding of infringement,” Don Rosenberg, Qualcomm’s executive vice president and general counsel, said in a statement after the announcement.

Apple declined to comment.

A final ruling is due before February 19, the ITC said.

Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall

Amazon’s Holiday Toy Catalog Is Advertising Parents Actually Want

Never underestimate the market-moving potential of a nagging child. “Mom, Dad, I want THIS for Christmas!” is a phrase that each year leads to billions of dollars of toy sales. And it’s a phrase parents can appreciate, because knowing what your kid actually wants to find under the tree helps minimize Christmas morning tears. Toy manufacturers and retailers spend millions of dollars each year to make sure their products are the ones on everyone’s wish list, with TV and online ads, special retail displays, and old-fashioned toy catalogs.

The stakes are particularly high this holiday season, since one-time retail juggernaut Toys R Us closed all its US locations earlier this year. Even while its sales were declining, Toys R Us still accounted for around 12 percent of the estimated $27 billion total toy sales in 2017, according to Juli Lennett of NPD Group, the leading toy industry analysts in the US.

With Toys R Us gone, those sales are up for grabs, and Amazon wants them. The digital-first company was already beating Toys R Us in market share. And while it alone was not responsible for the demise of Toys R Us—poor business decisions and its sizable debt were also to blame—Amazon did put intense pressure on the toy store chain with extremely low prices, especially during the last few holidays seasons, using its familiar tactic of sacrificing profit for market share. Toys R Us couldn’t compete. Now Amazon hopes to feed from the carcass.

And so the e-commerce giant went retro this holiday season, mailing out its first-ever print toy catalog, like the one Toys R Us used to be known for. The “Holiday of Play” lookbook from Amazon is 68 pages long and features toys like the über-popular LOL! Surprise dolls, LEGO’s Star Wars Solo, and the Osmos Genius Kit for iPad. An Amazon representative told WIRED the catalog was sent it to millions of customers in November, but wouldn’t give exact numbers. It’s also available at Whole Foods, and some physical Amazon store locations, or online in PDF and Kindle form.

The catalog may be made of paper, but it’s designed as a gateway to a digital transaction. What it lacks in pricing information it makes up in QR codes and stickers that kids can use to make note of presents they want their parents to buy. It also works with the Amazon app: Take a photo of the catalog item you (or your kids) want, and the app will pull up the listing and let you buy it from your phone.

“The great thing about a catalog is that it sits on the coffee table, where kids can find it,” says Steve Pasierb, CEO of The Toy Association, a trade group representing American toy manufacturers. “The catalog is a market share play. Amazon has a huge chance to win a lot of those holiday sales.”

Amazon’s top competitors for Toys R Us’s sales are Target and Walmart, according to experts—traditional retailers that have mailed out holiday catalogs for years. And in the wake of Toys R Us closing, both companies decided to devote more shelf space in their retail locations to toys, says Pasierb. With only a handful of physical stores in a few major cities, Amazon’s toy push comes in the form of a dedicated landing page for kids on its website, and its catalog.

“They’re emulating a proven method of doing business, which is the catalog, but using their muscle to engage at a particular time when there are just fewer retailers now who sell toys,” says Richard Gottlieb, CEO of research firm Global Toy Experts. Gottlieb was impressed with Amazon’s catalog, though he far preferred eBay’s catalog full of weird and wild and expensive one-of-a-kind toys, which launched this season as well.

Amazon and eBay are joining the many other e-commerce companies still finding print catalogs have value in the digital era. Catalogs are harder to ignore than the clutter of online ads, one footwear startup founder told Digiday earlier this year, explaining that his company gets a slightly higher return on direct mail versus digital-only marketing. Companies can also use data to target catalogs to customers they know are likely to spend more money. And they are a traditional way for families to compile gift wish lists.

“I’m old enough to remember the Sears catalog,” says Gottlieb. “I remember laying on the floor just going through it. I didn’t get much anything out of it. But you know, marking things, studying it in detail. It was wonderful and a wonderful way to communicate with your parents what you want.”

People really want and love catalogs. Take a glance at the reviews for the Kindle version on Amazon’s website. Plenty of customers posted bad reviews, not because they didn’t like the catalog, but because they were annoyed that they didn’t get one.

“Why can’t we get a book and why didn’t we get one? We have been prime members for years, have 4 kids, buy lots of toys, and no book. And we can’t order one……,” reads the top-rated review right now. “Would love to have the toy catalog delivered through the mail. The children love looking at it and circling what they like. I dont use Kindle. I’ve been a prime member for many years and did not get one,” reads another. A review from November 15 is even more direct: “Disappointed that I didn’t and can not now get a hard copy in the mail even though I have two small children and spend a ton on toys through Amazon Prime. I AM YOUR TARGET MARKET. Speaking of Target – I’ll be doing my toy shopping there because I am THAT petty.”

The disappointment those Amazon reviewers felt speaks to the reason catalogs have worked so well. They’re convenient, above all. Enjoyable, even. And this time of year, when millions of Americans are going to buy toys, it’s easier for children to thumb through a physical catalog that feels like a big book of wonders than a notoriously hard-to-navigate website.

Kids, especially, don’t have a great way to discover toys on the actual Amazon website. Even its dedicated toy section divided by age group is confusing to navigate. And while the site does have a wishlist feature, parents might not trust their kid to trawl through Amazon’s website on their account, since they could accidentally push one button and buy something. A print catalog is a way for Amazon to directly get its offering in front of children, while also giving parents a little bit more control over the process.

The toy catalog is a familiar marketing throwback in an otherwise rapidly evolving industry. Pasierb notes that with the growth in streaming entertainment for kids, the kinds of ads children see have changed. “Unboxing videos, the online kind of stuff is for a lot of our toy companies as important or now more important than traditional television advertising. A lot of our companies that no longer do traditional TV advertising do almost all exclusively digital,” says Pasierb. The highest-paid YouTube celebrity this year, according to Forbes, was a 7-year-old boy making unboxing videos of toys, earning an estimated $22 million in 12 months.

“[These kinds of ads] are entertainment in their own right,” says Lennett. “A lot of these kids, I don’t think they know the difference between watching a show—a real show—versus watching another kid playing with a toy on YouTube.”

“In my household, the word ‘TV’ is gone. Now it’s just ‘shows.’ Children have already fully internalized the idea of on demand, and that disrupts the ad model completely,” says David Carroll, professor of media design at the New School.

But Carroll doesn’t let his two kids watch YouTube, where they might see those ads. I don’t let my three-year-old son watch it, either. We are the exception; a recent Pew survey found that 81 percent of parents do allow their young kids to watch YouTube. Our reasons are less to do with fear of seeing ads than fear that we can’t control the algorithm and our children might get exposed to inappropriate, creepy, or ideological videos. Instead, our kids mostly watch on-demand shows on Amazon Prime, Netflix, iTunes, or Google Play—and those are largely free of ads.

“The only way [Amazon’s toy offerings] are getting in front of my children is through a catalog,” says Carroll. Only Carroll never got an Amazon catalog, despite his prolific Prime usage. Neither did I. Neither did Lennett, who says, “I’m mad I didn’t get one.” Though her kids are teenagers, she buys lots of stuff on Amazon and thought they’d receive one in the mail, as some of her friends did. An Amazon representative declined to comment on how the company decided who to send the catalog to, though the person offered to send me one. (I declined.)

For Amazon, a catalog also fits well with its bigger push into the physical world, with everything from actual store locations to Dash buttons you physically push to order goods. “[Amazon owner Jeff] Bezos has total world domination as the goal. So from that perspective it makes sense that they would not take a digital-only approach. They would take a whatever works approach,” says Carroll.

For world domination, Amazon has to be everything. And everywhere. Even in the living room, where your kid can find it and come up to you whining, “Mom! I want this!” That is, if Amazon sent you one.


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Kubernetes etcd data project joins CNCF

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Kubernetes: The smart person's guide

Kubernetes: The smart person’s guide

Kubernetes is a series of open source projects for automating the deployment, scaling, and management of containerized applications. Find out why the ecosystem matters, how to use it, and more.

Read More

How do you store data across a Kubernetes container cluster? With etcd. This essential part of Kubernetes has been managed by CoreOS/Red Hat. No longer. Now, the open-source etcd project has been moved from Red Hat to the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF).

What is etcd? No, it’s not what happens when a cat tries to type a three-letter acronyms. Etcd (pronounced et-see-dee) was created by the CoreOS team in 2013. It’s an open-source, distributed, consistent key-value database for shared configuration, service discovery, and scheduler coordination. It’s built on the Raft consensus algorithm for replicated logs.

Also: Kubernetes’ first major security hole discovered

Etcd’s job is to safely store critical data for distributed systems. It’s best known as Kubernetes’ primary datastore, but it can be used for other projects. For example, “Alibaba uses etcd for several critical infrastructure systems, given its superior capabilities in providing high availability and data reliability,” said Xiang Li, an Alibaba senior staff engineer.

When applications use etcd they have more consistent uptime. Even when individual servers fail, etcd ensures that services keep working. This doesn’t just protect against what would otherwise prove show-stopping failures, it also makes it possible to automatic update systems without downtime. You can also use it to coordinate work between servers and set up container overlay networking.

In his KubeCon keynote, Brandon Philips, CoreOS CTO, said: “Today we’re excited to transfer stewardship of etcd to the same body that cares for the growth and maintenance of Kubernetes. Given that etcd powers every Kubernetes cluster, this move brings etcd to the community that relies on it most at the CNCF.”


Must read


That doesn’t mean Red Hat is walking away from etcd. Far from it. Red Hat will continue to help develop etcd. After all, etcd is is an essential part of Red Hat’s enterprise Kubernetes product, Red Hat OpenShift.

Moving forward, etcd will only grow stronger. It being used by more and more companies, as Kubernetes is adopted by almost every cloud container company. In particular, Phillips said, he expects far more work to be done on etcd security.

Related stories:

Cyber Saturday—Marriott’s Data Breach Baloney, Quora Hack, Aussie Encryption Law

Happy weekend, Cyber Saturday readers.

I’m back stateside after a week-and-a-half stay in China, where I helped host Fortune‘s 2018 Global Tech Forum. I hope you understand the absence of last weekend’s dispatch; following the event, I took an impromptu vacation in Hong Kong. Thankfully, I did not stay at a Marriott hotel. Speaking of which.

As you have no doubt heard by now, Marriott disclosed a massive data breach that exposed up to 500 million customer records. Hackers accessed information in the company’s Starwood reservation system, which affected brands such as W Hotels, St. Regis, Sheraton Hotels & Resorts, Westin Hotels & Resorts, and other properties in the Starwood portfolio, the company said. The intrusion apparently began in 2014, two years before Marriott acquired Starwood. This oversight in the M&A process calls to mind another recent, post-acquisition hacker-surprise: Yahoo, whose two mega-breaches remained undetected when the company sold to Verizon last year. Coincidentally, Marriott’s hack is the biggest suffered by a corporation, second only to those at Yahoo.

After news of the Marriott breach came out, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) called on the hotel chain to foot the bill and replace people’s passports which were potentially compromised as part of the breach. Marriott quickly promised to cover the cost for as many as 327 million people whose passport numbers may have been exposed. At a fee of $110 per passport, that would put Marriott on the hook to pay up to $36 billion—a price tag equivalent to the value of the entire company, per its market capitalization. A devastating payout.

Here’s the thing though: While seemingly noble, Marriott’s promise is a bunch of baloney. The company said it will follow through on reimbursement only in instances where it “determine[s] that fraud has taken place.” What this caveat conveniently excludes is that Marriott’s hack likely had little to do with fraud and everything to do with espionage. In other words, if you’re a victim, don’t expect remuneration.

As Reuters reported, investigators believe the perpetrators of this attack were Chinese spies. The breach used tools, tactics, and procedures that matched Beijing’s style. The intrusion is said to have begun shortly after a breach of the government’s Office of Personnel Management, which government officials have attributed to China. The Starwood database represents a massive trove of potential intelligence: information on who is staying where, when—a bonanza for building up profiles of targets and tracking people of interest.

Geng Shuang, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, issued a statement saying the country “opposes all forms of cyber attack,” per Reuters. He said the country would investigate the claims, if offered evidence. Meanwhile, Connie Kim, a Marriott spokesperson, said “we’ve got nothing to share” about the Chinese attribution claim.

The Marriott breach—which took place quietly over years, as spies prefer—does not appear to have been a cybercriminal score. The passport payment pledge is probably bunk; nevertheless, if you think you might have been affected, it won’t hurt to follow these steps to refresh your cybersecurity hygiene and better protect yourself.

Have a great weekend.

Robert Hackett

@rhhackett

robert.hackett@fortune.com

Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter. Fortune reporter Robert Hackett here. You may reach Robert Hackett via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber (see OTR fingerprint on my about.me), PGP encrypted email (see public key on my Keybase.io), Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.

Marriott Says It Will Pay for Replacement Passports After Data Breach. Here’s Why That’s Likely Baloney.

As you have no doubt heard by now, Marriott disclosed a massive data breach that exposed up to 500 million customer records. Hackers accessed information in the company’s Starwood reservation system, which affected brands such as W Hotels, St. Regis, Sheraton Hotels & Resorts, Westin Hotels & Resorts, and other properties in the Starwood portfolio, the company said. The intrusion apparently began in 2014, two years before Marriott acquired Starwood. This oversight in the M&A process calls to mind another recent, post-acquisition hacker-surprise: Yahoo, whose two mega-breaches remained undetected when the company sold to Verizon last year. Coincidentally, Marriott’s hack is the biggest suffered by a corporation, second only to those at Yahoo.

After news of the Marriott breach came out, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) called on the hotel chain to foot the bill and replace people’s passports which were potentially compromised as part of the breach. Marriott quickly promised to cover the cost for as many as 327 million people whose passport numbers may have been exposed. At a fee of $110 per passport, that would put Marriott on the hook to pay up to $36 billion—a price tag equivalent to the value of the entire company, per its market capitalization. A devastating payout.

Here’s the thing though: While seemingly noble, Marriott’s promise is a bunch of baloney. The company said it will follow through on reimbursement only in instances where it “determine[s] that fraud has taken place.” What this caveat conveniently excludes is that Marriott’s hack likely had little to do with fraud and everything to do with espionage. In other words, if you’re a victim, don’t expect remuneration.

As Reuters reported, investigators believe the perpetrators of this attack were Chinese spies. The breach used tools, tactics, and procedures that matched Beijing’s style. The intrusion is said to have begun shortly after a breach of the government’s Office of Personnel Management, which government officials have attributed to China. The Starwood database represents a massive trove of potential intelligence: information on who is staying where, when—a bonanza for building up profiles of targets and tracking people of interest.

Geng Shuang, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, issued a statement saying the country “opposes all forms of cyber attack,” per Reuters. He said the country would investigate the claims, if offered evidence. Meanwhile, Connie Kim, a Marriott spokesperson, said “we’ve got nothing to share” about the Chinese attribution claim.

The Marriott breach—which took place quietly over years, as spies prefer—does not appear to have been a cybercriminal score. That’s why the passport payment pledge is probably bunk; nevertheless, if you think you might have been affected, it won’t hurt to follow these steps to refresh your cybersecurity hygiene and better protect yourself.

A version of this article first appeared in Cyber Saturday, the weekend edition of Fortune’s tech newsletter Data Sheet. Sign up here.

Uber confidentially files for IPO: sources

FILE PHOTO: The Uber application is seen on a mobile phone in London, Britain, September 14, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo

(Reuters) – Ride-hailing company Uber Technologies Inc filed paperwork confidentially this week for an initial public offering next year, three people familiar with the matter said on Friday, setting the stage for what would be one of the biggest listings ever.

Uber’s most recent valuation was $76 billion.

One person said the filing was on Thursday.

That put it in lock step with smaller rival Lyft Inc, which also on Thursday filed for an IPO in a test of investors’ appetite for some of the most highly valued Silicon Valley companies and for the ride-hailing business. Uber has become a wildly popular service but has an uncertain future with a number of loss-making businesses.

Uber Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi had told Reuters in May that the ride-hailing company was on track to launch an initial public offering next year.

The Wall Street Journal reported the filing earlier on Friday.

Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru; Editing by Sandra Maler

Amazon Has a History of Bear Repellent Accidents

Two dozen Amazon warehouse employees in New Jersey were hospitalized Wednesday, one in critical condition, after a robot punctured a can of bear repellent, according to local reports. The news was soon picked up by national outlets and spread on social media, in part because it’s a perfect horror story for the year of our lord 2018.

In total, 54 workers at the Robbinsville, NJ, facility were exposed to fumes. Bear repellent is made with capsaicin, or chili pepper extract; many of the workers experienced trouble breathing and said their throats and eyes burned. All of the injured workers are expected to be released from hospitals soon if they haven’t been already, according to Rachael Lighty, a spokesperson for Amazon. “The safety of our employees is always our top priority,” she said in a statement. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration says it is conducting an investigation into the incident.

Wednesday’s mishap demonstrates the many hazards that workers must contend with in Amazon’s sprawling warehouses, where almost every product imaginable may be in stock—including aerosol cans of irritating spray for warding off bears. This particular accident comes with an added dystopian layer, since it was caused by one of the robots Amazon hopes will replace many of its human warehouse workers in the near future.

But things get much stranger when you realize this isn’t the first time a can of bear repellent has exploded in an Amazon facility. In 2015, the fire department responded to an accident at an Amazon facility in Haslet, Texas, that was caused by a robot running over a can of none other than bear repellent, according to public records unearthed by Jessica Bruder for her book Nomadland, which chronicles the lives of the retail giant’s older, transient workforce.

The New Jersey incident wasn’t even the first bear repellent accident at an Amazon facility in 2018! One employee at an Amazon warehouse in Indiana told WIRED that a can ruptured in his facility earlier this year. The worker says that accident was caused by someone dropping the can and they believe no injuries occurred. They think the way the product is packaged may be the issue; the employee adds that they, too, have dropped the repellent, though in their case it didn’t rupture. “It’s a clamshell that pops open when you pick it up,” says the employee. “What I can say is that our safety people are on it and they are top-notch.”

Lighty, the Amazon spokesperson, confirmed in an email that an incident involving bear repellent did occur at the Indiana facility earlier this year. She also confirmed the 2015 accident in Texas. However, she added, “I do not have exact information on the root cause of either scenario, only that they were different.”

It’s not just bear spray that can cause issues at Amazon. The mishap this week in New Jersey affected a particularly large number of people, but bizarre and tragic accidents happen at the company’s facilities on a regular basis, some more serious than others. In November, two Amazon contractors were killed when a wall inside a distribution center in Baltimore collapsed during a bad storm. Seven months earlier, two people suffered minor injuries at a facility in Ohio after a tornado ripped open a 100-foot hole in the roof. Last September, an employee at an Amazon warehouse in Pennsylvania was run over by a truck and killed.

Accidents happen often at Amazon in part because it’s one of the largest employers in the US. Fatal occupational injuries have also been on the rise across the country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Amazon does employ on-site medical contractors, at least at some facilities, according to another employee who works at an Amazon warehouse on the East Coast. They are equipped to provide basic medical care, in the case of minor illnesses and injuries. The worker said that a handful of medical staff work each shift at their facility.

Some experts say, however, that Amazon is a particularly dangerous place to work for other reasons. The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, a labor advocacy group, announced in August that Amazon topped its annual “Dirty Dozen” list highlighting companies that it believes put workers especially at risk because of unsafe labor practices. The organization counted seven deaths that have occurred at US Amazon facilities since 2013, including three at separate locations in the span of five weeks in 2017. (The two Baltimore contractors who died in November would bring the number up to nine.) When the COSH report was released, an Amazon spokesperson told Business Insider in part that, “While any serious incident is one too many, we learn and improve our programs working to prevent future incidents.” The company added that it surveys employees each month to measure their perception of safety in their facility.

In the United Kingdom, ambulances were called over 600 times to Amazon facilities in the past three years, according to Freedom of Information requests filed by the the trade union GMB. A July report from The Guardian found that some Amazon workers have suffered injuries that left them unable to work, and in some cases, homeless.

The Robbinsville facility where Wednesday’s bear repellent accident happened has drawn scrutiny for other workplace safety issues. In 2016, OSHA issued Amazon a citation for failing to report at least 26 work-related illnesses and injuries there. “We take safety very seriously, we do not agree with the findings and will be contesting the citation,” an Amazon spokesperson told CBS Moneywatch at the time.

Have you witnessed a bear repellent-related incident at an Amazon facility? Contact the author at louise_matsakis@wired.com or via Signal at 347-966-3806.


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