Shared posts

23 Oct 12:57

The Surprising Science Behind The Movie 'Interstellar'

by Dave Mosher

Wormhole from the Interstellar movie trailer
Syncopy/Paramont Pictures

Asking a team of journalists to rally around a science fiction movie might sound ludicrous. Yet some combination of boundless vision, relaxing of natural laws, and enthralling story can prompt even the most disciplined Popular Science employee to daydream at his or her desk. To us, science fiction is a lens through which we can explore our place and future in the universe.

So when we found out director Christopher Nolan was making Interstellar, we couldn’t resist. The film promises to pull habitable alien worlds into reach, bring far-out spaceflight technologies within grasp, and test humanity’s mettle in spectacular fashion. We wondered aloud: What if?

You won’t find any spoilers here; we have yet to see the movie, which stars Anne Hathaway and Matthew McConaughey and debuts Nov. 7. But in geeking out with experts over the limited information we extracted from the movie’s trailers (Nolan’s team, including theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, refused all interview requests), we rounded up the latest knowledge about wormhole travel, robotic companions, habitable exoplanets, and, of course, starships.

Without further navel-gazing, we present the science of Interstellar.

23 Oct 12:43

Christian Bale Confirmed to Play Steve Jobs in Upcoming Film

by Brandon Hill
Aaron Sorkin to write the film's screenplay, while Danny Boyle will direct
22 Oct 20:34

After Catching 1,000+ Pedophiles, CG Child Scores First Conviction

by Jason Mick
"Sweetie" is helping to ferret out child predators on the internet
22 Oct 17:24

Sorry, Cat Haters, Science Isn't On Your Side

by Rafi Letzter

"Unfeeling" Cats

Some people just don't like cats. That's okay. Some people don't like pizza. Or dogs. Or Harry Potter. But some cat-haters aren't satisfied with not owning cats themselves. They need to drag the rest of us down with them.

"Those who hate the cat hate him with a malignity which, I think, only snakes in the animal kingdom provoke to an equal degree."

The first thing you notice when you dig around in the seedy underworld of cat-bashing is that it's an old hobby. The haters have left their mark across poetry, literature, and art for centuries.

"There's always going to be someone in a group who's going to stand up and say cats are aloof, manipulative little devils," says cat researcher John Bradshaw.

In his 1922 cultural history of the domestic cat, The Tiger in the House, Carl Van Vechten notes, "One is permitted to assume an attitude of placid indifference in the matter of elephants, cockatoos, H.G. Wells, Sweden, roast beef, Puccini, and even Mormonism, but in the matter of cats it seems necessary to take a firm stand....Those who hate the cat hate him with a malignity which, I think, only snakes in the animal kingdom provoke to an equal degree."

Joseph Stromberg at Vox is only the most recent ailurophobe to launch a broadside against the feline species. His 28-paragraph essay on the supposed evils of Felis catus, published last week, tells readers that cats are "selfish, unfeeling, environmentally harmful creatures."

His argument breaks down into four simple points: "Your cat probably doesn't love you." "Your cat isn't really showing you affection." "Cats are an environmental disaster." And, "Your cat might be driving you crazy."

We called Bradshaw, an internationally recognized cat and dog researcher and author of several books on pet ownership, including Cat Sense, for his learned opinion on the "science" of cat-bashing.

Feline Love Isn't Needy

The Difference Between Dogs And Cats

Haters want you to believe cats don't really care about their people. Stromberg points to a series of studies by Daniel Mills at the University of London and other researchers that show cats don't look to humans for guidance in unfamiliar situations. Abandon your dog (or child) in a place it's never seen before, and it's likely to run to you on your return. Cats are more likely to explore the space on their own terms.

Compared to a stranger, the dogs become more disturbed when their owners leave, and interact with them more when they return. By contrast, Mills' cat experiments — which are still ongoing and haven't yet been published, but were featured in a BBC special last year—haven't come to the same conclusion. On the whole, the cats seem disinterested both when their owners depart and return.

Meanwhile, other experiments carried out by a pair of Japanese researchers have provided evidence for a fact already known to most cat owners: they can hear you calling their name, but just don't really care. As detailed in a study published last year, the researchers gathered 20 cats (one at a time) and played them recordings of three different people calling their name—two strangers, plus their owners.

Regardless of the order, the cats consistently reacted differently upon hearing their owner's voice (in terms of ear and head movement, as graded by independent raters who didn't know which voice belonged to the owner). However, none of them meowed or actually approached the speaker, as though they'd be interested in seeing the person.

Bradshaw says this interpretation draws too much out of limited study—research similar to work he has done himself. "It shows something about cats, but it doesn't show you that cats are not affectionate," he says.

Dogs have evolved to be "almost obsessively" dependent on humans, Bradshaw says. In unfamiliar situations, they look to their humans as sources of stability and guidance, much like small children. Cats, on the other hand, "prefer to deal with things in their own heads." 

A creature that fails to run to your side in a strange situation does not necessarily have a cold, unfeeling heart. Some couples show up at parties and hold hands the entire time, talking mostly to one another. Others split up when they arrive, mingle, meet new people. But they still leave together when it ends. Your cat's a mingler—an explorer.

Your Cat Really Is Showing Affection

A Cat Not Faking It

After wedging a seed of doubt into the emotional relationships between humans and their cats, the enemies of felinekind try to insert themselves into the physical expressions of human-feline love. Stromberg is no exception:

Many cats... will rub up against the leg of their owner (or another human) when the person enters a room. It's easy to construe this as a sign of affection. But many researchers interpret this as an attempt, by the cat, to spread his or her scent — as a way to mark territory. Observations of semi-feral cats show that they commonly rub up against trees or other objects in the exact same way, which allows them to deposit pheromone-containing secretions that naturally come out of their skin.

In other words, all the squirming and rubbing cats lavish on their owners are just the feline equivalent to a dog lifting its leg and peeing all over a fire hydrant.

Bradshaw says this notion is way off-base. "Superficially, [rubbing against humans] looks like scent marking," he says, but "the display that goes on when a cat raises its tail and rubs its sides against another cat, or a person, is a social action."

"Like all genuine affectionate relationships, [cat cuddling] is a two-way street."

Some researchers suggest the behavior has a its roots in the creation of a "clan scent" for packs of wild cats, but no one has published proof. What's important, Bradshaw says, is the interaction between creatures. The raised tail is a signal of good intent. When two cats know each other well they will rub their whole bodies against each other, including their sides, which have no scent glands. They often then lie down together and purr. Cats will do the same thing with their owners. Claiming this behavior is no deeper than a wild cat rubbing its face on tree bark is like saying that human handshakes are mostly about checking for secret weapons.

A 2013 study supposedly shows cats hate when humans pet them.

The research indeed found that cats pumped stress hormones into their bloodstreams when they were petted excessively. But Bradshaw points out that the research was conducted in Brazil, a country where house cats are far less common than small dogs. He thinks pet owners used to rough-and-tumble dogs might not prepared to handle cats in ways they enjoy. The cats grabbed and picked up for the study were reacting to a long history of unpleasant interactions, not simple human touch.

"Like all genuine affectionate relationships, [cat cuddling] is a two-way street," he says. "Dogs put up with harsher treatment. Yank on a choke chain, and the dog bounces back. Cats say goodbye."

Your Cat Is Too Clumsy To Threaten Wildlife

Threats To All Birdkind

Perhaps the most damning charge against cats is that they are natural murderers who can disrupt local ecosystems. Stromberg pounced gleefully once again:

In the US, domestic cats are an invasive species—they originated in Asia. And research shows that, whenever they're let outside, cats' carnivorous activity has a devastating effect on wild bird and small mammal populations, even if the cats are well-fed.

So what's an environmentally-conscious cat lover to do? Bradshaw says not to worry. It turns out, as long as your cat wasn't born feral or on a farm, it's probably a clumsy hunter. Birds and rodents zip away from its plodding, obvious approach.

Bradshaw says cats learn to kill from their mothers. In the wild, a kitten follows its mom on many hunts in the first eight weeks of its life. She teaches the skills of sneaking up on prey and pouncing with lethal precision. But housecats born at home or to breeders miss that crucial step. Kittens instead spend their first eight weeks yowling at cotton balls and bits of string. Unless you trained your pet in the art of war before the end of its second month—a crucial period in its development—it's probably next to useless against live prey (even if it does sometimes get lucky).

"Obviously there's some deep ancestral memory of stalking prey," he says, "but a cat by itself is usually not a very good hunter." 

Whenever local fauna succumb to feline hunting, he says, "it almost always turns out to be feral cats." Australian experiments with 24-hour cat curfews turned out to have minimal impacts. Still, the ASPCA suggests keeping cats indoors to prolong their lives, so it's probably a good idea. Also, spayed and neutered housecats will never birth feral kittens that could endanger wildlife.

If you really want to do right by the environment, Bradshaw says, cats are way better than dogs.

Okay, Your Cat May Give You A Parasite That Controls Your Thoughts

Toxoplasma gondii parasites form a cyst in a mouse brain.
Jitinder P. Dubey via Wikimedia Commons
Stromberg is wrong about cat love, but there's a chance he's right about horrible brain-controlling parasites in cat poop. Even Bradshaw can't defend your kitten now.

See, there's this parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. It enters the brains of prey animals like mice and alters their behavior to make them less afraid of predators. These bold, addled rodents ride their parasitic high all the way into your favorite pet's gnashing jaws, and some of those parasites make their way into your cat's litterbox. From there it's a short jump to a human owner's body.

Some reaserchers suspect that humans infected with T. gondii are susceptible to its nefarious mind control as well. Here's what Kathleen McCauliffe wrote about the parasite in her extensive coverage for the Atlantic:

The subjects who tested positive for the parasite had significantly delayed reaction times. [Parasite researcher Jaroslav] Flegr was especially surprised to learn, though, that the protozoan appeared to cause many sex-specific changes in personality. Compared with uninfected men, males who had the parasite were more introverted, suspicious, oblivious to other people’s opinions of them, and inclined to disregard rules. Infected women, on the other hand, presented in exactly the opposite way: they were more outgoing, trusting, image-conscious, and rule-abiding than uninfected women.

Infected men were more likely to wear rumpled old clothes; infected women tended to be more meticulously attired, many showing up for the study in expensive, designer-brand clothing. Infected men tended to have fewer friends, while infected women tended to have more. And when it came to downing the mystery fluid, reports Flegr, “the infected males were much more hesitant than uninfected men. They wanted to know why they had to do it. Would it harm them?” In contrast, the infected women were the most trusting of all subjects. “They just did what they were told,” he says.

Flegr goes on to note that even infected people may not be heavily impacted by the bug, and that cat poop is not the only way humans catch it. (In fact, it's incredibly common.) Not all researchers agree with Flegr's dire interpretations of the evidence, though T. gondii does turn dangerous when patients have damaged immune systems.

Ultimately, yes, your cat probably loves you, but that might just be the mind-controlling parasite talking.

22 Oct 19:30

New Fabric Softener Tech Promises Clothes That Never Stain

by Rafi Letzter

A Sofft Marketing Image

Detergent, prepare to be disrupted.

The makers of a new fabric softener, Sofft, say they want our clothes to join us in the fight against stink and stains. While mixing with your clothes in the washing machine, Sofft coats organic and plastic fibers in a thin protective layer of hydrophobic molecules. These chemicals cause common stains like oil and juice to slide right off clothes (at least, that's how it seems in their promotional videos). The company says clothes would remain breathable.

Sofft's protection does not last forever. Clothes still have to get washed as the coating wears off, but most users would be able to get a few more wears in between trips to the laundromat. Plus, fewer loads in laundry machines could also ease the strain of detergent chemicals and water consumption on the environment.

(All GIFs courtesy Vinod Nair)

Vinod Nair, founder and CEO of the Sofft company, calls the technique "prevention based laundry." In the manner of a Silicon Valley programmer hawking a revolutionary new app, he sells his product with the vision of a changed future. If Sofft succeeds, he says, "we would expect an ecosystem change. The washing machine would have to change." We would all do laundry less often, he argues, because our clothes would stay fresh longer. His company calls this imagined world "Laundry 2.0."

Sofft's hydrophobic qualities may also make it easier to filter out waste water than regular detergent. The molecules don't dissolve well, and Nair believes they could be extracted more easily than common laundry chemicals at waste treatment plants.

Sofft still faces challenges. Right now they have no large scale, efficient factories. Plus, 32-ounce bottles of the product cost $35 a pop, with enough fluid for about 15 light loads. The only way to order is through their Kickstarter campaign, which has already beaten its $25,000 goal by more than $10,000 with six days to go. They expect to ship in February 2015.

"Once we get to scale," Nair says, "our long term vision is to have this selling for $10 on the shelf at Walmart."

If that happens, he says mass use of Sofft and the competitors that would follow will require laundry machine makers to redesign their products as well.

"We're doing high performance chemistry in a washing machine," he says. Modern machines are very good at removing chemicals from clothing, but not great at adding others in their place. Clorox held patents now used in Sofft, Nair says, but balked at the expense of engineering an untested product. The laundry giant signed its rights over to retiring engineer Greg van Buskirk, who went on to design Sofft with Nair.

So now, the future of Sofft (and the future of laundry, according to Nair) is now in the hands of the Kickstarter-funding public.


22 Oct 08:13

2,000bhp Trion Nemesis set to shake supercar establishment

by Daljinder Nagra

23 Oct 04:29

Keanu Reeves Has a Winner With John Wick

by David Konow
22 Oct 12:57

'Orphan Black' Star Tatiana Maslany Heads Off Broadway

by Katherine Brooks
NEW YORK (AP) — Tatiana Maslany, the star of "Orphan Black," will be finding a temporary home on an off-Broadway stage.

Second Stage Theatre said Tuesday that the BBC America star will appear beside Tony Award nominee and "The Newsroom" actor Thomas Sadoski in Neil LaBute's world premiere "The Way We Get By." The play will be directed by Leigh Silverman, who was nominated for a Tony Award last season for her direction of "Violet." Previews begin May 12.

Maslany, who plays varied clones of her main character on "Orphan Black," just finished filming "The Woman in Gold." In that, she stars alongside Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds.

LaBute's plays include "Reasons to Be Happy" and "The Money Shot." His movies include "Your Friends and Neighbors" and "Nurse Betty."


21 Oct 15:18

5 Plot Holes You Never Noticed In 'Star Wars'

by Todd Van Luling
May the forced plots be with you.

Unless you actually grew up in a galaxy far, far away, you know what the deal is with "Star Wars." George Lucas originally created three movies in the '70s and '80s, and then went back to make the first three episodes of the saga in the '90s and '00s. This writing structure may have caused some questionable directions to the storyline, but that didn't matter too much: The movies were extremely successful, and "Star Wars" is cherished today as one of the greatest additions to American cultural canon. ("Episode VII" is due out on Dec. 18, 2015, the first part of a third "Star Wars" trilogy.)

Famously, the movies would add twists that didn't quite add up in scenes that came in earlier movies, most notably Luke and Leia being almost lovers-turned-twin siblings. But although mistakes like that are a bit weird, we wanted to find plot holes that really mess with the integrity of the movies.

In honor of Carrie Fisher's birthday (Oct. 21), here is a loving takedown of "Star Wars." These may not change how you think about the classic saga overall, but the glaring holes will definitely throw you off the next time you binge watch Lucas' series all the way through.

You’re all clear, kid! Now let’s blow this plot and go home!

TK TK gifs

1. Luke, Leia and Obi-Wan are all supposed to be hiding in the first movie, but the plot of the prequels makes it so the Empire could find them in a moment's notice.


In "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith," Padmé Amidala gives birth to the twins, Luke and Leia, who are the children of Anakin / Darth Vader. It's decided that since Padmé dies in childbirth, the twins should be hidden away so that Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader cannot find them. Instead of having the children lie low and change their identities, Leia becomes a princess, a title that is inexplicable without a tie to her mother, and Luke retains the Skywalker last name and grows up on Vader's home planet of Tatooine. You wouldn't even need the Force to find these two and although they were supposed to have died with Padmé, you'd think rumor would get around that there's a princess with questionable lineage and that a Skywalker is on Tatooine.

Also, Obi-Wan Kenobi is supposed to be hiding out on Tatooine. Fortunately, the outfit he wears seems to blend with the local fashion; it's nothing fancy and makes sense for him in "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope." But then, George Lucas decided that Obi-Wan's basic clothing was actually the uniform for all Jedi in the prequels and therefore Kenobi's outfit makes no sense retroactively. Everyone would recognize him as a Jedi wherever he went and the Empire would have an easy time hunting him down.

2. The Millennium Falcom is supposed to travel "point five past lightspeed," but that's far too slow to travel between galaxies.

TK TK gifs

When Luke Skywalker first sees the Millennium Falcom in "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope," he remarks that it looks like a "piece of junk." Then, probably a bit hurt, Han Solo brags, "She'll make point five past lightspeed. She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid. I've made a lot of special modifications myself." In "Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back," Lando Calrissian claims the ship is the "fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy." Over the course of the movies, "Star Wars" takes place in at least six galaxies and even the main galaxy has been guessed to be about 120,000 light years in diameter. Unfortunately, if this is considered a fast ship in the "Star Wars" universe, then the space travel would take far longer than the movie shows.

It is possible that Han Solo simply didn't know how fast his ship could go and that "hyperdrive" makes the travel possible, but since Solo is so proud about tinkering with his own ship, it seems unlikely that he wouldn't know exactly how fast it could go. Regardless, "hyperdrive" has been explained into the universe, as one "Star Wars" fan notes in a forum:

In modern explanation the "past lightspeed" bit has been retconned away. Instead there are the hyperdrive classes with a reverse scale. The higher the number the slower the ship. So a Class 1 hyperdrive is one of the fastest, but the Millennium Falcon has a 0.5 class hyperdrive. Twice as fast as a Class 1. Just how fast a Class 1 is is never really explained.

3. Darth Vader, Obi-Wan and maybe even Uncle Owen should all easily recognize C-3PO and R2-D2.


Before he was Darth Vader, Anakin Skywalker built C-3PO. Eventually, he gifts the robot to Padmé Amidala in the canon cartoon-series "The Clone Wars" and then after their marriage, Skywalker hangs out with Amidala's R2-D2 quite a bit in the cartoon. Although other robots exist in the "Star Wars" universe that look similar to these two and C-3PO's memory is wiped in "Star Wars - Episode III: Revenge of the Sith," given the extremely intimate relationship he had with these two, it seems ridiculous that Darth Vader would not recognize them.

Given the amount of interaction Obi-Wan Kenobi had with the two robots in the prequels, it would also make no sense for him to not recognize them in "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope." Granted, as one "Star Wars" fan explains, he may have been faking ignorance:

Obi-Wan never explicitly stated in the three "Star Wars" movies that he didn't remember R2-D2 and C3PO. He merely told Luke he never remembered "owning" a droid, which was indeed the case. Considering that he lied told from a "certain-point-of-view" about "Vader betrayed and murdered your father" (to prevent Luke from prematurely learning the truth he couldn't handle yet), it seems very plausible that he ALSO was pretending to not recognize the droids, for the same reason.

Seems like a retroactive explanation for George Lucas' mistake, but a decent point, regardless. Owen Lars probably should have also recognized the robots, but as he didn't have quite as intimate a connection, it's perhaps plausible that he simply forgot.

Image: Flickr user cabeza

4. Skywalker's training with Yoda is supposed to take a long time. In reality, it can only take a few hours.

TK TK gifs

A main story arc in "Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back" is that while the Millennium Falcon is being chased to Lando Calrissian's Cloud City, Luke Skywalker is learning how to be a Jedi from Yoda. Despite a brief detour in a meteor, the Millennium Falcon seems to get to Cloud City in relatively short time, and since the two scenes are linked that also means Skywalker learned how to be a Jedi in an afternoon.

Granted, in point two, it was mentioned that it should take a long time for the Millennium Falcon to travel, but plot holes shouldn't be used to explain away other plot holes. Don't encourage black holes into "Star Wars."

Anyway, Skywalker does abandon the training early to go save his friends, but when he returns in "Star Wars Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi," Yoda tells him he has nothing left to learn and that all he needs to do now to become a Jedi is to defeat Darth Vader. Surely, young Skywalker could have used more training to defeat Vader than the amount of time it took the Millennium Falcon to visit Calrissian. To make it even more clear that it doesn't take long to get to Cloud City, Skywalker then uses his swamped ship to quickly get to his friends to help them. Something doesn't add up here.

Also, this is a side note, but Obi-Wan Kenobi claims he was trained by Yoda in "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope," but then in the prequels it's clear he is mainly trained by Qui-Gon Jinn. Yoda doesn't really work long hours.

5. In "Return of the Jedi," Leia remembers her mom, but in the prequels Padmé dies in childbirth. Could Leia really be the new hope?


This is a famous plot hole, but perhaps a dubious stretch. In "Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi," Luke Skywalker asks about Leia Organa's mother and Leia says she doesn't really remember much as her mother died young. Then Organa says, "She was very beautiful. Kind, but ... sad." As mentioned before, their mother dies in childbirth, so Leia is apparently remembering somebody else. How can she be Skywalker's twin if she remembers a mother? In reference to Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi says "That boy is our last hope." Yoda replies, "No ... there is another." Is there actually no new hope then?

Granted, as one Reddit user explained, this memory might have been caused by her ability to use the Force:

While training with Yoda, Luke learns that "through the force many things you will see ... the future, the past, good friends long gone". Later in the movie Luke calls out to Leia from Bespin and she receives his "force message" and his exact location without realizing she is using the force herself. So we know Leia is force capable (Luke confirms this to her in "ROTJ" as well) so it is entirely possible that Leia can remember "images" of her real mother being "beautiful, but sad". Keep in mind that Leia doesn't have any concrete memories of her mother, just the images and feelings she described. In "ROTS," this how we see Padmé just before she dies.

Image: Wookiepedia / "Star Wars: Episode III"

BONUS: Now that "Star Wars" is Disney, maybe midi-chlorians have something to do with pixie dust and Micky Mouse magic.

TK TK gifs

Do you believe in magic? In 2012, Disney acquired "Star Wars." This certainly doesn't cause a plot hole as Disney movies are not all in one canon, but maybe there should still be an explanation of Disney magic within the "Star Wars" universe and whether Darth Vader is simply strong with the force of pixie dust. What Mickey Mouse can do with those brooms in "Fantasia" certainly looks like the Force.

All images Getty unless otherwise stated.
21 Oct 17:24

Here's How Benedict Cumberbatch Became Smaug In 'The Hobbit'

by Erin Whitney
How do you play a giant dragon when you're a mere human? By being Benedict Cumberbatch, of course.

In new behind-the-scenes footage from "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," released as part of the Extended Edition Blu-Ray out on Nov. 3, we find out what really went into creating the greedy dragon. In the clip, Cumberbatch dons a motion -capture suit as he lays on the floor talking to an unseen Bilbo. "We wanted someone who would something original, unexpected," director Peter Jackson says in the video. "Something that was a surprise to us."

The Weta Digital animation team told The Hollywood Reporter that the actor's head movements and facial expressions helped to assist in the creation of Smaug -- and those were some expressions! But visual effects supervisor Matt Aitken revealed earlier this year that none of Cumberbatch's motion capture was used directly for the dragon, but mostly as a "visual reference to inform the character.”

Regardless, Cumberbatch's deep, crackling voice is definitely what makes Smaug such a distinct dragon. Check out the actor's intense metamorphosis in the video.
22 Oct 05:14

Toys R Us Pulls 'Breaking Bad' Dolls From Shelves Following Florida Mom's Petition

by Dominique Mosbergen
NEW YORK (AP) — Toys R Us is pulling its four collectible dolls based on characters from AMC's hit series "Breaking Bad" after taking heat from a Florida mom who launched a petition campaign last week.

The dolls are based on the series about Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who turns into a crystal meth dealer, and his sidekick Jesse Pinkman. The figures have a detachable bag of cash and a bag of methamphetamines.

walter white jesse

Toys R Us, which is based in Wayne, New Jersey, told The Associated Press late Tuesday that the dolls are being removed immediately from its website and shelves.

"Let's just say, the action figures have taken an indefinite sabbatical," Toys R Us said in a statement. The retailer had maintained that the figures were sold in limited quantities in the adult-action-figure area of its stores.

The Fort Myers, Florida, mom, identified by news media as Susan Schrivjer, launched a petition on last week, demanding that Toys R Us immediately stop selling the dolls. The mom, who wrote the petition under the name Susan Myers, said that the dolls are a "dangerous deviation from their family friendly values."

"While the show may be compelling viewing for adults, its violent content and celebration of the drug trade make this collection unsuitable to be sold alongside Barbie dolls and Disney characters," she wrote.

As of Tuesday, the petition had 8,000 signatures.

On Monday, Bryan Cranston, the actor who played White, responded to the controversy, tweeting, "I'm so mad. I am burning my Florida mom action figure in protest."

The debate has also spurred die-hard adult figure collectors to rally behind Toys R US. Daniel Pickett, of Manhattan Beach, California, launched a petition on in favor of the toy seller keeping the dolls. So far, it has collected nearly 3,000 signatures.

"I'm a parent of a school aged child myself, but I'm an informed, responsible parent and I closely monitor the toys, TV, music, movies and games that my daughter sees," Pickett wrote. "That's my job, and I take it seriously. But I also like toys/action figures and I want 3-D representations of characters from my favorite properties and I love being able to walk into a store and find them."


Follow Anne D'Innocenzio at
21 Oct 17:04

Google now lets you prove your identity with a USB security key

by Chris Velazco
It shouldn't surprise you that Google's a big proponent of online security, and that's why it's rolling out support for a new way to prove you are you who are: a USB Security Key. Google's normal approach to two-step authorization involves getting a...
21 Oct 18:08

PhotoMath uses your phone's camera to solve equations

by Jon Fingas
Need a little help getting through your next big math exam? MicroBlink has an app that could help you study more effectively -- perhaps too effectively. Its newly unveiled PhotoMath for iOS and Windows Phone (Android is due in early 2015) uses your...
22 Oct 03:36

Someone put Spotify inside this old cassette recorder

by Sean Buckley
The above contraption may look like the kind of cassette player bygone teens used to use to create mix tapes, but it's not -- it's a Raspberry Pi-powered Spotify speaker with NFC-based playlists. Its creator, a British builder named Matt Brailsford,...
21 Oct 14:09

Nokia brand to be replaced with Microsoft Lumia

If you've seen Microsoft's recent articles about Lumia you know it was coming. The Nokia brand has been phased out by calling the phones just "Lumia" and redirecting Nokia online properties to This rebranding effort will expand and soon the lineup will become "Microsoft Lumia". Lumia is already the de facto face of Windows Phone - it accounts for about 90% of the market. Microsoft has been busy signing up new vendors but they will struggle to gain significant market share as the big names have mostly neglected WP. Nokia, the company, still exists but as part of the agreement with Microsoft it won't make new phones for at least several more years. Instead it has shifted its focus to things like mapping and, with no exclusivity to consider, it has been bringing its software to Android. Will Microsoft put its own logo on the devices or will a more restraint Lumia logo suffice? Keep in mind that Microsoft is treading lightly, not to annoy other WP vendors by showing favoritism to its in-house...

20 Oct 23:07

Vinnie Jones joins ‘Arrow’ as villain Brick for multi-episode arc

by Jonathon Dornbush
Arrow has just cast a juggernaut of an actor to play DC Comics villain Brick in the show’s third season.
16 Oct 12:39

Erykah Badu Made $3.60 Singing In Times Square

by Jessica Goodman
A-plus prankster Erykah Badu teamed up with OkayPlayer to release a video in which she tries to sing for money in Manhattan's Times Square. "In no way is this video a reflection of my feelings about homeless or unfortunate families nor individuals who have no other means of survival in our world," she said in the video, which was taken at 8:00 p.m. on Oct. 10. "Instead, this short film was shot w/ my iPhone and edited in iMovie for entertainment purposes only and serves as a personal 'hustle' experiment for me."

Badu introduces the clip, takes off her hat -- "so people know who I am" -- and performs anonymously on the street. She walks away with a grand total of $3.60. Damn, New Yorkers.

20 Oct 18:43

‘Girl with a Pierced Eardrum’ by Banksy

by Christopher Jobson

Girl with a Pierced Eardrum by Banksy street art murals

Girl with a Pierced Eardrum by Banksy street art murals

Girl with a Pierced Eardrum by Banksy street art murals

Banksy just published photos of a new piece titled Girl with a Pierced Eardrum, a take on Vermeer’s famous Girl with a Pearl Earring, replacing the girl’s earring with an outdoor security alarm. The mural appears in his hometown of Bristol, UK where he last painted the Mobile Lovers piece earlier this year.

20 Oct 20:09

Realistic cactus cupcakes

by Xeni Jardin


From Alana Jones-Mann, a baker, culinary artist and DIY enthusiast in Brooklyn, cupcakes that look like miniature cacti. They're so cute, they're even planted in crushed graham cracker soil.

Read the rest

19 Oct 14:39

Jason Momoa's 'Game Of Thrones' Audition Tape Is Better Than You'd Imagine

by Erin Whitney
Khal Drogo is no doubt a beast of a man, so it would only make sense that Jason Momoa's "Game of Thrones" audition tape would take that to the max.

In the audition tape, which was originally uploaded to YouTube in 2012, but has since gained more traction, the actor doesn't brood or speak Drogo's native tongue, Dothraki. Instead, Momoa breaks out into a Haka, or an ancestral war cry or dance of the Māori people of New Zealand that was typically performed before battle. The dance is incredibly intense and a bit terrifying -- this guy would definitely give you a golden crown if you messed with him.

Back in August when Momoa stopped by AOL, the actor said he was originally given a Drogo scene to read for his audition that consisted of the character menacingly saying "no" over and over (not very exciting). After a suggestion from an actor friend, Momoa decided to try out the Haka for this audition. The aggressive dance, which Momoa described as "not a scene you do before a love scene," impressed D. B. Weiss and David Benioff so much that they had him come back and perform it for a second time, which is what the above video shows.

Momoa is such a pro at the Haka (he even did it on a beach in 2013) that we wonder if he'll incorporate it into his Aquaman.

H/T Time
20 Oct 13:00

Bluesmart wants to crowdfund the 'world's first' connected luggage

by Aaron Souppouris
Losing your luggage is no fun, but while companies like Trakdot have been selling trackers for some time, a startup is taking to Indiegogo to create what it calls the "world's first smart, connected carry-on." Bluesmart is a small suitcase with a...
19 Oct 19:00

Inside Seattle's invitation-only VR summit

by Philip Palermo
Tech aficionados have been flocking to Seattle's Living Computer Museum for the past few years to get up close and personal with relics from computer technology's past. For one night earlier this month, though, I got a chance to peek at its possible...
17 Oct 07:55

​Video: Self-driving Audi RS7 tears around F1 track, no one dies

by Christofer Lloyd

17 Oct 14:00

At Last: Technology To Make Injections Painless

by Mary Beth Griggs


Scared of needles? You aren’t alone. According to some estimates, as many as 1 in every 10 people are frightened of needles, and experts fear that the fear of pain may deter people from getting important injections at the doctor’s office. 

But what if getting a shot didn’t hurt? That’s the idea behind new research presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, which showed how vibrations and pressure applied to the injection site right before a shot could reduce pain. 

“Our early research suggests that using a device that applies pressure and vibration before the needle stick could help significantly decrease painful sensations by closing the ‘gate’ that sends pain signals to the brain,” lead author of the study William MacKay said in a press release.  

The 'gate' that MacKay refers to is related to the gate control theory of pain. The theory basically says that pain occurs for people when it reaches the brain, and the stimulus that causes pain has to travel through neurological gates along the spinal cord to get there. By occupying those gates with other sensations (like vibrations or pressure), the sensation of the needle stick is able to slip by our neurological defenses. 

The researchers also looked at the effects of heat and cold, but found that the combination of pressure and vibration seemed to have the most dramatic pain reduction effect. (Adding heat to the combination of pressure and vibration also reduced pain, but not by a significant amount.)

The study was small, with a sample size of only 21 people, but the researchers are hopeful that by quantifying people’s perceptions of pain they can help other researchers develop or improve devices already in the works that have the same goal. And there are plenty of people and companies interested in finding a needle that doesn’t hurt or terrify patients. Other vibrating needles are slowly making their way towards the market, and, as we reported a few weeks ago, some researchers are developing pills with needles inside that you can swallow. 

16 Oct 20:10

How Microsoft Appointed Itself Sheriff Of The Internet

I had no idea that Microsoft had appointed itself sheriff of the internet. Did you? Microsoft says it needs to wield this kind of extreme power to keep the internet safe. It's part of determined attitude towards security that has pervaded the software giant since its Windows operating systems were attacked by a series of malicious internet worms more than a decade ago—an attitude that, in some respects, the company should be commended for. Comments
17 Oct 09:24

Twitter: Yes, you're all going to see tweets from people you don't follow

by Mat Smith
Remember when tweets started appearing in your Twitter feed from people you weren't even following? Well, it's no longer an experiment. In a post outlining Twitter's "spirit of experimentation", the social network says it's happening across all...
16 Oct 21:00

Hands On: Apple’s iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3

by Ryan Smith

The other big announcement for the day is of course Apple’s new iPads, the iPad Air 2 and the iPad mini 3. As signaled by their names, neither is intended to be a massive departure from their (still for sale) predecessors. But both of them, the iPad Air 2 in particular, pack a number of improvements over the 2013 models.

In-hand, the iPad Air 2 is not as significant a departure from its predecessor as the original Air was from earlier iPads, but if you are familiar with the original Air then you can appreciate the fact that Apple has taken it down from 7.5mm thick to 6.1mm thick. The weight is roughly the same (437g vs. 469g) so it’s not much lighter in the hand, but handling it makes the change in size more apparent.

Perhaps more readily apparent is the anti-reflective coating, a first for an iPad. While Apple’s controlled demo room doesn’t give us the opportunity to introduce too much light, in what testing we could do there’s definitely a difference. Whatever it is that Apple is using, the coating doesn’t seem to have changed the clarity at all; it is seemingly still as clear as the non-coated iPad mini 3.

Meanwhile the A8X inside presents us with a new mystery. This is a new chip, and we know very little about it besides Apple’s claims of 40% better CPU performance and 2.5x better GPU performance. The CPU performance points to a dual core “Enhanced Cyclone” configuration like A8, while the GPU performance number is well in excess of what we saw going from A7 to A8. So comparing A8X to A7, we are most likely (finally) looking at a hex-core Imagination PowerVR GX6650 GPU. However, this alone does not explain where the roughly 1 billion additional transistors compared to A8 have gone. Most likely there are additional surprises to be found.

Moving on, we have the iPad mini 3. Unlike the iPad Air 2, Apple isn’t overhauling the hardware by nearly as much, so the iPad mini 3 is a smaller upgrade over its predecessor than the iPad Air 2 is. Size and weight stay the same, so the new mini feels the same in your hands as the old one. The display is also once more a 2048 x 1536 pixel display, though it did look a bit better than we recall the iPad mini 2’s display being, so it may be a new panel (but this is something we’d need to test).

Apple hasn’t replaced the SoC or WiFi radio – it’s still an A7 and 802.11n respectively – so performance isn’t any different either. What’s left to set apart the new mini from the old then is the inclusion of Apple’s Touch ID sensor along with a larger 128GB storage option. It’s admittedly not much, especially when the iPad mini 2 is now $100 cheaper. On the other hand it is available in Gold, and as we’ve seen with the iPhone that has proven to be a very popular option at launch.

16 Oct 20:15

Hands On: Apple's iMac with Retina Display

by Ryan Smith

We just got done with our hands-on time with Apple’s new products, and we’ll start with what’s likely the sneakiest of them, the iMac with Retina Display.

Why “sneaky”? The answer is all in the HiDPI display, which Apple calls the “Retina 5K Display”. The retina display is definitely the star of the new iMac, as the rest of the hardware is largely a minor specification bump from last year’s model. In fact turned off you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between the 2013 (non-retina) and new retina models, but the screen is immediately evident once on.

At 5120x2880 pixels, the new Retina 5K Display is precisely 4x the pixels of the 2560x1440 panel in last year’s model. What this means is that Apple can tap their standard bag of tricks to handle applications of differing retina capability and get all of it to look reasonably good. This also means that 2560x1440 content – including widgets – will scale up nicely to the new resolution. Apple does not discuss whom they have sourced the panel from, but given the timing it’s likely the same panel that is in Dell’s recently announced 27” 5K monitor.

Much more interesting is how Apple is driving it. Since no one has a 5K timing controller (TCON) yet, Apple went and built their own. This is the first time we’re aware of Apple doing such a thing for a Mac, but it’s likely they just haven’t talked about it before. In any case, Apple was kind enough to confirm that they are driving the new iMac’s display with a single TCON. This is not a multi-tile display, but instead is a single 5120x2880 mode.

This also means that since it isn’t multi-tile, Apple would need to drive it over a single DisplayPort connection, which is actually impossible with conventional DisplayPort HBR2. We’re still getting to the bottom of how Apple is doing this (and hence the sneaky nature of the iMac), but currently our best theory is that Apple is running an overclocked DisplayPort/eDP interface along with some very low overhead timings to get just enough bandwidth for the job. Since the iMac is an all-in-one device, Apple is more or less free to violate specifications and do what they want so long as it isn’t advertised as DisplayPort and doesn’t interact with 3rd party devices.

Update: And for anyone wondering whether you can drive the 5K display as an external display using Target Display Mode, Apple has confirmed that you cannot.

Meanwhile driving the new display are AMD’s Radeon R9 M290X and R9 M295X, which replace the former NVIDIA GTX 700M parts. We don’t have any performance data on the M295X, though our best guess is to expect R9 285-like performance (with a large over/under). If Apple is fudging the DisplayPort specification to get a single DisplayPort stream, then no doubt AMD has been helping on this matter as one of the most prominent DisplayPort supporters.

The rest of the package is very similar to the 2013 iMac. It comes with an Intel Haswell desktop class CPU paired with 8GB or more RAM, 802.11ac support, and Apple’s SSD + HDD Fusion drive setup. Apple now offers a higher speed CPU upgrade option that goes up to 4GHz (4.4GHz Boost) – likely the Core i7-4790K – that should make the high-end iMac decently more performant than last year’s model by about 10%.

15 Oct 16:12

Google's Nexus Player offers streaming and gaming for $99

by Billy Steele
Remember the Nexus Q? Yeah, we'd rather forget it, too. Google regained its streaming cred with the Chromecast, and now it's looking to offer up another set-top box. The compact Nexus Player will handle streaming, games and run Android apps. An...
15 Oct 16:07

Google's Android 5.0 is called Lollipop

by Edgar Alvarez
Google has just revealed that the next major version of Android, 5.0, will be known as Lollipop. After months of teasing the OS, the search giant is finally taking what was previously known as Android "L" into the mainstream, with the first set of...