Roku now deleting Infowars from its platform after customer outcry

Roku is deleting the Infowars channel from its platform, a couple days after adding it as a supported channel. In a tweet, Roku said after the channel became available, “we heard from concerned parties and have determined that the channel should be removed from our platform. Deletion from the channel store and platform has begun and will be completed shortly.”

Digiday first reported this morning that Roku had added the Infowars live show hosted by Alex Jones to the platform as supported channel, a decision that was immediately met with protests by customers who threatened to switch to Apple TV and other competitors.

Jones is currently the target of a defamation lawsuit filed by family members of Sandy Hook victims, who say they have experienced harassment, including death threats, as a result of conspiracy theories spread by Jones and Infowars that claim the 2012 elementary school shooting was a hoax. The lawsuit has been in the headlines recently after a judge ruled that victims’ families must receive access to internal Infowars documents.

Roku’s decision to support the Infowars channel was also especially egregious because it was purged from multiple social media and app platforms, including Apple, Facebook, Spotify, YouTube, Twitter, Periscope, Stitcher, Pinterest, LinkedIn and YouPorn for violating their content policies or terms of service, about six months ago.

Earlier today, Roku attempted to defend adding Infowars to its platform by releasing a statement that said in part that “while the vast majority of all streaming on our platform is mainstream entertainment, voices on all sides of an issue or cause are free to operate a channel. We do not curate or censor based on viewpoint. We are not promoting or being paid to distribute InfoWars. We do not have a commercial relationship with the InfoWars.”

TechCrunch has emailed Roku for comment.

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Roku now deleting Infowars from its platform after customer outcry

Roku is deleting the Infowars channel from its platform, a couple days after adding it as a supported channel. In a tweet, Roku said after the channel became available, “we heard from concerned parties and have determined that the channel should be removed from our platform. Deletion from the channel store and platform has begun and will be completed shortly.”

Digiday first reported this morning that Roku had added the Infowars live show hosted by Alex Jones to the platform as supported channel, a decision that was immediately met with protests by customers who threatened to switch to Apple TV and other competitors.

Jones is currently the target of a defamation lawsuit filed by family members of Sandy Hook victims, who say they have experienced harassment, including death threats, as a result of conspiracy theories spread by Jones and Infowars that claim the 2012 elementary school shooting was a hoax. The lawsuit has been in the headlines recently after a judge ruled that victims’ families must receive access to internal Infowars documents.

Roku’s decision to support the Infowars channel was also especially egregious because it was purged from multiple social media and app platforms, including Apple, Facebook, Spotify, YouTube, Twitter, Periscope, Stitcher, Pinterest, LinkedIn and YouPorn for violating their content policies or terms of service, about six months ago.

Earlier today, Roku attempted to defend adding Infowars to its platform by releasing a statement that said in part that “while the vast majority of all streaming on our platform is mainstream entertainment, voices on all sides of an issue or cause are free to operate a channel. We do not curate or censor based on viewpoint. We are not promoting or being paid to distribute InfoWars. We do not have a commercial relationship with the InfoWars.”

TechCrunch has emailed Roku for comment.

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CERN’s plan for 100-km collider makes the LHC look like a hula hoop

The Large Hadron Collider has produced a great deal of incredible science, most famously the Higgs Boson — but physicists at CERN, the international organization behind the LHC, are already looking forward to the next model. And the proposed Future Circular Collider, at 100 kilometers or 62 miles around, would be quite an upgrade.

The idea isn’t new; CERN has had people looking into it for years. But the conceptual design report issued today shows that all that consulting hasn’t been idle: there’s a relatively cohesive and practical plan — as practical as a particle collider can be — and a decent case for spending the $21 billion or so that would be needed.

“These kind of largest scale efforts and projects are huge starters for networking, connecting institutes across borders, countries,” CERN’s Michael Benedikt, who led the report, told Nature. “All these things together make up a very good argument for pushing such unique science projects.”

On the other hand, while the LHC has been a great success, it hasn’t exactly given physicists an unambiguous signpost as to what they should pursue next. The lack of new cosmic mysteries — for example, a truly anomalous result or mysterious gap where a particle is expected — has convinced some that they must simply turn up the heat, but others that bigger isn’t necessarily better.

The design document provides several possible colliders, of which the 100-km ring is the largest and would produce the highest-energy collisions. Sure, you could smash protons together at 100,000 gigaelectron-volts rather than 16,000 — but what exactly will that help explain? We have left my areas of expertise, such as they are, well behind at this point so I will not speculate, but the question at least is one being raised by those in the know.

It’s worth noting that Chinese physicists are planning something similar, so there’s the aspect of international competition as well. How should that affect plans? Should we just ask China if we can use theirs? The academic world is much less affected by global strife and politics than, say, the tech world, but it’s still not ideal.

There are plenty of options to consider and time is not of the essence; it would take a decade or more to get even the simplest and cheapest of these proposals up and running.

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CERN’s plan for 100-km collider makes the LHC look like a hula hoop

The Large Hadron Collider has produced a great deal of incredible science, most famously the Higgs Boson — but physicists at CERN, the international organization behind the LHC, are already looking forward to the next model. And the proposed Future Circular Collider, at 100 kilometers or 62 miles around, would be quite an upgrade.

The idea isn’t new; CERN has had people looking into it for years. But the conceptual design report issued today shows that all that consulting hasn’t been idle: there’s a relatively cohesive and practical plan — as practical as a particle collider can be — and a decent case for spending the $21 billion or so that would be needed.

“These kind of largest scale efforts and projects are huge starters for networking, connecting institutes across borders, countries,” CERN’s Michael Benedikt, who led the report, told Nature. “All these things together make up a very good argument for pushing such unique science projects.”

On the other hand, while the LHC has been a great success, it hasn’t exactly given physicists an unambiguous signpost as to what they should pursue next. The lack of new cosmic mysteries — for example, a truly anomalous result or mysterious gap where a particle is expected — has convinced some that they must simply turn up the heat, but others that bigger isn’t necessarily better.

The design document provides several possible colliders, of which the 100-km ring is the largest and would produce the highest-energy collisions. Sure, you could smash protons together at 100,000 gigaelectron-volts rather than 16,000 — but what exactly will that help explain? We have left my areas of expertise, such as they are, well behind at this point so I will not speculate, but the question at least is one being raised by those in the know.

It’s worth noting that Chinese physicists are planning something similar, so there’s the aspect of international competition as well. How should that affect plans? Should we just ask China if we can use theirs? The academic world is much less affected by global strife and politics than, say, the tech world, but it’s still not ideal.

There are plenty of options to consider and time is not of the essence; it would take a decade or more to get even the simplest and cheapest of these proposals up and running.

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Transparency-seeking OPEN Government Data Act signed into law

The federal government produces one hell of a lot of data, but despite desultory lurches towards usability there’s little guarantee that it’s available in a way that makes it useful to anyone. That may change for the better with the OPEN Government Data Act, which the President signed into law last night.

The Act essentially requires federal agencies to default when possible to making data (and metadata) public, to publish that public data in a machine-readable format, and catalog it online. It also mandates that Chief Data Officers be appointed at those agencies to handle the process.

This bipartisan piece of legislature flew through the House and Senate mostly uncompromised, though the Treasury was removed from the list of organizations to which it would apply. I’m sure they had their reasons.

It’s a big win for proponents of open government, though considering the towering ineptitude and obsolescence of the federal information technology sector, it’s probably a bit early to celebrate. By necessity many new policies and systems will have to be updated before any agency can reasonably be supposed to comply with the law, and that could take years. However it certainly seems like a good path for them to be on.

Another part of the law as signed (OPEN was combined with a few others for convenience and horse-trading purposes) is that these agencies are also now officially required to find and present evidence for any new policies or changes. Some agencies, like the FCC, are already required to do this, but others have a more free hand.

It may seem obvious — shouldn’t every policy be justified by evidence? — but this codifies the rules, for instance requiring the agencies to publicly present lists of relevant questions and the means (down to the statistical methods) they are taking to answer them.

If you’re curious about the Act itself or its sisters passed simultaneously, there’s a history of the OPEN act here; the full text of the bill is here; the announcement of the signature is here.

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The Square Off chess board melds the classical with the robotic

CES crowds can be tough — especially toward the end of the week. You’re physically and emotionally drained, and you’re pretty sure you’ve seen everything the consumer electronics world has to offer. And then something comes along to knock your socks off. Square Off was one such product, impressing the crowd at our meetup and walking away the winner of our hardware pitch-off.

The company’s first product looks like your run of the mill wooden chess board. And that’s part of the charm. Turn it on with the single button, and the system goes to work, tapping into chess AI software built by Stockfish and moving opposing pieces accordingly with an electromagnet attached to a robotic arm hidden under the board.

It’s an overused word in this space, but the effect is downright magical. It’s like playing chess against a ghost — and who hasn’t wanted to do that at some point? Players can challenge the board using 20 different difficulty levels or can play against opponents remotely, via chess.com.

Bhavya Gohil, the co-founder and CEO of Square Off creator InfiVention, told TechCrunch that the product started life as a college project aimed at creating a chess board for people with visual impairment. After a trip to Maker Faire Rome, however, its inventors recognized that the product had the potential for broader appeal.

One Kickstarter and another Indiegogo campaign later, the company had raised in excess of $600,000 for the project. After a year learning the manufacturing ropes in China, the company began shipping retail products in March of last year, launching a website the following month. In October, the product landed on Amazon, tripling sales for the holiday. All told, the company has sold 9,000 units — not bad for a chess startup charging $369 a pop. A majority of those (80 percent) have been sold in the U.S., with the remainder being sold in Europe.

In November, the company scored a seed round of $1.1 million. InfiVention is planning version 2.0 for a mid-2020 launch. That one will be more versatile, covering additional classic table-top games like checkers and backgammon. That version will be even more versatile when it’s opened up to table-top game developers looking to build their own titles into the platform via the app.

CES 2019 coverage - TechCrunch

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Sofia Coppola and Bill Murray will reunite for Apple and A24

The director and star of “Lost in Translation” are working together again, with Bill Murray starring alongside Rashida Jones in “On The Rocks,” a new film directed by Sofia Coppola.

The movie will tell the story of a young mother who reconnects with her playboy father in New York City. Production is supposed to begin this spring.

“On the Rocks” is the first film to come out of the partnership between Apple and A24, which will see A24 (the studio behind “Moonlight,” “Lady Bird,” “Hereditary” and other indie hits) producing several titles for Apple . The deal will help Apple’s yet-to-launch streaming service offer high-profile original films alongside shows like its star-studded morning news drama and an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” novels.

It’s been nearly 16 years since the release of “Lost in Translation,” which was a financial and critical hit — it remains the highest-grossing film of Coppola’s directing career, and it cemented Murray’s shift to more serious roles. It also won Coppola the Academy Award for best screenplay, and it nabbed Murray his only Oscar nomination thus far. (How is that possible??)

Since then, Coppola has only directed Murray once, in the idiosyncratic Netflix special “A Very Murray Christmas.”

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How the new VR screen could end the smartphone

A smartphone screen is a wonder of the world. It’s not just that it’s bright and colorful and sharp. In some ways, it’s as good as human biology allows. We’ve packed so many pixels into such a small space that any more would be lost on us. We can’t make the screens themselves bigger, because then they’d become too large to hold. The only way to get more information from a smartphone screen is to bring the pixels closer to our eyes, with the device somehow mounted on our heads rather than holding it in our hands. Instead of a phone as we usually think of it, it would be more like a pair of glasses.

Sound unlikely? In fact, many smart CE companies (Apple, Microsoft, Google, HTC) are already working on this new screen. When it arrives, experiences you’ve only seen in the movies will become the stuff of everyday life.

The “diffraction limit” for the human eye

When you look through a small hole, things on the other side appear blurry. This is because when a ray of light passes through a hole on its way to your retina, it spreads out a little. Think of watching a wave from the ocean hit a sea-wall with a narrow opening: The way the straight wave becomes a ripple spreading out on the other side is the same as what happens to rays of light when they go through a hole.

You can play with this by making your own “pinhole camera” and looking through it at text far away. The smaller the hole, the blurrier. And your iris is, of course, also a hole.

Source: Getty Images: Carmelo Geraci/EyeEm

This means that our eyes, given their size, have only a certain ability to see detail. For the human pupil, at about 5 millimeters across, we can express this limit in pixels-per-degree, and the number is around 60. So, for example, if you hold a quarter at arm’s length away from your eye, it’s going to take up about 2.5 degrees of your view, which means that a little square display of 150 pixels across will look “perfect” to your eye. Any more pixels will be a waste because you wouldn’t be able to see them.

Starting in about 2010, our smartphone displays reached that level of quality, where we could no longer see the pixels, even held as close to our face as comfortable — a change that you may remember Apple aptly branding the “Retina” display. Even big-screen TVs have now reached that same limit . Anything beyond 4K is a waste of money because you can’t see the difference unless you are sitting so close you can feel the heat from the screen!

This means that a 6-by-3-inch phone held in our hands is never going to take up more than a tiny part of our field of view, and will never be able to show us more than the few dozen lines of text we can read on it today.

Insatiable appetite

But both our appetite and capacity for digesting visual information is tremendous. We love screens, and the bigger the better. We would love it, for example, if our laptops could magically unfold to have four screens instead of just the one (like those super-cool folding ones on Westworld).

Ideally, we’d be able to see screens in every direction, with the option to turn them off when we want to pay the closest attention to the real world. And these will be a far cry from early prototypes like Google Glass, which had an even smaller field of view and text/information capacity than your smartphone display.

The biggest possible screen

That is exactly what is being worked on: If you could fix the screen in front of your eyes with lenses that make it comfortable to look at, and which also have the ability to precisely sense the rotation of the head, you could create a magic new “screen” that completely surrounds you with pixels too small to be seen. Wherever you turn your head, the pixels right in front of your eyes would change to display the part of the virtual screen where you are looking.

This new screen will appear really, really big — about the equivalent of 16 4K monitors, with about 200 million pixels. Imagine being able to snap your fingers, any time, and be surrounded by 16 monitors containing any content you’d like — ones for email, text messages, browsing, video and whatever else you’d like to remember to check on. No-one will be able to see the content but you, and they come with you everywhere, just like your smartphone.

Trillion-dollar market

Would you wait in line at the Apple store for a $500 headset that surrounds you with 16 magic floating 4K monitors that don’t weigh anything and no one else could see? Of course you would — and you will. And by the way, you can keep the keyboard and mouse on your old desk, too . You just won’t need the monitor anymore.

Man watching video on monitors

Source: Hoxton/Paul Bradbury

This is exactly why so many great companies —  Apple, Microsoft, HTC, Google and startups like Magic Leap, Avegant and ODG — are working on trying to build this screen. The worldwide market for screens is about a trillion dollars, so whoever gets this new screen right will reap the rewards.

Accessible to all

Because they are self-contained and therefore cannot consume much in the way of computing power, these new devices will be less expensive than their predecessors — about the same price as a smartphone. And this means that, like the smartphone in comparison to the PC, they will be widely accessible  — in the hands of billions of us within the next 10 years.

So it is possible that this change will be empowering for the many people worldwide who currently have access to simple smartphone screens but not the more powerful work and learning opportunities offered by the expensive desktop and wall-mounted screens found in only more affluent homes and offices today. These inexpensive devices could give everyone worldwide the equivalent of a gigantic Bloomberg terminal.

VR and AR are lucky benefactors, not the killer apps

Thus far I haven’t focused on 3D VR worlds or AR objects superimposed on the real world, because these new screens won’t need them to still be wildly successful. Like camera apps were to smartphones, VR and AR applications will be the lucky beneficiaries of the race to a new screen. Once you have a device with such a screen, you can display 3D content or superimpose 3D content on the real world or travel to virtual worlds or communicate across the world as an avatar. Incredible VR applications that enhance human connections and experiences despite great distances are in the works now. But you won’t have to rush out to buy a headset — you’ll already have one for browsing and email.

Multiple companies will release headsets and glasses in the coming couple of years that will replace the smartphone screen as the way we take in visual information from our computers. Our first use of these screens will be to do all the things we struggle to do on our smartphones. Following that, virtual worlds, VR and AR will begin to make use of these screens, allowing us to augment or substitute entirely new worlds for the real one. We’ve been searching for a new “killer app” for VR and AR headsets while you’ve looking at the answer as you read this article.

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Snap CFO Tim Stone is resigning

Snap CFO Tim Stone is leaving the company, according to documents Snap filed with the SEC today. This marks Snap’s second CFO departure in the last twelve months.

“Mr. Stone has confirmed that this transition is not related to any disagreement with us on any matter relating to our accounting, strategy, management, operations, policies, regulatory matters, or practices (financial or otherwise),” Snap General Counsel and Secretary Michael O’Sullivan wrote in the fling. “Mr. Stone’s last day has not been determined. Mr. Stone will continue to serve as Chief Financial Officer to assist in the search for a replacement and an effective transition of his duties, including through our scheduled full year 2018 financial results announcement.”

Stone is a long-time Amazon executive, who joined Snap from Amazon back in May to replace outgoing CFO Drew Vollero. Vollero served as Snap’s first CFO.

Snap is currently finalizing its Q4 2018 results and says it expects to report revenue and adjusted EBITDA results “that are slightly favorable to the top end of our previously reported quarterly guidance ranges for each.”

Snap closed the day up 3.65 percent at $6.54 per share. In after-hours trading, Snap is trading down more than seven percent.

TechCrunch has reached out to Snap and will update this story if we hear back.

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The Sims gets its own in-game Alexa-style assistant, Lin-Z

There’s nothing like The Sims to log off from reality for a bit. Getting away from the increasingly ubiquitous world of smart assistants, on the other hand, is a different matter entirely. EA announced this week that the perennial favorite life simulation series is getting its very own smart assistant.

Lin-Z is a lot like an in-game version of Alexa — or, for that matter, Google Assistant or Siri or Bixby or Cortana, et al. Accessed via a smart speaker with a familiar glowing green diamond, the assistant can play music, do trivia, tell jokes, turns lights on and off (smart home!) and order different services, like food, gardening and repair.

That feature is available this week in The Sims 4 for PC and Mac. Fittingly, the real Alexa is also getting a bunch of Sims-related skills, including trivia and the ability to play songs from the game’s soundtrack. That one’s available for users in Australia, Canada, India, the US and UK, for those looking to further blur the lines of reality.

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