Back in 2014, The High Strung frontman Josh Malerman wrote his debut novel, Bird Box — a chilling post-apocalyptic movie about a young mother trying to get her two children to safety in a world overrun with monsters. The book’s big hook: no one actually knows what those monsters looks like, because anyone who sees them immediately loses their mind and kills themselves, often in spectacular, horrific fashion. So the survivors protect themselves by wearing blindfolds — which limits their movement, leaves them open to all sorts of other dangers, and makes every stray sound into an unknown threat.
Bird Box is a relatively quiet, spooky novel, the kind of literary fiction that’s perfect reading for a windy October night leading up to Halloween. But Netflix has adapted it into a film, and judging from the trailer, it looks a lot more explosive and scream-filled than the source material.
Sandra Bullock stars as Malorie, the mother trying to survive the threat. She’s joined in the cast by John Malkovich, Sarah Paulson, BD Wong, Jacki Weaver, and Rosa Salazar, among many others. Malerman’s novel mostly takes place years later, focusing on how Malorie and her unnamed children navigate their mostly empty world, and the constant temptation to look around in it. But the trailer focuses much more on the lead-up to the monsterpocalypse, which helps explain the extensive cast.
The book feels like something of a companion piece to John Krasinski’s recent thriller A Quiet Place, about a family trying to survive in a world overrun by monsters who hunt by sound. Netflix’s Bird Box looks like a similar story, but with one major difference — the characters can make all the noise they want (and certainly frequently do), as long as they keep themselves blinded. Both stories are unnerving for the same reason — they suggest immediate, fatal punishments for everyday actions like speaking to someone, or looking at them.
Bird Box is due to arrive on Netflix on December 21st. It’ll also have a limited theatrical run at the same time, a sign that Netflix wants the film to qualify for industry awards like the Oscars and Golden Globes. That may seem odd for a horror movie about unseen monsters, but A Quiet Place has been getting some early Oscar buzz for its central performances. And Bird Box director Susanne Bier is a celebrated filmmaker whose 2010 Danish feature In a Better World won the Best Foreign Language Oscar, and who won a Primetime Emmy for her miniseries The Night Manager, based on the John Le Carré novel, and starring Marvel Cinematic Universe regular Tom Hiddleston. Her presence alone suggests that Bird Box is a more prestigious and ambitious feature than the low-rent horror films that are a lot more common on Netflix. It seemed like a difficult book to adapt to a visual medium, given how much it focuses on characters who can’t let themselves see anything. But Bier certainly seems to have a handle on the look of this world, and the way people interact with it.
Amazon is bringing Alexa and Echo devices to Spain and Italy, months after it announced support for Spanish and Italian languages for its digital voice assistant. You can now preorder devices like the Echo, Echo Plus, Echo Dot, Echo Spot, and Echo Sub in Italy and Spain. They begin shipping next week, the company says.
It’s likely Amazon wanted to wait until Alexa supported those countries’ languages before selling the devices there, as it has in other international markets. In addition to language support, the Echo devices in Italy and Spain are also getting culture-specific updates to better reflect the countries they’re in. For instance, by partnering with local brands, Amazon made its Echo devices capable of suggesting local news articles and even regional recipes to try cooking at home.
Amazon’s expansion into international seas has been drawn out
Amazon has drawn out its rollout to other countries, making expansions few and far between. France, for instance, just got the devices this summer. The slow pacing could be because it just takes time to teach a voice assistant a new language. Currently, Alexa can only speak and understand English, Spanish, Italian, German, and Japanese. Most of its growth has been in English-speaking countries.
In the race to learn more languages, Apple’s Siri leads the pack with support for 20 languages, while the Google Assistant speaks 16, and Microsoft’s Cortana speaks over seven. Google claims by the end of this year, its assistant will be able to support over 30 languages.
Meanwhile, voice assistants in China trail behind, as most by companies like Baidu and Xiaomi can only speak and interpret Mandarin Chinese, and not even other dialects of Chinese, underscoring how difficult it can be to train an AI in multiple complex languages.
President Donald Trump routinely calls old friends, business partners, and confidants on his personal iPhone while in the White House, giving Chinese and Russia spies easy access to his personal communications and interests, reports The New York Times.
The story cites American intelligence reports, which detail how Trump aides have repeatedly warned the president not to use his personal iPhone and to use the secure White House landline instead. Despite the warnings, Trump continues to take personal cellphone calls, and the White House has resolved to simply hoping the president doesn’t discuss classified matters over the phone.
According to the report, US intelligence agencies have reason to believe that Chinese and Russian spies are regularly eavesdropping on Trump’s calls by way of human sources within foreign governments and through the interception of communications between foreign officials.
The goal, according to the NYT, is to keep Trump from escalating the ongoing trade war with China, with Chinese intelligence agencies hoping that by learning more about Trump’s behavior, they can use people close to him to influence policy. The Russians are thought to be a running a less sophisticated operation because of Trump’s close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which apparently makes influencing Trump to favor Russian interests less of a concern.
As The New York Times puts it, this is a classic intelligence strategy tailored to the specific situation of a president that regularly defies his aides and refuses to follow protocol:
China’s effort is a 21st-century version of what officials there have been doing for many decades, which is trying to influence American leaders by cultivating an informal network of prominent businesspeople and academics who can be sold on ideas and policy prescriptions and then carry them to the White House. The difference now is that China, through its eavesdropping on Mr. Trump’s calls, has a far clearer idea of who carries the most influence with the president, and what arguments tend to work.
Trump reportedly carries around three iPhones, with only two of them containing National Security Agency protections that would limit the ability for others to intercept communications or otherwise exploit vulnerabilities in the device. Trump’s third iPhone is a standard one no different than any of the millions of devices used by Americans every day, and Trump reportedly uses it to call people because he can store his contacts in it. According to the NYT, it is relatively easy for both the US and foreign governments to intercept communications as they travel between cell towers and satellites, and tapping the phones of foreign leaders is considered a highly effective form of modern spying.
Previous leaders, like former President Barack Obama, used modified iPhones that could not make calls or take pictures and that only received incoming messages from a special email address. The devices also often did not contain microphones, while texting was prohibited. Trump, on the other hand, sometimes uses a device with none of those protections whatsoever. Although Trump did eventually give up his insecure Android phone last year, generating headlines about his vulnerable electronic device use, he does not appear to follow standard protocol. The one silver lining here is that Trump does not text or use email, reducing the number of potential attack points for foreign agencies and hackers.
Relax: A new study shows that people with higher levels of the “stress hormone” tend to have smaller brains — but that doesn’t mean one causes the other.
The study, published today in the journal Neurology, reports smaller brain volumes and worse memories in people with higher-than-average levels of cortisol — popularly known as the stress hormone. But any media coverage that warns stress is going to shrink your brain is premature. “Right now all we can say is A is associated with B, we can’t really say anything about causality,” says Sudha Seshadri, a professor of neurology at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and senior author on the study.
“The results are fascinating,” says Bruce McEwen, a neuroscientist at The Rockefeller University in New York who was not involved in the research. But, he adds, “Cortisol is tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot going on underneath.”
“Cortisol is tip of the iceberg.”
Cortisol is a hormone that the body pumps out in response to a number of different stressors — like sudden, psychological stress, or chronic inflammation. And this isn’t the first time scientists have linked the stuff to changes in the brain: other studies have connected excessively high levels of cortisol to shrunken brain regions, like the parts of the brain involved in memory. Shrinking brains could signal neurological or cognitive impairment. While it doesn’t necessarily mean that brain cells are dying, it could mean that those precious cells are losing their support systems, McEwen says. “It’s a sign that things are not good.”
In today’s study, a team of researchers led by Seshadri and Justin Echouffo-Tcheugui, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University, looked at the entire brain in more than 2,000 apparently healthy people. To find them, the research team turned to the Framingham Heart Study, a massive, three-generation study that’s been monitoring a community in Massachusetts since 1948. The researchers took blood samples from study participants to measure their cortisol levels, and tested their memory, reasoning, and attention. The researchers also imaged the study participants’ brains to look for differences in brain volumes as well as the white matter that insulates the brain’s biological wiring.
“It’s a sign that things are not good.”
The participants fell into three different groups with cortisol levels at the low, medium, and high ends of normal. And the researchers found that the people with the highest cortisol levels tended to have poorer memories and attention, and smaller brain volumes — particularly women. The high cortisol group also showed signs of injury to their white matter, which the study authors speculated could contribute to the differences in memory, and attention: if you weaken the insulation, signals won’t travel along the wiring as efficiently.
Still, McEwen cautions readers against jumping to the conclusion that since cortisol is involved, stress is to blame. It’s true, surprising, stressful events can make your glands start squirting out cortisol. But other insults can do the same thing: the body uses cortisol to tamp down inflammation, for example. So chronic inflammation can also cause cortisol to rise. “It’s a cop out if you just dump this on the word stress,” McEwen says. (“When you read the paper, did you see something about stress?” study author Echouffo-Tcheugui asks. The answer is no — not until the reference section.)
“It’s a cop out if you just dump this on the word stress.”
It’s possible it’s the cortisol that’s triggering the changes in brain volume. That’s been seen before, McEwen says. But inflammation — if there is inflammation — could also be playing a part in the white matter injuries the researchers spotted. “Yes, it is possible, there could be a number of factors like that,” Seshadri agrees.
McEwen hopes that the team will continue to dig into why some people had higher cortisol levels than others, and what else might be affecting their brains — and the researchers hinted at plans to do so. “It’s a good step in the right direction,” McEwen says. “Underneath it there’s a lot of biology there that needs to be explored further.”
Tesla CEO Elon Musk said Wednesday that he recently approved the final prototype of the Model Y, signaling that the forthcoming all-electric crossover SUV is far enough along in development to go into production. Approval aside, though, he said full volume production still isn’t slated to happen until 2020, which has been the target for a while now.
“We’ve made significant progress on the Model Y,” Musk said in an uncharacteristically subdued call with investors and analysts, following news of the company’s first profitable quarter in two years. The CEO has previously teased a March 2019 reveal of the SUV.
Musk didn’t offer any more detail about the Model Y’s development, but one reason for the delay is that Tesla doesn’t have anywhere to build it yet. The company is already at the limits of its Fremont, California factory, to the point that it had to build a giant tent in the parking lot earlier this year to meet demand for the Model 3 sedan.
Development is on track, but Tesla has nowhere to build the Model Y
Tesla currently only occupies about 30 percent of its Gigafactory in Nevada, so there’s room there. But Tesla would need time and money to tool the facility for vehicle production and assembly. Right now, the company only makes batteries for all of its cars and energy products, as well as drivetrains for the Model 3, at that location.
Documents filed with the government in Shanghai this week showed that Tesla plans to make two different cars at the planned Gigafactory there. One will assuredly be the Model 3, which Musk said Wednesday he hopes to have in production by the end of 2019. The other could be the Model Y, but building a factory from scratch and putting two different cars into production might be a tall task.
Wherever the Model Y gets built, the vehicle represents a huge opportunity for Tesla. Tesla has found record-setting success with the Model 3 despite initial struggles with production. It’s become one of the best-selling cars in the country, and it just helped the company pull in its biggest quarterly revenue and profit ever. That’s all come at a time when sedan sales are absolutely tanking in the US, causing major automakers like Ford and Fiat Chrysler to go all-in on lineups that almost exclusively feature SUVs and trucks.
Repeating the Model 3’s success with a smaller, more affordable SUV — while also learning from the mistakes encountered along the way — could eventually be another boon to Tesla’s bottom line. It also isn’t the only product in the pipeline with that kind of opportunity attached to it. Musk said Wednesday the product he is “personally most excited about” is the forthcoming Tesla pickup truck, an idea he has mentioned in passing for years.
“I think that’s going to be some next level stuff there,” Musk said about the truck. More broadly, Musk added, “I think we’ve got the most exciting product roadmap of any company on Earth by far.”
Xiaomi has announced the Mi Mix 3, the latest entry in its series of full-screen flagship phones. It’s yet another high-end Chinese device with a huge screen-to-body ratio achieved by hiding the front-facing cameras on a sliding mechanism — no notch required. Unlike the Vivo Nex or Oppo Find X, however, the slider isn’t powered by motors. CEO Lei Jun compares the design to older sliding phones and suggests that it’ll be relaxing just to play with.
The previous two Mi Mix phones were both pioneering attempts by Xiaomi to reduce the bezels around the screen as much as possible, but they predated the now-ubiquitous notch and compromised by awkwardly placing the selfie camera below the screen, forcing you to hold the phone upside-down or deal with an unflattering angle. Even Xiaomi itself adopted the notch earlier this year with the Mi 8. But the Mi Mix 3 preserves the spirit of the series while seemingly fixing one of its bigger flaws.
Xiaomi claims a screen-to-body ratio of 93.4 percent, and has cut down on the “chin” at the bottom of the display by nearly 4.5 millimeters compared to the Mi Mix 2S.
Specs-wise, the Mi Mix 3 moves the series to OLED with a 6.4-inch 1080p panel. There are four cameras in total: 12-megapixel wide-angle and telephoto modules on the back, and a 24-megapixel selfie camera backed by a 2-megapixel sensor on the front. The phone has a fingerprint sensor on the back, so unlike the Oppo Find X you don’t have to pop the cameras up every time you want to unlock it.
As with basically every other high-end Android phone this year, the Mi Mix 3 has a Snapdragon 845 processor, but breaks new memory grounds by including up to 10GB of RAM. Xiaomi is also bundling the phone with a 10W wireless charger. A 5G version is set for release in Europe early next year.
The Mi Mix 3 starts at 3,299 yuan ($475) for a model with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage; that’s the same base price that the 64GB Mi 2S launched at. 3,999 yuan ($575) gets you 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. The 10GB model is a “Forbidden City Palace Museum” special edition variant that comes with 256GB of storage and costs 4,999 yuan ($720). Pricing for India and other markets should be announced soon.