We knew October would be busy. We had the invitations, the embargoes, and a stockpile of coffee and seltzer. But this past month turned out to be more insane and more exciting than almost any month in the past year.There was rarely a moment to rest, and it seems like the internet was always reacting to something, somewhere. Microsoft, Amazon, and Google responded with equal parts panic and determination to the onslaught of Apple’s hype machine. People around the world watched with reverence as Felix Baumgartner successfully completely a historic free-fall from the edge of space. Live, on the internet. Reddit’s insular community reacted when one of its most unsavory characters was outed by the media. Apple attempted to avoid a reaction by announcing a major executive shake up in the middle of a catastrophic hurricane. New York City reacted to hurricane Sandy, and the rest of the internet reacted to our reactions via social media. And then Disney bought Lucasfilm, and the internet almost exploded.Beyond the massive, non-stop wave of news, The Verge also explored the culture of Philip K. Dick, got to know the cosplayers of New York Comic Con, broke down the K-Pop phenomenon, spoke with the Singularity's true believers, and got the inside scoop on what's next for Android — straight from Google. In hindsight, it seems like all of this more or less happened at once, making the past 31 days one of the most intense and exciting months since The Verge began. And that’s fitting because tomorrow is our first birthday.We're only scratching the surface here, so dig into the stories below to get the best of the month's news, features, reviews, and original reporting from The Verge.
Oct 31, 2012
On a warm night in the winemaking town of Sonoma, California, the slightly moldy smell of eucalyptus trees hangs heavy in the air. Amidst the rustic stone buildings and tidy gravel pathways of the historic Buena Vista Winery, five middle-aged paranormal investigators from the San Francisco Bay Area gather in matching black t-shirts. There have been reports of hauntings here. One of the tasting room employees saw a “guy in a white t-shirt” climb the stairs then vanish. Could it be the ghost of the original owner, an exiled Hungarian Count who was supposedly eaten by alligators? The group, whose name is The Amateur Ghost Hunters: R.I.P., is on the scene to find out.Read Article >
On the top floor of the wine cellars, they turn the lights off, and wait for something to happen. “It’s ok for you to come out and speak with us,” says Ellen MacFarlane, a stay at home mom from Napa, California sitting cross-legged on the floor with her eyes closed. The other four glance at Julie Blankenship, sitting next to Ellen, or rather, they look at the KII meter she’s holding. It’s a little white box that lights up when it perceives spikes in EMF, or changes in the electromagnetic field. Most ghost hunters believe that spirits cause EMF spikes.
Oct 31, 2012
The iPad mini has arrived — and so has our review. Just last week, Apple introduced the world to the newest member of its wildly successful tablet line, an adorable, diminutive slate with a 7.9-inch display. It even had an adorable ad to show along with it: an iPad mini joining in with a full-sized iPad to play "Heart and Soul" on the piano.Read Article >
But to think of the iPad mini as a companion to the 3rd or 4th generation iPad — some kind of secondary player to the bigger version — would probably be a mistake. With a price tag starting at $329 and heading all the way up to $659 (with LTE and 64GB of storage), this isn't really a step down from the existing iPad (well, the iPad 2 at least) as much as it is a step to the side. At least, that's the impression I get. Want a big iPad that isn't too expensive? Get the 2nd gen one. Want one that you can throw in a bag or keep on the nightstand? Get the iPad mini. You fly business class and work in photography? Let me point you in the direction of the new 4th generation model.
Oct 30, 2012
When Hurricane Sandy drew near the East Coast, Twitter and Instagram came alive with pictures of the storm. One showed ominous clouds gathering over Midtown Manhattan. In another, soldiers guarded Arlington National Cemetery's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under a haze of rain. A third showed a massive wave crashing around the Statue of Liberty. They were stunning images, capturing the scale of the disaster as well as its human impact. There was just one problem: none of them were actually pictures of Sandy.Read Article >
"I was absolutely sure that everybody knew that was a fake," says Tom Phillips, an MSN editor and author of the "Is Twitter Wrong?" blog, of the Statue of Liberty photo. The picture in question is a shot from disaster film The Day After Tomorrow, overlaid with an NY1 TV banner, and was frequently tweeted satirically. "It was on the poster of the film, for goodness’ sake... Then it became evident from the way some people were linking it and talking about it: no, they actually think this is real!" Phillips spent much of Hurricane Sandy debunking that and other photos, a few of which made it onto major news sites before being removed. Every event begets misinformation, but as people increasingly look to social media in times of disaster, fact-checking viral images can be as useful as issuing a news update.
Oct 30, 2012
Star Wars fans, you might want to sit down for this one — The Walt Disney Company just announced its plans to purchase Lucasfilm Ltd from George Lucas, with plans to release Star Wars: Episode 7 sometime during 2015. While there aren't any release dates yet for Episodes 8 and 9, those films will be coming as well — and the studio has even more beyond a new trilogy planned for the future.Read Article >
The deal is a stock and cash transaction, with Lucas receiving about half of the $4.05 billion value of the deal in cash plus some 40 million stock shares. "It's now time for me to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers," Lucas said in a statement. "I've always believed that Star Wars could live beyond me, and I thought it was important to set up the transition during my lifetime."
Oct 30, 2012
Scott Forstall — the departing Apple executive who'd become the public face of iOS in his role as head of mobile software — may have met his demise when he refused to put his name on the apology letter Apple released several weeks ago, a rare show of contrition from Cupertino when its revamped (and Google-free) Maps product fell short of expectations at the release of iOS 6. The New York Times and CNNMoney are both reporting the story this evening; we've heard similar from sources as well.Read Article >
The exact circumstances of Forstall's refusal are unclear, but not entirely unexpected: it's widely understood that the hard-charging, ambitious Forstall is abrasive and disliked by a number of others at his level inside Apple — people like head designer Jony Ive, who allegedly refused to take meetings in the same room as him. Forstall, who had been in charge of Maps, is said to have believed that the complaints over data quality were overblown — a belief so strong that he ultimately refused to sign the letter apologizing for the debacle (the letter released to the public ended up bearing CEO Tim Cook's signature instead).
“This is Windows Phone. No, for real this time.” That’s what I thought when I started hearing about Windows Phone 8 a few months ago. Just like Windows Phone 7, it represents yet another clean break for Microsoft’s mobile ambitions — but unlike 7, now it’s got the hardware to match.Read Article >
The truth is a little more complicated: this clean break isn’t as nearly as obvious as Windows Phone 7’s split from Windows Mobile was back in 2010. A quick glance at Windows Phone 8’s home screen, its apps, and its overall aesthetic lead you to believe that it’s only a mild evolution of Windows Phone 7.5 — and in many ways, that’s true. Much of Redmond’s grunt work instead went into overhauling what’s under the hood: these latest-generation phones now use what Microsoft calls the “NT kernel,” the same kernel that underpins Windows 8 and several generations of Windows for the desktop that came before it.
By Dieter Bohn and Nilay PatelRead Article >
The Nexus 4 is an impressive smartphone that ticks off every modern spec checkbox you could ask for, save one: LTE. Instead, the Nexus 4 will only come unlocked with HSPA+ radios. It is a disappointing omission, driven by both Google's complex philosophical desire to build open devices as well as the fairly simple economics of building a halo product for a small niche of early adopters.
Oct 29, 2012
Google's campus in Mountain View is a weird place — a sprawling, flat expanse dotted with angular, gray buildings. And lots of colorful bikes. It feels like an island, a place with its own set of rules, and it's easy to feel out of joint if you don't know the handshake. In some ways it's like a corporate realization of Hakim Bey's Temporary Autonomous Zones... save for, you know, the corporation. It's the kind of place where the uniquely Silicon Valley meshing of childish whimsy and a fervent, quasi-religious work ethic is in full swing. A place where coding ideas and how-tos for relaxation are printed and hung in the men's bathrooms above the urinals. It's charming and bizarre in equal parts.Read Article >
The last time I had trekked across the country and south of San Francisco was in September of 2011, to see the Android team's new flagship phone and a version of its operating system that was set to change the face of the line completely. Those products were the Galaxy Nexus and Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0), important releases for Google that proved the company had started to embrace design and user experience as much as its competition had. That time around, I spent a few hours with Android's head of user experience — the colorful Matias Duarte — to explore the new look and feel of the software, hear his reasoning behind bold decisions like the in-house-designed Roboto font, and play with the Samsung-produced phone.
For decades, visions of the future have played with the magical possibilities of computers: they'll know where you are, what you want, and can access all the world's information with a simple voice prompt. That vision hasn't come to pass, yet, but features like Apple's Siri and Google Now offer a keyhole peek into a near future reality where your phone is more "Personal Assistant" than "Bar bet settler." The difference is that the former actually understands what you need while the latter is a blunt search instrument.Read Article >
Google Now is one more baby step in that direction. Introduced this past June with Android 4.1 "Jelly Bean," it's designed to ambiently give you information you might need before you ask for it. To pull off that ambitious goal, Google takes advantage of multiple parts of the company: comprehensive search results, robust speech recognition, and most of all Google's surprisingly deep understanding of who you are and what you want to know.
Oct 25, 2012
It all started with a forum post. When a member of gaming forum NeoGAF started a new thread claiming to actually enjoy the Nintendo DS game Imagine: Babyz Fashion — a game where players literally play dress-up with babies — it garnered quite a few responses. Some accused him of faking it for attention (“post a picture of the actual cart, I believe you're playing it via flashcard”), while others complained that he was being too vague about what exactly it was that made the game fun. Then someone called him a pedophile. “So, I'm a pedophile because I don't want to play Dudebro, My Shit is Fucked Up So I Got to Shoot/Slice You II: It's Straight-Up Dawg Time?” he responded. “To throw around these sort of accusations at someone who seeks to do something different suggests quite the insecurity on your part.”Read Article >
Oct 24, 2012
About 100 people had gathered for a generously-catered, open bar party in the West Village offices of Livestream, which was co-hosting a viewing of the third presidential debate with Tumblr. The night’s official theme was "Live-GIFing the 2012 Debates," and, despite the free flow of wine, the audience was initially discouraged by the dry debate's dearth of meme-able moments.Read Article >
The startups had commissioned six digital artists to live-GIF the debate. They sat around a table in the middle of the room, eyes intent on their screens, as they silently doctored and remixed the debate in real time. Large screens around the office streamed the infinite loops next to the candidates, making it difficult to follow the discussion about Syria without being distracted by Mitt Romney repeatedly smacking his lips or Barack Obama motioning over a crystal ball. By the end of the 90 minutes, the artists had produced 80 animated GIFs.
Oct 24, 2012
The Microsoft Surface is no minor thing to review, especially when you consider the stakes for this product. The tablet / laptop hybrid — which was announced at a surprise event in Los Angeles back in June — is not just a unique product in the market, it's also the first of its kind for Microsoft. The company's foray into designing and building its own hardware is not exactly unheard of, but competing directly with partners on PCs certainly is. Adding fuel to an already-crackling fire, Microsoft is making two distinct versions of the Surface available: the $499 (and up) Surface with Windows RT, which runs a scaled back version of Windows for ARM chipsets, and the yet-to-be-released Surface with Windows 8 Pro, a full-on, Intel-based Windows machine with all the power you'd expect from a modern laptop. I've been tasked with reviewing the former, a product which competes in both price and functionality with the iPad and higher-end Android tablets.Read Article >
The device itself is an interesting new addition to a crowded market. Though Windows RT touts a desktop environment which looks and feels very similar to Windows 7, the OS doesn't allow for legacy Windows applications to be run or installed, save for the Office suite and a desktop version of Internet Explorer 10. Furthermore, new apps must be written for the tiled environment of Windows 8 — the new Windows Phone-influenced interface which seemingly defines Microsoft's future.
Oct 23, 2012
Windows 8 is a rebirth, a "reimagining" of Windows and the entire Microsoft brand. It's also the single riskiest project that Microsoft has ever embarked upon â a bet from Redmond that users can adapt to a new way of computing. With mobile alternatives from Google and Apple eating into sales of traditional PCs, Microsoft needed to act quickly to protect its Windows revenue. A short testing phase of under a year from Developer Preview to a finished product in stores shows that Microsoft is serious this time around. The result? An entirely new Windows user interface designed for touch and a new generation of Windows apps. This isn't the Windows you're familiar with, but is that a good thing?Read Article >
The most striking changes to Microsoft’s new operating system are evident as soon as you first switch on a Windows 8 PC. The boot process is surprisingly fast for Windows: gone are the days of staring at an ugly splash screen or waiting for Windows to apply computer settings before you can log in and progress with your day. In fact, the boot process is so fast on new hardware that you barely see the redesigned Windows logo that greets you ahead of an entirely new OS.
Oct 22, 2012
“This is me right now,” Colin Northway says, sending me a JPEG of a shirtless, barefoot man sitting in a deck chair hunched over a laptop, surrounded by trees. For the past two years Colin and his wife Sarah have been travelling the world — they’ve spent time in Honduras, the Philippines, Scotland, Greece, and plenty more, and currently they’ve settled in a small village in Mexico. But that time hasn’t just been spent exploring new cultures, it’s also been about making games. Sarah developed the zombie-themed strategy game Rebuild and its sequel, while Colin has been hard at work on Incredipede, a puzzle game where players control a strange creature with the ability to grow new limbs at will.Read Article >
Unlike their previous destinations, Colin says that he hasn’t been able to explore much of Mexico just yet, as he’s been busy polishing up the game in time for its release later this week. "Still, it's nice to be able to unwind with a swim in the ocean,” he says. The couple had always loved to travel, spending large amounts of time in Thailand and Japan, but it wasn’t until the success of Colin’s previous game, Fantastic Contraption, that the two were able afford their current globe-trotting journey. The release of Rebuild helped to further fund their adventures.
Oct 22, 2012
Hundreds of the world’s brightest minds — engineers from Google and IBM, hedge funds quants, and Defense Department contractors building artificial intelligence — were gathered in rapt attention inside the auditorium of the San Francisco Masonic Temple atop Nob Hill. It was the first day of the seventh annual Singularity Summit, and Julia Galef, the President of the Center for Applied Rationality, was speaking onstage. On the screen behind her, Galef projected a giant image from the film Blade Runner: the replicant Roy, naked, his face stained with blood, cradling a white dove in his arms.Read Article >
At this point in the movie, Roy is reaching the end of his short, pre-programmed life, “The poignancy of his death scene comes from the contrast between that bitter truth and the fact that he still feels his life has meaning, and for lack of a better word, he has a soul,” said Galef. “To me this is the situation we as humans have found ourselves in over the last century. Turns out we are survival machines created by ancient replicators, DNA, to produce as many copies of them as possible. This is the bitter pill that science has offered us in response to our questions about where we came from and what it all means.”
Oct 19, 2012
13 strangers. 6 wheels. John McCain’s bus. A parade of startups among infinite cornfields in America’s heartland. 10 days, 2,000 miles, and a goal to promote open internet policies in the United States. A documentary crew filming every waking moment. Throw out your rules — these are Reddit’s Internet 2012 road rules.Read Article >
True believers file into St. Louis’ “T-Rex” communal startup space: a gargantuan, brutal looking structure renovated with only the bare essentials like plastic plants and internet access — a place “oriented to the nascent IT startup entrepreneur.” After a late arrival to this campaign pit-stop, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian seizes the podium. He gives his now-perfected stump speech on SOPA and PIPA and internet freedom — the impetus for Reddit’s tour — but the crowd is most riled by his insidery rant on a particularly “boring” part of Northern California. “One of the things I cannot shut up about,” Ohanian says, “is that the myth of Silicon Valley being the only place for tech innovation needs to go away. It really needs to go away.” The audience claps before Ohanian can finish his sentence; one man decides the line deserves a standing ovation. “I think we should completely get rid of software patents,” Ohanian says a few minutes later. The crowd eats it up. It’s the same in every city.
Oct 18, 2012
Color, a photo sharing app that launched in August of 2010, has the unpleasant distinction of having raised $41 million before it even launched, by far one of the largest sums bestowed on any software company prior to them acquiring a single customer. Its technology, a location based social network that automatically found and shared photos with relevant people nearby, was hyped by every tech blogger who had the good fortune of enjoying early access to the product. And of course, after launching, the product was roundly reviled and sunk like a stone.Read Article >
News broke yesterday that Color was shutting down, followed by the news the Color was not shutting down, followed by the news that Color was being acquired by Apple for at least $10 million, followed by the news that no, Apple was just paying $2-5 million for the company's engineers. While the companies actual fate is still uncertain, Apple paying somewhere between $2-5 million for what's left of Color actually makes perfect sense.
Oct 18, 2012
Walking into the DoubleTree Hotel in Irvine, California, the Verge team was greeted by representatives from K-Pop United, a world-wide fan organization. The Los Angeles chapter was apparently quite new, and the three reps (two young women and one young man) seemed really psyched to be there. They told us about the chapter in Las Vegas that holds some sort of big concert or parade or something every year, and about how they arranged to have one cancer stricken member come to Irvine to meet her favorite K-Pop star.Read Article >
“We’re actually here to do a story on this,” I said.
Oct 18, 2012
"We have reached a tipping point at which we can most efficiently and effectively reach our readers in all-digital format," they explain, insisting that the move means they "are transitioning Newsweek, not saying goodbye to it." Despite this, "streamlining" of editorial and business operation means they expect to lay off an unspecified number of workers. The move, however, was far from unexpected: back in July, media executive Barry Diller said that Newsweek's manufacturing costs could push it online, and Brown said that in 2013, there would be "many options to choose from."Read Article >
Newsweek, currently nearing its 80th year of publication, is one of the best-known weekly publications in the US, but it's been struggling to reinvent itself in recent years, with a sale, a major redesign, and a merger with The Daily Beast. If it succeeds as an online-only publication, it could stand in contrast with the reportedly underperforming Daily. It remains unclear, though, what the move means for the magazine's notoriously provocative covers, including "Muslim Rage" and "Why Surrender is a Feminist Dream."
Oct 17, 2012
A White House-ordered probe has revealed no evidence that telecommunications company Huawei spied for the Chinese government, sources tell Reuters. According to two people apparently familiar with the review, there was nothing to indicate active spying, although one source says that "certain parts of government really wanted" such evidence. This contrasts sharply with a US Congressional report released last week, calling both Huawei and ZTE, another major Chinese tech company, a national security risk. The report's findings have not been announced publicly, and White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden declined to comment. It doesn't seem to have looked for backdoors or other potential future threats, a concern of Congress.Read Article >
The US House Intelligence Committee previously reported that Huawei and ZTE had failed to provide information about their interaction with the Chinese government, and that possible cases of bribery or corruption had been found. The two were also singled out for being a threat to US intellectual property. Both companies have denied the charges, and the Chinese government accused Congress of searching to reach a "predetermined outcome." While it's not clear what the reports will mean for Huawei and ZTE, this case is part of a larger rivalry, both between the American and Chinese governments and between Huawei and companies like Cisco, which appears to have lobbied for the investigation.
Oct 17, 2012
One of the best parts of any New York Comic Con is the walk to the Javits Center, when hundreds of people dressed as superheroes, alternate universe Victorians, and anime characters descend on Midtown Manhattan. For a few days, the blocks around Penn Station come alive with color, playing host to interactions between costumed attendees and the baffled or intrigued locals and tourists who no longer own the streets.Read Article >
After a while, the lines between cosplayer and civilian start to blur: when enough people are in costume, everyone is. When enough people have thrown off the conventional wisdom dictating that clothing should be merely utilitarian, decorative, or indicative of who you are in real life, it’s easy to start picking it apart to look for a story.
Oct 17, 2012
Tuesday night's feisty presidential debate covered largely familiar ground, as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney traded jabs over hot-button issues such as immigration, tax plans, and foreign policy. The discourse became more pointed toward the end, however, when moderator Candy Crowley confronted both candidates about the outsourcing of tech manufacturing jobs.Read Article >
"iPad, the Macs, the iPhones, they are all manufactured in China," Crowley said, citing low labor costs as a primary driver. "How do you convince a great American company to bring that manufacturing back here?" Romney, taking the floor first, responded with the following:
Oct 16, 2012
Thanks to its 40 million loosely moderated users, Reddit has achieved massive growth with a minimum of regulation. Its hands-off approach is strongly libertarian, giving users a platform to say almost anything while treating anonymity as sacrosanct. But after the publication of a Gawker article outing Violentacrez, one of Reddit’s most controversial users, moderators and admins are increasingly having to decide where to draw the line when the two conflict — and how to deal with criticism of their policies.Read Article >
At its most concrete, this conflict manifests in discussions about whether (and how) to ban either links to recent pieces on Gawker and Jezebel or the entire Gawker blog family. But it’s also present in the fabric of the site’s administration. Late last week, a moderator named Solidwhetstone posted a discussion from the #modtalk IRC channel on Pastebin, revealing widespread uncertainty about their policies. Shortly after releasing the information, he says he was banned from the ModTalk subreddit and IRC room.
Oct 14, 2012
Moments ago skydiver Felix Baumgartner successfully completed a jump from over 128,000 feet above the Earth, a feat which immediately broke numerous world records and etched his name into the history books. After a postponed launch and some last-minute concerns during ascent, Baumgartner left his capsule and stood on a step no larger than a skateboard. Then he jumped.Read Article >
The accomplishment shatters a number of long-standing world records. Before today, Joseph Kittinger held the honor of highest parachute jump; his 1960 Project Excelsior excursion saw him fall from 102,800 feet in 1960. Baumgartner and his team also surpassed the previous high mark for manned balloon flight which had previously stood at 113,740 feet.
Oct 11, 2012
Elections in the United States aren’t perfect. Between rare instances of voter fraud, attempts to make it harder for people to vote, voter intimidation, egregious manipulation of voting districts by major parties, and regularly low voter turnout, there’s plenty of room for improvement — leading governments at all levels in the US federal system to examine alternative voting mechanisms that could alleviate these issues. In the age of the internet, an obvious solution for many is remote internet voting — an option that seems more palatable every year given the adoption of PCs, mobile devices, and broadband internet. And in 2012, more citizens than ever will have access to online voting assistance: more than 30 states and the District of Columbia will offer registration or provide absentee ballots for overseas voters using email or an internet portal. But can internet voting really solve problems in US elections?Read Article >
New voting technologies face a mountain of scrutiny. Elections in the United States require a high level of integrity, across multiple dimensions, either by public expectation or by law. These requirements include secrecy (so people can’t find out how you voted), privacy (so people can’t stand over your shoulder at the ballot box and coerce you), accountability (so votes can be verified as authentic), uniqueness (so people can only vote once), and accuracy (so votes are recorded correctly). Good voting systems should also be reliable, flexible, convenient, and cost-effective. For remote internet voting to be feasible and meaningful, it has to fulfill all of these criteria adequately, and experts are skeptical that an internet voting system could meet all of these needs.