Critic’s notebook: The Best New Social Thriller Is a Podcast

Fiction podcasts have always felt one step behind the culture. The audio drama’s great and unexpected resurgence in this decade, thanks to the rise of podcasting’s listen-whenever-and-wherever-you-like technology, has produced a cutting-edge genre that seems somehow suspended in time.

Maybe it’s because so many scripted podcasts have borrowed from old radio plays. Or maybe it’s because they’ve so often leaned into genre storytelling, leaving social reality behind to build fantasy worlds and unravel mysteries. The experimental sandbox of the new form has produced sharp plots and intriguing aural soundscapes but few stories that seem to access something bigger than themselves.

In absurdist landscape, we latch onto IA, an appealing loner voiced by Mr. Winter. In Episode 1 we follow him as he learns he has an operable brain tumor, falls through every loophole of the New American health care system, and discovers that the only way to finance the procedure and save his life is to get arrested and avail himself of the free services of the prison hospital. IA is black, so this should not be too hard, and yet it proves absurdly impossible: When he tries to persuade a police officer to pick him up for blatant shoplifting, the cop is insulted: “You telling me how to do my job?”

After serving 16 years in prison on trumped-up pot possession charges, Dolores returns broke and confused to the newly gentrified Washington Heights. All of the her neighborhood landmarks have been replaced by T-Mobiles and Citibanks, its once-friendly faces supplanted by green smoothie-drinking white girls in workout clothes who are free to smoke their boutique hydroponic weed without incident. The only thing left is the local joint Empanada Loca and its owner, Luis (Bobby Cannavale), who opens the shop’s doors and his weed stash to his old friend. Despite all the indignities visited upon Dolores — and all the crimes she’ll commit in her tragicomic descent into madness — the tale is built on that tender emotional core. Breathing all these elements to life is the voice of Daphne Rubin-Vega — the original Mimi in “Rent” — whose performance as Dolores slinks into the listener’s mind in a way that feels unrivaled in audio.

“Not being a straight white guy — being black, being biracial — you’re always inside and outside the world at once,” he added. “It’s exciting that we’re all getting a place where folks are beginning to appreciate that perspective.”

And “Dolores Roach” is a virtual co-creation with Ms. Rubin-Vega, who originated both the title character and all the others in the one-woman show, and weighed in on casting and scripting on the podcast adaptation. “Her imprint on this is enormous,” Ms. O’Donnell said.

Ms. Shippen and Ms. Tran have been conferring closely on scripts in Los Angeles, including working out how to build a Vietnamese-American character in audio, and they’re set to record this month in London in between Ms. Tran’s “Star Wars” shoots. It’s as exciting a collaboration as any on screen.

 

September 13, 2018

Sources: New York Times

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  • These Robots Run, Dance and Flip. But Are They a Business?

    These Robots Run, Dance and Flip. But Are They a Business?

    hips swaying, the robot walked across a parking lot and into a rain puddle.</p><p>There, it danced a jig, splashing water across the asphalt. Then it turned and trotted toward a brick building, climbing over a curb and stopping within inches of a floor-length window. Pausing for several seconds, it seemed to eye its own reflection in the glass.</p><p>The scene was mesmerizing — so mesmerizing, it was easy to forget that a woman was guiding the four-legged machine from across the parking lot, a joystick in her hands and a laptop computer strapped to her waist.</p><p>Even now, it is not entirely clear what someone would do with one of these robots. That makes it hard to get past a question people have been asking about Boston Dynamics for years: Is this a business or a research lab?</p><p>“We think the technology has reached a point where it can be deployed productively,” Marc Raibert, the company’s founder, said during a recent interview inside his robotics lab, about 10 miles from Boston. “But we don’t know what the big application is.”</p><p>But if driverless cars are still years away from everyday use, walking robots are even further. </p><p>Though these machines are shockingly lifelike, they have limits. They can handle some tasks on their own, like spotting a curb and climbing over it. But when moving across unfamiliar spaces, like the parking lot outside the Boston Dynamics lab, they still need a human guide. In person, they stumble and fall more often than they do on YouTube. </p><p>Walking through the Boston Dynamics lab, Mr. Raibert, 68, wore bluejeans and a Hawaiian shirt, as he does nearly every day. He wants to build robots that can do what humans and animals can do. That was his aim in the early 1980s, when he founded the Leg Lab at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. And it was his aim when he moved the lab to M.I.T.</p><p>In 2013, Google acquired Boston Dynamics during a broad push toward driverless cars and other robotics. But just four years later, Google, known for its “moonshot” bets on long-term tech projects, sold Boston Dynamics to SoftBank.</p><p>Mr. Raibert declined to say how much Google or SoftBank had paid for the company. He said both owners had provided ample funding for its research, and their involvement shows the potential of his work.</p><p>No machine comes closer to his vision than Atlas, a 165-pound anthropomorphic robot that can run, jump and even do back flips. Mr. Raibert would not let us shoot video of Atlas or other robots while inside the lab. But he did give a brief demonstration of the machine.</p><p>Like the SpotMini, Atlas is controlled by a joystick, a laptop computer and a wireless radio. When Mr. Raibert signaled for the demo, an engineer touched the joystick and the 165-pound robot crashed to the floor. Atlas is so large and so lifelike, you feel bad for it.</p><p>Mr. Raibert and his colleagues put the machine back on its feet and tried again. When the engineers touched the joystick, Atlas crashed to the floor a second time.</p><p>Eventually, the engineers got Atlas up and running — and sprinting and jumping and crashing headlong into an orange pylon. The excitement was mixed with discomfort when an engineer shoved its chest with the end of a broom handle and it stayed on its robotic feet. </p><p>“We subconsciously treat robots like living things — and I don’t think that effect will go away as we get used to the technology,” said Kate Darling, a researcher at the M.I.T. Media Lab who specializes in the ethics of robotics. “In some ways, we are biologically hard-wired to respond in this way.”</p><p>With its YouTube videos, Boston Dynamics plays with this phenomenon. The videos rarely reveal the human operators who guide the machines.</p><p>SpotMini is smaller and cheaper and has better balance than Atlas. It can carry (small) items on its back, and it can open doors (provided the doors have the proper handles). This requires an extra limb that attaches between its shoulders.</p><p>The sales plans for SpotMini seem vague. It will be priced like a car — cars, Mr. Raibert added, have a wide range of prices — and it will be sold to businesses like construction companies. He talked in general terms about the machine’s lugging stuff across rough terrain or into places unsafe for humans.</p><p>As the technology improves, it could be a delivery robot, walking packages down the street, up your front steps and onto your porch. </p><p>Mr. Raibert showed how a SpotMini could serve as a kind of automated security guard. Boston Dynamics has created a three-dimensional map of its lab, and the SpotMini can use this map to navigate the lab on its own. It could, in theory, patrol after everyone else had gone home.</p><p>When Google acquired Boston Dynamics, it ended the company’s military contracts. Now that the company is owned by SoftBank, Mr. Raibert said, it could also return to military work. </p><p>Boston Dynamics does seem to have an owner willing to wait until the business gets figured out. And with a $100 billion investment fund, a partnership with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, SoftBank is betting on technologies that require years of work. Before buying Boston Dynamics, it acquired a French robotics company, Aldebaran, which also is working on machines that are a long way from completion. </p><p>At Boston Dynamics, Mr. Raibert wants to sell robots to businesses, governments and all sorts of other customers. </p><p>He calls himself “a lifer” in his quest to build machines that can do everything animals and humans can do. And if that means finding a way to make money from his experiments along the way, so be it.</p>

    1 September 22, 2018
  • Google C.E.O. Denies Allegations of Political Bias in Search Results

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    said in an email to employees on Friday that the company has never and will never bias its search results for political purposes.</p><p>On an internal email thread at Google, employees discussed the possibility of including pro-immigration content in search, according to The Journal. The email thread was a brainstorming session among employees and none of the ideas were put into effect, said Gina Scigliano, a Google spokeswoman.</p><p>“Recent news stories reference an internal email to suggest that we would compromise the integrity of our Search results for a political end. This is absolutely false,” Mr. Pichai wrote in the email, which was obtained by The New York Times. “We do not bias our products to favor any political agenda. The trust our users place in us is our greatest asset and we must always protect it.”</p><p>Google did not immediately have a comment on Mr. Pichai’s email to staff.</p>

    1 September 22, 2018
  • These simple tips can help you get the most out of your TV, home theater experience

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    on sale at your favorite electronics retailer, but when you take one home, it somehow doesn’t look (or sound) as good as the in-store experience.</p><p>Your new flat-panel (or perhaps curved) television just needs a bit of tweaking for you to get the most out of it. And no, you don’t need a degree in electrical engineering to pull it off.</p><p>The following are a few simple tips and tricks to optimizing the picture and sound of your new investment.</p><p>While it might seem painfully obvious, make sure your main TV source – like your cable or satellite box – is the best your provider has to offer (or rather, the best you can afford). If it’s a couple of years old, make sure it’s at least an HD receiver, but a 4K box is even better. You’d be surprised how many people haven’t updated their rented or purchased TV box in many years – unless you’re cutting the cord altogether, of course.</p><p>Consider using an HDMI cable to handle your audio and video, which you can pick up at your local dollar store (seriously).</p><p>If you prefer to get your content online, such as on Netflix, make sure you have a fast internet connection for smooth streaming, and if it’s offered by your provider, go with unlimited data (no caps).</p><p>While not every audio-video enthusiast will agree, a tip to vastly improving picture quality of your television is to turn up the contrast almost to full and reduce the brightness down to below half. This little-known trick makes blacks blacker, colors richer, and gets rid of the washed-out look some entry-level TVs have.</p><p>Another approach – especially if you watch a lot of TV during the day and you have a lot of ambient light through windows you can’t control – is to pump up the brightness on your TV a great deal. Sometimes new TVs are set to deliver high brightness by default, which is how the big-box stores tend to have them, but you can easily tweak this in the television’s settings.</p><p>Rather than spending a couple hundred dollars to have someone properly set up your television for you, many LucasFilm, Pixar and Disney discs have a bundled calibration tool called THX Optimizer, and it can be found in the Special Features or Set Up area of the disc. There’s also a THX tune-up app, but not as easy to use as the disc.</p><p>Simply use your DVD or Blu-ray remote to follow the wizard to calibrate your home theater’s video and audio settings (the latter relates to your audio-video receiver and surround-sound speaker setup). The test will take you through contrast, brightness, color, tint, aspect ratio (4:3 and 16:9, and so on), speaker assignment, speaker phase and subwoofer crossover.</p><p>One more thing you might want to change is often referred to as the “soap opera” effect.</p><p>While the high-definition or 4K picture certainly looks sharp, you might see something a bit odd about the image. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but that TV show or blockbuster movie you’re watching almost looks like it was shot with a cheap camcorder instead of high-end video camera. You’re certain "Game of Thrones" wasn’t filmed on the same set as "The Young and the Restless," though it appears to be so. </p><p>The “soap opera effect” is really called “motion smoothing” or “motion interpolation,” designed to decrease motion blur and make movements seem smoother and more lifelike. Your new TV might see low frame-rate source material and try to fill in the gaps between frames with additional ones the TV generates, to help smooth out fast motion.</p><p>If you’re not a fan, enter the Settings menu on your television to turn off the feature or at least adjust its intensity.</p><p>As for how far back to sit from your TV, it boils down to personal preference, but a general rule of thumb is 1.5 to 2.5 times the diagonal screen size.</p><p>With a 60-inch TV, for example, you can sit between 7.5 and 12.5 feet from the screen. 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    1 September 21, 2018
  •  German energy company: saving threatened forest 'illusion'

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    1 September 21, 2018
  • From a microwave to a clock, Amazon is taking Alexa beyond speakers

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    o speakers and new Fire TV DVR. In announcing 70 new products, the tech and delivery giant made clear it will bring Alexa to new gadgets ranging from cars to clocks and even microwaves. </p><p>Here are some of the more unexpected devices Amazon announced. </p><p>At $59.99, the new microwave under the company's AmazonBasics brand is a potentially cheaper option compared with traditional, nonsmart enabled appliances. But Amazon's microwave, of course, integrates with Alexa over Bluetooth, allowing you to tell a nearby Echo smart speaker to set a timer for tasks such as  heating up a potato or reordering items such as popcorn.</p><p>A blue "Ask Alexa" button on the front of the microwave enables you to you summon the digital assistant on command. </p><p>Available for preorder Thursday, the microwave is scheduled to ship later this year. </p><p>Amazon's Echo line traditionally has been used for the company's line of speakers. Now, it also applies to analog clocks. </p><p>Featuring Bluetooth to connect to an existing Echo device, you can use the Wall Clock to set timers, alarms and reminders. Since it is internet-connected, Amazon says it will adjust itself automatically at the start and end of Daylight Savings Time. </p><p>There is no firm release date, but the Wall Clock will cost $29.99 when it ships later this year. </p><p>If controlling the microwave isn't enough, Amazon's new plug will let you control other traditionally nonsmart devices such as lamps and coffee makers, enabling you to turn them on and off with your voice.</p><p>These types of smart plugs – a device that goes between your appliance and your wall outlet to add features such as Wi-Fi – have been around for a while. Amazon, however, says its product will stand out thanks to a streamlined process that should make setting up these devices much easier. </p><p>The Smart Plug is scheduled to start shipping next month, and it will be available for $24.99. </p><p>Alexa won't just be in the kitchen. It's coming to the car, too.</p><p>Called Echo Auto, the new device features eight microphones to make sure it can hear you in the car. It also has Bluetooth wireless technology to connect to your phone. Bluetooth or a 3.5mm auxiliary jack can be used to connect the device to your car. </p><p>Once connected, you can ask Alexa for nearby destinations, directions or to play music or audiobooks. Powered by either your car's USB port or its 12V cigarette lighter outlet, Amazon says Echo Auto will be able to boot up within a "few seconds" after hitting the ignition. </p>

    1 September 21, 2018
  • Amazon connects digital assistant Alexa to microwave, clock and car

    Amazon connects digital assistant Alexa to microwave, clock and car

    tal assistant may singe its rivals.</p><p>That's a key takeaway from Alexa-driven products Amazon launched Thursday, from an anticipated AmazonBasics Microwave to a small cassette-sized gadget, Echo Auto, that will let Alexa hang out with you in the car. </p><p>Amazon’s designs on smart home domination and beyond is nothing new, and is no different from Apple, Google, or Samsung. Each company wants to lure you into its own ecosystem – and keep you there. </p><p>Jeff Bezos’ crew appears to have momentum on its side. Amazon now claims more than 20,000 Alexa-compatible devices from more than 3,500 brands, up from some 4,000 devices and 1,200 brands in January.</p><p>The company’s latest product avalanche comes with refreshes to the Echo family of smart speakers, such as the $34 Echo Input. Through a 3.5 mm audio cable or Bluetooth, the Input will let you add Alexa to some of your existing third party speakers.</p><p>Amazon also announced a $24.99 Amazon Smart Plug to control smart lights, coffee makers and other connected household appliances by voice. And a $29.99 wall clock with an LED ring that will let you visualize the multiple timers you can set by voice.</p><p>But the compact countertop microwave that will be released on Nov. 14, and that you can preorder immediately, is, pardon the pun, what is likely to get many of you cooking.  Letting Alexa handle the job via voice is potentially appealing. You’ll be able to cook by voice: “Alexa, microwave two potatoes” or   “Alexa, reheat the coffee.” </p><p>I should point out that Alexa is not built into the microwave itself, so for this kind of hands-free control, you’ll still need a compatible Echo speaker paired to the microwave. There’s also an Ask Alexa button on the microwave. </p><p>Of course, vocal automation only goes so far. You still have to place the food in the oven yourself – sorry, there’s not yet an Alexa robot to do that for you. In all seriousness, though, a voice-controlled microwave is not only convenient, but it might benefit people who are blind or have low vision.</p><p>It won't shock anyone given Amazon's pedigree that there's a shopping play here too. Amazon’s microwave also can automatically reorder popcorn when you run low, through the company’s Dash Replenishment technology. There may be only a matter of time before there’s also some kind of connection with Amazon-owned Whole Foods. </p><p>This raises questions too. Do we want Amazon to know how often we nuke, say, a potato?</p><p>And forget Alexa for second, there’s another disruptive element here, notably the price. Amazon is charging just $59.99 for the microwave, and that is not a misprint. Rival appliance makers, all of whom presumably sell their own ovens on Amazon, must be shaking in their boots. Assuming this 700-watt microwave proves to be even halfway decent, I think Amazon is going to sell a lot of them.</p><p>Now lets shift to the car. You can also already anticipate the many ways that the new Echo Auto gadget might be useful while you’re at the wheel: “Alexa, add milk and yogurt to my grocery list.” “Alexa play my Audible book.” “Alexa, what’s the traffic?”</p><p>Amazon says you can set up “routines” through Echo Auto too, to, for example, turn on the lights in your house automatically, the moment you pull into your driveway.  </p><p>Initially, Echo Auto will only be available by invitation only – for just $24.99. Amazon plans to double the price once Echo Auto is opened up to everybody.  It also seems smart that Amazon is pitching Echo Auto as an inexpensive after-market product that won't require a factory install.</p><p>More broadly, Amazon is making other promises for Alexa, with initiatives aimed at making it easier to set up a smart home in the first place. We'll see. </p><p>Amazon also attempting to let you go deeper into a conversation with its digital assistant without you having to bark out the “Alexa,” wake word each time.</p><p>And Amazon is also launching Alexa Hunches, using artificial intelligence to learn your behavior over time and make predictions of what you may want to do next. Say good night to Alexa, for example, and Amazon’s assistant may remind you to lock your door.  </p>

    1 September 21, 2018
  • The Big Secret of Celebrity Wealth (Is That No One Knows Anything)

    The Big Secret of Celebrity Wealth (Is That No One Knows Anything)

    ely worth $150 million, according to your Google results. Are they really?</p><p>Near the end of the debate between New York governor Andrew Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon, his Democratic primary challenger, one of the moderators prefaced a question to Ms. Nixon by referencing her net worth. “Given your personal wealth, reported to be in the tens of millions of dollars — ” CBS anchorman Maurice DuBois started before Ms. Nixon interrupted: “ — which is not true.”</p><p>“You can’t trust Google,” Ms. Nixon said, knowing everyone does.</p><p>CelebrityNetWorth.com, and let’s call it CNW, was founded by Brian Warner in 2009 — not the same Brian Warner who performs under the name Marilyn Manson (Celebrity Net Worth: $25 million). The site’s home page is full of standard curiosity-gap clickbait in a celebrity finance flavor, with headlines like “Billionaire Michael Jordan Has Zero Influence On Which Players Wear His Shoes, And The Reason Why Is Kind Of Strange …” and “How Much Money Did Colonel Sanders Make Off Kentucky Fried Chicken? Not As Much As You’d Guess!” But CNW’s core product is the collection of pages it maintains for celebrities (of varying degrees of celebrity) with authoritatively phrased estimates as to how much money they have.</p><p>These pages include single paragraphs of biographical info, but they’re rendered practically unreadable by formatting. What readers are after is a single number, at the top of the page in big type: $20 million (Chris Pine), $40 million (Chris Pratt), $90 million (Chris Hemsworth). If you want to know how rich (or not) a celebrity is, CNW has an answer. No one is vouching for the veracity of that answer — CNW’s proprietors “expressly exclude liability for any such inaccuracies or errors to the fullest extent permitted by law,” according to the terms of use — but it&#x27;s an answer nonetheless.</p><p>The “best possible ballpark” is a low standard of accuracy for facts, but if you’re the only one on the internet offering an answer to a question people are asking, you become the trusted authority. When slightly more respectable journalistic outlets repeat CNW numbers — and they often do — those figures get both murkier and more authoritative. “Ballparked” net worth becomes “reported” net worth becomes hard to dispute, as Ms. Nixon discovered.</p><p>CNW is offering answers to questions that don’t have hard and fast answers. Rich people don’t know how much money they have, and “net worth” includes appraisals on all sorts of nonliquid assets, from cars and houses to fractions of companies. Jeff Bezos doesn’t have $150 billion in gold coins in a swimming-pool vault under the Space Needle. Most people know that, at least on some level. But that doesn’t stop us from Googling, and it doesn’t stop Google from sourcing snippet results from CNW. </p><p>Prime placement of that information is not about its accuracy either. A Google spokesman said the featured snippets are meant to point users to the most relevant piece of content given their query — and “relevant&quot; is a very different criteria than “correct.”</p><p>The American media has printed guesses and lies about celebrities for as long as the two have existed; that’s hardly Google or Amazon’s fault. But because “the internet” has become our default source for information, it is easier for tabloid facts to circulate under credible logos. The trivia that results can be hard to dispel.</p>

    1 September 21, 2018
  • How potentially dangerous fake Apple products reach the US consumer market

    How potentially dangerous fake Apple products reach the US consumer market

    hborhood in New York City was the first U.S. stop on an international route used to ship thousands of potentially dangerous counterfeit Apple electronics to America's consumer market.</p><p>The knockoff power adapters and chargers, which Apple says could cause electrical shocks, allegedly traveled from a manufacturer in Hong Kong to Amazon.com, with stopping points at the Brooklyn location and New Jersey electronics companies.</p><p>U.S. investigators said they have seized multiple imports of suspected counterfeits that had been routed to the Brooklyn location.</p><p>From outward appearances, the Apple-like products seemed genuine.</p><p>However, the chargers and adapters lacked adequate insulation and had improper spacing between the high voltage and low voltage circuits, creating risks of overheating, fire or electrical shocks, Apple charged in a 2016 federal court lawsuit. The case ended with confidential settlements in late May.</p><p>Apple's lawsuit provides an inside look at the circuitous shipment routes that bring some overseas-manufactured counterfeits through multiple companies before they reach domestic retail markets and are offered for sale to U.S. consumers.</p><p>USA TODAY researched the U.S. companies and route, examining one example in a sprawling counterfeit and piracy industry that affects many companies beyond just Apple and siphons billions of dollars from the national economy.</p><p>Counterfeit electronics that reach consumers often come with safety risks.</p><p>Twelve of 400 fake iPhone adapters tested in a study unrelated to those in Apple's lawsuit were so badly constructed that they posed "a risk of lethal electrocution to the user,” U.S.-based safety standards leader UL warned.</p><p>The study found a 99 percent failure rate on basic tests that check whether the amount of electricity flowing remains within safety limits. The findings alarmed Paul Brown, UL's acting general counsel.</p><p>"You might think it's harmless to buy a $3 or $4 fake iPhone charger. But clearly that's not the case," Brown said.</p><p>Apple said it decided to sue after the company bought a number of its power adapters and charging and syncing cables "that were directly sold by Amazon.com – not a third-party seller – and determined that they were counterfeit."</p><p>After Amazon identified the company that had provided the electronics to the e-commerce giant, Apple said it tested the remaining inventory and "determined that the vast majority of these producers were counterfeit, as well."</p><p>Not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, Amazon instead was characterized as a witness. Amazon declined to comment. However, the company flagged information about its anti-counterfeiting efforts on its website.</p><p>Apple declined an interview about the lawsuit and instead issued a statement: "The safety of our customers is our first priority, and our teams are constantly working with law enforcement, resellers and e-commerce sites around the world to remove counterfeit products from the market."</p><p>Along with the safety hazards they pose, knockoffs also inflict economic damage. Counterfeit products, software piracy and theft of trade secrets take as much as a $600 billion annual bite out of the U.S. economy, according to a 2017 report by the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property, a private watchdog group.</p><p>Using records supplied by Amazon, Apple traced the origin of the counterfeit electronics identified in the lawsuit to Hong Kong. The company declined to identify the manufacturer based there.</p><p>More than 90 percent of all counterfeit products offered for sale in the U.S. originate in China or Hong Kong, said Craig Crosby, publisher of The Counterfeit Report, an industry- and corporate-backed website that alerts consumers to fake products.</p><p>China and Hong Kong ranked first and second, respectively, as the origin for all annual product seizures by federal investigators since 2009 because the items infringed on U.S. trademarks or copyrights, or were subject to exclusion orders.</p><p>The first U.S. stop for the Apple counterfeits was Brooklyn’s Borough Park neighborhood, a quiet section of single and multifamily homes near the elevated D Train subway above New Utrecht Avenue.</p><p>The area is home to approximately 200,000 people. Many are part of the area's strictly Orthodox Jewish community, families who come and go to work, school, shopping, yeshivas and synagogues.</p><p>There’s no outward sign of an import company – or any business – at an attached residential building on 59th Street. Two of the neatly kept structure’s floors have front balconies. A brick planter box that holds shrubs sits alongside the sidewalk.</p><p>The location is a short walk from 14th Avenue, where Renaissance Ballroom, a catering hall that specializes in kosher celebrations, sits on the corner. In 2011, this stretch of 59th Street was renamed in memory of Zachary Sansone, a renowned New York City social organizer. </p><p>Starkeys Corp. and SATK Corp., importing companies that business and court records show are managed by Aron Kohn, their sole employee, are based here, Apple alleged.</p><p>U.S. Customs and Border Protection investigators alerted Apple to at least 58 seizures during a roughly one-year time frame for suspected counterfeit products imported to the companies' shared Brooklyn address, court records show.</p><p>The equipment included more than 19,000 fake Apple EarPods, MagSafe power adapters, USB power adapters and Lightning cables. Customs and Border Protection declined to discuss seizures of products that copied specific companies' electronics, citing legal restrictions.</p><p>Starkeys, incorporated in 2012, and SATK, formed four years later, also share a mailing address on 53rd Street, roughly six blocks away. The location is a small first-floor commercial location that houses a bustling Mr. Mailman center with postal supplies and mailboxes.</p><p>In court responses to the lawsuit, the companies denied “having sold counterfeit or infringing Apple products” but acknowledged that Kohn is their owner. Naomi Gray, an attorney for the companies, did not respond to emailed questions.</p><p>USA TODAY interviews in the area near the companies' locations found no one who had heard about the firms, or about Apple's allegations. However, Rico Infantino, a 48-year-old Brooklyn resident, said locations selling counterfeit electronic accessories are "commonplace" across New York City.</p><p>"In Manhattan, every street corner you see someone selling, I guess it's called knockoff Apple equipment or Samsung equipment, or LG," Infantino said.</p><p>Starkeys and SATK imports of alleged Apple counterfeits that were not seized by customs made it into the U.S. and went to the Edison, New Jersey, warehouse of DGL Group, the companies’ “sole customer” for the products, Apple alleged.</p><p>Brooklyn-founded in 2001, DGL has offices in Edison, New Jersey, and Shenzhen, China, the company website says. The company is headed by Ezra Zaafarani, a resident of Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay neighborhood, business records show.</p><p>Apple alleged that DGL was "a repeat infringer” of its intellectual property.  The company sold unauthorized copies of Apple power adapters and cables in 2014 and subsequently agreed to avoid subsequent infringement after the tech giant discovered the counterfeits, Apple said.</p><p>Starkeys and SATK “exist to facilitate DGL’s acquisition of Apple-branded products from China and/or Hong Kong – products which have every indicia of being counterfeit,” Apple alleged in its amended court complaint.</p><p>DGL's website says the company focuses on consumer electronics and has an import-export division that can “meet retailers’ needs in consumer electronics through our own brands.” DGL also boasts a toy division and lists brand partners that include Disney’s Pixar division, Coca-Cola, and Crayola. Those companies did not respond to messages seeking comment on the business relationships.</p><p>DGL and the company's attorney, Andrew Levine, did not respond to messages seeking comment.</p><p>The company has been the target of other infringement lawsuits. In 2015, Florida-based Battery on the Go, a producer of portable battery chargers for smartphones, accused DGL of using its PowerBar trademark “to market and sell their own, albeit low quality, and dangerous, portable battery chargers.”</p><p>DGL denied any infringement violations in a counterclaim that asked a federal judge to dismiss the Florida company’s allegations. The legal battle ended with a confidential settlement agreement in June.</p><p>Alejandro Brito, the attorney who represented Battery on the Go, did not respond to a phone message asking whether the company continued to see DGL offering suspected knockoffs of its products.</p><p>California-based company Cloud B accused DGL of trademark and copyright infringement in 2014 for marketing “Starlight Turtle” toys that were “confusingly similar” to its Twilight Turtle toys. DGL agreed to a permanent injunction that restrained the company from marketing designs “substantially similar” to those owned by Cloud B.</p><p>Cloud B did not respond to an email asking whether the company continued to find any DGL-made knockoffs of its products.</p><p>DGL sold counterfeit Apple products to Mobile Star, an electronic equipment company based in Metuchen, New Jersey, Apple alleged.</p><p>Along with being part of the import trail that brought counterfeits to Amazon, Mobile Star also sold Apple knockoffs to Groupon, an e-commerce marketplace, and to an Apple investigator, the tech giant charged.</p><p>Referring to the preceding stops in the counterfeit trail, Apple said legal discovery in the lawsuit "revealed that Mobile Star's supply chain includes entities that are known counterfeiters and infringers of Apple's intellectual property and source large quantities of Apple-branded products directly from entities based in China."  </p><p>Founded in New York in 2008, Mobile Star is headed by Brooklyn businessman Jack Braha. The company focuses on buying and reselling excess and outdated inventory of accessories for smartphones with much of the transactions carried out via Amazon, Braha said in a November court filing.</p><p>The company inspects the products it buys and has not found any irregularities or safety problems in its sampling of Apple iPhone accessories, Braha said.</p><p>“Mobile Star does not knowingly resell counterfeit goods,” Braha said in his court declaration. “Indeed, prior to Apple’s claims that are at issue here, Mobile Star has never before been accused of doing so.”</p><p>Moreover, Braha said Amazon mixes together similar products from several sales vendors, placing them in the same bin for distribution. That practice would make it impossible for Amazon to identify and accuse the company responsible for marketing and selling the alleged Apple counterfeits.</p><p>“Any suggestion that Amazon’s counterfeit inventory necessarily came from Mobile Star is belied by Amazon’s admitted practice of commingling products from all of its suppliers,” Braha said in his court declaration.</p><p>Aaron Moss, a Mobile Star attorney, said the company consistently denied any wrongdoing and was pleased with the court settlement. </p>

    1 September 20, 2018
  •  Bye bye bugs? Scientists fear non-pest insects are declining

    Bye bye bugs? Scientists fear non-pest insects are declining

    g of the past. And that's got scientists worried.</p><p> Pesky mosquitoes, disease-carrying ticks, crop-munching aphids and cockroaches are doing just fine. But the more beneficial flying insects of summer — native bees, moths, butterflies, ladybugs, lovebugs, mayflies and fireflies — appear to be less abundant.</p><p> Scientists think something is amiss, but they can't be certain: In the past, they didn't systematically count the population of flying insects, so they can't make a proper comparison to today. Nevertheless, they're pretty sure across the globe there are fewer insects that are crucial to as much as 80 percent of what we eat.</p><p> Yes, some insects are pests. But they also pollinate plants, are a key link in the food chain and help decompose life.</p><p> "You have total ecosystem collapse if you lose your insects. How much worse can it get than that?" said University of Delaware entomologist Doug Tallamy. If they disappeared, "the world would start to rot."</p><p> The 89-year-old Wilson recalled that he once frolicked in a "Washington alive with insects, especially butterflies." Now, "the flying insects are virtually gone."</p><p> It hit home last year when he drove from suburban Boston to Vermont and decided to count how many bugs hit his windshield. The result: A single moth.</p><p> The un-scientific experiment is called the windshield test. Wilson recommends everyday people do it themselves to see. Baby Boomers will probably notice the difference, Tallamy said.</p><p> Several scientists have conducted their own tests with windshields, car grilles and headlights, and most notice few squashed bugs. Researchers are quick to point out that such exercises aren't good scientific experiments, since they don't include control groups or make comparisons with past results. (Today's cars also are more aerodynamic, so bugs are more likely to slip past them and live to buzz about it.)</p><p> University of Nevada, Reno, researcher Lee Dyer and his colleagues have been looking at insects at the La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica since 1991. There's a big insect trap sheet under black light that decades ago would be covered with bugs. Now, "there's no insects on that sheet," he said.</p><p> But there's not much research looking at all flying insects in big areas.</p><p> "We don't know how much we're losing if we don't know how much we have," said University of Hawaii entomologist Helen Spafford.</p><p> The lack of older data makes it "unclear to what degree we're experiencing an arthropocalypse," said University of Illinois entomologist May Berenbaum. Individual studies aren't convincing in themselves, "but the sheer accumulated weight of evidence seems to be shifting" to show a problem, she said.</p><p> "It's clearly not a German thing," said University of Connecticut entomologist David Wagner, who has chronicled declines in moth populations in the northeastern United States. "We just need to find out how widespread the phenomenon is."</p><p> Most scientists say lots of factors, not just one, caused the apparent decline in flying insects.</p><p> Suspects include habitat loss, insecticide use, the killing of native weeds, single-crop agriculture, invasive species, light pollution, highway traffic and climate change.</p><p> "It's death by a thousand cuts, and that's really bad news," Wagner said.</p><p> To Tallamy, two causes stand out: Humans' war on weeds and vast farmland planted with the same few crops.</p><p> Weeds and native plants are what bugs eat and where they live, Tallamy said. Milkweeds, crucial to the beautiful monarch butterfly, are dwindling fast. Manicured lawns in the United States are so prevalent that, added together, they are as big as New England, he said.</p><p> Those landscapes are "essentially dead zones," he said.</p><p> Light pollution is another big problem for species such as moths and fireflies, bug experts said. Insects are attracted to brightness, where they become easy prey and expend energy they should be using to get food, Tallamy said.</p><p> Jesse Barber of Boise State is in the middle of a study of fireflies and other insects at Grand Teton National Park. He said he notices a distinct connection between light pollution and dwindling populations.</p><p> "We're hitting insects during the day, we're hitting them at night," Tallamy said. "We're hitting them just about everywhere."</p><p> Lawns, light pollution and bug-massacring highway traffic are associated where people congregate. But Danish scientist Hoye found a noticeable drop in muscid flies in Greenland 300 miles (500 kilometers) from civilization. His studies linked declines to warmer temperatures.</p><p> Other scientists say human-caused climate change may play a role, albeit small.</p><p> Governments are trying to improve the situation. Maryland is in a three-year experiment to see if planting bee-friendly native wildflowers helps.</p><p> University of Maryland entomology researcher Lisa Kuder says the usual close-crop "turf is basically like a desert" that doesn't attract flying insects. She found an improvement — 70 different species and records for bees — in the areas where flowers are allowed to grow wild and natural alongside roads.</p><p> The trouble is that it is so close to roadways that Tallamy fears that the plants become "ecological traps where you're drawing insects in and they're all squashed by cars."</p><p> Still, Tallamy remains hopeful. In 2000, he moved into this rural area between Philadelphia and Baltimore and made his 10-acre patch all native plants, creating a playground for bugs. Now he has 861 species of moths and 54 species of breeding birds that feed on insects.</p><p> Wagner, of the University of Connecticut, spends his summers teaching middle schoolers in a camp to look for insects, like he did decades ago. They have a hard time finding the cocoons he used to see regularly.</p><p> "The kids I'm teaching right now are going to think that scarce insects are the rule," Wagner said. "They're not realizing that there could be an ecological disaster on the horizon."</p>

    1 September 20, 2018
  •  Bye bye bugs? Scientists fear non-pest insects are declining

    Bye bye bugs? Scientists fear non-pest insects are declining

    g of the past. And that's got scientists worried.</p><p> Pesky mosquitoes, disease-carrying ticks, crop-munching aphids and cockroaches are doing just fine. But the more beneficial flying insects of summer — native bees, moths, butterflies, ladybugs, lovebugs, mayflies and fireflies — appear to be less abundant.</p><p> Scientists think something is amiss, but they can't be certain: In the past, they didn't systematically count the population of flying insects, so they can't make a proper comparison to today. Nevertheless, they're pretty sure across the globe there are fewer insects that are crucial to as much as 80 percent of what we eat.</p><p> Yes, some insects are pests. But they also pollinate plants, are a key link in the food chain and help decompose life.</p><p> "You have total ecosystem collapse if you lose your insects. How much worse can it get than that?" said University of Delaware entomologist Doug Tallamy. If they disappeared, "the world would start to rot."</p><p> The 89-year-old Wilson recalled that he once frolicked in a "Washington alive with insects, especially butterflies." Now, "the flying insects are virtually gone."</p><p> It hit home last year when he drove from suburban Boston to Vermont and decided to count how many bugs hit his windshield. The result: A single moth.</p><p> The un-scientific experiment is called the windshield test. Wilson recommends everyday people do it themselves to see. Baby Boomers will probably notice the difference, Tallamy said.</p><p> Several scientists have conducted their own tests with windshields, car grilles and headlights, and most notice few squashed bugs. Researchers are quick to point out that such exercises aren't good scientific experiments, since they don't include control groups or make comparisons with past results. (Today's cars also are more aerodynamic, so bugs are more likely to slip past them and live to buzz about it.)</p><p> University of Nevada, Reno, researcher Lee Dyer and his colleagues have been looking at insects at the La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica since 1991. There's a big insect trap sheet under black light that decades ago would be covered with bugs. Now, "there's no insects on that sheet," he said.</p><p> But there's not much research looking at all flying insects in big areas.</p><p> "We don't know how much we're losing if we don't know how much we have," said University of Hawaii entomologist Helen Spafford.</p><p> The lack of older data makes it "unclear to what degree we're experiencing an arthropocalypse," said University of Illinois entomologist May Berenbaum. Individual studies aren't convincing in themselves, "but the sheer accumulated weight of evidence seems to be shifting" to show a problem, she said.</p><p> "It's clearly not a German thing," said University of Connecticut entomologist David Wagner, who has chronicled declines in moth populations in the northeastern United States. "We just need to find out how widespread the phenomenon is."</p><p> Most scientists say lots of factors, not just one, caused the apparent decline in flying insects.</p><p> Suspects include habitat loss, insecticide use, the killing of native weeds, single-crop agriculture, invasive species, light pollution, highway traffic and climate change.</p><p> "It's death by a thousand cuts, and that's really bad news," Wagner said.</p><p> To Tallamy, two causes stand out: Humans' war on weeds and vast farmland planted with the same few crops.</p><p> Weeds and native plants are what bugs eat and where they live, Tallamy said. Milkweeds, crucial to the beautiful monarch butterfly, are dwindling fast. Manicured lawns in the United States are so prevalent that, added together, they are as big as New England, he said.</p><p> Those landscapes are "essentially dead zones," he said.</p><p> Light pollution is another big problem for species such as moths and fireflies, bug experts said. Insects are attracted to brightness, where they become easy prey and expend energy they should be using to get food, Tallamy said.</p><p> Jesse Barber of Boise State is in the middle of a study of fireflies and other insects at Grand Teton National Park. He said he notices a distinct connection between light pollution and dwindling populations.</p><p> "We're hitting insects during the day, we're hitting them at night," Tallamy said. "We're hitting them just about everywhere."</p><p> Lawns, light pollution and bug-massacring highway traffic are associated where people congregate. But Danish scientist Hoye found a noticeable drop in muscid flies in Greenland 300 miles (500 kilometers) from civilization. His studies linked declines to warmer temperatures.</p><p> Other scientists say human-caused climate change may play a role, albeit small.</p><p> Governments are trying to improve the situation. Maryland is in a three-year experiment to see if planting bee-friendly native wildflowers helps.</p><p> University of Maryland entomology researcher Lisa Kuder says the usual close-crop "turf is basically like a desert" that doesn't attract flying insects. She found an improvement — 70 different species and records for bees — in the areas where flowers are allowed to grow wild and natural alongside roads.</p><p> The trouble is that it is so close to roadways that Tallamy fears that the plants become "ecological traps where you're drawing insects in and they're all squashed by cars."</p><p> Still, Tallamy remains hopeful. In 2000, he moved into this rural area between Philadelphia and Baltimore and made his 10-acre patch all native plants, creating a playground for bugs. Now he has 861 species of moths and 54 species of breeding birds that feed on insects.</p><p> Wagner, of the University of Connecticut, spends his summers teaching middle schoolers in a camp to look for insects, like he did decades ago. They have a hard time finding the cocoons he used to see regularly.</p><p> "The kids I'm teaching right now are going to think that scarce insects are the rule," Wagner said. "They're not realizing that there could be an ecological disaster on the horizon."</p>

    1 September 20, 2018

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