At The Atlantic, Olga Khazan reports on New Wave Foods, which is attempting to create an artificial shrimp that tastes like the real thing. The shrimping industry is notorious for treating workers badly and for its negative environmental impact.
Can fake shrimp help prevent human slavery?
The Amazon-Whole Foods merger is raising concerns about pricing and grocery access
Now that the dust has settled from last month's news that Amazon wants to buy Whole Foods, concerns about the proposed $13.7 billion merger are growing. And though I'm sure Jeff Bezos would love the acquisition to be a walk in the park, it may not be that simple. Regulators are more intensely scrutinizing Amazon's pricing tactics in light of its deal with the high-end grocer.
Reuters reports that, as part of its review of the Whole Foods deal, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is looking into claims that Amazon misled customers about certain discounts. The probe comes after an advocacy group looked into whether Amazon's reference prices (or list prices) were accurate. It found them to be repeatedly misleading, Reuters reports.
The FTC isn't the only one with questions. In an interview with Recode, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey expressed concerns about how the merger would affect access to groceries in poorer neighborhoods. "We're having a hard enough time getting supermarkets to move into urban communities, to give people choice, to give people price competitiveness, so that actually they're paying for affordable groceries," he said. Booker said he is writing a letter with the Congressional Black Caucus that asks for greater scrutiny of the merger.
With all this, Amazon has more than a few hurdles to overcome before the deal is complete. CGW
Why did the Trump administration yank climate experts from Zuckerberg’s national park tour?
As part of this year's personal challenge, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been touring the country, seeking to visit every state, and getting to know real people along the way. Last Saturday, reports the Washington Post, Zuck flew to Montana, where he planned to check out the ways that climate change has ravaged the glaciers at that state's fabulous Glacier National Park.
The Post also writes that just days before Zuck's arrival, the Trump administration decided to remove some of the experts on climate change that were originally supposed to take him around the park. "Interior Press Secretary Heather Swift made it clear that she did not want Glacier National Park Superintendent Jeff Mow involved in the tour," the Post wrote, "according to three people with knowledge of the decision." So what were they afraid of? Could it be that the park officials would acknowledge climate change was real, something that would likely scare members of the Trump administration, which has demonstrated that it is skeptical of the entire concept? You can decide for yourself. DT
Breathless coverage of Elon Musk is exactly how fake news begins
Today was just a normal ol' day in the news cycle, at least in terms of 2017. And then Elon Musk decided to tweet something.
Just received verbal govt approval for The Boring Company to build an underground NY-Phil-Balt-DC Hyperloop. NY-DC in 29 mins.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 20, 2017
"What does 'verbal govt approval' mean?" you might ask. "A good question!" says I. And the answer is: We have no freaking idea. For all we know, Musk had coffee with a few municipal officials who thought the idea was a fun way to jazz things up.
Still, news organizations pounced immediately—or took the bait. Among the sweeping headline pronouncements:
• NBC New York: "NY to DC in 29 Minutes: Musk Gets Go-Ahead for Hyperloop." (It has since been changed to "Elon Musk Says He Has Approval to Build NY-DC Hyperloop." Facebook, however is still showing the first.)
• The Independent: "Elon Musk 'given approval' to build 760mph Hyperloop between New York and D.C."
• SlashGear: "Elon Musk Hyperloop for 29 min NY-DC ride given go-ahead."
Numerous others have similar formations. At worst, these headlines promote something that has yet to be proven, and, at best, take Musk at his word. Musk [whom, I confess, is on the cover of our most recent issue] is known to hyperbolize and sometimes cause minor forms of hysteria; look at how he talks about artificial intelligence, for example.
In a world where social media is a primary mode of news consumption, seeing a simple headline that says Musk received verbal approval likely begins a fake news cycle about how a newfangled high speed transportation is in place. But that's not true! We have no idea who gave the approval. We have no idea who Musk was talking to. Thanks to some rigorous investigative reporting by Jalopnik (ie, emailing spokespeople at transit authorities for comments), what we do know is that most official organizations have no idea what Musk is talking about.
As he (like some other people with a lot of Twitter followers) manage to suck up all the air in the room (in the hot subway car?), there are actual everyday concerns to address, like how to support the aging transit infrastructure of cities like New York, which real people depend upon right now and for the foreseeable future.
After receiving a little push-back—remember, Musk's Boring Company is still just experimenting with this idea on a test track in Los Angeles—Musk tweeted that there's "still a lot of work needed" to receive actual formal approval. I hope headline writers heed that warning too.
[Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images] CGW
How a Hotmail address gave away the web’s largest drug market
Alleged AlphaBay founder Alexandre Cazes was arrested in Thailand earlier this month, found with a laptop open and logged in to the site, enabling authorities to access the site's servers and records, according to the New York Times. A researcher who spoke to Motherboard estimated that AlphaBay—launched in December 2013 after the demise of the Silk Road—was pulling in a revenue of between $600,000 and $800,000 a day in 2017.
Last week, Cazes, 25, was found dead in his jail cell in Bangkok, reported to have hanged himself, on the same day he was scheduled to meet with a lawyer about extradition to the U.S. A Canadian citizen listed on LinkedIn as a "freelance software designer," Cazes was identified, the government says, because he welcomed users to the site with a message that included a personal email address, "Pimp_Alex_91@hotmail.com." It was the use of a personal email address that also helped lead authorities to Ross Ulbright, the founder of the Silk Road, in 2013.
After AlphaBay shut down last month, users flocked to other marketplaces only accessible through the encrypted Tor service, including Dream Market, which launched in 2013 (current listings include 57,000 for drugs and 4,000 for opioids), and Hansa. After the arrest of two Hansa staff members in Germany, Dutch police seized the site in June, monitoring traffic there—and some "10,000 foreign addresses of buyers"—ever since. "Critics will say, as we shut one site, another site emerges," said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein at a press event led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. "And they may be right, but that is the nature of criminal work: It never goes away, you have to constantly keep at it, and you've got to use every tool in your toolbox."
Just two days ago, Hansa announced it was banning the sale of fentanyl, which has been blamed for a surge in opioid deaths in the U.S. But as I reported last year, acquiring the synthetic drug and others like it doesn't always require Tor: For years, Chinese labs have openly sold "research chemicals" on the open web.
New moms rejoice: Thirdlove created a nursing bra that actually fits and isn’t super scratchy
I'm a new mom, so I'm fairly familiar with the nursing bra market. In short, it's not a pretty picture: Most come with little clasps where the strap meets the front of the bra to make it easy unbuckle when you're trying to feed your baby or pump. But since it's such a specialized product, the bras themselves don't tend to come in many sizes or fit very comfortably. Many I've tried only come in small, medium, or large, which means they don't generally provide much support.
Thirdlove has been working for months on a more comfortable solution. They've launched two $72 nursing bras today, one with an underwire and another without, both with the quick release clasp on the front. The best thing about them is that they come in every single size the brand makes, including its signature half-sizes to ensure the perfect fit. They're also made from super soft cotton modal and the closure is at the front, rather than the back, to ensure there is as little friction against the skin as possible. ES
Citymapper doesn’t just want to give you directions—it wants to drive you there
Back in May, Citymapper test drove its "smart" (if it does say so itself, which it totally does) bus service, which ran around London for a few weeks making all the other buses look dumb by comparison. Now, the company is expanding on the concept. It's been approved by the city for its first commercial bus route: CM2 – Night Rider.
The bus service will only run late night (9 p.m. to 5 a.m.) through the heart of East London, helping hipsters get home from a night of sipping cocktails at Super Lyan in Hoxton or making eyes at each other at Sager + Wilde in Shoreditch. The service will launch in late August or maybe early September ("you know how it is," Citymapper resignedly writes in a Medium post today) and will run on weekend nights for now. Check out more details here.
Elon Musk’s latest Boring Company tweet is a doozy
Not sure what he means here, but the tech billionaire just claimed on Twitter that he has received "verbal govt approval" for a hyperloop network connecting New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C.
Just received verbal govt approval for The Boring Company to build an underground NY-Phil-Balt-DC Hyperloop. NY-DC in 29 mins.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 20, 2017
Seems like a stretch given that area he describes is served by multiple transportation agencies and government bodies—and hindered by a bloat of bureaucratic red tape—but we'll reach out anyway.
City center to city center in each case, with up to a dozen or more entry/exit elevators in each city— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 20, 2017
Update: Important context. Thanks, Elon.
Still a lot of work needed to receive formal approval, but am optimistic that will occur rapidly— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 20, 2017
You’ll never want to go outside again thanks to PBS’s space TV lineup
When it comes to space TV, Star Trek is not the final frontier (neither is Babylon Five or even Battlestar Galactica). That's because science-fiction has nothing on reality. PBS has just announced a new lineup of space-themed programming and you won't need to leave the house to see the stars for a long time. Plan your viewing parties now.
* NOVA "Eclipse Over America," Monday, August 21, 9 p.m. ET
"Join scientists and citizens alike as they observe the first total solar eclipse to traverse the U.S. mainland in more than a generation."
* The Farthest – Voyager in Space, Wednesday, August 23, 9 p.m. ET
"Learn how NASA's epic Voyager mission, launched in 1977, revolutionized our understanding of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and their dazzling moons and rings."
* NOVA "Death Dive to Saturn", Wednesday, September 13, 9 p.m. ET
"A suspenseful ride during Cassini's final hours as it dives into Saturn's atmosphere."
* A Year in Space, Wednesday, November 15, 8 p.m. ET
"Follow astronaut Scott Kelly's record-breaking 12-month mission on the International Space Station, from launch to landing, as NASA charts the effects of long-duration spaceflight by comparing him to his identical twin on Earth, astronaut Mark Kelly."
* Beyond A Year in Space, Wednesday, November 15, 9 p.m. ET
"Picking up where the first film left off—Scott Kelly's last day in space and return to Earth—the final installment also introduces the next generation of astronauts training to leave Earth's orbit and travel into deep space."
If you're one of those pesky cord-cutters, a bunch of the shows will be available to stream the morning after broadcast on PBS.org and the PBS apps.
[Image: NASA] ML
Intel, still seeking life beyond PCs, abandons wearables for AR
Intel is reportedly giving up on wearables as hype around the technology cools off. CNBC reports that the company laid off its entire Basis group two weeks ago–after a round of deep cuts in November–and is now shifting the focus of its larger New Technologies Group toward augmented reality.
Intel had acquired Basis, a maker of fitness-focused smartwatches in 2014 as part of a broader push into wearable technology, but the company hasn't found much success since then. Fossil's Intel-powered Android Wear watch was a poor seller on a platform that's struggling in general, Basis had to recall its Peak smartwatches due to overheating, and Intel's talk of smart shirts never went anywhere. Rather than persist in wearables, Intel seems to be pursuing the next big thing in AR. We'll see in a few years how that turns out.
Air France doesn’t want you to call its new millennial-focused airline “low cost”
Like an old guy on Tinder, Air France wants to make itself more appealing to young people. The airline just announced its new plan to hook up with the "young and connected" travel market—an airline called Joon. (Because they couldn't just call it the dollar-sign eye emoji?)
The new airline is aimed at "the millennials (18 to 35 year-olds), whose lifestyles revolve around digital technology," Air France said in a statement, adding that the new brand has been "entirely designed to meet their requirements and aspirations." The company didn't release any details about how they will appeal to those flying net natives, but we're guessing free in-flight wi-fi, Instagrammable snack options, and selfie-worthy décor in millennial pink.
While much has been said about how millennials love saving money (or at least the money they aren't spending on avocado toast), they won't be able to do it on Joon, because Air France adamantly says it is not a low-cost airline, but "will offer original products and services that reflect those of Air France." Joon will start on short flights in the fall, before rolling out long-haul flights in 2018. [H/T The Local]
The ACLU is suing the Trump administration over its secret “religious liberty” plan
The ACLU is trying to force the Trump administration to provide concrete details about a vaguely worded May 4 executive order supposedly aimed at promoting free speech and religious liberty. Louise Melling, the group's deputy legal director, said in a Daily Beast post today that the order is woefully short on specifics and, so far, federal agencies have refused to be more transparent about it.
"Earlier this year, the ACLU filed requests with various federal agencies demanding information on how the administration was planning to expand religious exemptions that pave the way for discrimination. None of those federal agencies complied. That's why we are suing today. We are looking to unmask everything we can about Trump's plan, so we can best expose the threat he poses to the rights and dignity of countless Americans."
The order is feared to be an attempt to let employers discriminate against women and members of the LGBT community based on religious objections. Check out Melling's full post here.
And if you want to learn more about what the ACLU is doing to take on Trump, you can meet the man leading the resistance at Fast Company's New York headquarters on Monday, July 24, where ACLU executive director Anthony Romero will be on hand as part of our "Inside Story" series. Get tickets here.
[Photo: Flickr user Jom Mattis] CZ
Cortana’s next gig is on a slick thermostat
Microsoft wants to take its Cortana voice assistant beyond just smart speakers and Windows devices, and its next move appears to be onto a connected thermostat from Johnson Controls. The GLAS thermostat will detect when someone's in the room, alter its settings based on indoor and outdoor air quality, and of course respond to spoken commands.
The notion of a voice-controlled thermostat isn't new. The new Ecobee 4 has Amazon's Alexa virtual assistant built in, and connected speakers like the Amazon Echo and Google Home can both control thermostats from Nest and Honeywell. But like the Cortana-powered Invoke speaker, GLAS seems to be a bit more business-focused. Johnson Controls doesn't currently sell thermostats direct to consumers, and while a promo video mentions home use, it also shows the device in lots of office and industrial settings. Pricing and availability information might help clarify the matter, but Microsoft isn't offering that just yet.