5 Android apps you shouldn’t miss this week! – Android Apps Weekly

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Welcome to the 220th Android Apps Weekly. Here are the big headlines from the last week:

  • Disney purchased Fox this week. This is a big deal. That means all of Marvel’s property is under one roof again. Disney’s upcoming video streaming service is starting to get a lot more appealing to many people. Some claim that Netflix should be nervous. However, Hulu, Netflix, and others have co-existed for years. The addition of Disney’s streaming service probably won’t change that.
  • Google revealed the top search trends of 2017. Among them are the famous Mayweather vs McGregor fight, 13 Reasons Why, the various hurricanes that buffeted the American south, bitcoin, and many others. In consumer tech, the iPhone 8 and X dominated along with the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One X, Galaxy S8, OnePlus 5, and the Razer Phone. Hit the link to see all the trends!
  • The latest Humble Bundle is live! This time it’s a bunch of Noodlecake Studios games. That’s good news because that studio is fantastic. Some of the games include Alto’s Adventure, Pug’s Quest, Invert, Framed 2, The Bug Butcher, and others. Four games are available for $1. Beating the average price nets you four additional games. Finally, you can get every game in the bundle for a flat $5. That’s a great deal for some great games.
  • Bridge Constructor Portal already has a decent buzz about it. We now have more to report. The game features Ellen McLain, the original voice actress for GLaDOS. That’s getting people excited. The eccentric robot AI was a fan favorite in the Portal games and remains an icon of the game. It’s really neat to see the actual GLaDOS returning for this mobile game.
  • Microsoft Edge on mobile is doing surprisingly well. It amassed over one million downloads in just a few short weeks. Microsoft Edge browser isn’t half bad. Most of its critiques compare its lack of features to that of Firefox and Google Chrome. However, a mobile app offering shored up a lot of those weaknesses, including cross-platform syncing. It’s good to see some quality competition in the browser space.

For even more Android apps and games news, updates, and releases, check out this week’s newsletter by clicking here. You can also subscribe with the form below if you want. Of course, the best way to stay up to date is with the Android Authority app!

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Storyboard

Price: Free
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
Storyboard is one of two new apps from Google this week. This one is a bit unique. It turns videos into comic strip-style storyboards. The app uses experimental research technology for its layouts. You can refresh over and over again until you get one that you like. It’s not overly useful. However, it is a lot of fun to use. Plus, some of the layouts look pretty nifty. The app is also entirely free with no ads or in-app purchases.
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
Storyboard

Ticket to Earth

Price: $4.99 (on sale for $3.49)
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
Ticket to Earth is a new puzzle RPG. You play to save a colony from destruction. The game includes various types of puzzles, tile matching, and a decent story line. Most of the game is on a board game style layout. The game first appeared on Steam. The mobile release is more recent. The game is a pay-once experience. That means no ads or in-app purchases. It goes for $4.99 usually. However, the developers are having a launch sale. The game is temporarily $3.49.
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
Ticket to Earth

Selfissimo

Price: Free
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
Selfissimo is the second new Google app this week. This one is another experimental app. It tries to automatically snap pictures of you when it detects your pose. Thus, you just pose, it takes a picture, and you repeat until done. For now, it only takes black and white selfies. It may not be suited for much more than the occasional Instagram or Facebook post. Still, it’s kind of neat to watch an app take your picture automatically. The app is free with no in-app purchases or advertisements.
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
Selfissimo

Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty

Price: $7.99
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty is the latest adventure game in the popular franchise. This one follows Abe as he attempts to save his friends. The evil Molluck wants to turn everyone into food. Obviously, that’s a bad thing. The game comes with decent graphics, support for hardware controllers, cloud saving, leaderboards, and achievements. It’s a tad expensive at $7.99. However, it doesn’t have ads or in-app purchases. It’s a decent game for its price.
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY


Grammarly Keyboard

Price: Free
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
Grammarly Keyboard was released this week. It’s by the same devs who do the Grammarly extension on Google Chrome. The keyboard works okay. It has a fairly basic set of functions and the layout is a little boring. However, it does attempt to correct your grammar as you type. That makes it unique. Grammarly is having a rough start with this one, though. There are a few bugs and only a few customization options. This one may take a while to get going. It might end up being one of the better Android keyboards over time. At the very least, it’s free with no in-app purchases if you want to try it.
DOWNLOAD ON GOOGLE PLAY
Grammarly Keyboard

10 best Android keyboards

For many people, the default keyboard that comes on their devices is passable. It is usually either the stock Android keyboard or the OEM keyboard from Samsung, LG, etc. However, those are not your only options. …

15 best RPGs for Android

RPGs have one of the most loyal followings of any gaming genre. Whether it’s Final Fantasy or World of Warcraft, people spend dozens of hours crafting characters, playing story lines, and enjoying themselves. RPGs were …

If we missed any big Android apps or games news or releases, tell us about it in the comments. Check back next week for more!

Former Fox News Analyst Tamara Holder Shares Explicit Details of Sexual Assault

She spoke out after claiming Rupert Murdoch violated the terms of her settlement.

Former Fox News analyst Tamara Holder publicly revealed the details of her workplace sexual assault to CNN, because she believes Rupert Murdoch violated the terms of her settlement agreement in an interview where he described sexual misconduct allegations at Fox News as “nonsense.”

“Fox News ruined people’s lives,” Holder said. “He [Murdoch] ruined my life. I don’t have a job in TV anymore because the place that he has secured down like Fort Knox allowed abusive predators to work.”

She excoriated Murdoch for trying to downplay the pervasive culture of sexual predation at Fox News and dismiss some accounts as being “flirting.”

“Let me be clear. I had a man pull out his penis in his office and shove my head on it. That was not flirting, that was criminal. That was not sexual harassment,” Holder explained.

She said she expects to be sued for speaking out about the culture of sexual misconduct at Fox News, but believes she hasn’t violated the terms of her settlement.

“What Mr. Murdoch said, in my opinion as a lawyer, not as a victim or a survivor, as a lawyer, is that this gives me a legal right to respond,” she said. “And I’m responding not for myself, but on behalf of every woman in America who has been abused.”

Watch the full segment below.

 

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When the U.S. Senate takes up the final tax bill this week, more than a quarter of all GOP senators will be voting on a bill that includes a special provision that could give them a new tax cut through their real estate shell companies, according to federal records reviewed by International Business Times. The provision…

 

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Where to buy the best phones of 2017

We’ve now crowned the winner of our best Android phone of 2017 award, and you can view all the results at the previous link. After testing the handsets in various categories, the best phone honor went to the Huawei Mate 10 Pro, while you guys voted for the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 as your favorite of the past 12 months. 

If you aren’t the proud owner of one of these handsets yet, there’s just enough time to pick one up before the end of the holiday season. We’ve rounded up the best deals we can currently find on the phones from our list and laid it all out for you below. Devices are listed in alphabetical order based on manufacturer, with links to where you can each handset underneath. Enjoy. 

BlackBerry KEYone Black Edition

Given that it’s a limited edition device, that isn’t officially sold in the US, the BlackBerry KEYone isn’t easy to get hold of at a low-cost price. It did get a reduction in Canada when it was first released, a 24-hour flash sale offering $100 CAD savings, but you’ll be lucky to find it for much less than $700 now. That’s the current asking price on Amazon, though top-rated eBay seller never-msrp has it at even cheaper. 

never-msrp is usually an eBayer to be cautious of because it sells many international unlocked models that come without a US warranty. As that’s the same circumstances as on Amazon, though — just at a much better price — it’s worth taking a look at. 

Buy Now: Blackberry Keyone 64 GB – $545.99
Buy Now: BlackBerry Keyone black edition 64 GB – $699

Google Pixel 2 XL

The Google Pixel 2 XL arrived with its fair share of problems, but a few OTAs later and it’s back in action as one of the finest phones available right now. Currently, it’s on sale at the official Google Store with savings of around $75 until December 31 — and it looks like that is the only place you’ll get such a price.

What’s more, you can make use of Google’s trade-in program to give up your current device for an even better deal; check out the two storage variants at the Google Store via the buttons below. 

Buy now: Google Pixel 2 XL 64 GB – $774
Buy Now: Google Pixel 2 XL 128 GB – $874

Huawei Mate 10 Pro

The Huawei Mate 10 Pro is our phone of the year, but it’s another handset that you can’t officially get in the US. That’s set to change early next year, with more information to be unveiled at CES 2018, but in the meantime, your best bet will be to get it through Amazon. You’d be taking your chances with third-party sellers on international devices without warranty, but if you’re okay with that, the Mocha Brown variant at $844.99 is the best deal you’re likely to get right now.

Buy Now: Huawei Mate 10 Pro 128 GB – $844.99

LG V30

The LG V20 saw plenty of deals in its time, so you’d expect the same to happen in time with the latest LG flagship, the V30. Though it was the subject of a flash sale but a week ago, it’s back at $799 or more at most retailers now or more, and with most of the major carriers. We’ll keep our eyes peeled on this one, but until another deal pops up you can check out the cloud silver variant on AT&T at the button below.

Buy Now: LG V30 64 GB – $799

Lenovo Moto Z2 Force

No other Moto Z2 Force deal comes close to what T-Mobile is offering, serving up the recent Lenovo flagship for $435 (the handset is still upwards of $600 in many corners of the internet). If that doesn’t float your boat. you can get it for $11.00 per month on a Sprint Flex 18-month contract, down from $33 per month, which ain’t bad savings either. 

Buy Now: Moto Z2 Force 64 GB – $435
Buy Now: Lenovo Moto Z2 Force 64 GB – $11 per month

Nokia 8

The Nokia 8 is another smartphone which isn’t officially supported in the US, but you can pick it up warranty-less and for GSM networks (like AT&T and T-Mobile) at Amazon for $480. It’s available in all four color variants at, though Tempered Blue is the least expensive, and Amazon undercuts the prices of a number of other resellers who are charging a bomb for it.

Buy Now: Nokia 8 64 GB – $479.43

OnePlus 5T

OnePlus tends to discount its accessories rather than its hardware, which is why it avoided the Black Friday shenanigans last month. Thus, the best offer for the OnePlus 5T is still directly from OnePlus — coming in at $499 and $559 for the 64 GB and 128 GB models respectively.

That being said, if you’re a student, OnePlus does provide 10% discount on any order, including those on the OnePlus 5T: full details here.

Buy Now: OnePlus 5T 64 GB – $499
Buy Now: OnePlus 5T 128 GB – $559

Razer Phone

The Razer Phone landed this year and the company hit the ground running. While its camera is substandard, its display, audio and performance capabilities are well above average, and it doesn’t look half bad, either. 

It’s a brand new phone and will cost you $699 from the official Razer store, however, as we noted yesterday, you can get it with a Leviathan Mini Bluetooth speaker worth $180 if you order by the end of today (December 19): just use the promo code PHLVLUP at the checkout when you’re ordering the phone.

Buy Now: Razer Phone 64 GB – $699

Samsung Galaxy Note 8

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 was the fan favorite handset of 2017, and it was a runner-up in our own tests. It’s been seen for around $949 since launch and still costs that in most places. You can pick it for a fair discount eBay right now without warranty, but considering the last Note’s troubles, I’d hesitate to recommend it without some kind of protection.

You can get the Note 8 for up to $400 off with Samsung’s official trade-in offer (which you can find via Samsung.com at the first link below) while Amazon has it available for a slightly lower price at $919 (Midnight Black color only).

Buy Now: Samsung Galaxy Note 8 64 GB – $950
Buy Now: Samsung Galaxy Note 8 64 GB – $919.42

Sony Xperia XZ1

There were probably fewer words written about the Xperia XZ1 online than there should have been. It might not have had the trendy bezel-less design of other flagships, but it’s still an excellent phone. Most places are holding firm with a $599 price tag at the moment, but this is already $100 less than what the XZ1 was introduced for; check it out on Amazon underneath.

Buy Now: Sony Xperia XZ1 64 GB – $597.90

Have you seen any better deals than what’s on our list? Let us know what they are in the comments.

How abundance makes us poorer

Maybe it was to be expected with an offer that involves charity, but it turns out that for me the Humble Bundle Monthly is mostly an investment in a source for philosophical thoughts. When I initially bought the bundle in order to get Civ VI for cheap, I went for the three-month plan. So even if I since unsubscribed I just got my second months worth of games. And compared to the first month, there are even less games in there which I can see me playing. That is not to say that the offer is a bad one, or the games on offer are bad. Rather it reflects upon how my interests got narrower over time.

I am old enough to remember a time before video games. The first video game I played was Pong on a console that couldn’t play anything else, in black and white on a TV screen. When people got the first consoles with cartridges and computers, kids typically had just a handful of games, not necessarily chosen by themselves. If you only have 3 game cartridges, you will play the hell out of each of those games, whether those are your favorite games or not. Fast forward to 2017, where 7,672 games were released on Steam alone, again nearly doubling the number of Steam games available for a fourth year in a row.

Everybody has favorite games and favorite genres. If you are limited by the number of games available to you, you play what you got regardless of genre. If you have an abundance of choice, you get more and more picky and only play your favorite genres. The bottleneck becomes the amount of time available to play, so why should you play let’s say a platformer if you prefer role-playing games? Of course the consequence of that is that you end up with a much narrower experience. You only play a handful of favorite genres and don’t have the time for a bunch of other genres, which might offer a very different experience of gaming.

I see a parallel to the world of news and politics. Back in the day where your only source of news was one paper you and everybody in your street was subscribed to, you all got the same variety of news and opinions. Today there are so many sources of news and opinions that you can choose one which aligns well with your own opinions. If you are a fan of Trump, you watch Fox News and read Breitbart, if you are on the other side you watch CNN and read Huffington Post. But the result is that you end up in an echo chamber which doesn’t allow for a variety of opinions. This has gone so far that the echo chambers of today don’t even agree on the same set of facts. A news source that reports something uncomfortable to you is “fake news”, truth has become subservient to opinion.

The future is one in which we lead comfortable lives in which we play only our favorite games, see only our favorite genre of movies and TV shows, hear only news that please us. Until we have become so isolated from another group of people (which might well be our neighbors) that the two groups don’t consider each other of being of the same kind any more, and start killing each other off. The internet, which had a promise of offering us a much wider offer of everything from information to entertainment, ends up making us all poorer and more narrow-minded.

A Guide To Better Google Search Techniques

A web search engine is a software system that is designed to search for information on the World Wide Web. The search results are generally presented in a line of results often referred to as search engine results pages (SERPs). The information may be a mix of web pages, images, and other types of files.
The Internet is so full of information that it’s nearly impossible to check its limits. That’s why, search engines were developed to maintain a search-able database of the web’s content. People employ the use of search engines to look up for information on the web.
Google Search, commonly referred to as Google Web Search or simply Google, is a web search engine developed by Google. It is the most-used search engine on the World Wide Web, handling more than three billion searches each day. You type in the query, and the search engine provides you with the search results. In most cases you’re satisfied but sometimes, you’re not. This is where learning the proper techniques to type in your search query comes in handy

Why The Need To Learn Proper Search Techniques?
Everyone including students, researchers, writers, etc. requires information, and they use search engines for that very reason. People spend most of their time continuously looking for the right information because they’re not aware of the proper search techniques. Learning and using good search techniques will help you in the following ways:
  • Better search results
  • Saves your time

How To Use Google.com

Google is a smart and intelligent search engine with many exciting features. But not all the features are rolled out instantly for all versions. Google.com is always first to get feature updates, and then updates are provided in versions specific to different countries such as google.co.uk, google.co.in, or google.sh.
Google’s version for your country might not support all the search techniques described below. That’s why, it’s suggested to use google.com to avail maximum benefits of the search features and techniques.
 Note: Typing google.com automatically redirects you to its version for your country, but you can override this behavior by going to www.google.com/ncr.

Basic Search Techniques

1. Keep It Simple

Keep your search simple and web-friendly. Start by entering one or two words, and gradually adding relevant or important words, if you’re unsatisfied with the results. Less is more for a search engine; meaning the less words you query for, the more results the search engine provides as output.
For example:
Query: [who is the prime minister of India]
Better query: [prime minister of India]

2. Order Of Keywords

Select the right keywords to make your search. Search results completely depend on the given keywords, and if keywords are chosen wisely, then results are more efficient.
Put yourself in the shoes of the author, and think of what words he/she would use to write/describe what you’re trying to find. If you’re looking for a phrase or quote, then keep the order of the words as accurate as possible to get the optimum search results.

3. Skip Unnecessary Parts

Google is smart enough to handle most of your typos, and other things that could just be ignored. That’s why you should skip those things in your query to save time.
You should not worry about the following when writing a search query:
  • Spelling
  • Cases (uppercase or lowercase)
  • Punctuation (dot, question mark, exclamation mark, and more)
  • Special characters (plus, minus, brackets, and more)

4. Social Search

Google is really good at handling searches related to people and social networks. You can search for people and their social profiles using:
+[profile-name]
By adding a ‘+’ before a profile-name, you can search for Google+ profiles and pages.
#[word]
Using the ‘#’ before a word enables you to search for hashtags in Google+, Twitter, and more social networks.
For example: [#privacy]
@[person-name]
You can search for social accounts associated with a person’s name by putting the ‘@’ sign before his/her name.
For example: [@rocky jagtiani]

5. Get Sunrise And Sunset Times

You can use Google to get sunrise and sunset times for many cities of the world. Type your search query in the format of [sunrise place-name] or [sunrise zip-code] to get the sunrise time for the specified location. For sunset times, just substitute the words as per the following style of [sunset place-name] or [sunset zip-code].
For example:
  • [sunrise chembur] 
  • [sunset pune]

Advanced Search techniques

You can use the Google Advanced Search form for a more convenient search

6. Synonym Search:

You can use the synonym search feature to tell Google to even search for synonyms of a specified word in the search query. This is helpful for when you want to search for a word and all its similar words without having to spend time looking for them individually.
Using the tilde symbol (~) before a word tells Google to search for the words and its synonyms too. Type your search query in the format of [~synonymWord otherWords] to search for the word and its synonyms in a single search.

7. Search For Numbers In A Range

You can tell Google to search within a range of numbers, such as dates, prices, and measurements. Using two periods (dots) between two numbers makes Google search within that number range and skip other results.
Using two periods after a number indicates a lower minimum (number..) while putting it before the number indicates a higher maximum (..number). Type your search query in the format of [firstNumber..secondNumber otherWords] to search between a specified lower and upper bounds.

8. Search Using File Types

You can tell Google to search for a specified type of file for your query. Using filetype operators before a type of file tells Google to search only for specified file types and skip other files. Type your search query in the format of [filetype:type otherWords] to search for a specific file type.
For example: [filetype:pdf free java tutorial]

Want to learn Data Analytics?

Death of a Legislator: Dan Johnson’s Suicide and the GOP’s Far-Right Drift

Before facing abuse allegations and taking his own life, Kentucky Rep. Dan Johnson was becoming a far-right leader.

While the national press is focused on how the #MeToo movement is affecting Congress, state and city governments have also experienced a surge of women accusing politicians of sexual harassment and abuse. Kentucky has been especially shaken by this, with at least four Republican state legislators and a Democratic city councilman being publicly accused of sexual harassment in the past couple of months.

But the story took a particularly gruesome twist after a fifth statehouse Republican, Kentucky state Rep. Dan Johnson, took his own life last Wednesday. That came shortly after the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting published a blockbuster exposé of Johnson’s disturbing history, including allegations that he molested a 17-year-old member of his Heart of Fire congregation, where he was a minister.

This entire sordid affair is already being twisted by conservative pundits to discredit the #MeToo movement. Kathleen Parker asks whether Johnson had “a right to some sort of dispassionate hearing,” ignoring the fact that the alleged victim went to the police, to no avail. A deeper look into Johnson’s career, however, suggests a different moral: It illustrates the growing problem of radical fundamentalists quietly infiltrating local state governments.

Roy Moore may have lost his chance to be the U.S. senator from Alabama — if by an agonizingly narrow margin. But dozens of mini-Moores are flourishing in state legislatures, where they are pushing the Republican Party ever further to the right and quietly working to dismantle women’s access to reproductive health care.

While the molestation allegations against Johnson have been the focus, R.G. Dunlop and Jacob Ryan of the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting also uncovered a dizzying amount of disturbing information about Johnson that should have been disqualifying long before those accusations came to light. The man was a con artist who told lies about his own biography so outrageous they hardly needed fact-checking. He had repeatedly been in trouble with the law for running an illegal bar out of his church, and over several apparent arson incidents. During the 2016 election, he posted racist memes portraying Barack and Michelle Obama as monkeys and won his election over Democrat Linda Belcher anyway.

“I think that led him to believe there were lots of things he could do, yet his folks would still support him,” Marcie Crim, executive director of the Kentucky Health Justice Network, told Salon. 

When his Republicans colleagues came under fire in November for sexual harassment allegations, Johnson took to Facebook to offer a defense, writing, “I’m totally against anything that has to do with abuse, however there are no perfect people.”

Crim was not surprised by this, saying that both sexual abuse and anti-choice beliefs stem from an unwillingness to “believe that women’s bodies belong to the women.” Essentially, she said, right-wing men want to touch women “whenever they want, and they also want to tell them what kind of health care they can and can’t get access to.”

Johnson wasn’t just anti-abortion, which is par for the course in Republican politics. He was a radical anti-choice fanatic. He appears to have been closely working with Operation Save America, an extremist Christian organization that pushes what it calls the “doctrine of the lesser magistrates,” which holds that Christians shouldn’t obey laws that they believe conflict with God’s laws. It’s the same theory used to bolster the case of Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples. Now it is being used to argue that federal laws protecting abortion rights need not be respected.

In October, Johnson pre-filed a piece of planned legislation called the Abolition of Abortion Act, which would have criminalized abortion in Kentucky both for doctors and patients. The proposed bill explicitly instructed the state to enforce this ban “regardless of any contrary or conflicting state or federal laws, administrative regulations, executive orders, or judicial decisions.” It appears Johnson was trying to put this “lesser magistrate” notion into law.

In an emotional video released before Johnson committed suicide — but after the allegations of sexual misconduct had emerged — Rusty Thomas, the head of Operation Save America, blamed the “sexual revolution” for sexual harassment, saying, “God is lifting the skirt of our national whoredoms.”

Thomas went on to defend both Johnson and Roy Moore, saying that the “establishment will spend millions of dollars to dig up dirt” and that it has “successfully weaponized sex as a political weapon” to publicly shame those “seeking to stand for righteousness and for godliness in our nation.”

Thomas, it’s worth noting, spends his days organizing protests outside abortion clinics that are meant to publicly shame women seeking abortion. Johnson himself showed up at one of these protests and was photographed by clinic escorts.

In the video, Thomas calls Johnson “the congressman we have been working with to introduce a bill of abolitions.” This comports with what Rewire reporter Jenn Stanley discovered while working on her audio documentary “Marching Toward Gilead.” She called Johnson to ask him about his anti-abortion bill, and he had Joseph Spurgeon, a pastor who works with Operation Save America, call her back within seconds. 

“I didn’t tell Dan Johnson that this was a story about Operation Save America,” Stanley told Salon. “So Joseph Spurgeon must be a guy he sends out to talk to reporters.” Spurgeon and Thomas have also said they tried to call and text Johnson to prevent him from committing suicide, to no avail. 

(Full disclosure: My partner was an executive producer on Stanley’s documentary.)

Operation Save America was the group that spent decades harassing Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider in Wichita, Kansas, until a regular clinic protester murdered him in 2009. When another clinic opened in the place of Tiller’s, Thomas declared, “OSA has some unfinished kingdom business in Wichita, Kansas. Tiller’s mill was reopened.”

But the main focus of Operation Save America has been the last remaining abortion clinic in Kentucky, which has been subject to the illegal clinic blockades that the groupused in the ’90s but abandoned for many years — until now. The group has been open about its desire to make Kentucky the home of the radical anti-abortion movement, especially now that it believes Donald Trump’s presidency has eased the path for more militant tactics.

The relationship between Johnson and Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin also shines some light onto the political dynamics that are allowing Republicans to chip away at abortion access in red states. As Crim argued, people like Johnson “would have been fringe characters two years ago, five years ago, but now they’re getting elected to office.” 

Once in, legislators like Johnson embrace extreme and blatantly illegal positions, such as an effort to reclassify abortion as murder. This makes politicians like Bevin, whose strategy is to use ginned-up regulations to bury abortion clinics under red tape, look moderate by comparison. But in reality, as Crim put it, “The fringe has become the mainstream.”

There’s only one abortion clinic left in Kentucky, because Planned Parenthood was unable to get hospital transfer agreements required by a recently-passed (and medically unnecessary) law blatantly intended to shut down as many clinics as possible. Planned Parenthood says it has evidence showing that Bevin used defunding threats to prevent hospitals from helping Planned Parenthood follow the law.

There is also reason to believe that Bevin’s true sympathies lie with extremists like Dan Johnson and Operation Save America. In February, Bevin held a meeting with the leaders of Operation Save America, who say they gave him the book “Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates” by Matt Trewhella, a pastor who has argued that murdering abortion doctors is justified. The group’s leaders further claimed Bevin had praised the book, even as he demurred on the question of signing legislation to classify abortion as murder.

(Bevin’s office and Operation Save America both failed to return Salon’s requests for comment.)

Stanley and Crim both told Salon that this entire situation highlights how easy it is for radicalized right-wingers to get power in state legislatures and start pushing a state’s politics to the right.

“Most people just have no idea who their state representatives are. People don’t go up to vote for that,” Stanley said. That makes the state legislature fertile ground for extremists to build a power base. “When you think about the things that really affect people’s personal lives,” she continued, “it’s the laws that are passed by these state legislators.”

Johnson’s death has certainly rattled the far-right fundamentalists who supported him, but it doesn’t seem to be slowing down their efforts to push their absolutist agenda through the Kentucky legislature. Even before Johnson’s death, his supporters were writing off the sexual abuse allegations as a politicized lie created by the “establishment” and largely ignoring the multitude of alarming claims about Johnson’s long history of fabrications. The day after Johnson’s death, his widow, Rebecca Johnson, announced plans to run for his legislative seat. “These high-tech lynchings based on lies and half-truths can’t be allowed to win the day,” she declared.

“People like to say it’s the last, dying gasp of previous generations,” Crim said of the rise of the far right in state legislatures. “And maybe it is the last gasp — but it’s a big gasp. It’s a very powerful breath they’re taking.”

 

 

 

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Squeeze play: compression in video interfaces

In 2014 the Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA) introduced the 1.0 version of its Display Stream Compression (DSC) specification, the first standard system for compressing video specifically intended for use with hardwired display interfaces. The DSC standard was also endorsed by the MIPI Alliance, paving the way for widespread use in mobile devices and other applications beyond VESA’s original PC-centric focus.

Last year, version 1.2 was published, extending the feature set to include the 4:2:0 and 4:2:2, YCbCr formats commonly seen in digital television, and the group continues to develop and extend DSC’s capabilities and features.

But why the need for compression in the first place? Is it a good thing overall? Simply put, DSC’s adoption  is driven by the seemingly-insatiable appetite for more pixels, greater bit depth, and ever-increasing refresh rates. While the real need for some of these is debatable, there’s no argument that, especially in mobile devices, there’s a need to deliver high-quality, high-definition images while consuming the bare minimum of power. That leads to the need for compression.

A 1920 x 1080 image – considered just a moderate “resolution” these days – at a 60 Hz refresh rate and using 24-bit per pixel RGB encoding requires transmitting almost 3 gigabits of information every second between source and display, and that’s not even counting the inevitable overhead. Move up to “8K” video, as is coming to the market now, and that rate goes up geometrically. 48 billion bits of information need to move every second. That’s fast enough to fill a 1 TB drive in well under three minutes.

Leawo The move from 1080p to 4K, HDR, and even 8K content requires more and more data, increasing the necessity for compression to shrink file sizes.

Digital interface standards like DisplayPort and HDMI have done an admirable job of keeping up with this growing appetite for data capacity. DisplayPort 1.4 is capable of over 32 Gbits/sec., and future versions are expected to push that to 40 Gbits and higher. But these increases come at a price; all else being equal, faster transmission rates always take more power, on top of the generally higher power requirements of higher-resolution displays. Something has to give.

Compression is actually a pretty old idea, and it’s based on the fact that data (and especially image data) generally contains a lot of unnecessary information; there’s a high degree of redundancy.

Let’s say I point an HDTV camera at a uniformly white wall. It’s still sending out that three gigabits of data every second, even though you might as well be sending a simple “this frame is the same as the last one” message after the first one has been sent. Even within that first frame, if the picture is truly just a uniform white, you should be able to get away with sending just a single white pixel and then indicating, somehow, “don’t worry about anything else – they all look like that!” The overwhelming majority of that 3 Gbits/sec data torrent is wasted.

In mobile devices, compression standards give us the means for connecting high-res external displays— like VR headsets— without chewing through the battery or needing a huge connector.

In a perfect situation we could eliminate everything but that single pixel of information and still wind up with a picture that would be identical to the original: a perfectly uniform white screen. This would be a case of completely lossless compression — if  we can assume that “perfect” situation. What eliminating redundancy does, though, in addition to reducing the amount of data you need to transmit, is to make it all that much more important that the data you are sending gets through unchanged. In other words, you’ve made your video stream much more sensitive to noise. Imagine what happens if, in sending that one pixel’s worth of “white” that’s going to set the color for the whole screen, a burst of noise knocks out all the blue information. You wind up with red and green, but no blue, which turns our white screen yellow. Since we’ve stopped sending all those redundant frames, it stays that way until a change in the source image causes something new to be sent.

The goal is to come up with a compression system that is visually lossless

So compression, even “mathematically lossless” compression, can still have an impact on the image quality at the receiving end. The goal is to come up with a compression system that is visually lossless, meaning it results in images indistinguishable from the uncompressed video signal by any human viewer. Careful design of the compression system can enable this while still allowing a significant reduction in the amount of data sent.

Imagine that instead of a plain white image, we’re sending typical video; coverage of a baseball game, for instance. But instead of sending each pixel of every frame, we send every other pixel. Odd pixels on one frame, and even pixels on the next. I’ve just cut the data rate in half, but thanks to the redundancy of information across frames, and the fact that I’m still maintaining a 60 Hz rate, the viewer never sees the difference. The “missing” data is made up, too rapidly to be noticed. That’s not something that’s actually used in any compression standard, as far as I know, but it shows how a simple “visually lossless” compression scheme might work.

If you’re familiar with the history of video, that example may have sounded awfully familiar. It’s very close to interlaced transmission, which used in the original analog TV systems. Interlacing can be understood as a crude form of data compression. It’s not really going to be completely visually lossless; some visible artifacts would still be expected (especially when objects moving within the image). But even such a simple system would still give surprisingly good results while saving a lot of interface bandwidth.

Synopsys An example of how DSC and DSI interoperate on host and device sides, and sample compression rates with and without DSC.

VESA’s DSC specification is a good deal more sophisticated, and produces truly visually lossless results in a large number of tests. The system can provide compression on the order of 3:1, easily permitting “8K” video streams to even be carried over earlier versions of DisplayPort or HDMI. It does this via a relatively simple yet elegant algorithm that can be implemented in a minimum of additional circuitry, keeping the power load down to something easily handled in a mobile product — possibly even providing a net savings over running the interface at the full, uncompressed rate.

If you’re worried about any sort of compression still having a visible effect on your screen, consider the following. Over-the-air HDTV broadcasts are possible only because of the very high degree of compression that was built into the digital TV standard. Squeezing a full-HD broadcast, even one in which the source is an interlaced format like “1080i,” requires compression ratios on the order of 50:1 or more. The 1.5 Gbits per second of a 1080i, 60 Hz video stream had to be shoehorned into a 6 MHz channel (providing at best a little more than a 19 megabit-per-second capacity). HTDV broadcasts very typically work with less than a single bit per pixel in the final compressed data stream as it’s sent over the air, resulting in a clear, sharp HD image on your screen. When unusually high noise levels come up, the now-familiar blocky “compression artifacts” of digital TV pop up, but this really doesn’t happen all that often. Proprietary systems such as broadcast satellite or cable TV can use even heavier compression, and as a result show these sorts of problems much more frequently.

In the better-controlled environment of a wired digital interface, and with the much milder compression ratios of DSC, images transmitted using this system will probably be visually perfect. In mobile devices, compression standards such as these will give us the means for connecting high-res external displays— like VR headsets— without chewing through the battery or needing a huge connector.

You’ll very likely never even know it’s there.

Elemental Evil: Sessions 5 and 6

It appears I forgot to chronicle the previous session of my D&D home campaign. The last report was from early July, after which we had a summer break, and then resumed mid-August, and then continued yesterday. Both of these sessions were action-centric, with the group clearing out first the abandoned village of Thundertree and then the goblin stronghold of Cragmaw Castle from monsters. A “door-monster-treasure” type of gameplay can be a lot of fun, but the details aren’t always all that interesting in a journal of events. So I will summarize and concentrate on the highlights in this post.

Thundertree is an abandoned village a day’s travel from Neverwinter. The eruption of Mount Hotenow, which caused quite a catastrophe for Neverwinter half a century ago, destroyed the village of Thundertree. Erdan, the druid of the group who is prone to visions and nightmares, dreamed that the eruption of Hotenow was caused by a group of chanting fire cultists, but probably didn’t go as planned, as the cultists were killed in the event. What remained in Thundertree was mostly abandoned houses, with a population of ash zombies and twig blights. The group had gone to Thundertree to meet the druid Reidoth, who was supposed to know the location of Cragmaw Castle. Their “pet goblin” Droop also claimed to be able to find the way from Thundertree to Cragmaw Castle. They met Reidoth, who was able to provide a safe haven in the village, as well as the directions needed.

After clearing out most of the village from monsters, the group came across another group which likewise was engaged in fighting twig blights. That group was wearing blue armor and white robes, beset with feathers. They explained that they were from a club of aerial enthusiasts, and were in Thundertree to try to tame a griffon nesting here, or get eggs from his nest to raise as aerial mounts. The heroes agreed to accompany them to the griffon’s lair in the highest tower of Thundertree. But once there the air cultists tried to becalm the griffon by offering the adventurers up as sacrifice, so the group ended up killing both the cultists and the griffon. They were able to make the link between a symbol the cultists carried and the same symbol they had seen on a letter to Glasstaff in Phandalin.

On the way to Cragmaw Castle the group tried to question Droop for information about the castle. That was somewhat complicated by the fact that Droop could only count to 3, and used “3” as an answer to any question about numbers in which the answer exceeded 2. Not trusting the goblin’s offer to negotiate safe entry into the castle, they knocked him out and attached him to a tree, guarded by the paladin (the player was absent that session). Instead they built a camouflage out of branches and approached the less guarded south side of the castle at night. From there they could see into the banquet hall, but the goblins there didn’t look out the arrow slits. So they managed after a few attempts to unlock the side door. But they didn’t like the idea of advancing with the goblins in the hall behind them, so they decided to attack there.

From there they moved clockwise room by room. That enabled them to eliminate most guards in small groups. However it did move them more towards the entrance of the castle, instead towards the throne room. The toughest fight was against a group of hobgoblins. Popée the sorceress used a web spell on them, but between succeeded saving throws initially and later the web wasn’t all that effective. Then they tried to burn the web, but in 5E that deals only 2d4 damage, and the player rolled double 1s, so the spell wasn’t really a big success. The hobgoblins however had an ability with which they dealt an extra 2d6 damage if next to an ally. And two of them rolled critical hits, which doubles the number of dice on all damage, knocking the druid out of his bear form. After another fight in the central chapel of the castle the group had enough and decided to go back into the woods to take a long rest.

Returning to the castle they found that the bugbear King Grol had obviously noticed that the group had raided his castle and killed most of the goblinoids in there. So King Grol has gathered all the remaining defenders in the chapel, including a priest from the air cult. That ended up being a tough fight, with Theren being knocked down to zero health, but then rescued. The air cultist priest was a real menace, with a dust devil spell that prevented the archers and casters from sniping from the back. But Popée used a scroll of lightning bolt on King Grol and his pet wolf, killing the wolf and seriously damaging the bugbear. Soon after all the bugbears were dead. The priest tried to transform into gaseous form and flee, but didn’t make it out of the arrow slit in one round and concentrated fire killed him before his next round. At this point it had gotten rather late, and we ended the session.

Printing heroes at home

There is a piece of good news for the few of us who like to print D&D miniatures in 3D at home. And two pieces of bad news. The good news is that Hero Forge is now offering the digital download option on their website. You can use their excellent editor to create a D&D character of one of many different races, with lots of different equipment and pose options. And then instead of choosing a material to have it printed by them, you choose digital download and get an .stl file.

The two pieces of bad news are that a) that option costs $9.99 per miniature, which is only slightly less than the $14.99 for the cheapest printed option. I consider it worth it, but it might not be for everybody. And b) you don’t get the file immediately, but sometimes “after one business day for processing”, sometimes after a few minutes. So if you want to print a more common miniature, like a wizard with a staff and pointy hat, you’d better first check sites like Thingiverse for a free version. However I really like Hero Forge for the less common hero miniatures, or the ones you want with very specific equipment.

The .stl files are of very high resolution and end up being 75 MB large. When I want to edit them on Tinkercad (e.g. for adding print supports), I first need to use Meshmixer to reduce the number of triangles and the file size. And of course a typical home printer isn’t producing that high resolution miniatures. But it’s a bit like with photographs, it’s better to have too high resolution and scale it down than having too low resolution.

If you want to try it out, check out the Hero Forge Digital Downloads info page. It links to your user profile (if you have an account with them), where you can download two demo .stl files for free.