Archives for June 2018

Google Wants Employees to Work Instead of Arguing Politics

In the past few months,  2,600 Google employees have signed a petition asking the company to do more about harassment–and to make HR investigations transparent, according to The Wall Street Journal. 

It’s one of the many changes going on at Google when it comes to employee communications. Google has encouraged dialogue unrelated to the workplace for years, and now it’s not working out so well. 

Last year, Google fired James Damore for expressing his views about how choice and biology may be the true driver for the lack of women in tech, saying that his views perpetuated gender stereotypes and violated the code of conduct. 

But, not everyone at Google agreed with the decision. And, it seems, that there is very little at Google that everyone agrees on. Because the company encouraged message boards and the like to discuss non-work issues, they are dealing with trolls and hurt feelings and it’s a big mess. 

It was a nice idea–let’s make the workplace your whole world, where you can bring your “whole self.” But, as I’ve written before, that doesn’t work out so well in practice. Google is finding it necessary to create clear policies about what constitutes harassment, including rules against doxxing–releasing personal information–as retaliation.

While this is a good idea–employees shouldn’t be attempting to punish each other for political and other views that someone finds offensive–the fact that Google reached this level indicates an overall culture problem. 

Google has long been praised for innovative practices and former Head of People Operations, Lazlo Bock, received praise in many circles. But, perhaps some of that praise was too early–when you have a culture that has employees trolling and doxxing each other, perhaps there is an HR problem. 

The solution is to focus on work and tell people to find their social life elsewhere. But that requires people to leave the office. Bock claimed that the reason for all the on-campus perks was to increase conversations and innovation, it also kept people on campus. It’s difficult to build relationships with people outside of work when you’re never gone. As a result, you need your co-workers to meet all your needs, including your need to discuss politics. Which, as anyone could guess, can be a disaster.

Google needs to get back to work, shut down the non-work related boards, and make sure people gain outside social lives. You know, like a traditional business. Turns out those stodgy old fogies were on to something.  

Mission Bicycle's Light-Up Fork Will Never Leave You in the Dark

It’s happened to me, it’s happened to you. You walk out of a concert, a restaurant, or the office at an hour well past sunset, go to unlock your bike, and you realize you don’t have your lights. Maybe you forgot to charge them and they’re as dead as beans. Maybe you forgot to bring them entirely because it’s the summer and they daylight hours are long. Maybe they were stolen off your frame—in which case you’re lucky they didn’t take the whole bike.

A San Francisco company called Mission Bicycle has rolled out a new bike design that will never leave an owner in the dark. The frameset has LEDs build right into the fork. Tapping a button sets the front end of the bike alight.

Beth Holzer for Wired

The design is simple and tidy. On the inside of the fork’s arms, there are two LED strips situated vertically. Each strip holds 50 diodes, for 100 lights in total. You press a button on the top cap of the headset to turn the lighting system on and off; pressing and holding the button dims the lights, which helps the battery last longer. There are also five red LEDs built into the seatpost. All of the wiring runs through the frame—from the headset, down the fork, and back to the seatpost.

The whole system uses a rechargeable battery that lives inside the headset. To access it, you unscrew the top cap, and the battery pops up far enough for you to grab it. You can charge it wherever it’s convenient using a USB cable.

Integrated lighting systems aren’t unique in the cycling world. You can find a number of commuter bikes with headlights built into the frames and tail lights built into the seat posts. But what makes Mission Bicycle’s design notable is the ease with which the lights blend into the design. Walk past the bike on the street, and you won’t notice the LEDs or the on/off switch unless you’re really looking for them. It stays fully hidden and makes for a clean, minimal look. More importantly, it means you always have your lights with you—as long as you remember to charge the battery.

Beth Holzer for Wired

Mission Bicycle leant me a bike to ride for a couple of weeks. The company sells fully customized city bikes starting at $1,100, and it offers a bunch of different options for drivetrains, components, and frame colors. The integrated lighting system is available as an option on every build. My loaner was a singlespeed; a simple, easy roller.

When you fire up the LED systems, it illuminates a big circle of pavement around the front wheel, about four feet in diameter. The effect is eye-catching in a way that a forward-facing headlight isn’t, and since the LEDs are visible from the side too, it easily makes you the most noticeable vehicle in the bike lane. The light itself is a cool blue, which at first seems a bit harsh, but only helps you stand out more alongside the yellowish glow of the overhead sodium bulbs that illuminate the roadways. The battery lasted the whole time I had the bike, and if your commute involves less than an hour of night riding each day, I imagine you’d have to charge it once every three or four weeks.

Two caveats. One, the lighting system makes you visible to others on the road, but doesn’t direct light far enough in front of you to fully illuminate the road ahead. The company’s reasoning is that, in a city, the streets are generally well lit enough that being seen is a higher priority for your safety than seeing where you’re going. Sure, but if you don’t live in a city with well-lit streets, you’ll need a headlamp. Second, the crown that you unscrew to get at the battery isn’t fully secure. So if a thief is knowledgeable enough to look for the little rubber on/off switch, they can steal your battery (or the top cap) pretty easily. The folks at the shop tell me they are working on a solution to this. For now, maybe just slip the battery into your pocket when you leave your bike locked up outside the bar. No biggie.

More Great WIRED Stories

Why Tech Employees Are Rebelling Against Their Bosses

Silicon Valley has a long and secretive history of building hardware and software for the military and law enforcement. In contrast, a recent wave of employee protests against some of those government contracts has been short, fast, and surprisingly public—tearing through corporate campuses, mailing lists, and message boards inside some of the world’s most powerful companies.

The revolt is part of a growing political awakening among some tech employees about the uses of the products they build. What began as concern inside Google about a Pentagon contract to tap the company’s artificial-intelligence smarts was catalyzed by outrage over Trump administration immigration policies. Now, it seems to be spreading quickly.

Within a few days in late June, employees from Microsoft, Amazon, and Salesforce publicized petitions urging their CEOs to cancel or rethink lucrative contracts with US Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and local police departments.

Airing a company’s dirty laundry is new. Historically, tech workers have rarely peeked out from under the industry’s cone of silence—a cultural norm often invoked as a sign of trust in leadership but enforced by a layer of nondisclosure agreements and investigations into leaks.

At Google in particular, managers have encouraged internal debate—and employees have bought into the system. But earlier this year, internal efforts broke down over Google’s role in Project Maven, which applies AI to interpret camera footage from drones. Employees adopted other tactics when they felt executives were downplaying the size and scope of the Pentagon contract. Thousands, including senior engineers, signed a petition asking CEO Sundar Pichai to cancel the contract. Some workers claimed to quit over the relationship. A group of engineers refused to build a security tool necessary for Maven. “We believe that Google should not be in the business of war,” the petition said, warning Pichai that the company’s involvement in Maven would “irreparably damage Google’s brand and its ability to compete for talent.” Earlier this month, Google said it would not renew the Pentagon contract when it expires next year. A few days later, Pichai released a code of ethics to govern Google’s use of AI, which said Google would not develop the technology for use in weapons, but will continue “our work with governments and the military in many other areas.”

The changes emboldened workers at other companies. A petition that started with seven Microsoft employees has gained 457 signers asking the company to drop its contract with ICE. “We are part of a growing movement, comprised of many across the industry who recognize the grave responsibility that those creating powerful technology have to ensure what they build is used for good, and not for harm,” the petition says. Two days later, Amazon workers publicized a letter that seeks to halt sales of the company’s facial-recognition services to law enforcement; that has 400 signers. More than 650 Salesforce workers want the company to rethink its relationship with the Customs agency, because “our core value of Equality is at stake.” Each of the companies employs tens of thousands of workers across the globe, so it’s hard to measure the level of internal support for their efforts.

But the protests also drew support from influential academics and researchers, who drafted their own petitions around government contracts at Google and Microsoft, which became a touchstone for anxious employees.

The fledgling movement marks an evolution in the consciousness of tech employees; last year, employees at several companies asked their CEOs to drop out of President Trump’s advisory council and oppose a ban on visitors from predominantly Muslim countries. But asking a company to forgo the revenue of a government contract is a different kind of tradeoff. “One is about the politics, the other is about the core business, what is this company in the business of doing or not in the business of doing,” says Liz Fong-Jones, a site reliability engineer at Google known for her advocacy work.

Such stands against a company’s financial interests are unusual inside private firms, but not unheard of, says Forrest Briscoe, a professor at Penn State’s business school, who has studied internal and external corporate activists. He cites efforts beginning in the late 1980s by environmental scientists employed by Dupont and General Motors to alter those companies’ positions on climate change.

Silicon Valley’s recruiting pitch has long been: Work with us to change the world. Employees are encouraged to make their work life synonymous with their social identity, and many internalize those utopian ideals. “People who signed up to be tech heroes don’t want to be implicated in human rights abuses,” says a senior Google employee involved in the protest against Project Maven.

Tech workers may feel freer to challenge their employers in part because they have marketable skills at a time of great demand, says Nelson Lichtenstein, a history professor and director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor, and Democracy at UC Santa Barbara. “Why don’t you find this among the people wiring the circuit boards together in China? Because there they are much more vulnerable,” he says.

Lichtenstein compares the tech workers to recent activism by teachers in several states seeking better funding for schools. “The teacher strikes of the last few months were about re-funding public education in austerity states, a political as well as financial shift,” he says. “That has very large consequences for public policy as well as corporate policy.” One Google employee says tech workers benefited from the momentum of the teacher strikes.

But why now? Employees say their companies have grown so big that workers weren’t aware of the extent of their employers’ government contracts.

The shift caught companies accustomed to controlling the narrative flat-footed. They scrambled to downplay blog posts from sales teams just months earlier crowing about contracts with government agencies that are now in the spotlight for harsh treatment of immigrants or invading people’s privacy.

But Stephanie Parker, a policy specialist at YouTube, says the changes have been building. “From the outside, it looks like there’s been an 180-degree change from last month to this month,” she says. In reality, she says, the 2016 election and internal disputes over diversity at Google have awakened employees to “the connections between the technology we’re building, issues in the workplace, and what impact that has had on our communities and on our world.”

One reason for the unrest is that the projects involved have very real consequences, says Erica Joy Baker, a former Google engineer and well-known activist within the industry who’s now an engineering manager at Patreon. “Now we’re talking about life and death decisions for a lot of folks,” Baker says. “I’m pretty sure that no one who took a job at Google thought, ‘I’m going to work for a defense contractor.’ Lockheed Martin is down the road, they could have gone to work there.”

The disputed projects span a range, from building facial-recognition technology that could be deployed on unsuspecting people in public to providing computer services that a few years ago would have been run on a machine inside the Pentagon.

Moreover, in each case, there may be ethical considerations on the other side. Matt Zeiler, CEO of Clarifai, an artificial-intelligence company also working on Project Maven, said in a recent blog post that deploying the technology could save lives. Microsoft policy managers told employees in an internal online discussion that the company was in contact with immigration advocacy groups, who said canceling Microsoft’s contract could harm kids and families.

Still, some workers see a common thread through projects with the Pentagon, the immigration services, and the more tenuous connection between the software company Palantir, which works with ICE and uses Amazon’s AWS service. “This is not a hair we can split and say ‘actually we didn’t built the jails, we just allowed them to more quickly itemize the invoices for the jails,’” says the senior Google employee involved in the effort to shut down Maven. “This is an ethical question and it’s a question lot of people are asking.”

For now, the movement’s message is not a finely drawn policy position on what kind of government work is acceptable but rather a plea for transparency and a seat at the table, so that employees have a say in where such technology is used.

Some tech workers involved in the protests invoke IBM’s work for Nazi Germany in the years leading up to World War II. Edwin Black, author of IBM and the Holocaust, says the current wave of dissidents is atypical for the tech industry. “You wouldn’t have even asked me this question a year ago. Now we have to ask, is it a political revolt, or is a revolt of consciousness about the capabilities of the technologies being implemented?” In a statement, an IBM spokesperson said, “As with other foreign-owned companies that did business in Germany at that time, IBM’s German operations came under the control of Nazi authorities prior to and during World War II.”

Employees are aware this will be a long slog and have been skeptical of the lawyered-up, press-friendly but vague responses. In Google’s new AI principles, Pichai said the company will not pursue “technologies whose purpose contravenes widely accepted principles of international law and human rights,” according to the blog post. “Who says that?” another Google employee involved in the Maven protest asked WIRED. “Either you support human rights or you don’t.”

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Boeing’s Proposed Hypersonic, Mach 5 Plane Is Really, Really Fast

Aviation enthusiasts yearning for ultra-fast, ultra-sleek intercontinental transportation—rather than 18-hour flights on stuffed-to-the gills widebody behemoths—might finally get their wish. At least, if the airplane concept Boeing unveiled this week becomes reality.

The company revealed renderings of its proposed hypersonic, passenger-carrying airliner Tuesday at the annual American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics conference in Atlanta. Both visually and technologically, the airplane, which could be used for both military and commercial purposes, has much in common with an unmanned hypersonic surveillance and reconnaissance concept the company revealed in January.

Both share the general delta-wing configuration with dual rear fins, a streamlined fuselage, and a sharp nose. The craft would travel at up to Mach 5, enabling it to cross the Atlantic Ocean in just two hours and the Pacific in three. (A merely supersonic aircraft flying between Mach 1 and Mach 2 would take an hour or two longer.)

The plane is fast, but it could have been even faster. “We settled on Mach 5 version,” says Kevin Bowcutt, Boeing’s senior technical fellow and chief scientist of hypersonics, noting that exceeding Mach 5, or about 3,800 mph, requires far more advanced engines and materials. Plus, it’s not worth it. “This aircraft would allow you to fly across the ocean and back in one day, which is all most people would want. So why go past those boundaries and complicate it? The world’s just not big enough to go much faster than Mach 5.”

A Mach 5 aircraft can also be built more affordably than plane that goes Mach 6, 7, or 8 because it would use readily available titanium for its structure instead of materials like composite ceramics to manage the heat produced at higher speeds. Boeing’s current proposal would also use a relatively simple pairing of a jet engine and a ramjet, called a turboramjet, instead of less proven scramjet engines required for faster aircraft.

For this plane, the two engines would share the same air inlets, and the jet engines would operate up to Mach 2 or 3 before the inlets seal off the jet engine and divert air into the ramjets, which can handle faster airflow. The famed SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance aircraft used such a system in the 1960s, as have multiple missiles and experimental aircraft. Boeing is collaborating with Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems on the engine technology.

Though Boeing hasn’t decided the final dimensions, the airplane (which doesn’t have a name yet) would be larger than a business jet but smaller than a 737, Bowcutt says, so presumably seating between, say, 20 and 100 passengers. It would cruise at 95,000 feet, which is 30,000 feet higher than the supersonic Concorde flew, and a full 60,000 feet higher than the average airliner. That altitude maximizes the efficiency of the engines and keeps turbulence to a minimum, since the air density is so much lower that far up in the air.

The G-force feeling upon takeoff would last a full 12 minutes as the plane accelerated to cruising speed (on a conventional craft the feeling lasts just a few seconds) but the cruising-altitude experience should be serene, with stunning views featuring the earth’s curvature at the horizon and the blackness of space above. “Other than that you would also weigh a bit less,” Bowcutt says. “At that altitude you’ll be a few pounds lighter than on the ground.”

Boeing says a production aircraft with these capabilities—including autonomous piloting, as that technology continues to evolve—could be ready in 20 to 30 years, though a prototype could be ready in as soon as 5 or 10. A lot will have to go right for the effort to succeed, and such an aircraft would need to arrive with substantial proof of reasonable cost, safety, and efficiency in order for airlines and the military to want to actually fly it.

This concept does, however, have advantages over other long range, high speed transportation visions, most notably the proposed next generation of supersonic jets. Those airplanes actually only go a bit faster than commercial aircraft—even though they break the sound barrier in the process. (The speed of sound at 35,000 feet is 660 mph; the average jetliner cruises at 575 mph at the same altitude; the fastest currently proposed supersonic jet would travel at Mach 2.2 at 50,000 feet, or 1,450 mph, and the rest hover around Mach 1 or 1.2.) They also tend to be smaller, which means they may not be able to carry much fuel and thus may have shorter ranges than airlines might like.

Hypersonic jets could also stack up favorably against vehicles in the other end of the spectrum: suborbital rockets. Both SpaceX’s Elon Musk and Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson have indicated that they want to adapt their rockets for global flights, reaching from New York to Sydney, for instance, in just an hour.

Though rocket-powered spaceships are certainly exciting, Bowcutt thinks that air-breathing vehicles—meaning, those that ingest oxygen from the atmosphere for combustion rather than carrying it along with them in liquid form—have much greater potential. Rockets will never be as reliable as airplanes, for one thing, and they are scary and uncomfortable. “The overall safety risk is much higher in a rocket while the passenger comfort level is much lower.”

Indeed, rocket re-entries into the atmosphere are notoriously brutal experiences, given that the vehicles have to use steep descent angles and blunt shaping, as opposed to the sleek pointy-nose look of a hypersonic jet, to generate enough drag to slow down enough for landing. But a hypersonic aircraft will be so smooth and fast during all phases of flight that it could effectively glide unpowered for the final 500 miles of each trip. It might take a bit longer—and you won’t be able to float around the cabin while in space—but you also won’t be throwing up on the way back down.

More Great WIRED Stories

New Zealand's Z Energy flags possible data breach in online card system

(Reuters) – New Zealand-based fuel supplier Z Energy Ltd on Wednesday said it has been presented with evidence that customer data from its Z Card Online database was accessed by a third party in November 2017.

The database held customer data such as names, addresses, registration numbers, vehicle types and credit limits with the company, Z Energy said in a statement. The data accessed did not include bank details, pin numbers or information that would put customer finances directly at risk, it said.

Z Energy did not specify the extent to which its customer data had been compromised.

The company said it had notified affected customers and advised the Privacy Commissioner of the breach. It said the system in question had been closed since December 2017.

The Z Card allows customers to manage fuel accounts online, and is used primarily by companies with vehicle fleets.

Z Energy said it had been made aware of a potential vulnerability in the system in November, but had not found evidence of any data breaches at that time.

Z Energy operates in both New Zealand and Australia. New laws in Australia requiring companies to report data breaches took effect in late-February this year.

Reporting by Ambar Warrick in Bengaluru

'NBA Live 19' News: Joel Embiid Revealed As Cover Athlete

, Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
Credit: EA Sports

Joel Embiid on the ocver of NBA Live 19

</div> </div> <p>Apparently, EA does, because on Monday night during the NBA Awards, Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid was revealed as the cover athlete for <em>NBA Live 19</em>. It was a big night for the 76ers as Embiid’s teammate Ben Simmons took home the Rookie of the Year award as well.</p> <p>This image leaked via Twitter:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Introducing the new face of NBA LIVE, <a href="" target="_blank" data-ga-track="ExternalLink:" rel="nofollow">@JoelEmbiid</a> in The ONE Edition.</p> <p>Available September 7th <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw" target="_blank" data-ga-track="ExternalLink:;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw" rel="nofollow">#NBALIVE19</a> <a href="" target="_blank" data-ga-track="ExternalLink:" rel="nofollow"></a></p> <p>— EA SPORTS NBA LIVE (@EASPORTSNBA) <a href="" target="_blank" data-ga-track="ExternalLink:" rel="nofollow">June 26, 2018</a></p> </blockquote> <p> </p> <p>Embiid replaces James Harden, who was the face of the franchise&nbsp;for <em>NBA Live 17</em> and <em>NBA Live 18</em>. Harden is still likely a member of EA’s overall marketing program for the game as he appears in a few of the screenshots for <em>Live 19</em> already, but that hasn’t been confirmed.</p> <p>Embiid is coming off the best season of his young career. The 24-year-old averaged 22.9 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists and 1.8 blocked shots per game while helping the 76ers to their first postseason berth in six years. Embiid is the first 76ers player in history to grace the cover of an <em>NBA Live</em> game, and just the third in franchise history to appear on the cover of any game.</p>

<p>Allen Iverson was the cover athlete for the first five versions of the&nbsp;<em>NBA 2K&nbsp;</em>series. Way back in 1983, 76ers great Julius Erving was on the cover of <em>One on One</em> with Larry Bird, one of the earliest hoops video games. The full demo for <em>NBA Live 19</em> will release on August 24. The full release hits stores for PS4 and Xbox One on September 7, but Xbox owners who subscribe to EA Access will have access as early as September 2.</p>” readability=”38.5356924954″>

Trust the Process.

Credit: EA Sports

Joel Embiid on the ocver of NBA Live 19

Apparently, EA does, because on Monday night during the NBA Awards, Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid was revealed as the cover athlete for NBA Live 19. It was a big night for the 76ers as Embiid’s teammate Ben Simmons took home the Rookie of the Year award as well.

This image leaked via Twitter:

Embiid replaces James Harden, who was the face of the franchise for NBA Live 17 and NBA Live 18. Harden is still likely a member of EA’s overall marketing program for the game as he appears in a few of the screenshots for Live 19 already, but that hasn’t been confirmed.

Embiid is coming off the best season of his young career. The 24-year-old averaged 22.9 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists and 1.8 blocked shots per game while helping the 76ers to their first postseason berth in six years. Embiid is the first 76ers player in history to grace the cover of an NBA Live game, and just the third in franchise history to appear on the cover of any game.

Allen Iverson was the cover athlete for the first five versions of the NBA 2K series. Way back in 1983, 76ers great Julius Erving was on the cover of One on One with Larry Bird, one of the earliest hoops video games. The full demo for NBA Live 19 will release on August 24. The full release hits stores for PS4 and Xbox One on September 7, but Xbox owners who subscribe to EA Access will have access as early as September 2.

The Common Drug That Makes Opioid Overdose Five Times As Likely

(Photo by: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images)

Opioid overdoses continue to increase, accounting for nearly two-thirds of all overdose deaths in the US, but a high percentage of those overdoses also include other drugs. A new study shows that the combination of opioids with one common class of drugs in particular is especially risky in the first 90 days of concurrent use. Those drugs are benzodiazepines (often called “benzos”), the class that includes alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), and clonazepam (Klonopin), meds frequently prescribed to alleviate anxiety.

The study examined data from more than 71,000 Medicare Part D beneficiaries to find out how simultaneous use of opioids and benzos influence overdose risk over time. Patients were divided based on whether they had only taken opioids prior to overdose or had a supply of both opioids and a benzo drug. For those in the group with a supply of both, the researchers subdivided by the cumulative number of days they’d taken an opioid with a benzo.

The analysis showed that overdose risk was five times higher for patients taking both drugs during the first 90 days compared to those only taking an opioid. Risk was doubled for those taking both drugs during the next 90 days. After 180 days, risk of overdose was roughly the same as taking only opioids.

“Patients who must be prescribed both an opioid and a benzodiazepine should be closely monitored by health care professionals due to an increased risk for overdose, particularly in the early days of this medication regimen,” said lead study author Inmaculada Hernandez, Pharm.D., Ph.D., assistant professor at the Univeristy of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy, in a press statement.

The researchers adjusted the results to account for a range of demographic factors and clinical factors, including the number of clinicians that prescribed the drugs. The adjustment revealed that risk increased with the number of clinicians involved — the more clinicians prescribing drugs to any given patient, the greater the risk of overdose. The researchers think this result points to lack of communication between doctors treating the same patient.

“These findings demonstrate that fragmented care plays a role in the inappropriate use of opioids, and having multiple prescribers who are not in communication increases the risk for overdose,” said senior study author Yuting Zhang, Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.

The risk of combining opioids and benzos has been studied extensively, with alarms sounded by multiple public health groups and government agencies, including the US FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The FDA released an emphatic warning earlier this year, citing risk of respiratory depression when taking both drugs because both are potent central nervous system depressants.

Respiratory depression occurs when breathing becomes slow and erratic and the body can’t adequately remove carbon dioxide. In the case of overdose, breathing can completely stop, leading to respiratory arrest and potentially death.

More than 30% of overdoses involving opioids also involve benzos, according to the NIH National Institute of Drug Abuse (a third common drug, alcohol, another central nervous system depressant, often also plays a role in overdose deaths involving opioids and benzos).

A 2017 study found that among more than 315,000 privately insured patients, the number that were prescribed both an opioid and a benzo increased 80% from 2001 to 2013. Similar to the latest study, that study also found a significant increase in overdoses among patients taking both drugs.

The latest study was published in JAMA Network Open.

Fox spirits and demons: China's tech giants splash out in cartoon arms race

HANGZHOU, China (Reuters) – Growing up in the Chinese port city of Dalian in the 1990s, Zhang Hongchang spent hours immersed in Japanese cartoons like Dragon Ball and Naruto.

People walk past a booth of NetEase Comics at the China International Cartoon and Game (CCG) Expo in Shanghai, China July 6, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer

China’s home-grown cartoons paled in comparison to the Japanese anime series on television and in comic books that captured the imaginations of Zhang and his generation.

Today, Zhang is one of China’s hottest cartoonists and at the forefront of a new wave of Chinese animation that is being driven by the country’s technology and internet giants. His latest hit comic – which stars a high school student who is also a Taoist priest with secret super powers – has been viewed 160 million times online.

China’s tech firms are engaged in a cartoon arms race to develop or buy Chinese characters in an animation market expected to hit 216 billion yuan ($33.22 billion) by 2020, according to the EntGroup consultancy, trying to emulate the success of Walt Disney Co’s (DIS.N) ensemble, which ranges from Mickey Mouse to Iron Man.

A key to that effort, has been the development of artists like Zhang.

“When I started, I was copying Japanese cartoons, but slowly I got my own style,” Zhang said in the Hangzhou studio where he draws comics that are made available to readers on a platform operated by the local gaming firm NetEase Inc (NTES.O).

“I had to spend a lot time getting to understand the Chinese market and what Chinese comic readers wanted.”

Chinese tech giants like Tencent Holdings (0700.HK), Baidu Inc (BIDU.O) and NetEase are trying to figure out the same thing.

Part of the winning formula has been the use of traditional Chinese religious and cultural themes, and characters. That, and improved quality in terms of art and storytelling, helped China’s comic and animation market reach 150 billion yuan last year, according to EntGroup’s estimates.

China still lags behind the Japanese and American markets, but is catching up. Japan is the top producer of animation, while the United States dominates in terms of sales, taking a nearly 40 percent share of the global industry, estimated at $220 billion in 2016, according to a report from Research & Markets. China had around 8 percent that year.

For Chinese companies, the development of compelling series and characters could also open up new business opportunities that companies like Disney have exploited, like branded theme parks, games, movies, TV shows, lunch boxes and clothes.

“To make it work there have to be good stories, good production, and content that can resonate with consumers,” said Xu Zhiwei, animation and comic copyright senior manager at Tencent in Beijing.

Tencent is already seeing some success that could help the firm maintain rapid growth and a high valuation.

The gaming-to-social media company bought up “Fox Spirit Matchmaker”, which depicts romances between humans and demons, when it was a little-known comic, created by an artist called Xiao Xin.

The comic has been developed into an animation series that’s been viewed more than 3 billion times, Tencent told Reuters, making it one of the hottest hits on its video platform, which has over 60 million paying subscribers.

Tushan Susu, the animation’s main character, has been featured in a commercial for the fast food chain KFC (YUM.N) (YUMC.N). Tencent is now looking to create a television series and a video game using Fox Spirit characters.


China’s tech giants play an outsized role in Chinese entertainment. Tencent, the search company Baidu, and Alibaba, the e-commerce giant, control most of the top online platforms from movies to sport, and are dominant in social media and online gaming.

These firms are looking to latch on to a surging sub-culture being driven by a young generation with a taste for animation, called “dongman” in Chinese. This group is keen for more local-style heroes, according to industry executives.

They are also wealthier than their parents were, and have money to spend.

“Youngsters, especially the post-2000s, are very willing to spend money,” Geng Danhao, senior vice president at Baidu’s online streaming platform, iQiyi, said at an event in Beijing.

Zhang Tuo, a 21-year-old college student in Sichuan, said he had spent more than 7,000 yuan on comic-related merchandise, from plastic figurines to t-shirts. His favorites are local comics like Spiritpact and Monster List. Tao Jie, 20 a student in the southwestern city of Chengdu, said Chinese cartoons had improved in terms of story lines and animation technique. The use of local tales was also an attraction, he said.

“A lot of the Chinese comic and animation are developed from online novels that I have already read. I like them because I’m already a fan of the stories,” said Tao.

That shift has been helped by supportive government policies to ensure that peak-time television slots are kept for domestic animation.

The big tech firms are starting to spend, though not yet at the level of Disney, which bought Pixar Animation Studios for $7.6 billion, as well as Marvel Entertainment, and the Star Wars producer Lucasfilm Ltd for around $4 billion each.

Tencent has invested in more than a dozen comic and animation companies since last year, according to public records, while its film arm launched a “100 animations” project to support domestic productions.

Baidu’s iQiyi (IQ.O), is also splashing out on domestic comics, planning to spend 200 million yuan to sign Chinese artists and develop local characters, which comes on top of an earlier investment in 10 animation projects, the company said in May.

Alibaba and the news aggregator Toutiao have snapped up production companies and launched animation platforms on their own sites. NetEase signed a deal last year with Disney to create Marvel style superheroes, but with Chinese characteristics.

Luo Qiandan, marketing director of NetEase Comics, said the firm was using big data from its platform to analyze what comic consumers wanted and would feed this back to artists.

It was also adopting other elements such as Chinese brush painting techniques and religious themes.

“Everybody is trying to use Chinese elements and Chinese style,” she said.

Reporting by Pei Li in BEIJING, Adam Jourdan in SHANGHAI and Anita Li in HANGZHOU; Editing by Philip McClellan

Apple Admits to Sticky MacBook Pro Keyboards, Will Fix Them for Free

MacBook and MacBook Pro laptop owners with flaky keyboards can get them fixed for free and receive refunds for out-of-warranty repairs they have already made, Apple said today. The company has extended the warranty for keyboards for nine affected models released starting in 2015 to four years from the usual one year.

In a statement provided to Fortune, an Apple spokesperson said, “Today we launched a keyboard service program for our customers that covers a small percentage of keyboards in certain MacBook and MacBook Pro models which may exhibit one or more of the following behaviors: letters or characters that repeat unexpectedly or don’t appear when pressed or keys that feel ‘sticky’ or aren’t responding in a consistent manner.”

The laptop models affected rely on a new key switch design Apple introduced in 2015 with a complete revision of its MacBook laptop and brought to the MacBook Pro in an overhaul in 2016. The so-called “butterfly” keys allowed for a much lower-profile keyboard with reduced travel distance when pressed. Many users disliked the feel compared to standard “scissor” switch laptop keys. Beyond finger feel, the shorter travel distance also increased the likelihood that trapped grit—even small particles of dust—could lodge in place, preventing a key or keys from working.

The cost of out of warranty repair can be as high as $700, as keys can often not be repaired singly. Replacing the keyboard as a whole requires swapping out the entire top side of the main laptop body.

Apple currently faces three lawsuits over the keyboard flaw. Its offer to pay for repairs to the keyboard already performed may affect these suits, but no settlements were announced today.

It has been impossible to date to know how rare the problem is, as Apple doesn’t disclose rates of repair. In October 2017, technology journalist Casey Johnston wrote about her pervasive problem with a MacBook Pro’s keyboard, and said Apple repair technicians (known as Geniuses) repeatedly chalked it up to dust. Johnston spoke to an anonymous source at a company that provides MacBook Pros to its users, who said the problem was extensive but below 5% of laptops.

Apple posted special cleaning instructions for laptops with butterfly key switches in 2017, but no other information. Jason Snell, editor of Six Colors and former editor-in-chief of Macworld magazine, wrote in April 2018, “Apple’s relative silence on this issue for existing customers is deafening.” Snell called for a recall if the problem was pervasive as it seemed.

In April 2018, Johnston wrote a follow-up story that even after a replacement of her first keyboard, problems arose again, and she sold the laptop back Apple. She recommended against purchase of any butterfly-key models. (This reporter owns a 2015 MacBook with the butterfly design, which had its keyboard replaced in 2017 under a three-year paid warranty extension due to the key faces wearing off across all its most-used keys.)

Apple said affected customers can receive service at no charge via a retail Apple Store, through Apple’s mail-in repair program, or through an Apple-authorized service provider. If a laptop has other damage that has to be fixed before the keyboard can be replaced, Apple said in its service program page that a charge may apply.

Amazon Employees Want Jeff Bezos to Stop Selling Rekognition to Law Enforcement, According to Report

Amazon employees are asking CEO Jeff Bezos to stop selling Rekognition facial recognition technology to law enforcement, and to kick the data mining company Palantir from Amazon Web Services, according from a report from Gizmodo.

In the letter circulating the company, which was obtained by Gizmodo, employees wrote that they are “troubled by the recent report from the ACLU exposing our company’s practice of selling AWS Rekognition, a powerful facial recognition technology, to police departments and government agencies.”

Rekognition was released in 2016, and according to an Amazon blog post from that year, Rekognition can scan and recognize images including people, pets, scenes and objects.

“You can use Rekognition in several different authentication and security contexts,” the blog post explains. “You can compare a face on a webcam to a badge photo before allowing an employee to enter a secure zone. You can perform visual surveillance, inspecting photos for objects or people of interest or concern.”

In a May letter to Bezos, the American Civil Liberties Union along with more than three-dozen other organizations demanded that Amazon stop selling Rekognition services to law enforcement agencies. The ACLU also released documents and a report criticizing Amazon’s marketing to law enforcement, and Rekognition’s use at a police department in Orlando, Florida and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon.

The letter from Amazon employees to Bezos also cites President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy at the U.S. border as a cause for consternation.

“In the face of this immoral U.S. policy, and the U.S.’s increasingly inhumane treatment of refugees and immigrants beyond this specific policy, we are deeply concerned that Amazon is implicated, providing infrastructure and services that enable ICE and DHS,” the letter reportedly states.

Amazon employees also called for the company to not provide services to companies — like Palantir — that partner with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Fortune contacted Palantir for comment.

Employees are not alone in voicing their unease. Earlier this week, 19 Amazon shareholders wrote a letter (which was posted publicly by the ACLU) to Bezos about Rekognition. It reads in part:

“In addition to our concerns for U.S. consumers who may be put in harm’s way with law enforcement’s use of Rekognition, we are also concerned sales may be expanded to foreign governments, including authoritarian regimes. Without protective policies in place, it seems inevitable the application of these technologies will result in Amazon’s Rekognition being used to identify and detain democracy advocates.”

When reached for a comment, Amazon pointed Fortune to a blog post written by Dr. Matt Wood, general manager of artificial intelligence at AWS, following the release of the ACLU report:

“Each organization choosing to employ technology must act responsibly or risk legal penalties and public condemnation.” Wood wrote. “AWS takes its responsibilities seriously. But we believe it is the wrong approach to impose a ban on promising new technologies because they might be used by bad actors for nefarious purposes in the future. “

The Amazon employees’ letter is the latest in a trend of employees at large tech companies sharing ethical concerns about the use of products. Employees at both Google and Microsoft have recently objected to contracts with the Department of Defense and ICE, respectively. Google said it would not renew its contract with the DoD. Microsoft discussed its contract with ICE in an email to employees.