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SpaceX prototype explodes during a test in Texas

SpaceX prototype explodes during a test in Texas

A SpaceX Starship SN4 prototype launch vehicle exploded in Boca Chica, Texas, after a Raptor engine caught fire during a static test this afternoon. SpaceX is working to find out what caused the engine to catch fire. No one was hurt.

SpaceX has been hoping to replace its current Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rocket models with the new Starship—still in an early development phase. The company had received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration for short test flights earlier this week. These tests will no longer be possible as the vehicle was destroyed in the explosion.

This is not the first time a Starship vehicle failed during a test—a couple of them went down during pressure tests. SpaceX is working on other prototypes close by and will likely resume testing quickly.

These efforts are unrelated to the company’s Commercial Crew program, which includes a mission bound for the International Space Station. That mission, the first by a private company to carry astronauts into space, should still launch Saturday or Sunday, depending on the weather.

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Transit plan to send New Yorkers back to work: ‘Improvise’

Transit plan to send New Yorkers back to work: ‘Improvise’
[Photo: Naeblys/iStock]

As New York City aims to ease restrictions and open some nonessential businesses on June 8, the city’s mayor and the state’s governor have a plan . . . sort of.

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After the “New York on Pause” order went into effect on March 22, almost 900,000 people in New York City alone were furloughed or laid off. As New Yorkers sheltered in place, ridership on the city’s subways and buses declined by 90%. The city also saw a surge in COVID-19 cases, with over 200,000 infected and more than 20,000 deaths.

But today, New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the city would start reopening in early June. It is the last part of New York State to begin this process. The decision comes after only 5% of the city’s residents tested positive for the virus, the lowest daily number recorded yet.

According to The New York Times, this measure will let nonessential stores including furniture, clothing, and wholesale stores open for curbside pickup and allow for construction and manufacturing deemed nonessential to start up again. The businesses that reopen will have to follow social distancing protocol and limit occupancy to 50%. They will also have to give employees proper protective equipment. Employees will be required to wear face covering, and there will be mandatory health and temperature checks.

One point of confusion—how people will get around. On Thursday, Mayor Bill De Blasio suggested that up to 400,000 might return to work during phase 1 of the reopening, according to CNBC. The MTA has increased subway frequency to accommodate more riders and is starting to phase in more service restoration.

“For the next few months, people are going to make their own choices. Some are going to come on mass transit and some are not,” De Blasio said, acknowledging that some people may not be comfortable taking public transit and that there may be more car congestion as a result. This despite the fact that only 45% of households in the city own cars.

According to Gothamist, transit experts have warned that increased car usage could lead to increased pollution and density—two factors that have increased the risk of getting COVID-19 for low-income New Yorkers.

As for making public transit safe for New Yorkers to return to work at full capacity, a few ideas have been mentioned, including a reservation system. But there appears to be no full plan. To get ideas for just what it will take to get New Yorkers comfortable with riding the subways and buses again, the MTA is asking riders to take a survey. Those who do will be entered in a drawing for—what else?—a 30-day unlimited Metrocard.

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Surprise marketing discovery! Most successful brands don’t actually keep customers happy

Surprise marketing discovery! Most successful brands don’t actually keep customers happy
[Photo: Taco Fleur/Pexels]

The world’s stickiest brands take consumers not on a delightful, smooth experience, but on an emotionally volatile roller coaster. This is the finding of a new study in the Journal of Marketing from a triad of researchers in England, Portugal, and the United States.

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Researchers set out to determine what makes brands “sticky,” and it turns out that emotional ups and downs make customers stick. Examples:

  • Crossfit members go through pain and exhilaration, failure, and success.
  • Tinder addicts find love and then suckage, over and over, on an endless hunt.
  • Pokémon Go users play for hours on end, winning and losing, frustrated and thrilled.
  • Netflix watchers laugh and cry through compelling, sometimes-enraging shows.

The common through line? Addicted consumers on an emotional journey of ups and downs. “It’s not at all about creating consistently good customer experiences, but about creating intentionally chaotic, maddening, and unpredictable ones,” says coauthor Andrew Lindridge, a professor of marketing at Newcastle University London. “It’s also not about making services convenient, easy, or satisfying, but instead about making them challenging, suspenseful, and thrilling.” Do it well, and customers can’t pull away.

This may sound very familiar if you’ve ever been in a turbulent romantic relationship, hooked by the so-good-then-so-bad-then-so-good loop.

This is quite different than the dominant model of brand building, which dictates creating a smooth, seamless experience that makes customers’ lives easier. Not surprisingly, the researchers emphasize that the upheaval model works best for recreational and entertainment companies, not services—no one wants an emotionally volatile experience at the dry cleaner’s.

The researchers also found a few commonalities in sticky brands’ customer journeys:

  1. Immediate, no-strings entry. Customers can initially start without long questionnaires or subscriptions.
  2. Endless variation. Unpredictable experience options that never end.
  3. New generations. The customer journey begins anew with new events, high-level competitions, new programs, etc.

There you have it: the secret to building a successful brand. Good luck.

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How to help Minneapolis: 6 things you can do right now for the George Floyd movement

How to help Minneapolis: 6 things you can do right now for the George Floyd movement
[Photo: Abdulhamid Hosbas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images]

The brutal death of George Floyd, who was pinned to the ground by a Minneapolis police officer, has spurred outrage and mass demonstrations in Minneapolis and beyond. Here are six ways to support the cause and help local Minnesotans right now.

  • Minnesota Freedom Fund. This fund pays bail for protesters, as well as those imprisoned for immigration and criminal offenses. The group sees pretrial bail requirements to be unjust, wealth-based discrimination. Donate here.
  • The Legal Rights Center. Provides criminal defense and legal services for low-income people of color in and around Minneapolis, including arrested protesters. Donate here.
  • Northstar Health Collective. Medics for protesters. The group of nurses, doctors, and healthcare providers was originally founded to maintain community safety during the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul. Donate here.
  • Black Visions Collective. “A political home for black people across Minnesota,” this Minnesota nonprofit is dedicated to safe, autonomous black communities. Donate here.
  • Official George Floyd Memorial Fund. A GoFundMe campaign organized by Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, for Floyd’s children’s care and education, as well as family counseling, lodging and travel for court proceedings, and burial expenses. It has raised $1.7 million, with average donations of $22. Donate here.
  • Communities United Against Police Brutality: This is an established local organization that was created “to deal with police brutality on an ongoing basis.” More info here.
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Paycheck Protection Program rules could get easier under House bill: Here’s what it would do

Paycheck Protection Program rules could get easier under House bill: Here’s what it would do
[Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images]

With companies and employees still suffering across the country as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday passed a new bill meant to address one of the biggest complaints about the federal loan program for small businesses—how they can spend the money. Under the bill, which passed the House almost unanimously and will head to the Senate next week, some restrictions for the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, would be relaxed. Here’s a breakdown of what would change:

  • Spending requirements: Only 60% of the loan funds would need to be spent on payroll, compared to the current 75%.
  • Loan forgiveness period: This would be extended to 24 weeks, up from eight weeks.
  • Deadline to rehire workers: This would be pushed back to a yet-to-be-determined date. It’s currently June 30.
  • Other perks: Forgiveness recipients would now be allowed to defer payroll taxes.

Restrictions on the PPP loans have been a significant point of contention for many small business owners, particularly those with physical storefronts who felt it made no sense to maintain payroll if their businesses weren’t allowed to operate during the pandemic. To make matters more complicated, guidance from the Small Business Administration kept changing, leaving some business owners worried that they could be accused of fraud if they spend the money the wrong way.

The new bill could make things a bit easier, although many headaches will surely remain. The legislation heads to the Senate next week, where members of both parties have indicated that they want to move swiftly to make the PPP less restrictive.

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Here’s how to see if you’re eligible for a free Google Nest Mini

Here’s how to see if you’re eligible for a free Google Nest Mini
[Photo: Ben Kolde/Unsplash]

When you think of a smart speaker, you probably think “Amazon Echo.” However, a close competitor of the Echo is Google’s Nest Mini—and now Google is giving the diminutive smart speaker away for free if you’re a YouTube Premium or Google Play Music subscriber. Here’s what you have to do to get yours:

  1. Make sure you’re logged into your Google account (the one you use for YouTube Premium or Google Play Music) in your web browser.
  2. Then simply go to this website and you’ll instantly find out if a free Nest Mini is yours.
  3. If it is, use the promo code provided there to grab your Nest Mini.

In order to qualify for the free Nest Mini, you’ll need to have met the following conditions:

  • You must have been an active paid member of YouTube Premium, YouTube Music Premium, or Google Play Music as of May 19, 2020, and currently be a paid member as well.
  • Additionally, that paid membership has to be as one of the following: an individual plan, a student plan, or a family plan where you are the head of household.
  • You must also redeem the free Nest Mini offer by 11:59 p.m. PDT on June 30, 2020.

But don’t wait long to redeem this offer. Google says that it’s “available on a first come, first served basis,” meaning the Nest Minis could run out well before the offer expires on June 30.

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Google releases free AR tool to help you social distance in the COVID-19 age

Google releases free AR tool to help you social distance in the COVID-19 age
[Photo: rawpixel]

If there’s one phrase we’ve heard more than any other this year it’s probably “social distance.” The phrase refers to the primary method people can adopt in order to stop the spread of COVID-19. Most governments around the world recommend social distancing 6 feet (2 meters) from the next closest person to stop the spread.

However, humans are generally bad at judging distances, which is why Google’s new tool might be of some help. The tool, called “Sodar” (get it? Social distancing radar), allows a user to project an augmented reality circle around them with a 6-foot radius. Looking through their phone’s display when the tool is running will allow the person to see if anyone else is within their 6-foot social distancing space.

While the tool is pretty cool, it’s probably not that practical to constantly look through your phone’s display if you’re walking down the street. However, it could be helpful when people are stationary, such as when sitting at a table in a restaurant or when relaxing at the park.

For now, the tool is only available for Android phones and requires the Chrome browser to operate. To use the tool, simply go to sodar.withgoogle.com and get your social distancing on.

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Twitter hides Trump’s latest tweet about George Floyd because it ‘glorifies violence’

Twitter hides Trump’s latest tweet about George Floyd because it ‘glorifies violence’
[Photo: Tia Dufour/The White House/Flickr]

In a move that is sure to escalate Trump’s ire at Twitter, the social media company has hidden one of the president’s tweets from view for the first time ever. The move comes just a day after Trump signed an executive order aimed at putting pressure on social media companies, which seeks to limit a law that protects platforms from being sued over the content their users post.

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As for the latest salvo in the Trump-Twitter feud, Twitter hid the second of two tweets that the president posted about the riots occurring in Minneapolis in relation to the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers.

In the first tweet, which Twitter did not hide, Trump wrote, “I can’t stand back & watch this happen to a great American City, Minneapolis. A total lack of leadership. Either the very weak Radical Left Mayor, Jacob Frey, get his act together and bring the City under control, or I will send in the National Guard & get the job done right…..”

But Twitter took action on his follow-up tweet in which the president continued, “….These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!”

That tweet triggered a Twitter policy that bans posts glorifying violence. However, Twitter did not delete the tweet, instead choosing to hide it from automatic viewing. Users could still see that Trump tweeted something and see a note from Twitter saying, “This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible” complete with “View” button and a “Learn more” link.

When a user clicks the “View” button, they’ll see Trump’s original tweet, however commenting and liking the tweet are disabled.

The reason Twitter has chosen to hide Trump’s tweet is likely due to the phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” This violates Twitter’s policy that states, “You may not threaten violence against an individual or a group of people. We also prohibit the glorification of violence.”

Normally any tweet that glorifies violence would be deleted from the platform in its entirety. However, Trump’s tweet was instead only hidden because there is an exception to this policy that says, “In very rare instances, we may decide that content is worthy of a public-interest exception if there is a more attenuated connection to actual violence, or if Twitter is the only source of the information.”

In other words, being the president of the United States, Trump’s tweets are viewed by Twitter as content that “is worthy of a public-interest exception.” Of course, the fact that Twitter has even hidden one of his tweets just days after it labeled another of Trump’s tweets as containing false information isn’t likely to sit well with the president. Then again, Trump can always just use Facebook if he doesn’t like Twitter’s policies.

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President Trump signs executive order targeting social media after Twitter feud

President Trump signs executive order targeting social media after Twitter feud
[Photo: D. Myles Cullen/The White House/Flickr]

President Trump signed a retaliatory executive order on Thursday after vowing to take “big action” against Twitter.

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The order marks the latest development in the president’s feud with social media platforms and his unsubstantiated claims that services such as Twitter are biased against conservatives.

The order seeks to limit Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a foundational 1996 law that shields online platforms from being held liable for most content posted by users. Section 230 enables tech companies to set their own content moderation policies, and both Republicans and Democrats have criticized various aspects and outcomes of the law.

If you feel a surge of déjà vu, that’s because Trump has riled up his supporters and allies with similar claims in the past. In May 2019, the White House said it would solicit feedback from people who felt they’d been censored in some way by social media moderation policies. That summer, the administration circulated a proposal to regulate social media platforms—the Protecting Americans from Online Censorship order. Along similar lines, The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Trump could form a panel to review social media censorship allegations.

The latest round of anti-bias talk was sparked by Twitter’s decision to stick a warning below the president’s false tweets about mail-in voting. Trump responded with threats—to “strongly regulate, or close them down”—and then Mark Zuckerberg weighed in on the matter, rather unhelpfully, by repeating a vague company line about how “Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth” on Fox News.

Earlier today, free speech advocates and civil rights groups, including the ACLU, issued fierce criticism of the order and questioned whether it will hold up to legal scrutiny.

“The president also has no authority to rewrite a congressional statute with an executive order imposing a flawed interpretation of Section 230,” said ACLU senior legislative counsel Kate Ruane in a statement. “Section 230 incentivizes platforms to host all sorts of content without fear of being held liable for it. It enables speech, not censorship.”

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Does your stimulus debit card have a totally made-up name? You’re not alone

Does your stimulus debit card have a totally made-up name? You’re not alone
[Photo: eipcard]

Yesterday evening, my husband and I checked the mail. We had received a mysteriously blank envelope from an address in Omaha, Nebraska. Even more strangely, it was addressed to him but used my last name instead of his.

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The letter turned out to contain an IRS stimulus debit card, issued by Money Network Cardholder Services. But the company didn’t just get my husband’s name wrong on the letter—it also put the incorrect name on the Visa debit card itself, along with “K Schwab,” an abbreviated version of my name.

Two months after the CARES Act was signed into law, millions of Americans have yet to receive stimulus payments. The process has been held up by a raft of issues, including poor communication, entirely avoidable loopholes, and unnecessary delays. Now, instead of receiving paper checks or direct deposits, about 4 million people will get prepaid debit cards, the Treasury Department announced earlier this month. But even this part of the stimulus rollout has its own problem: made-up names.

My husband isn’t alone. On Twitter, several people have reported that the card issuer replaced their last name with their spouse’s—identifying them with a name that is not theirs.

In addition, the unmarked envelope has caused problems across the country. People don’t recognize the name “Money Network Cardholder Services” or “MetaBank,” the Treasury’s financial agent that issued the card. As a result, some unsuspecting citizens threw out or cut up their card because they thought it was spam, since, as one Twitter user pointed out, it looks “EXACTLY like a pre-approved credit card junk mail.”

When reached for comment, a spokesperson for the Treasury Department said that individuals can get a free replacement card, that the standard fee of $7.50 will be waived for the first reissuance of any stimulus debit card, and any initial reissuance fees will be reversed.

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Space junk is a problem. Economists say we can fix it with a $235,000 tax on each satellite

Space junk is a problem. Economists say we can fix it with a $235,000 tax on each satellite
[Photo: NASA/Unsplash]

Throwing money at problems works in space, too! A paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says that the space debris problem can be fixed once and for all, not by the engineers and scientists who consider space their domain, but with cold, hard cash: about $235,000 per satellite. Such a plan would create financial barriers for smaller organizations.

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The space trash problem is essentially an extension of our earthly pollution and garbage habits, which the researchers call “the latest tragedy of the commons.” The low orbits around Earth are filling up with 20,000 objects such as old satellites and debris.

A computer-generated image representing space debris as could be seen from high Earth orbit. The two main debris fields are the ring of objects in geosynchronous Earth orbit and the cloud of objects in low Earth orbit. [Image: courtesy of NASA]
Space junk looks sparkly and pretty until your $100 million satellite crashes into it and dies. Up until now, proposed solutions have included newfangled catch-and-remove initiatives (with nets! harpoons! lasers!) as well as regulations requiring that satellites deorbit at the end of their lives.

“None of these approaches address the underlying incentive problem,” write the researchers. For example, removing space debris might incentivize operators to launch more satellites, causing further crowding.

The economists are quite certain that ciz-ash is the answer and hope that a tax would force satellite operators to both weigh and pay the collective costs of another satellite in orbit, while increasing safety and quadrupling the value of the satellite industry in 20 years due to few collisions and no need for expensive replacement launches. They propose a tax on orbiting satellites (not launches), paired with deorbiting requirements.

The tax amount would likely vary depending on the orbit. All countries would need to participate, similar to current carbon tax and fishery models.

Whatever the solution, now is the time to launch, they say. “In other sectors, [cleanup] has often been a game of catch-up with substantial social costs,” says coauthor Matthew Burgess, an economist and fellow at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. “But the relatively young space industry can avoid these costs before they escalate.”

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This is how Harvard handled online graduation: pretaped, with built-in hugging

This is how Harvard handled online graduation: pretaped, with built-in hugging
[Photo: Rick Friedman/Corbis via Getty Images]

On Thursday, Harvard University awarded over 8,000 degrees in a sleek, online ceremony—and no, it was not a Zoom bonanza of awkward transitions by career academics.

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Harvard left nothing to chance in front of thousands of parents paying hefty school loans for children now living at home. The pretaped, well-edited hour began with a healthy-looking Lawrence Bacow, Harvard’s president, who recently recovered from COVID-19, opening the festivities by warmly expounding upon the benefits of graduating at home.

“There are actually some upsides to this kind of celebration. Everyone you love, and everyone who loves you, can actually attend.”

See? Everything is fine. No crack-of-dawn arrivals at Harvard Yard for good seats necessary. No panicked search for parking in Harvard Square. And best of all, “loved ones can hug you just as your degree is conferred.”

Bacow then encouraged students to honor the loved ones who “sacrificed.” “Turn to them, say thank you, and go ahead, give them a big hug and kiss. They deserve it.” He waited. Sanctioned hugging is typically not on the Harvard program.

The ceremony’s production values were smile, outside, in sunny weather. Dozens of deans and dignitaries appeared for just a sentence or two, including a montage of notable Harvard graduates, from Senator Chuck Schumer of New York to Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker, reading the same encouraging words: “You can be brave. You can make a difference. You can be an inspiration. You can save lives.”

Three taped speeches followed, two by students (“We might grab the moral arch of the universe itself. May we bend it in the right direction”), and one by Martin Baron, executive editor of The Washington Post, whose earnest speech on commitment to facts and truth spanned a third of the ceremony and was the only divergence from the everything is okay tone.

Degrees were conferred quickly. Deans of each school, wearing graduation caps with varying degrees of puffiness, appeared one after another, speaking one sentence each, to present the degree candidates from their various schools. Some stood in front of their schools, while others showcased their back fences. Bacow then formally conferred degrees and again encouraged newly minted Harvard graduates to lean over and hug their loved ones. He waited.

The homiest touch came from Yo-Yo Ma, class of 1976, who played Bach in front of a bookcase, with a figurine over his shoulder that said The Buck Stops Here. 

The ceremony ended right on time, with dozens of ear-piece-wearing choir members singing from their bedrooms, closing with the chiming bell of Harvard’s Memorial Church. One hopes that Harvard’s 2025 reunions include make-up festivities, with all the crack-of-dawn scrambling and panicked parking that sun-dappled Harvard Square has to offer.

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Facebook’s Zuckerberg backs Trump over Dorsey in Twitter fact-check feud

Facebook’s Zuckerberg backs Trump over Dorsey in Twitter fact-check feud
[Photo: Flickr user Anthony Quintano]

Yesterday President Trump unloaded a string of attacks on social media companies in response to Twitter issuing its first-ever fact-check on one of his tweets. That tweet by the president claimed, “There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent. Mail boxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged & even illegally printed out & fraudulently signed.”

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Besides lashing out at Twitter, Trump threatened to close down social media companies, or to regulate them, due to what he alleges to be conservative bias on the platforms. But any real salvo by Trump may be limited to an executive order, which the president is expected to announce today. As for what teeth that executive order has, well, that remains to be seen.

However, since Trump’s Twitter fact-check feud began, Twitter’s stock has plummeted more than 6% from yesterday morning (as of pre-market trading today at the time of this writing). Perhaps it’s little surprise then that the CEO of the president’s distant-second-favorite social media platform, Facebook, has rushed to state that he is siding with Trump in this feud.

As The New York Post reports, Mark Zuckerberg gave an interview last night to Fox News, which will air today, in which Zuckerberg said social media companies shouldn’t be the “arbiters of truth.” As Zuckerberg told Fox News:

We have a different policy, I think, than Twitter on this . . . I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online. In general, private companies probably shouldn’t be, especially these platform companies, shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.

Shortly after news of Zuckerberg’s comments broke, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey shot back, tweeting that Twitter’s labeling Trump’s tweets as false “does not make us an ‘arbiter of truth.’ Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves. More transparency from us is critical so folks can clearly see the why behind our actions.”

But social media taking sides aside, could Trump really issue an executive order that would be an existential threat to Twitter? As Karen North, a professor of social media at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication, told USAToday: “Presidents can do anything. But there are checks and balances, and whatever he signs is likely to be challenged by Congress and the courts.”

But one possibility is instead of trying to force his will via an edict, the president could start pushing for changes to the Communications Decency Act. That act is the reason why platforms can’t be sued for content their users post. If Trump wants to cause headaches for social media platforms, a push to change those protections social media companies currently enjoy could go a long way.

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How to customize your Gmail in real time with Google’s quick settings menu

How to customize your Gmail in real time with Google’s quick settings menu
[Photo: Jay Wennington/Unsplash]

Google is shaking up Gmail’s clumsy customization options on the web with a new “quick settings menu” that’s rolling out now to free users and some business accounts.

The unburied settings aren’t new, but you’d be forgiven for missing many of them as Google has gradually packed various layout tweaks—such as tabs and display density—into the service. Going forward, Gmail users can click the gear icon near the top-right corner of the page to reveal the new panel, with options to set your inbox’s density, theme, and type (for example, “unread first” or starred first”), as well as threading and split-reading pane options. The panel shows you the changes you’re making in real time, so it should be easier to do it all in one go if you’re setting up a new account or trying to get the look and feel just right.

[Animation: courtesy of Google]
Google says it started rolling the feature out yesterday to business (G Suite) users on Google’s rapid release track. If you have a personal account or a business account that’s been fast-tracked for new features, you should see this one by June 10. Otherwise, you’ll get it by July 7. If you have a business account and admin privileges, you can set how quickly you want to see new features via the admin console.

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Mon Dieu! COVID-19! Cirque du Soleil gets $200 million from Quebec

Mon Dieu! COVID-19! Cirque du Soleil gets $200 million from Quebec
[Photo: Owen Carey/Cirque du Soleil]

The government of Quebec wants to join the circus—or at least help it out.

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It’s giving Cirque du Soleil $200 million to help it survive after getting battered, like other live entertainment companies, by COVID-19’s sheltering-in-place edicts.

The province’s economy minister, Pierre Fitzgibbon, made the announcement at a press conference in Quebec City yesterday.

Among the tenets of the deal are the option for Quebec to buy the circus from shareholders TPG Capital, China-based Fosun, and Canadian pension fund manager Caisse de dépôt et placement. Cirque executives’ salaries must be “very reasonable,” and the head office along with senior managers’ residences will be in Quebec.

Fitzgibbon called this “the revival of the circus” and pointed out that Cirque had “very good profitability” before the pandemic. He said the 36-year-old Montreal-based company was “an important element in Quebec’s creativity.”

Right before the pandemic began, Cirque du Soleil had 44 shows around the world, including its first in China. As countries began shutting down due to the disease, the business began to increasingly suffer.

“We welcome yesterday’s announcement which is part of the company’s recapitalization process,” spokeswoman Caroline Couillard said in an e-mail. “The strong interest shown by the consortium formed by Investissement Québec and our current shareholders is further evidence of the strength of our brand and the importance of preserving the Québec heritage of Cirque du Soleil.”

In an interview with Fast Company in April, CEO Daniel Lamarre described the brand as a “Canadian ambassador” that promotes Canada all over the world, and he expressed hope for some sort of government assistance.

Cirque du Soleil—arguably best known for its popular, extravagant shows in Las Vegas, which are responsible for roughly 35% of its revenues—made an estimated $950 million last year. Its performers, ranging from acrobats and jugglers to aerialists and contortionists, have been to 1,450 cities in 90 countries. The company employs close to 4,700 people.

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As we wait for a second stimulus check, the case for ongoing payments grows more convincing

As we wait for a second stimulus check, the case for ongoing payments grows more convincing
[Photo: 金 运/Unsplash]

How are people spending their stimulus checks? An ongoing study from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University finds that one factor predicts how people spend their stimulus checks: their bank account balance. Those with under $500 in their bank accounts spend nearly half of their stimulus check within 10 days, while those with more than $3,000 in their bank accounts do nothing. (Well, one assumes they smile, at least briefly?)

How the current stimulus checks are being spent:

  • On necessities such as food, household items, bills, and rent. This is a big shift from prior recessions, when stimulus spending often went to big durable purchases, particularly cars.
  • On restaurant takeout and delivery orders, indicating splurges.

Notably, people who had recently lost their jobs did not spend it any faster, meaning that unemployment payments are likely covering necessities.

What the stimulus plan stimulates:

The researchers say that if the goal is to stimulate the economy—i.e, to send out money and have people spend it in the economy—then stimulus programs should target people with low bank account balances, who will spend it quickly. The findings also indicate that ongoing payments, such as unemployment insurance or universal income, may have more of the desired stimulus effect.

Meanwhile, a second stimulus payment from the IRS could come eventually, but it won’t happen anytime in the immediate future. The latest proposal, the HEROES Act, passed in the House but stalled in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated a strong likelihood of a second package.

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Layoffs loom this week for more than 6,700 Boeing employees

Layoffs loom this week for more than 6,700 Boeing employees
[Photo: Andrés Dallimonti/Unsplash]

Caught between two fatal plane crashes involving its marquee passenger jet and a coronavirus pandemic that has brought the global travel industry to its knees, embattled aerospace manufacturer Boeing announced a substantial round of layoffs today.

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In a memo to employees, CEO Dave Calhoun said the company has completed its “voluntary” staff cuts and would now begin laying people off involuntarily. Some 6,770 affected U.S. workers will be notified this week, Calhoun says, in what is expected to be the first of multiple rounds of staff reductions.

Significant cuts were widely expected after the company reported a quarterly net loss of $641 million in April, even worse than some analysts had anticipated.

“The COVID-19 pandemic’s devastating impact on the airline industry means a deep cut in the number of commercial jets and services our customers will need over the next few years, which in turn means fewer jobs on our lines and in our offices,” Calhoun wrote. “We have done our very best to project the needs of our commercial airline customers over the next several years as they begin their path to recovery.”

“I wish there were some other way,” he added.

Even before the pandemic, Boeing had been coming off one of its worst years in recent history, with its 737 Max planes grounded around the world after more than 300 people were killed in two separate crashes, both involving faulty software.

Calhoun replaced outgoing CEO Dennis Muilenburg at the beginning of this year, just weeks before the ripple effects of the coronavirus pandemic and its associated air-travel restrictions began to impact nearly every aspect of the industry.

You can read Calhoun’s full memo here.

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4 ways to protect food workers and the food supply during the pandemic

4 ways to protect food workers and the food supply during the pandemic
[Photo: Stefano Guidi/Getty Images]

Experts say it’s time we expressed gratitude to and concern for the safety of food workers, helping keep our world intact during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To do that, Johns Hopkins University researchers today released a suggested protocol that will protect not only these employees but also the food supply chain itself.

The four-part recommended plan is:

  • Shield them from potential infection using methods such as imposing six-foot spaces between workers, staggering shifts, and outfitting them with personal protective gear.
  • Test them regularly by prioritizing food and agriculture workers.
  • Trace the path of the illness by reporting cases to state and local health departments.
  • Treat workers who contract COVID-19 as needed, be it access to healthcare, quarantine pay, or similar.

The Johns Hopkins experts cite Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics showing that as of this month, close to 5,000 meat and poultry processing plant workers in 19 states have contracted COVID-19 and 20 have died.

“Even before the pandemic, meatpacking workers often experienced hazardous conditions and high rates of injury and illness. What we’re seeing now is that the pandemic is compounding health risks faced by an already vulnerable population,” said researcher Keeve Nachman. “Our goal with this brief was to describe how workplace conditions in the food system could contribute to the spread of the coronavirus, and provide a framework decision-makers can use to provide the best possible protections to workers.”

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HBO Max vs. HBO Now: What happens if you use an unsupported device like Amazon Fire TV?

HBO Max vs. HBO Now: What happens if you use an unsupported device like Amazon Fire TV?
[Photo: rawpixel]

Streaming TV, once heralded as a high-tech liberator that would save us from the headaches of big cable bundles, just got another big cable-like bundle yesterday with the launch of HBO Max.

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WarnerMedia’s long-awaited rival to heavy hitters like Netflix and Disney Plus includes a broad mix of movies and TV shows from the Warner and HBO libraries, along with exclusive offerings you can find only on Max. It costs $14.99 a month and you can cancel it at any time.

Of course, HBO already has a streaming service that costs $14.99 a month. That one is called HBO Now. (To make matters more confusing, there’s also HBO Go, which is offered through pay-TV providers.) And while many current subscribers of HBO Now assumed they would be able to automatically watch HBO Max on their TVs when it launched, that’s not true for everyone. Why? Because HBO Max is not currently supported by some of the major TV streaming platforms—notably Amazon, Roku, and Comcast.

According to some reports, WarnerMedia is still trying to hammer out deals with those companies. We reached out to WarnerMedia for an estimated timeline and will update this post if we hear back. In the meantime, the company’s customer service Twitter account has simply been telling users that it’s working to bring Max to “as many devices and customers as possible,” but Roku and Amazon Fire TV users are understandably disappointed.

So what happens if you’re an HBO Now subscriber who uses an unsupported device? The good news is you can still keep watching HBO Now. In an email to subscribers, the company directed users to a link to the following explanation:

“Yes, you can watch HBO NOW on your computer at HBONOW.com and on devices that are not supported by HBO Max. If a device supports HBO Max, the HBO Max app will be available in the app store (and the HBO NOW app won’t be available).”

In other words, if you’re a Now subscriber and you have a device that supports Max, you can immediately download Max to your TV and start enjoying it. If you don’t have a supported device, you can still watch Max on your computer or smartphone, or you can break down and buy a supported device. Here’s a full list of supported devices:

  • Android phones and tablets
  • Android TV (including most Sony Android TVs, 2016 models and later)
  • Apple TV (4th generation and later)
  • Web (at HBOMax.com)
  • Google Chromecast
  • Chromebooks
  • iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch
  • PlayStation 4
  • Samsung TV (2016 models and later)
  • Xbox One

Still confused? It’s okay—we are a little bit, too. HBO has an extensive list of FAQs to hopefully answer all of your burning questions about this brave new world. Check it out here.

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Trump threatens to ‘strongly regulate’ or close down social media companies altogether

Trump threatens to ‘strongly regulate’ or close down social media companies altogether
[Photo: Andrea Hanks/The White House/Flickr]

President Trump is on the warpath this morning. His latest target? Twitter, and all other social media companies. In an early-morning tweet, Trump decried social media platforms, saying Republicans feel they “totally silence conservatives voices.” He went on to announce that, “We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen.”

The alarming statement comes a day after Twitter fact-checked one of President Trump’s tweets for the first time. In the tweet, Trump claimed, “There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent. Mail boxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged & even illegally printed out & fraudulently signed.”

The false claims led to the tweet being labeled by Twitter as factually inaccurate, complete with a link directing users where they could get factual information about mail-in voting. You can see Trump’s fact-checked tweet in the screenshot below (the fact-checked labeling will not show up in embeds. The original tweet with the label can be viewed here).

[Screenshot: Twitter]
As for Trump’s retaliatory threats today, it’s true that any government can step in to regulate any industry it wants, including the social media industry, provided the government has the votes and public support to pass such regulations. However, with America’s strong constitutional protections, Trump’s threat of closing down social media companies is something radically outside the realm of possibility. Still, at the time of this writing Twitter’s stock is down over 1.5% in pre-market trading.

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