The cryptocurrency company that lost $135m

The cryptocurrency company that lost $135m

When the 30-year-old founder of a Canadian cryptocurrency exchange died suddenly, he took the whereabouts of some C$180m ($135m; £105m) in cryptocurrency to his grave. Now, tens of thousands of Quadriga CX users are wondering if they will ever see their funds again.

In 2014, one of the world’s biggest online cryptocurrency exchanges – MtGox – unexpectedly shut down after losing 850,000 Bitcoins valued at the time at nearly $0.4bn (£0.3bn).

Its meltdown shook investors in the volatile emerging marketplace – but the calamity at the Tokyo-based company proved a boon for a new Canadian online cryptocurrency exchange.

“People like the fact we’re located in Canada and know where their money is going,” Quadriga CX founder Gerald Cotten said at the time.

Some five years later, Cotten’s sudden, untimely death has left thousands of his customers scrambling for information about their own missing funds.

“We don’t know whether or not we’re going to get our money back,” Tong Zou, who says he is owed C$560,000 – his life savings – told the BBC.

“There’s just a lot of uncertainty.”

This month, Quadriga – which had grown to become Canada’s largest cryptocurrency exchange – was granted temporary bankruptcy protection in a Canadian court.

The firm said it had spent the weeks since Cotten’s death trying desperately to “locate and secure our very significant cryptocurrency reserves”.

In court documents, Quadriga says it owes up to 115,000 users an estimated C$250m – about C$70m in hard currency and between C$180m an C$190m in cryptocurrency, based on recent market rates.

It believes – though it’s not certain – that the bulk of those millions in reserves was locked away by Cotten in cold storage, which is an offline safeguard against hacking and theft.

For now, all trading has been suspended on the platform.

Bernie Doyle, CEO of Refine Labs and head of the Toronto chapter of the Government Blockchain Association, calls what’s happening at Quadriga a “seismic event” in the industry.

The world of digital currency has little regulatory oversight and a history of volatile prices, hacking threats, and minimal consumer protection.

Mr Doyle says this only adds to the nascent sector’s already “checkered history”.

But he says “it’s really unfortunate that the ecosystem takes a hit” amid one firm’s problems.

What happened at Quadriga?

Court documents filed in late January offer some insight into the company.

Quadriga had no offices, no employees and no bank accounts. It was essentially a one-man band run entirely by Cotten wherever he – and his laptop – happened to be, which was usually his home in Fall River, Nova Scotia.

It used some third-party contractors to handle some of the additional work, including payment processing.

His widow, Jennifer Robertson, says she was not involved in the company until her husband died suddenly on 9 December in India from complications related to Crohn’s disease.

In an affidavit, she says she has searched the couple’s home and other properties for business records related to Quadriga, to no avail. The laptop on which he conducted all the business is encrypted and she doesn’t have the password or recovery key.

An investigator hired to assist in recovering any records had little success.

It was also recently revealed the company somehow inadvertently transferred Bitcoins valued at almost half-a-million dollars into cold storage in early February and now can’t access them.

But Quadriga’s troubles didn’t start with missing coins. The company’s liquidity problems began months earlier.

In January 2018, Canadian bank CIBC froze five accounts containing about C$26m linked to Quadriga’s payment processor in a dispute over the real owners of the funds, an issue that ended up in court.

The company says it also has millions in bank drafts it has been unable to deposit because banks have been unwilling to accept them.

Ms Robertson’s affidavit to the court included photos showing stacks of bank drafts placed on a kitchen stove.

Those banking disputes contributed to a “severe liquidity crunch” at the company, with frustrated users facing delays and difficulties trying to access funds.

Who was Gerald Cotten?

In photos and interviews, Cotten comes across as a clean-cut business school graduate who tended to favour the casual shirts and jeans uniform of a tech entrepreneur.

In a statement, Quadriga called him a “visionary leader” who was in India for the opening an orphanage for children in need when he died.

His friend Alex Salkeld described Cotten as a helpful, easy-going young man keen to contribute to the community of cryptocurrency enthusiasts.

“I don’t think you’ll find anyone willing to say anything bad about him,” he told the BBC.

Mr Salkeld said once a week Vancouver Bitcoin Co-Op members would all head over to the Quadriga’s then-offices “and just talk Bitcoin”.

Like others at the time, he said Cotten saw Bitcoin as a technology with the potential to change the world – a virtual currency free of governments and the banking system.

Mr Salkeld said that since Cotten died, those who knew him have been going back-and-forth over how he could possibly have failed to have a contingency plan in place.

But amid rampant talk online about possible fraud related to the missing coins, Mr Salkeld said that, to him, “it’s looking like a tragic series of unfortunate events strung together in a really unlucky way”.

Cotten’s last will and testament also gives some hints as to his life and assets.

The document, signed shortly before his ill-fated trip to India, shows he appointed Ms Robertson as executor of the estate and left her the bulk of his property.

It offers some detail into those assets: a Lexus, an airplane – he was an amateur pilot – a sailboat, and real estate in the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia and British Columbia.

He even planned for the care of his two chihuahuas, Nitro and Gully.

The case against Quadriga

There are many who are suspicious of Quadriga’s story and who doubt claims that Cotten had the only key to reserves valued in the tens of millions of dollars.

Online sleuths and industry experts have analysed the public transaction history of Quadriga wallets – which are used to store, send, and receive cryptocurrency – and have raised the possibility that the cold storage reserves might not exist at all.

That has led to concern there is more at play than poor business practices and internal company chaos in the wake of Cotten’s death.

Others have wondered whether Cotten faked his own death and that this is all part of an “exit scam” to abscond with the funds.

Amid those rumours, Ms Robertson’s affidavit included a copy of statement of death from a funeral home in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The hospital in Jaipur where Cotten was treated also released a statement detailing the medical interventions he received prior to his death.

His widow says she has received death threats and “slanderous comments” online since Quadriga publicly announced its troubles.

An independent third party monitor has also been appointed to oversee the court proceedings, and is currently in possession of Cotten’s laptop and other devices.

What happens next?

In an online message to its users, Quadriga said it filed for creditor protection to give it time to ensure the future viability of the company.

It also admitted it is in “the early stages of a long process and [does] not have all the answers right now”.

According to court filings, Quadriga is also investigating whether some of the cryptocurrency could be secured on other exchanges and it said it’s considering selling the platform to cover its debts.

A number of affected users, including Tong Zou, have retained lawyers and are seeking representation in the proceedings.

Meanwhile, Canada’s main securities regulator, the Ontario Securities Commission, has confirmed it looking into Quadriga “given the potential harm to Ontario investors”.

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How ‘Alita: Battle Angel’ triumphed over the uncanny valley

How ‘Alita: Battle Angel’ triumphed over the uncanny valley

When the first trailer for the live action Alita: Battle Angel dropped in late December 2017, the internet was abuzz about the eponymous character’s large CG eyes. Heck, even we called them “creepy” and “weird.” Now that the film’s finally here and I’ve had a chance to check out this long-awaited comic adaptation, I can safely say our fears were overblown. In fact, Alita might be one of the most realistic humans I’ve ever seen on-screen — huge manga eyes and all.

Alita: Battle Angel

You might be familiar with the concept of the uncanny valley, but a brief refresher: The more realistic a human simulation like an android or CG character becomes, the more we notice the small differences. Eventually we become repulsed. Sometimes we can’t even articulate what’s bothering us; we just know something feels off, and it makes us uneasy. An often-cited example is the dead eyes of Tom Hanks’ various characters in Polar Express.

For the most part, filmmakers are aware of this problem and try to avoid it, making their characters more cartoony or not human at all: Think Caesar from the most recent Planet of the Apes films or the cast of pretty much any Pixar movie. And Alita might initially seem to be another nonhuman character, given that she’s a cyborg with a completely machine body: The only part of her that’s fully biological, from the start of the film, is her brain. But the movie reminds us constantly that underneath those mechanical parts, she’s still an emotionally fragile human girl.

ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL

Her cyborg nature is very much central to the plot. Alita, broken and amnesiac, is found abandoned in a scrapyard by a kind cybernetics doctor who replaces her lost mechanical body and adopts her as a daughter figure. She’s a stand-in for the child he lost years before, so he’s naturally inclined to protect her. But it’s tough in a post-apocalyptic city where citizens are often forced to replace their biology with mechanical bits just to survive. And even then, they risk having those ripped away by bandits. Alita is instinctively drawn to the violence of this world, for reasons she doesn’t consciously understand at first. It’s a story we’ve definitely seen before, but the fun of watching it this time around is the sheer complexity of this lived-in world. (And, of course, the fights are pretty cool.)

The original Battle Angel Alita comic, created by Yukito Kishiro in the early ’90s, was never going to translate well to live action. It’s set in a rundown slum called Iron City, populated with cyborgs who aren’t always recognizably human. Some are simply replacing lost limbs, others may graft on parts for manual labor and a few may even transform themselves into rolling murder tanks in the hopes of winning the city’s favorite deadly sport, Motorball. There’s a giant city looming overhead called Zalem, held aloft by a space elevator. It’s all visually fantastic and previously could only be depicted with any accuracy through anime: An original video animation was released in 1993 that adapts the first two volumes of the series, but it was never continued any further.

ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL

The live-action version has been in the works for nearly two decades — with original director James Cameron continuously putting it off as he was busy with other projects. Eventually it was passed off to Robert Rodriguez, whose distinct style matches the hyperviolent scenes of the original story. The long delay in making the film helped a lot: The team at Weta applied everything it learned from films like the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, Planet of the Apes and, of course, Avatar. However, after Cameron’s blockbuster made a huge splash, effects seemed to stagnate: Studios cut costs and underinvested in VFX houses, leading to substandard work. But you won’t find any shoddy work here. In fact, there are advances both big and small.

The film gets you to invest in Alita as a real, living human being by imbuing her with a level of detail never before seen in a CG character. Her eyes may be enlarged and her mouth reduced in order to match the iconic look of the manga, but it’s something you quickly forget after the first minute. The whole thing was motion captured from Rose Salazar’s performance, where Weta was able to pick up the smallest facial expressions: Salazar has a distinct little nose twitch that her computerized doppelgänger also emulates. That’s partly how this film manages to avoid the uncanny valley: It has the little quirks we expect to see when interacting with another person. We want to see the little things that make someone different from everyone else.

This level of detail also extends to how Alita moves, which changes based on which body she’s wearing. She starts out the movie in a delicate, ceramic-like form, and her movements are that of a clockwork doll. When Alita upgrades to the more powerful “berserker” chassis later in the film, her movements become smoother and more organic. This reflects not only her newfound confidence but also the high level of technology she now commands. VFX supervisor Eric Saindon told me that these were decisions made by the effects team and not necessarily part of Rose’s original motion-captured performance. But you’d never guess it wasn’t a deliberate acting choice because of how natural it all seems.

There’s also a lot more physical contact here between the cyborgs and biological characters like Christoph Waltz’s Ido or Keean Johnson’s Hugo. It’s way more frequent and intimate than what we’ve seen in movies like Avatar where the blue-skinned Na’vi and the humans rarely interacted. Now we see CG characters touch, caress and hold living actors: The love story between Alita and Hugo would have felt even more stiff if they didn’t at least hold hands. (Unfortunately, not much could be done for Johnson’s acting or the limpness of their dialogue together.)

ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL

Alita’s enlarged eyes are also a technological feat in themselves. Because Robert Rodriguez likes to put the camera directly into his actors’ faces, the team at Weta had to make sure her eyes looked absolutely convincing. To do that they added an obscene amount of depth and detail to her eyes: about 8.5 million polygons in each one. That’s way more than the 1.5 million that make up entire character models in Avatar. If you’re thinking that those animation files must be huge, you’re not wrong: The entire movie uses 3.5 petabytes of storage.

The history of cinema is littered with movies that are nigh-unwatchable because the special effects are so bad. The Matrix Reloaded, The Mummy Returns, Tron: Legacy — even if I could get past the awful writing, there’s still that whole uncanny valley problem to deal with when it comes to Agent Smith’s fighting or a giant hybrid Scorpion King monster. These fail because they couldn’t faithfully replace human beings, creating cartoony monstrosities instead. However, Alita: Battle Angel takes cartoony monstrosities and makes them human and real — real enough that I can see myself watching this in 10 or 20 years without cringing.

Images: Twentieth Century Fox

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NVIDIA suffers as crypto crashes and trade wars bite

NVIDIA suffers as crypto crashes and trade wars bite


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NVIDIA wasn’t joking when it warned that its performance for the quarter ending in January 27th, 2019 will fall short of expectations. The chipmaker’s earnings report for the period shows that it posted a $2.2 billion revenue, which sounds impressive until you realize that it’s down 24 percent from the year before. That figure is also down 31 percent from the previous quarter, which saw NVIDIA posting $3.18 billion in revenue. In addition, the company made $294 million in operating income, down a whopping 73 percent year-on-year and down 72 percent from the previous quarter. Meanwhile, its operating expenses went up by 25 percent from the same period a year before.

When the company issued its warning, it blamed “deterorating macroeconomic conditions,” especially in China, for its poor sales. It also explained that a lot of potential customers opted to wait for price drops or for new games that make better use of its newest graphics cards’ features. NVIDIA chief Jensen Huang echoes those sentiments, calling the company’s Q4 earnings a “turbulent close to what had been a great year.” He explained that the “combination of post-crypto excess channel inventory and recent deteriorating end-market conditions drove a disappointing quarter.”

Even though its quarterly earnings were a disappointment, NVIDIA still earned $11.72 billion in revenue for the full year — up 21 percent from the year before and a new record high for the chipmaker. Its operating income also went up by 19 percent, from $3.21 billion to $3.8 billion. NVIDIA clearly didn’t do too badly, and Huang believes the company can bounce back with the launch of its cheapest RTX GPU yet and its RTX GPUs for laptops.

“Despite this setback,” he said in a statement, “NVIDIA’s fundamental position and the markets we serve are strong. The accelerated computing platform we pioneered is central to some of world’s most important and fastest growing industries — from artificial intelligence to autonomous vehicles to robotics. We fully expect to return to sustained growth.”

That said, NVIDIA said it expects its revenue for fiscal year 2020 to be flat or down slightly from its $11.72 billion record-high, since it has to grapple with the same conditions that brought about its Q4 slump.

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JPM Coin is not a cryptocurrency, says crypto advocacy group

JPM Coin is not a cryptocurrency, says crypto advocacy group

On Thursday, the crypto community notched a win when JPMorgan Chase & Co. announced it had launched its own cryptocurrency, the JPM Coin.

But had it, really? According to Jerry Brito, executive director at Coin Center, a nonprofit research and advocacy center focused on cryptocurrency and decentralized technology, the U.S. banking behemoth did not actually launch a cryptocurrency but more an in-house-built payments system.

“There’s a lot of confusion,” Brito told MarketWatch. “I see folks referring to it as a cryptocurrency. It’s not a cryptocurrency. A cryptocurrency is one that is open and permissionless, if you want to download it, you don’t need permission; you just need some software.”

And the JPM Coin is anything but permissionless or available for download.

It will run on a private blockchain developed by the company with help from the Ethereum Enterprise Alliance, and coins will be issued by the bank, as opposed to cryptocurrencies that run on public blockchains such as ethereum, a common place where crypto-related ventures can issue their own coin through what is known as an initial coin offering (ICO).

Read: What is an ICO?

Brito added that it’s through no fault of JPMorgan’s

JPM, -0.33%

that confusion has arisen. “I think they do a good job of explaining it on their website,” he said. “They say it’s not public, unlike cryptocurrencies, [and] they say it’s not permissioned.”

Furthermore, as industry pundits have concluded, it’s not a stablecoin:

“In case of some stablecoins (e.g., USDC) only exchange customers can mint (buy with US$) or redeem (sell for US$) stablecoins but anyone can own or trade them,” JPMorgan states by way of explaining the difference between stablecoins and the JPM Coin.

And as for those criticizing JPMorgan’s CEO for an apparent U-turn: Think again.

“There aren’t any inconsistencies between what [CEO] Jamie Dimon has said publicly about bitcoin and JPMorgan’s foray into distributed-ledger technologies and applications, because JPM Coin isn’t a true cryptocurrency,” said Kevin McMahon, executive director of emerging technologies at SPR, a digital tech consultancy.

“It’s not intended to replace or even compete with cryptos like bitcoin. This is an application of distributed-ledger technologies (DLT) to improve specific business cases that JPMorgan and their institutional clients have.”

Read: Dimon’s many bitcoin moments of regret, in one chart

The attention being paid to JPM Coin didn’t move the needle in the cryptocurrency market, with the price of bitcoin

BTCUSD, -0.05%

 , the world’s largest digital currency, holding steady just below $3,600 a coin.

Read: Jamie Dimon: ‘I don’t really give a shit about bitcoin’

Providing critical information for the U.S. trading day. Subscribe to MarketWatch’s free Need to Know newsletter. Sign up here.

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Wirecutter’s best deals: Save $150 on the Apple MacBook Air (2018)

Wirecutter’s best deals: Save $150 on the Apple MacBook Air (2018)

This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. Read Wirecutter’s continuously updated list of deals here.

Aukey Latitude EP-B40 Bluetooth Earbuds

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Street price: $27; deal price: $18 with code WCITQDNR

The Aukey Latitude EP-B40 earbuds are back down to $18 in black with code WCITQDNR, matching the lowest price we’ve seen in recent months. Recommended for casual gym use (or if you’re especially hard on earbuds and like to have a few backup pairs around the house), these comfortable yet inexpensive earbuds feature an 8-hour battery life. This is a solid recurring deal on an already budget-friendly option.

The Aukey Latitude EP-B40 earbuds are the budget pick in our guide to the best wireless workout headphones. Lauren Dragan wrote, “Comfortable for most people, durable, and backed with a two-year warranty, the Aukey Latitude EP-B40 bests everything else in its price range. These earbuds stay in place, they’re easy to use, and they sound decent, whereas other tested wireless workout headphones under $50 were uncomfortable, poorly built, or marred by piercing high-frequency ranges that made turning the volume up past 40 percent literally painful.”

Hamilton Beach 12-Cup Coffee Maker (46205)

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Street price: $40; deal price: $29

Down to $29, this is an excellent price and a rare drop under $30 for this already affordable coffee maker. While we saw sub-$30 pricing for it a couple times in 2017, such drops were much rarer for this model in 2018 with street prices often settling in the $40s. If you’re looking to get a decent cup of coffee but you’re on a budget, it’s a nice option.

The Hamilton Beach 12-Cup is the top pick in our guide to the best cheap coffee maker. Thais Wilson-Soler wrote, “A great cheap coffee maker should be easy to use and it should make decent coffee, and the Hamilton Beach 12-Cup Coffee Maker (46205) excels on both fronts. None of the testers in the Wirecutter test kitchen had issues figuring out how to brew a pot or how to program it to brew in the morning using the six-button interface. A removable water reservoir combined with a rotating base made it the easiest to fill as well. Flavorwise, it was bested only by our high-end coffee maker pick, the OXO On 9-Cup, which we brought in as a control (although the OXO beat it by a wide margin according to our tasting panel of expert roasters). To be clear, if you’re freshly grinding specialty coffee beans every morning, the Hamilton Beach isn’t for you. (You’ll get much more out of your expensive coffee if you use a pour-over setup or a high-end coffee maker.) But it’s perfect for people who just want a decent pot of joe in the morning with minimal fuss.”

AmazonBasics 8-Sheet Cross-Cut Shredder

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Street price: $35; deal price: $30

It’s tax season, which makes it especially nice to see this recommended shredder fall to $30 from $35. Last week, we posted a slightly better deal at $28 but if you missed that price this is still a very viable discount. While we don’t recommend this model for people that do high-volume shredding, if you’re a casual user this is a good chance to save.

The AmazonBasics 8-Sheet Cross-Cut Shredder is the top pick in our guide to the best paper shredder. Séamus Bellamy and Makula Dunbar wrote, “If you occasionally use a shredder to safely dispose of bills, tax papers, checkbooks, credit cards, data discs, or other sensitive personal materials, we found that the AmazonBasics 8-Sheet Cross-Cut is your best bet. Most people don’t shred huge amounts of paper on a regular basis; they simply need something that can effectively and securely discard their personal information a few times per month. This AmazonBasics model works with minimal headaches. It’s impossible to jam if you use it as advised, you can push it to take 10 sheets of paper if you really want to, and it usually costs around $35. Given how seldom a shredder sees action, we think most people shouldn’t pay any more than the minimum amount for a reliable, competent device.”

MacBook Air (2018) 8GB RAM 256GB SSD

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Street price: $1400; deal price: $1250

The Apple MacBook Air (2018) with 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD is down to $1,250 in all three colors. In our guide, we praise this laptop for its well-rounded feature set, making it a good general purpose device for Apple users. We’ve seen better prices on the 128GB SSD version and better values on a version that offered 16GB of RAM, but if these specs offer the right mix of performance and storage for you, it’s a solid price. Also available from B&H.

The MacBook Air is our pick for the best all-around option in our guide to the best MacBooks. Andrew Cunningham wrote, “The best Mac laptop for most people is the 2018 MacBook Air. It’s fast enough for the things that most people use a computer for—browsing, working on documents, and light photo editing—and it has an excellent high-resolution screen, a great trackpad, enough battery life to last most people through an eight-hour workday, and a (relatively) reasonable price. The Air’s main shortcomings are almost all shared by other modern Apple laptops: the low-travel keyboard, a small number of homogenous ports (in this case, two Thunderbolt 3 ports) that may require the use of USB-C hubs or new cables, and a high price relative to Windows laptops with similar performance and features. But the Air’s light weight, solid construction, and industry-leading support still make it a good laptop, especially if you also own an iPhone or other Apple devices.”

Because great deals don’t just happen on Thursday, sign up for our daily deals email and we’ll send you the best deals we find every weekday. Also, deals change all the time, and some of these may have expired. To see an updated list of current deals, please go here.

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David Fincher’s disturbed ‘Love, Death and Robots’ premieres March 15th

David Fincher’s disturbed ‘Love, Death and Robots’ premieres March 15th

When Netflix said that David Fincher and Tim Miller’s Love, Death and Robots was an animated series for mature audiences, it wasn’t kidding around. The streaming giant has posted the trailer for the 18-story anthology, and you definitely won’t be watching this with younger viewers. The title is not only apt, but can sometimes describe one scene — there are multiple displays of robot sexuality, for starters.

The series premieres March 15th. The trailer doesn’t show enough to indicate whether these will be thought-provoking tales or simply a bit risqué, but it’s certainly enough to raise eyebrows (and ears, given the thumping industrial soundtrack). And even if you don’t care for it, look at it this way: it might open the door for more adult-oriented animation on Netflix.

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The ‘Breaking Bad’ movie could debut on Netflix before it hits AMC

The ‘Breaking Bad’ movie could debut on Netflix before it hits AMC


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It’s not clear when the long-awaited Breaking Bad movie will arrive, but you might be able to watch it on Netflix before it hits AMC. Variety reports the service could get first dibs in what would be a role reversal from the series, which initially aired on AMC before it arrived on Netflix.

The latter played a key role in Breaking Bad‘s popularity, as ratings exploded for the show’s final run of episodes after viewers caught up on Netflix. “I think Netflix kept us on the air,” creator Vince Gilligan said after the show won the outstanding drama series Emmy in 2013. “Not only are we standing up here [with the Emmy], I don’t think our show would have even lasted beyond Season 2.”

The show later became available in 4K on Netflix. Meanwhile, spin-off series Better Call Saul, which is centered on crooked lawyer Saul Goodman, is a Netflix exclusive in some territories.

Gilligan is writing and directing the film, which is supposedly about everyone’s favorite meth cook, Jesse Pinkman. The movie could even be in the can already. Filming started on a project called Greenbriar, which is reportedly a code name, in Breaking Bad‘s Albuquerque home base in November. Production was scheduled to end early this month.

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Earth’s magnetic shield booms like a drum when hit by impulses

Earth’s magnetic shield booms like a drum when hit by impulses

The Earth’s magnetic shield booms like a drum when it is hit by strong impulses, according to new research from Queen Mary University of London.

As an impulse strikes the outer boundary of the shield, known as the magnetopause, ripples travel along its surface which then get reflected back when they approach the magnetic poles.

The interference of the original and reflected waves leads to a standing wave pattern, in which specific points appear to be standing still while others vibrate back and forth. A drum resonates like this when struck in exactly the same way.

This study, published in Nature Communications, describes the first time this effect has been observed after it was theoretically proposed 45 years ago.

Movements of the magnetopause are important in controlling the flow of energy within our space environment with wide-ranging effects on space weather, which is how phenomena from space can potentially damage technology like power grids, GPS and even passenger airlines.

The discovery that the boundary moves in this way sheds light on potential global consequences that previously had not been considered.

Dr Martin Archer, space physicist at Queen Mary University of London, and lead author of the paper, said: “There had been speculation that these drum-like vibrations might not occur at all, given the lack of evidence over the 45 years since they were proposed. Another possibility was that they are just very hard to definitively detect.

“Earth’s magnetic shield is continuously buffeted with turbulence so we thought that clear evidence for the proposed booming vibrations might require a single sharp hit from an impulse. You would also need lots of satellites in just the right places during this event so that other known sounds or resonances could be ruled out. The event in the paper ticked all those quite strict boxes and at last we’ve shown the boundary’s natural response.”

The researchers used observations from five NASA THEMIS satellites when they were ideally located as a strong isolated plasma jet slammed into the magnetopause. The probes were able to detect the boundary’s oscillations and the resulting sounds within the Earth’s magnetic shield, which agreed with the theory and gave the researchers the ability to rule out all other possible explanations.

Many impulses which can impact our magnetic shield originate from the solar wind, charged particles in the form of plasma that continually blow off the Sun, or are a result of the complicated interaction of the solar wind with Earth’s magnetic field, as was technically the case for this event.

The interplay of Earth’s magnetic field with the solar wind forms a magnetic shield around the planet, bounded by the magnetopause, which protects us from much of the radiation present in space.

Other planets like Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn also have similar magnetic shields and so the same drum-like vibrations may be possible elsewhere.

Further research is needed to understand how often the vibrations occur at Earth and whether they exist at other planets as well. Their consequences also need further study using satellite and ground-based observations.

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Earth’s magnetic shield booms like a drum when hit by impulses

Earth’s magnetic shield booms like a drum when hit by impulses

The Earth’s magnetic shield booms like a drum when it is hit by strong impulses, according to new research from Queen Mary University of London.

As an impulse strikes the outer boundary of the shield, known as the magnetopause, ripples travel along its surface which then get reflected back when they approach the magnetic poles.

The interference of the original and reflected waves leads to a standing wave pattern, in which specific points appear to be standing still while others vibrate back and forth. A drum resonates like this when struck in exactly the same way.

This study, published in Nature Communications, describes the first time this effect has been observed after it was theoretically proposed 45 years ago.

Movements of the magnetopause are important in controlling the flow of energy within our space environment with wide-ranging effects on space weather, which is how phenomena from space can potentially damage technology like power grids, GPS and even passenger airlines.

The discovery that the boundary moves in this way sheds light on potential global consequences that previously had not been considered.

Dr Martin Archer, space physicist at Queen Mary University of London, and lead author of the paper, said: “There had been speculation that these drum-like vibrations might not occur at all, given the lack of evidence over the 45 years since they were proposed. Another possibility was that they are just very hard to definitively detect.

“Earth’s magnetic shield is continuously buffeted with turbulence so we thought that clear evidence for the proposed booming vibrations might require a single sharp hit from an impulse. You would also need lots of satellites in just the right places during this event so that other known sounds or resonances could be ruled out. The event in the paper ticked all those quite strict boxes and at last we’ve shown the boundary’s natural response.”

The researchers used observations from five NASA THEMIS satellites when they were ideally located as a strong isolated plasma jet slammed into the magnetopause. The probes were able to detect the boundary’s oscillations and the resulting sounds within the Earth’s magnetic shield, which agreed with the theory and gave the researchers the ability to rule out all other possible explanations.

Many impulses which can impact our magnetic shield originate from the solar wind, charged particles in the form of plasma that continually blow off the Sun, or are a result of the complicated interaction of the solar wind with Earth’s magnetic field, as was technically the case for this event.

The interplay of Earth’s magnetic field with the solar wind forms a magnetic shield around the planet, bounded by the magnetopause, which protects us from much of the radiation present in space.

Other planets like Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn also have similar magnetic shields and so the same drum-like vibrations may be possible elsewhere.

Further research is needed to understand how often the vibrations occur at Earth and whether they exist at other planets as well. Their consequences also need further study using satellite and ground-based observations.

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Materials provided by Queen Mary University of London. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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Facebook’s 3D photos will work with Insta360’s ‘tiny planet’ images

Facebook’s 3D photos will work with Insta360’s ‘tiny planet’ images


Richard Lai/Engadget

Insta360 rarely disappoints when it comes to adding new app features for its 360 cameras. In the latest update for the One X, users will be able to upload “tiny planet” photos as 3D photos to Facebook, so long as your Facebook app is also up to date. The process is simple: Just pick your desired 360 shot, choose to share via Facebook, and you’ll see the new “3D Planet” option which exports your image as a 3D photo. Then it’s just a matter of creating a new post in the Facebook app, select “3D photo” and then pick your freshly made 3D planet.

Given that this 3D Planet mode is still in beta, there are some caveats. First off, Facebook’s 3D photo option is only available on the dual-camera iPhones (XS Max, XS, XR, X, 8 Plus and 7 Plus), so Android users are out of luck for now. Secondly, the 3D Planet mode is quite picky with the composition of the shots: you’ll want a clear subject in the middle, preferably in front of a not-so-busy background, and a clear sky helps a lot.

I was able to try this new feature in advance, and indeed, the shots I took on a quiet beach worked well in general (save for my friend’s chopped-off arms in one of the photos; he wore a blue vest on a white shirt). But attempts with most of my indoor shots prompted an error message saying outdoor shots are preferred; and those that managed to get past the error didn’t have great results, either. Basically, it’s all fun as long as you’re playing with clean outdoor shots.

Another cool new feature in this update is the loop effect for your short 360 video clips. It’s basically Instagram’s Boomerang mode but with the added flexibility of 360 content. To use this, simply pick any 360 clip in the One X’s app, shorten it to five seconds or less (don’t worry, this part is non-destructive), then when exporting, simply tick the “loop effect” option at the bottom left.

Last but not least, this update finally adds a screenshot feature to the One X app’s video tool (previously this was only available in the photo editor), and it also improves the processing method for long time lapse videos. Feel free to check out Insta360’s blog post for video demos.

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The best audio editing software for beginning podcasters

The best audio editing software for beginning podcasters

By Al Griffin

This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and Engadget may earn affiliate commission. Read the full audio editing software for beginning podcasters guide here.

After 30 hours spent using and comparing audio editing software, we’ve found Audacity to be the best all-around option for beginners looking to create their own podcasts. The open-source Audacity runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux computers, and it’s free, which eliminates one of the biggest stresses of trying out software. Audacity’s user interface is bare-bones compared with that of its competition, including other free options like Apple’s GarageBand, but it provides all the tools, features, and support you need to quickly and easily create great-sounding audio productions. It offers, by far, the best value of all the audio software we tested.

While recording and editing in Audacity during our tests, we quickly realized that a powerful and feature-packed application lay beneath the software’s stripped-down interface. Controls for setting up external equipment such as a USB microphone or audio interface are located in the main window for easy access. The main window also contains panels with everything you need to edit, monitor, and mix audio tracks. In addition, Audacity comes with a sophisticated suite of audio-processing effects to remove the noise, coughs, clicks, and other unwanted sounds that microphones can capture during recording. And although learning how to best apply those effects takes time, Audacity’s thorough online manual, tutorials, and support forums will speed you through the process. It doesn’t support MIDI or musical-instrument plug-ins, so it isn’t the best choice for solo musicians looking to make finished musical tracks, but it is a complete package for anyone who just wants to experiment with recording audio.

Like Audacity, Reaper packs a wide range of audio editing tools and audio processing effects. Reaper’s interface is more sophisticated, though, and its MIDI-editing features make it a better option for anyone who wants to add their own music to their podcasts, or even for solo musicians/producers looking to make finished tracks at home. Reaper’s wealth of features and customization options put it on the same level of functionality as industry-standard digital audio workstations (DAWs) like Cubase and Pro Tools, but at just $60 for an individual or nonprofit license at this writing, Reaper costs about a fifth as much—it’s a tremendous deal. Compared with those programs, Reaper is highly approachable and easy to learn, with an extensive library of online help and video tutorials to get you up and running.

Once you’ve learned the ropes of basic audio editing and you’re ready to step up your game (that is, take your podcast to a larger audience), we recommend Adobe Audition CC, a powerful platform with an exhaustive range of tools to smooth out and sweeten the sound quality of recorded tracks. Its noise-reduction features in particular are top-notch, and its EQ tools go a step beyond those of the other software we evaluated for this guide. Audition is easy to use, with a clean user interface and a wide range of templates and presets, but it also offers a high level of customization. At $20 per month, or $240 per year, it isn’t cheap, but it is the best podcast recording and editing software in that price range. If sound quality is your main concern, Audition is well worth the investment.

Why you should trust us

I have two decades of experience reviewing AV products, and I’m currently a contributing technical editor at Sound & Vision magazine and a regular contributor to the SoundStage network of websites. I’m also a musician (drummer) who has logged countless hours recording rehearsals and demos for various bands I’ve played in. As a longtime dabbler in electronic music production, I have extensive familiarity with the tools of the trade, including recording interfaces, MIDI controllers, and the other gear used in desktop studio environments.

I consulted a number of professional podcast producers for this guide: Jason Howell of TWiT.tv and Tom Merritt of Daily Tech News Show have been in the podcast biz since 2005, when they worked on CNET’s daily tech news show Buzz Out Loud; Stephen Hackett is a co-founder of the Relay FM podcast network, with 10 years of podcasting experience under his belt; and Dan Benjamin is a longtime podcaster and founder of the 5by5 podcast production company.

Who should buy audio editing software

Amateur storytellers wanting to share narratives with the world through the podcast medium have one thing in common: a need for affordable, easy-to-use audio recording, editing, and mixing software. The “affordable” part isn’t an issue, since you have plenty of free (or nearly so) software options to choose from. Ease of use, on the other hand, can be a challenge, since many apps contain an overwhelming number of features and require you to make a significant time investment to achieve even basic proficiency.

If an application doesn’t provide all the features you need, or has an overly basic or idiosyncratic design that won’t prepare you for a possible eventual upgrade to a more professional software platform, you should skip it. If you’re serious about making podcasts or recording songs, it may be a better idea to invest some money and time in software with features tailored for the type of production you’ll be working on.

What type of features are we talking about? It could be controls that let you export the finished podcast in a format appropriate for distribution on sites like Soundcloud. It could be video support if you’re making videos and need audio editing and mixing features beyond what you typically get with video editing software. It could be access to effects plug-ins that give you the ability to tailor your recordings to sound the way you want, such as giving them a warmer, less “clinical” sound, or automatic level controls to make mixing easier. Audio editing software has a wide range of uses, and even the free options can help you create great-sounding productions. The challenge is finding the software package that offers the right level of complexity for your specific needs.

For this review, we’ve focused on software intended for audio recording and mixing: the process of capturing sound from a microphone or other device plugged into an audio interface, and then processing it digitally. Since podcasters are typically looking to record voices and natural environments to support their storytelling, this is the type of software best suited to that process. This is also the workflow you’d use when recording musicians live, and many of the apps we looked at are well-suited to this type of recording, too.

How we picked

We started out by reading professional reviews of audio editing and digital audio workstation (DAW) software. Audio editing software provides basic features for trimming, processing, and mixing audio files. A DAW is a more advanced package that typically includes features such as MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) sequencing to control hardware or virtual instruments; music notation and score editing; and sophisticated audio-effects routing for simultaneous processing of multiple audio tracks.

We also looked at reviews, how-tos, and technical articles from podcasting professionals, pieces that focus on their specific requirements. We took advantage of the Libsyn (a popular podcast-hosting site) blog, which features extensive interviews with the site’s community asking which tools they use to create their podcasts. Finally, we interviewed a handful of podcasting pros with many years of experience about their software preferences and advice for beginners.

Sorting through the data, we determined that several particular features are important to podcast producers and amateur music makers alike:

  • An uncluttered user interface: You should be able to navigate the app easily and intuitively.
  • Support for multiple audio tracks: Music productions typically record individual instruments and vocals to separate audio tracks, which the producers ultimately mix down to a stereo master track. And while this feature isn’t as crucial for podcasts, some producers like to keep each interview subject—whether recorded in the studio, at a remote location, or via phone or Skype—on a separate track. Many podcasts also feature music—in most cases at the production’s beginning and end, but in some cases mixed in throughout.
  • The capability to crossfade edits easily: Ideally, the app lets you use on-screen tools to “draw” fader levels rather than making you click through several layers of menu commands. This feature allows for cutting between separate audio clips with no audible clicks or pops.
  • High-quality EQ and noise-reduction processing: Even a well-recorded track will benefit from equalization to make voices sound more resonant, for example, or to eliminate background hum. Noise reduction can compensate for issues such as noisy recordings made in the field, or conversations recorded over the phone or Skype.
  • Automatic clip leveling and loudness normalization: Podcasts sound more professional if the audio clips have a matched level—meaning different voices have the same loudness—throughout. Some software provides features that automate the adjustment of clip levels during recording, as well as normalize the loudness of the full finished program to a standard level that’s considered perfect for podcasts.
  • Nondestructive editing: One advantage that DAWs have over basic audio editing software is the ability to make nondestructive edits to audio files. This means the original audio file remains intact after you trim its length or add equalization or effects like reverb. The benefit of nondestructive editing is that you can easily go back and undo any changes you’ve made before committing them during the final rendering and mixdown phase. (And the original source files always remain preserved.)
  • Some degree of automation: While many automation features are overkill for amateur podcast production, the ability to easily automate parameters including compression, effects, and EQ level is indispensable for music creation in that it allows you to vary the dynamics of a particular track or group of tracks.

While you can get most, if not all, of the features mentioned above in free software, both the usability and the quality of tools provided for editing and processing tracks are generally better with paid options. More advanced software generally offers templates and presets that are easy to work with, while the free options can require hours of experimentation for you to get the results you want. (Our top pick has some of the same usability drawbacks as other free apps, but those drawbacks are more than offset by the inclusion of tools usually found only in pricier packages.)

Using the above criteria, we narrowed our list from the dozens of software titles we considered to six: Adobe’s Audition CC, Apple’s GarageBand, Audacity, Avid’s Pro Tools First, Cockos’s Reaper, and Steinberg’s Cubase Elements 9. The cost for these packages ranges from free up to $240 (for an annual license), though most are priced under $100, since spending more than that takes you into the territory of professional DAW software.

How we tested

To evaluate the contenders, I downloaded the software—each program offers a full-featured trial version to test out before buying—and installed it on a MacBook Pro running macOS 10.10.5 (Yosemite). We also tested all the programs on a MacBook running macOS 10.12 (Sierra) and a Dell laptop running Windows 10. For recording hardware, I used two Wirecutter picks: a Yeti by Blue USB microphone (specifically, the pro version, which features analog XLR outputs) and a Tascam US-2×2 USB audio interface.

My testing methodology was to first use the software cold—without consulting a manual—in order to determine how intuitive the interface and controls were. After configuring external hardware in the app (aside from minor Windows driver conflicts with the Tascam US-2×2 interface when I used Avid’s Pro Tools First, hardware setup went smoothly with all software), I then recorded vocal introductions and imported captured Skype conversations and music tracks to create my own rough version of a podcast. Next, I read the software’s manual and consulted online tutorials and videos to dig deeper into the available toolset for editing and processing tracks.

On both Mac and Windows, setup for almost all of the software we tested went smoothly. Even Audacity, which claims only “partial support” for macOS 10.12 (Sierra), worked fine during testing. The only serious glitch I encountered was when I launched Avid’s Pro Tools First on Windows 10: An error code kept popping up indicating that the Tascam US-2×2 audio interface wasn’t recognized. Since the US-2×2 is ASIO-compatible (Tascam’s ASIO driver didn’t create conflicts with any other Windows applications), this shouldn’t have been an issue, and ultimately it wasn’t—following the instructions on Avid’s support site, I disabled all playback and recording devices in the Windows Sound panel and then reenabled the US-2×2. Problem solved.

Since effects such as noise reduction, EQ, and loudness normalization are important tools for podcast production, I focused on applying those effects to my recorded tracks. I took into account the ease of use and effectiveness of the processing modes, along with the sophistication of the effect interface and settings. For example, the host-intro tracks that I recorded with the Yeti microphone contained hum generated by the external hard drives on my desk. Also, Skype calls I recorded often had background noise in quiet sections, as well as jarring loudness variations when the caller moved either too close or too far away from their computer’s built-in mic. For each piece of software, I used the available effects to reduce noise during silences and to normalize the levels of the multiple tracks.

The last step was to mix down and export the final production to a format commonly used for podcasts. While some software provides features specifically aimed at podcast production, such as volume leveling and built-in compression options, others required me to download additional software to achieve the same result. For my final assessment, I took into account how easy it was to create my podcast, and also how clean and professional the finished product sounded.

Our pick: Audacity

Audacity is the best audio editing software for amateur podcasters. In addition to satisfying almost all the criteria we set for our ideal audio editing software, Audacity is free, regularly improved and updated by the open-source community, and available for Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems. Compared with other software we evaluated, it has a bare-bones user interface, but the stripped-down UI ultimately makes it easy to navigate once you become familiar with it. A wide range of sophisticated audio processing tools and effects are included, and the program’s features and interface prepare you to use more-advanced audio editing and production software. In other words, Audacity is a great option for beginners, though it does come with a learning curve.

Podcasting software

Some people might find Audacity’s bare-bones interface daunting, but the program is easy to use once you’ve mastered the basics.

After you’ve poked around a bit in the manual to familiarize yourself with the program, Audacity makes it simple to configure hardware, such as a USB microphone or recording interface, attached to your computer. Unlike some other programs, which nest control panels in separate views that you need to select from a menu, Audacity makes all the tools you need to get up and running accessible through the main window. You can easily select the microphone input and audio output, monitor recording levels, and edit tracks—the key things you’ll need when producing podcasts or recording music demos.

Audacity offers an impressive range of sophisticated audio processing tools and effects, including several that podcasters will find indispensable. Silence Finder and Truncate Silence help to highlight and fix gaps between speaking parts in tracks, where background noise levels typically rise. The Noise Reduction feature includes a profile option that lets you teach Audacity to recognize the noise you want to filter out from a specific track. You can apply a limiter to prevent signal levels from exceeding a volume threshold you specify, while the Normalize, Compressor, and Amplify tools help you maintain a balanced level between multiple audio tracks. Audacity provides tools to customize fade-ins and fade-outs, as well as to create crossfades between audio clips and tracks. As with the program’s main interface, the UI for all these effects is bare-bones, but all the controls you need to get the job done are available, and you can preview most effects.

Another advantage of Audacity is its comprehensive manual, which clearly details all aspects of the program and is available for downloading or viewing online. The Audacity Wiki features useful tips and tutorials, and if you still have questions, you’ll likely find answers on the Audacity forum, which has an active community.

Audacity also has many fans in the professional podcast-production world. “I always recommend Audacity because it’s cross-platform and free,” Tom Merritt of Daily Tech News Show told me. “It has some complex features but editing-wise is not difficult to learn.” Jason Howell of TWiT.tv also likes it, though with a few reservations: “Audacity is an excellent audio editor, exports into any audio formats that you’ll need to publish, and also offers a number of basic processing tools to make the sound of the audio even better. Though I will admit that [its] tools can be more difficult to use when compared to those on more advanced DAWs.”

Flaws but not dealbreakers

Unlike Apple’s GarageBand, which most people can pick up and learn without having to consult a manual, Audacity has a learning curve. If you’ve never used audio or video editing software before, the program’s interface, with its stark mass of boxes, buttons, and grids, can be intimidating. However, Audacity’s manual and online support make it easy to get up and running in a few hours, compared with most other DAW software, which can take weeks or months to master. And the editing skills you learn are transferable to other audio software, as opposed to GarageBand’s idiosyncratic take on timeline editing of audio clips.

Audacity is specifically geared toward audio editing—it’s missing features such as MIDI editing and music notation. This limitation makes it a less flexible option for music production, where you may want to work with MIDI-controlled hardware and virtual instruments alongside recording live tracks with microphones. If that’s your main interest, many other software options cater specifically to the home-studio musician, including our alternate pick, below.

Compared with the tools in the other software we evaluated for this guide, Audacity’s editing tools can be a bit cumbersome, and its audio processing features are generally less sophisticated than what you get with the other programs. And unlike the more complete DAWs we tested, Audacity doesn’t offer nondestructive editing, though it does allow for multiple undos to fix mistakes before saving projects. Make sure to back up your source files before you start working!

Also great: Reaper

If you’re seeking a sophisticated digital audio workstation that’s equally geared toward audio editing and music production, and you’re ready to invest some money, Reaper (available for Windows and Mac) is a great choice. It’s serious, it’s full featured, and it rivals much more expensive software. It’s also a great option for individual podcasters and musicians who want to ramp up their skills to a professional-level platform without spending hundreds of dollars until they need to. (If you aren’t sure it’s for you, Reaper’s maker, Cockos, allows you to try Reaper for free for 60 days. On the other hand, should you end up making in excess of $20,000 yearly from your audio work, you’ll need to purchase a $225 commercial license.)

In contrast to the stark user interface of the free Audacity, Reaper’s interface is slick and professional looking, but also more user friendly. The audio editing tools are more intuitive and easier to use compared with Audacity’s. In Reaper, the ability to zoom in on specific sections using a computer’s trackpad control is especially useful, and the software comes with an extensive library of sophisticated audio effects. On this particular count, Reaper rivals more-expensive options like Cubase. The interface for individual effects is similarly sophisticated, offering presets plus the capability to customize and save your own settings.

Podcasting software

Reaper’s clean, well-organized interface lets you easily manage the program’s sophisticated tools for audio and MIDI editing.

Along with audio editing, Reaper lets you record and edit MIDI tracks, and includes virtual instruments for music production—features that aren’t available in Audacity. And while Reaper’s clean, well-organized interface lets you dive in and quickly start working, the app also has an excellent online manual plus an extensive library of video tutorials. Scanning the videos, I was surprised to find that they detail virtually all aspects of the program, from setting recording levels properly to applying individual effects such as a noise gate.

Perhaps the only downside to Reaper compared with our main pick—besides the price—is that its wealth of features and customization options can overwhelm a novice. Also, the software’s music-creation capabilities may create unneeded clutter for someone purely interested in podcast production.

When you’re ready for prime time: Adobe Audition CC

If you’re serious about podcasting, Adobe Audition CC (available for Windows and Mac) is a more advanced—and more expensive—option specifically designed for professional radio and podcast production. The main benefit Audition offers over the other DAWs we tested comes from its sophisticated and effective built-in suite of noise-reduction tools. It also has powerful and highly customizable compression and EQ settings that go beyond what we found in the other apps we tested; those tools make similar features found in free software like Audacity and GarageBand seem comparatively primitive. If you want to go pro and need the quality to back it up, Audition is the ticket.

Despite its wide range of advanced processing features, Audition is simple to use. It has a comprehensive yet visually uncluttered interface, with most functions accessible through the main editing window. When creating new projects, you can use a template that optimizes the arrangement of tracks and effects for podcast production. The Files window provides a convenient library to store audio assets used in a project, and the Essential Sound panel offers windows with relevant effects and controls for dialogue, music, and sound-effects tracks. Tabs at the top of the Audition UI let you easily switch between Multitrack and Waveform views, with the latter providing both a waveform and a spectral display for fine tweaking of audio files. Finally, Audition has a range of track-level normalization presets that reflect broadcast loudness standards, good for projects you want to make sure are radio ready—a feature unique to Audition.

Podcasting software

Audition CC lets you easily switch between a multitrack timeline and a waveform view with spectral display for detailed editing and audio processing.

The downside to Audition is that all those features come at a cost. Like other software from Adobe, Audition is available only on a subscription basis: $20 per month, or $240 per year. (If you’re a student, that same $20 per month gives you access to the full Adobe CC software suite, including photo/video editing and Web-design applications.) Also, the podcasting pros I interviewed noted that you could get similar quality using free or near-free software options, though they acknowledged that you would have to work hard to customize a program like Audacity to get noise-reduction, compression, and general workflow settings that rival what Audition readily delivers through its wide range of presets.

The competition

Some of the podcast pros I interviewed recommended Apple’s GarageBand for beginners, mostly because it’s easy to use and free with Mac computers. However, GarageBand is available for macOS only, and its audio effects lack the sophistication of those in the other software we tested, including Audacity. When using GarageBand, I had a strong sense that Apple had made things too easy. It does make loop-based music composition very simple, but it’s not the most straightforward platform for audio recording and mixing, with overly simple clip-editing tools. The focus on music composition also means you’ll need to customize the interface for basic audio editing: It’s not friendly to podcast production out of the gate, and it has no relevant presets. Unlike with our main pick, many of the skills you learn working with GarageBand won’t carry over if you upgrade to a more advanced DAW, even to Apple’s own Logic.

Going into this test, the two DAWs I had the most experience with were GarageBand and Cubase. That’s why I was surprised to find how complicated Steinberg Cubase Elements 9 was to use compared with the other programs. Part of that has to do with the powerful nature of the program, which is aimed at music producers. Cubase Elements 9 offers an enormous range of features for its price, but it’s not the best option for novices, especially those mainly interested in creating podcasts.

Avid Pro Tools First is another powerful option, and one that I really liked using due to its uncluttered interface and sophisticated tools for editing and processing audio files. It’s also free—a remarkable thing given that more-advanced versions of Pro Tools are considered the industry standard for music and audio production. But by default Pro Tools First limits you to three projects at any one time, and you need to store them in the cloud, on Avid’s servers. Unless you are willing to pay $5 per month for the expanded plan, you can’t save projects to your computer’s hard drive. And if you decide to upgrade to a paid version of Pro Tools, the cost is a steep jump up from either version of Pro Tools First.

This guide may have been updated by Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and Engadget may earn affiliate commissions.

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Dell recalls hybrid laptop power adapters over shock risks

Dell recalls hybrid laptop power adapters over shock risks


Dell

Dell’s Hybrid Power Adapter is a clever way to keep your laptop running when you’re far from a wall outlet, but some models pose a safety risk. The PC maker has issued a recall for versions of the combo power brick and battery bank made between January 2017 and March 2017 after 11 reports of them breaking and exposing their internal components, creating a shock risk. About 8,900 of the adapters are affected in the US, plus another 475 in Canada.

You’ll know if you’re affected if you see the manufacturing code CN-05G53P – LOC00 – XXX – XXXX – AXX (where X is a number) printed on the back. The adapters sold through both Dell’s website as well as Amazon, Microcenter and other internet retailers.

Dell continues to sell later versions of the device and is offering free replacements to people affected by the recall, so you’re not stuck if you like the company’s approach to portable power. This is still a rather unusual recall, though, and it’s a reminder that added complexity can mean added safety risks.

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Tesla allegedly ‘gutted’ Model 3 delivery team with recent job cuts

Tesla allegedly ‘gutted’ Model 3 delivery team with recent job cuts


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When Tesla laid off 7 percent of its full-time staff in January, it might have dealt a serious blow to one division in particular. Reuters sources claim Tesla dismissed 150 of the 230 Las Vegas workers involved in delivering Model 3 units to North America buyers. Reportedly, the cuts are a response to tapering demand — there are “not enough deliveries” to justify having that many people on hand, one tipster said. There are other delivery people in other locations, but this would still represent a significant cut.

The cuts were supposedly prompted by Tesla’s quest to sell as many Model 3s as possible during 2018, which included immediate deliveries and warnings about expiring tax credits. The EV maker was “plucked clean” of North American reservation holders willing to pay existing prices for the Model 3, which still costs over $42,000 before incentives — well above the originally promised $35,000 base price. Tesla has argued that it needs to improve economies of scale to hit that price point and hopes to reach the target in mid-2019, but that could still leave numerous people without a car for months.

Tesla has declined to comment. It might not have too much reason to panic if the rumor proves true, though. The company has managed two profitable quarters in a row on the back of both Model 3 sales and earlier layoffs, and its goal remains to turn a profit every quarter in 2019. It’s unclear how many of its current sales revolve around reservations or the Las Vegas facility, for that matter. The job cuts may be a sign of trouble, but it’s unclear if that trouble would be serious or just a brief blip.

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FDA accuses Juul of undermining efforts to prevent teen vaping

FDA accuses Juul of undermining efforts to prevent teen vaping


AP Photo/Steven Senne

Many people raised eyebrows when Marlboro owner Altria bought a $12.8 billion stake in the vaping giant Juul, and that now includes the US Food and Drug Administration. Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has requested a joint meeting with the CEOs of Juul and Altria over concerns their statements “contradict” commitments they made in October to reduce teen vaping. The official wanted both executives to explain how their deal affects their plans to curb youth vape use, and noted that data suggested trends were headed in the wrong direction.

There was “deeply concerning data” that Juul use represented a “significant proportion” of kids’ e-cigarette use, Gottlieb said. He added that there was “no reason to believe” that trend would slow down or reverse in in the near future.

In a statement to Gizmodo, a Juul spokesperson insisted that the company was “as committed as ever” to preventing teen vaping, and was “moving full steam ahead” on a reduction plan it had unveiled in November. It also anticipated “constructive dialogue” with the FDA.

Juul has already been under tighter scrutiny in recent months, including a request in September to prove that its marketing wasn’t aimed at underage users. It has also tried to head off complaints by halting sales of flavored vape pods not long before the FDA introduced its own restrictions. However, the FDA’s request takes that pressure up a notch. The administration is effectively accusing Juul and Altria of undercutting efforts to stamp out teen vape adoption, and it won’t necessarily accept their claims to the contrary.

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Honor View 20 review: Pretty and (mostly) premium

Honor View 20 review: Pretty and (mostly) premium

“Glamorous” isn’t the first word that springs to mind when thinking of Honor smartphones, but to my surprise, it actually fits the Honor View 20 quite well. And why shouldn’t it? With an eye-catching design, an ambitious camera and one of the world’s first widely available hole-punch displays, the View 20 seems well-equipped to take on rival devices from companies like OnePlus and Xiaomi. The fact that it only costs around $600 is just icing on the cake.

Engadget Score


Poor


Uninspiring


Good


Excellent

Key

Pros
  • Excellent design and build quality
  • Multi-day battery life
  • Mostly great performance
  • Proves hole-punch displays aren’t terrible
  • AI Ultra Clarity photos are impressively detailed
Cons
  • Huawei’s software still needs polish
  • Display has some touch latency
  • Questionable US launch plans
  • No water resistance or wireless charging
  • Regular camera experience

Summary

Despite a price tag far lower than that of high-end flagship phones, Huawei’s Honor View 20 packs a handful of forward-looking features that some people will be able to use right away. There’s that 6.4-inch display that proves that life with hole-punched screens won’t be so bad. And the 48-megapixel dual camera system has lots of potential (especially its super-crisp Ultra Clarity mode), even if it’s only just OK in most situations. There’s no shortage of power here either, thanks to Huawei’s Kirin 980 chipset, and you almost certainly won’t be in trouble if you forget to charge your View 20 once in a while. All told, the View 20 is a tantalizing package for the price, and one that’s well worth looking into if you don’t mind occasionally odd software, minimal water resistance, and don’t live in the US.


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Of course, not everyone will get the chance to use one. Honor, if you’re not familiar, is a brand built and owned by Huawei, the Chinese electronics giant that’s currently facing serious legal pressure from the United States government. Huawei’s plans to bring the Honor View 20 to the US were pretty nebulous even before those lawsuits were filed, and at this point, we’d be surprised if this phone made an official appearance in North America anytime soon. That’s too bad. Smartphone makers of all stripes are busy making premium devices with more reasonable price tags, but few of them pack the allure and technical savvy that the View 20 does.

Hardware & Design

We’re suckers for pretty hardware, and the View 20 definitely fits the bill. It doesn’t take long for the phone’s design to suck you in, either: the first thing you’ll notice is the phone’s gleaming glass back, engineered so that light refracts in a signature V pattern. I’m a fan (especially of the red model Honor didn’t give us), though I can see how it would come off a little gaudy to some. Say what you will about Huawei, but few smartphone makers are as ambitious when it comes to crafting new finishes. That glass back also houses the snappy rear-mounted fingerprint sensor and a whopper of a dual camera.

Honor View 20 review

And of course, we need to talk about this display. The race is on to eliminate the dead space around smartphone screens, and if 2018 was the year of the notch, 2019 is gearing up to be the year of the hole-punch. The cut-out houses a 25-megapixel front-facing camera and, like notches before it, you’ll almost certainly stop noticing it before long. And naturally, it takes up much less space than a “traditional” notch — having a screen that stretches entirely across the phone’s face is worth the mild weirdness of seeing a hole cut out of a corner.

It helps that Huawei has generally done a good job making sure the camera hole never really gets in the way. Icons that pop up in the notification bar are shifted slightly to the right, and in general, the software here is smart enough to keep the hole from obscuring crucial UI elements. If it turns out the hole really isn’t your thing, though, it can be obscured entirely with a black bar.

Gallery: Honor View 20 review | 11 Photos

As novel as this notch-less design is, the 6.4-inch IPS panel that actually surrounds that camera hole leaves us with a little less to get excited about. This LCD runs at 2310 x 1080, and while it’s far from the most outright impressive screen I’ve ever used, it has been pleasant enough in day-to-day use. During my week of testing, I never had trouble reading or framing up photos on the View 20 in broad daylight, and its colors are seriously punchy for an LCD, too. In fact, the point some would argue they’re a little too punchy — thankfully, there are options to tune the color mode and temperature.

So yeah, the View 20 is a striking device to behold. More importantly, the phone is remarkably comfortable to use. Other devices in this price range, like the excellent OnePlus 6T, feature glass backs and slim edges that make the phone more difficult to grip. The View 20’s edges are a little thicker, and for me at least, it makes a noticeable difference in stability. Rounding out the package is a decent single speaker that suffers from the same issue as most phone speakers: it’s decently loud but lacks any depth. But, rejoice! Huawei included a standard headphone jack.

The biggest knock against the View 20’s hardware is its of lack of wireless charging and IP-rated water and dust resistance. I can forgive the former, but as someone who has drowned at least one phone just by running in the rain, Huawei’s promises of splash resistance don’t fill me with much confidence.

In use

The View 20 has much more going for it than just good looks. Tucked inside is one of Huawei’s 980 chipsets, that delivers serious speed /and/ really impressive battery life. Overall performance depends on what version of the View 20 you’re working with, though: our review unit has 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, while the less-expensive base model ships in a 6GB/128GB configuration.

As a result, you shouldn’t be surprised to hear that this version of the View 20 generally runs like a dream. My daily routine has never proved to be much trouble for high-powered devices like this; at any given time, you’ll probably find me firing off messages, playing music in Spotify, triaging my Gmail account and more. If anything, the View 20 got more of a workout once the work ended.

When digging into some truly embarrassing PUBG and Fortnite matches, the Kirin 980 and its Mali G76 GPU kept things running incredibly smoothly, to the point where I didn’t notice a single dropped frame in either game. This doesn’t come as a huge surprise, especially where Fortnite is concerned: when the phone officially launched at a glitzy press event in Paris, Huawei said would be the first Android device to run the game at 60FPS). And when all that run-and-gun humiliation was over, the View 20 nimbly kept up while exploring the lush worlds of Another Eden. These graphical loads didn’t stymie the phone one bit, and not once did I even consider firing up the View 20’s “performance” mode. This feature allows the Kirin 980 to run full-throttle with little respect for battery life and device temperature, but the option hardly feels necessary here.


Chris Velazco/Engadget

That’s not to say everything is perfect here. Like other Huawei phones though, there’s a tiny delay between the moment you swipe the screen and when the interface actually reacts. I’m not exactly sure whether this latency is due to Huawei’s software or if it’s a problem with the touchscreen. In general, the minute lag isn’t annoying enough to distract from whatever task is at hand, but it stands in stark contrast to devices like the Pixel 3 and the OnePlus 6T, where that kind of input lag barely exists at all.

Overall, the Kirin 980 chipset offers mostly excellent performance, and it’s enough to give any Snapdragon 845 device a run for their money. Because of the way the chipset’s eight cores were designed, they also squeeze a lot of battery life from the View 20’s 4,000mAh cell. After a full day of frequent use, the View 20 would routinely have 40 to 50 percent left in its battery when it was time for bed. If you only use your phone sporadically, you could easily get away with charging the View 20 every other day — maybe even every three days, if you’re lucky.


Chris Velazco/Engadget

Unfortunately, some of Huawei’s software decisions drag down this otherwise impressive hardware. The View 20 ships with Android 9.0 Pie and that would be great news if it weren’t painted over so thoroughly with the Honor Magic UI. Honestly, I’m not sure why Huawei bothered giving this interface a different name at all because it’s essentially identical to the EMUI 9.0 interface the company debuted on the Mate 20 Pro. That wouldn’t be a problem if EMUI wasn’t so dumb sometimes.

For instance, lock screen notifications can be sort of a mess. By default, you’re only shown your latest notifications, not the full list that have rolled in since you last checked. Fine, I can see the rationale there. My biggest issue so far though has been with Gmail: Even the app pre-installed and fully functional, I’ve never received a notification on my lock screen. A quick trip to the phone’s notification settings revealed the problem: there was, for whatever reason, no way to push Gmail notifications to the lock screen. Beyond that, interacting with items on the lock screen requires a tedious double-tap — you were probably better off just unlocking the phone altogether. Oh, and our review unit suffers from a bug where Android’s navigation keys shift to the left a bit after rotating the phone from landscape to portrait. It’s a minor thing, but attention to detail matters, people. If I were you, I’d trade this not-so-Magic UI for an alternative launcher ASAP.

The camera

If you’ve considered buying a camera in the past fifteen or so years, someone has probably told you that more megapixels don’t necessarily make for better photos. The same is true of smartphone cameras, but I have to give Huawei some credit for squeezing a 48-megapixel Sony camera sensor into the View 20. It’s total overkill, but it’s fun.

To be clear, though, you won’t be firing off 48-megapixel stills right out of the box — nor should you be. The View 20’s camera shoots at 12-megapixels by default, and since the phone lumps multiple pixels on the sensor to act as bigger individual pixels, the resulting pictures are very solid, even in low light. Colors are pleasant enough (especially with the AI camera mode enabled) and in general, there’s more detail to be found while pixel-peeping a 12-megapixel View 20 photo than with one taken by, say, an iPhone XS. Switching into the full 48-megapixel mode means you’ll wind up with larger files, but I haven’t noticed a meaningful difference in quality between the phone’s 12MP and 48MP photos — the latter just let you zoom in more.

48MP still (left) versus 48 AI Ultra Clarity still (right)

That all changes once you fire up the camera’s AI Ultra Clarity mode. To get the most detailed images possible, the phone shoots and combines a handful of 48-megapixel exposures into a single shot — think of it as Huawei’s general-purpose take on Night Mode. Given enough light and very steady hands the results can be astoundingly crisp.

I’ve spent the past week reviewing some Ultra Clarity shots and randomly zooming around to see how legible minute details were, and so far, the gimmick hasn’t gotten old. Even expensive flagships can’t really keep up with the View 20 — 48-megapixels is a lot of data, after all, and the way Ultra Clarity stitches those exposures together adds some new dimensions to the final photos. The feature does, however, have its caveats: shooting an Ultra Clarity photo takes five seconds (ideally, nothing in the frame moves during this period), and if your hands move a little too much, some of those fine details could be smoothed out into oblivion.

The bigger question here is whether all of this extra detail this sensor captures ultimately makes for better pictures, and the answer is “not really.” Ultra Clarity photos are indeed highly impressive when the conditions are right, but the amount of time needed to shoot them means you probably won’t be using the feature constantly. The View 20’s standard 48-megapixel photos pretty detailed themselves, though (as mentioned) the phone’s 12-megapixel stills usually turn out a little nicer. And overall, photos taken with devices like the Pixel 3 feature more pleasing colors and dynamic range — even though those files don’t feature the same level of detail, they’re the ones I’d prefer to look at more often. The old wisdom holds true: resolution isn’t everything.

Gallery: Honor View 20 camera samples (12MP) | 16 Photos

Of course, that 48-megapixel camera isn’t alone. It’s accompanied by a secondary time-of-flight sensor that’s meant to make the View 20 better at isolating faces in portraits. The camera does a respectable job of isolating the subject from its background, but it’s not always great at figuring out where an object’s edges are, and the results aren’t much to write home about. The most interesting — and problematic — use of this time-of-flight sensor is in a beauty mode called “Shaping” that makes people look thinner. Yikes.

The 25-megapixel front camera is further proof that resolution isn’t everything. You’ll need to find bright, even lighting to get the best results, as things tend to very get grainy otherwise. That’s true of all front-facing cameras, but I was hoping Huawei would be able to work some software magic and turn all 25 megapixels of data into something above-average. I was wrong: the results here were average at best, and I’d take a Pixel 3’s selfie camera any day, lower resolution be damned. I appreciate Huawei’s tepid attempt to improve selfies by throwing more pixels at the problem, but maybe a more conventional approach would’ve been better.



Wrap-up

On the surface at least, the Honor View 20 seems like the smartphone fan’s smartphone. It’s beautifully built, packs some serious horsepower, and that hole-punch display offers a taste of the near-future — that’s not a bad package for $600. Sure, Huawei’s sometimes-amateurish futzing with Android Pie means it isn’t a great choice for Google purists (those folks would be better served by a Pixel 3 or a OnePlus 6T) and most of the time that oft-hyped camera is good, not great. If you live in a part of the world that hasn’t completely blacklisted Huawei hardware, the View 20 is a worthy, if not astounding, option.

For now, at least, continued tension between Huawei and the US government means the odds of being able to buy one of these in a big-box store grow slimmer by the day. While those of us in North America probably won’t experience what the View 20 brings to the table anytime soon, we’ll still probably benefit from the phone’s release elsewhere — in some ways, Huawei raised the bar for what to expect from a high-end, low-cost smartphone, and we’re sure to see other companies follow suit this year.

All products recommended by Engadget were selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company, Verizon Media. If you buy something through one of our links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Chris is Engadget’s senior mobile editor and moonlights as a professional moment ruiner. His early years were spent taking apart Sega consoles and writing awful fan fiction. That passion for electronics and words would eventually lead him to covering startups of all stripes at TechCrunch. The first phone he ever swooned over was the Nokia 7610, because man, those curves.

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