Facebook Got Mad at Us, Samsung Note 9, and Ajit Pai: Best Gizmodo Stories of the Week

Graphic: Various (Shutterstock/FBI/National Archives/Gizmodo Staff)

First, the bad news: Sunday is the anniversary of the disastrous white supremacist Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that culminated in a neo-Nazi car attack that killed local woman Heather Heyer and wounded scores of others, as well as resulted in the deaths of two police officers. The organizer of that rally, Jason Kessler, is holding another rally in the nation’s capital today—and once again, racist, far-right activists crawled out of their internet hidey-holes into the real world.

But there’s somewhat better news, too. This time, indications are that many of Kessler’s buddies simply didn’t show up, while thousands of counter-protesters were ready to make it known that supremacists aren’t welcome in their town by staging their own much larger rallies. That follows on a largely disastrous years for the various personalities that head the so-called “alt-right”: Its leaders have turned on each other, tech platforms have slowly started to turn on them, and their homegrown alternatives like Gab are fizzling out.

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The fight is far from over, and likely never really will be anytime soon, either. But they can’t be allowed to win it, because Nazis don’t believe in freedom for anyone but themselves. Not to be melodramatic, but in that spirit, here’s some dispatches from the free press for you.

Facebook Wanted Us to Kill This Investigative Tool

Illustration: Jim Cooke

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Last year, we launched an investigation into how Facebook’s People You May Know tool makes its creepily accurate recommendations. By November, we had it mostly figured out: Facebook has nearly limitless access to all the phone numbers, email addresses, home addresses, and social media handles most people on Earth have ever used. That, plus its deep mining of people’s messaging behavior on Android, means it can make surprisingly insightful observations about who you know in real life—even if it’s wrong about your desire to be “friends” with them on Facebook.

In order to help conduct this investigation, we built a tool to keep track of the people Facebook thinks you know. Called the PYMK Inspector, it captures every recommendation made to a user for however long they want to run the tool. It’s how one of us discovered Facebook had linked us with an unknown relative. In January, after hiring a third party to do a security review of the tool, we released it publicly on Github for users who wanted to study their own People You May Know recommendations. Volunteers who downloaded the tool helped us explore whether you’ll show up in someone’s People You Know after you look at their profile. (Good news for Facebook stalkers: Our experiment found you won’t be recommended as a friend just based on looking at someone’s profile.)

Facebook wasn’t happy about the tool.

Everything You Need to Know About the Samsung Note 9

Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

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Last year’s Galaxy Note 8 was a totally solid phone, but it wasn’t very exciting. With a screen that was the same size as what you get on a Galaxy S8+ or S9+, and a battery that was actually smaller, it felt like Samsung played it safe.

But on the new Galaxy Note 9, it seems Samsung is back to its old, component-cramming ways, and despite looking basically the same as last year’s handset, the Note 9 is packing a lot more muscle inside, which is exactly what I’m looking for in Samsung’s high-end plus-sized phone.

When Did Ajit Pai Know?

Photo: Getty

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Set to appear before a Senate oversight committee next Thursday, Ajit Pai will face a barrage of questions about why senior officials at the agency he leads, the Federal Communications Commission, provided false information to Congress—a federal crime, punishable by up to five years in prison, had it been proved they did so knowingly.

The top question, which the commission has yet to answer, and which Democratic lawmakers are itching to ask, is exactly how long Pai knew that Congress and the American people were being misled.

The Only Known Sound in Space Is This ‘Singing’ Black Hole

Everyone knows there is no sound in space. After all, a sound wave requires a medium, like air or water, to travel through, and space is mostly a vacuum. But in studying a nearby galaxy cluster, astronomers detected a true occurrence of sound in space—and in this case, the incredibly deep sound was coming from a black hole.

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Scientists working with the Chandra X-ray Observatory were perplexed by the lack of star formation in the Perseus Cluster, a group of galaxies about 250 million light-years from Earth. The gas throughout the cluster was somehow remaining hot, rather than cooling and creating stars. Something was delivering energy to this gas, but what?

Is Mark Zuckerberg Wet or Dry?

Photo: AP

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As the sun passed over Gizmodo’s New York office on Monday and staffers shook off the muggy torpor of the mid-afternoon, they found themselves drawn into a (seemingly simple, yet surprisingly contentious) debate: Is Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder and CEO of Facebook, a dry man? Or is he a wet one?

The question first arose this weekend, when my girlfriend and I began categorizing public figures as either wet men or dry guys. Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon, for instance, is a prototypical wet man. The Late Show’s Stephen Colbert a distinctly dry one.

Former president Bill Clinton? Wet. Fellow Democrat Barack Obama? Dry. Two-time Oscar winner George Clooney? Also dry. Three-time Academy Award nominee Tom Cruise? Positively soaking.

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Literal, physical wetness, we decided, is the surest sign of one’s figurative wetness, but one need not be visibly wet—or even a man—to be a wet man.

This Candidate for Governor Wants to Put Colorado on the Blockchain

Photo: Getty

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It’s become all too clear this election season that issues involving technology are becoming a core part of campaigns and voter concerns. The Democratic nominee for governor of Colorado, U.S. Representative Jared Polis, wants to add blockchain to the list of items voters consider this year. But what does that mean?

Polis currently represents Colorado’s 2nd district in the House, and he won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination last month. He’s held his seat in the House for about a decade and has been a fairly solid progressive. He supports Medicare for all, some gun regulation, and environmental protection. If he wins in November, he’ll become the first openly gay man to be elected governor in the United States. But he’s not exactly the community organizer type of Democrat. Open Secrets lists his personal fortune at close to $400 million, as of 2014.

Bose Has a Pricey Winner With Its Sleep-Friendly Earbuds

Photo: Patrick Lucas Austin (Gizmodo)

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Sleeping on the weekends is rough. My apartment is across the street from a bar that grows only louder and more crowded in the height of summer, so a good Saturday night snooze is usually out of the question. Raucous drinkers, the thump of the bass from the building, and the sound of my air conditioner create a cacophony nearly impossible to ignore. I’m not a fan. But Bose thinks its “Sleepbuds,” white noise masking earbuds designed to be worn during sleep, can help alleviate the issue without resorting to the tried and true noise-cancelling technology used in some of its headphones. I get the appeal, but can a $250 white noise generator jammed in my ear canal really solve my sleeping problems?

Turns out, they just might, though they’re a bit rough around the edges.

5 Fantasy Films From the ‘80s Perfectly Suited for TV Adaptations

Krull: “Say hello to my little friend.”
Image: Columbia

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The Time Bandits show is finally in the works, yet another example of a cult film being adapted into a TV series—and also, yet another example of how the sheer amount of streaming services (in this case, Apple) has created a seemingly endless need for content to fill them up with to entice subscribers. To that end, and because there’s no such thing as too much fantasy on TV, we have some suggestions of other adaptation-worthy fantasy films from the Time Bandits era.

Mysterious ‘Alien’ Radio Signal: Here’s What You Need to Know

The CHIME telescope under construction
Photo: Mateus A. Fandiño – The CHIME collaboration (Wikimedia Commons)

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You may have seen recent headlines about a strange radio signal picked up by a Canadian telescope. Some go as far as to say it was caused by all-caps ALIENS. 

It probably wasn’t from aliens, as far as we can tell—nor are these “fast radio bursts” something you should be worried about. The truth is, the FRB spotted by Canada’s CHIME radio telescope on July 25 wasn’t much different from other FRBs that telescopes have spotted. But it’s still pretty cool and the first of its kind, so let’s talk about why.

12 Cool Things You Can Do in Android 9 Pie That You Couldn’t Do Before

Image: Google

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Android 9 Pie is finished and heading out now to Pixel devices, with phones that were part of the Android P beta program next in line. Whether you’ve been following the development of the OS for the last six months, or you’re completely new to it, here are some of the cool tricks that are now possible on Android devices.

Can You Remember Being a Baby?

Illustration: Angelica Alzona (Gizmodo)

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Every life-stage has its share of novelty—first kiss, first tax return, first twinge of certain death—but when it comes to new experiences most of us peak in infancy. Just laying there, gargling and soiling our diapers, we as infants cycle through thousands of firsts. It would be nice to remember some of them, as our lives slow down—as we settle into the same office chair for the 200th time, and sip from the same novelty coffee mug. But infancy scans as a blank for most of us.

The Algorithm That Could Save Vulnerable New Yorkers From Being Forced Out of Their Homes

Illustration: Shutterstock, Sam Woolley (Gizmodo)

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Early one morning in April 2013, a stranger knocked on Virginia Hanlon’s door, identifying himself as a building contractor. That was the first lie. 

Hanlon, an elderly woman who split her time between her apartment in New York and her deceased mother’s home in New Jersey was wary—she had never seen this man before. She opened the door. Standing tall in her doorway, the “contractor” soon started asking questions: Did Hanlon spend most of her time here in New Jersey or in New York? Was she interested in moving out of the New York apartment? Would she accept money to leave it? How much? Hanlon threatened to call the police if he didn’t leave. He didn’t.

Alvin Toffler Investigated by FBI for Communist Activities According to Newly Released Files

Image: FBI/National Archives, Elena Scotti (Gizmodo)

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Alvin Toffler, who died in 2016, will be remembered for his many contributions to the work of futurism. Toffler was a prolific writer, most notably the author of the 1970 best-selling book Future Shock, and a man who became friends with important figures across the political spectrum in Washington DC, including Newt Gingrich. But Toffler’s newly released 400-page FBI file, obtained by Gizmodo through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the National Archives, reveals that he was also investigated by the FBI for being a communist, something Toffler didn’t often talk about after he became a public figure.

The New Star Trek Show Is a Chance to Last Jedi the Hell Out of Captain Picard

The older, world-weary future Picard of The Next Generation’s final episode, “All Good Things”.
Image: CBS

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Star Trek Las Vegas 2018 confirmed a huge piece of news for the Trek universe last weekend: the rumors were true, and Sir Patrick Stewart would be returning to television to reprise his role as an older, wiser Jean-Luc Picard in a new Star Trek series. We know little else about the series beyond that, but I really hope it does for Picard what Star Wars: The Last Jedi did for Luke Skywalker.

That sort of hoping might rankle longtime Trek fans. In fact, many of them have spent the last few days desperately hoping for the direct opposite of Star Trek: The Last Jedi. They’ve read Stewart’s own statement that the new show’s Picard would be a “man who has been changed by his experiences” and shuddered at the mere thought of a disillusioned, weary Picard roaming around an isolated family vineyard swigging freshly-squeezed Targ milk. They’d already had to go through one traumatic fictional upheaval, why wish that on another old hero? Why can’t Picard just be the Picard we saw in TNG and the movies?

Because that would be kind of boring, for starters.

Want to Keep Your Sperm Healthy? Stick to Boxers, Says Harvard Study

A sperm cell.
Illustration: Geralt (Pixabay)

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It’s long been thought that tighty-whiteys and other kinds of snug underwear can be bad for men’s semen quality, thanks to the warmer temperatures they can cause down below. And a new study out of Harvard University seems to confirm that suspicion. It found that men attending a fertility center who regularly wore boxers had higher sperm counts and healthier sperm than everyone else.

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Copyright or Author: Tom McKay
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