If you haven’t heard the news this week, an international team of scientists from the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) Collaboration photographed and confirmed the existence of Powehi: the supermassive black hole at the center of galaxy Messier 87, which is over 55 million light years away, has the mass of over 6.5 billion suns, and has a radius wider than our entire solar system.
It is a very, very big black hole, and it is beautiful and utterly frightening.
It was imaged with 5 petabytes of collected data from a network of geographically dispersed radio telescopes around the world, using a computer algorithm created by a young post-doctoral student from MIT, Katie Bouman.
Of the many very important things about this discovery, this is what stands out for me: How it has put science front and center, reminding us that incredible mysteries in the universe are yet to be revealed to us, and that the end products of hard scientific research can be fun, exciting, educational and terrifying all at the same time.
And most importantly, black holes. Black freakin’ holes, people. We finally got to see one.
I have always loved black holes. The very idea — that these monsters are sitting out there in the universe, devouring stars and other stellar objects like giant vacuum cleaners — was an awesome thought to grow up with.
As a 10-year-old boy, back in 1979, I was a huge fan of the Disney film, The Black Hole, one of the last movies to be produced before the company’s old studio system was dismantled and Disney moved full-time into animated features.
It was creepy, dark, but also wacky. It had a big $20 million budget ($96 million in 2019 dollars adjusted for inflation) and had a star-studded, old Hollywood cast that included Anthony Perkins, Ernest Borgnine, Yvette Mimieux, and Maximillian Schell.
The acting was wooden, and sometimes the effects looked really chintzy due to the limitations of the technology in use and how they rushed it out as a response to the first Star Wars film, a property it would own and exploit decades later. But man, I loved this movie. It had probably the coolest evil robot to ever hit the silver screen — Maximillian — that looked like it came straight out of hell.
While the movie made Disney some money, compared to feature films the studio releases now, The Black Hole would be considered a flop. But with this week’s discovery, boy does it deserve to either be re-made or to have a special edition re-released with a full film remaster.
The film put black holes into my teenage zeitgeist. But in college, back in 1988, it would be supplanted by something else — a computer system.
Not just any computer system: The NeXT Computer. Arguably, this is the computer system that is 100 percent responsible for Apple becoming the company that it is today. But back then, it was Rogue Apple.
In September of 1985, Steve Jobs was kicked out of the company he founded by Apple’s board of directors, and went on to do other things. In addition to founding Pixar — a firm which pioneered computer graphics in the entertainment industry and is now known for producing such landmark animated Disney films as Toy Story, Cars, Wall-E, Up, The Incredibles, Brave and Coco — Jobs founded NeXT.
During its time as an independent company, NeXT could be best remembered for its esoteric, expensive nature and its ultra modern, minimalist industrial design — both traits that carry on in Apple products to this very day. A single NeXT Computer in 1988 cost $6,500.00 — which was hardly affordable to the higher education market it was being targeted to at the time.
The NeXT ran on a Mach-based, graphical UNIX operating system that had an object-oriented programming language, Objective C, which remains in use on Apple systems to this very day. It used a 650MB, read-write magneto-optical storage drive designed by Canon and was ahead of writeable CD-ROM products used on PCs by about a decade. It had built-in integrated Ethernet networking and a TCP/IP stack, built-in digital audio, and a high-resolution graphics display, the “Megapixel”. In every respect, the product was way ahead of its time.
It will probably also be remembered as the system that Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, used to create the first version of httpd on at CERN.
But what do I remember most about NeXT and its operating system? It didn’t have a trash can like Mac and Windows did. It had a Black Hole. So freaking cool.
In NeXTStep, the Black Hole was an icon that docked at the corner of the screen wherever you put it. You tossed stuff in there, it was toast. You purged your Workspace with it. It was a very Zen-like experience, especially for a 20-year-old college student in the late 1980s.
Eventually NeXT got rid of the Black Hole and went to a “Recycler.” How boring and corporate. As a company, NeXT was a failure. Unable to make a go of building these esoteric, expensive computers for universities and academia, they eventually fired most of their 200 or so employees and ported their software to Intel x86 systems as the OpenStep OS.
In December of 1996, the company was acquired by Apple for $450 million, which at the time was undergoing its own financial difficulties and was unable to complete its homegrown next-generation OS, Copeland. With his return to the company he founded, Steve Jobs again took the helm as CEO. What followed, of course, was history — the iPod, the iMac. And MacOS and iOS.
Today Apple is a consumer electronics powerhouse that is worth hundreds of billions of dollars. MacOS arguably is one of the coolest operating systems on the market today. But you know what it doesn’t have? An appropriately cool way of getting rid of your trash.
Also: Apple’s first employee: The remarkable odyssey of Bill Fernandez
Let’s face it, the MacOS trash can is dated. It looks like it is made of transparent plastic, and when it gets filled up, it appears unsightly. It doesn’t represent the 21st century ideal of having a green solution to removing digital refuse. If Steve Jobs were alive today, I think he would agree that it is in need of a makeover.
The Black Hole in NeXTStep made its appearance over 30 years ago. This week, a dedicated team of scientists revealed a real one, using various leading-edge technologies which undoubtedly were assisted by Apple’s products in some way. In fact, you can very clearly see Katie Bouman using a MacBook Pro the very moment the imaging data collected by the EHT begins its integration process (on an Ubuntu Linux compute cluster) in a Smithsonian Channel special, Black Hole Hunters, which premieres today.
We have been presented with an opaque, frightening monster of singularity, extreme gravity, and improbable mass that lurks in the darkness of space, 55 million light years away. One of perhaps millions or billions that sit out there in a black void, devouring everything around it.
I believe to commemorate this scientific achievement, Apple should remove the “Trash” in MacOS — and also in iOS — and replace it with an updated version of the NeXT Black Hole. Sure, Dark Mode is great, but a Black Hole? Microsoft doesn’t have one in Windows. Neither does Google in Android or Chrome OS. It is fitting with the uniqueness of Apple.
Being Amazingly Great is knowing when to bring back the old. As a wonder of the the universe, black holes fit the very definition of amazingly great, and old. Some almost as old as the universe itself.
Should Apple bring back the NeXT Black Hole in MacOS and iOS to commemorate the discovery by the EHT Collaboration? Talk Back and Let Me Know.
After buying Bungie, Sony goes all in on live service games – TechCrunch
After buying Bungie earlier this year, Sony is moving fast to integrate the company’s expertise into its broader vision.
In an investor presentation Thursday, Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO Jim Ryan outlined a near future for the company that focuses heavily on continually updated online games inspired by Destiny, Bungie’s long-running hit.
Sony expects to spend 49% of its PlayStation Studios development budget on live service games by the end of the year. By 2025, Sony plans to bump that to 55%, up from just 12% in 2019. By the end of 2025, Sony projects that it will have 12 different live service games of its own, up from just one now.
The company declined to answer questions from TechCrunch about which of its franchises might get the live service treatment, but the presentation cited God of War, Horizon Forbidden West, Spider-Man, The Last of Us and Uncharted in a list of its noteworthy single-player first-party titles. Sony-owned studio Naughty Dog has been hiring for a standalone multiplayer game, so a new game could indeed emerge out of The Last of Us or Uncharted’s virtual worlds.
Bungie is best known for creating the Halo franchise, though most recently the studio has become synonymous with Destiny, a fresh sci-fi series the company developed after leaving Halo with Microsoft. Like Halo, Destiny is a futuristic first-person shooter with precise, satisfying mechanics. But Destiny’s real appeal is Bungie’s impressively seamless online multiplayer experience that brings players into central hubs where they can explore and run missions together, making it more akin to World of Warcraft than a traditional FPS like Call of Duty.
Three years after splitting with Microsoft, Bungie signed onto a 10-year partnership with Activision. The company eventually split with Activision, too, paving the way for Sony to snap it up earlier this year for $3.6 billion. Bungie will remain a standalone game studio on the other side of the deal, à la Naughty Dog.
Just after the Bungie acquisition was made public, Sony CFO Hiroki Totoki confirmed the company’s plan to weave Bungie’s live game service know-how into its broader gaming offerings.
“The strategic significance of this acquisition lies not only in obtaining the highly successful Destiny franchise, as well as major new IP Bungie is currently developing, but also incorporating into the Sony group the expertise and technologies Bungie has developed in the live game services space,” Totoki said.
In bringing Bungie under its wing, Sony is buying a lot of knowledge about how to build online multiplayer games that expand over time, keeping players coming back for more. This kind of experience, usually called a “live service game,” explains how Fortnite is still one of the world’s most popular games years after it first made headlines for luring casual gamers and hardcore streamers alike into its colorful, chaotic world.
It’s also an extremely lucrative business model. Live service games generally have an in-game storefront that invites dedicated players to buy digital goods like character skins and clothing. Those assets cycle in and out, creating scarcity and nudging players to spend real cash to collect them. In a given content season, players in games like Destiny 2 and Fortnite can pay to earn a special set of these cosmetic virtual goods with a “battle pass.”
Some live service games, like Final Fantasy XIV, require players to pay for a monthly subscription to access the most recent content, while others are free to play. Happily, these days, most free-to-play games no longer require a paid subscription through Microsoft or Sony’s own premium subscription services.
Live service games add expansion content over time, and players often pay to access the new stuff, even while the core game remains mostly the same. For game makers, the real allure is maintaining a game that can live and grow over time, raking in revenue for years rather than burning bright and fizzling out a few months postlaunch.
Twitter investors sue Elon Musk over acquisition shenanigans – TechCrunch
The world’s richest man isn’t above trying to get a discount, apparently.
In a new lawsuit, Twitter shareholders are suing Elon Musk, alleging that he manipulated the price of the company’s stock for his own benefit in the course of agreeing to buy the company. The lawsuit represents a group of Twitter investors but would allow any shareholders to receive financial compensation.
The suit was filed Wednesday in federal district court for Northern California and argues that Musk intentionally drove down the company’s stock to secure a better deal. “The fair market value of Twitter securities has been adversely affected by Musk’s false statements and wrongful conduct,” the complaint states.
The lawsuit cites Musk’s decision to waive due diligence as a condition of the acquisition and his subsequent suspiciously timed claim that Twitter had misrepresented the number of bots on its platform.
“At the time, Musk was well aware that Twitter had a certain amount of ‘fake accounts’ and accounts controlled by ‘bots’ and had in fact settled a lawsuit based on the fake accounts for millions of dollars,” the complaint states. “Musk had tweeted about that issue at Twitter several times in the past, prior to making his offer to acquire Twitter with full knowledge of the bots.”
The suit alleges, as many people observed at the time, that Musk was likely trying to secure a discount by casting doubt on his commitment and disparaging the company. Since Musk’s initial commitment to purchase the company was announced, tech stocks — including Tesla, which accounts for the vast majority of Musk’s wealth — took a dive.
Following Musk’s comments, Twitter shares also dipped significantly, a phenomenon that the suit alleges is “highly unusual” given the company’s agreed-upon buyout price.
While Musk claimed the deal was on hold, there was no formal mechanism in place that would back up that claim. Even within Twitter, company leaders encouraged employees to proceed as though nothing had changed, noting that there was “no such thing” as casually pausing a binding agreement to buy the company.
The suit also alleges that Musk deliberately delayed filing a disclosure form when his stake in the company exceeded 5%, allowing him to continue to buy shares at a discount. After the form was filed and Musk’s purchases became public knowledge, Twitter stock soared by nearly a third.
“Musk’s disregard for securities laws demonstrates how one can flaunt the law and the tax code to build their wealth at the expense of the other Americans,” the complaint states.
Instagram is currently down for some users – TechCrunch
If you’re having problems accessing Instagram today, you’re not alone. The social media giant is currently experiencing some problems, according to reports on third-party web monitoring service Downdetector. The website indicates that issues began at around 12:30 p.m. EDT. NetBlocks, which tracks global internet usage and disruptions, has also noted that Instagram is facing intermittent international service outages.
Reports indicate that users are experiencing various issues with the service, including not being able to log back in after being logged out. Some users also reporting seeing a “Welcome to Instagram” message when logging on as though they have a new account. Others are unable see past a few posts or only seeing posts that were uploaded weeks ago. Some users are also reporting that they’re unable to refresh their home screen and are seeing a “we’re sorry, but something went wrong” notice.
Instagram and its parent company Meta have yet to acknowledge the issues. TechCrunch has reached out to Meta to learn more about the issues and will update this article once we get a response.
This story is developing…
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