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tons of ideas for little builders – TechCrunch

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The holiday season is here again, touting all sorts of kids’ toys that pledge to pack ‘STEM smarts’ in the box, not just the usual battery-based fun.

Educational playthings are nothing new, of course. But, in recent years, long time toymakers and a flurry of new market entrants have piggybacked on the popularity of smartphones and apps, building connected toys for even very young kids that seek to tap into a wider ‘learn to code’ movement which itself feeds off worries about the future employability of those lacking techie skills.

Whether the lofty educational claims being made for some of these STEM gizmos stands the test of time remains to be seen. Much of this sums to clever branding. Though there’s no doubt a lot of care and attention has gone into building this category out, you’ll also find equally eye-catching price-tags.

Whatever STEM toy you buy there’s a high chance it won’t survive the fickle attention spans of kids at rest and play. (Even as your children’s appetite to be schooled while having fun might dash your ‘engineer in training’ expectations.) Tearing impressionable eyeballs away from YouTube or mobile games might be your main parental challenge — and whether kids really need to start ‘learning to code’ aged just 4 or 5 seems questionable.

Buyers with high ‘outcome’ hopes for STEM toys should certainly go in with their eyes, rather than their wallets, wide open. The ‘STEM premium’ can be steep indeed, even as the capabilities and educational potential of the playthings themselves varies considerably.

At the cheaper end of the price spectrum, a ‘developmental toy’ might not really be so very different from a more basic or traditional building block type toy used in concert with a kid’s own imagination, for example.

While, at the premium end, there are a few devices in the market that are essentially fully fledged computers — but with a child-friendly layer applied to hand-hold and gamify STEM learning. An alternative investment in your child’s future might be to commit to advancing their learning opportunities yourself, using whatever computing devices you already have at home. (There are plenty of standalone apps offering guided coding lessons, for example. And tons and tons of open source resources.)

For a little DIY STEM learning inspiration read this wonderful childhood memoir by TechCrunch’s very own John Biggs — a self-confessed STEM toy sceptic.

It’s also worth noting that some startups in this still youthful category have already pivoted more toward selling wares direct to schools — aiming to plug learning gadgets into formal curricula, rather than risking the toys falling out of favor at home. Which does lend weight to the idea that standalone ‘play to learn’ toys don’t necessarily live up to the hype. And are getting tossed under the sofa after a few days’ use.

We certainly don’t suggest there are any shortcuts to turn kids into coders in the gift ideas presented here. It’s through proper guidance — plus the power of their imagination — that the vast majority of children learn. And of course kids are individuals, with their own ideas about what they want to do and become.

The increasingly commercialized rush towards STEM toys, with hundreds of millions of investor dollars being poured into the category, might also be a cause for parental caution. There’s a risk of barriers being thrown up to more freeform learning — if companies start pushing harder to hold onto kids’ attention in a more and more competitive market. Barriers that could end up dampening creative thinking.

At the same time (adult) consumers are becoming concerned about how much time they spend online and on screens. So pushing kids to get plugged in from a very early age might not feel like the right thing to do. Your parental priorities might be more focused on making sure they develop into well rounded human beings — by playing with other kids and/or non-digital toys that help them get to know and understand the world around them, and encourage using more of their own imagination.

But for those fixed on buying into the STEM toy craze this holiday season, we’ve compiled a list of some of the main players, presented in alphabetical order, rounding up a selection of what they’re offering for 2018, hitting a variety of price-points, product types and age ranges, to present a market overview — and with the hope that a well chosen gift might at least spark a few bright ideas…


Adafruit Kits

Product: Metro 328 Starter Pack 
Price: $45
Description: Not a typical STEM toy but a starter kit from maker-focused and electronics hobbyist brand Adafruit. The kit is intended to get the user learning about electronics and Arduino microcontrollers to set them on a path to being a maker. Adafruit says the kit is designed for “everyone, even people with little or no electronics and programming experience”. Though parental supervision is a must unless you’re buying for a teenager or mature older child. Computer access is also required for programming the Arduino.

Be sure to check out Adafruit’s Young Engineers Category for a wider range of hardware hacking gift ideas too, from $10 for a Bare Conductive Paint Pen, to $25 for the Drawdio fun pack, to $35 for this Konstruktor DIY Film Camera Kit or $75 for the Snap Circuits Green kit — where budding makers can learn about renewable energy sources by building a range of solar and kinetic energy powered projects. Adafruit also sells a selection of STEM focused children’s books too, such as Python for Kids ($35)
Age: Teenagers, or younger children with parental supervision


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Anki

Product: Cozmo
Price: $180
Description: The animation loving Anki team added a learn-to-code layer to their cute, desktop-mapping bot last year — called Cozmo Code Lab, which was delivered via free update — so the cartoonesque, programmable truck is not new on the scene for 2018 but has been gaining fresh powers over the years.

This year the company has turned its attention to adults, launching a new but almost identical-looking assistant-style bot, called Vector, that’s not really aimed at kids. That more pricey ($250) robot is slated to be getting access to its code lab in future, so it should have some DIY programming potential too.
Age: 8+


Dash Robotics

Product: Kamigami Jurassic World Robot
Price: ~$60
Description: Hobbyist robotics startup Dash Robotics has been collaborating with toymaker Mattel on the Kamigami line of biologically inspired robots for over a year now. The USB-charged bots arrive at kids’ homes in build-it-yourself form before coming to programmable, biomimetic life via the use of a simple, icon-based coding interface in the companion app.

The latest addition to the range is dinosaur bot series Jurassic World, currently comprised of a pair of pretty similar looking raptor dinosaurs, each with light up eyes and appropriate sound effects. Using the app kids can complete challenges to unlock new abilities and sounds. And if you have more than one dinosaur in the same house they can react to each other to make things even more lively.
Age: 8+


Kano

Product: Harry Potter Coding Kit
Price: $100
Description: British learn-to-code startup Kano has expanded its line this year with a co-branded, build-it-yourself wand linked to the fictional Harry Potter wizard series. The motion-sensitive e-product features a gyroscope, accelerometer, magnetometer and Bluetooth wireless so kids can use it to interact with coding content on-screen. The company offers 70-plus challenges for children to play wizard with, using wand gestures to manipulate digital content. Like many STEM toys it requires a tablet or desktop computer to work its digital magic (iOS and Android tablets are supported, as well as desktop PCs including Kano’s Computer Kit Touch, below)
Age: 6+

Product: Computer Kit Touch
Price: $280
Description: The latest version of Kano’s build-it-yourself Pi-powered kids’ computer. This year’s computer kit includes the familiar bright orange physical keyboard but now paired with a touchscreen. Kano reckons touch is a natural aid to the drag-and-drop, block-based learn-to-code systems it’s putting under kids’ fingertips here. Although its KanoOS Pi skin does support text-based coding too, and can run a wide range of other apps and programs — making this STEM device a fully fledged computer in its own right
Age: 6-13


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Lego

Product: Boost Creative Toolbox
Price: $160
Description: Boost is Lego’s relatively recent foray into offering a simpler robotics and programming system aimed at younger kids vs its more sophisticated and expensive veteran Mindstorms creator platform (for 10+ year olds). The Boost Creative Toolbox is an entry point to Lego + robotics, letting kids build a range of different brick-based bots — all of which can be controlled and programmed via the companion app which offers an icon-based coding system.

Boost components can also be combined with other Lego kits to bring other not-electronic kits to life — such as its Stormbringer Ninjago Dragon kit (sold separately for $40). Ninjago + Boost means = a dragon that can walk and turn its head as if it’s about to breathe fire
Age: 7-12


littleBits

Product: Avengers Hero Inventor Kit
Price: $150
Description: This Disney co-branded wearable in kit form from the hardware hackers over at littleBits lets superhero-inspired kids snap together all sorts of electronic and plastic bits to make their own gauntlet from the Avengers movie franchise. The gizmo features an LED matrix panel, based on Tony Stark’s palm Repulsor Beam, they can control via companion app. There are 18 in-app activities for them to explore, assuming kids don’t just use amuse themselves acting out their Marvel superhero fantasies
Age: 8+

It’s worth noting that littleBits has lots more to offer — so if bringing yet more Disney-branded merch into your home really isn’t your thing, check out its wide range of DIY electronics kits, which cater to various price points, such as this Crawly Creature Kit ($40) or an Electronic Music Inventor Kit ($100), and much more… No major movie franchises necessary


Makeblock

Product: Codey Rocky
Price: $100
Description: Shenzhen-based STEM kit maker Makeblock crowdfunded this emotive, programmable bot geared towards younger kids on Kickstarter. There’s no assembly required, though the bot itself can transform into a wearable or handheld device for game playing, as Codey (the head) detaches from Rocky (the wheeled body).

Despite the young target age, the toy is packed with sophisticated tech — making use of deep learning algorithms, for example. While the company’s visual programming system, mBlock, also supports Python text coding, and allows kids to code bot movements and visual effects on the display, tapping into the 10 programmable modules on this sensor-heavy bot. Makeblock says kids can program Codey to create dot matrix animations, design games and even build AI and IoT applications, thanks to baked in support for voice, image and even face recognition… The bot has also been designed to be compatible with Lego bricks so kids can design and build physical add-ons too
Age: 6+

Product: Airblock
Price: $100
Description: Another programmable gizmo from Makeblock’s range. Airblock is a modular and programmable drone/hovercraft so this is a STEM device that can fly. Magnetic connectors are used for easy assembly of the soft foam pieces. Several different assembly configurations are possible. The companion app’s block-based coding interface is used for programming and controlling your Airblock creations
Age: 8+


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Ozobot

Product: Evo
Price: $100
Description: This programmable robot has a twist as it can be controlled without a child always having to be stuck to a screen. The Evo’s sensing system can detect and respond to marks made by marker pens and stickers in the accompanying Experience Pack — so this is coding via paper plus visual cues.

There is also a digital, block-based coding interface for controlling Evo, called OzoBlockly (based on Google’s Blockly system). This has a five-level coding system to support a range of ages, from pre-readers (using just icon-based blocks), up to a ‘Master mode’ which Ozobot says includes extensive low-level control and advanced programming features
Age: 9+


Pi-top


Product: Modular Laptop
Price: $320 (with a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+), $285 without
Description: This snazzy 14-inch modular laptop, powered by Raspberry Pi, has a special focus on teaching coding and electronics. Slide the laptop’s keyboard forward and it reveals a built in rail for hardware hacking. Guided projects designed for kids include building a music maker and a smart robot. The laptop runs pi-top’s learn-to-code oriented OS — which supports block-based coding programs like Scratch and kid-friendly wares like Minecraft Pi edition, as well as its homebrew CEEDUniverse: A Civilization style game that bakes in visual programming puzzles to teach basic coding concepts. The pi-top also comes with a full software suite of more standard computing apps (including apps from Google and Microsoft). So this is no simple toy. Not a new model for this year — but still a compelling STEM machine
Age: 8+


Robo Wunderkind


Product: Starter Kit
Price: $200 
Description: Programmable robotics blocks for even very young inventors. The blocks snap together and are color-coded based on function so as to minimize instruction for the target age group. Kids can program their creations to do stuff like drive, play music, detect obstacles and more via a drag-and-drop coding interface in the companion Robo Code app. Another app — Robo Live — lets them control what they’ve built in real time. The physical blocks can also support Lego-based add-ons for more imaginative designs
Age: 5+


Root Robotics

Product: Root
Price: $200
Description: A robot that can sense and draw, thanks to a variety of on board sensors, battery-powered kinetic energy and its central feature: A built-in pen holder. Root uses spirographs as the medium for teaching STEM as kids get to code what the bot draws. They can also create musical compositions with a scan and play mode that turns Root into a music maker. The companion app offers three levels of coding interfaces to support different learning abilities and ages. At the top end it supports programming in Swift (with Python and JavaScript slated as coming soon). An optional subscription service offers access to additional learning materials and projects to expand Root’s educational value
Age: 4+


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Sphero


Product: Bolt
Price: $150
Description: The app-enabled robot ball maker’s latest STEM gizmo. It’s still a transparent sphere but now has an 8×8 LED matrix lodged inside to expand the programmable elements. This colorful matrix can be programmed to display words, show data in real-time and offer game design opportunities. Bolt also includes an ambient light sensor, and speed and direction sensors, giving it an additional power up over earlier models. The Sphero Edu companion app supports drawing, Scratch-style block-based and JavaScript text programming options to suit different ages
Age: 8+


Tech Will Save Us

Product: Range of coding, electronics and craft kits
Price: From ~$30 up to $150
Description: A delightful range of electronic toys and coding kits, hitting various age and price-points, and often making use of traditional craft materials (which of course kids love). Examples include a solar powered moisture sensor kit ($40) to alert when a pot plant needs water; electronic dough ($35); a micro:bot add-on kit ($35) that makes use of the BBC micro:bit device (sold separately); and the creative coder kit ($70), which pairs block-based coding with a wearable that lets kids see their code in action (and reacting to their actions)
Age: 4+, 8+, 11+ depending on kit


UBTech Robotics

Product: JIMU Robot BuilderBots Series: Overdrive Kit
Price: $120
Description: More snap-together, codable robot trucks that kids get to build and control. These can be programmed either via posing and recording, or using Ubtech’s drag-and-drop, block-based Blockly coding program. The Shenzhen-based company, which has been in the STEM game for several years, offers a range of other kits in the same Jimu kit series — such as this similarly priced UnicornBot and its classic MeeBot Kit, which can be expanded via the newer Animal Add-on Kit
Age: 8+


Wonder Workshop

Product: Dot Creativity Kit 
Price: $80
Description: San Francisco-based Wonder Workshop offers a kid-friendly blend of controllable robotics and DIY craft-style projects in this entry-level Dot Creativity Kit. Younger kids can play around and personalize the talkative connected device. But the startup sells a trio of chatty robots all aimed at encouraging children to get into coding. Next in line there’s Dash ($150), also for 6+ year olds. Then Cue ($200) for 11+. The startup also has a growing range of accessories to expand the bots’ (programmable) functionality — such as this Sketch Kit ($40) which adds a few arty smarts to Dash or Cue.

With Dot, younger kids play around using a suite of creative apps to control and customize their robot and tap more deeply into its capabilities, with the apps supporting a range of projects and puzzles designed to both entertain them and introduce basic coding concepts
Age: 6+


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Lunar war brews and NASA gets militarized in For All Mankind S2 trailer

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The space race in an alternate timeline continues in the second season of For All Mankind, returning to Apple TV+ in February.

Apple TV+ has dropped the trailer for the second season of For All Mankind, its science fiction drama about an alternate history where the space race never ended. The series was the linchpin of the Apple TV+ launch in 2019, and proved popular enough with viewers to warrant a second season.

(Some spoilers for the first season below.)

Series creator Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica) has made a point of trying to keep the show reasonably close to reality, despite the science fiction concept, often consulting the original NASA plans for guidance, and incorporating archival footage throughout the season. Moore said the following during a 2019 panel Q&A after an IMAX screening of the first two S1 episodes at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC:

Our production designer, Dan Fisher, who designed all the sets of the show, recreated Mission Control in such exacting detail that even the ceiling tiles [are] the same as the ceiling tiles in the original mission control. When we were on set, we had technical consultants and former astronauts who were actually there, who would walk the cast through how to operate the command module and the lunar module. We had people that would talk to the background players in Mission Control, so that people weren’t just randomly pushing buttons—they knew exactly what the console did and who they were talking to on those headsets, and that permeated the entire production.

The first season centered on an astronaut named Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman), standing in for Thomas Stafford, the Apollo 10 commander in our real-world timeline. His foil is fellow astronaut Gordo Stevens (Michael Dorman), the stereotypical hard-drinking, womanizing fighter pilot to Baldwin’s All-American “right stuff” persona. As Ars Tech Policy reporter Kate Cox noted in her S1 review, Apollo 10 was the “dress rehearsal” for the historic Apollo 11 moon landing, when American astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon.

But in this alternate timeline, the decision not to land on the moon with Apollo 10 meant the USSR beat America to the punch. Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov made history instead. (The real Leonov made his own mark in our timeline: he was part of the Voskhod 2 mission, and was the first man to perform a 12-minute spacewalk on March 18, 1965.) The US must then work to catch up in the space race, with an eye toward establishing a lunar base.

With the Soviets now the world leaders in space, America struggles to catch up, even recruiting a team of female astronauts after the first female cosmonaut lands on the moon. Over the course of the season, both countries find water on the moon and America sets up the first moon base in 1974, followed shortly thereafter by a Soviet lunar base eight miles away. There was a lot of interpersonal drama on both Earth and the Moon in S1, and a couple of tragic losses. The season ended with a complicated two-part episode involving a desperate launch of Apollo 25 to conduct an Apollo 24 relief and rescue mission. A post-credits scene et in 1983 featured a sea launch of large rocket with a plutonium payload for the US Jamestown colony on the moon.

The second season picks up that same year. Per the official premise:

It’s the height of the Cold War and tensions between the United States and the USSR are at their peak. Ronald Reagan is president and the greater ambitions of science and space exploration are at threat of being squandered as the US and Soviets go head-to-head to control sites rich in resources on the moon. The Department of Defense has moved into Mission Control, and the militarization of NASA becomes central to several characters’ stories: some fight it, some use it as an opportunity to advance their own interests, and some find themselves at the height of a conflict that may lead to nuclear war.

The trailer opens with the ominous news that the Soviets might be trying to develop a new weapon as a fresh class of candidate astronauts is introduced. The US can’t let that slide, because “it would set a dangerous precedent.” Also, that weapon would be able to drop munitions pretty much anywhere on Earth, so it’s a big threat to national security. As the Eurythmics play in the background, we meet Pathfinder, a new, more powerful space shuttle, and it looks like Kinnaman’s Ed Baldwin will be tapped for its first mission. Will war break out on the moon, or will the US live up to its declaration that it came in peace, “for all mankind”?

For All Mankind returns to Apple TV+ on February 19, 2021.

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Review: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina ends run with disappointing finale

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Our favorite half-human/half witch teenager took on eight timeless menacing entities to avert the apocalypse (again) in the final season of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. I’ve championed this weirdly captivating supernatural horror show from the beginning, and for three seasons the strengths have always outshone the occasional weakness. Unfortunately, S4 turned out to be the weakest of all, despite including one of the best episodes of the entire Netflix series, and what should have been a strong unifying narrative arc. It’s still pretty entertaining, but there was just a little too much pointless fan service and sloppy plotting this time around for S4 to really work.

(Spoilers for prior seasons below. Major spoilers for the series finale are below the second gallery. We’ll give you a heads up before we get there.)

As we’ve reported previously, the show was originally intended as a companion series to the CW’s Riverdale—a gleefully Gothic take on the original Archie comic books—but Sabrina ended up on Netflix instead. The show retains some of the primetime soap opera elements of Riverdale, but it incorporates more full-blown horror without bowing to the niceties imposed by network television. As I wrote last year, “Ultimately, the best thing about The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is how gleefully and unapologetically the show leans into its melting pot of the macabre. It’s quite the high-wire act, exploring serious themes while never, ever taking itself too seriously—and never descending into outright camp.”

In the S3 finale, Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) transformed a trio of unholy artifacts into a medieval spiked ball and chain known, appropriately enough, as a morning star. She used this to create a time loop, enabling her to go back and correct the grievous errors she made over the course of the season. So there are now two Sabrinas. The original Sabrina Spellman returned to her life in Greendale, while her alternate self, Sabrina Morningstar, took up her rightful throne as Queen of Hell. They’re supposed to always stay within their respective realms, but, well, what are the odds of that happening with such a headstrong heroine? Meanwhile, in the final scene, a now-mad Father Blackwood (Richard Coyle) performed a summoning ritual to call forth the “Eldritch Terrors” and told his loyal acolyte Agatha (Adeline Rudolph) that they will bring about “the end of all things.”

Showrunner Roberto Aguirra-Sacasa hinted that S4 would go full-blown Lovecraft. It’s really more of a fun Lovecraftian-influenced homage, starting with the title of the first episode: “The Eldritch Dark.” That’s an allusion to sci-fi/horror writer and H.P. Lovecraft contemporary Clark Ashton Smith, who wrote a 1912 poem with that title, although Lovecraft himself included a similar entity in his group of Outer Gods. Sabrina‘s version is a strange darkness (and accompanying sense of despair) called The Darkness that descends on Greendale and begins to spread—the first of eight Terrors called forth by Blackwood, each the focus of a separate episode. It takes both Sabrinas, plus the full coven, to defeat The Darkness.

Next up is The Uninvited, an entity that emerged during the creation of all things when he was turned away from a warm fire. Now he wanders through Greendale, knocking on doors, and ripping out the hearts of anyone who doesn’t invite him into their homes (because they’re heartless, get it?).  It seems to be loosely based on Lovecraft’s short story, “The Outsider.” When The Uninvited crashes Aunt Hilda’s wedding to Dr. Cerberus after being excluded from the festivities, the two Sabrinas defeat the entity through trickery. I honestly felt a little sorry for this Eldritch Terror, but you can’t have a zombie-like figure ripping people’s hearts out all over the place just because they failed to show a bit of hospitality.

The rest of the Terrors make their appearance one by one: The Weird—an octopus-like entity likely inspired by Lovecraft’s most famous creation, Cthulhu—who is a parasite with a collective consciousness that takes over Sabrina’s body; The Perverse, whose reality-warping powers are called forth by a gold imp statue (a nod to the Edgar Allan Poe short story, “The Imp of the Perverse”); The Cosmic, in which the various realms start to merge, with disastrous consequences; The Returned, in which departed loved ones return from the dead; The Endless, possibly inspired by the Lovecraftian deity Thasaidon; and finally, The Void, which existed at creation and will bring about the end of all things.

(Warning: major spoilers below the gallery. Stop now if you haven’t finished the season.)

Let’s start with what worked this final season. The cast remains phenomenal, with everyone turning in exceptional performances despite being given some very silly material to work with at times. In particular, Michelle Gomez as Lilith/MadamSatan, and Miranda Otto and Lucy Davis as Aunt Zelda and Aunt Hilda, respectively, have long anchored the show, and continue to do so in S4. The aunts even get to play opposite their counterparts from the 1996 TV series, Caroline Rhea and Beth Broderick, in the penultimate episode, “The Endless”—the aforementioned standout in the series,

In order to keep the realms from colliding, the two Sabrinas agree to inhabit separate realms. Sabrina Spellman remains in Greendale, while Sabrina Morrningstar goes through a mirror portal to a parallel universe, and finds herself on the set of a popular TV sitcom. The entire realm is comprised of the set, and everyone is in service to the star: Sabrina’s feline familiar, Salem, aka The Endless. Sabrina’s aunts are played by Rhea and Broderick, with Otto and Davis playing their understudies, reduced to sleeping under the beds of their counterparts at night.

The set is a nightmare realm of the longest-running sitcom in the universe, where people can be fired after three slight missteps, and sent to the “green room,” never to return. The entire episode is deliciously meta and very clever about weaving in industry in-jokes and poking fun at the Netflix series’ more ludicrous elements. Case in point: Sabrina Morningstar’s former consort, Caliban (Sam Corlett), prefers to work backstage in props where he won’t be so gratuitously objectified—and then proceeds to remove his shirt, because it’s “his choice.” But even The Endless will be wiped out by The Void, which soon arrives and consumes this alternate world. Sabrina Morningstar barely manages to escape, plunging through the mirror back to Greendale to warn Sabrina Spellman of the imminent threat. The effort costs her life. At least there’s now only one Sabrina again.

As for the cons, did we really need a hellish “battle of the bands” where every cast member has to perform a pop song? That reeks of fan service and a rather crass marketing ploy. Some plot developments just seem like lazy writing: Mambo Marie (Skye Marshall), the Haitian voodoo witch who’s romantically involved with Aunt Zelda, is actually Baron Samedi; Roz doesn’t just have the Sight, she’s been a witch all along; and Robin Goodfellow (Jonathan Whitesell) abandons Theo (Lachlan Watson) to return to the faerie realm, but then changes his mind and comes back. Don’t even get me started on Lilith’s baby. None of these developments seem to serve any real purpose, other than give the relevant characters something to do.

Furthermore, most of the Eldritch Terrors don’t come off as particularly terrifying, perhaps because they are so easily defeated. These are supposed to be incredibly powerful, timeless entities. Yet we’re supposed to believe that Sabrina and her pals can drum up sufficiently powerful spells and magical objects to counter each Terror, like they’re some paltry second-tier demon. I mean, The Uninvited gets tricked into being imprisoned in Sabrina’s enchanted childhood dollhouse. An Eldritch Terror should really be a little more savvy than that.

“The Endless” set up what should have been an equally sharply focused and emotionally powerful finale, particularly in light of Sabrina Morningstar’s demise. Instead, the plotting flounders, reeling from one implausible moment to another and never quite meshing in a satisfying way. Unlike some fans, I have no issue with the controversial decision to kill off Sabrina Spellman as well; the character has been associated with reverse Christ-like imagery from the beginning, so of course Sabrina would end up sacrificing herself to save the world. A similar plot line worked spectacularly well in the S5 finale (“The Gift”) of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, when Buffy sacrifices herself to save her sister (and the world).

But Sabrina’s sacrifice just doesn’t pack the same emotional punch. It feels rushed, like the writers were in a hurry to wrap things up, so we never really get to linger on the enormity of the loss and its impact on Sabrina’s friends and family. There’s a perfunctory funeral, and then we cut to Sabrina in the Sweet Hereafter, where she is soon joined by her boyfriend, Nick Scratch (Gavin Leatherwood), who went swimming in the “Sea of Sorrows” so he could be with her for eternity. Translation: he committed suicide because his girlfriend died. That’s an oddly distasteful note on which to end.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has been a wild and crazy (if uneven) ride. As I’ve noted before, the show’s strategy of throwing every mythological figure and literary trope into the mix and seeing what sticks, works more often than not—in large part because of the gifted cast. It’s too bad that even such an amazing cast couldn’t rescue the series finale.

The final season of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is currently streaming on Netflix (along with all the preceding seasons).

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The local politics of AirBNB’s ban on DC rentals

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Enlarge / Airbnb said it will refund guests who had booked stays in Washington next week and reimburse hosts for lost income.

Bonnie Jo Mount | Washington Post | Getty Images

On January 9—three days after supporters of President Trump started a riot at the US Capitol—Sean Evans decided it was time for action. Evans had seen a post on Nextdoor about neighbors running into hostile Trump supporters the night of the riot, leading to a verbal altercation that had left residents of his corner of Northwest DC on edge. Now, rumors flew online that the upcoming inauguration of president-elect Joe Biden would bring more protesters and more armed violence to the streets of his city. “I don’t want them in my neighborhood,” Evans thought to himself. In fact, he didn’t want insurrectionists in the city at all.

So on Nextdoor, Evans asked his neighbors to stop renting out their properties via Airbnband VRBO. A few hours later, another neighbor devised a hashtag: #DontRentDC.

Separately, a group called ShutDownDC gathered 500 volunteers to message DC area Airbnb hosts. The group sent messages to the managers of 3,400 properties in the region—polite ones, according to ShutDownDC organizer Alex Dodd. The messages alerted the Airbnb hosts to an upcoming threat and asked them to please refrain from booking anyone in their homes in the days surrounding the inauguration.

It worked. On Wednesday, Airbnb said it would cancel and block all Washington area reservations next week. Guests who had booked reservations would be refunded; if hosts had reservations or had canceled them recently, they would be reimbursed for the lost income. Airbnb spokesperson Ben Breit said the company “came to this decision following dialog with Washington, DC, officials, the Metro police department, and members of Congress.” (Earlier in the week, DC’s mayor had asked people not to travel to the inauguration; many customary inaugural events will happen online.)

For Airbnb, the incident is a reminder that all its politics is local. The company, now publicly traded with a value of more than $100 billion, has made its reputation on selling visitors on neighborhood authenticity. But its business model has at times made it a lightning rod for local affairs, and left it scrambling to solve social ills. Airbnb has battled with local governments to allow short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods. It has tussled with local officials over taxes and data sharing. It has reshaped the economies of tiny vacation towns. It has tried to prevent big parties in rentals, which have sometimes led to violence. More recently, it has met with the ire of neighbors who don’t want virus-stricken out-of-towners filling up their overloaded ICUs.

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