This fan-made Uncharted movie starring Nathan Fillion proves video game movies don’t have to be awful

It’s not exactly a controversial statement: Movies based on video games are, generally, bad. See Assassins Creed. Or that weird mess that was Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. Or that Super Mario movie where Bowser (renamed “President Koopa” for some reason) was basically just a dude with bad hair for half the movie.

Turns out, as this live action fan film based on Naughty Dog’s Uncharted suggests, they can be done right.

This fan-made short is about as unofficial as can be, as noted by a disclaimer that pops up on screen right off the bat.

And yet, it does a better job of capturing the feel of its source material than pretty much any game-based movie before it.

And it stars Nathan Fillion! Captain friggin’ Reynolds himself! Fans have been saying for ages that Nathan Fillion would make for one helluva Nathan Drake, and it seems like the hive mind really nailed that casting.

Is it silly? Sure. Will people who’ve never played the Uncharted series understand what’s going on? Maybe not. But it feels like Uncharted, down to a scene in which I half expected to be asked to mash some invisible X button to ensure Nathan’s punch connected.

Would it work as a feature-length movie? It’s hard to say. But if they found a way to release something like this episodically, I’d tune in. Alas, no word yet on any future plans from the team involved.

Dangerous plutonium stolen from rental car in a hotel parking lot

Two workers from the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory lost an undisclosed amount of plutonium and cesium from a rental car parked overnight in a San Antonio, Texas, hotel parking lot in a neighborhood known for car break-ins and other crimes, according to an article published Monday by the Center for Public Integrity.

The loss of the highly radioactive material occurred in March 2017 and was discovered when the two workers awoke the next morning to find the window of their Ford Expedition had been smashed. Missing were radiation detectors and small samples of plutonium and cesium used to calibrate them. The workers were transporting the equipment and materials during an assignment to retrieve dangerous nuclear materials from a nonprofit research lab in San Antonio when the theft occurred. The vehicle had been parked in the lot of a Marriott hotel in a San Antonio neighborhood where car break-ins are common.

More than a year later, state and federal officials still don’t know where the substances are. No public announcement of the March 21 incident was ever made by either the San Antonio Police Department or by the FBI, which police consulted. Officials have declined to say how much plutonium and cesium were taken. A spokeswoman with the Idaho lab told reporters Patrick Malone and R. Jeffrey Smith that the amount of plutonium taken wasn’t enough to create a so-called dirty bomb and that there’s little or no danger from either sources being in the public domain.

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Suspect behind bitcoin exchange that “catered to criminals” ordered to France

A Greek court in Thessaloniki ruled last week that the creator of a shady bitcoin exchange under investigation by American authorities will be extradited to France rather than to the United States or to his native Russia.

Last summer, federal authorities identified Alexander Vinnik as a central figure in the massive bitcoin theft that was a major factor in the downfall of Mt. Gox, the Japanese bitcoin exchange that led the market in bitcoin’s early years. If Vinnik is ultimately determined to be involved in the crash and eventual bankruptcy of Mt. Gox, that revelation would finally solve what has remained one of the bitcoin community’s biggest mysteries.

American prosectors have previously said that the exchange, BTC-e, was behind around $4 billion worth of money laundering.

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Uber is being investigated for gender discrimination in a federal probe

As Uber tries to chart a new course, it still can’t manage to outrun news that paints its corporate culture in an ugly light.

As The Wall Street Journal reports, Uber is being investigated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for gender disparities pertaining to hiring practices and pay. The EEOC probe began in August 2017 and the commission has been interviewing employees and collecting relevant documents since. The EEOC declined to provide details to TechCrunch due to “confidentiality provisions,” adding that details of an EEOC investigation “[become] public only when the EEOC files a lawsuit, which is typically a last resort.”

An Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch that the company has “proactively made a lot of changes in the last 18 months.” Those changes include creating and enacting a new “salary and equity structure,” reforming the way it conducts performance reviews to emphasize high-quality feedback, putting out diversity and inclusion reports and involving more employees in diversity trainings.

Uber put out its first diversity and inclusion report in March 2017 and in April of this year updated those numbers, which demonstrate some movement in the right direction, albeit at a glacial pace. In the latest report, the company noted it had increased the percentage of women in its workforce from 36.1 to 38 percent, which isn’t exactly progress to write home about.

With new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber is hoping to rewrite its own story, but the company continues to be embroiled in leadership turbulence, like last week’s departure of Chief People Officer Liane Hornsey after an internal investigation into race-based discrimination and last month’s departure of Chief Brand Officer Bozoma Saint John.

It’s worth noting that Uber isn’t being singled out by the EEOC, which has also launched recent investigations into age discrimination at Intel and gendered pay discrepancies at Google. Still, for Uber, no news would be good news — even just for a little while.

0x lets any app be the Craigslist of cryptocurrency

Centralized crypto exchanges like Coinbase are easy but expensive because they introduce a middleman. Not-for-profit project 0x allows any developer to quickly build their own decentralized cryptocurrency exchange and decide their own fees. It acts like Craigslist, connecting traders without ever holding the tokens itself. And instead of having to bootstrap their way to enough users trading tokens on their app alone so that there’s liquidity, 0x offers cross-platform liquidity between users on the different projects it powers.

The problem is the user experience of decentralized apps is often crappy compared to the consumer apps we’re used to across the rest of tech. From sign-in to recovering accounts to conducting transactions, it’s a lot more complicated than Facebook Login, PayPal, or Shopify. Bitcoin and Ethereum prices remain well below half their peaks because it’s difficult to do much with cryptocurrency right now. Until the decentralized infrastructure improves, the dreams of how blockchains can improve the world remain distant.

0x is trying to fix that by ensuring developers all don’t have to reinvent the exchange wheel.

It began as a for-profit exchange before the team recognized the massive usability gap. So instead it became a decentralized exchange protocol, and raised $24 million in an ICO for its ZRX token. That’s how relayers — the apps who use it to build exchanges for ERC20 tokens atop the Ethereum blockchain — can charge fees. It also gives those who collect the most a say in the governance of the protocol.

Some of the top projects on 0x like Augur and Dydx are going strong. Last week Coinbase announced it was exploring whether it might list ZRX and several other currencies for trade on its exchange, helping perk up the price after declines since the new year.

 

0x’s ZRX token price, via CoinMarketCap

Now 0x is putting some of its $24 million to work. It just hired former Facebook designer Chris Kalani to help it improve the usability of its APIs and the products built on top of them. His skills helped Facebook embrace mobile around its 2012 IPO. He then built Wake, raising $3.8 million for the design prototype sharing tool that let teams get instant feedback on their works-in-progress. Kalani sold Wake to design platform InVision in April, and after a few months assisting the transition, he’s joined 0x.

“There are very few designers involved in the [blockchain] space” Kalani tells me. “There’s not a lot of people who had worked on anything at a large-scale or from the consumer perspective. We’re focused on making crypto more approachable.”

Sustaining a crypto not-for-profit

After talking to four leaders in different parts of the blockchain industry, the consensus was that 0x was an elegant protocol for spawning decentralized exchanges. But the question kept coming up about whether the project will be sustainable. The company doesn’t have to earn enormous amounts of revenue, but concerns about its longevity could scare away developers. One, who asked to remain anonymous, described 0x saying, “the best analogy is trying to monetize Linux.”

0x is open source, so it could be forked so developers can sidestep ZRX. 0x hopes that the shared liquidity feature will keep developers in line. It only works with the unforked version, and is now being used by 0x-powered projects, including Radar Relay, ERC dEX, Shark Relay, Bamboo Relay and LedgerDex.

While some centralized exchanges have suffered security troubles and hacks, those with stronger records like Coinbase continue to thrive while banking off high fees. That in turn lets them offer better liquidity and invest more in the user experience, widening the gap versus decentralized apps. “People trust Coinbase with large amounts of capital but they wouldn’t trust themselves,” Kalani admits. But he thinks it’s early in the game, and as users become more knowledgeable and comfortable with holding their own tokens for use on decentralized exchanges, 0x and ZRX will thrive.

There’s also competition within the decentralized exchange space from Kyber’s liquidity network, and AirSwap’s peer-to-peer exchange marketplace. But for any of these to thrive, the mainstream crypto owner will have to get better educated. That could fall to 0x.

One alternative path for the not-for-profit would be selling developer services and consulting to those building on top of it. Or it could always do another ICO. But for now, there are a lot of projects out there that don’t want to foot the upfront cost to build their own secure and compliant exchange from scratch. Kalani concludes, “The way Stripe allowed developers and businesses to build on top of it, and not have to worry about regulatory issues and all the infrastructure necessary to take payments, I think 0x is going to do something similar with exchanges for crypto.”

CRISPR DNA editing may cause serious genetic damage, researchers warn

CRISPR-Cas9, the gene-editing tool that is currently the darling of biotech and many other fields, may not be quite as miraculous as early tests suggested. A new study finds that what scientists thought of as a scalpel may be more like a felling axe, causing damage hundreds of times what was previously observed.

Before anyone panics and checks out the window for mutated monstrosities, it should be said right away that this isn’t a nightmare scenario by any means: the tool can still be used in many ways safely, and the clinical repercussions of the damage are unexplored. But this unexpected limitation of a tool so widely applied will almost certainly put a chill on its use.

CRISPR, as a quick reminder, is basically a molecule that cleanly and reliably snips bases out of DNA strands paired with a molecule that hunts out a single sequence of bases. Together, they act like a pair of laser-guided scissors.

The idea is that by cutting out a handful of bases in a sequence that produces, for instance, sickle cell anemia, you can disable that gene altogether. This has been shown in numerous studies, and although unexpected insertions and deletions (abbreviated “indels”) of a handful of base pairs has been observed, no greater damage has been expected or seen — until now.

It turns out that some CRISPR edits may produce indels at the scale of thousands of bases — more than enough to affect adjacent genes or otherwise interfere with normal genetic operation.

The study published today in Nature, by Michael Kosicki, Kärt Tomberg and Allan Bradley of the Wellcome Sanger Institute, explains that previous research may have never encountered this type of damage simply because, essentially, it never allowed damage at this scale to occur.

The problem isn’t that CRISPR is going wild and producing this damage on its own; instead, the issue is an unexpectedly sloppy repair job by the cell itself.

After a CRISPR snip, lead author Bradley explained in a Nature news writeup, “the cell will try to stitch things back together. But it doesn’t really know what bits of DNA lie adjacent to each other.”

While doing its best to repair the damage with a bit of its own genetic cutting and pasting, it may accidentally substitute hundreds or thousands of base pairs that weren’t there, or cut out similarly sized ranges that were supposed to remain.

Because previous studies often used many copies of the same thousand-pair (or thereabouts) sequence to watch CRISPR in action, the possibility of thousand-pair damage was pretty much absent. It’s only when using much longer and more diverse strands of DNA that these high-volume indels are possible.

“We speculate that current assessments may have missed a substantial proportion of potential genotypes generated by on-target Cas9 cutting and repair, some of which may have potential pathogenic consequences,” reads the paper.

Fortunately, the damage seems to only occur when the job performed by the CRISPR complex is the cutting out of a sequence, leaving it open for the cell to repair. There are other methods that involve replacing or deactivating sequences that should not provoke this reaction. And like many problems in the practical biological sciences, it doesn’t need to be feared and worried about — it needs to be studied and accounted for.

All the same, having serious genetic damage accompany any part of this revolutionary technique will surely (or at least hopefully) spur inquiry and countermeasures, even if it means tapping the brakes on certain existing therapies, experiments and companies.

Feds probe whether Uber hired fewer women, paid them less

The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has opened a formal investigation into the hiring and employment practices of Uber.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the probe has been going on since August 2017. It seeks to reveal whether there is a pay disparity between male and female employees, among other labor concerns.

Uber did not immediately respond to Ars’ question as to how many federal inquiries the company currently faces, but the company told multiple media outlets in a statement that Uber has “made a lot of changes in the last 18 months” and that it had added new “diversity and leadership training” worldwide.

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Instapaper is leaving Pinterest, two years after being acquired

Back in August of 2016, Pinterest acquired Instapaper, the read-it-later bookmarking service originally built by Marco Arment.

Just shy of two years later, Instapaper is going back to being independent.

In a blog post published this afternoon, the team clarifies that a new company called “Instant Paper, Inc.” has been formed to oversee Instapaper, and that it’ll largely be made up of the same folks who’ve worked on it since ~2013.

Don’t expect much to change, for better or worse — at least, not immediately. The company is waiting three weeks before officially transferring ownership, in order to “give [its] users fair notice about the change of control with respect to their personal information.”

The team doesn’t outline the reasoning for splitting away, but it has many users hoping its newly regained independence means it can become GDPR-compliant sooner than later. Instapaper shut off its services in Europe back in May so they could “make changes in light of [GDPR]”; two months later, the service remains offline in the EU.

Instapaper confirmed this afternoon that GDPR-compliance is still a goal: