You can’t copyright a cocktail, so what’s a creative bartender to do?

Welcome to the conference, this is the 10am panel. Can we interest you in a Dark 'n' Stormy®?

NEW ORLEANS—Anyone who fancies themselves a fan of cocktails knows the names: the Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Martini, Margarita, on and on and on. In the drinks world, such recipes have stood the test of time and grown into industry icons over decades. But unlike similar cultural colossuses elsewhere—from Mickey Mouse on screen or “Hey Jude” in the stereo—you can find the Negroni being deployed freely at virtually every bar in America. What gives?

“Can you copyright and own a recipe? A recipe in the eyes of the law doesn’t have that creative spark,” says attorney Andrea Mealey, an intellectual property expert who’s done legal work for beverage companies like Gosling’s Rum. During a panel on IP in the bar industry at the 2019 Tales of the Cocktail (TOTC) conference, she next points at the ceiling in this conference room. “The design of that chandelier—someone had to come up with it. It’s creative, and you can own copyright on that design. I can do a slightly different design and own that as well. But a recipe is like a phone book in the eyes of the law—you can’t own something so factual.”

In the modern drinks world, Mealey not-so-subtly implies copyright may be the most useless legal tool for enterprising bartenders. (You could at least patent some amazing new tool, in theory.) It’s a not-so-dirty secret that many have increasingly become aware of in this modern cocktail renaissance, where a killer recipe at an influential bar can suddenly show up on menus worldwide with little more than a written credit. The US Copyright Office puts it plainly: “A mere listing of ingredients or contents, or a simple set of directions, is uncopyrightable.”

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The Greatest Leap, part 6: After Apollo, NASA still searching for an encore

Video shot by Joshua Ballinger, edited and produced by Jing Niu and David Minick. Click here for transcript. (video link)

And then it was all over.

After the drama of Apollo 13, the final four human missions to the Moon in 1971 and 1972 flew smoothly. With each successive, increasingly routine landing, astronauts made longer forays out onto the dusty lunar terrain and delved deeper into the scientific secrets hidden there.

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Amazon warns customers: Those supplements might be fake

Amazon warns customers: Those supplements might be fake

On the second evening of Prime Day, Amazon’s annual sales bonanza, Anne Marie Bressler received an email from Amazon that had nothing to do with the latest deals. The message, sent from an automated email address Tuesday, informed her that the Align nutritional supplements she ordered two weeks earlier were probably counterfeit. “If you still have this product, we recommend that you stop using it immediately and dispose of the item,” the email reads, adding that she would be receiving a full refund. It’s not clear how many other customers may have purchased the fake supplements. Amazon confirmed that it sent out the email but declined to specify the number of customers impacted.

For years, Amazon has battled third-party sellers who list knockoffs of everything from iPhone charging cables to soccer jerseys on its site. Nutritional supplements are another popular target for fakes, as it’s a largely unregulated industry. The US Food and Drug Administration has been criticized—including by former staff—for declining to test dietary supplements for safety and effectiveness the same way it does pharmaceuticals. In this instance, the problems came together: An Amazon merchant sold dupes of genuine probiotics made by Align, a Procter & Gamble brand.

“We are aware that some counterfeit Align product was sold on Amazon via third parties,” Mollie Wheeler, a spokes­person for Procter & Gamble, said in an email. “Amazon has confirmed they have stopped third party sales of the Align products in question and Amazon is only selling Align product received directly from P&G manufacturing facilities.”

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Can Disney’s Circle really deliver a porn-free Internet?

Can the Mouse keep your house safe from the sketchy parts of the Internet?

Filtering out the bits of human knowledge you don’t like and leaving all the bits you do is a deceptively difficult task; it’s one of the classic “I may not know art, but I know what I (don’t) like” problems. If you have a family with small children and absolutely any adult member of that family is not a complete libertine, though, it’s a problem you’ll need to address. The latest edition of the Disney-backed Circle filtering platform aims to help, via either a standalone IoT gadget ($35) or a service embedded in higher-end Netgear routers and mesh kits, such as Orbi RBK50 ($300) or Nighthawk R7000P ($160).

Twenty years ago, the problem was trying to keep an up-to-date database of everything on the Internet and whether it was naughty or not. In 2019, we’ve got the Big Data chops for that, but a larger problem has cropped up—end-to-end encryption. The HTTPS standard treats everything in between the website itself and the device you’re viewing it on as potentially hostile. It keeps those potential hostiles from seeing or altering what you’re doing. So while your router (or any other device in the middle) might be able to tell—or at least effectively guess—what website you’re visiting, it has no idea what you’re actually doing there.

That means filtering based on the actual content you’re looking at isn’t possible, and family filtering is a semi-blind guessing game. Many companies and devices claim to do it, but Circle is the first one I’ve seen that does it even tolerably well.

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Don’t hold your breath for the moon

In the house in which I grew up, a single framed newspaper front page loomed over us. “MAN ON MOON“, it declared jubilantly, in an enormous, suitably momentous typeface. Subheadings included “‘It’s very pretty up here … a fine, soft surface’” and, of course, “A giant leap for mankind.”

One leap forward, three steps back. That newspaper was dated fifty years ago today, as I type this. Apollo 17 — “the most recent time humans have travelled beyond low Earth orbit” — took place in December 1972, a date at which a large majority of humanity today was not yet born.

Space travel is not the stuff of science fiction. It is the stuff of history books, of yesteryear, of scratchy black-and-white TV, of that yellowing newspaper cover of my youth.

What happened? I mean, lots, but ultimately the costs were too high, the tangible benefits too nonexistent, and the Space Shuttle was too much of an unmitigated disaster from start to finish in every way.

What happens next? Well, there we have a quick answer: we’re going back! America is going to land the first woman on the moon by 2024! Absolutely!

…you’re absolutely right to be very skeptical.

There are a numerous “lunar exploration architectures,” or ways to return to the Moon. My friend Casey Handmer, a physicist, space enthusiast, and former levitation engineer, itemizes them in this excellent blog post from a few months ago. One of them is NASA’s proposed Lunar Gateway, which will place a space station into high Moon orbit, from and to which lunar landings will descent and return.

Is this a good idea? …Well, it’s an idea. But it’s better to have a plan and to be making progress on it that not, right? Right? …Except the last few months have seen a bewildering flurry of chaos and confusion which makes NASA’s lunar program more closely resemble a headless chicken than a smoothly oiled machine.

First, an unsigned five-page document, riddled with spectacular grammar and spelling errors such as

There is no feasible means to redesign it or any other heavy left rocket to more transport the lunar landing elements

(!) was shared by “the Gateway program office at Johnson Space Center in Houston,” reported Ars Technica. (Casey wrote an exegesis of this dubious document, if you want to see it deconstructed in detail.) Then, earlier this month, NASA demoted and replaced its executives in charge of human space exploration.

Does this sound like the behavior of a lunar project accelerating to an on-target, on-time landing? Or more like a bureaucratic catastrophe thrashing frantically while failing to get anywhere at all? “As it stands, few experts believe NASA’s plan for returning to the moon in 2024 is feasible,” says Vox mordantly. You don’t say.

I’d be so delighted to see a woman walk on the moon in 2024. But I’m not exactly holding my breath. By 2032 we will have gone sixty years, three generations, between human lunar excursions. Some people think we shouldn’t go back at all, that there is too much of more importance to do here on Earth. I disagree, strongly, but I think even they might still agree that it would be sad beyond belief if, if and when we next land on the Moon, there’s no one around who remembers the last time.

Watch this paper doll do sit-ups thanks to new kind of “artificial muscle”

A new twist on a special kind of polymer is what enables this paper doll to do calisthenics.

A new twist on lightweight organic materials shows promise for artificial-muscle applications. Chinese scientists spiked a crystalline organic material with a polymer to make it more flexible. They reported their findings in a new paper in ACS Central Science, demonstrating proof of concept by using their material to make an aluminum foil paper doll do sit-ups.

There’s a lot of active research on developing better artificial muscles—manmade materials, actuators, or similar devices that mimic the contraction, expansion, and rotation (torque) characteristic of the movement of natural muscle. And small wonder, since they could be useful in a dizzying range of potential applications: robots, prosthetic limbs, powered exoskeletons, toys, wearable electronics, haptic interfaces, vehicles, and miniature medical devices, to name just a few. Most artificial muscles are designed to respond to electric fields, (such as electroactive polymers), changes in temperature (such as shape-memory alloys and fishing line), and changes in air pressure via pneumatics.

Yet artificial muscles typically weigh more than scientists would like and don’t respond as quickly as needed for key applications. So scientists are keen to develop new types of artificial muscle that are lightweight and highly responsive. Just this past week, Science featured three papers from different research groups (at MIT, University of Texas at Dallas, and University of Bordeaux) describing three artificial-muscle technologies based on tiny twisted fibers that can store and release energy.

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Game of Thrones Goes on a Victory Lap—and an Apology Tour

You know nothing, Jon Snow—like, maybe wear a hat when conditions are freezing in the North. Even if it musses up your luscious locks.

Hey. So, um, remember the end of Game of Thrones? If you were a fan of the show, you probably do. And there’s a good chance it still stings. Daenerys Targaryen turned into a totalitarian dictator (if that can, indeed, be a thing). Then she died. Then Bran Stark—of all people!—was picked to rule Westeros. His sister Sansa became Queen in the North. And those are just the major plot points, the top of the crap-heap. It was, well, not beloved.

And the people who made that final season know it. To be clear, they don’t entirely agree with the criticisms of the HBO show, they just know there was some blowback. A murderer’s row of fan favorites from Game of Thrones—Isaac Hempstead Wright (Bran Stark), Conleth Hill (Varys), John Bradley (Samwell Tarly), Maisie Williams (Arya Stark), Jacob Anderson (Greyworm), Liam Cunningham (Davos), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jamie Lannister)—showed up at Comic-Con International to both take a victory lap and go on a quick apology tour. (Showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, who were originally slated to appear, canceled two days ago.)

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Week in Review: The one-way web and Elon Musk’s Neuralink

Hello, weekenders. This is Week-in-Review, where I give a heavy amount of analysis and/or rambling thoughts on one story while scouring the rest of the hundreds of stories that emerged on TechCrunch this week to surface my favorites for your reading pleasure.

Last week, I offered up some mildly interesting takes on how Waymo was shaping the future of autonomous vehicles inside of a virtual space rather than wholly on physical roads.


The big story

There are two internets. There’s the one where we click through interfaces and hit menu buttons and dive down predictable lines of inquiry and find predictable ends. And then there are ads. We don’t understand why we get what we get but we the content flows from platform to user with asymmetric information of the “how?”.

Advertising is the economic backbone of the free consumer web, but users are haplessly oblivious to where that generated content comes from and why. What intrigues me here is that a few days ago Instagram announced that it was further rolling out a test to hide like counts from users and that it has been further minimizing the prominence of follower counts on profiles.

It’s an (admittedly small) step in the evolution but it hinges a bit more on how internet giants have come to realize UX transparency can actually lead to some negatives.

There’s of course the ethical argument where you think about the responsibility that Facebook has not to make people feel shitty about themselves by offering a dopamine-hit conveyor belt as a platform, but a more fascinating idea is what a change like this opens up to the company in terms of returns and what it means for how platforms portray the nebulous idea of “engagement.”

One of the easy returns I bet Instagram finds as they expand this test is that by eliminating the conforming social pressures inherent to seeing what other users are enjoying, Instagram might paint a clearer picture of its users. Without giving users a groupthink crutch to influence their own decisions on what to click the heart button on, a web of content less-focused on stats might lead them to things that actually break into.

What’s the most interesting — that this change sort of lightly grazes across — is that we’ve spent the past few decades with the necessary evil of a web predicated on a cause and effect interface. We’ve had a decent idea of why we’re coming across some piece of content and the statistics of why are often user-facing. But do we need to know how the internet works? Do we need to know why we’re seeing anything?

We’ve been thrust fully into this world of algorithmic feeds and while we’re seeing variation across platforms, we’re seeing the potential and pitfalls of the various platforms. Instagram has flirted with serving users content more boldly outside of things they’ve specifically followed with the Explore feed, but the question is when that smartly-sourced content that will come to dominate a user’s central feed and be their main touchpoint with the platform.

We’ve also seen the dangers of algorithmic content where the “why” is invisible to users, YouTube’s platform has grown immensely based off  ad-like invisibly sourced “watch next” suggestions, but can social platforms pull this off as well or are the fundamentals of today’s algorithmic feeds based around user actions and follows going to stay true down the road?

Send me feedback
on Twitter @lucasmtny or email
lucas@techcrunch.com

On to the rest of the week’s news.

Trends of the week

Here are a few big news items from big companies, with green links to all the sweet, sweet added context:

  • Musk’s Neuralink makes its first promises
    The SpaceX founder is known for his moonshots, but this one kind of takes the cake. On Tuesday, Musk spoke about the progress and long-term goals of the company he hoped would allow humans to “achieve a sort of symbiosis with artificial intelligence.” Read more about the promises made in our report.
  • FaceApp goes viral, again
    If you used the internet at all this week, chances are that you saw somebody posting an old-looking photo of themselves that was algorithmically generated by an app called FaceApp. There was an awful lot of backlash to the app’s Russian ties and its user permissions, but we tried to break down what was actually happening.
  • SpaceX’s ‘Starhopper’ bursts into flames
    It was only a test vehicle, but uncontrolled explosions generally aren’t the best sign when it comes to testing components for space flight. Check out the video and the company’s explanation here.

GAFA Gaffes

How did the top tech companies screw up this week? This clearly needs its own section, in order of badness:

  1. Libra shortcomings:
    [Congressional testimony reveals some faults in Facebook’s digital currency plans]
  2. Facebook continues to contradict itself:
    [Facebook accused of contradicting itself on claims about platform policy violations]

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Extra Crunch

Our premium subscription service had another week of interesting deep dives. This week, we showcased the beginning of our deep dive on Roblox, the wildly popular kids gaming platform that has grown beyond unicorn status.

How Roblox avoided the gaming graveyard and grew into a $2.5B company

“…In some ways, Roblox stayed trendy: for instance, it launched sales of its Robux currency in 2008 and virtual goods for developers in 2013, adding microtransactions at a time that much of the game industry was still trying to come to grips with the idea of free gaming. It also supported and nourished a community of unpaid content creators during a time that few other companies had done so, with a few exceptions like YouTube.

Still, the activity taking place in gaming was a philosophical threat. When a company in Roblox’s space hit it big, years before Roblox itself had any hope to, that winning strategy became a temptation. “There are friends, acquaintances, competitors chattering in your ear and saying, maybe you can just do that,” says Dusek…”

Here are some of our other top reads this week for premium subscribers. This week, we talked about seed stage dilution and startup profitability.

We’re excited to announce The Station, a new TechCrunch newsletter all about mobility. Each week, in addition to curating the biggest transportation news, Kirsten Korosec will provide analysis, original reporting and insider tips. Sign up here to get The Station in your inbox beginning in August.