The Race to Save the World’s Smallest Porpoise From Extinction

  • May 14, 2019

The smallest porpoise on Earth is facing an imminent extinction event. At this moment, if aggressive action is immediately taken, experts believe the vaquita may still have a chance to survive. If nothing changes, by 2020, it could spell the end of this charismatic porpoise.

With dark-lined eyes and inky, upturned lips, the vaquita has a doll-like face and petite silhouette. Its full name, vaquita marina, means “little sea cow” in Spanish; a fitting moniker given the porpoise’s endearing appearance. But the vaquita also holds the title of most endangered marine mammal on the planet—one it was bestowed after the Yangtze river dolphin in China was declared extinct in 2006. In the 13 years since, its population collapsed over 90 percent. As of March, it was estimated that as few as 10 to 15 vaquita survive.

Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho, the world’s leading vaquita expert, has been studying the species in its one and only habitat—the turquoise- and azure-colored Sea of Cortez in Baja, California—for over 20 years. He says that despite the low vaquita numbers there is still hope for the species, and notes they are genetically resilient. “They reproduce, they eat, they do what healthy populations do—we just need to stop killing them,” Rojas-Bracho told Earther.

So, what exactly is killing the vaquita? “It is absolutely gillnets,” Cynthia Smith, Executive Director for National Marine Mammal Foundation (NMMF) told Earther.

Gillnets are coarse nylon fishing nets popular in artisanal fisheries and used across the Gulf of California. Though not directly hunted, the vaquita has been finding its death by becoming entangled in these gillnets as “bycatch” and subsequently drowning.

Over the last thirty years, gillnets set out by the legal, local shrimp industry proved devastating to vaquita numbers. On top of that, illegal fishing of the critically endangered totoaba fish has taken place since the late 1980s. The totoaba’s fish bladder, or “maw,” is in high demand in China and in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) markets around the world, where it can fetch more money than gold or cocaine.

At first, illegal totoaba fishing was sporadic and uncoordinated. But around a decade ago, international crime networks began running a large-scale, systemized trade in totoaba parts harvested from across the Gulf using gillnets. It was also around this time that the vaquita decline began to intensify. Like many species around the world, the porpoise was getting caught in the crosshairs of wildlife crime.

A totoaba caught in a gillnet.
Photo: Carolina Castro via Sea Shepherd

Andrea Crosta is a crime intelligence expert and the Executive Director of the Elephant Action League (EAL), an organization with a mission of protecting wildlife and the environment through intelligence and investigative operations. Starting in 2017, EAL led an undercover investigation of the totoaba maw supply-chain that makes its way from the Gulf of California to China and TCM markets overseas. He told Earther that “the main mistake in dealing with this [vaquita] case for the past decade was to focus only on the illegal fisherman,” rather than on the trafficking network.

“When we met and talked to Mexican law enforcement, they admitted themselves that they did not even know how to begin [gathering intelligence on] the Chinese trafficker,” Crosta said. He said the government is starting to act on the findings of the EAL’s investigation, which was shared with the top-echelons of Mexican authorities and enforcement

But while the species’ long term survival may depend on rooting out a global crime network, in the short term, efforts to halt the illegal fishing that feeds it need to be ramped up. Historically, some of the government’s undertakings to protect the vaquita have been effective, while others have not.

Off the coast of the fishing town of San Felipe lies an oceanic expanse that covers about 50 percent of vaquita range. It was protected by the government in 2005, which banned all commercial fishing, including gillnet, within its borders. Despite this protection, illegal fishing remains rampant.

In 2008, the government attempted to encourage fishers to adopt new fishing gear that does not threaten the vaquita. Unfortunately, this effort was poorly implemented and did not reap much impact. In 2015, then-Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto ordered measures to protect both the vaquita and totoaba including a two-year ban on gillnet fishing in a 5,000-square-mile area in the northern Gulf, patrols by the Mexican Navy, and financial subsidies to fishermen impacted by the plan. Many believe that these measures fell short.

In the 2015 short documentary Souls of the Vermilion Sea, Jorge Piza, a captain of the Mexican Navy who patrols vaquita habitat, offers some insight as to why. “When we find people, or fishermen, with the totoaba, or the swim bladder of the totoaba, these people are arrested and they are sent to the Federal Public Ministry,” Piza says in the film. “Usually, because it is not considered a serious crime, they get out on bail, and they are released. They just pay bail and they get out.”

Given the landscape of cartels, lax punishments, and lawlessness surrounding illegal fishing in the vaquitas’ waters, new tactics were cooked up. In the fall of 2017, an attempt known as Vaquita CPR was made to capture the last remaining vaquita and place them in a protected open-sea sanctuary. Regrettably, the species proved unable to sustain and survive capture, and the plan was soon aborted. Smith of NMMF, who was part of the leadership team in the effort, said that “the vaquita was an animal that was more fragile than we hoped for.”

A patrol ship in the vaquita refuge.
Photo: Courtesy Sea Shepherd

Others have been trying to help, too. Since 2014, activist organization Sea Shepherd has been on the front lines; collecting illegal gillnets, physically stopping fishermen from poaching totoaba, and rescuing entangled vaquita. “It’s not just the vaquita, but other species get entangled and are endangered too—hammerhead [sharks], whales, dolphins, sea lions, turtles,” Jean Paul Geoffroy, the Campaign Director for Sea Shepherd’s Operation Milagro, told Earther.

Despite all of this effort, Crosta estimates that up to 80 percent of fishers in the upper Gulf fish totoaba today.

As of this writing, the illegal totoaba fishing season in the upper Gulf is at its height. The remainder of this season, as well as other bycatching fishing that will take place before the next one, carry critical weight to the survival of the vaquita. The big question is whether local and national Mexican government will enact and enforce restrictive measures to protect the last remaining vaquita. Such measures might include zero-tolerance enforcement of the no-fishing zone inside the vaquita refuge, combatting local corruption, and higher authority given to the Mexican Navy, along with more expansive patrols.

Toward the end of May and into early June, the totoaba fish will start to migrate south and exit the vaquita refuge. As early as November the fish are due to return. Looking forward, experts say the vaquita is unlikely to endure the next totoaba season beginning in the fall of 2019.

“It is very important what everyone will do in the next months before the next [totoaba] season starts,” Crosta said, adding that top priorities will be a “high-level investigation along the illegal supply chain of totoaba, disruption of the criminal networks and pressure on the Chinese traders in Mexico.”

“There is potential for the vaquita to recover.”

Giulia Good Stefani, the NRDC attorney who led U.S. litigation banning gillnet-caught seafood imports from the Gulf of California, outlined a number of common-sense solutions. “Mexico must increase enforcement, outlaw all gillnets, effectively combat corruption, and invest in the communities impacted by transitioning to vaquita-safe gear,” Stefani told Earther.

She said that while the vaquitas’ plight is “terribly sad”, the problem isn’t complicated. And given the animals’ healthy genetic profile, vaquitas have a strong chance of rebounding.

Rojas-Bracho is finding optimism with respect to the new administration in Mexico. “The reason [President] López Obrador won the election was because he promised to combat corruption and the vaquita is a perfect place to put an example,” he said. He added that Mexico has a good record of protecting marine mammals and was the first country to create a sanctuary for endangered whales.

“There is potential for the vaquita to recover,” Rojas-Bracho went on. “There are many other examples of species’ populations that recovered from just a few animals.”

The next generations of enchanting little sea calves may still have a chance—and perhaps, one day, we will see the vaquita flourishing once again in those blue, desert waters just south of the border.

Rina Herzl is a freelance writer covering pressing environmental and wildlife conservation issues. Her work is published in Earth Island Journal, Mongabay, Biosphere Magazine, and EcoWatch.

Riot Games staff walk out after sexism lawsuits result in forced arbitration

  • May 7, 2019

In 2018, Kotaku published a deep dive investigation into alleged gender discrimination at the games company, speaking to 28 current and former Riot employees that claimed the company treats women unfairly and puts female employees at a disadvantage. Then at the beginning of 2019, five current and former employees filed lawsuits against Riot, alleging that it fosters a sexist workplace culture. In April, Riot filed a motion to force two of those women into private arbitration.

Private arbitration is a controversial practice that takes complaints into an extra-legal system where there is no judge or jury, which makes it harder for employers to be held accountable for alleged wrongdoing. Riot’s lawyers said at the time that these employees signed arbitration agreements when they were hired.

Yesterday’s protest, which called for forced arbitration to be ended for all past, current and future Riot employees, was also intended to give Riot management a clear sign that staff are unhappy with what they consider to be conflicting messages. While leadership issued a public apology in the wake of Kotaku‘s original report, the company kept a number of the men accused of inappropriate behavior employed for several months.

Speaking to Kotaku, one anonymous employee said, “Leadership consistently promised transparency/actions to be taken and then did not deliver on that promise,” adding that the forced arbitration “finally lit the spark and some folks decided to take action.” While a number of employees expressed concern about taking part in the walkout for fear of being branded “anti-riot,” a company representative told Kotaku that, “We respect Rioters who choose to walk out today and will not tolerate retaliation of any kind as a result of participating (or not).”

At the end of the protest, which passed peacefully and without incident, Riot writer Indu Reddy said that if management doesn’t make any sort of commitment on forced arbitration by May 16th, she and others involved in the walkout will take further action. Speaking to Kotaku, she said, “We do have plans, and we do have days that we’re planning, and we do have commitments that we have responses for.”

While the protest appears to be the first labor-related walkout for a large games studio such as Riot, it’s not the first the tech industry has seen in objection of the sector’s endemic culture of sexism. Last year, Google employees staged a thousands-strong walkout over sexual misconduct and forced arbitration — Google only recently took meaningful action to address their concerns. Speaking to Kotaku, advocacy group Game Workers Unite, said that this type of protest could be a real catalyst for change in an industry plagued with issues of inequality. “This is going to be a tremendous example for people to know that they can make their conditions better,” a spokesperson said.

Brilliant Instagram images taken without ever leaving home

  • April 30, 2019

If you’re an Instagram user, then you’ve probably seen holiday snaps in your feed and come across Instagram travellers showing off the wonderful sights you’ve never seen from all around the world. 

If you can’t afford a holiday, can’t get the time off work or are too busy to even dream of such things, then these snaps can really rub it in. But what if you could see the world without ever leaving your house?

That’s what one Instagram user started to do when issues with agoraphobia led her to have a crippling fear of the outside world. Unable to leave her London Flat, Jacqui Kenny instead took to Google Maps to travel to faraway lands. 

When she struck upon the idea of uploading the images to Instagram, she soon became an Instagram sensation and is now over 100,000 followers.

We’ve been through the Agoraphobic Traveller’s Instagram account to show you some of the best destinations she’s travelled to, all from the comfort of her own home. 

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A tree that casts a large shadow

Using Google Maps to travel to Sun City, Arizona, the Agoraphobic Traveller discovered this impressive street side view of a magnificent tree casting a large shadow over its sunbaked surroundings. 

This is just one of many desert locales this Instagrammer has travelled to thanks to the power of Google Street View – probably a welcome change to the rain-soaked views of London visible through her flat window. 

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Boys and girls at football practice

In the foothills of Bolivia, a mixed-sex football team takes some instruction from their coach and prepares for practice in the sweet warmth of the summer sun. 

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Paddling pool in the street

Summertime in Callao District, Callao Region, Peru must get a bit toasty. This view shows kids splashing about in a large paddling pool in the street. A refreshing dip in the sweltering sun. A brilliant view from another part of the world enjoyed from a computer screen.

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Staten Island after the hurricane

This image was captured in 2013 and shows the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, one of the most deadly and destructive hurricanes of the time. Here we see the damage the hurricane did in Staten Island, but that same hurricane also did damage elsewhere. Winds whipped up to 115 mph, causing 233 people to lose their lives and damage totalling over $68 million. 

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A home in the sun

In Western Cape, South Africa, a man stands in the doorway to his home watching the Google Street View car passing by. A simple view of life miles from home. 

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The boy with the blue balloon

On a quiet street corner in the Western Cape, South Africa, a small boy can be seen blowing up a blue balloon. Small blue shacks can be seen behind him and the vast blue cloudless skies above. 

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Workers in Bolivia

Another shot from the foothills of Bolivia shows some workers at the side of a dirt track watching as the Google car passes them by. Dust roads and green hills can be admired in this area, without all the hassle of actually walking. 

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A lone horse is watching you

At the edge of the road, a lone horse looks befuddled by the car as it passes by disturbing his peaceful grazing. Not the usual Instagram snap of Rio De Janerio, Brazil you’d expect to see – no beaches or cocktails anywhere in sight. 

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A long worn mountain road

This view shows the worn out roads of Mongolia, stretching off into the distant hills. This rural view would certainly require a long trip in order to see normally. Google Maps gives easy access to far-off lands with just a few clicks. 

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A herd at the petrol station

Nature meets man. This image shows a petrol station in Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia as a shepherd and his flock pass by the pumps on their onward journey. 

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A well-used pitch

At the edge of the road in Peru, South America sits a well-worn sports pitch. Not many sports fields have a view like this, with mountain ranges stretching off into the distance. Another hidden manmade beauty spot captured by Google for all to see.

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Cows disturbed by Google

Some cows check out the Google car as it drives by. These bovine beauties were snapped in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia and show a standard roadside view not many of us would see on a daily basis. Though it would certainly make for a more interesting commute to work. 

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A family cooling in the pool

Another snap captures a family cooling off in a paddling pool at the edge of the street in Callao, Peru. No doubt a refreshing treat from the heat of the baking sun. 

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Workers in Russia

Kemerovo Oblast, Russia, some workers are seen digging outside a housing complex. An urban view from the depths of Russia you’re not likely to see elsewhere. 

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A woman walking with her cat

A woman can apparently be seen seemingly walking her black cat along the streets of Bulgaria. Snow-clad roadsides and rolling hills tell a chilly story for her and her feline friend. 

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A security guard taking some shade

A much warmer view shows a security guard attempting to cool off in the shade of a tree. Small and quirky domiciles can be seen behind him, a regular view on the streets of Celaya, Mexico?

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A man and his birds

A much more rural scene from Belgorod, Russia shows some feathered creatures waddling down to the waters. A lone man seems distracted by something in the distance and completely oblivious to the passing Google car. 

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Cactus by the road

Where your average road might have a few flowers at its edge, the streets of Peru are a little bit different. These neatly placed Cactii seem to be waving at the cars passing by. Cloud covered mountains can be seen in the distance too. Quite a peaceful view. 

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Beautiful Saguaros cactus

Another cactus with a view – this time from the sun-baked desert of Florence, Arizona. This majestic cactus certainly makes for a smashing focal point of the barren surroundings. 

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Colourful car camouflage

This image is so brilliant it almost looks staged. A colourful car is parked at the edge of this road in Mexico and almost matches the houses behind it. 

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Just a man walking a cow

A snap of Kyrgyzstan shows a man walking with a cow following close behind. One of the Agoraphobic Traveller’s first photos. The caption reads:

“This is one of the first images I ever captured that got me excited about exploring the weird and wonderful world of Street View. It’s not my usual style but I really love the painterly feel of it. This was taken in the beautiful country of Kyrgyzstan.”

We hope you’ve enjoyed this selection of images. Be sure to check out the Agoraphobic Traveller’s Instagram account to see even more. 

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A colourful view

In an otherwise harsh surrounding, a lone bush hangs over a wall, adding beautiful colour to the area. The Agoraphobic Traveller has an eye for finding beauty in the most unusual of spots. All from the comfort of home.  

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Camels prancing in the desert

This wonderful view of nature captured by the Agrophobic Traveller while investigating the deserts of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. This view appears to show camels prancing in the sand, but they’re likely spooked by the maps car. Hopefully, no animals were harmed during the making of this image.

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The abandoned playground

While virtually travelling around Baganuur, Mongolia, the Agrophobic Traveller found this large playground area, eerily abandoned like a small playful ghost town. Perhaps the sharks have scared all the children off. 

Intel’s Fastest Laptop Processor Gets a Bevy of Speed Boosts, But It’s Still on Old-Ass Architecture

  • April 23, 2019
Photo: Alex Cranz (Gizmodo)

The best part about last year’s MacBook Pro was the 8th-Gen H-Series processor Apple elected to put inside. The H-Series is meant for beefy laptops or bulky workstations, so finding it in something as thin and light as a 13-inch MacBook Pro was a welcome change of pace—mainly as it meant the MacBook Pro was leagues faster than competitors like the Dell XPS 13 and HP Spectre 13.

Now that H-Series is getting a refresh, and while that won’t necessarily mean an update to the MacBook Pro, it does mean you’ll be able to buy some faster laptops, at least until Intel’s long-delayed 10nm processors finally make an appearance later this year.

The 9th-Gen H-Series processors are based on the 14nm process that Intel has been using for the better part of half a decade. That’s potentially bad because its chief rival, AMD, already using a 12nm process and is moving to 7nm soon. A smaller process typically means the CPU will be faster and more efficient.

But Intel has done a decent job of really polishing its 14nm process. The company has refined it to the point that this new CPU really could be impressively fast—though probably not as fast or battery efficient as an eventual 10nm version.

There are some decent speed gains for the 9th-Gen H-series, primarily with regards to clock speed. Intel promises that its top-of-the-line CPU, the i9-9980HK will have a turbo clock speed of 5GHz, which means when it ramps things up, it should get to top performance quickly and get through the workload faster. The i9-9980HK is notably also the rare laptop CPU that can be overclocked. The rest of the H-series, ranging from the i5-9300H to the i9-9880H won’t have that ability, though Intel claims the i7-9850H will be “partially” unlockable.

Image: Intel

Besides some modest improvements in speed, these new CPUs real magic comes from the chipset they’re operating on. The new Intel 300 series mobile chipset can support up to 128GB of DDR4 RAM, as well as Intel’s recently announced hybrid SSD and Optane drive, the H10. That drive should give you all the impressive speed boosts of Optane memory, coupled with an already speedy SSD storage drive.

The 300 series will also support Wi-Fi 6 802.11ax. That word soup means the potential for breakneck streaming speeds—up to three times faster than the current 802.11ac standard, provided your router supports 802.11ax and your ISP gives you enough bandwidth to enjoy those speeds. If all those caveats apply to you, then the new H-Series processors are worth getting excited about!

Razer, Asus, Dell, and Alienware have all announced refreshed lineups of gaming laptops with support for the H-Series, and other gaming laptop makers are expected to follow. Workstations might be slower to update, so don’t hold your breath on an Apple refresh.

Besides the new mobile processors, Intel also announced a whole line of desktop CPUs to fill out the desktop line up. They range in price from $122 for the i3-9100T to $440 for the i9-9900.

Samsung is primed for power-saving 5-nanometer chips

  • April 16, 2019

5-nanometer transistors are so tiny that around 2,000 can fit in the width of a human hair (for further reference, a single silicon atom is about 1-nanometer across). The company will be using the same EUV (extreme ultraviolet) technology that it first mastered with its 7-nanometer chips. EUV, which uses 13.5-nanometer wavelength light, has been a much-anticipated but difficult-to-master process. It’s necessary to take chips to the next level and keep up with Moore’s Law, which dictates that the number of transistors on a die doubles every 24 months.

In response to customers’ surging demand for advanced process technologies to differentiate their next-generation products, we continue our commitment to accelerating the volume production of EUV-based technologies.

The move to smaller and smaller transistor sizes has taken its toll. GlobalFoundries, formerly AMD’s chip-manufacturing arm, recently announced that it would cease efforts to manufacture 7-nanometer EUV chips because it was just too expensive. Samsung recently reported that its first EUV line, designed to build 7-nanometer chips, would cost $6 billion.

Samsung won’t be alone building 5-nanometer chips, as its main rival TSMC recently unveiled 5-nanometer prototype chips for customers. It promised an 80 percent increase in transistors compared to 25 percent for Samsung, saying its chips would boost performance 15 percent compared to 10 percent for its rival. Samsung builds chips for itself and Qualcomm, while TSMC manufactures Apple’s A11 and A12 processors. Intel, TSMC and Samsung are the remaining EUV chipmakers and all use advanced lithographic equipment manufactured by Netherlands-based ASML.

Intel recent revealed that its own EUV-powered 7-nanometer process may be ahead of schedule, though it now looks like it will arrive after Samsung has fired up its 5-nanometer fab lines. Intel has only just started building 10-nanometer chips, but has yet to ship anything in volume. The way Samsung and TSMC are going, it now risks slipping even farther behind.

Sony A6400 review: A star of track and field

  • April 9, 2019

The Sony A6400 is in many ways a gap-filler in the mirrorless camera market, sitting in-between the A6300 and A6500 – both of which were released back in 2016.

Naturally, the A6400 has gained new technology that outclasses both. The big gains come in its focus-tracking and ISO sensitivity, as well as ability to tilt the screen for selfie-shooting.

But are these features enough to keep the E-mount range ahead of the game?

Design

  • Lens mount: Sony E-mount
  • Multi-slot reader for SD or MSPro cards
  • 2.4m-dot electronic viewfinder
  • 3-inch 921,600 dot LCD rear tilt-angle touchscreen
  • 11fps burst shooting
  • Silent shooting mode
  • NFC, Bluetooth and wireless compatible

The look and feel of the A6400 is a tried-and-tested formula that has remained relatively unchanged since the A5000 from back in 2014.

Rather than a miniature DSLR or retro design, though, the A6400 has more of a modern rangefinder styling, with the viewfinder over to the far left of the camera. This tends to be more comfortable when holding up to your eye and avoids nose prints on the LCD screen. The grip is subtle and won’t please everyone – that pinkie finger falls off the bottom if you’ve got anything larger than child-like hands – but is enough to control what is a relatively light body.

For the advanced shooter, the A6400 offers a good range of buttons and dials to allow quick access to all the main features on the rear, many of which can be customised to your most-used functions if desired. The only slightly awkward position for us, however, is the movie record button, which sits on the back-right corner of the grip. It’s difficult to press without changing your hold – which is perhaps the point – but other custom buttons can be used for this function if you wish. High-frequency shooters (and particularly video shooters) may be disappointed by the lack of a second card slot too. 

Other custom options appear in the menu, allowing you to create a My Menu for your most used functions. This may be time-consuming at first – but it will save you digging through what is a busy and over-complicated menu. The five main headings are further sectioned into up to 14 screens, making scrolling across them a lengthy process compared to more traditional vertical menu structures.

The rear screen takes up a large portion of the back of the camera, and its touchscreen capabilities allow you to use it to quickly select the focus point. Unlike the screen on the A6500, which only tilted up to 90 degrees, the A6400’s screen angles up a full 180 degrees, jutting out from the camera to avoid the viewfinder. The rubber eyepiece partly obscures the screen in this position but this can be removed. This screen position will please all those looking for a quick selfie, and perhaps more importantly, it makes this camera suitable for video bloggers without a separate monitor. The screen also tilts down nearly 80 degrees for overhead shooting, should you need that.

It’s worth noting that the A6400, just like its predecessors, has both a built-in flash and a hot-shoe, which can be used for an external flash, microphone or external monitor – though anything you place on the hot-shoe will block the screen. The main downside to the A6400 compared to the A6500 is the lack of in-camera stabilisation, which is only really an issue when using longer lenses, and both kit lenses come with optical stabilisation, which is arguably more affective. 

Performance

  • Fast Hybrid AF, 425-point phase-detection, 425-point contrast-detection
  • Focus modes: Auto, Single, Continuous, Direct Manual, Manual
  • Dynamic range optimiser and auto high dynamic range options
  • Battery: 360-410 shots (still), 70-75min (video), internal charge

Where the A6400 really stands out is in its autofocus ability. It sports both 425 phase-detection points and 425 contrast-detection points, rather than the 169 contrast-detection points on the previous models.

This, Sony claims, allows for the world’s fastest autofocus, at 0.02secs. It’s a claim we hear far too often in camera releases, but in use it certainly is fast and accurate.

The A6400 is also the first Sony camera to feature the new Real Time Tracking, which locks onto the subject with a half press of the shutter and can follow them around the frame using a combination of subject, face- and eye-detection to ensure the subject isn’t lost. The full power of this system only works in the continuous focus mode, with tracking and face detection enabled, but once setup it works extremely well both for stills and video.

Sony is also due to update its EyeAF system to detect animals later this year, which will make this an ideal choice for wildlife photographers. 

For those looking for fast shooting, the camera is capable of 11-frames-per-second (11fps), which slows to eight frames when used with silent shooting mode, or if you wish to maintain the live view on the rear screen. When shooting in 4K you also have the option of pulling a still frame out of the movie afterwards, which gives an 8.3-million-pixel image.

One area in which the camera doesn’t feel overly speedy, however, is in its start up time. When using the power zoom lens you can be waiting up to three seconds for the lens to extend and the screen to come on – slightly less when using the viewfinder.

On the video side, the A6400 is setup for some serious shooting. It records in Super 35mm format at 6K to use the majority of the sensor, and then downscales to 4K for a better-quality result using Sony’s consumer friendly XAVC S codec.

Unlike previous models, there’s no limit on recording time here. And, on top of the left and right channel audio monitoring and 3.5mm mic input, there’s also clean and uncompressed 4:2:2 8bit output via HDMI, plus S-Log2 and S-Log3 profiles suitable for grading.

On the mode dial next to the video option is S&Q, which stands for slow and quick, which allows you to set a frame rate of between 1fps and 120fps for high speed or extra slow-motion video, without affecting your default movie setting.

Image quality

  • 24.2-MP APS-C type sensor
  • ISO 100-32,000 ISO (up to 102,000 expanded)
  • Charged anti-dust coating and ultrasonic vibration system
  • Shooting modes: Raw (14-bit ARW), Raw+Jpeg (Extra Fine, Fine, Standard), Jpeg
  • Video: 4K (3840 x 2160, 25/30p), HD (1920 x 1080, 100/120p)
  • 1200-zone evaluative metering (multi-segment, centre-weighted, spot regular/large, average, highlight)

The A6400 offers a very similar sensor to the A6300 and A6500 in terms of pixel sites, and the same Bionz X processing engine. The ISO range has been extended, though, pushing up to a standard range of ISO 100 to 32,000 (and expanded to 102,400).

Jpeg images straight out of the camera are bright and punchy with little need for editing. Sony’s 1200-zone metering system does a great job at managing the exposure, with a choice of six modes. In the standard multi-segment mode, it manages to protect highlights while still keeping details in the shadows, in some tricky conditions. The video output also looks great, though rolling shutter is an issue here when you are panning with the camera, particularly in 4K.

Image noise levels are well controlled throughout the standard range and while image noise is visible from ISO 400, it remains very subtle up to ISO 3200, and the images are still very useable at ISO 32,000. Even at the highest expanded value of ISO 102,400, the result is not entirely unpleasant, just a little washed out and lacking in detail.

The fine detail in the images is impressive too. We used the camera with both the 16-50mm power zoom and the 18-135mm zoom, which are the two kit options available for the A6400, both of which feature optical stabilisation. For kit lenses, both are impressive but for size and practicality the 16-50mm was our lens of choice. The sliding lever and electronic ring that controls the zoom on the lens won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it does help to keep the lens compact and the camera pocket-sized.

Bitcoin Surges 15% Overnight Because Nobody Learned Their Lesson After the Last Crash

  • April 2, 2019
Photo: Getty Images

Bitcoin, the most popular cryptocurrency in the world, jumped to a four-month high overnight, briefly breaching $5,000 on the Bitstamp exchange. Bitcoin is up roughly 15% on the day and traders are excited because it really seems like nobody learned their lesson during the last cryptocurrency bubble.

As CNBC notes, “The reason for the sudden price jump wasn’t immediately clear.” And it would all be pretty funny if it wasn’t so sad.

Bitcoin hit a record high of $19,783.06 in December of 2017 after months of hype in the popular press. Plenty of people got in when the cryptocurrency was expensive, and smart people cashed out, leaving average folks with huge losses. By December of 2018, Bitcoin had bottomed out at about $3,400. But it looks like speculators might ride the rollercoaster again.

Bitcoin’s surge in the past 24 hours
Image: Coindesk

To be clear, Bitcoin is absolutely worthless by any real measure. It’s fake money that’s about as practical to use in the real world as Monopoly bills. Bitcoin is backed by nothing and requires tremendous amounts of energy to mine using computers. As it becomes more difficult to mine, it saps more and more energy, causing millions of tons of carbon dioxide to be pumped into the atmosphere and accelerating climate change. Bitcoin is little more than a speculator’s death cult at this point.

Bitcoin is so rife with scam artists that Google and Facebook banned cryptocurrency advertisements on their platforms last year. Facebook said it had taken the action because cryptocurrencies were, “frequently associated with misleading or deceptive promotional practices.”

There’s also the problem of protecting the money of people who buy into an exchange where the founder dies and $180 million just disappears into thin air. Or the problem of $224 million getting swiped because someone hacked your phone.

But that hasn’t stopped people from buying heavily into the cryptocurrency scam, even as smaller cryptocurrencies have shriveled to nothing.

“Bitcoin has been trading range bound for a while now and shaking off some of the negative sentiment that it accrued in 2018,” Charles Hayter of the digital currency comparison firm CryptoCompare, told CNBC today. And you can say that again. But perhaps some of that “negative sentiment” was well earned.

Humans never learn, but I’m not here to tell you how to spend your money. Do whatever makes you happy. I’m sure this time will be different, right?

[CNBC]

Razer says software, not hardware, is holding back mobile gaming

  • March 26, 2019

During its earnings call last week, Razer announced that it’s collaborating with Tencent, the Chinese publisher involved in PUBG Mobile, Arena of Valor and Fortnite, on optimizing the mobile gaming experience across hardware, software and services. In an interview with Engadget, Tan elaborated on this by pointing out how today’s mobile gaming experience is hampered by I/O “hacks” — namely support for keyboard and mouse, as well as button-mapping features that let users tap parts of the screen, mid-frame or even backside as extra buttons.

Despite the competitors packaging these features as selling points, Tan said these “hacks” give a bad experience in pro-level games that were never built for those input methods. This would turn enthusiastic gamers away.

“I mean, try playing a keyboard-and-mouse game with a controller, you’re gonna really hate it.” As an example, the exec said some controller-based games do “crosshair snapping” — a feature that snaps your aim at target subjects — to make up for “the lack of resolution on the controllers,” whereas keyboard-and-mouse games don’t have that and may therefore frustrate those who plug in a controller.

On the other hand, Tan admitted that a lot of players in China do use keyboard and mouse to boost their performance in PUBG Mobile, so there’s certainly a demand for these “hacks,” but it’s just that the quality of experience varies. And let’s not forget that Razer also has its own Android phone gaming controller, the Raiju Mobile.

Razer Turret for Xbox One

To solve this inconsistency, Razer is working with game developers — now including Tencent’s portfolio — to standardize an I/O platform with a benchmark, and then help them rebuild games “from ground up” with native integration of said platform. Tan didn’t comment on what type of products may come out of this, but this will likely see more content optimized for the Raiju Mobile plus future Razer mobile accessories.

Tan likened this initiative to how Razer opened Chroma up to third parties, thus getting the likes of MSI, Lian Li, Thermaltake, Philips and more to adopt this feature for some matching RGB action — with Apex Legends being the latest major game to support this.

The standardization won’t be limited to just I/O, as Tan also wants more mobile games offer uncapped frame rates to take advantage of faster displays — namely the 120Hz LCD on both Razer Phones. For this year, the exec predicts a wider adoption of 120Hz display refresh rate — and possibly even on OLED panels — amongst gaming smartphones. “Once you go 120Hz, it’s hard to go back,” Tan said.

Razer’s ambition to revolutionize mobile gaming standards doesn’t change the fact that it’s scaled back on its own smartphone development. With last month’s job cuts, the future is uncertain for the Razer Phone line, and Tan donned his usual PR hat to dodge questions about his company’s next smartphone, if any. But as far as the CEO was concerned, the Razer Phones “have done phenomenally well,” and that the product line “has delivered whatever we wanted it to deliver.”

An amazing glimpse of decades of space exploration with NASA

  • March 19, 2019

In order to celebrate 60 years of NASA, the Google Arts & Culture Lab has created a vast visual archive. A collection of some of the best images captured by NASA for us to explore and enjoy. 

Using NASA’s public API, Google has put its machine learning to work exploring a vast collection of historic photos dating all the way back to 1915. This archive includes 127,000 images that have been analysed and categorised for us to journey through.

We’ve put together a selection of our favourites to whet your appetite.

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SpaceX resupply

The business of space exploration requires a lot of resupply and maintenance work. This simple view shows a rocket lifting off to do just that – taking supplies and equipment to the International Space Station. 

“A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 4:30 p.m. EDT, carrying the SpaceX Dragon resupply spacecraft. On its 14th commercial resupply services mission for NASA, Dragon will deliver supplies, equipment and new science experiments for technology research to the space station.”

See more SpaceX images at NASA’s Visual Universe. 

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Mothership

It’s not just rockets that NASA uses to get into space. Another regular form of transport is the Mothership. Over the decades, various B-52 bombers have been converted to carry small spacecraft for aerial launch.  

These hulking great big crafts have been involved in air-launching some of NASA’s most advanced aerospace vehicles. The fact that these bombers can carry so much weight (70,000 lbs) makes them the perfect transport vehicle for other craft. The converted planes are also packed full of masses of monitoring equipment to keep an eye on both vehicles as they climb high into the sky. 

This image shows one Mothership carrying NASA’s experimental unmanned hypersonic aircraft the X-43 nestled neatly under its wing. Easy to miss at first glance, but awesomely impressive once you spot it. 

See more images of Mothership at NASA’s Visual Universe.

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Aerial launch in action 

A much more impressive view of Mothership in action shows the X-38 prototype dropping away from its launch pylon on the wing. The X-38 is a crew return vehicle designed for the International Space Station and this kind of test flights ensure the craft is safe and ready for its job. 

See more images of Mothership at NASA’s Visual Universe.

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Mars Rovers

What gallery of images from NASA would be complete without a view of the Mars Rovers? This is a near identical copy of the NASA Curiosity rover that’s currently on Mars. That little bot landed on Mars in 2012 with the sole mission of determining the planet’s habitability.

See more images of Rovers at NASA’s Visual Universe. 

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A curious selfie

After a couple of years on Mars, NASA’s Curiosity rover used its cameras to snap several selfies. These not only showed a snapshot of the landscapes of Mars, but also the condition of the bot during its travels around the planet’s surface. 

We’re always impressed to see Curiosity’s photographs, not just because these are views from another planet, but also because it’s been on that planet for nearly a decade. 

See more images of Rovers at NASA’s Visual Universe.

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A multi-national space effort

This incredible photo shows just how international the International Space Station can be. It shows a view of Japan’s third resupply ship, the H-II Transfer Vehicle-3, attached to the station in 2012. 

The eagle-eyed among you may also notice the arm attaching to that ship is Canadian. It’s great to see the efforts from people all over the world to support these scientific adventures, not to mention the fantastic view of our blue/green home. 

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Not your usual piggyback ride

This incredible photo from 1979 shows the space shuttle orbiter Columbia catching a ride on the back of a Boeing 747 aircraft as it makes a 2,400-mile journey from California. 

This space shuttle would go on to launch for its first space flight two years later and then continue on for a further 27 missions spanning 22 years. Alas, it tragically came to an end in 2003 when the shuttle disintegrated during re-entry killing all the crew in the process. 

See more images of the Space Shuttle Columbia at NASA’s Visual Universe. 

Soaring through the clouds

A fairly awesome photo from 2002 shows the Space Shuttle Orbiter Columbia launching off through the clouds on its mission to maintain and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope. This was the Orbiter’s 27th fight and the 108th official flight of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program.

See more images of the Space Shuttle Columbia at NASA’s Visual Universe. 

Touchdown

Another fantastic shot of the Columbia snapped in 1981 shows the shuttle touching down on Rogers dry lake at Edwards Air Force Base in southern California. This view is pretty special in itself, but it’s also the first NASA flight to end with a wheeled landing. It also represents a change to the future of spaceflight too. 

See more images of the Space Shuttle Columbia at NASA’s Visual Universe. 

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Docking in progress

This image from 2010 shows an unmanned resupply vehicle approaching the International Space Station. It’s bringing with it food, oxygen, propellant and supplies for the crew. 

The view of the craft approaching is impressive, as is the entire process involved. 

See more resupply mission images at NASA’s Visual Universe. 

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Shuttle resupplies

This shot shows the space shuttle Atlantis in 2010 during a resupply mission. The shuttle and the team were involved in the addition of a new station module to the International Space Station as well as a replacement of batteries and resupply of the orbiting outpost.

See more resupply mission images at NASA’s Visual Universe.  

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Buzz Aldrin on the moon

This classically iconic image shows astronaut Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. (aka Buzz) during the Apollo 11 extravehicular activity on the moon. The view here shows all the scientific experiment equipment with the Passive Seismic Experiment Package and Laser Ranging Retro-Reflector visible in the frame.

This photo was taken by astronaut Neil A. Armstrong, who used a 70mm lunar surface camera to capture the incredible scene. Meanwhile, astronaut Michael Collins, stayed with the Command and Service Modules in lunar orbit. 

See more Lunar Module images at NASA’s Visual Universe.  

A backdrop of blackness

This view from 2007 shows the Space Shuttle Endeavour docked with the International Space Station against a backdrop of the blackness of space and our Earth’s horizon. 

See more images of space at NASA’s Visual Universe.  

A nighttime view of Earth from ISS

This fantastic view of our home at night was taken by the crew of Expedition 43 aboard International Space Station in 2015. One of many awesome images of our world snapped from space. 

See more images of space at NASA’s Visual Universe. 

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The Northern Lights from above

In 2016, crew of the International Space Station captured this view of the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) from above. A fairly spectacular view of an already incredible light show. 

See more images of space at NASA’s Visual Universe. 

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A view of Earth taken from 3.9 million miles

In 1992, the Galileo spacecraft took this image of Earth and the Moon from around 3.9 million miles away. Both are apparently cast in darkness, but the Moon reflects a lot less light than our home planet. An incredible view that makes it look like we live on a marble.

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The Blue Marble

The image of our planet was captured in 2014. It was put together using the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite on the Suomi NPP satellite and shows a composite of several different images combined to give a complete picture.

The composite image of the eastern hemisphere shows our planet with a beautiful blue hue. It looks more like a marble than a home. The time-lapse video view of this image is also fairly fantastic. 

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Mercury shows its colours

At first glance this looks like just another photograph of the Moon, but it’s actually a shot if Mercury. This image was captured in 2008 and shows incredible detail of the surface of Mercury, a planet that’s a staggering 48 million miles from our home world. 

See more of Mercury at NASA’s Visual Universe. 

Clouds of Atlantis

An incredible view of the Space Shuttle Atlantis launching off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in 2009. Atlantis is one of the largest cargo carriers and this launch sent the shuttle skyward to resupply the International Space Station and return Nicole Stott to Earth after two months aboard the station. 

See more images of Atlantis at NASA’s Visual Universe.  

One final Endeavour

In 2011, the Space Shuttle Endeavour took off for its final space flight launching from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

The Endeavour had seen a fair amount of action during its time – including 25 different missions with a total of 173 different crew members. It had spent 296 days in space and traveled over 100 million miles.   

See more images of the Space Shuttle Endeavour at NASA’s Visual Universe. 

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A marble view of Pluto

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft captured high-resolution enhanced colour images of Pluto in 2015 as it passed by the planet. Meanwhile, the Chandra X-ray Observatory observed interesting X-Ray activity from the planet’s surroundings. These X-Rays appeared to be much more than a cold, rocky world should be able to emit, which lead to some debate. 

See more images of Pluto at NASA’s Visual Universe. 

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A Moon with a view

In 2011, a full moon was photographed by the crew of the International Space Station with the Earth’s horizon and the blackness of surrounding space also making an appearance.  

Spacecraft on approach

This view shows the Soyuz TMA-7 spacecraft approaching the International Space Station. A brilliant view of Earth and the vastness of space makes for a fairly spectacular backdrop. 

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A brilliant light show

A spectacular view of the Aurora Borealis taken over Canada in 2017. This magnificent image of the light phenomena is just one of the incredible sights of our world regularly spotted by the occupants of the International Space Station. 

A vision of solar flares

In 2015, the sun emitted a mid-level solar flare detected by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory which captured this image of the moment. 

These sorts of flares represent massive bursts of radiation that our atmosphere protects us from. But they do interrupt communication signals. 

See more images of the sun at NASA’s Visual Universe. 

Amazon Warehouses Called 911 for Mental Health Crises At Least 189 Times in Five Years

  • March 12, 2019
An Amazon warehouse in Baltimore, Maryland.
Photo: Patrick Semansky (AP)

E-commerce giant Amazon has long been reported to be an unpleasant place to hold down a job. Article after article has relayed claims of an ultra-competitive workplace culture, employees being treated like soulless robots, sweatshop-esque performance requirements, and long hours of monotonous work. That includes mandatory seasonal overtime that some workers have said sometimes results in injuries.

Here’s an unflinching look at what those labor conditions have meant for some members of the richest man in the world’s workforce: From October 2013 to October 2018, authorities responded to 911 calls at least 189 times for “suicide attempts, suicidal thoughts, and other mental-health episodes” at Amazon warehouses, according to a Monday report by the Daily Beast. That’s just the ones that were found, the report noted, with the 46 warehouses in 17 states where the calls were placed accounting for “roughly a quarter of the sorting and fulfillment centers that comprise the company’s U.S. network.” (Other locations either did not have any such calls listed or records were unavailable, the Beast wrote.)

Some of the calls involved individuals who were upset about matters unrelated to their work at Amazon, while others involved individuals not employed or contracted to work at the facilities. And while the Beast report noted it did not have any evidence that Amazon staff had more workplace mental health crises necessitating intervention than those at other companies, it did find that many of the incidents appear to have been related to work conditions.

One former Amazon warehouse worker in Etna, Ohio who manned an inventory-counting station for $14.50 an hour, Nick Veasley, said he had to process hundreds of items an hour and described managers so focused on metrics that workers were afraid to talk to one another, lest they be accosted for an unauthorized break. He told the Beast that standing on his feet all day was correlated to worsening ankle pain that eventually required surgery, and when he returned to work after a two-month break, he was disciplined for taking bathroom breaks necessary to manage his irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulitis:

He received two write-ups and was told that another violation could result in suspension or termination, he said. (Amazon called his account “highly unlikely,” saying managers work with HR to have a thorough conversation about “barriers” that lead associates to “accrue time off task.”) “Usually I can get myself out of a problem but I couldn’t do it working at Amazon,” Veasley said. “I felt like I had a thousand pounds wrapped around my ankle and it kept dragging me down and down and down, and there was no way out.”

Eventually, after Veasley told a guard at the facility he wanted to drive his car off a cliff, Amazon summoned police and he was placed under a three-day hold at a psychiatric ward.

“That place screwed me up so much it put me into a depression where I was actually on a 72-hour hold in a psych ward,” Veasley told the Beast.

Six current or former Amazon employees who had undergone mental health crises “that required emergency assistance at the warehouse” told the Beast that unrelenting work demands at Amazon contributed to the situation. One said that managers would blame workers for failing to meet quotas even when they were impossible to complete, while former Lakeland, Florida warehouse employee Jace Crouch described the environment as an “isolating colony of hell where people having breakdowns is a regular occurrence.”

The Beast report also noted that intervention by emergency personnel was not the end of the indignities faced by the Amazon workers, with several telling the site they had difficulties obtaining compensation or receiving treatment:

Of the six current or former Amazon workers who spoke to The Daily Beast, five were put on leave from work. They said they struggled to obtain promised compensation, found counseling was insufficient or unaffordable, and in some cases they were fired.

After being removed from Amazon by emergency responders—a situation some found humiliating—workers were often put on short-term medical or disability leave, entitling them to 60 percent of their pay and a return to their job after psychiatric clearance… While on leave, some workers used the company’s employee assistance program, which includes three phone conversations with a counselor, and also sought outside psychiatric help. Even with Amazon-provided health insurance, the costs were often a financial strain.

Amazon denied the allegations in the report, telling the Beast in a statement that the number of calls lodged at its warehouses was an “overgeneralization” which “doesn’t take into account the total of our associate population, hours worked, or our growing network.”

“The physical and mental well-being of our associates is our top priority, and we are proud of both our efforts and overall success in this area,” Amazon told the site. “We provide comprehensive medical care starting on day one so employees have access to the care when they need it most, 24-hour a day free and confidential counseling services, and various leave and medical accommodation options covering both mental and physical health concerns.”

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741.

[The Daily Beast]