Amazon's 'ambient intelligence' is a cozy way to say home surveillance

Thu, 29 Sep 22 20:09:36 +0000
Amazon products forming web around a house

Back in my day, you turned devices off when you didn’t need to use them. But in the age of Amazon, your "smart" home and its ecosystem of gadgets will ideally always be turned on. That vision even has a cool-sounding name: ambient intelligence. It's A.I. with a new spin and the promise of a (corporate) bear hug.

While I’m not anywhere near old enough to have truly earned my rose-tinted, geezer mindset, I am wrinkled just enough to remember a time before every device was connected to the internet; before the internet of things. So when I look at the direction Amazon is taking its ever-expanding hardware business and the welcoming, futuristic-sounding spin it's using to sell this to consumers, well, I just can’t kick this dire feeling in my gut.

At a device announcement event on Wednesday, Amazon laid out its vision for “ambient intelligence” (an obvious play on artificial intelligence), a term the company has used since at least 2021. Here’s what Amazon meant by that at the time.

“In the ambient-intelligence vision, an AI service such as Alexa makes sense of the state of your environment, including devices, sensors, objects, people, and activity around you, to help you in every situation where you need assistance — either reactively (customer initiated) or proactively (AI initiated).”

Amazon cut through all that tech jargon at its event with a bunch of practical examples of how ambient intelligence will play out. It added a new bedside sleep tracker called Halo Rise (which is kind of a Google Nest ripoff) and an always-on TV to a long list of devices in the company’s roster of things you’re supposed to plug in, turn on, and... stop thinking about. While no one would deny the usefulness of products like a Ring video doorbell or an Echo smart speaker, Amazon’s marketing speak for “ambient intelligence” sounds a whole lot like giving away the entire infrastructure of your life to one megacorporation with a long history of privacy issues.

Inviting Bezos into every room

Of course, Amazon didn’t just start mobilizing its ambient intelligence operation overnight. This has been years in the making, arguably ever since the Alexa virtual assistant came into being in 2014. Since then, Amazon has been working towards making sure you can’t walk into any room in your home without engaging with one of its products, like Echo smart speakers, smart locks for doors, and even thermostats.

It’s a virtual finger in every household pie.

In the ideal Amazon-run home, this pervasive tech-web would exist moments before you even step inside. Let's take a tour:

First, wave hello to the Ring video doorbell as we approach the front door. (Hi, Jeff!) You don't have to worry about protecting your home from potential threats anymore — Amazon will keep an eye out. Sure, you might get sent a motion-tracker notification, but you can just swipe that away like you swipe away most Ring notifications because it usually means there’s a squirrel outside. (But, hey, maybe one time it will actually detect something bad and Amazon can give the footage away to cops without your permission. Convenience!)

Amazon Ring doorbell camera
It's tracking every squirrel and bird out there. Credit: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Now, wipe your shoes on the mat and follow me into the living room where have a 75-inch Amazon Omni TV that never. turns. off. Say bye-bye to the boring black screens that have signified that a TV is not in use for decades — this TV will show you widgets, photos, and other... things! This is all very helpful, of course, because it will draw your attention to the fact that a giant screen is in the room. Okay, maybe you don’t intend on using it now, but that's not the point. There's a chance that simply looking at it might seed the thought of watching something into your brain. Something on Prime Video, perhaps? I hear The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is good.

Next, follow me as we go down to the lovely basement in our Casa de Alexa. Feeling too cold in the ol' man-cave? Just give Alexa a shout and she'll adjust the temperature using the connected thermostat. WiFi struggling to cover everything downstairs? Simply expand it with an Eero router network, silly, which (you guessed it) is owned by Amazon. Heck, if you need to heat up some Pizza Rolls, Alexa can take care of that with this microwave.

Sounds convenient, huh? Now, are you ready to sign (over your privacy) on the dotted line?

I think you're starting to get the picture.

The idea here is for every room to have some kind of ambient Amazon device whirring in the background — whether it’s a doorbell on the porch, a TV in the living room, or a weird contactless sleep tracker on your bedside table. Of course, you’ll also have Echo speakers strewn throughout the place, which you can use to ask Alexa to play music, or tell you the weather, or simply to turn the lights on or off. (I actually had an old roommate who would shout at Alexa to turn the lights off while he stood next to the light switch.)

The only room that’s safe from Amazon — for now — is the bathroom. Who knows, though? Maybe Amazon will release an Alexa-powered toilet or bidet. The company recently spent $3.9 billion on the primary care provider One Medical, so it's possible Amazon can quietly measure your gut health, too.

Alexa, live my life for me?

Amazon Astro robot
Do you trust Astro? Credit: Amazon

The point to all of Amazon’s ambient intelligence machinations is, above all else, to make you buy products. That’s not surprising or even sinister in and of itself, but innocently buying a smart speaker so you can request songs hands-free could lead down a road of buying a Ring camera, then a Halo Rise sleep tracker, then an always-on TV, and so on.

Eventually, Alexa ends up owning your home — not you.

And if that’s how some people want to live, then more power to them. But for me, having this intricate spider web of one company’s devices constantly monitoring my every move sounds more suffocating than liberating. Heck, the Amazon Astro robot can move with you. Don't worry, though, it's just ambient intelligence that's powering the cute little surveillance robot as it learns the ins and outs of your home. Attach a marketing term to it and suddenly it's less unnerving.

It all feels like a way to make people self-enforce and shrug off corporate surveillance with a smile. Sure, there’s a history of Amazon employees listening in on Alexa conversations and even tracking location data, but at least Alexa can give you the score of the Thursday Night Football game, which also happens to be broadcast exclusively by Amazon. 

I wasn't joking when I said Amazon has a finger in every single pie.

What’s worse is that Amazon knows its notorious reputation when it comes to privacy and now has to briefly acknowledge when a product doesn’t have a camera or microphone, like it did during the Halo Rise announcement. Maybe the data these devices pull is encrypted very well, but ultimately, a device that’s always monitoring you is a device that’s always compromising you in some way.

It's just marketing

I don’t want to be a doomer about this stuff (and I only have so much room to talk as a Prime subscriber myself), but I’m just worried about a world where we can’t escape Amazon.

I don’t want an Amazon-branded doohickey to tell me how I’m sleeping because chances are I already have a pretty good idea of that. (Pretty well, lately.) I don’t want a TV that’s always on because sometimes it’s nice to turn the TV off and be alone with my thoughts for a while. And I really, really don’t want a creepy little robot following me around the house like a pet.

Maybe this is an overreaction to something you could reasonably describe as advertising spin. "Ambient intelligence" definitely sounds like it came out of a boardroom. If you make something sound like it exists in a benevolent sci-fi utopia, it's less threatening to consumers, right? And judging by Amazon's massive success over the years, the sales folks over there clearly know what they're doing.

Look, I like technology because it’s fun to use. The problem here is that Amazon’s trying to make technology that uses you to harvest data — be it for advertising, police investigations, or whatever else — and polish it up so it seems squeaky clean instead of dystopian.

You do what you want with your life, but personally, I’m going to keep my home as analog as possible.

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Meta's Make-A-Video AI is Dall-E for video clips

Thu, 29 Sep 22 19:40:39 +0000
Make-A-Video results for the prompts

Everyone's favorite text-to-image generator Dall-E has a new competitor from Meta: A video-to-text generator called Make-A-Video. The tool generates short, soundless video snippets based on the same type of text prompts you feed to Dall-E.

But Dall-E is child's play compared to Make-A-Video, at least according to Mark Zuckerberg. The Meta CEO noted in a Facebook post, “It’s much harder to generate video than photos because beyond correctly generating each pixel, the system also has to predict how they’ll change over time.” Make-A-Video doesn't have that problem because it "understand[s] motion in the physical world and apply it to traditional text-to-image generation."

Another Make-A-Video feature is the ability to add motion to static images. Make-A-Video's transformation of a static image of a woman doing a yoga pose, for example, has her leaning deeper into her stretch as a light flare shimmers on the lens. Other examples of the tool are available on its website, which notes that you can also show Make-A-Video an existing video and be presented with several new interpretations.

We'll take all these examples with a grain of salt, since Make-A-Video isn't yet available to the public, but it is a wild new potential development for artificial intelligence.

Meta has published a paper about the tool which you can read at this link. It details how it was trained, along with the technical limitations of the tool, which include its inability to generate clips longer than five seconds and deliver resolutions higher than 768 by 768 pixels at 16 frames per second. The Verge notes that the only text-to-video model available to the public, called CogVideo, is burdened by the same limitations.

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Boston Dynamics’ Spot could be the newest first responder in emergency situations

Thu, 29 Sep 22 18:42:07 +0000
A Boston Dynamics Spot robot dog putting a fire out with a fire extinguisher.

Ontario Power Generation has partnered with Ontario Tech University to test the capabilities of a Boston Dynamics Spot robot dog to improve safety in the nuclear power sector. The robot can be sent on autonomous missions, conduct visual inspections, and even act as a first responding firefighter in the event of an emergency.

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Save $40 on the brand-new Fire TV Cube 4K when you pre-order it at Amazon

Thu, 29 Sep 22 17:37:10 +0000
amazon fire tv cube 4k with remote and power adapter with blue and orange background

SAVE $40: As of Sept. 29, the new Amazon Fire TV Cube 4K Streaming Device is on sale for $99.99 when you pre-order it at Amazon using the code 4KCUBE — that's 29% in savings.

It seems that Amazon conveniently planned its fall hardware event to build hype for its first-ever Prime Early Access Sale, which is headed your way Oct. 11 and 12. With the release of new tech often comes deep discounts on older models, but Amazon likes to keep us on our toes with price drops on brand-new products as well.

As of Sept. 29, you can pre-order the all-new Fire TV Cube 4K HDR Streaming Device for just $99.99 with the code 4KCUBE — that's a $40 discount from its $139.99 retail value.

The third-generation Fire TV Cube boasts the fastest-ever octa-core 2.0 GHz processor for a 20 percent power boost over the previous generation, as well as WiFi 6E support for silky-smooth streaming. Its 4K upscaling feature turns your movies, sports, TV shows, and games into a cinematic experience, while the industry-first HDMI input port lets you connect the device to compatible devices. That means it's possible to add Alexa voice support to your cable box or Blu-Ray player for even more streamlined viewing.

The new Fire TV Cube 4K is set to debut on Oct. 25 for $139.99, which is just in time for peak holiday shopping season. However, you can pre-order today and save $40 with the code 4KCUBE.

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Google's killing off Stadia but at least you'll get your money back

Thu, 29 Sep 22 17:08:00 +0000
Google Stadia

Stadia is joining that great big Google cloud in the sky.

On Thursday, Google announced it will be shutting down Stadia, its cloud gaming service. While platforms being shuttered are never welcomed news, there is a bright side to this one: The search giant will be offering refunds to gamers.

Yes, that's right. If you bought Stadia hardware or amassed a library of games on the cloud platform, you'll be getting your money back for almost all of it.

"We will be refunding all Stadia hardware purchases made through the Google Store, and all game and add-on content purchases made through the Stadia store," reads the post by Stadia vice president and general manager Phil Harrison.

But, there are a few caveats for those refunds. 

For one, you had to purchase your Stadia hardware — such as the Stadia Controller, Founder's Edition, Premiere Edition, or Play and Watch — via the Google Store. Also, subscriptions for Stadia Pro, which was a premium service that offered 4K video, discounts, and free games, will not be refunded. Stadia Pro subscribers will, however, have their subscriptions extended until January 2023 at no extra cost.

Finally, if you were thinking of downloading a bunch of games off Stadia to play until the service is shut down and then taking advantage of your refund…you're too late. The Stadia Store has been disabled as of Sept. 29.

Google says most eligible refunds should be handed back to consumers by mid-January 2023.

"A few years ago, we also launched a consumer gaming service, Stadia," Harrison writes. "And while Stadia's approach to streaming games for consumers was built on a strong technology foundation, it hasn't gained the traction with users that we expected so we’ve made the difficult decision to begin winding down our Stadia streaming service."

There were high hopes for Stadia early on as it showed promise when it was first launched in 2019. However, the service just failed to gain any real traction. It became clear that Google was "deprioritizing" Stadia in recent years and it was only a matter of time before the inevitable happened.

However, while this is the end for Stadia, Google isn't giving up on gaming. The technology that powered the cloud service will continue to be used elsewhere within the company. Google will also white label the tech and work with third-parties that want to utilize it as well. The Stadia team is staying with the company and will be working at different departments, the company announced.

As for Stadia as we know it, the platform will continue to operate for gamers until January 18, 2023. At that time, Google's cloud gaming service will then peacefully find rest alongside Google+, Google Reader, Google Wave, and various other products killed off by the search giant over the years.

RIP Stadia.

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Hurricane Ian aftermath videos paint harrowing picture of damage

Thu, 29 Sep 22 17:06:40 +0000
wreckage of boats and harbor structures after Hurricane Ian

In the aftermath of Hurricane Ian's assault on Florida Wednesday and Thursday, the state began the work of assessing the damage. Two fatalities were tentatively linked to the powerful storm, pending a more thorough investigation. But the magnitude of the storm's toll as measured in visible damage to structures is colossal.

Thursday morning and afternoon, as Ian lost strength and was downgraded from a Category 4 Hurricane to the status of a tropical storm, photos and videos emerged on social media, showing the world that the communities of concern during landfall, like the populous Fort Myers and Naples, were hit as hard as was feared, with some neighborhoods left essentially in ruins.

As these photos and videos make clear, Hurricane Ian has already been a historic catastrophe, and with another landfall feared in South Carolina on Friday, they may also serve as a warning of things still to come.

Hurricane Ian aftermath videos show neighborhoods in Fort Myers have widespread damage

Twitter user @swmurfl walked around the wreckage of a seaside district in Fort Myers Beach, showing that much of the area was completely devastated.

AccuWeather reporter Bill Wadell posted a photo of the chaos at a harbor in Fort Myers as boats left to the elements during the storm were turned to wreckage.

One video from Twitter user Brian Humphrey shows Fort Myers from above, allowing the viewer to take in the extent of the damage from coastal flooding now that the storm surge has receded.

Another video by Brian Humphrey, taken from street level, shows an apparently unmoored boat now on land, and a generally chaotic scene amid what appears to have been an idyllic coastal community just yesterday.

Matt Devitt, a weatherman at WINK tweeted a video of his company's Fort Myers studio, which had its first floor completely inundated.

Photo of Hurricane Ian road damage shows Sanibel Causeway bridge collapse

Fox 13 Tampa reporter Paul Dellegatto posted a photo taken sometime in the night that shows a piece of Sanibel Causeway, a 3-mile bridge between the community of Sanibel Island, and the rest of Florida. While this bridge is out, there is no way on or off the island for motorists.

How is Hurricane Ian related to climate change?

Climate change is impacting hurricanes. Some of these impacts are clear, particularly more serious rainfall and historic flooding, along with higher storm surges. Other impacts, like how the relentless warming oceans are affecting how strong these storms grow, are an intensive and ongoing area of research.

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What's so controversial about Netflix's 'Blonde'? Well...

Thu, 29 Sep 22 17:03:57 +0000
A still from 'Blonde.'

On Wednesday (Sept. 28), Netflix released Blonde, a flashy, fictitious account of Marilyn Monroe's life. The nearly three-hour film stars Ana de Armas as the late star.

Directed by Andrew Dominik and based off Joyce Carol Oates's novel of the same name, this is just the latest film to cash in on Monroe's legacy. However, Dominik's maximalist and hypersexualized approach to Monroe's story is drawing criticism from fans and critics alike. Blonde is facing backlash for masquerading as a biopic when it's more of a loose retelling that exploits Monroe and her trauma, featuring unsavory depictions of sexual violence, abortion, and suicide.

The criticisms of Blonde are further compounded by Dominik's inability to clearly convey his intentions with the film. Some of his remarks have come off as quite callous. In an interview with Screen Daily he said, "It's a demanding movie. If the audience doesn't like it, that's the fucking audience's problem. It's not running for public office. It's an NC-17 movie about Marilyn Monroe, it's kind of what you want, right? I want to go and see the NC-17 version of the Marilyn Monroe story."

He went on to tell the British Film Institute's Christina Newland that he wasn't very interested in telling Monroe's entire life story. There are details that are omitted from the film, like the fact that Monroe created her own production company and her support of Ella Fitzgerald's fight against segregation. "That stuff is not really what the film is about," he said. "It’s about a person who is going to be killing themself." 

Dominik's fixation on Monroe's tragic death at the age of 36 doesn't end there. The death scene in the film was shot in the same room where she died, which some viewers criticized for being exploitative.

Newland also shared an outtake from her interview on Twitter, in which the director referred to the young women in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes as "well-dressed whores." NPR's Aisha Harris replied to Newland's tweet, writing, "This explains every single second of BLONDE."

While on the film's press run, de Armas has been constructing a narrative that Monroe would have approved of the film, despite the film being about a fictionalized version of her.

At the Venice Film Festival de Armas said that when filming at Monroe's former home she felt the late star's presence: "I felt a strong sensation, there was something in the air. I think she was approving what we were doing. Maybe this sounds very mystical, or something but it was true. We felt it." It doesn't end there. In addition, in an interview with AnOther Magazine, de Armas claims that the cast and crew asked Monroe for her permission by leaving a card at her grave. The actor also shared in an interview with Variety that she visited Monroe's grave several times to pay her respects.

Between the director's comments and the critical distaste for the film — The New York Times calls it "the latest necrophiliac entertainment to exploit [Monroe]" — Blonde is leaving viewers cold.

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Timothée Chalamet and Taylor Russell are flesh-feasting, fervent lovers in 'Bones and All' trailer

Thu, 29 Sep 22 16:53:20 +0000
Trailer for

What if Bonnie and Clyde were cannibals? 

Call Me By Your Name’s Luca Guadagnino is back with another directorial feat, starring Timothée Chalamet and Taylor Russell in a gory, gluttonous, lust-filled adventure of two teen cannibals roadtripping across Reagan-era America. 

Adapted from Camille DeAngelis’ novel of the same name, Bones and All is a high-stakes, twisted coming-of-age film, in which insatiable hunger for both unconditional love and human flesh are two sides of the same coin. Winner of the Silver Lion for Best Direction at the 79th Venice International Film Festival, Bones and All promises to be a must-watch for all award-season dedicants. 

Bones and All is set to hit theaters Nov. 23. 

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Where to get free coffee on National Coffee Day

Thu, 29 Sep 22 16:03:38 +0000
illustrated coffee cups on blue background

The only thing better than coffee in the morning? Free coffee in the morning, or anytime in the day.

This Thursday, Sept. 29, is National Coffee Day, a very real holiday we all had marked on our calendars for months. (Be honest.) Well, anyway, there are some places offering free or reduced-price cups of joe on this most sacred of holidays. Here's what you need to know.

Caribou Coffee

Caribou is offering $3 medium drinks for the holiday.


The massive chain is offering a free medium hot or iced coffee with any purchase for any Dunkin' loyalty members.

La Colombe

The premium coffee brand is offering an (almost) BOGO deal for online purchases now through October 1. Buy one bag of coffee, get another for half off.

Smoothie King

Smoothing King is offering a free smoothie with any coffee smoothie purchase.

Tim Hortons

Tim Hortons' U.S. locations are offering 25-cent coffees for the holiday. Now that's a pretty good deal, but you have to order through the app or website.

Krispy Kreme

The doughnut chain is offering a free coffee, no purchase necessary and no qualifiers. They probably know that once you smell their doughnuts you're going to buy something anyway.

Panera Bread

The national chain is offering a deal for those who need it most: parents and caregivers. Panera is offering a free coffee for any parent or caregiver on National Coffee Day.


Peet's is offering a free drip coffee with any purchase for the holiday.


The convenience chain close to my mid-Atlantic-raised heart is offering a free coffee for rewards members.

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Score a $250 espresso machine for under $100, plus more National Coffee Day deals

Thu, 29 Sep 22 15:55:17 +0000
Nespresso coffee maker on countertop beside mug

TL;DR: National Coffee Day is Sept. 29, which means major discounts on at-home coffee and espresso makers. We've compiled all of the best ones below, but here's a quick glance:

BEST BUDGET DEAL: The Keurig Limited Edition Jonathan Adler K-Mini adds color to your counter and is over half off — $44.99 $99.99 (save $55)

BEST ESPRESSO DEAL: Best Buy's deal on the KitchenAid Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine beats Amazon's all time low pricing on the same model — $249.99 $399.99 (save $150)

BEST K-CUP DEAL: Stock up on K-cups at with 35% off select pods from Cinnabon, McCafé, and more

When you think of National Coffee Day, your thumbs may impulsively begin the hunt for lists of deals at Dunkin' or Peet's.

While we're not one to discourage opting for a large with an extra shot of espresso over your usual order (as a treat), every coffee enthusiast deserves the option of a daily treat without leaving the house. From regular coffee makers to hardcore 19-bar espresso machines to combo appliances, National Coffee Day is ripe with sales from Keurig, KitchenAid, and more.

Our favorite deals include Nespresso's 25% discount on all Vertuo machines and Best Buy's whole Deal of the Day list being dedicated to the theme, but you can shop by category below:

Regular coffee makers

Combo coffee and espresso machines

Dedicated espresso machines

Milk frothers, coffee grinders, K-Cups, and more

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Today only: Grab a refurbished Kindle for just $30

Thu, 29 Sep 22 15:46:00 +0000
kindle on a bag alongside a phone and sunglasses

Save $60: Grab a refurbished 10th generation Amazon Kindle for just $30 at Woot, for Sept. 29 only. The same Kindle brand new is $90 at Amazon, saving you a whopping 67% by buying used.

We are officially under two weeks away from the start of Amazon's Prime Early Access Sale, but this might be one of the best deals we'll see of the the early shopping season. The catch? It'll be over by the end of the day.

For Sept. 29 only, you can get a refurbished 10th generation Kindle for just $30 at Woot. This deal follows the announcement of several new Kindles, including the long-awaited 11th generation Kindle, which does offer some Paperwhite-esque features for $100, and the new Kindle Scribe, which'll run you $340.

At the end of the day, if you're simply looking for a standard e-reader with some nice back lighting, 4GB of storage that can hold thousands of books, a glare-free screen, and a battery that can hold a charge for weeks, there's no need to go for the latest and greatest releases. The 10th gen Kindle has you more than covered, and buying refurbished saves you a ton of cash — at the time of writing, opting for a brand new one will cost you $90.

For those skeptical about shopping refurbished, multiple versions of this Kindle are in "good" condition, which typically means there are minor cosmetic imperfections. In general, refurbished products can include customer returns, and previously defective products that've been repaired by professionals. If you're truly unhappy with the quality of Kindle you receive, it will come with an Amazon limited 90-day warranty.

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Here's where you can buy the new Mineral Camo Special Edition Xbox Controller

Thu, 29 Sep 22 15:44:21 +0000
a close-up of a woman with light pink nail polish holding the new Xbox Wireless Controller – Mineral Camo Special Edition

TL;DR: The new Xbox Wireless Controller – Mineral Camo Special Edition ($69.99) was available for purchase at Amazon, Best Buy, GameStop, and in the Microsoft Store as of Sept. 29.

Between the limited-edition God of War Ragnarök Dualsense, the premium DualSense Edge, and the budget-friendly Elite Series 2 Core, this fall is panning out to be huge for People Who Need A New Gaming Controller.

Xbox threw another hat in the ring this week with its debut of its new Mineral Camo Special Edition Controller, an ocean-toned wireless gamepad it said was inspired by "geode crystals." (Sure!) The controller is the fourth entry in its camo series after the Night Ops Camo, Arctic Camo, and Daystrike Camo versions, and it's up for grabs at Amazon, Best Buy, GameStop, and in the Microsoft Store for $69.99 as of Sept. 29. (That's only $10 more than the standard Robot White Xbox Wireless Controller that comes with Xbox Series consoles.)

Note that GameStop still has it listed as a preorder for some reason, but it's fully released at this point.

Like last year's Daystrike Camo variant, the Mineral Camo controller features a dish-shaped hybrid D-pad, textured grips, and remappable buttons that you can use to create custom profiles for different games. A Share button sits between its View and Menu buttons, which will make it easy to capture screenshots and clips for your highlight reel. You'll find a 3.5mm audio jack on the bottom of the controller, in case you want to plug in a headset when you're playing Fortnite or Sea of Thieves with the crew.

If you need somewhere to store this bad boy when you're AFK, you can pick up a matching Razer Universal Quick Charging Stand for $49.99 on Amazon or the Razer website. (It was sold out in the Microsoft Store the last time we checked.)

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Today's best deals include an all-time low KitchenAid espresso machine, 4K TV, and brand-new Amazon Fire TV Cube

Thu, 29 Sep 22 15:41:53 +0000
amazon fire tv cube, sony smart tv, and kitchen aid espresso maker against purple background

Here are the best deals of the day for Sept. 29:

September 29 is National Coffee Day, which can only mean one thing: coffee deals. If you're looking to whip up your own fancy coffee drinks at home to rival your local barista, you're in luck. Celebrate with major discounts on espresso machines, coffee makers, milk frothers, and more.

Coffee isn't the only thing on the ballot today, though. With the announcement of the Amazon Prime Early Access Sale, which will be kicking off the holiday shopping season early from Oct. 11 to 12, we're already seeing discounts on all sorts of products — including Amazon's own devices. Streaming, TV, toy, and gaming deals are also atop today's list. Save big on Sept. 29 with these top deals of the day.

Best coffee-related deal

Why we like it

Get your espresso fix without ever leaving your home with this National Coffee Day deal on the KitchenAid Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine and Automatic Milk Frother. This espresso machine uses a 15-bar Italian pump to make one or two shots at a time. Plus, while you're waiting for the espresso shot to brew, there's a convenient cup warmer at the top of the machine. The milk frother is built-in and attaches directly to the side, so you can set up the perfect foamy topping without missing a beat. It's relatively slim for an espresso machine, too, so you can slip it seamlessly onto your countertop without rearranging your entire kitchen. At $249.99, you'll be snagging this powerful machine for its lowest price ever.

Best TV deal

Why we like it

With exclusive features for the PlayStation 5, intelligent TV processing, XR OLED Contrast Pro technology, and hands-free Google assistant, the Sony Bravia XR A80K TV offers a supreme cinematic experience and seamless streaming. It analyzes every image to deliver the deepest contrasts and highest peak brightness, so you'll experience billions of accurate colors and exceptional details. The 55-inch model ($1,298) is plenty big for casual viewing purposes, but if you want to step it up, the 65-inch option is also on sale for $1,698 (save $601.99).

Best Amazon device deal

Why we like it

It's only fitting that Amazon released a ton of new devices ahead of its Prime Early Access Sale event from Oct. 11 to 12. One of those devices is this updated third-gen Fire TV Cube, which doesn't disappoint. It boasts a speedy octa-core 2.0 GHz processor for a 20 percent power boost over the previous generation, plus a 4K upscaling feature, WiFi 6E support for silky-smooth streaming, and an "industry-first" HDMI input port for connecting it to compatible devices. It's set to debut on Oct. 25 and priced at $139.99, but you can save $40 with the code 4KCUBE when you pre-order it starting Sept. 29.

More coffee-related deals

More TV deals

More Amazon device deals

Gaming deals

Lego deals

Streaming and subscription deals

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'Hocus Pocus' fans can stay at the Sanderson Sisters' cottage on Airbnb

Thu, 29 Sep 22 15:09:00 +0000
A dark cottage.

Instead of trick or treating this year, why not spend the night at one of cinema's most recognizable spooky spots?

The location in question is the cottage from Hocus Pocus. The Sanderson Sisters are back after 29 years, with the release of Hocus Pocus 2 finally upon us, gracing Disney+ on Sept. 30. To commemorate the occasion, Airbnb has replicated the spooky, spellbinding cottage of dramatic witches Winifred, Mary, and Sarah (played by Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker), tucked within the woods of Salem, Massachusetts.

The bedroom in the cottage.
Sweet dreams. Credit: Helynn Ospina.

Hosted by the Sanderson Sisters on the app, the cottage appears to be a near-perfect replica of the witches' home from the films. Broomsticks, apothecary bottles, and melted wax candles are found in every crevice; ancient spell books line the walls, and a smouldering cauldron sits in the middle of it all. Basically, a Hocus Pocus-fan's dream.

The living room.
Read up on levitation spells in the living room. Credit: Helynn Ospina.
The entrance to the cottage.
Come in, come in. Credit: Helynn Ospina.

Airbnb is offering two guests the chance to stay in the historic cottage, with activities available, too. This includes a special screening of Hocus Pocus 2 and the chance to explore the history of Salem with visits to the town's most haunted properties. At this time, Airbnb is also making a donation to the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Salem.

A cauldron with colored smoke emerging from it.
Bubble, bubble... Credit: Helynn Ospina
A cupboard and spellbook.
Winifred's beloved Book. Credit: Helynn Ospina
Broomsticks by the window.
Broom, ho! Credit: Helynn Ospina
A bookshelf with old spellbooks.
Light reading material. Credit: Helynn Ospina.

The website also says that guests can "try their hand" at the spells that the sister's use for their scheming, but it's a bit of a mystery as to how that'll be executed. The house does feature a massive cauldron at the center, so chances are that some Hocus Pocus-esque magic can take place right there.

A close-up of the bed.
Spells are tiring work. Credit: Helynn Ospina.
A dressing table with candles.
Wash off all that eye of newt. Credit: Helynn Ospina.

The exclusive stay is open for two guests on Oct. 20 for $31 for the night, not including taxes and fees. Like with the Home Alone Airbnb offered last year, it's not a contest but it's first-come-first-serve as to who gets to stay.

If you do want to step into the sister's humble — and creaky — abode, check out Airbnb's website. Let the mischief begin.

Hocus Pocus 2 is streaming on Disney+ from Sept. 30.

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All the new Amazon devices you can pre-order right now

Thu, 29 Sep 22 14:39:00 +0000
a collage of devices announced at amazon's fall 2022 hardware event

If Amazon was trying to use its fall hardware event to build hype for the upcoming Prime deals event, it worked.

The retail giant announced a slew of new tech during its livestream Wednesday, adding to the ranks of its Kindle, Echo, Fire TV, Halo, and Blink lineups ahead of the first-ever Prime Early Access Sale from Oct. 11 to 12 (when many older models will likely see deep discounts). Release dates for most of these next-generation devices have been scattered across late October and November, which puts them on the market just in time for peak holiday shopping season, though many of them are already available for preorder.

Here's a rundown of each new device's pricing and specs, listed in ascending order of launch date, just in case you're jonesing to buy one.

The new Echo Dot

Amazon's two-year Echo Dot update schedule stays right on track with the imminent arrival of the fifth-gen model, which is being billed as the most powerful, best-sounding iteration to date. We can credit those superlatives to its redesigned audio architecture, which crams a larger speaker with clearer vocals and better bass into its familiar orb-y form, as well as the new AZ2 Neural Edge processor that enables faster tap gestures and ultrasound motion detection. In two Echo Dot family firsts, it also comes equipped with temperature sensors and eero Built-in that turns it into a WiFi extender.

The standard fifth-gen Dot ($49.99) is joined by an improved Echo Dot with Clock ($59.99) and a new Echo Dot Kids ($59.99), which includes parental controls and a year's worth of Amazon Kids+. All three are set for release on Oct. 20.

The upgraded Echo Studio

Amazon didn't reinvent the wheel for its Echo Studio refresh, but the new Glacier White colorway and custom-built spatial audio processing technology for more immersive sound are both welcome edits.

It also comes out on Oct. 20, and you can reserve one ahead of time for $199.99.

The upgraded Blink Mini Pan-Tilt Camera

Amazon tells you everything you need to know about the Blink Mini Pan-Tilt Camera right in its name: It is quite literally just a Blink Mini with a new motorized mount that can pan and tilt for a 360-degree view. The little guy works with Alexa and offers 1080p HD video with infrared night vision, motion-activated notifications, and up to five minutes of live streaming.

You can pre-order one for $59.99 before it comes out on Oct. 20. The mount is also sold separately for $29.99 if you already own the camera part.

The new Fire TV Cube

Amazon didn't cut any corners on its Fire TV Cube update (though it did round them off slightly). This third-gen model boasts a zippy octa-core 2.0 GHz processor for a 20 percent power boost from the previous generation, which comes on top of a 4K upscaling feature ("Super Resolution Upscaling"), WiFi 6E support for silky-smooth streaming, and an "industry-first" HDMI input port that lets you connect the device to compatible devices. That last bit means it's now possible to add Alexa voice support to your cable box and Blu-Ray player.

Priced at $139.99, the new Fire TV Cube will make its debut on Oct. 25.

The new Fire TV Omni QLED Series

Amazon's updated 4K smart TV introduces a new "Ambient Experience" mode that pulls up artwork, photos from your personal collection, or a selection of handy Alexa widgets as soon as it detects someone in the room. The "sensors watching your every move" aspect is a little unnerving, but for those of us who are too cheap for Samsung's The Frame, this looks like an excellent budget-friendly dupe. (Better yet, you don't need a subscription to access its fine art library.) At the very least, it's the best-looking TV in Amazon's Fire lineup: A QLED display with local dimming, an Adaptive Brightness feature, and support for Dolby Vision IQ and HDR10+ Adaptive make for gorgeous, vivid picture quality whether you're streaming or gaming.

If you want to pre-order one ahead of its Oct. 27 launch, you'll pay $799 for the 65-inch model and $1,099.99 for the 75-inch one. For comparison's sake, Samsung charges $1,999.99 and $2,999.99 for each respective version of The Frame.

The new Alexa Voice Remote Pro

The new Alexa Voice Remote Pro comes with a new Remote Finder feature and motion-activated backlighting, which is amazing news for anyone who wants to spend more time watching TV and less time digging through their couch cushions for a lost remote. Amazon also slapped on two new customizable buttons, which are basically shortcuts for your go-to content and Alexa commands.

Amazon has it listed for $34.99 ahead of its Nov. 16 release.

The new Kindle Scribe

Amazon has been cranking out new Kindles like mad lately, but the Scribe is its first-ever e-reader that you can read and write on thanks to a new built-in stylus. (There's a Basic pen option and a Premium version, which adds an eraser on one side and a customizable shortcut button.) The 10.2-inch device features a front-lit, 300ppi display that's supposed to make it feel as if you're working on regular paper, plus an adjustable warm light, 16 to 64GB of storage, USB-C charging, and a months-long battery life. It currently supports digital sticky notes and a Send-to-Kindle feature that lets you import personal documents and write on PDFs; a software update coming in early 2023 will make it possible to send documents from the Scribe directly from Microsoft Word.

The Scribe is set for release in late November, with prices starting at $340 for the 16GB model with a Basic pen.

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Here's where you can pre-order the 'God of War Ragnarök' DualSense controller

Thu, 29 Sep 22 14:21:10 +0000
the 'God of War Ragnarök' DualSense controller against an icy gray backdrop

UPDATE: Sep. 29, 2022, 10:12 a.m. EDT This story has been updated with the latest availability info.

TL;DR: The God of War Ragnarök DualSense wireless controller ($74.99) was available for preorder at GameStop, Target, and on PlayStation Direct as of Sept. 29.

Lock in that preorder, boy.

The limited-edition God of War Ragnarök DualSense wireless controller can now be reserved through GameStop, Target, and PlayStation Direct ahead of its release on Nov. 9 — the same day as the game itself, which you can also preorder anytime. It's priced at $74.99, which is just $5 more than a standard DualSense controller for the PlayStation 5, and it's bound to sell out soon. (It already went out of stock once at Target.)

The controller was somewhat quietly announced during Sony's State of Play livestream earlier this month alongside the Story Trailer for the highly anticipated God of War sequel. Its two-tone blue and white design is a subtle reference to the Norse realm of Midgard, while the bear and wolf insignia on its touchpad symbolize the game's divine father-son duo: Kratos and Atreus.

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The Ocean Cleanup moves into phase three to end the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Thu, 29 Sep 22 14:19:34 +0000
The Ocean Cleanup's rendering of the system 03 artificial coastline collecting trash in the North Pacific Ocean

The Ocean Cleanup is developing its third phase in a mission to end the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The new phase, dubbed System 003, comes after the successful System 002 test and features computational modeling technology to predict garbage hotspots and a 2,500 meter artificial coastline designed to produce circulating currents.

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'Spoiler Alert's trailer is here and you're going to need all the tissues

Thu, 29 Sep 22 14:12:13 +0000
Jim Parsons and Ben Aldridge in

Prepare yourself for all the tears, because Michael Ausiello’s best-selling memoir Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies is now a film. 

Directed by Michael Showalter, Spoiler Alert stars Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory) and Ben Aldridge (Fleabag) as Michael and his real-life partner, Kit. The two are unlikely lovers who find themselves dealing with unexpected and life-changing news. From the trailer’s first look, we can guarantee that tissues will definitely be needed in the theater, thanks to Michael’s heartbreaking (true) love story on cosmic connections and untimely loss.

Butterflies, romance, urgency, and grief, Spoiler Alert is a story of our bittersweet universe — all the love it makes us feel, and what it leaves us with afterward. 

Spoiler Alert is premiering nationwide in theaters on Dec. 16.

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'Hocus Pocus 2' review: Cheeky, nostalgic, and practically magic

Thu, 29 Sep 22 13:00:08 +0000
Three actors dressed as witches stand in a forest.

Broom, ho! The long awaited sequel to 1993's Hocus Pocus is here, and it’s a wickedly fun nostalgia trip, one that’s seen us light many a Black Flame Candle to bring about its triumphant return.

With Anne Fletcher directing and Jen D'Angelo writing the script for David Kirschner and Blake Harris spooky Disney tale, they’ve brewed up a perfectly spellbinding sequel, resurrecting our favourite melodramatic, witchy sisters with smart modern dialogue, old-school spooky special effects, and perfectly potent new additions that bring the beloved Halloween classic into 2022. 

Hocus Pocus 2's narrative follows the original’s main breadcrumbs faithfully, with executed witches The Sanderson Sisters accidentally resurrected again with the lighting of the Black Flame Candle, 29 years after Max, Allison, and a tiny, sassy Thora Birch did it in 1993. The witches' mission? To suck the lives out of the children of Salem before sunrise, of course, otherwise, it's curtains! They evaporate! They cease to exist! 

And oh, by Lucifer’s hangnail, is it good to have them back.

Come, sis-ters!

The only way a reboot of a ‘90s nostalgic film like Hocus Pocus would work is if the original leads were fully committed, and in this case, the core trio do not disappoint. As the all-powerful Sanderson sisters, Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker pick up right where they left off almost 30 years ago, stepping back into their iconic witches' gowns with all the glow of a Sanderson calming circle. Essentially, they look like they’re having an absolute blast.

Three actors dressed as witches walk through a carnival, smiling.
They're baaaaaaack. Credit: Disney

Midler's sublime Shakespearian melodrama as Winifred "Winnie" Sanderson is back in supercharged form, wide-eyed, open-clawed, bellowing "Lock up your children!" and generally abusing the crap out of her sisters just like old times.

Najimi hilariously barks and sniffs her way right back to her beloved role as Mary Sanderson, hunting children with her nose, making constant witchy wisecracks, and threatening to lovingly fricassee kids. When Najimi holds up a face mask as “the face of a child” and then eats it, I cackled like a Sanderson sister.

And as for Parker, we’re rarely treated to an SJP slapstick comedic role, and she jumps right into Sarah Sanderson's dramatically horny silliness, constantly missing the point of a task, and always seeming like she’s suppressing a screamy giggle while fawning over boyyyys

Three witches stand in a Walgreens, looking confused.
"Observe, sisters, it glows from within with a sickening light." Credit: Disney

The formula is still perfection: Winnie booming operatic statements while Mary overanalyses the detail and Sarah misunderstands the general point, all awash in glorious physical slapstick comedy magic. Like the original, the trio deliver choreographed spell-casting, several Little Shop of Horrors-worthy musical numbers, and melodramatic sobbing circles with the crackling energy the film hinges on. As Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) says in awe at one point, "I literally can’t stop watching them." 

Hocus Pocus 2 leans on the original’s best source of narrative comedy: watching the Sanderson Sisters bumble through interactions with 21st century technology. One particular sequence involving the witches gazing upon a Walgreens — "Observe, sisters, it glows from within with a sickening light," — battling the automatic store doors, literally cursing the fluorescent lighting, and plundering the beauty aisle, is a glorious highlight. And a shoutout must be made to Najimy’s interaction with her modern broom option: two Roombas replace her vacuum cleaner from the original, to hilarious effect.

Flying into the past, back to 1693, Hocus Pocus 2 also gives us a glimpse at the young Sanderson Sisters, banished from Salem and escaping persecution in the forbidden woods. Taylor Henderson, Nina Kitchen, and Juju Journey Brener are perfectly cast as little Winnie, Mary, and Sarah, and Henderson in particular, is an absolute triumph, having Midler’s physicality and tonal delivery down to the sassy syllable.

New witches on the block

Reboots like Hocus Pocus 2 inevitably come with a shiny new crew stepping into large pointed boots, and the additions to this sequel aren’t to be trifled with. The sequel sets up a new trio that takes the reins from originals Max, Allison, and Dani, but also forms a witchy new crew. Whitney Peak and Belissa Escobedo strike the perfect Gen Z tone as Becca and Izzy, navigating an awkward friendship breakup with Lilia Buckingham as the defiant Cassie. D'Angelo's crisp, self-aware script even has Becca call out the obsessive patriarchal fear of female aging to explain the inclusion of the narrative trope of witches getting their powers on their sixteenth birthday (see: Sabrina).

Two girls sit in a wood with a candle, facing each other.
Nooooooo, don't light it! Credit: Disney

In one criminally short appearance, Hannah Waddingham steals hearts and the show as the witch of the Salem woods, formidably flinging her giant cape around and booming about Salem being "run by FOOLS!". Waddingham's character changes the story of the original, in which Allison says Winifred's beloved spellbook was "given to her by the Devil himself"; in Hocus Pocus 2, it's the witch of the woods who does, making her promise not to utter Booo-oooook's most powerful spell.

An actor dressed as a witch stands in a wood.
No notes, Hannah Waddingham. Credit: Disney

Sam Richardson is perfectly cast as Sanderson Sisters superfan Gilbert, who runs the magic shop that’s taken over the old Sanderson house (it was a museum run by Allison’s mother in the 1993 original). Richardson’s expert comedic pausing, perpetually noope energy, and delightfully nerdy enthusiasm is one of the film’s absolute strengths.

A man in a vest stands in a magic shop.
Yes to Sam Richardson, always. Credit: Disney

And then there’s Tony Hale, doubling up as both Salem's present day Mayor Traske and Sanderson sisters-hating Reverend Traske of 17th century Salem. Hale brings perfect small town politician and Friend’s Dad energy to the film as Cassie’s dad and the mayor; he laughs way too long at non-jokes and gets overwhelmingly emotional about the carnival return of the caramel apples of Sandy’s Candy Cauldron — watching Hale scornfully brandish his sad, store-bought version shouldn’t be as funny as it really, really is.

Dragging the '90s back from the grave

Hocus Pocus 2’s obvious nostalgia factor is an audience double-whammy, satisfying the millennials and Gen-Xers who rented it religiously on VHS from Blockbuster in the ‘90s, and Gen-Z fiends living for the ongoing ‘90s resurgence. Two ravens with one stone, if you will. Beyond the Tumblr aesthetic rampaging across TikTok, ‘90s-style film and TV horror hits continue to smash it out of the park, from Netflix’s Fear Street trilogy based on R.L Stine’s teen series to the 2020 The Witches reboot, in which Anne Hathaway had wicked fun reimagining Anjelica Huston’s iconic role. The Munsters, Hellraiser, Firestarter — horror reboots are everywhere, but Hocus Pocus sits in the more family-friendly-spooky-rather-than-scary camp.

There’s a cauldron full of nods to director Kenny Ortega’s original film too, from the return of “maggot museum” and “good zombie” Billy Butcherson, to the opening overhead flying shot that sails into Salem, and the protective power of a circle of salt. Some references are less necessary than others, including a meta moment when Winifred flies past a couple watching the original Hocus Pocus on TV. Fletcher also keeps in line with the original film’s savvy use of Disneyland-worthy special and visual effects, whether fog and wind machines, shuddering floorboards, bubbling enormous glowing cauldrons, or candles that explode into illumination.

Essentially, the film feels like something worthy of a Blockbuster in 1993 and a cinema or streaming service in 2022. 

The power of three will set you free

At its core, Hocus Pocus 2 pushes the importance of sisterhood above all, with Waddingham's witch of the forbidden woods declaring early in the piece, "A witch is nothing without her coven." Both in a narrative sense and using the chemistry between the two trios, Midler, Najimy, and Parker mirror the same complicated bond as Peak, Escobedo, and Buckingham, learning as Izzy says, "Power is meant to be shared."

"A witch is nothing without her coven."

As the Halliwell sisters always said in witchy ‘90s cornerstone Charmed, "The power of three will set you free."

Hocus Pocus 2, quite simply, was worth the wait, as a rare reboot/sequel that capitalises on the beloved magic of the original while letting its core stars spectacularly lean into the chaos, whirling, cackling, and yowling as gloriously as they did 29 years ago. When the credits roll on Hocus Pocus 2, we are dust! Toast! Pudding! Dost thou comprehend?

Hocus Pocus 2 is streaming on Disney+ from Sept. 30.

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Take advantage of significant limited-time discounts on cloud storage up to 1TB

Thu, 29 Sep 22 12:43:47 +0000
two hands holding phones with koofr cloud storage app open

TL;DR: Through Oct. 16, you can get 100GB, 250GB, or 1TB of Koofr cloud storage for an extra 20% off using the coupon code KOOFR, knocking the prices down to just $23.99, $47.99, and $111.99, respectively.

With all the options for cloud storage, there’s no reason to let your phone, computer, or tablet get bloated with files. Skip the “storage space full” notifications and load your photos, videos, music, and other files in cloud storage like Koofr. Get 100GB, 250GB, or 1TB of cloud storage for 20% off using coupon KOOFR — offer only valid until October 16. 

Private, secure cloud storage 

Running out of room is annoying, but it’s an inconvenience you may be able to avoid. Koofr lets you upload any file with no size limit. From huge video projects to entire folders, Koofr lets you upload, access, and share your files, and all your files are encrypted in rest and in transfer. You can also access it from desktop or mobile, and the app is on the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store. 

Koofr also works as a kind of hub between other cloud storage services. Connect your Dropbox, Google Drive, Amazon, and OneDrive and upload and manage files from each of them. If you start running out of room in the 250GB subscription, you could even upgrade to 1TB. Once you do, you’ll get access to Koofr’s duplicate finder, which checks to see if you’ve uploaded the same file more than once. You could also use the advanced renaming option to rename multiple files at the same time. If you’re dealing with a folder of a few thousand images, that can be a real time-saver. 

Koofr can connect to an unlimited number of devices. Free up space from your phone, tablet, and laptop, or make file transfers between them a breeze. 

Get a lifetime of cloud storage for all your devices

You may not need to do a file purge just because you want a new app on your phone. Get a 100GB, 250GB, or 1TB lifetime subscription to Koofr Cloud Storage for $23.99 (Reg. $540), $47.99 (Reg. $1080), and $111.99 (Reg. $2,700) with code KOOFR until October 16. 

Prices subject to change.

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At a Shrek rave in New York City, a meme comes to life

Thu, 29 Sep 22 10:00:00 +0000
lord farquaad hiding behind curtains

If Mark Zuckerberg is fighting to move the offline world online into the metaverse, Ka5sh is one of the many forces battling to do the exact opposite: to bring a meme to life.

"Shrek, along with SpongeBob, are huge pillars to the meme community," Ka5sh told Mashable. "It just seemed like the next logical step for me as a meme maker was to create a world where you can experience the meme in real life."

This is My Swamp Flag in crowd
Get out of my swamp! Credit: Samuel Harris

As Meta digs its utilitarian claws into the last vestiges of its cool factor, the folks who attended the Shrek rave on a Friday night in New York City’s East Village rejoice in the notion that "cool is dead." Ka5sh, who organized the rave, says he's trying to "destroy" the idea of coolness, which seems like a difficult thing to do when your event has sold out in half a dozen locations across the country.

"There's no point in trying to impress people and trying to maintain this facade of perfectness, because you're not, and it's just destroying your brain," he said. At the Shrek rave, "no one is trying to impress each other."

The first people in line outside of Webster Hall arrived around 10 p.m., an hour before doors opened and an hour and a half before the rave was slated to start. 

Shrek Raver sitting outside in costume
Not the gumdrop buttons Credit: Samuel Harris
Shrek Rave Sold out Marquee
Hallelujah Credit: Samuel Harris

"If you're saying 'cool is dead,' then you're opening up for freedom at that point," Rodolfo, who was first in line and chose to only give his first name, told Mashable. He was wearing a Shrek shirt and Shrek ears, along with four friends, two of whom were in head-to-toe Donkey outfits. "Expressing yourself, not following the mainstream, not following any kind of trends or anything."

After the group of five entered the venue, they filed into the ballroom and danced to the music of the Shrek soundtrack — an album that peaked at no. 28 on the Billboard 200 in 2001, featuring songs like "I'm a Believer" performed by Smash Mouth and "I'm on My Way" from The Proclaimers. A testament to its mainstream appeal at the time, the project was nominated for a Grammy Award. The film itself won Best Animated Feature at the Oscars.

Group of Ravers dancing
Oscar-worthy Credit: Samuel Harris

Inside Webster Hall, the DJs put their own spin on the familiar hits. There’s a scene in the first Shrek movie in which Lord Farquaad, a man who’s many failures include his short stature, is encouraging his knights to save Princess Fiona from the tallest tower in a castle surrounded by lava and guarded by a fire-breathing dragon. It’s a key part of the film, when he says "some of you may die but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make," a line that has become a meme in its own right

At the Shrek rave, that signature line blasts over the speakers when the first beat of the rave drops. Everyone — dressed as characters from the film like Lord Farquaad, the three blind mice, Shrek, Pinocchio, the dragon, and the Fairy Godmother — dips their hips to the ground, raising their drinks into the air and cheering. Later on in the rave, HelloGoodbye — the artist behind "Here (In Your Arms)" — takes a turn at the DJ table. A drag queen dressed up as the Fairy Godmother leads the crowd in a "fuck bitches, get money" chant before pulling her dress down and flashing her chest.

Fairy Godmother from Shrek Movie on Stage
I need a hero. Credit: Samuel Harris
Crowd at shrek rave in costume
We got lower. Credit: Samuel Harris
crowd of shrek rave in costume and dancing
Where's Waldo Credit: Samuel Harris
Two Shrek ravers embracing eachother
True luv Credit: Samuel Harris

The same kind of wild, at times confusing, and uninhibited joy you see at the Shrek rave is mirrored on subreddits and Instagram accounts dedicated to the film. The rave is described to me more than once as "a meme come to life." But this truly feels like a shitpost became a sentient aura and dripped itself across a crowded dance floor.

The rave isn't alone in attempting to bring Shrek fans together in real life. Every year, since 2014, ShrekFest hits Milwaukee, a free all-ages event with live music, games, a costume contest, a roar-off, an onion-eating competition, and a screening of the flick that inspired it all. 

It might seem odd that Shrek has maintained its cultural relevance two decades after its release and found its way as a mainstay on meme pages despite coming out far before memes existed. But Shrek’s relevance transcends the internet. 

Person in donkey mask
Donkey Credit: Samuel Harris

The film is one of the only animated movies to be preserved by the Library of Congress. It was released at a precarious time in American history, primed to be a success and an irrevocable part of our cultural consciousness. The resurgence of Disney’s animation department with films like The Little Mermaid and Aladdin inspired a wave of tired children's movies that relied on boring tropes of princesses needing something more. As Collider reported, moviegoers were ready for a film that was its opposite: Shrek. It's a movie about an Ogre no one likes who wants to stay home, which is in stark contrast to a beautiful princess who seeks adventure.

person in donkey hat flexing
Strong Shrek Credit: Samuel Harris
person in shrek ears and tie dye shirt
Green Shrek Credit: Samuel Harris

Politically, the movie was released in April 22, 2001, just five months before the September 11 terrorist attacks reshaped American life and less than a year after George W. Bush narrowly won the presidency via a Supreme Court case. Many people could relate to Shrek as a Marxist film or a libertarian film or simply anti-authoritarian. But, in the end, Shrek was escapism; and it represented the last bits of unfiltered childhood millennials remembered before war became a mainstay of American debate. Shrek was released before Myspace and YouTube and Twitter and Instagram and Facebook and COVID-19, all of which have threatened to take even more youthful joy away. It's no wonder we're leaning into Shrek once more, and the next generation is now embracing its whimsy.

person in rave crowd wearing shrek hat
Black and white Shrek Credit: Samuel Harris
person in costume dancing
Fairytale creatures Credit: Samuel Harris

"It's something from your childhood when things were really good, still really funny, still holds up to this day and it's one of the last pieces of media that we all really loved," Ka5sh said.

Ka5sh is alluding to something important: The entire concept of media has changed drastically since 2001 and, along with it, so has many young people's access to innocence. The year Shrek was released, Wikipedia was first launched and Mark Zuckerberg hadn't yet graduated from high school. The full scope of social media was instant messaging on AIM and a couple of blogs. We've seen how the insurgence of new platforms affects young users: Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen's leaks, known as the Facebook Papers, showed that "Instagram is harmful to a sizable percentage of [teens], most notably teenage girls." The CDC noted the rate of suicide among people aged 10 to 24 increased by 56 percent from 2007 to 2017, making suicide the second leading cause of death for young people, following accidents. Some experts attribute part of the rise to social media. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly twice as many teens said they used the internet "almost constantly" in 2018 than in 2014.

person in crowd of
It is exhausting Credit: Samuel Harris

And now, it appears we're moving even further into the online world. Earlier this year Facebook became Meta, heralding in a new era of interconnectivity. Zuckerberg says he has plans to build a maximalist set of experiences that are all connected online in a world called the metaverse. The metaverse doesn't yet make any sense, but there is a stark paradoxical dissonance in viewing how tech companies are pulling people further into the depths of online life as meme account moderators are fighting to hold onto their childhood through IRL experiences. And the Shrek rave was a blast, but even its attendees couldn't resist posting on Instagram about it. 

waffle boxes on floor of stage
And in the morning... Credit: Samuel Harris
Shrek necklace laying on chest
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Credit: Samuel Harris

Perhaps we'll find a way to bring our childhood into the metaverse. Perhaps the metaverse will learn all of the lessons taught in the last two decades by the failure to keep young people safe online. But, in all likelihood, it won't. We'll have to work harder than ever to find our luxuries and ease offline in things like staying up late, swapping manly stories, and in the morning, making some waffles.

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Netflix removes LGBTQ tag from 'Dahmer'

Thu, 29 Sep 22 09:59:56 +0000
A man with glasses in an orange jumpsuit stands in a courtroom.

Netflix's Dahmer miniseries, created by Ryan Murphy, is no longer tagged with the label "LGBTQ" on the streaming service, after the company removed it following backlash from viewers.

Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is categorized on Netflix's platform with labels like "horror", "vintage crime", and "psychological" but had also featured the "LGBTQ" tag until last Friday.

According to Variety, the tag was officially removed by Sept. 23. Subscribers and viewers had previously taken to social media to protest the use of the label.

"This is not the kind of representation we want," Twitter user @villanellescent pointed out. The LGBTQ tag has been applied to a range of content on Netflix, including Heartstopper, Sex Education, and Everything Sucks, but these shows overwhelmingly share a trend of uplifting and empowering storytelling.

The dramatized Dahmer examines the crimes of American serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer through the lens of victims and their families, with a particular focus on the failure of the justice system. The series debuted at number one on Netflix, with over 196 million hours viewed.

Despite the whopping viewership, the creators faced other controversies and criticism concerning the series. The families of victims have condemned the film, including Eric Perry, the cousin of Errol Lindsey, who was murdered by Dahmer in 1991. He wrote that it's "retraumatizing over and over again" to have the story retold. Lindsey's sister, who testified at Dahmer's trial and is portrayed in the Netflix rendition of the story, also said she was "never contacted about the show".

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Beloved weather app Dark Sky no longer available in Apple’s App Store

Thu, 29 Sep 22 09:52:48 +0000
dark sky

If there's one weather app I've seen people really rave about, it's Dark Sky, with its uncanny ability to tell you that it's going to rain right before it actually starts raining.

To the dismay of many users (especially those on Android), Dark Sky was acquired by Apple in 2020, and it was inevitable that it was going to be shut down as Apple incorporates its bits and pieces into its own Weather app on iPhone.

Now, MacRumors reports that the inevitable has happened a bit ahead of schedule: Dark Sky is no longer available as a standalone app in Apple's App Store.

Dark Sky
Dark Sky was popular because of its advanced maps, detailed forecasts, and weather alerts. Credit: Dark Sky

In June this year, Dark Sky said in a blog post that the Dark Sky iOS app will no longer be available starting December 31, 2022, so it appears that Apple has hurried things along a bit. Dark Sky API and website should remain functional until March 31, 2023, the post said.

If you already have the app installed, it should still be functional. Note, however, that Dark Sky is scheduled to stop providing weather data at the end of 2022.

For Android users, Dark Sky is probably long forgotten, as it was shut down in August 2020. Apple iOS users can at least still rejoice in the fact that Apple's Weather app has indeed got better following the acquisition, with animated weather forecasts and rain warnings.

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I love 'House of the Dragon', but this character should be long dead

Thu, 29 Sep 22 09:23:03 +0000
A blond woman holds hands with an older man with thinning hair.

It feels strange to be moaning about a character in the Game of Thrones universe living for too long, and it feels doubly strange when it's one of the few House of the Dragon characters that's easy enough to like.

But here we are.

Regardless of what you think of him, King Viserys (Paddy Considine) should no longer be a part of the show. He should have died at the end of episode 5. From both a believability standpoint and an artistic standpoint, the guy should be long gone.

What's going on with King Viserys?

First, I should make it clear that I like King Viserys. I love House of the Dragon too. It's tense, it's entertaining, and the characters come in those brilliant, well-drawn shades of grey that made Game of Thrones so enthralling.

King Viserys is no exception. The poor guy is surrounded by a headstrong brother, a headstrong daughter and numerous nefarious court-dwellers trying to climb the power ladder. But despite all that he's mostly tried to do his best. Has he made a few politically disastrous decisions, like marrying for love instead of marrying to keep the realm safe? Absolutely. But he's still shouldered the royal burden and done his best to tackle any problems that come his way.

One problem that can't be tackled, though, is the fact he's dying. The guy is slowly losing pieces of himself, likely as a result of that rusty old Iron Throne constantly pricking him. At the end of episode 5, one of his arms is literally rotting away.

Which leads us on to the next point...

King Viserys surviving the 10-year time jump isn't realistic

Between episodes 5 and 6 of House of the Dragon, time jumps forwards 10 years. So much time elapses that four of the main characters are replaced with new actors and yet somehow, there's King Viserys, still cheerfully sitting through small council meetings as if he didn't collapse while bleeding from the face at his daughter's wedding a full decade ago.

Sorry, but it just isn't believable. We don't know exactly what's wrong with King Viserys, but the most likely condition appears to be necrotising fasciitis, which is a life-threatening infection the NHS says is "known as the 'flesh-eating disease'". Removing the affected area and amputation are listed among the treatments, but it's also stressed that the disease can be fatal and that antibiotics are typically part of the cure.

Yep, that's right: antibiotics. Not leeches. Maybe King Viserys surviving a few months, or even years, before the disease really took hold of him would have been semi-believable, like he did in the season's first half.

But surviving a 10-year time jump, when the last time we saw him his arm was rotting off? No way.

A king coughs into a handkerchief while a blonde woman holds onto him.
This should've been Viserys' final moment. Credit: HBO

King Viserys' death would've been perfect in episode 5

I know what you're thinking: Why does realism matter in a show that has dragons, anyway? Couldn't King Viserys have some kind of otherwordly disease that behaves differently, and would enable him to live longer?

It's a fair point. But I'd counter this by arguing that his death would also have made way more sense from an artistic standpoint at the end of episode 5. During the scene where his arm is being treated, he has a memorable and poignant conversation with his new Hand, Lord Lyonel Strong (Gavin Spokes). It's all about how he'll be remembered.

"Will I be remembered as a good King, Lyonel?" whispers Viserys. "What will they say of me, when the histories are written? I have never fought, nor conquered, nor suffered any great defeat."

"Some might call that good fortune," responds Strong.

"But it hardly makes a good song, does it? To be sung at feasts in a hundred years. Five hundred."

"You have carried King Jaehaerys' legacy and kept the realm strong," says Strong. "Is it not better to live in peace than to have songs sung after you are dead?"

"It hardly makes a good song, does it? To be sung at feasts in a hundred years."
- King Viserys

The scene carries on like that, with the King ultimately agreeing that it's better not to have been tested. In a show that's brilliantly written throughout, this dialogue is especially moving. It's the perfect summary of King Viserys' struggle, a moment of vulnerability when he stares at himself in a metaphorical mirror. This scene, coupled with his sudden collapse at the end of Rhaenyra's wedding, would've been the perfect way to go.

Look, I get why they've kept him alive. I do. If Viserys had died before episode 6, it would completely alter the dynamic between Rhaenyra and Queen Alicent. On one level it makes sense to keep him around and allow the tensions to build for longer.

But still, I can't help mourning the loss of a death that would've been so perfectly poignant.

New House of the Dragon episodes are available every Sunday on HBO and HBO Max.

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Can you take an STI test when you have your period?

Thu, 29 Sep 22 09:06:53 +0000
A swab rests near a tube, part of a chlamydia screening test kit.

I was lying under a blanket, enjoying a chill Friday evening when my phone buzzed. "Hey, you might wanna get tested," the text read.

I sat bolt upright. The message was from the guy I'd been sleeping with. And the test did not refer to a COVID lateral flow. "What do you mean?" I said, my heart pounding in my chest. "I've just found out I've got chlamydia," he replied.

My health anxiety sent me through a loop that night. I immediately went to the Sexual Health London (SHL) website and ordered myself a free STI (sexually transmitted infections) home test kit. My anxiety could only be quelled by taking a test. But the annoying thing was, chlamydia has around a two-week incubation period. The last time I'd had sex with this person was just a few days prior. I looked at my period app and calculated that 14 days from the possible infection date, Mother Nature was also sending something else my way: my period.

The day after getting the text, I realised I needed to do something to stop my mind from going round in circles. Mid-spiral, I went to the pharmacy and bought myself a rapid chlamydia test. It was negative, which gave me some short-lived relief. But I wasn't off the hook — I still needed to wait another two weeks to do a test that could give me more accurate results. I wanted to fast forward through time so I could put myself out of my misery but I had questions. Can you take an STI test when you have your period? Or did I need to wait until my period had ended before taking the test?

STIs are common and anyone who has oral, anal, vaginal sex, or genital skin-to-skin can get an STI. Per Planned Parenthood, nearly all sexually active people get an STI at some point in their life.

I trawled the internet and found little that could tell me definitively one way or another. It was infuriating. I ended up taking five negative chlamydia tests to make sure the result was accurate. If you ever find yourself in the same situation as me, here's what you need to know about having your period when you want to take an STI test.

So, is it possible to take an STI test on your period?

The good news? Yes. Bekki Pickerill, clinical manager at Brook, says you can take an STI test when it's your time of the month. "We advise not to delay getting an STI test, irrelevant of where you are in your menstrual cycle," Pickerill says. "The only thing to be mindful of the incubation periods, for example waiting two weeks post-sex will give you the most accurate results for STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhoea."

According to SHL, "Owing to how sensitive the chlamydia and gonorrhoea DNA testing is, menstrual blood does not typically affect the outcome of the result." From time to time, for unrelated reasons, a swab test may need to be repeated.

Planned Parenthood echoes this, stating it's totally fine and normal to get tested at any point in your menstrual cycle. "Even on your heaviest days. Your period won't affect the results," the advice reads.  

"Even on your heaviest days. Your period won’t affect the results."
- Planned Parenthood

It's important to know that certain STIs take longer to show up in tests — this is because of the varying incubation periods of each conditions. As I mentioned previously, it's advised to wait two weeks before taking a chlamydia test. With HIV, it can take up to 90 days to show in a test, depending on the type of test.

How can I get an STI testing kit?

If you live in the UK, you can consult the Brook website to find out how to order free at-home testing kits in your area. You can also use their find a service tool to locate your nearest sexual health clinic. You can also check the website to see if your postcode is eligible for a free postal kit.

If you're based in the U.S., you can access care by booking an appointment with Planned Parenthood. Everlywell has an STI test subscription which costs $14.99 a month and provides you with one of five STI tests.

Nearly all sexually active people will get an STI at some point in their life. Chlamydia is one the most common STIs in the UK and it's usually treated with a short course of antibiotics. It's important to catch it early on because, per the NHS, "If left untreated, the infection can spread to other parts of your body and lead to long-term health problems, especially in women." In women, untreated chlamydia can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), ectopic pregnancy, and infertility.

If you live with health anxiety, the idea of getting an STI is anxiety-inducing, but getting tested is really important.

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The best Lego kits for adults, because you never grow out of Lego

Thu, 29 Sep 22 09:00:00 +0000
Three lego sets on a colorful background.

Whether you dream of competing on Lego Masters or you just like to tinker around and revel in the building process, Lego sets for adults are an awesome way to unwind, unplug and enjoy some quiet, creative downtime. Whether the kit has hundreds of pieces or thousands, the act of building a cool structure from all those little Lego bricks can be a great stress reliever and can even help you hone your mindfulness skills.

Fortunately, there's a Lego kit out there for any and every interest, it seems — from the biggest TV and movie fandoms to sweeping architectural cityscapes from around the globe — so you have plenty of Lego sets to choose from.

Are Lego sets for adults?

Unlike Trix, Lego are not just for kids. (Yes, even if you're old enough to remember that cereal commercial, silly rabbit.) In fact, there are premium Lego sets designed specifically for adults. Some are meant to be nostalgic callbacks to things we loved as kids and teens, like Super Mario Bros video games and '90s TV shows like Friends. Other Lego sets are simply too advanced for kids to build on their own, with a piece count in the five-digit range, in some cases.

If you're looking for a Lego set for adults, just know that you're not alone. There's actually an acronym to describe your interest in those colorful little building bricks: AFOLs, or adult fans of Lego. And, there's even a "blocumentary" dedicated to your craft, as well as tons of Facebook Lego groups and Reddit communities.

What should I look for in a Lego kit for adults?

Lego sets for adults come in all shapes and forms, so the best choice for you really depends on your interests. Some of the best Lego sets for adults are those that act as sort of souvenirs of the places you've been. There are kits depicting famous landmarks like the White House, the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, the Disney Castle, the Empire State Building, and even Old Trafford, home of Manchester United Football Club. There are also kits that allow you to build iconic locales that you probably won't ever visit, like the Lego International Space Station.

There’s also a Lego art line with pieces that are designed to be built and hung on the wall like a framed canvas, and several special series of kits that are particularly fun for adults to put together and show off when completed. The Lego Botanical Collection, for example, allows for the creation of decor that's actually quite pretty, including brick-built orchids, floral bouquets, and more. There’s the Lego Technic line, as well, that includes lots of cool, true-to-life vehicles — like the Bugatti Chiron and Ford Mustang — with specialized pieces that create more functionality than your standard Lego brick, including tiny motors and pneumatic elements. Car enthusiasts would also enjoy the Lego creator kit that lets you build the Aston Martin made famous by the James Bond franchise.

The best Lego kits for adults, however, tend to have lots of pieces and present a fun challenge to put together. To ensure that the kit isn't too easy (and therefore a total snooze) for your skill level, you'll want to take a look at the recommended age on the front of the box. In 2020, Lego began using the designation "18+" for their more advanced Lego sets intended for adult builders. Previously, you might have seen these types of sets referred to as the Lego Creator Expert line, but in either case, you can expect these sets to have thousands of pieces. You may also find some Lego sets for adults that are listed as 16+ — these are usually older sets that pre-date the new 18+ designation but are likely to be a nice challenge for adults as well.

That said, there are plenty of great Lego kits for adults with a 12+ age designation too. Despite the age recommendation, these sets are typically not "childish" by any means. Rather, these 12+ sets are likely to have fewer pieces than those recommended for older ages, but they can still pose an equally fun challenge with stunning results that you'll be proud to put on display. They're also particularly great for adults who are just dipping their toe into Lego building, or those who might enjoy a more fast-paced project.

What LEGO sets are collectible?

You'll find that many of the most coveted, best Lego sets for adults fall within certain fandoms, like Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Stranger Things. You'll also find Lego kits for adults that center around favorite characters like Minnie Mouse, Super Mario, Darth Vader, and Marvel Avengers superheroes like Iron Man. Some of these kits are hard to find due to a limited-edition run and can therefore be pretty expensive when you do spot them for sale (such as the Lego Star Wars Death Star II and Ultimate Collector's Millennium Falcon).

Over time, you may find some Lego sets for adults could yield a high return on the secondary seller market. And who knows, some Lego kits for adults might wind up being a better investment than stocks! There are some sites out there that can try to tell you what Lego sets will be worth money in the future but, of course, take everything with a grain of salt. (Remember Beanie Babies?) However, any kits belonging to a longstanding franchise — like Star Wars — are likely to be in demand well into the future.

What are the hardest Lego sets to build?

While the 18+ designation doesn't necessarily denote that a Lego kit for adults will be particularly difficult, there are a handful of sets out there that are ideal if you're really up for a challenge. These include the Lego Ghostbusters Firehouse Headquarters, the Taj Mahal, the Bugatti Chiron, the Star Wars Millennium Falcon, and the Imperial Star Destroyer.

Is there an app that lets you build LEGO?

If you're finding a Lego set to be particularly difficult, though, there's an app for that! You can use the Lego Builder app for digital Lego building instructions on your smartphone or tablet. It not only shows step-by-step instructions for your build, but also allows you to rotate and zoom in on each Lego piece to get a better look at it than you ever could in the paper building instructions. It's a great ally to turn to if you get stuck in the course of building your set. However, some older Lego sets may not be in the app, so it can be hit or miss in that regard.

What do you do with Lego sets once built?

Whatever kit you choose to build, be sure to put your Lego art on display when you're done! You can even find LED light kits for some of the most popular Lego sets for adults, so you can illuminate your impressive effort and really show it off like the work of art that it is.

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All the best folding and inflatable kayaks that we tested and loved

Thu, 29 Sep 22 09:00:00 +0000
Two kayaks on a lake shore

Name a better activity than kayaking on a lake with your dog. I'll wait.

For folks who regularly rent kayaks at their local lake or river, buying one will save you tons of money (plus, all the kayaks on this list are way more comfortable and maneuverable than a crappy rental kayak). Kayak rentals can run upwards of $100 per day, so if you use your kayak between five and 10 times depending on the price, you'll get your money's worth.

While summer is coming to an end and there might only be a few more days of sunny weather to get on the water depending on where you live, kayaks are great buys during the end-of-year shopping holidays. You'll likely be able to score hundreds of dollars off during Prime Day, Black Friday or Cyber Monday, and you'll be all set to get on the water once spring rolls around. Live in a place where it stays consistently warm? Then you won't even need to wait.

Here's everything you need to know about inflatable and folding kayaks before you buy.

Inflatable kayaks vs hard kayaks

The main differences between inflatable kayaks and hard kayaks are weight, size, storage, stability, and speed.

A hard kayak requires a roof rack to transport, two people or a kayak rack to get from the car to the water, and the strength (or a lift-assist kayak rack) to lift it on and off the roof rack of your car. If you can't be bothered with all of that, an inflatable or foldable kayak is your best bet. They generally range from 17 to 60 pounds depending on whether you get a single or tandem and pack down small enough to fit in the trunk or backseat of a car. These can also be stored in a closet or under a bed, so you can still have a kayak even if you live in an apartment.

For storage, inflatable kayaks need to be left out to dry completely before packing them away, or you run the risk of mold. Hard kayaks are much easier to dry off, and of course don't need to be folded up for storage.

In terms of stability, inflatable kayaks get the win. They tend to have wider bases, which makes them much less likely to tip over. This impacts the speed and maneuverability a bit, which we'll get into below, but they're generally great for recreational paddling and calm water.

Are inflatable kayaks cheaper than hard kayaks?

Inflatable kayaks generally tend to be cheaper and on the low end of the price range than their rigid counterparts. You can get a $100 or $200 inflatable kayak, whereas the lowest price you'll find on a hard kayak is probably around the $400 range. Once you get into higher-end inflatable and hard kayaks though ($1,000+), the prices tend to even out.

You get what you pay for with inflatable kayaks though. A $100 or $200 model likely won't be comfortable, won't be very lightweight, and won't have any of the durability features we highlight below. We recommend inflatables in the mid-tier price range (around $500) for the best bang for your buck.

Are inflatable kayaks slow?

While inflatable kayaks are huge on stability, the downside is that they're not as speedy as hard kayaks. Hard kayaks tend to build speed faster than their wider inflatable counterparts, which can be important for paddling long distances. If you're just paddling on your local lake or river for a few hours, you'll be just fine with a slightly slower inflatable kayak.

Are inflatable kayaks durable?

Inflatable kayaks can be ultra-durable, but you need to look out for durable materials and quality construction. A $100 inflatable kayak probably won't be as tough as one at a higher price point with better construction. For the highest durability, look out for boats made of PVC with high pressure spring valves and drop stitch technology. If you're into more casual paddling, you can get away with an inflatable kayak with a PVC bottom/hull and lower pressure valves.

Is the Oru kayak any good?

Of course, the foldable kayak on this list — the Oru Lake — doesn't conform to the same size or durability standards as inflatable kayaks. The Oru Lake is much smaller and lighter than the other models we tested, weighing in at just 17 pounds and packing down to the size of a medium suitcase. It's rated for durability up to 20,000 folds, and while it's much lighter than some of the other kayaks we tested, it still maintains good stability on calm waters.

Oru kayaks are also made of an ultra-tough corrugated plastic as opposed to the PVC that most inflatable kayaks are made of. We found during testing that the outer plastic of Oru kayaks seemed to be just as durable as inflatable PVC kayaks.

What inflatable/foldable kayak is the best?

We think the Oru Lake is the best option, due its lightweight design, great portability, fast setup, and reasonable price point. We also liked the Retrospec Coaster for paddling with dogs, and the Bote Zeppelin Aero for the 2-in-1 paddle board and kayak design.

Read on for more details on each kayak, and scroll to the bottom for the rundown on how we tested each one.

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The best glass containers and reusable storage bags for eco-friendly food storage

Thu, 29 Sep 22 09:00:00 +0000
Bumkins Snack Bags and Food Huggers Replacement Lids on a colorful background.

Lots of folks are interested in storing their food (and baby food, and kid food) in things that are not plastic, such as silicone and glass. While plastic might be convenient, it isn’t the best choice for the environment or your body, so many people are switching to glass at home and silicone bags on the go (or for home as well). Not to mention that glass containers have certain advantages over plastic ones that make them infinitely more practical and appealing. For starters, most glass containers can go from fridge to freezer to oven to microwave. They’re also dishwasher-safe for quick and easy cleanup. And, because their surface is non-porous, glass containers won’t absorb odors the way plastic ones do.

There are plenty of options available when it comes to finding the best glass containers and reusable bags for your needs. Whether you’re looking for meal prep or leftovers containers or want something that’s safe for your baby, there’s a food storage container designed for every need. To get the right food storage container, consider: 

  • The size you need (containers range from small dip holders to large casserole-sized dishes)

  • The shape you prefer

  • Lid design (not all lids offer a leakproof seal and not all lids are plastic-free or microwave safe)

  • What’s included in a set (you might only need one or two containers, or you might want a whole set)

  • How you intend to use them (many glass containers aren’t just for storage — you can also pop them in the oven to cook or reheat food)

Here are some other things to keep in mind when comparing glass food storage containers. 

Why should I replace my plastic food storage with glass, silicone, or other materials?

Glass storage containers not only provide a fantastic sustainable alternative to their plastic counterparts, they are easy to clean, won't retain odors or germs, and you can easily spot what you’re looking for since they are see-through. Glass containers can also be safely washed at high temperatures in your dishwasher.

Replacing your plastic food containers with glass, silicone, or other materials also helps the environment. That’s because glass can be reused for years, and is almost completely recyclable — unlike plastic options. Plastic has a highly inefficient recycling process that is no friend to Mother Earth. 

Another benefit to replacing your plastic food storage containers with more eco-friendly materials is that it also cuts down on costs. Yes, the initial investment in glass containers and reusable storage bags is costlier than plastic options, but it’s more or less a one-time investment — as long as you take care of your stash. And, there are still budget-friendly options available. 

You can also enjoy more versatility with glass food containers than you do with plastic. Tempered glass and borosilicate glass is durable enough to go from freezer to oven to table. You can also pop them in the dishwasher for convenient cleanup when the meal is over — unlike a lot of plastic options. Reusable storage bags can be washed in the dishwasher as well — or tossed in with your laundry for quick cleans between uses. (Yep, laundry!)

Additionally, there’s some evidence to suggest that when heated, plastic releases chemicals that leach into food and can be harmful to humans. So while it might be safe for simply storing food in, you probably shouldn’t be reheating those leftovers in your microwave in a plastic container. Glass and silicone don’t have this issue. 

What should I look for in glass food storage containers?

When shopping for glass food storage containers, there are several features you should look for, including: 

  • Can you pop it in the microwave? What about the freezer?

  • Can you toss it in the dishwasher?

  • Is it free of BPA, lead, and phthalates? 

  • Do the lids offer a secure, leak-proof seal? Do they lock in place? Are they also microwave safe?

  • What type of glass is it? Tempered or boroscolite is best, though untreated glass is suitable for dry goods.

  • Do they stack for convenient storage?

  • Do I like the style of a particular container or set?

What should I look for in reusable food and snack bags? 

When shopping for reusable food and snack bags, there are several features you should look for, including: 

  • Can you pop it in the microwave? What about the freezer?

  • Can you toss it in the dishwasher or washing machine?

  • Is it free of BPA, lead, and phthalates? 

  • Does it offer a leak-proof seal? Can any children who might be in the home open and close them unassisted?

  • What size will suit my needs? There are bags sized for snack-sized portions, while others hold sandwiches or more. 

  • Do they stack for convenient storage?

  • Do they stand open so I can easily fill them? (If you need this feature.)

  • Do I like the style of a particular bag or set?

What types of glass storage containers are there?

There are three types of glass food storage containers available: untreated glass, tempered glass, and borosilicate glass. 

Untreated glass is the cheapest glass to produce, and is often used to make jars, bottles, and cups. Unless your glass container specifically says it’s tempered or strengthened, it’s likely untreated glass. This shouldn’t be a deal breaker, though. You can still use untreated glass to store food in the fridge or at room temperature — just don’t freeze or heat it.

Tempered glass has been treated to withstand a wider range of temperatures, which is why it’s able to go in the freezer and oven. It’s also less likely to shatter. 

Borosilicate glass contains boric oxide, which makes it even more resistant to thermal shock than tempered glass. Because of this, it’s also more expensive than tempered and untreated glass.

Can glass food storage containers go in the oven?

Yes! Glass storage containers can go in the oven. While high-quality borosilicate glass is the gold standard in heating and cooling stability and can withstand extreme changes in temperature, tempered glass is also usually oven safe (just don’t go from freezer to oven directly). Generally speaking, glass food storage containers can withstand oven temperatures up to 425 degrees, but be sure to check the specifications for your specific container. 

Can glass food storage containers go in the freezer?

Yes! Glass storage containers can go in the freezer. While high-quality borosilicate glass is the gold standard in heating and cooling stability and can withstand extreme changes in temperature, tempered glass is also freezer safe. (Just don’t go from freezer to oven directly).

Can glass food storage containers go in the microwave?

Yes! Glass food storage containers can safely be used in the microwave. Keep in mind that if your containers have plastic lids, they might not be microwave safe. Always be sure to read the manufacturer's recommendations to be certain. 

If you’re looking to ditch the plastic and upgrade to a more eco-friendly option, these glass containers and reusable storage bags are more than up to the task. And if you’re looking to ditch plastic elsewhere in your life, we’ve rounded up the best reusable water bottles, reusable straws, and reusable coffee cups to help you live more eco-friendly. Here are our picks for the best food storage containers and reusable storage bags for plastic-free food storage. 

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This pro knife sharpener is on sale for over 60% off

Thu, 29 Sep 22 09:00:00 +0000
Angle Pro knife sharpener with knife against colorful background

TL;DR: As of Sept. 29, you can get the Angle Pro Knife Sharpener for $69.99 rather than $199 — that's a savings of 64%.

Knives get dull. It happens, but how do you get back that perfectly angled razor edge that makes kitchen prep feel like a game? There’s actually a lot you can do, from honing and sharpening to adding a whole new edge to your blade. All that care might require a bunch of different equipment, or you could try the Angle Pro Knife Sharpener that puts it all in one place. If you want to keep your knives sharp and kitchen ready, then grab an Angle Pro Knife Sharpener for $69.99 (Reg. $199), or get two for $124.99 (Reg. $399).

Sharpen, hone, or add a new edge to almost any knife 

The manufacturers of the Angle Pro Knife Sharpener claim it can help you get “professional-quality sharpening” at home. Three things you can do to add or maintain the edge of your knife are honing, sharpening, and re-angling the edge, and this Kickstarter-funded tool can do all three.

Honing just means straightening the sharp edge of your knife, which can bend from normal use. Sharpening means removing a thin layer of the blade itself to maintain the edge. You can hone your blade with the Angle Pro using the ceramic wheels, and you can sharpen it using the diamond wheels. 

If you want to change the angle of your blade’s edge, then you’d use the tungsten rods. You can even check the angle of your blade using the steel angle gauge. You could even research what types of blade angles work for your knives and how you plan on using them. 

The Angle Pro puts the tools you need right in front of you, and you may be able to get through the whole process in a matter of minutes.

Make your knives feel brand-new

See how a new edge feels on your favorite knife. For a limited time, get an Angle Pro Knife Sharpener with Angle Gauge for $69.99 (Reg. $199), or get two of them for $124.99 (Reg. $399). You won’t find a better price anywhere online. 

Prices subject to change.

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Elrond and Durin's friendship carries on an important 'Lord of the Rings' tradition

Thu, 29 Sep 22 09:00:00 +0000
An elf and a dwarf face each other in a mine.

Unlikely friendships and alliances are one of the key elements of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, and chiefest among these is the bond between elf Legolas and dwarf Gimli. Throughout the trilogy, the two completely overturn expectations of elf-dwarf animosity, giving us iconic moments such as the friendly orc-killing competition, or, in Peter Jackson's movies, the following exchange:

Gimli: Never thought I’d die fighting side by side with an elf.
Legolas: What about side by side with a friend?
Gimli: Aye. I could do that.

Now, in Prime Video's The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, a new duo rises to continue the tradition of friendships between elves and dwarves. They are Elrond (Robert Aramayo) and Prince Durin IV (Owain Arthur), and they have my whole heart.

Like Legolas and Gimli, Elrond and Durin enjoy a healthy amount of one-upmanship. (Durin says they met when he saved Elrond from two trolls. Elrond claims Durin was the one who needed saving, and it was three trolls, not just two.) However, just like with Legolas and Gimli, there's also a deep amount of respect between the two, a respect that The Rings of Power explores through touching scenes of dialogue.

Elrond and Durin talk it out

A dwarf with a bushy red beard raises his fist in a hall full of dwarves.
Owain Arthur as Durin Credit: Courtesy of Prime Video

As of episode 5 of The Rings of Power, Elrond and Durin remain fierce friends and allies. However, they started the show at odds: Elrond sought the dwarves' help for Celebrimbor's (Charles Edwards) smithing project in Eregion, yet Durin was offended by Elrond's lack of contact over the past two decades.

In one of the show's best scenes, Durin explains his frustration with Elrond. Since they've last spoken, Durin got married and had children. Meanwhile, for an immortal elf like Elrond, 20 years feels like a blink of an eye. It's a great sequence that highlights how Middle-earth's differing lifespans can impact relationships, and it ends with welcome reconciliation.

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One of the best things about Durin and Elrond's friendship is their tendency to listen to one another and take each other's word seriously. We see this when Elrond stumbles upon one of Moria's mithril mines. Instead of casting him out, Durin confides in Elrond — but not before making sure Elrond promises he won't speak of it to another soul.

And guess what? Elrond honors the heck out of that promise, even when High King Gil-galad (Benjamin Walker) pressures him to break his word and reveal the dwarves' discovery of mithril. Sorry, Gil-galad, nothing comes between Elrond and Durin. Nothing!

The communication between the two remains impeccable even when Elrond tells Durin of Gil-galad's suspicions. Durin understands the difficult position his friend is in and decides to help him instead of shun him. In a show brimming with tension, sword fights, and the threat of evil, it's refreshing to see how Durin and Elrond opt for frank discussion at every sign of conflict between them. They've mended the rift between them, and their bond has grown all the stronger for it.

Durin and Elrond are joys to watch

An elf cloaked in white sits in a field.
Robert Aramayo as Elrond. Credit: Ben Rothstein / Prime Video

On top of all their excellent conversations, Durin and Elrond get major friendship points for their banter. (See the aforementioned troll discrepancy.) In episode 5, Elrond immediately catches onto Durin's ruse to take Gil-galad's nice dinner table by claiming it's made of stone that is culturally significant to the dwarves. And he lets it happen! Friends help friends steal from High Kings.

Even at serious points, such as the conversation about how mithril can prevent the elves from fading away, Elrond and Durin find moments of levity. "The fate of the entire elven race is in your hands," Elrond tells Durin. "Whose hands?" Durin asks with a smile, which Elrond returns. "Yours." The first rule of friendship in Middle-earth: Commit to the bit, even when your life is at stake.

The humor interspersed throughout Elrond and Durin's interactions is proof of how comfortable, almost brotherly, they are with each other. This comfort between elves and dwarves extends to Elrond's conversations with Durin's wife Disa (Sophia Nomvete). Even though Elrond hasn't known Disa as long as he's known Durin, their talks are full of warmth and camaraderie. Disa was created solely for The Rings of Power, but she fits right into the dwarf-elf dynamic nonetheless. Anytime she, Durin, and Elrond are onscreen, you feel like you're hanging out with the best of friends. It doesn't matter whether you're a dwarf or an elf: In Tolkien's world, friendship and fellowship trump all.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is now streaming on Prime Video. New episodes release every Friday at 12 a.m. ET.

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