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Technology US

Joe Biden cancels Keystone XL permit

In one of his first actions in office, President Joe Biden issued an executive order on a broad range of environmental protections that included stopping construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. This is the second time a president has pumped the brakes on the embattled pipeline. Barack Obama denied a permit for the project in 2015. Then in 2017, Donald Trump reversed that decision and issued a permit.

The order directed federal agencies to review environmental rollbacks made under the Trump Administration, according to the Huffington Post and The New York Times. That includes revisiting fuel efficiency standards, and the boundaries for the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments. It also temporarily halts oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Gina McCarthy, national climate advisor, said Biden’s moves “begin to put the U.S. back on the right footing, a footing we need to restore American leadership, helping to position our nation to be the global leader in clean energy and jobs,” according to Agence France-Presse.

830,000 barrels of crude oil were expected to flow through the $8 billion Keystone XL pipeline every day. In an apparent last-minute attempt to get the project in Biden’s good graces, on January 17th, the company said it would spend $1.7 billion to purchase enough renewable energy to match the pipeline’s power consumption by 2030. Keystone XL developer TC Energy suspended work on the pipeline today and said in a statement that it is “disappointed” with Biden’s decision.

For more than a decade, Native American tribes, activists, and environmentalists have fought to stop the 1,210-mile-long pipeline from being built. Obama backed away from the pipeline just before the adoption of the Paris climate agreement, saying that approving the project would do little for the US economy and would instead undercut US leadership on climate change.

The pipeline continued to face opposition and legal challenges after Trump gave it the green light in 2017. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe, and the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre tribes of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation filed lawsuits against the administration. They say that the administration failed to consult with the tribes and that the pipeline poses a danger to their lands and water sources.

This is just one piece of Biden’s plan to transition the US away from fossil fuels driving the climate crisis. The climate change plan he developed while on the campaign trail includes goals to get the US to “100 percent clean energy” by 2050. Biden also recommitted the US to the Paris climate agreement today, a global pact to avoid that tipping point.

Activists are pushing Biden to stop the construction of other pipelines, including the Dakota Access pipeline — which Trump similarly expedited, despite high-profile protests in defense of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s water supply and land. There are also calls to stop the Enbridge Line 3 project, a plan to abandon an aging pipeline that runs between Alberta and the Midwestern US and replace it with a new one that can transport more oil.

“Suspending one big oil expansion project through Native territory and approving another is the opposite of climate leadership and respect for Indigenous sovereignty,” Tara Houska, a citizen of Couchiching First Nation Anishinaabe and prominent attorney, said in a statement penned by Indigenous women leaders on January 14th. “The Biden administration can uphold their climate justice claims by acting to Stop Line 3, Stop Keystone XL, and Stop Dakota Access Pipeline, now.”

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Technology US

Tim Cook gave the first Mac Pro to Trump, apparently

Tim Apple, as Trump once called him, didn’t just give Donald Trump the opportunity to lie about bringing an Apple factory to the United States. He also gave him a $5,999 Mac Pro, according to Donald Trump’s final financial disclosure report today (via the NY Times’ David Enrich).

The computer is described as the very first Mac Pro produced at the Flex Factory in Austin, Texas. That’s also a lie: that factory has actually been producing Mac Pros since 2013.

Either way, $5,999 would actually make it the least expensive version of the 2020 Mac Pro the company currently sells… with no monitor, no stand for that non-existent monitor, and no $400 wheels to help Trump lug it out of the White House.

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Technology US

Among Us developers explain why new features are taking a while

Among Us was one of the smash hits of 2020 — it reportedly had nearly half a billion players in November — and there are some exciting updates announced for the game, including a new airship map and an account system. In a blog posted yesterday, developer Innersloth discussed how it has adapted in response to the game’s enormous popularity and why new features are taking a while to be released.

Among Us gained incredible traction pretty late into 2020 that we weren’t expecting, and that meant A LOT of change for us,” the developers said. Innersloth, which is comprised of just four employees, had to spend two months restructuring, figuring out processes, and working with new external partners, according to the blog. “It’s all behind-the-scenes work, and while it meant time away from the game, it’ll make it easier for current and future us to develop the game better,” Innersloth said.

The studio has also juggled bringing the game to new platforms — it hit Nintendo Switch in December and is coming to Xbox One and Xbox Series X / S consoles in 2021.

There’s a lot to look forward to, though. The airship map, which is scheduled to come out in early 2021, has new tasks to complete as well as ladders and floating platforms for traversal. Innersloth aims to launch the account system “ASAP” with a focus on moderation. And the studio plans to share a public feature roadmap at some point.

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Technology US

Metroid looks amazing in Lego — and could become real if you vote

If you want a Metroid Lego set, you have the power to bring the idea closer to reality. User L-DI-EGO has submitted a design on Lego’s Ideas website that brings the block treatment to Samus and her gunship, but the site requires votes to get this concept in front of Lego itself (via Nintendo Life).

Lego Ideas is an official site for users to submit their concepts and designs for the Lego company to consider, and where Lego fans can vote for their favorites. If a submission gets 10,000 votes, the Lego Group may turn it into a real product. Right now the Metroid concept has around 5,700 votes, so it’s just over halfway. If you like the concept, you can go to the website to put your thumb on the scale.

Image: L-DI-EGO on Lego Ideas

Image: L-DI-EGO on Lego Ideas

It’s worth noting, however, that many of the submissions that do get 10,000 votes don’t actually end up hitting store shelves. The program has been running since 2008, and only 33 sets have made it to production so far. Lego only guarantees that it’ll look at the idea, but usually fans will end up waiting to hear back from the company only to get a rejection.

That isn’t to say it’s impossible. Lego has a page listing some of the Ideas that you can buy today. The list includes the truly awesome 1969-piece Saturn V rocket, and we’ve written about a Doctor Who set that started out as an Idea. Space ideas really seem to speak to Lego, as nearly a quarter of the sets produced (if you count WALL-E and Doctor Who) have been space-themed. This includes a Women of NASA kit and a recreation of the International Space Station. Maybe that’s a good sign, since Metroid is set in space?

Image of a proposed Metroid Lego set

You wouldn’t see anything like this on Earth.
Image: L-DI-EGO on Lego Ideas

What would the official version of this look like? Still cool, I bet.
Image: L-DI-EGO on Lego Ideas

Despite the space examples, the program doesn’t operate at warp speed. It can often take over a year from an idea getting reviewed to it being something you can buy: that Doctor Who kit got to 10,000 votes on April 7, 2014, and hit store shelves in December of 2015.

And even if the Metroid idea does end up being produced by Lego, there are no promises it’ll look the same as it does now. Lego will often make changes to the Ideas designs. You can see this by comparing the Back to the Future set from 2011. On the top is the Ideas version, and on the bottom is the retail packaging.

Image by m.togami on Lego Ideas

The hoverboard and Doc’s fit are clear downgrades.
Image: Lego

While Lego deciding to make this Metroid set may be unlikely, it already has a relationship with Nintendo from the work the companies have done on a couple of Super Mario sets and a version of the NES that’s just as endearingly blocky as the system’s graphics.

If Metroid isn’t your preferred Nintendo franchise, there’s an Animal Crossing set that’s just under the 10,000 vote line. It’s got over 9,000 votes, so it just needs a small push to make it to Lego’s desk. And, if you want to spend an evening dreaming about Lego sets that aren’t likely to ever come out, I suggest you take a look at the Ideas sets that are currently pending review — there’s some great ones in there, including Tom Nook’s infamous shop.

Image of an Animal Crossing lego set, including a house, beach, workbench, and river.

You can design your island however you want in this set inspired by a game where you design your island however you want.
TiagoCatarino on Lego Ideas

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Technology US

The US will rejoin the Paris climate agreement, but that was the easy part

President Joe Biden recommitted the US to the Paris climate accord during his first day in office, fulfilling one of his earliest campaign promises. In 30 days, the US will once again be part of the global accord. Rejoining the agreement is as easy as sending a letter to the secretary-general of the United Nations. What comes after that will be much harder.

The US turned its back on efforts to tackle the climate crisis together as a planet when Donald Trump made the decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement. Trump decimated federal efforts to slash emissions within the US, and he stood by other right-wing leaders — like Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, who similarly dismantled environmental protections — even as their countries burned like never before because of climate change. Now, the US needs to regain the world’s trust and show that it means business when it comes to taking on climate change.

“One of the things the world is very tired of is seeing the US make promises we don’t keep,” says Alden Meyer, a senior associate focused on US and international climate policy at E3G, a London-based think tank. “They want to know that whatever commitments we do make, we have not only the intention, but the wherewithal and the political support to pull off.”

Biden has made big promises already, like pledging to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by 2035 and reaching a “100 percent clean energy” economy by 2050. But those promises still aren’t enough to set the US on a course to meaningfully engage with the rest of the world on climate change again. Biden will need to set more near-term goals and solidify a plan to dramatically slash US greenhouse gas emissions during his time in office.

The clock is ticking. During Barack Obama’s administration, the US signed onto the Paris accord and promised to slash greenhouse gas emissions between 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. That’s a goal the US is not on track to meet. The US is now expected to bring an updated commitment to the global table before a United Nations Climate Conference planned for November. Other countries ratcheted up their pledges last year.

The landmark Paris agreement, adopted in 2015, joined nearly every country on Earth in an effort to keep global warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times. The planet has already heated up by about 1.2 degrees. To keep it from warming much further, global carbon dioxide emissions will need to continually drop by more than 7 percent each year until 2030. That’s about how much emissions fell because of the effects of the pandemic on economies.

In the future, those cuts need to be intentional — not the result of an unexpected health crisis. With a narrow Democratic majority in Congress, Biden hopes to pass legislation to turn some of his environmental plans into law. Climate policy will likely dovetail with pandemic relief plans. Biden has said that millions of jobs will come with making America’s infrastructure more green — from building charging stations for electric vehicles to making homes and buildings more energy-efficient. The president called for $2 trillion in climate spending while on the campaign trail, but he’ll ultimately need Congress to pass a budget.

Biden will need to take action without Congress, too. He’s expected to take executive action to kill the embattled Keystone XL pipeline, for instance. There will also be an about-face at federal agencies that previously carried out Trump’s environmental rollbacks. The EPA and Department of Transportation can toughen standards for polluting facilities and vehicles. The Department of the Interior can fulfill Biden’s pledge to end new oil and gas drilling on public lands and waters.

Whatever actions the US ends up taking to get its greenhouse gas emissions under control will matter for the entire planet. Currently, the US is the second biggest polluter after China. Historically, the US has released more greenhouse gases than any other country.

The US getting serious about climate change again also puts more pressure on governments that have dragged their feet when it comes to ratcheting up climate commitments. “Many of the countries who don’t really want to take action have been using the US as the excuse to say, ‘Well, you know, the largest economy of the world has reneged,” says Carlos Fuller, international and regional liaison officer at the Caribbean Community Climate Change Center. Fuller was previously the lead climate negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States. “They were really almost given free rein to not living up to their obligations [under] the Paris agreement.”

The US also plays a big role when it comes to funding for efforts to help countries adapt to the hazards climate change has already caused. The US has only fulfilled $1 billion out of a $3 billion commitment to the Green Climate Fund, which supports developing nations’ efforts to address climate change.

“It really has hampered how countries can do the adaptation measures that are required,” says Fuller. Small island nations, like those Fuller has negotiated on behalf of, have contributed far less to climate change than bigger countries. But they’ve faced devastating climate effects early on, like more severe storms and rising sea levels gobbling up their coastlines.

The cost of adapting to climate change has already reached $70 billion in developing countries and is only expected to grow, according to a recent United Nations report. Despite the need, only $30 billion of development aid was funneled into those efforts between 2017 and 2018, the latest figures show. The US is expected to return to the world stage with funding that either meets or exceeds its previous commitment. But Biden will need the support of Congress to make that happen.

Biden’s administration has a big task ahead of juggling domestic policy with international climate finance and diplomacy. “They have to acknowledge the need for the US to be serious on all of those fronts to have credibility coming back into the Paris Agreement,” says Meyer.

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Technology US

Tech rallies behind Biden’s immigration plans

Hours after taking his oath of office on Wednesday, President Joe Biden signed several executive orders overturning actions taken by the Trump administration regarding immigration, and tech is rallying behind the move.

Biden signed two executive orders Wednesday that extend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for another four years and overturn the Trump administration’s travel bans on largely Muslim-majority countries. It’s just the start of the Biden administration’s immigration reform efforts. The administration also plans to drop a new bill that would provide 11 million undocumented immigrants with a pathway to citizenship and an eight-year waiting period before they can become permanent residents, according to Politico.

“We welcome President Biden’s commitment to pursuing comprehensive immigration reform that reflects the American values of justice, fairness and dignity. This effort will strengthen American communities and the pathways to opportunity this country has long fostered,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a statement Wednesday. “In the weeks and months to come, business leaders look forward to working with the Administration, as well as Democrats and Republicans in Congress, to achieve bipartisan, practical and comprehensive solutions to fix our broken immigration system, including a permanent solution for Dreamers that includes a path to citizenship.”

Google CEO Sundar Pichai also put out a statement in support of the Biden administration’s new immigration effort. We applaud @POTUS‘s quick action on COVID relief, the Paris Climate Accord, and immigration reform. Google has supported action on these important issues & we look forward to working with the new administration to help the US recover from the pandemic + grow our economy,” Pichai said in a tweet.

“We are thankful that President Biden and Vice President Harris are following through on their commitment to send a bill to Congress to fix our broken immigration system,” FWD.us president Todd Schulte said in a statement Wednesday. “What needs to happen in short order is the House and Senate must move legislation that is signed into law.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg helped found FWD.us, an immigration advocacy organization, in 2013.

Twitter also put out a statement in support of the move. The “DACA Executive Order signed this evening delivers hope for #Dreamers. Diversity makes the US, our company, and our world better,” the company said in a tweet.

Last summer, former President Donald Trump issued a proclamation suspending a number of visa programs, including guest worker visas, like the H-1B. Tech companies commonly use these visas to recruit talented employees from overseas. After this proclamation was issued, tech companies, from Apple to Google, put out statements admonishing the Trump administration’s guest worker ban.

In the past, tech companies have argued that comprehensive immigration reform would benefit the US economy, largely focusing on how to improve visas for the high-skilled workers these companies employ.

TechNet, a technology trade group, signed onto a National Immigration Forum letter to Congress Wednesday encouraging members to quickly approve the Biden administration’s immigration plans. Dozens of TechNet’s members also signed onto the letter, including Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft.

“We can create a modern, humane, and effective immigration system that upholds the best of America’s promise: to be a nation where people can come from around the world to work, contribute, and build a better life for themselves, their families, and our society as a whole,” the TechNet letter said. “As we recover from COVID-19, the essential contributions of immigrants here today, and those to come tomorrow, will be critical to the health and well-being of American workers and their families.”

Developing…

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Technology US

The Muppet Great Gatsby exists — in script form

Our desperate plea for a Muppets adaptation of The Great Gatsby has been answered: documentary filmmaker Ben Crew has taken the public domain novel and turned it into a downloadable 104-page fan-made script that marries Muppet antics with existential angst. My request for an adaptation may have been ridiculous, but this script seriously vindicates me.

Crew’s script, “Muppets Present ‘The Great Gatsby,’” may be a silly mashup of a novel you’re forced to read in high school and a puppet comedy variety show, but he said it became a meaningful project when January’s news cycle became too much to bear. “I knew that there was nothing I could do about what was happening in D.C. and that if I didn’t distract myself I was just going to waste away in front of the news again,” Crew wrote in an email to The Verge. “That’s when I dedicated myself to writing this script.”

A mockup of the Muppet adaptations poster.
Image: Benjamin Crew

The final product is a script that plays to a lot of the Muppets’ strengths, while tossing in some fun additions original to Crew. Miss Piggy does karate, Gonzo and Fozzie Bear break the fourth wall frequently, and Kermit… well, Kermit is as exactly as good-natured as we expect. Since every good Muppets movie needs human characters, Crew imagines casting Tom Holland as narrator Nick Carraway and Taron Egerton as the abusive Tom Buchanan. The script also leans frequently into the meta-humor The Muppets is known for and, of course, features plenty of musical numbers.

Crew pulled on his knowledge of The Muppets to write the script, which he says he built over years, bonding with his older brother over VHS tapes of The Muppet Show. That personal connection and a belief that there’s something genuinely, morally good about the characters made the script feel like an antidote to the anxiety that was ailing Crew. And based on the positive responses to his Reddit post sharing the script, it helped others, too. You can read an excerpt from the full script below:

NICK CARRAWAY (CONT’D)

I wonder what kind of a man Mr. Gatsby is.

GONZO

Technically he’s a frog.

Nick’s eyes zero in on the massive windows of Gatsby’s home. A lone curtain is drawn open, could someone be watching?

NICK CARRAWAY (V.O.)

All this money, all this property – but are you in there alone right now, do you have anyone to share it with?

RIZZO

He’s inner monologuing again.

GONZO

Just unpack, we’ll snap him out of it if he’s still going by dinner.

So the wheels are in motion. There’s a script written, a poster made, and a new subreddit (r/muppetgreatgatsby) devoted to the project. Disney could step in and make things official at some point, but we’ve gotten pretty far on sheer willpower and ridiculous demands alone, so let’s make another: we need this script to be made into a movie.

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Technology US

Inauguration Day was more accessible than ever, but there’s still a ways to go

Firefighter Andrea Hall put accessible communication front and center at the presidential inauguration today when she led the Pledge of Allegiance in both spoken English and Signed English. The inaugural committee also hosted several separate accessible live streams of the event on its YouTube page, including one with audio description, one with live captions and American Sign Language interpretation, and one with Cued Speech transliteration (the use of hand shapes to signal speech sounds).

But despite those efforts, many deaf and hard of hearing viewers still found the inauguration inaccessible. Most broadcast stations didn’t have an ASL interpreter on-screen and used automated captions, which are notoriously inaccurate. In what some saw as a particularly frustrating move, several live streams switched to a wide shot of the crowd in the middle of Hall’s signing of the pledge, cutting off the only portion of the event during which signing appeared at center stage.

Although the “Accessible Inauguration” page was a change of pace for those who’ve grown used to being excluded from these kinds of events, many people didn’t know to look there for the appropriate stream. Both the audio description and Cued Speech transliteration streams were unlisted on YouTube, meaning you’d have to know to go to that page to get the links for them. Throughout the event, people on Twitter asked where they could find a stream with an ASL interpreter or expressed frustration that there were no interpreters at the event.

The reliability of the official interpreted streams was also spotty in some cases. There were several stretches of time when the picture-in-picture of the ASL interpreter disappeared from the screen, leaving chunks of speech inaccessible. The most consistently interpreted stream was the “Inaugural Celebration for Young Americans” hosted by Keke Palmer, but it was specifically directed at children, and deaf adults shouldn’t have to rely on programming for kids.

The new administration’s prioritization of accessibility is an exciting step, and the availability of such a variety of accessible sources is a big deal for many disabled Americans. But there’s still work to be done to ensure accessible options are reliable and easily available across all platforms.

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Technology US

JBL’s speaker-packed Google Nest Hub alternative is $220 off

This story is part of a group of stories called


Only the best deals on Verge-approved gadgets get the Verge Deals stamp of approval, so if you’re looking for a deal on your next gadget or gift from major retailers like Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, Target, and more, this is the place to be.

JBL’s Google Assistant-powered smart display, the Link View, is on sale for $80 on Harman Audio’s (JBL’s parent company) eBay store. While its original price was $300, this smart display has been slowly getting cheaper since it debuted in 2018. Both the black and white color variants are on sale, and it comes with free standard shipping.

The JBL Link View smart display features an 8-inch touchscreen display with a webcam built into the device. Although it has been on the market for several years, time has been kind to this smart display. And Reddit users have pointed out that the Link View recently received an update, which includes a new user interface.


JBL Link View

Prices taken at time of publishing.

JBL’s Bluetooth smart display with an 8-inch display and a built-in webcam with a physical shutter.

For the price, JBL’s smart display seems like a great value that delivers more features (and likely better sound performance) than Google’s 7-inch Nest Hub. We haven’t tested it side-by-side with the 10-inch Nest Hub Max, but privacy-minded people might like the fact that JBL’s device has a hardware camera shutter, which Google’s lacks.

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Technology US

Today, we welcomed a new president and new Bernie memes

Today’s US presidential inauguration brought many good things, but the thing Twitter seems most excited about is a new crop of Bernie memes.

The meme started with a wire photo of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), sitting on a folding chair watching President Joe Biden’s inauguration. The temperature in Washington, DC was in the 40s, so he’s bundled up with a coat and mittens, and he’s sitting socially distanced from everyone else, as his age and prior health issues put him at severe risk for COVID-19.

Something about Sanders’ chilly body language, his oversized wool mittens, and the fact that he was sitting entirely alone made the photo irresistible as meme material. Of course, the senator is no stranger to memes — including 2016’s Birdie Sanders and 2020’s “I am once again asking” — but this one has blown up particularly quickly. Take a look for yourself.

My question is who put Bernie somewhere even colder? Someone please get this man a beanie to match his mittens.

Of course, memes become more powerful when they’re put together.

There has, of course, also been fan art (in a shockingly short amount of time).

Adding to the meme repertoire, there’s a picture of Bernie looking at his phone.

And pictures of him holding an envelope are getting meme’d as well.

Since it’s Bernie, there’s a touching story to go with his look: the mittens he’s wearing are apparently handmade and were given to him by a supporter over two years ago.

If you’re looking to jump in on the meme action, Twitter user @Taber has kindly made a transparent version, ready to be put into many, many more images.