TIME

Here’s Why a Female Thor Makes Total Sense

Thor concept art on July 15, 2014. Marvel Comics

Thor's power derives from his (or her!) hammer

The mighty Thor, that symbol of masculinity, aggression, violence and war, is going to be a woman. And it makes total sense.

Marvel announced the upcoming female incarnation of the character on The View Tuesday morning. The reaction was swift and, in many cases, far too negative. “I love women who kick add but Thor’s a dude,” [sic] wrote one Twitter user. “Marvel comics being stupid,” announced another. And then there’s this, from a Marvel editor:

Here’s the deal: Marvel Comics has long borrowed Norse mythology for many of its beloved characters and plots. That’s free intellectual property, after all. But the comics are only inspired by Norse mythology, and they’ve almost never followed the stories line-for-line (and even if they did, mythology suffers from a massive case of The Telephone Game, with lots of different tellings evolving over the years).

Thor, in the Marvel Universe, isn’t just a character: He’s also an intangible idea. And Thor’s power, which most notably includes the ability to summon up lightning to layeth the smacketh-downeth upon his foes, isn’t really embedded inside him, per se. It’s in his hammer, Mjolnir — to mix comic book universe metaphors, he’s more like Green Lantern, who derives his power from a ring that’s charged by a lantern that’s charged by a planet.

That wasn’t always the case. Thor’s power used to be embedded in Thor directly. But when Thor’s father, Odin (also the king of Thor’s realm, Asgard), wanted to punish Thor for violating his direct commands, Odin stripped Thor of his powers and enshrined them instead in Mjolnir. Here’s the spell Odin put on the hammer to do so:

Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.

Translation: To get Thor’s power, you have to be deemed worthy of it by successfully picking up the hammer. In most Marvel Thor origin stories, eventually Thor redeems himself, reclaims his hammer (without first knowing why he couldn’t pick it up any longer) and then becomes the “real” Thor again, ready to return to his lightning-summoning, hammer-slinging self.

But Thor isn’t the only person who’s lifted the hammer: Captain America, the Hulk (eventually!) and Superman (crossover!) were deemed worthy and got Thor’s power. Who does the deeming is something of a mystery, but I’ve long thought that Mjolnir itself is sentient and the hammer itself decides who’s worthy of it.

And there’s the rub: What will probably happen in the Marvel comic book that introduces the new female Thor is that the male Thor we’ve all known for decades will either bite the bullet or do something to piss off the hammer. Either option would mean Thor couldn’t be Thor any longer, and some female character will come along — whether Asgardian or otherwise — try to pick up the hammer, succeed, and effectively become a female Thor. That Odin’s spell specifically says “he” doesn’t really matter: Storm and Wonder Woman (another crossover!) have both been deemed worthy, signaling Mjolnir has perhaps developed a less strict constructionist ideology about itself than Odin ever had.

Of course, a female Thor won’t really address another problem facing the comic book world: The lack of original, well-advertised female superheroes, particularly at the movies. None of the upcoming DC or Marvel films, for example, feature a woman — no Wonder Woman from DC, no Black Widow flick from Marvel. The best we’ve gotten so far are Elektra and Catwoman, both total flops. Both companies will need more than a female version of a top character to fix that issue.

TIME Companies

Here’s How Aereo Thinks It Can Bring Itself Back From the Dead

Aereo Antenna
Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia holds one of the company's small antenna. Boston Globe—Boston Globe via Getty Images

Aereo is arguing that it's a cable company in a hail-mary play for legal and business salvation

Is television streaming service Aereo actually “over,” as its top investor, Barry Diller, put it after a seemingly devastating blow at the Supreme Court last month? Maybe not. The company has embraced a new legal argument it hopes can help it stave extinction.

In a letter to a lower court judge Aereo is, for the first time, arguing that it’s a cable company. Neither Aereo nor the broadcasters made that claim before the Supreme Court. Aereo is only bringing it up now because the company’s lawyers have spotted a window, however small, opened by the decision that most regarded as a death knell for the company.

While the Supreme Court never directly said that Aereo is a cable company, it came close to doing so, finding that Aereo “is for all practical purposes a traditional cable system.” Aereo is essentially saying “that’s good enough for us.” But the New York City-based company is making that argument very selectively, taking advantage of two laws’ differing definitions of what exactly a cable company is.

While telecommunications fall under the purview of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, copyright issues are governed by the Copyright Act of 1976. Importantly, both laws have definitions for what constitutes a cable company — but they’re different definitions, and the Copyright Act’s is more broad. Another vital point: the Copyright Act grants cable companies, as it defines them, with so-called “compulsory licenses” to retransmit broadcast television content.

In Aereo’s letter to the lower court judge, it’s only arguing that it’s a cable company in terms of the Copyright Act, and thus “entitled to a compulsory license.” Getting such a license would also neatly address the broadcasters’ initial suit that resulted in the Supreme Court decision. If Aereo receives a compulsory license under the Copyright Act, it would no longer be infringing upon the broadcasters’ copyrights, as the Supreme Court found that it was. “[Aereo is] just trying to get around at least the copyright infringement claim being brought in this lawsuit by saying, ‘Okay, we’re going to apply for a compulsory license,'” says Bruce Boyden, Assistant Professor of Law at Marquette University Law School.

But Aereo’s letter has another key feature: It makes no mention of the Telecommunications Act whatsoever. That means Aereo’s performing a potentially brilliant bit of legal ju-jitsu by trying to take advantage of the two laws’ different definitions of a cable company. It wants to be seen as a cable company to the Copyright Act to get access to the compulsory licenses, but not as one to the Telecommunications Act, which would bring about FCC regulation and require it to pay retransmission fees to broadcasters. When asked if this is indeed Aereo’s new strategy, a spokesperson for the company told TIME simply to “refer to Wednesday’s filing,” which “should answer [the] question.”

Crucially, the Copyright Act’s compulsory licenses would in all likelihood be cheaper than the Telecommunication Act’s fees, meaning that if this all works, Aereo might just survive economically as well as legally.

“It depends on the number of subscribers they have … but I think it’s fair to say [compulsory licenses cost] less than what you’d pay for retransmission consent,” says John Bergmayer, a senior staff attorney at Public Knowledge, an intellectual property advocacy group.

Aereo’s new strategy “could come out any number of ways,” says Bergmayer, who added that any judge involved will have to carefully navigate the murky waters between the Telecommunications Act and the Copyright Act’s differing definitions. But Aereo is facing long odds: While it insists the Supreme Court called it a cable company, the Court’s decision failed to specifically “hold that [Aereo is] a cable system under [the Copyright Act],” Boyden says, meaning a judge might not accept Aereo’s argument.

On top of that, the Second Circuit actually faced a similar case several years ago, eventually deciding that a similar streaming company, ivi, didn’t qualify for the Copyright Act’s licenses—a decision the Supreme Court let stand. Aereo is a slightly different case—ivi streamed to all customers regardless of their geographic location, while Aereo took pains to limit streaming to spots where people could already receive broadcasters’ over-the-air transmissions for free. Aereo actually says the Supreme Court decision against it overturned the lower court’s ivi decision, but, as Boyden argues, “there’s nothing directly in the Aereo Supreme Court decision saying [ivi] is reversed, so I think the district court judge will be bound by ivi to say (to Aereo), ‘no, you don’t qualify.'”

Still, there’s nothing like a company performing a last-minute legal hail-mary pass to try and stay alive. Or, as Boyden put it in a football analogy of a different flavor: “[Aereo] is in stoppage time, they’re one goal down, they need a goal to tie.”

TIME Drones

Here’s Why So Many Drone Pilots Are Getting in Trouble

Flying itself isn't the point of remote-controlled aircraft anymore

+ READ ARTICLE

If you want to see some spectacular video footage, do a quick YouTube search for images captured by drones and marvel at the one-of-a-kind perspective they can deliver. But keep in mind that whoever captured that footage currently blowing your mind could be in serious trouble for breaking aviation laws.

After a series of videos showing what it looks like to fly through a fireworks display vent viral this Fourth of July weekend, the Federal Aviation Administration said Monday that flying drones for fun doesn’t require the government’s go-ahead, but cautioned that “hobbyists must operate according to … the law.”

Many enthusiasts have so-far ignored such warnings, evidenced by Monday’s arrest of two New Yorkers who allegedly flew their $1,000 drone too close to the George Washington Bridge — so close, in fact, that a police helicopter pilot felt the drone endangered his full-size chopper, according to the New York Daily News. The police pilot said the drone was flying at an altitude of 2,000 feet– well above the FAA’s 400-foot ceiling for drones.

Stories about drone pilot arrests and fines have become almost commonplace. What’s not new is flying radio-controlled model aircraft — probably a better term for the “drones” most of these hobbyists are flying. That has been a popular hobby for decades. Why, then, does it seem like so many R/C pilots are suddenly brushing up against the edges of the law?

Learning to build and fly R/C aircraft was once a time-consuming, arduous process, factors that kept the hobby from spreading. Now, new technology like user-friendly quadcopter designs, equipped with smaller, high-powered motors and batteries, means that pilots can have their aircraft ready to go in minutes instead of days, greatly enhancing the appeal of the hobby. And while the old-school pilots often met in clubs, which enforced flight rules as a social norm, the newbies are buying their gear off Amazon and heading out solo.

But the real issue here is that many of the new designs come with cameras attached, a feature that has fundamentally changed why people fly model aircraft. Though some old-school R/C aircraft hobbyists experimented with DIY digital camera hookups, they mostly viewed building and flying their aircraft as the endgame of their project. They generally avoided risky flying, as that could cost their club permission to use the local park, or could damage their expensive, intricate model aircraft that took hours to build.

The new wave of hobbyists see their GoPro-equipped drones less as remote-controlled aircraft and more as flying cameras, set to embark on a cinematic adventure. Flying for the sake of flying is no longer the point — the point is getting awesome YouTube footage, which leads to riskier behavior.

After all, the FAA’s rules ban, for example, flying a drone higher than 400 feet — but wouldn’t that 500-foot bridge make for a killer shot? There’s an economic incentive at play here, too — get popular enough on YouTube and you can make millions or get hired to shoot big-budget Hollywood films.

So while the FAA’s rules may have been fine for the old-school flyers, the new class has a lot to learn about what’s safe and what’s not. Adding to the confusion is the fact that what the FAA permits is in a state of flux. Without a doubt, there may always be a segment of rebellious flyers who will keep buying camera-equipped drones and flying them outside the bounds of the law, criminal charges be damned. Still, the new wave of drone-cinematographers would do well to look at the recent arrests, investigations and near-accidents as proof that flying legally while advocating for their preferred rules is better than breaking the law and flying dangerously to rack up the YouTube views.

TIME Aviation

Assume the Brace Position: The Dead Phone Flying Ban Has Begun

British Airways
An Embraer SA passenger aircraft, operated by British Airways, a unit of International Consolidated Airlines Group SA (IAG), comes in to land on a runway at London City Airport as commercial skyscrapers of the Canary Wharf business and shopping district stand beyond in London, U.K., on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

British Airways announced Monday it would ban passengers from traveling with uncharged smartphones on U.S.-bound flights

Fellow air travelers, it has begun: After U.S. officials announced over the Fourth of July weekend that some international passengers wouldn’t be allowed to board their flights with a dead smartphone or laptop, British Airways became one of the first carriers to announce an according policy change.

“[U.S.-bound] Customers may be asked to turn on any electronic or battery powered devices such as telephones, tablets, e-books and laptops in front of security teams and/or demonstrate the item’s functionality,” reads BA’s statement, posted late Monday.

What happens if your shiny new iPhone’s out of juice?

“If, when asked to do so, you are unable to demonstrate that your device has power, the device will not be allowed to travel on your planned service.”

The message to travelers: Charge all your electric gizmos and gadgets well ahead of any attempt to board a U.S.-bound flight. And if you can’t find an open power outlet in the Darwinian hunt for a charging source at the airport, you’re out of luck.

The Department of Homeland Security isn’t being totally clear about its rationale about this specific ban, and it would be nice to hear a more concrete explanation. Still, DHS likely has a good reason for the rule — back in 2010, for instance, a pair of bombs capable of taking down an airliner were found on a U.S.-bound cargo flight, and the devices were designed to be triggered by a cellphone.

Still, the ban won’t make the already-cumbersome flying experience any easier. But hey, at least we can use our Kindles while we’re taxi-ing now. And iPhone charging case companies? Get your press releases ready.

TIME Wireless

T-Mobile and the FTC: What Is Text Message ‘Cramming?’

T-Mobile Cramming
John Legere, chief executive officer of T-Mobile US Inc., speaks during an event in Seattle, Washington, U.S., on Wednesday, June 18, 2014. Bloomberg/ Getty Images

The FTC says T-Mobile made millions off "cramming," but what is that, anyway?

Government watchdogs on Tuesday charged T-Mobile with making hundreds of millions of dollars by turning a blind eye to a text message scam scheme known as “cramming.” Here’s what you should know about it:

What is cramming?

Cramming happens when scammers attach hard-to-spot charges to text message services like horoscopes or trivia games. Those charges either come without your permission or at a higher rate than you expected. The fees are attached to your monthly phone bill, and your carrier often takes a cut, as it would for other forms of third-party billing-by-text. The crammers hope their charges stay hidden in plain sight on your often-confusing monthly phone bill.

Here’s what a cramming charge would look like on a T-Mobile bill, according to the FTC:

tmobile-samplebill
Federal Trade Commission

Is cramming legal?

Some states have passed anti-cramming laws, but monitoring for and responding to cramming schemes is largely the job of the FTC, the nation’s federal consumer watchdog, and the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees wireless carriers and other telecoms.

The FTC has been successful in clamping down on cramming before: a group of companies which the Commission said were running a massive cramming scheme recently settled those charges to the tune of $10 million. The FCC, meanwhile, says it’s penalized companies nine times for cramming — and will look at the FTC’s T-Mobile charges as well. And Verizon agreed last year to settle a class-action cramming lawsuit, agreeing to refund every single cramming charge to any customer who asked for his or her money back in a big win for consumers.

Should I be worried about cramming?

At this point, not really. Not long after that Verizon settlement — and under pressure from state attorneys general — the four major American carriers — Big Red plus AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, agreed to drop most forms of third-party text billing. That effectively eliminated text message cramming as a worthwhile scam, so it’s not happening so much anymore. The carriers still let you make some payments via text, like to the Red Cross during emergencies and, more recently, to political campaigns.

But if you think you’ve been crammed, you can complain to your carrier and to the FTC to get the ball rolling on a refund — an option available to you even before the carriers’ pact. You can also contact the FTC about pretty much anything else confusing about your phone bill.

But wait, I thought the FTC said T-Mobile was allowing cramming?

You’re right! But the FTC’s accusing T-Mobile of allowing cramming back before the carriers made their pact against the practice. The Commission’s saying that so many T-Mobile customers were requesting refunds for certain third-party charges, it should have been clear to T-Mobile that something fishy was going on — but according to the FTC, T-Mobile didn’t act on those red flags. Instead, the FTC says, T-Mobile made millions by taking 30-40% of the obviously fraudulent charges.

What’s all this mean for T-Mobile?

T-Mobile is in hot water here. Under the leadership of feisty and controversial CEO John Legere, T-Mobile’s branded itself as the “un-carrier,” a hip wireless carrier that’s more consumer-friendly than rivals Verizon, AT&T and Sprint. Getting hit with a charge like this could put a serious dent in that image, as my colleague Victor Luckerson writes: What’s consumer-friendly about reaping millions off text message scams? Legere himself has already responded to the FTC’s charges, calling them “factually and legally unfounded” and “misdirected.” Legere also says T-Mobile’s been working to refund cramming fees.

The cramming charges could also throw a monkey wrench into Sprint’s plans to merge with T-Mobile in a massive $32 billion deal that has yet to pass regulators’ smell tests — it’s likely the charges will need to be addressed before that deal can be given the green light.

TIME Companies

Aereo Just Disappeared for Good

Supreme Court Hears Case Pinning Startup Internet TV Company Aereo Against Major Broadcast Networks
In this photo illustration, Aereo.com, a web service that provides television shows online, is shown on an iPad Mini, on April 22, 2014 in New York City. Andrew Burton—Getty Images

If the streaming television company does manage to return from the dead, it won't look anything like it does now

Chet Kanojia, CEO of the streaming television service Aereo, told his customers the bad news in an email Saturday morning: After the Supreme Court decided this week his company’s business methods violate copyright law, Aereo has decided to shut down. Kanojia insists that Aereo’s pressing “pause,” not “off,” but it’s unlikely the service will return in any recognizable form.

That Aereo is unlikely to come back from the grave is a simple matter of math. The Supreme Court ruled that Aereo, which streamed broadcast television to subscribers for about $8/month, was operating illegally because it didn’t pay so-called retransmission fees to broadcasters–something cable and satellite companies are required by law to do.

Aereo could return to the straight and narrow by working out a deal and ponying out the fees that the broadcasters–who originally brought the suit against Aereo in 2012–demand from cable and satellite companies. Those fees, however, are incredibly expensive. Cable companies can afford to pay them because they’re charging viewers plenty for their service–the average cable bill is now over $64 a month, per the Federal Communications Commission. Aereo can’t swing those fees by charging customers only a few dollars a month.

The most obvious survival path for Aereo would be to pass those fees onto its customers by increasing its subscription rates. But here’s the thing: The broadcast content that Aereo provides is free to anyone who wants to set up their own (cheap!) antenna on their TV or home.

Why? A big part of the government’s job in tech policy is regulating the invisible spectrum on which our wireless gadgets rely–cellphones, radios, broadcast television, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, they all rely on spectrum to work. Back in the day, the government licensed broadcasters their spectrum–a limited and thus valuable resource–on the cheap, provided they meet certain conditions. Among those requirements was that the broadcasters’ over-the-air signals remain free for anyone within range to access with an antenna.

While most of Aereo’s customers might have seen $8/month as a reasonable fee to pay for the convenience of watching broadcast content on their laptop, smartphone or tablet, it’s unlikely they’ll pay much more for content that’s really free for them anyway.

So, for Aereo, it’s lights-off for now while they figure out what to do next — perhaps shift into cloud storage, or sell itself to a broadcaster, even. If it ever returns, though, it’s not likely it’ll look anything like what it does now.

Watch the above video for more on Aereo and the Supreme Court.

TIME Television

The Supreme Court’s Aereo Decision Turns Down the Volume on Cord-Cutters

Supreme Court Aereo
Chet Kanojia, chief executive officer of Aereo Inc., left, leaves the U.S. Supreme Court following oral arguments by Aereo Inc. and American Broadcasting Companies Inc. in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, April 22, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Court's Aereo decision is a huge loss for broadcast innovation

Television streaming startup Aereo was dealt a blow by the Supreme Court Wednesday, which, in a big win for broadcasters, ruled 6-3 it violates copyright law. Aereo’s CEO said afterwards that he’ll “continue to fight,” but even bigtime Aereo backer Barry Diller said the Court’s decision means the company will have to close up shop and cut the cord. The decision is bad news for all the other cord-cutters out there, too.

Aereo was one of the most influential innovations in broadcast television in years. Its subscribers pay about $8 a month for access to broadcast content on their web browsers, tablets and phones. Each Aereo subscriber gets access to a single tiny antenna, which captures broadcasters’ over-the-air transmissions and stores them in a remote DVR, which then sends the content to users. Aereo made many a cord-cutter very happy by making it easier to enjoy broadcasters’ content on the device of their choosing.

Of course, Aereo also posed a major threat to the broadcasters. They’re terrified of cord-cutting, or the trend of people dropping their television subscriptions and going Internet-only, relying on services like Netflix, Hulu and Aereo to replace their typical TV time. Even though broadcasters’ signals are already available for free to anyone in range, broadcasters make a big chunk of their money from the fees that cable and satellite companies pay for the privilege of retransmitting their signals to people not in broadcasters’ range. If more people ditch their cable or satellite TV subscriptions, that means less profits for the broadcasters, too.

Aereo’s interloping gave broadcasters two options: Either compete with it on services, or try to sue it out of business. The broadcasters banded together and chose the latter option, filing a suit two years ago that culminated in Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision in their favor.

For cord-cutters, it’s a shame the broadcasters went with Option B and then won at the Court. People are ending their cable and satellite television subscriptions because, aside from paying less, they want to be able to access their content anywhere, anytime. Cable and satellite companies have long known this, and many offer services that let you watch live TV in any room in your house, on a television or mobile device.

Broadcasters could’ve learned from their cable-and-satellite brethren, finding innovative ways to deliver their technically-free-anyway content in ways people actually want. But big incumbent players like broadcasters are resistant to internal innovation—unless an outside threat forces them to whip up something new.

Aereo has been and could have continued to be that force. If the broadcasters’ sue-the-pants-off-‘em strategy didn’t work out, they would have had to find ways to compete with Aereo. That could have generated all sorts of unpredictable benefits for consumers on which we’ll now miss out: new apps, better quality streaming, maybe even wholly new and genre-redefining ways of consuming television content — it’s impossible to know for sure. And Aereo itself will soon be gone, too, leaving would-be cord-cutters with one fewer way to throw away their television and few better options on the horizon. Broadcasters’ message to cord-cutters? Cut it out, now.

TIME Law

WATCH: What Aereo’s Supreme Court Case Means For You

The way you watch television could hang in the balance

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Television streaming startup Aereo could revolutionize the way we watch our favorite programming, but its future is in the hands of the Supreme Court, which is set to decide in the coming days whether Aereo’s streaming methods are legal.

Want to know more about Aereo and what the case will mean for you? Watch TIME’s explainer video above.

TIME Security

Yo, We Shouldn’t Trust Strange Apps That Become Wildly Popular Out of the Blue

Yo iPhone
The iPhone 5 smartphone is displayed at the Apple flagship store on George street on September 21, 2012 in Sydney, Australia. Cameron Spencer—Getty Images

We should think before we download, Yo

Yo is a simple, strangely addictive app: You download it and add some friends, and then it lets you say “Yo” to them.

Yep, that’s it.

Yo became wildly popular seemingly out of the blue this week. After news reports of Yo receiving $1 million in venture capital funding were widely mocked as a sign we’re all living in another tech bubble, curious people starting downloading it to see what it was all about.

By Thursday, Yo was everywhere — including the Top Free App list in Apple’s App Store and this writer’s iPhone. On Friday, Yo was hacked.

Some nefarious types have been able to crack into Yo — which makes users verify their phone numbers and activate push notifications before the app can set about on its singular purpose — to send unwanted push notifications and grab users’ digits.

One of the app’s creators, Or Arbel, told TechCrunch that Yo is having “security issues” and “we are taking this very seriously.”

But Yo was a golden opportunity for troublemakers and hackers: An app that everybody’s downloading, which requires users to enter in their phone numbers and turn on push notifications, and one that certainly doesn’t have anything resembling an effective internal security team. If you’re somebody who goes around looking for ways to make trouble on people’s phones, Yo was a prime target. It’s really no wonder it was hit.

The lesson here, Yo? The next time an app falls from the heavens and lands on everybody’s phones, maybe we should think twice before installing it. Just because all your friends are doing it, doesn’t mean you should, too.

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