TIME viral

Here’s What American Girl Dolls Would Talk About In Real Life

You wouldn't invite them to dinner

If you were a child of the nineties, chances are you’ve thrown a make believe dinner party with your American Girl Dolls.

But this comedic video by Lauren Ireland and Anni Weisband shows why you probably wouldn’t extend a dinner invite if your American Girl Dolls were real girls. Samantha wouldn’t stop talking about voting rights, Kirsten would try to wear the table’s floral centerpiece as a hat and Addy… “I used to be a slave,” she says in a hushed voice. “They didn’t really write much else for my character, I’m pretty one-dimensional.”

TIME Cuba

What Washington’s Policy Shift Means for Cuba’s Awful Internet Service

Cuba Internet
A Cuban uses an illegal Wi-Fi connection to surf the internet, on November 28, 2014, in Havana. Adalberto Roque—AFP/Getty Images

Part of the new deal involves efforts to literally bring Cuba up to speed

The United States’ trade embargo against Cuba began on Oct. 19, 1960. That’s almost exactly nine years to the day before the first link was established on what would eventually evolve into the Internet. Since then, the global web has exploded in complexity and content — but Cuba has largely been left behind, with access that’s slow, censored and available only to few.

A new change in U.S. policy announced this week, however, stands to change all that.

About a quarter of Cubans have Internet access, according to the International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations agency that oversees global communications. One in four may seem decent, especially compared to other isolated nations like North Korea, where its netizens are its most elite. But it turns out that 25% figure doesn’t tell the whole picture.

Most connected Cubans only have access to a Balkanized, government-approved version of the Internet, more akin to a heavily restricted web portal than the open browser you and I use. Freedom House describes the typical Cuban connectivity experience as “a tightly controlled government-filtered intranet, which consists of a national email system, a Cuban encyclopedia, a pool of educational materials and open-access journals, Cuban websites, and foreign websites that are supportive of the Cuban government.”

Maps of undersea communications cables tell the story of Cuba’s Internet another way. Only one major submarine cable connects Cuba’s telecommunications networks to the outside world: ALBA-1, owned by a state-run Venezuelan telecom and connecting southeastern Cuba to Venezuela and Jamaica. That cable could be in pretty bad shape, says Fulton Armstrong, a research fellow at American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies, but Armstrong added that he couldn’t verify that first hand.

Tellingly, cables that connect the southeastern U.S. to Central, South and Latin America completely bypass the island nation:

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 3.43.11 PM
TeleGeography

From an engineering perspective, it makes perfect sense to have routed those cables through Cuba. But geopolitics got in the way: the U.S. trade embargo with Cuba meant American companies couldn’t lay pipe into the island, leaving it off the grid as neighbors got online. Cuba has for decades been a member of Soviet/Russian satellite service Intersputnik, but the country didn’t get Internet access until the American telecom provider Sprint set up shop in 1996. Sprint provided a dedicated line connecting the Cuban state Internet provider to Sprint’s U.S. network at 64kbps — just a bit faster than dial-up when running full throttle.

Sprint was able to set up that line thanks to 1992’s Cuban Democracy Act, which authorized American companies “to provide efficient and adequate telecommunications services” between the U.S. and Cuba.” The idea was to ensure that Cubans wouldn’t be entirely cut off from notions of free speech and democracy. But Cuba’s web censorship, combined with its slow speed and high cost, means the Internet hasn’t had a massive impact on its society.

“Only foreign nationals and Castro can afford [Cuba’s Internet],” says Larry Press, a researcher and blogger who covers technology in Cuba. In lieu of the Internet, he says, Cubans buy and sell USB drives loaded with media like American movies and TV shows on the secondary market. New drives with fresh content pop up weekly, Press says. He isn’t sure where the drives come from, but one theory he relayed is that the Cuban government could be allowing them as a means to profit from them. Some Cubans also use illicit Wi-Fi networks to share information locally, but those networks aren’t connected to the wider Internet.

Nevertheless, Cuba’s Internet could be about to get a whole lot better. President Barack Obama unexpectedly announced a new chapter in U.S.-Cuban relations Wednesday, and part of that deal involves new efforts to literally bring Cuba up to speed. Under the policy change, American companies will be able to not only sell some hardware and software to Cuban customers, but they could be encouraged to make investments in infrastructure, too, whether that means building undersea cables or rolling out mobile broadband across the country. Cuba’s Internet, Press says, is a “greenfield,” meaning whatever networks are built won’t be encumbered by pre-existing infrastructure, because so little of it exists. That means Cuba could bypass older, slower technologies and leapfrog right to ultra-fast fiber, for example, provided the will and the funds are there.

“I hope they consider a wide range of infrastructure ownership and control models, looking toward Europe, China, Singapore, South Korea, Google (free DSL or paid fiber), et cetera,” says Press. American University’s Armstrong, meanwhile, says bringing faster Internet to Cuba will “take some time,” with the speed depending on “how fast [the telecoms] and the Cubans negotiate deals and get them off the ground.”

The White House said its new policy will help Cubans communicate more freely, which could accelerate societal change in the Communist country. But it remains to be seen just how much Cuban officials will be willing to open up. China, in particular, has proven that it’s possible to have a flourishing technology sector while still keeping a tight lid on what citizens search for, say and do online. Still, if Congress approves normalizing trade ties with Cuba, that could give Washington economic leverage to make sure Cuba keeps its Internet open. And there’s a chance, however small, that would mean changes offline, too.

“With greater opening and exposure of the Cubans to American culture, music, movies and way of life, I think there might be more demand for greater freedom, which might then encourage the government to loosen up its practices,” says Sanja Kelly, project director at Freedom on the Net, Freedom House’s Internet freedom project. However, she cautioned that Cuba’s fate remains in its leaders’ hands: “[Cuba’s] future will ultimately depend on the government’s willingness to change its repressive practices.”

Read next: How Venezuela’s collapse helped thaw Cuban-American relations

TIME Internet

This Honest Trailer for The Hobbit Shows Just How Repetitive the Film Trilogy Is

"A nearly three-hour movie with the plot of one-third of a children's novel "

The YouTube channel behind the viral, snarky commentary for Love Actually and Guardians of the Galaxy is out with an equally cynical take on The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013), the second film in the Hobbit trilogy directed by Peter Jackson, who directed the Lord of the Rings trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s books.

In a fake trailer for the movie, the comedians, known as “Screen Junkies,” argue the film is too long, describing it as “a nearly three-hour movie with the plot of one-third of a children’s novel that will have audiences everywhere saying, ‘oh my god, it’s STILL going,'” while saying “tiny sections of the book” are “stretched into hours.”

The video is pegged to the release of the last installment of The Hobbit trilogy, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies this week.

TIME Bizarre

Bubba Watson Releases Music Video as Rapping Santa Bubbaclaus

“It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Bubbaclaus”

It’s tough for many great bands to stay together, and the Golf Boys are no different. After two mega-YouTube hits, Bubba Watson officially branched out on his own music video career Wednesday, dropping “The Single” from Bubbaclaus with a note that it’s “Just a little fun for my fans for the holidays!”

The lyrics are less than phenomenal, repeatedly playing off the Superman line with “It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Bubbaclaus,” but the video does earn random bonus points for featuring a dunking Gumby in a Kevin Durant jersey. And it has Bubba’s hovercraft golf cart.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that the Golf Boys would not come together again for a third music video. It just means that for now Watson is doing his own thing as a rapping Santa. Which is not a bad way to spend the golf offseason.

This article originally appeared on Golf.com.

TIME Internet

You Won’t Be Able to Stop Listening to This Mashup of 2014’s Best Pop Songs

Heavy on "All About That Bass" mashups

‘Tis the season for rounding up the best songs of the year. In that spirit, both DJ Earworm and the pop group Us the Duo have released remixes of the year’s biggest songs, and now, artist Daniel Kim of Vancouver, Canada, has offered up the 2014 edition of his annual up-tempo spin on the hits “Pop Danthology.”

Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” seems to be the most prominently featured song, getting mashed up with Tiësto’s “Red Lights,” Katy Perry’s “Birthday,” and Jessie J’s “Bang Bang.”

Lyrics and song titles—if you cannot guess them yourself—can be found here.

TIME Photojournalism Links

Photojournalism Daily: Dec. 12, 2014

A compilation of the most interesting photojournalism found on the web, curated by Mikko Takkunen

Today’s daily Photojournalism Links collection highlights Fernando Moleres‘ work on the rehabilitation of young Internet gaming addicts in China. There are more than 600 million web users in the country and around 10% of online minors are said to show signs of Internet-related addictions. Moleres documents a center in southern Beijing, which treats severely addicted youth — some have spent up to 20 hours a day online — using a tough-love approach with military discipline, drugs and psychotherapy. The excellent photographs capture the center’s 60-some boys and six girls (ranging from mid- to late-teens) going through soldier-like morning drills, group therapy sessions and neurological examinations, all in the hope of breaking their isolating web habits. It’s an intriguing look at a very modern problem.

Fernando Moleres: Inside an Internet gaming disorder rehab center in China (Al Jazeera America)

Natalie Keyssar: Ferguson in focus: A Look Back at a Community Upended (MSNBC) These photographs made in late August and late November show a community still coming to terms with the death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.

Best photos of 2014 (European Pressphoto Agency)

William Daniels Wins 2014 Tim Hetherington Grant (TIME LightBox) The French photographer was awarded the grant for his ongoing work in Central African Republic.

Photography is art and always will be (The Guardian) Guardian’s photography critic Sean O’Hagan hits back at a commenter claiming photographs cannot be considered fine art.

Michel du Cille, Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist, dies at 58 (The Washington Post)

TIME Internet

Best Buy Tweeted a Rather Insensitive Joke About Serial

The company apologized for its payphone quip

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Screenshot of Best Buy tweet

Hoping to capitalize on Serial’s popularity, Best Buy tweeted a joke Thursday about the true crime podcast, entertaining some fans but offending others.

[Minor spoilers for the Serial podcast follow]

Serial, a spinoff of This American Life, boasts 5 million listeners, more than any other podcast. Each week, its host Sarah Koenig investigates a different aspect of the 1999 murder of high schooler Hae Min Lee. Part of the case against Hae’s ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, hinges on the idea that Adnan was able to place a call to a friend at a Best Buy payphone, asking for a ride after apparently murdering Hae. But whether this payphone actually existed is a point of contention between Adnan (who is currently serving time for Hae’s murder) and the prosecutors who put him away.

Hence Best Buy’s tweeted joke, “We have everything you need. Unless you need a payphone. #Serial”

Though the tweet garnered hundreds of favorites and retweets (including one from Serial’s own Twitter account), many tweeted to remind Best Buy that Serial is a podcast about a real murder and therefore not the best material to use for corporate promotion. Best Buy later deleted the tweet and issued an apology:

But Best Buy isn’t the first to poke fun at the podcast or even the payphone specifically. In one of a series of parody podcasts, comedians Will Stephen, Zach Cherry and Paul Laudiero mock Sarah Koenig’s obsession with a payphone that, if it existed, has been gone for around a decade and which nobody is likely to remember.

Read next: Watch Stephen Colbert Interview Serial‘s Sarah Koenig

TIME Internet

Afghanistan’s Bruce Lee Impersonator Gains Internet Fame

Abbas Alizada, who calls himself the Afghan Bruce Lee, poses for the media in front of the destroyed Darul Aman Palace in Kabul
Abbas Alizada who calls himself the Afghan Bruce Lee poses for the media in front of the destroyed Darul Aman Palace in Kabulon Dec. 9, 2014. Mohammad Ismail—Reuters

He wants to make it to Hollywood

A Bruce Lee impersonator is gaining Internet stardom in Afghanistan, thanks to his Facebook page and imitations of famous Bruce Lee moves and poses.

“I want to be a champion in my country and a Hollywood star,” Abbas Alizada, or “Bruce Hazara,” as his Facebook page calls him, told Reuters.

Alizada trains twice a week to achieve his goal. From a poor family of 10 children, Alizada’s parents couldn’t afford to send him to a martial arts academy, but a trainer mentored him anyway. Now, he wants to make it to the big screen and bring some good press to Afghanistan in the process.

“The only news that comes from Afghanistan is about war … I am happy that my story is a positive one,” Alizada said.

[Reuters]

TIME Internet

For AOL Dial-Up Subscribers, It’s Life in the Slow Lane

The Aol.com website and Aol Inc. logo on laptop computers.
Bloomberg/Getty Images

Forget about YouTube or Netflix. Despite living in a hyper-connected world, some AOL dial-up subscribers have to do without

As an AOL dial-up subscriber, Phyllis Brock can’t watch YouTube because her Internet connection is too slow. Streaming movies on Netflix is such a farfetched idea that she’s never bothered to try.

“A few years ago, I tried to watch the ’12 Days of Christmas’ on YouTube,” said Brock, referring to the classic holiday song. “But I never got beyond that first partridge in a pear tree.”

So goes life in the slow-lane for the remaining AOL dial-up die-hards. Despite the widespread adoption of high-speed Internet connections, AOL still has 2.3 million dial-up customers. It’s an odd counterpoint to the hyper-connected world in which most Americans live. How can so many people still be so far behind in an era of flashy Web sites, shooter games and more streaming entertainment than anyone could possibly digest in a lifetime?

Last year, two percent of Americans used dial-up at home, according to the Pew Research Internet Project. In contrast, 70% had broadband.

The reasons for the divide are many. Some people are simply stuck in their ways or forgot to cancel their subscriptions. Others wrongly think they’ll lose access to their email accounts if they switch to broadband. Meanwhile, some people can’t afford the extra cost of a high-speed connection.

In fact, Brock, a retired French teacher in rural Tennessee, 55 miles from Knoxville, has few alternatives to dial-up. Like many people who live in remote areas, she has no access to broadband at home.

Around 19 million Americans lack high-speed connections, according to the Federal Communications Commission. In rural areas, nearly one-fourth of the population—14.5 million people—lack access.

Even today, the company once known as America Online makes the vast majority of its profits from dial-up and services packaged with it. Oddly enough, the company that got its start as a dial-up business during the Internet’s early day—and once had as many as 35 million subscribers—still depends on it.

In its latest fiscal quarter, for example, the company took in $139 million in profits from the division that includes dial-up compared with just $17 million from its online publishing business. Meanwhile, its corporate division and ad sales for third-party websites lost a combined $34 million in the quarter.

In the latest quarter, AOL’s made an average of $21.35 per subscriber per month. Those customers have been paying for an average of 14.1 years, the company said.

In effect, dial-up is funding AOL’s operations while CEO Tim Armstrong races to remake the business into one that is largely supported by online advertising. However, the clock is ticking because the dial-up business is steadily shrinking.

AOL has managed to slow the decline by pushing more add-on services like anti-virus software and tech support to its dial-up customers. Eventually, Armstrong hopes that subscription revenue will reverse course and start growing again from the sale of these bundled services.

“I would sure hope that we get to the point where subscriptions are growing again and that’s our goal,” Armstrong said during a conference call with investors in August.

For Brock, going online through her dial-up connection is an exercise in frustration. She recently had to give up on a search for the lyrics to the song “Let It Go” from the filmFrozen because she was unable to get any page to load.

“It drives me up the wall,” Brock said. “This morning I needed to send an e-mail and I suppose it took me 10 or 15 minutes to get on the Internet. Each time I tried to get e-mail, it would say I’m not connected. But I was.”

Brock’s dial-up speed seems to fluctuate based on the time of day, making her think strategically about when to log on. During working hours, speeds slow to a crawl, so she tends to go online during early morning and evening hours.

At one point, Brock enlisted a local computer technician to try to trouble shoot any problems that might explain her slow connection, but he ultimately concluded that there wasn’t anything he could do. Grandchildren who’ve tried to help haven’t had any luck either.

Brock got her first computer and a dial-up connection through Netscape around 20 years ago. AOL bought Netscape a few years later, but didn’t get around to switching the brand name on her dial-up service until a few months ago.

A potential remedy for Brock would be to switch to satellite Internet service. She says she’s considered it. But it’s unclear whether a satellite connection would work. Getting a signal usually requires pointing a satellite dish at the southern horizon, which may be difficult to do because her home—near the Appalachian Mountains—is surrounded by hilly “knobs,” as she put it.

“It is frustrating to me,” Brock said. “People find it incredible that I’m putting up with it.”

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME technology

Five Ways Net Neutrality Supporters are Winning the Debate

Protesters hold a rally before the FCC meeting on net neutrality proposal in Washington, DC.
Protesters march past the FCC headquarters before the Commission meeting on net neutrality proposal on May, 15, 2014 in Washington. Bill O'Leary—The Washington Post/Getty Images

Proponents of net neutrality are winning the public debate, although that doesn’t mean they’ll win the policy fight.

A new report (PDF) released today by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation shines some light on the debate about net neutrality that’s playing out in Washington, DC these days.

The Federal Commission is expected to release new rules on net neutrality—the idea that Internet Service Providers should treat all web content equally—sometime next year.

Here are some highlights from the report.

1. Men loooove net neutrality. By analyzing news reports, blogs, Twitter, and about a third of the 3 million comments submitted to the FCC this year, the report found that 69% came from men, and 63% from metro areas.

2. And pretty much everyone else on the Internet loves it, too. Let’s put it this way: if you took all the public comments about net neutrality that you could find on Twitter and all the public comments submitted formally to the FCC, and you put a yellow dot on a map for all those in favor of net neutrality and a green dot for all those against it, the entire map would be yellow.

3. The public does not find the concept of net neutrality confusing. Sure, the infrastructure of the back-end of the Internet is complicated, but when it comes to articulating their opinions on net neutrality, the public isn’t intimidated. Of the 1.1 million comments to the FCC that the report analyzed, 40% were “unique responses.” That means that people took the time to write down their own thoughts on the issue, rather than just submitting a form letter prepared by an advocacy group. “This is higher then the typical 10 to 20 percent seen with other regulations,” the report said.

4. Instead of expensive lobbying, net neutrality advocates rely on pushing the public debate. Organizations hoping to get the FCC to pass the strictest-possible rules on net neutrality have staged protests, bought advertising, and launched sophisticated social media campaigns to win public support on the issue. But while they used to have a lock on influencing the public, that’s starting to change. Comcast, for example, “has recently pushed through corporate announcements and advertisements to promote their own open internet philosophy,” the report found.

5. Even the big ISPs lobbying on the issue claim to be in favor of net neutrality. Verizon, Comcast and AT&T, among others, have collectively spent $238 million on lobbying, according to the report, which analyzed roughly 2,500 disclosures from 2009 to the second quarter of 2014. While most ISPs claim their lobbying efforts are pro net-neutrality, their definition of net neutrality generally differs a bit. For example, the ISPs think web companies should pay for special, faster, or prioritized access to web users; pro-net neutrality advocates say such “paid prioritization agreements” ≠ net neutrality.

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