TIME space

Enough With Amateur Hour Space Flight

End of the line: Wreckage from Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo is shown in this still image captured from KNBC video footage from Mojave, California on Oct. 31, 2014.
End of the line: Wreckage from Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo is shown in this still image captured from KNBC video footage from Mojave, California on Oct. 31, 2014. KNBC-TV/Reuters

A fatal accident in the Mojave Desert is a lesson in the perils of space hubris

It’s difficult not to feel sympathy for the hard-working people of Virgin Galactic—Sir Richard Branson’s private space tourism company—after the loss of their SpaceShipTwo vehicle in a crash in the Mojave Desert at a little after 10 a.m. PDT Friday. And it’s completely impossible not to hurt for the families of the two pilots involved in the accident—one of whom was killed and the other of whom suffered serious injuries, according to local police.

But it’s hard too not to be angry, even disgusted, with Branson himself. He is, as today’s tragedy shows, a man driven by too much hubris, too much hucksterism and too little knowledge of the head-crackingly complex business of engineering. For the 21st century billionaire, space travel is what buying a professional sports team was for the rich boys of an earlier era: the biggest, coolest, most impressive toy imaginable. Amazon.com zillionaire Jeff Bezos has his own spacecraft company—because what can better qualify a man to build machines able to travel to space than selling books, TVs and lawn furniture online? Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, has a space operation too because, well, spacecraft have computers and that’s sort of the same thing, right?

Branson, founder of Virgin Airlines, is at least in the business of flying aircraft, but the key part of that compound word is air. Space, as Branson surely knows, has none of that—and that changes the physics considerably.

A Virgin crash always seemed troublingly likely. And since it is the company’s whole purpose to carry passengers, it seemed equally likely to hurt or kill a lot of people too. I visited Branson’s self-styled spaceport in the Mojave last year to watch a brief test flight of his spacecraft. The mission that day was intended more as an air show than anything else—part of a pep rally for the hundreds of Virgin customers who would be attending to hear about the company’s progress. All of them had reserved a seat and paid a deposit toward their $200,000 ticket for a trip that—if it ever happened—would last just 15 minutes and ascend to just 62 miles (100 kilometers), which technically counts as being in space, but only to the extent that riding a jet ski off the beach in Ft. Lauderdale counts as going to sea.

But never mind, because the crowd seemed happy to be there and to take Branson’s word that they really, truly would get their chance to be astronauts. For the record, the demonstration flight they had come to see never took off due to high desert winds.

The Virgin crash comes just three days after the Oct. 28 explosion of an Antares rocket taking off from Wallops Island, Va., on an unmanned resupply mission to the International Space Station. That first part of a very bad week for the space industry was especially cautionary, because Orbital Sciences, the Virginia-based manufacturer of the rocket, is by no means a newcomer. It’s been in the business for more than three decades and has a very good track record of getting payloads—not passengers—off the ground and into orbit. Yet even it cannot control all of the lethal variables—technical, meteorological, human—that make space travel such a dicey game.

The practice of non-professionals insinuating themselves into the space business is not new. We have a launch facility at Cape Canaveral yet built a Mission Control center halfway across the country in Houston—the least efficient, most senseless arrangement imaginable—because then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson was the White House point man for the space program and he wanted his home state of Texas to get a bite of the big moon pie. Ex-Sen. Jake Garn and current Sen. Bill Nelson both elbowed their way aboard space shuttle flights since, unlike all of the other American kids who want to play spaceman, they were powerful figures in Congress and could loosen or tighten NASA’s purse strings at will.

Once NASA announced that after the shuttle program ended in 2011 it would be outsourcing the low Earth orbit portion of its portfolio to the private sector, it was inevitable that there would be a scramble of companies vying for those contracts—and that’s by no means all bad. In some respects, space has always been privatized: North American Aviation, Grumman Aerospace, Boeing and others have all been major NASA contractors, and they are hardly government-owned operations.

All, however, are deeply experienced in the business of aeronautical and astronautical design, too. Elon Musk, founder of the upstart SpaceX is, so far, defying doubters, with a string of both commercial launches and resupply missions to the ISS and no major disasters. But SpaceX is a rare bird—and still a young one—and it has a while to go before it establishes its true space cred.

It’s Branson, however, who has always been the most troubling of the cosmic cowboys—selling not just himself on his fever dreams but his trusting customers. One of those would-be astronauts I met in the Mojave that day was a teenage girl, whose parents had put aside enough money to buy her the singular experience of a trip to space. They beamed at her courage as we spoke, and seemed thrilled about the ride she was soon to take. Those plans, presumably, are being rethought today.

TIME Opinion

Instagram Is Right to Censor Chelsea Handler

2014 Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize For American Humor Honoring Jay Leno
Chelsea Handler at the 2014 Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize For Americacn Humor at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on October 19, 2014 in Washington, DC. Kris Connor--Getty Images) Kris Connor—Getty Images

Allowing nudity on Instagram would hurt more women than it would help

It’s Halloween, which means it’s the perfect time to stir up a smoking hot gender-politics brouhaha in the Internet cauldron. This time, it’s over comedian Chelsea Handler’s nipples, and whether she should be able to post pictures of them on Instagram.

The drama started Thursday night, when Handler posted a topless photo of herself riding a horse on Instagram, to mock Vladimir Putin’s topless horseback selfie from 2009. Her photo was accompanied with the caption, “Anything a man can do, a woman has the right to do better. #kremlin.” But Instagram took the photo down, citing its Community Guidelines, which prohibit sharing of “nudity or mature content.” Handler posted the notice that her post had been removed, with the caption “If a man posts a photo of his nipples, it’s ok, but not a woman? Are we in 1825?” She then took to Twitter, calling the removal “sexist.”

Breastfeeding moms have voiced similar outrage at social networks like Facebook and Instagram, complaining that their nursing photos have been taken down for being too revealing. And pro-nudity movements like the Free the Nipple campaign have argued that nudity laws policies like this amount to “female oppression.”

Yes, in an ideal world, women’s nipples would seem just as unsexy and random as men’s. But we don’t live in that world, and Instagram is right to censor Handler and other women who post topless pictures. Not because there’s anything wrong with female nudity, but because that kind of monitoring helps keep revenge porn and child porn off of the network. It’s not that kids on Instagram need to be protected from seeing naked photos of Chelsea Handler–it’s they need to be protected from themselves.

See, kids love taking nude selfies, and they have notoriously bad judgement when it comes to putting stuff on the Internet. A study in June by Drexel University found that 28% of undergrads said they had sent photographic sexts while underage. Another study, published in Pediatrics in September, also found that 28% of surveyed teens admitted to sending naked photos, and 57% said they’d been asked for a sext. At the same time, Instagram is quickly eclipsing Facebook as the social network of choice for young teens. According to a survey by investment banking company Piper Jaffray, 76% of teens say they use Instagram, while only 59% use Twitter and 45% use Facebook. So if Instagram didn’t have its nudity policy, it stands to reason that teens might just start posting their naked selfies there.

The nudity policy also keeps Instagram from being a revenge porn destination. A 2013 study by McAfee security company found that 13% of adults have had their personal content leaked without their permission, and 1 in 10 say they’ve had exes threaten to post personal photos. Of those who threatened to leak photos, 60% followed through. Without their policy, Instagram would be a destination for revenge porn as well.

To be fair, Instagram doesn’t have a share mechanism, so it would be harder for porn to go viral. But on the other hand, Instagram profiles can also contain personal details about users’ immediate surroundings, which could make teens or potential revenge porn victims even more vulnerable.

This is also a question of practicality. Ideally, Instagram would be able to distinguish between a naked 13-year old and a breastfeeding mom. In reality, it would be unrealistic to expect Instagram to comb through their content, keeping track of when every user turns 18, whether the user is posting photos of themselves or of someone else, and whether every naked photo was posted with consent. And even if they could do that, would you really want Instagram calling you up to verify you knew about that whipped-cream photo your ex posted? It would be creepy.

This kind of policy is what makes Instagram different than Tumblr, which has fewer restrictions and much more porn. Granted, Tumblr has recently made that content harder to find on its site, but it’s still a destination for revenge porn. And as Maureen O’Connor wrote for New York Magazine, the process of getting revenge porn taken down can be humiliating: victims have to send Tumblr a picture of themselves holding a piece of paper with their full name, to verify they’re the person in the pictures.

So which is more important: the rights of a few bold comedians or breastfeeding moms to feel validated by their Facebook followers, or the privacy of people who might have their private photos posted without consent? I would side with the latter any day of the week.

TIME apps

Microsoft to Mac Users: Happy Halloween, Here’s a New Outlook for Mac

Office for Mac Microsoft

Available only to Office 365 subscribers

Microsoft’s Halloween gift to Mac users? A surprise new version of Outlook for Mac, which was revealed in a company blog post on Friday.

The new Outlook for Mac is available only to Office 365 subscribers and promises faster performance, revamped interface and push support for the Office 365 cloud. Before you download it, though, Microsoft recommends you first get rid of Outlook for Mac 2011 if you still have that older version installed.

In the same blog post, Microsoft also promised a full refresh for Office for Mac (including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote) by the second half of next year, following a public beta.

The new Outlook for Mac comes as an increasingly diverse array of email solutions appear on the market: Just last week, Google announced Inbox, a still-invite-only rethinking of your Gmail inbox as a to-do list, while other similar apps like Mailbox have skyrocketed in popularity lately.

TIME apps

5 Can’t Miss Apps and Games Going on Sale This Weekend

Looking to download a few great premium apps while saving some money this weekend? Check out these five apps and games, all on sale or free.

  • Plants vs. Zombies

    Plants vs. Zombies Plants vs. Zombies

    Perhaps the greatest tower defense game ever released, Plants vs. Zombies is a game in which players must plant zombie-resistant greenery in order to prevent a diseased horde from attacking their house. There are endless upgrades to bigger, better, stronger plants as zombies become harder and harder to fend off.

    Plants vs. Zombies is temporarily available free for Android on the Amazon App Store.

  • Process

    Process Process

    A simple, effective mobile photo editor, Process allows users to apply preset effects and filters to their images and adjust colors. Process isn’t Photoshop, but it expands Instagram’s offerings so that users can manipulate images and tinker with exposure and balance. The app is typically $14.99.

    Process is on sale for $0.99 the App Store.

  • Noteshelf

    Noteshelf Noteshelf

    A note-taking app that also allows users to annotate documents, Noteshelf is an elegant program that is as much fun to look at as it is practical. It offers a variety of writing surfaces, from legal, to plain white, to graph paper, as well as a series of writing styles. Users can keep multiple notebooks in order to separate documents and notes in different subjects.

    Noteshelf is on sale for $2.99 in the App Store.

  • Plex

    Plex Plex

    By running Plex on your computer, the app allows you to access all personal media on your mobile Android device. Music, videos, and photos are all available on your phone through Plex, along with feature length movies and entire seasons of television shows; Plex is a way of rethinking the utility of cloud storage.

    Plex is temporarily available free for Android on the Amazon app store.

  • Resident Evil 4

    Resident Evil 4 Capcom

    Capcom decided to give its fans a Halloween gift this year by lowering the price on one of its most downloaded iPad games. The Resident Evil series has been around for years, but this mobile-friendly version has brought the dimension and charm of the original games to a smaller screen. Down from $6.99 for a limited time, Resident Evil 4 is worth downloading if you’re looking for a Halloween game this year.

    Resident Evil 4 is on sale for $1.99 in the App Store.

TIME Smartphones

Amazon Exec: We Priced the Fire Phone Wrong

The Amazon Fire phone is displayed at an AT&T store on July 25, 2014 in San Francisco, California.
The Amazon Fire phone is displayed at an AT&T store on July 25, 2014 in San Francisco, California. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Amazon exec tells Fortune how it bumbled the launch of its first smartphone

When it introduced the Fire smartphone in July, Amazon bet sales would be something worth bragging about. But three months in, it’s obvious the Fire phone is more dud than runaway success.

Last week, Amazon CTO Tom Szkutak disclosed as much by saying the company took a $170 million charge, mostly associated with the Fire phone and related supplier costs. He also acknowledged that the company had a huge surplus of $83 million unsold phones collecting dust somewhere.

In an interview with Fortune, Amazon Senior Vice President of Devices David Limp acknowledged Amazon bumbled the phone’s pricing. Traditionally, Amazon undercuts the competition on hardware, pairing lower prices and solid features. But with the Fire phone, Amazon stuck to standard industry pricing, asking $199 for the 32 gigabyte model and $299 for the 64 gigabyte. On that front, Amazon, well, misfired.

“We didn’t get the price right,” Limp admitted. “I think people come to expect a great value, and we sort of mismatched expectations. We thought we had it right. But we’re also willing to say, ‘we missed.’ And so we corrected.”

In September, the company slashed the Fire phone’s price from $199 to 99 cents, a steep discount Limp said yielded significantly better sales. He also pointed out that two software updates since the Fire Phone’s launch ironed out some problems customers were having with the device.

Still, $83 million of unsold phones is a lot, even for a tech giant like Amazon. And a visit to the Fire phone’s page on Amazon.com reveals a 2-star customer rating; reviews call out issues like the Fire phone running hot and a small selection of apps.

Some analysts like Mark Mahaney, Managing Director at RBC Capital Markets, contend it’s “too late” for Amazon to salvage the Fire phone, but Limp claims Amazon isn’t yanking support any time soon.

“When you’re taking risks, they’re not all going to pay off,” said Limp. “Those are the facts.” Limp pointed out other Amazon devices, like its Fire tablet line and Fire TV streaming box, that he described as being “very successful” with customers, but he declined to discuss sales numbers.

With the Fire phone, Amazon plans to stay the course, as it has with its Kindle readers. As CEO Jeff Bezos likes to point out, critics panned the first Kindle e-reader in 2007, but it evolved into a widely-used family of products. Likewise, Amazon seems intent on taking the same long-term approach with the Fire phone, despite a competitive smartphone market.

“We are going to keep iterating software features to get it better and better,” said Limp. “Each release that we’re doing, we’re learning. Beyond that, I leave it out there to see what people think.”

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Social Networking

Why Chelsea Handler Can Post Nudes on Twitter But Not Instagram

Celebrities Visit "Late Show With David Letterman" - October 9, 2014
Actress Chelsea Handler enters the "Late Show With David Letterman" taping at the Ed Sullivan Theater on October 9, 2014 in New York City. Ray Tamarra—WireImage

They have different rules

Chelsea Handler is causing a stir over nudity on social media, quitting Instagram Friday after the service deleted a topless picture of herself that she posted Thursday. Handler later reposted the image on Twitter, where it remains live, saying Friday that “You can now find my dogs and my breasts on Twitter only where my followers have the right to choose.”

Instagram made similar headlines earlier this year after it censored photos of Scout Willis, daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, who posted topless photos as part of the ongoing “free the nipple” campaign. Facebook, which owns Instagram, lifted its nipple ban in photos of breastfeeding mothers earlier this year after months of debate over mastectomy, breastfeeding and other types of nudity.

Why can Handler post nudes on Twitter but not Instagram? It all boils down to differences in the apps’ rules.

Instagram disallows “nudity and mature content.”

Remember that our community is a diverse one, and that your posts are visible to people as young as 13 years old. While we respect the artistic integrity of photos and videos, we have to keep our product and the content within it in line with our App Store’s rating for nudity and mature content. In other words, please do not post nudity or mature content of any kind.

And here are Twitter’s terms, which don’t prohibit nudity, but ask that users who post “sensitive content” mark their accounts appropriately.

For the most part, using common sense won’t steer you wrong. If you upload media that might be considered sensitive content such as nudity, violence, or medical procedures, you should consider applying the account setting “Mark my media as containing sensitive content”.

We do not mediate content, whether that content is an image or text; however, some content is not permissible by law. All content should be marked appropriately as per our guidelines. You may not use our service for any unlawful purposes or in furtherance of illegal activities. International users agree to comply with all local laws regarding online conduct and acceptable content.

Uploaded images that are reported and that are determined to violate the law will be removed from the site and your account will be suspended. Please review the Twitter Rules for more information on these violations.

Images that have been marked as containing sensitive content will have a warning message that a viewer must click through before viewing the image. Only users who have opted in to see possibly sensitive content will see these images without the warning message. Check out this article for more information on settings and best practices.

Interestingly, Instagram explicitly frames its stricter rules as an effort to keep its 12+ age rating in Apple’s App Store — but Twitter, with its more lenient rules, is rated 4+. This isn’t the first example of app nudity rules making little sense; the subject also came up a few years back when a publisher of adult content wanted to get nudie mags on Apple’s iPad. Apple’s rules, for whatever they’re worth, have this to say:

  • Apps containing pornographic material, defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “explicit descriptions or displays of sexual organs or activities intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings”, will be rejected.
  • Apps that contain user generated content that is frequently pornographic (e.g. “Chat Roulette” Apps) will be rejected.

The more you know!

TIME Companies

Android Founder Ditches Google for Tech Startup

Google Ice Cream Sandwich Debuts As IPhone Sets Record
Andy Rubin, senior vice-president of Google Inc.'s mobile division, speaks during an event in Hong Kong, China, on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011. Jerome Favre—Bloomberg / Getty Images

Andy Rubin helped build and expand the Android operating system to one billion users

A senior Google executive who spearheaded the launch and expansion of the Android mobile operating system to more than one billion users has left Google for a startup venture, the company announced Thursday.

Andy Rubin led the development of Google’s mobile platform until last year, when he briefly took the helm of the company’s nascent robotics unit. He pushed for the acquisition of Boston Dynamics, a robotics company that has made waves with its spry, four-legged machines that can run like a cheetah. Rubin is leaving the company to launch an incubator for startups focused on developing hardware products, the Wall Street Journal reports.

CEO Larry Page bid farewell to Rubin in a public statement on Thursday. “I want to wish Andy all the best with what’s next,” Page said. “With Android he created something truly remarkable— with a billion-plus happy users.”

Rubin will be succeeded by James Kuffner, a senior member of Google’s robotics team, which the company said would continue to form a core element of its business strategy.

TIME Smartphones

Ex-Apple CEO John Sculley Launches Low-Cost Smartphone Brand

John Sculley attends the 12th annual SAY Benefit on April 28, 2014 in New York City.
John Sculley attends the 12th annual SAY Benefit on April 28, 2014 in New York City. J Carter Rinaldi—Getty Images

Former tech exec diving headlong into the competitive smartphone market with a new affordable, high-design brand

John Sculley, former CEO of Apple, debuted his new low-cost smartphone brand Obi Mobiles in Singapore Thursday as part of the company’s global rollout.

The company will offer devices priced between $70 and $200 and is looking to go head-to-head with other youth-focused, budget-conscience Chinese phone manufacturers like Xiaomi and Lenovo by keying in to the cache of Apple: distinctive design and branding.

“We are very focused on the younger (13 to 24 year old) consumers,” Sculley told CNBC. “Many may aspire to an iPhone because it’s a beautiful product, but they may not have hundreds of dollars.”

Obi Mobiles also faces competition from Android devices, which are made in China, and plans to stand out from the glut of smartphone brands currently on the market by producing phones with visual appeal and an extensive global distribution network.

Sculley was able to lure several Apple alumni to his new venture in order to create and market a distinctive phone that will lure new users. The list includes Robert Brunner, Apple’s former director of industrial design and chief designer of Beats Electronics.

Obi phones are already for sale in India and the Middle East, and they will begin selling online in Singapore on Nov. 11 through e-commerce site Lazada. By mid-2015, Scully plans to extend availability to the rest of Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa and Latin America.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Social Networking

Mark Zuckerberg Will Answer Your Facebook Questions Next Week

Mark Zuckerberg Attends Mobile World Congress
Co-Founder, Chairman and CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg speaks during his keynote conference as part of the first day of the Mobile World Congress 2014 at the Fira Gran Via complex on February 24, 2014 in Barcelona, Spain. David Ramos—Getty Images

He's hosting a Q&A on Nov. 6

Ever wanted to ask Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg why there’s no “Unlike” button or what’s up with those auto-playing videos in your News Feed? Your chance is coming up: Zuck announced Thursday night that he’ll host a public questions and answers session on Thursday, Nov. 6, starting at 2 p.m. PT:

We have a tradition at Facebook, where every Friday we have a Q&A and all employees can come and ask me questions about anything they want.

It’s an important part of Facebook’s culture. People ask thoughtful questions about why our company is going in certain directions, what I think about things happening in the world, and how we can continue improving our services for everyone. I learn a lot from these Q&As, and the questions people ask help us build better services.

Now I want to extend this tradition to our whole community. On Thursday, November 6, I’ll host our first community Q&A at Facebook.

If you want to ask me a question, go to the Q&A with Mark page below, ask your question as a comment on the post about next week’s Q&A, and vote on other questions people have asked by liking them. The Q&A will be livestreamed on the page and I’ll post some highlights here afterwards. I’ll be answering questions for about an hour, and I’ll try to get through as many as I can.

I’m looking forward to hearing your questions and feedback. I think this will help make Facebook better, and I hope you’ll tune in next week.

You can ask Zuckerberg your question by submitting it to this event, or you can check out some of the already-posted questions and vote on the ones you’d like answered by “liking” it. His answers will be livestreamed.

Here’s a smattering of what’s already been asked:

“You haven’t tweeted in a couple of years now. Do you ever login to Twitter and read tweets? Do you find Twitter to be a useful service?”

“Why you forced us to install Facebook messenger?”

“Mark Zuckerberg, what beer were you drinking when you created Facebook? This is a MUST know.”

The whole event feels a lot like a Reddit “Ask Me Anything,” in which celebrities, musicians, politicians and others take questions from the Reddit community. Zuckerberg has already received more than 4,300 other comments, so you better start posting quick if you want your question answered.

TIME Smartphones

3 Things to Know About Samsung’s New Galaxy A5 and Galaxy A3

Samsung Galaxy A5 Samsung

Here's what to know about the new Samsung models

Samsung has recently been suffering from lackluster performance, with its profits declining almost 60 percent to $3.9 billion in the most recent quarter compared with a year ago. On Friday, Samsung announced an answer to its declining earnings: the Galaxy A3 and Galaxy A5, shiny new devices that might help lift the company out of the doldrums.

Here are 3 things to know about the new Samsung phones.

They’re Samsung’s slimmest smartphones ever

The Galaxy A3 and Galaxy A5 are 6.7mm and 6.9mm thin respectively. By comparison, the iPhone 6—Apple’s thinnest smartphone—is 6.9mm, and the iPhone 6 Plus is 7.1mm.

The Galaxy A5 is the more powerful model

With a five-inch screen and 2GB RAM, plus a 15-megapixel camera, the Galaxy A5 has a lot of juice. The newest iPhone models both have 8-megapixel cameras.

They’re selfie-friendly

The two new Galaxy models feature 5-megapixel front cameras for super-sharp selfies, along with a slew of selfie features that Samsung calls Wide Selfie, Palm Selfie, Animated GIF, Beauty Face Features, and Rear-cam Selfie. Samsung says the new phones automatically detect and focus on a person’s face.

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