MPs want tech giants to pay the police to find antisemitic and neo-Nazi content online (GOOG, FB, TWTR)


UK politicians have said that Google, Twitter, and Facebook should pay the Metropolitan Police to find extremist content on their sites, because they’re not doing a good enough job by themselves.

MPs investigating the tech giants described them as “a disgrace” because they don’t delete illegal material quickly enough.

The MPs are part of the Home Affairs Committee, which released a report today about hate speech online and its impact on the real world.

In the report, they used examples like MPs receiving antisemitic abuse online, Facebook hosting sexualised images of children, and YouTube hosting terrorist recruitment and neo-Nazi videos.

Social media companies, they said, should help fund the Metropolitan Police’s online counter-terrorism unit to find extremist content online on their behalf. That unit is currently funded by UK taxpayers, and flags hateful content to Facebook, Twitter, and Google.

Google's Peter Barron, Facebook's Simon Milner and Twitter's Nick Pickles

This is what the MPs proposed in their report:

“Football teams are obliged to pay for policing in their stadiums and immediate surrounding areas on match days. Government should now consult on adopting similar principles online— for example, requiring social media companies to contribute to the Metropolitan Police’s CTIRU [counter-terrorism internet referral unit] for the costs of enforcement activities which should rightfully be carried out by the companies themselves.”

The MPs also proposed “meaningful fines” if the tech giants didn’t take down illegal content in a short time, and quarterly reports which showed how much hate speech they had removed from their platforms.

Committee chair Yvette Cooper added:

“The biggest and richest social media companies are shamefully far from taking sufficient action to tackle illegal and dangerous content, to implement proper community standards or to keep their users safe. Given their immense size, resources and global reach, it is completely irresponsible of them to fail to abide by the law, and to keep their users and others safe.”

At the moment, it doesn’t look like the government will change the law to force tech giants to take hate speech more seriously. According to the report, MPs have pressured the trio to do more in a series of meetings. Last month, the three firms promised to develop new tools to identify terrorist propaganda online after meeting with home secretary Amber Rudd.

Facebook, Twitter, and Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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These professional lookalikes make thousands of dollars just by resembling the royal family

kate middleton lookalike heidi agan

The INSIDER Summary:

  • In the UK, people earn money as professional royal family lookalikes.
  • They’re hired out for parties, events, and even TV and movies.
  • In many cases, it pays surprisingly well. 
  • INSIDER spoke with three veteran lookalikes to learn more about life on the job.

For years, Heidi Agan worked as a waitress at an Italian restaurant chain in the UK, making around $10 an hour to support her two young kids. 

Then — right around the time that Britain’s Prince William announced his engagement to longtime girlfriend Kate Middleton — her customers started to comment on her resemblance to the future queen. Some even asked to take photos with her. People told her she ought to get into the lookalike business to make appearances at parties and corporate events. But Again brushed off such entreaties at first.

“I just did not believe that you could make a living,” Again, now 37, told INSIDER. “It was something that just sounded really bizarre to me.”

Eventually she relented and sent professional head shots to a talent agency for lookalikes. Four days later, she got her first job. Two months later, she was getting enough work to quit waitressing altogether.

Agan had stumbled hard and fast into the fascinating, lucrative world of lookalikes — a world that seems almost unbelievable to those on the outside.

heidi agan kate middleton lookalike

People love the British royal family. They line the streets to sneak a glimpse of Will and Kate and give flowers to the queen at every one of her public appearances.  But do people love the royals enough to hire out lookalikes — and for prices as high as hundreds of dollars an hour?

They do. Real people really do make money because of their resemblance to the royal family and other celebrities. For some, it’s a full-time career. 

INSIDER spoke with Agan and two other royal family lookalikes to learn more about the ups and downs of the job —from bizarre gigs to harsh criticism to celebrity encounters. Here’s a deeper look at their line of work.  

Lookalikes do everything from TV commercials to weddings to theater. 

prince william simon watkinson

In the United States, Agan explained, lookalikes just aren’t popular — Americans are more keen on musical tribute acts. But in Europe, China, and Australia, business is booming, and lookalikes are hired for just about any gig you could dream up. 

Queen Elizabeth lookalike Patricia Ford, 82, has worked in the industry for more than a decade now. (She was “an ordinary married lady doing a secretarial job” beforehand.) On Ford’s website, she keeps a diary-style list of her appearances, with short but evocative entries like, “To be mobbed by youngsters at a nightclub in Hereford was quite an experience.”

In 2008, she was commissioned by the Jonas Brothers to make a handful of comedic sketches. She recalled these gigs with particular fondness.

“I made several videos with them over a year or so and they were such nice lads, with sensible parents, who always traveled with them,” she told INSIDER.

Simon Watkinson, 35, a Prince William lookalike, also boasts a diverse resume. Though he still holds a full-time job as a civil engineer, he’s done more 300 appearances as Prince William.

“Just before the royal wedding was my busiest time,” Watkinson told INSIDER.”Sometimes I would do a photo shoot at 4 a.m. or breakfast TV appearance before my day job, do interviews on my lunch break, and then make an appearance at a party in the evening after work. Luckily I could wear the same suit to both jobs and I’d simply throw on a tie to get into character.”

In one memorable appearance, he and a Kate Middleton lookalike rode a carriage through London just a few days before William’s real wedding, causing a media frenzyIn another, he and a Kate Middleton lookalike were hired to mime an opera while sitting in a bathtub in a theatrical production. 

“There have been some gigs I have had to turn down,” Watkinson added, “including underwear modeling, private one-on-one appearances at people’s birthday parties […] and the offer to star in a porn movie.”

They’re compensated handsomely for their performances. 

queen elizabeth ii patricia ford lookalike

Fees vary wildly based on the particulars of each job, but for the most part, being a lookalike pays well.

Ford charges roughly $780 (at current conversion rates) for a three-hour event. Watkinson said he’ll make $650 to $1,300 for a standard corporate event or party and up to $13,000 for a TV commercial, though these big ticket jobs are less common. He also does some appearances for free when working with charities.

Agan declined to mention specific figures, but she did say that being a lookalike has allowed her create her own work schedule — a freedom that’s plenty valuable in and of itself.

“For me it was more a lifestyle change than it was a financial change,” she said. “I don’t have to send my kids to daycare anymore; I can pick and choose when I work. And so for our family that has been incredible.”

One of the biggest draws of the job? Friendships with other lookalikes. 

simon watkinson prince william lookalike

Royals lookalikes don’t just pretend to be family — they develop close relationships that persist even when they’re off the clock. 

“[Lookalikes] are the most normal, friendly people you can imagine,” Ford said. “[There’s] no bitchiness at all.”

Agan ticked off a laundry list of close friends she’s met in the industry.

“[One] queen lookalike is like my honorary granny,” Agan said. “We talk to each other on the phone all the time.” She also spends time with a Pippa Middleton lookalike, a Harry Potter lookalike, a David Beckham lookalike, and Watkinson — they met because they’ve worked together a number of times.

“It’s the most bizarre line of friends that you have,” Agan added. “My mom says,’What are doing next week?’ I say, ‘Oh I’m going to Austria with Harry Potter and the queen.’ That’s a normal thing now.”

But they also need to develop a thick skin.

queen lookalike patricia ford

Watkinson told INSIDER that he gets far more positive feedback than negative. But he’s gotten his fair share of unfriendly comments — some of which are delivered right to his face.

“The most difficult part of the job is the criticism [I] receive from people who judge how closely I resemble Prince William,” Watkinson said. “When I’m working as a lookalike, people will be quite blunt to my face about what they think of me […] It’s like people just see you as an object or a wax work and not a real person.”

Agan also cited vicious critics as a challenge, at least in the early days of her career.

“I’ve had death wishes […] just all kinds of stuff. And you have to learn so quickly to become really thick skinned,” she said. “Everybody has an opinion and that’s okay.”

 And yes, people frequently mistake them for royals in real life.

kate middleton lookalike heidi agan
“Oh, it can happen every day,” Again said. “It’s something that was strange at first but now it’s just wonderful.” (Some people even recognize her as a famous lookalike.)

“When I’m dressed in my suit going to work on the train, I see people most days doing a double take,” Watkinson said. “Unfortunately my resemblance to Prince William is fading. [He] has gone bald very quickly and I still have a lot of my hair […] I have toyed with the idea of shaving my head but I don’t think my mates would ever let me hear the end of it.”

Lookalikes might have a weird job — but they’re just normal people. 

prince william lookalike simon watkinson

The lookalikes INSIDER interviewed admired certain qualities in their royal likenesses.

Agan, for instance, respects the way that Middleton has handled her new responsibilities (and extreme visibility) without misstepping once. And Ford spoke highly of the 91-year-old queen’s stamina.

“How she’s nine years older than me but still walks without a stick is amazing,” she said.

But lookalikes aren’t trying to be the famous figures they impersonate. That’s a common misconception  that’s there some kind of freaky psychological element to taking on lookalike work. The vast majority are just normal people who happened to luck out in the looks department. Why not take advantage of it?

“We don’t take ourselves seriously,” Watkinson said. “As long as other people see it in the same light, then everyone can just have laugh.”

SEE ALSO: Here’s what the royal family actually does every day

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We asked a hand surgeon about how to treat ‘texting thumb,’ where your hand hurts from too much texting – here’s what he told us

people looking at phonesHere are a few things I use my phone for each and every day:

  • Alarm clock
  • Texting my friends
  • Scanning social media
  • Reading the news
  • Listening to music and podcasts
  • Checking sports scores
  • Taking pictures
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Managing my finances

Needless to say, it’s a lot. From the moment I wake up until I’m getting ready for bed, my iPhone is constantly in my hand.

Recently, however, I’ve begun to experience some discomfort around the base of my right thumb, the very digit that does the majority of my swiping and tapping. A cursory Google search brought up a term called “texting thumb,” which seemed to encompass my symptoms.

I read stories warning that my constant smartphone use was setting me on a path towards tendinitis, and that arthritis was surely waiting around the corner. Suddenly, my smartphone seemed to exist with the sole purpose of destroying my hand.

I decided to talk to an expert to set the record straight.

A person with an iPhoneDr. S. Steven Yang specializes in hand and wrist surgery at the NYU Langone Medical Center. He performs hundreds of surgeries a year, with patients that include professional athletes and classical musicians. If anyone could help me understand what was going on with my hand, it was him.

Right off the bat, Dr. Yang explained that there is no diagnosis called “texting thumb.” He told me that back in the 1980s, the worry was that kids who played too many video games would develop “Nintendo thumb” and that in the late 1990s and early 2000s “BlackBerry thumb” was the diagnosis du jour.  

“These are basically laypeople’s terminology for discomfort that they are having in their hands when they’re doing too much of something,” Dr. Yang said.

Still, he acknowledged that a lack of a formal term for the discomfort does not mean that there is nothing going on under the skin.

“Smartphones — they’re small. They’re not really ergonomically designed to be doing repetitive actions for protracted periods of time,” he explained. “So what happens is people get sore. But the soreness we’re talking about is not that different from what even a generation ago people used to call ‘writer’s cramp.’”

“Smartphones, they’re small. They’re not really ergonomically designed to be doing repetitive actions for protracted periods of time”

According to Dr. Yang, soreness from repetitive use of a smartphone is categorized as a repetitive stress injury (RSI). Because there is nothing broken or dislocated in the hand, and in many cases there isn’t even much inflammation, an RSI is a “diagnosis of exclusion,” meaning that all other diagnoses have been ruled out.

When we operate a smartphone, there’s a whole slew of complex motions going on under the skin. Muscles are contracting, tendons are colliding, and the result is our thumbs flexing and extending while they fly over a digital keyboard.

But discomfort in your hand doesn’t mean that you are developing any sort of ailment — just that your hand needs a break.

People Texting“I think people just get sore from using their phones,” Dr. Yang said. “They get aches and pains, but phones aren’t causing bones to break or ligaments to rupture or anything like that.”

He dismissed my question about smartphones causing damage to people’s hands by pointing out that the number of people who develop serious hand problems from phone use is “infinitesimally small.”

“There is no epidemiological evidence of an increase in any of these conditions,” Dr. Yang explained. “Over the past decade, the number of people using smartphones has skyrocketed. It has increased exponentially. If this were in fact a serious public health problem there would be an epidemic of people with repetitive stress injuries. And there’s not.”

If you’re like me and are experiencing aches associated with your smartphone use, the prescription is simple: switch hands. Or, better yet, put your phone down for awhile.

If you’re like me and are experiencing aches associated with your smartphone use, the prescription is simple: switch hands. Or better yet, put your phone down for a while.

Unless stiffness and cramping are sustained and continue after you’ve put down your device, there’s nothing wrong with your hand that merits a visit to a hand specialist like Dr. Yang.

Instead, he suggests taking frequent breaks over the course of the day. Open and close your fingers, stretch your wrists and forearms. The key is to give your muscles and tendons a rest every once in a while.

And no, you’re not doing yourself any favors by holding your phone in one hand and poking at the screen with your other index finger. According to Dr. Yang there’s no known posture that’s better than another when it comes to grasping your phone.

So when your hand starts to cramp up and get sore while you’re using your phone, that’s just your body’s way of telling you to take it easy. And you should listen to your body — it’s almost always right. 

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15 things you didn’t know your iPhone headphones could do

Even though Apple got rid of the headphone jack, every iPhone still comes with a pair of “EarPods” — those wired, white headphones you see everywhere. These earbuds can do a lot more than you think. Here are 15 things you can do with your iPhone headphones.

For music and other streaming apps:

1. To play/pause a song from your “Music” app or other streaming apps like Spotify or Podcasts, press the center button once.

2. To skip to the next song, press the center button twice.

3. To go back to the start of the song or the previous song, press the center button three times.

4. To fast-forward through a song, double-click and hold the center button.

5. To rewind through a song, triple-click and hold the center button.

For phone calls:

6. Free up your hands on a phone call by talking into the built-in microphone.

7. To answer a call, press the center button once.

8. To hang up, press the center button again.

9. To ignore a call, press and hold the center button for about two seconds.

10. To answer a second incoming call and to keep the first caller on hold, press the center button once.

11. To switch between calls, press the center button.

12. To end one call and switch to the second call, press and hold the center button for about two seconds.

13. To ignore a second incoming call, press and hold the center button for about two seconds.

For Siri:

14. To activate Siri, press and hold the center button.

For the camera and other photo/video apps:

15. To take a photo, press either volume button.

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‘Silicon Valley’ star T.J. Miller says its ‘funny’ that people claim to have inspired his ‘buffoon’ of a character

tj miller silicon valley hbo

“Silicon Valley” star T.J Miller can understand if people wonder if they’re the inspiration for the show’s coding genius Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) or even the ruthless tech mogul Gavin Belson (Matt Ross), but he finds it strange that people would claim to be the inspiration for his character, home-brewed incubator founder Erlich Bachman.

“It’s so funny for people to wonder if Erlich Bachman is based on them, because that’s clearly an insult,” Miller recently told Business Insider. “He’s kind of the buffoon. He’s really the worst of all of them on the show.”

It may be funny now to Miller, but it’s true. Last year, the feuding co-founders of the online marketplace for concierge services, Way, Binu Girija and Pat Murray, both claimed that they were the inspiration for Bachman

To be fair, they got the idea from Miller himself. According to TechCrunch, the actor said during a 2014 panel discussion that he at least partially based the character on the founder of Way. Miller said that the person harassed him to be a spokesperson for the site. But which founder was Miller talking about? We may never know.

Last year, HBO told Business Insider that “the Erlich Bachman character, played by T.J. Miller, was created by the writers of ‘Silicon Valley.'”

And Miller, speaking generally, told us during this interview that Bachman and the other show’s characters “are sort of melded archetypes that are so true to life that a lot of people wonder if it’s based on themselves.”

The show, currently airing its fourth season on Sundays, has certainly earned the reputation for portraying the tech industry authentically, a source of pride for its producers. And Miller similarly finds people’s claims to have inspired the show’s characters as a compliment, as well.

“It means that the show is working,” he told us. “It means that the satire is spot-on. It means that we’re doing our job, which is mining the most powerful pocket of America right now and to get them them to examine themselves and not take themselves so seriously.”

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4 ways to give your iPhone and MacBook Pro a beautiful retro look, ranging from $20 to $1,900

original apple mac

There are countless case and wrap designs to make your Apple iPhone or MacBook Pro truly yours and original.

In my eyes, however, there’s only one way to make your iPhone or MacBook product look better than it already does: Giving them the retro Apple look. 

It could be just me, but I find Apple’s original Macintosh SE design absolutely gorgeous. Perhaps it’s Apple’s own take on the 80s-electronics-beige that was the de facto color theme back in the day. In unison with the rainbow-colored Apple logo, it was beautiful then as it is now.

Until Apple releases its own line of retro-looking products, there are still several ways to get the retro Apple look on your Apple gear, particularly if you own an iPhone or MacBook Pro:

1. A protective iPhone case with a retro design.

$37 will give your iPhone that retro-beautiful 80s-electronics-beige color and iconic simulated fan vents from the original Apple Macintosh SE computer.

2. Wrap your iPhone in a retro design.

For $20, you can wrap your phone with a similar retro design that looks sleeker than a case, but is less protective.

3. Wrap your MacBook Pro in a retro design.

The $30 Retro MacBook Skin from Slickwraps is the only thing that could improve the original look of your MacBook Pro.

See the rest of the story at INSIDER

Verizon and AT&T both launched misleading services this week — and it points to a larger problem

Verizon Lowell McAdam

Earlier this week, Verizon and AT&T introduced new services for some of their respective customers:

  • Verizon advertised a “Fios Gigabit Connection” plan that promises “gigabit internet connection service” for more than 8 million homes scattered across Virginia, Washington, D.C., and the Northeast, with prices starting at $69.99 a month. This is an upgrade over the “Fios Instant Internet” service the company launched in January.
  • AT&T advertised a “5G Evolution” service that gives Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ owners in select areas of Austin, Texas faster mobile internet speeds. AT&T says it will give users up to “twice the speed of [its] 4G LTE network,” and that it will launch the service in “over 20 major metro areas” by the end of 2017.

To be clear: Both of these are nice upgrades. Faster internet is a great thing, and the customers that are fortunate enough to gain access to these services here will likely enjoy them.

The problem is they’re both misleading:

  • Verizon notes that what it calls “gigabit internet” averages between 750 Mbps to 940 Mbps for download speeds, and between 750 Mbps and 880 Mbps for upload speeds. That is still extremely fast, but it does not break the 1 Gbps threshold that designates “gigabit internet.”
  • The $70-a-month starting price for the plan only applies to new customers. As Ars Technica reported, existing Fios customers will have to pay $20 or $30 more each month, if not higher, depending on what level of service they have today. Those with the Instant Internet plan will pay $80 a month.
  • That $70-a-month intro price is also part of a limited-time promotion — though Verizon says those who sign up while the promo lasts won’t have their bills raised after the fact — and it doesn’t factor in the usual router fees and additional taxes that come along with the bill.

I am a current Fios customer, and I live in an area that is eligible for the Gigabit Connection plan. Here’s what I see when I go to buy that plan on Verizon’s web site:

verizon gigabit internet

  • AT&T does not explain everything that makes up its “5G Evolution” service, but it does mention technologies like carrier aggregation, 4×4 MIMO, and 256 QAM. This is very obtuse, but the gist is that those are all advanced forms of current 4G LTE technology. T-Mobile has used them in its network since last September.
  • The technology we call “5G” is still in development. The 3GPP, the central standards body for the wireless industry, has said the first iteration of the standard won’t be ready until the end of the year, and that the complete standard won’t be ready for deployment until 2019.

To be fair, the term “5G Evolution” is not the same as “5G.” And AT&T is working on new wireless tech. But the mind trick is obvious.

It’s also very familiar. The news this week comes at a time when the four major carriers offer “unlimited” data plans that aren’t fully unlimited. All four say you may see moments of reduced speeds in areas of congestion if you go past a certain amount of data each month. That’s not as bad as a hard cap, but all of the plans involve some sort of restriction on mobile-hotspot data and/or the ability to stream videos on high definition.

Again, that’s okay! Running a network is wildly expensive. But the point is that’s data, and those caveats are forms of limits, and they are part of plans that are advertised and sold as “unlimited.”

attThere’s a certain type of language we’ve come to expect from carriers and internet service providers over the years. Actual words are tossed into a blender; they come out meaning half of what they really do; and the rest of the definitions are tucked away in fine print at the bottom of the page.

This doesn’t just apply to consumer-facing stuff, either. In the wake of Congress striking down the Obama-era FCC’s internet-privacy rules, the major telecom players made it clear that they do not sell your “personal information” to third parties.

But how true that is depends on how you define “personal information.” Your name, address, and social security number are off the table, but some ISPs leave the door open to anonymize browsing data, location, and general demographic info, then sell it all in bulk. And the CTIA, a major telecom trade group, successfully argued in January that customers don’t need to give explicit permission before having their web-browsing and app-usage data collected, because it isn’t “sensitive” info. You have to go out of your way to find all this.

A technician's vehicle sits in the parking lot at a Comcast facility in Lawrence, Massachusetts, U.S. January 25, 2017.   REUTERS/Brian Snyder I’m not trying to lay judgment here. There is a general predisposition among the general public to distrust ISPs to an extent that maybe goes a bit far every now and then. And the likes of Google, Facebook, or Amazon aren’t exactly angels about this stuff.

But when you’re in a business that is defined by a distinct lack of user choice, a structure that major ISPs have lobbied to help keep in place, the least you can provide is truth in advertising. The various pledges to keep a “free and open internet” in the wake of the seemingly-doomed net-neutrality laws would be a great place to start.

When I was telling a colleague about this post, he responded with a laugh, and said, “Well, I doubt they plan to stop being deceptive.” That attitude is unfortunate, but wholly understandable.

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Here are the best app launches and updates you may have missed in April

Snapchat World Lenses

It was a big month for photo apps. 

Snapchat added 3D lenses to its rear-facing camera, Memoji launched to help turn your selfies into emojis, and FaceApp, which can age a photo of you or swap your gender, launched on Android. 

Plus, Google made changes to two of its most-used services. 

Here are some of the coolest new app launches and updates you may have missed this month. 

Memoji turns your selfies into emojis.

A new app from selfie editor Facetune takes photos of your face and gives them emoji expressions — laughing, crying, blowing kisses, getting sick, etc. They can be still images or turned into GIFs and videos, often with surprising (and frightening) results. 

Called Memoji, this iPhone app can be used on your own face by snapping a quick selfie or can take imported images of someone else and contort them into emojis. 

Read more about how to use Memoji here.

Uber made it easier to find your passenger rating.

Uber will now show your passenger rating in the app, meaning you don’t need to email Uber support or wait to find out how Uber drivers rated you.

Find out the new way to see your rating here

Google Photos added a feature that stabilizes shaky video.

Unless you always have a tripod with you, it’s hard to count on videos you take being 100% shake-free. But for Google Photos users, there’s some good news: the app is adding a video stabilization feature. 

According to Android Police, the feature is rolling out with version 2.13 and will start with Android devices. It doesn’t appear to have arrived for iOS quite yet, but iPhone users should have it soon. 

See the rest of the story at INSIDER

The terrifying way our universe will die

Robbert Dijkgraaf is a theoretical physicist and Leon Levy Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He is also the co-author of “The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge.” In this video, he explains how our universe will meet its death. Following is a transcript of the video.

The black holes will eat up everything else in the universe.

I’m Robbert Dijkgraaf. I’m the Director and Leon Levy Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and I’m a theoretical physicist. 

I think the greatest discovery from Einstein’s theory is that the universe is expanding. But we learned something even more dramatic in recent years.

We learned that the universe isn’t only expanding, but there’s like a force inside empty space that helps to push the universe apart. It actually is accelerating the expansion of the universe, and this has really dramatic consequences. It will mean that the distant part of the universe will start moving away so fast at a point, that it’ll go faster than the speed of light.

That is to say, we’ll never be able to see them. So, what will happen to our part of the universe is that all the neighboring galaxies will slowly fade away. And we are left only with our galaxy and perhaps a few others, and that’s it.

We will be kind of living in an island universe. So, when the galaxy is left alone in this kind of empty universe, the stars will go out one by one because they will burn their fuel. And if all the stars are done burning their fuel, the only force that’s left is the force of gravity.

And it will slowly pull them in, and the black holes will eat up everything else in the universe, and this will be it. It’s a very desolate future for the universe. And I think that’s why many physicists were very hesitant to believe that this is actually the true future history of the universe. But it turns out, that the experiments are all pointing in that direction.

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There’s a bizarre loophole you have to jump through when booking an Airbnb in Cuba

Cuba Ally

BERLIN — If you’re planning to visit Cuba in the near future and you want to use Airbnb, you’ll quickly realise there’s a bizarre loophole you have to jump through in order to make your booking.

When requesting to book an Airbnb in Cuba, you must specify your “purpose of travel” and confirm that you “satisfy criteria for a general license for travel to Cuba”.

This “license” was established for Americans travelling to Cuba but non-US citizens also have to say that they satisfy the requirements if they want to use Airbnb in Cuba. You’ll be presented with a drop down menu of 12 “activities” that your license can fall under, with activities including “Official Government Business”, “Support for the Cuban people”, and “Religious”.

I experienced this first hand earlier this year when I was trying to book some Airbnbs in Cuba for a trip that I just returned from. The experience left me feeling confused and unsure about whether I could legally use Airbnb in Cuba.

Airbnb CubaA PR spokesperson failed to clear up the matter for me in February so I asked Nathan Blecharczyk, Airbnb’s cofounder, during a Q&A session in Berlin last month.

It’s “a little complicated,” Blecharczyk replied. “A little over two years ago, Obama took executive action to loosen the restrictions. But he didn’t have the power to completely kill them. So he basically loosened them as much as possible.

Airbnb Nathan“So what can you do do today? Americans can go down there and about a year ago now we got special permission from the Department of Treasury that regulates this stuff, to allow foreigners to come down to Cuba as well. Now legally we’re still required to ask that question.

“According to the restrictions, you’re supposed to only go down there if it’s for one of 12 reasons,” he said. “Of which one is ‘helping the people’. If you’re staying at someone’s home, that’s helping the people.”

The US Treasury states that “support for the Cuban people” includes “activities of recognised human rights organisations; independent organisations designed to promote a rapid, peaceful transition to democracy; and individuals and non-governmental organisations that promote independent activity intended to strengthen civil society in Cuba.”

Blecharczyk added: “Cuba has been ridiculously successful for us. We have about 15,000 homes down there. We’ve seen great interest from Americans and from folks all around the world and it is doing remarkable things for the people.”

Cuba’s relationship with US companies has been a complicated one ever since revolutionary leader Fidel Castro came to power in 1959 but US tech companies like Airbnb and Google are starting to make some inroads.

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