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It might be different this time: Lawmakers, activists more optimistic about police reform

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Demonstrators march down Pennsylvania Avenue near the Trump International Hotel during a protest against police brutality and the death of George Floyd, on June 3, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Tasos Katopodis | Getty Images

Between the thousands marching across the globe, the legislation moving through government channels and even the actions of some private businesses, it’s clear that something is different this time.

An eruption of protests following George Floyd’s death last month has spread wider than any comparable movement in recent history, analysts say, with hundreds of thousands turning out in all 50 states — and even overseas — to demonstrate against police brutality and racism.

Floyd is not the only unarmed Black person whose death at the hands of police has driven protesters into the streets demanding change. But lawmakers and activists alike are seeing signs that this political moment, which comes amid the coronavirus pandemic and an already-vicious presidential election season, could finally bring to fruition some of the reforms they’ve pushed for years.

“I’m hopeful and I’m optimistic that this is the straw that has broken the camel’s back,” New York City Councilman Rory Lancman said in an interview.

A different moment

Lancman, a Democratic council member from Queens, has reason to believe the political winds have shifted.

In 2014, he introduced a bill banning police chokeholds following the death of Eric Garner, a Black man who died in Staten Island in 2017 after an officer held him by the neck. The bill had failed to gain enough support to override a veto by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who vowed to reject the legislation after two NYPD officers were killed in Brooklyn.

Members of Black Lives Matter Greater NY and allies held a protest rally in Times Square on June 4, 2019 demanding justice.

Erik McGregor | LightRocket | Getty Images

But in the wake of Floyd’s death, Lancman’s bill has gained enough support for a veto-proof majority, even as it has been broadened to ban officers from restricting “the flow of air or blood by compressing the windpipe, diaphragm, or the carotid arteries” during an arrest. Floyd died after a since-fired Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. The officer, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with murder.

Lancman said the current civil unrest is the “deepest, broadest wave of public outcry” for criminal justice reform he’s seen in his time in office. “This moment allowed us to move [the bill] forward with confidence,” he said. 

That momentum appears to have carried over to Congress, where Democrats this week put forward sweeping police reform bills in the House and Senate. The bills would overhaul police precincts across the country, in part by banning the use of chokeholds, ending “no-knock” search warrants in drug cases and applying new oversight measures to departments.

Republicans, led by South Carolina’s Tim Scott, one of only three Black U.S. senators, are working up their own alternative legislation to address the policing system. President Donald Trump announced on Thursday a proposal that steered clear of major police reform.

At the local level

A participant holding a Defund The Police sign at the protest. Thousands of protesters filled the streets of Brooklyn in a massive march to demand justice for George Floyd, killed by Officer Derek Chauvin and to make a loud call for the defunding of the police force.

Erik McGregor | LightRocket | Getty Images

Randy Shrewsberry, executive director of the Institute for Criminal Justice Training Reform and a former police officer, said “we’re in full support of” the calls to defund the police.

“There has to be a reevaluation from us collectively as a society as to what we are expecting the police to be in our day-to-day lives,” Shrewsberry said. “We are in big favor that there needs to be a reduction in funding [and] a reduction in manpower,” he said.

Timothy Lovelace, a Duke University law professor and legal historian of the civil rights movement, said Floyd’s death, which was captured on video, “added to the pain” from other recent instances of unarmed Black men and women being killed. Lovelace cited the shootings of Ahmaud Arbery in February and Breonna Taylor in March.

“Far too frequently, we see Black men and women who are being murdered on camera,” Lovelace said. “This leads to lots of frustrations and seems to be a reoccurring cycle.”

Garner and Floyd were unarmed. Both men had also said “I can’t breathe” before they died — pleas that have become rallying cries for protesters. 

But where the officer who put Garner in a chokehold did not face criminal charges, Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder. The three ex-officers who had assisted Chauvin’s arrest of Floyd have been charged with aiding and abetting murder.

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin poses for an undated booking photograph taken after he was transferred from a county jail to a Minnesota Department of Corrections state facility.

Minnesota Department of Corrections | Reuters

The protests against police brutality and racism have also reignited a debate over whether monuments and other displays of Confederate symbols should be removed from public spaces. And there has been an impact on popular culture, as well.

Some police-focused entertainment content is also getting canceled. ViacomCBS announced it was dropping “Cops,” the reality show that has followed police officers on duty for 30 years. Cable network A&E also announced that it was ending production of a similar show, “Live PD,” and Investigation Discovery’s version, “Body Cam,” has been removed from the network’s schedule. 

“My sense is that the outrage and the recognition of the injustices have now reached almost every segment of society,” Lancman said.

The Covid connection

The coronavirus pandemic, which has forced state leaders to virtually shut down their state economies in an effort to slow transmission, may be providing additional oxygen to the protests.

“Many Americans have more time to turn their attention to social justice issues because of the Covid-19 crisis,” as well as “new space and new time to protest,” Lovelace said.

Shrewsberry concurred: “Part of this is that we’re home right now and we’re not distracted by running back and forth to the office. … You know, none of this is new. This has been going on long before George Floyd died.”

Demonstrators protest outside of the state capital building on May 31, 2020 following the May 25, death of George Floyd in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Scott Olson

President Donald Trump speaks during a roundtable discussion with African American supporters in the Cabinet Room of the White House on June 10, 2020.

Doug Mills | Getty Images

Trump has reacted aggressively to the protests, demanding “law and order” from state and city leaders to quash the violence that has sprung up at some demonstrations, while Biden has vowed to work to heal the country’s racial wounds that undergird the unrest.

The protests have been largely peaceful, though violence and looting have broken out in multiple cities on some nights of demonstrations, especially in Minneapolis.

Regardless, recent polls show that a majority of Americans support the protests

Source: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/12/george-floyd-protests-lawmakers-activists-optimistic-about-police-reform.html

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Pinterest is reportedly in talks to acquire VSCO

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So what can Pinterest do to jump higher up the list of social networking sites? According to a report by the New York Times, one possibility is acquiring the owner of VSCO, the app for editing / sharing photos and videos that has brought in-depth tools to mobile users for years. Neither side directly confirmed the negotiations, and there’s no word on a possible price, but maybe combining forces can bring some Instagram-like glow. 

As it is, Pinterest is still mostly known for planning and organizing, and as the NYT article points out, other than some recent acquisitions, VSCO is currently best known for the “VSCO girls” meme.

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Source: https://www.engadget.com/vsco-pinterest-014258107.html

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A sealed copy of ‘Super Mario Bros.’ just sold for $660,000

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A nearly perfect copy of Super Mario Bros. for the NES has sold for $660,000 at auction. In what turned out to be a 13-bidder contest, $550,000 went to the game’s original owner. The copy was one of the earliest shrink-wrapped versions of the games you could buy in the US (Super Mario Bros. eventually had 11 different box variants, according to WATA Games).

Heritage Auctions, the firm that oversaw the sale, told Ars Technica it dates back to late 1986. It was reportedly bought as a Christmas gift and sat unopened in a desk drawer for the better part of four decades. “I never thought anything about it,” the seller, who asked to remain anonymous, told the auction house.

The $660,000 this copy of Super Mario Bros. sold for is crazy when you consider the Nintendo PlayStation, a one-of-a-kind prototype representing a unique piece of gaming history, sold for $360,000 at auction last year. More recently, someone paid $156,000 to buy a pristine copy of Super Mario Bros. 3. It makes you wonder how much the owner would have walked away with had they simultaneously tried to cash in on the NFT craze somehow.

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Source: https://www.engadget.com/super-mario-bros-auction-000001095.html

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‘Lost Tapes of the 27 Club’ used Google AI to ‘write’ a new Nirvana song

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Were he still alive today, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain would be 52 years old. Every February 20th, on the day of his birthday, fans wonder what songs he would write if he hadn’t died of suicide nearly 30 years ago. While we’ll never know the answer to that question, an AI is attempting to fill the gap.

A mental health organization called Over the Bridge used Google’s Magenta AI and a generic neural network to examine more than two dozen songs by Nirvana to create a ‘new’ track from the band. “Drowned in the Sun” opens with reverb-soaked plucking before turning into an assault of distorted power chords. “I don’t care/I feel as one, drowned in the sun,” Nirvana tribute band frontman Eric Hogan sings in the chorus. In execution, it sounds not all that dissimilar from “You Know You’re Right,” one of the last songs Nirvana recorded before Cobain’s death in 1994.

Other than the voice of Hogan, everything you hear in the song was generated by the two AI programs Over the Bridge used. The organization first fed Magenta songs as MIDI files so that the software could learn the specific notes and harmonies that made the band’s tunes so iconic. Humorously, Cobain’s loose and aggressive guitar playing style gave Magenta some trouble, with the AI mostly outputting a wall of distortion instead of something akin to his signature melodies. “It was a lot of trial and error,” Over the Bridge board member Sean O’Connor told Rolling Stone. Once they had some musical and lyrical samples, the creative team picked the best bits to record. Most of the instrumentation you hear are MIDI tracks with different effects layered on top.

One thing neither AI gave direction on is how exactly Cobain would have sung the song. Outside of cadence and tone, Hogan had to interpret how the grunge star, who famously suffered from crippling stomach pain, would have channeled his anguish into the lyrics.

Over the Bridge isn’t the first group to use AI to emulate a dead artist. But the intent here is different from similar past projects. “Drowned in the Sun” is part of the organization’s Lost Tapes of the 27 Club initiative. They set out to record AI-generated songs by musicians who died at the age of 27 to raise awareness about mental health resources musicians, and people more generally, can turn to when they feel they need help. The Toronto-based non-profit has a Facebook page where it offers support. It also offers online sessions and workshops.

If you’re experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, you can reach the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or over an online chat.

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Source: https://www.engadget.com/over-the-bridge-lost-tapes-of-the-27-club-223000315.html

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Microsoft’s online-only Build conference starts on May 25th

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Spring is fully upon us, which means the calendar is starting to fill up with high-profile tech events. And the latest addition? Microsoft confirmed today that its online-only Build developer conference will run between May 25th and May 27th, though there’s still no word on when registration will open. (If last year is any indication, our money is on “the end of April.”)

“Microsoft Build is where developers, architects, start-ups, and students learn, connect, and code together, sharing knowledge and expanding their skillset, while exploring new ways of innovating for tomorrow,” the company’s events page explains. 

Unfortunately, Microsoft has yet to update its Build-specific webpage with information about this year’s priorities or schedule, but we’re almost certainly looking at another packed event. Last year, Microsoft went on (among other things) about improved collaboration tools for its suite of Office productivity apps, an AI-focused supercomputer running on its Azure cloud platform, and new cloud tools designed specifically for healthcare practitioners. 

Historically, spring and summer are been jam-packed with large, in-person events where app and software developers get their first glimpse at upcoming platform and strategy updates, attend workshops and code reviews, and generally mingle with their colleagues. Starting last year, though, the worldwide coronavirus pandemic has forced companies that stage these events to rapidly rethink their approaches.

Some, like Microsoft and Apple, quickly pivoted to informative online-only affairs that include full days worth of sessions, demos and fireside chats. (For what it’s worth, Apple announced this week that its own Worldwide Developer Conference will also proceed as an online-only event from June 7-11.) Meanwhile, Google has not yet confirmed whether it plans to stage its Google I/O developer conference at all this year — the company cancelled the show entirely in 2020, but said last month that it does plan to host some version of its annual Google Cloud Next event this October. 

Between a surge in COVID-19 vaccine production and news of relaxed restrictions for vaccinated travelers, Build 2021 may well be the last purely virtual developer conference Microsoft will ever need to put on. With any luck, devs will resume their pilgrimages to Seattle next year, and who knows — maybe those tiny emotional support horses from Build 2018 will show up again too.

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Source: https://www.engadget.com/microsoft-build-2021-may-25-to-27-developer-conference-official-212230206.html

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