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Ancient Mayan Site Reveals Surprising Details On How They Made, Used, And Traded Salt

Today, remnants of an ancient Central American salt mine rest below the brackish waters of a lagoon, but tools that have resurfaced at the hands of archaeologists are helping to illuminate what life looked like there more than 1,000 years ago and, among other things, how the ancient Mayans’ affinity for salt helped to expand their civilization through the production, storage, and trade of the mineral.

A new study published in PNAS reveals the Paynes Creek Salt Works in Belize was once the site of a salt kitchen used to produce and store the biologically and economically important commodity. At a time when society was shifting from hunters and gathers to agriculturalists, the need to preserve perishable food became crucial to the survival of stationary civilizations, leading to the birth of the salt-producing technique known as briquetage. Used across ancient Rome, Asia, and other civilizations, the technique calls for boiling brine in pots over fires to evaporate water, leaving salt behind. The salt in these pots would then be hardened into salt cakes, which could be used stored, transported to nearby trading hubs, or used to preserve fish and meat.

The 8-square-kilometer (3 square miles) site is surrounded by a mangrove forest that thrives on acidic soil, or peat, which disintegrates bone, shells, and other microfossils made from calcium carbonate but preserves woody materials. An international team of researchers mapped and excavated the site and found more than 4,000 wooden posts that indicate a series of buildings would have been used as salt kitchens.

“Our study suggests that salting fish was a significant activity at the salt works, which corresponds to Roman, Chinese, and other East Asian civilizations, where salt and salted fish were critical components of food storage, trade, and state finance,” wrote the authors.

But what tells a more interesting story is the presence of the tools found in the area. A microscopic analysis of 20 chert stone tools recovered from underwater show wear patterns that are consistent with fish preparations, despite there being no evidence of fish in the area.

“Since we found virtually no fish or other animal bones during our sea-floor survey or excavations, I was surprised that the microscopic markings on the stone tools, which we call ‘use-wear,’ showed that most of the tools were used to cut or scrape fish or meat,” said Heather McKillop, the study’s lead author, in a statement

McKillop believes fish, meat, and animal hides could have been manufactured here and, along with the salt, would have been traded at other centers.

“These discoveries substantiate the model of regional production and distribution of salt to meet the biological needs of the Classic Maya,” McKillop said.

The “surprising” find helps to explain how other marine resources – like conch shells, coral, and stingray spines – came to be found in inland caches and burials at Mayan sites around the region.

Scientists analyzed the microscopic markings on excavated stone tools including these to discover new findings of the ancient Maya from more than 1,000 years ago. LSU


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25 Things To Do On Christmas Day To Make It The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
Cataloged in Holidays / Christmas

25 Things To Do On Christmas Day To Make It The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

There are more things to do on Christmas day than open presents. Spend some quality time with the people you love the most because it’s not often you are all together under the same roof.

1. Create decorations. By Christmas morning, you probably already have all of your lights strung and ornaments hung but you can always add to the collection. Set up a craft table with glitter, glue, and paint to decorate glass balls or string a needle through popcorn to make an extra piece of garland.

2. Marathon movies. If you were too busy to sit down and watch and  earlier in the season, you should gather your family around to watch the classics. With the help of Netflix, you can even skip through the boring parts.

3. Go iceskating. Hold the hand of someone you love while you skate around the rink. You can wear all of the new winter gear you unwrapped while you’re there.

4. Attend a tree lighting ceremony. You don’t have to live in NYC to see a beautiful, bright tree. Find a local tree lighting ceremony and watch from the sidelines while sipping from hot chocolate.

5. Get a picture taken with Santa. You are never too old to get an Instagram worthy photograph with Saint Nick. You could even find a location that takes pictures of your with Santa.

6. Bake cookies. If you have a holiday party scheduled for later in the day, you can bring them to share! Otherwise you can keep them all for yourself and eat them until the new year.

7. Spend time outdoors. If you are lucky enough to experience a white Christmas, you should release your inner child by building a snowman, making snow angels, or going sledding on a neighborhood hill.

8. Read Christmas cards aloud. Sit your family in a circle and read from the cards you were sent. Then take turns saying what you love most about the sender.

9. Donate toys. It’s the season of giving, so don’t accept all of your presents without giving something in return. Clear out some space for your new stuff by giving the old stuff to people who will appreciate it.

10. Hide an elf on a shelf. If there are any little kids in your family, place the elf somewhere around the house and see how long it takes them to spot him.

11. Volunteer. Hand out food or blankets at a soup kitchen. Spend time at a children’s hospital or an animal shelter. Give to others because they deserve happy holidays too.

12. Build a gingerbread house. Try to make it look as similar to your actual house as possible. Then eat it the next day when it’s time to take down the decorations.

13. Attend church. If you are religious, spend the morning in prayer. If you do not have the time to listen to a service, you can read through a few of your favorite passages from a holy book.

14. Drink eggnog. If you cannot make it through the holidays without a bit of alcohol, then sip on eggnog or make your own festive drink. You can even rim the glass with red and green sprinkles.

15. Drive around to look at the lights. You will be impressed by how much work some of your neighbors put into their decorations. Plus, you can get inspiration so you can make your own place look even better next Christmas.

16. Track Santa. There are websites that will tell you the current location of Santa. Pull the site onto a computer so all the little kids in your family can watch him move from place to place.

17. Listen to Christmas songs. You might be sick of the repetitive music by the time Christmas day arrives but you have to get into the holiday spirit! You can turn on a playlist from your laptop, you can dust off vinyl records, or you can watch the yule log flicker.

18. Go Christmas caroling. If you would rather be the one doing the singing, knock on neighborhood doors. Sing until your lungs give out.

19. Decorate ugly Christmas sweaters. Grab pipe cleaners, glitter paint, pom-poms, and a hot glue gun to decorate a plain old sweater. Challenge your family to see who can make the most obnoxious one.

20. Watch old home videos. Christmas is a time to cherish your family and friends. That is why you should look through pictures and watch videos from past holidays so you can bond over the memories.

21. Trade secret Santa presents. If your family is huge, save money by putting together a secret Santa ahead of the holidays. Then, on the 25th, you can deliver gifts and discover who picked your name!

22. See a Christmas play. Or, if there aren’t any playhouses nearby, then you can see a holiday movie in theaters. There’s always one or two around this time of year.

23. Find someone to kiss beneath the mistletoe. Make sure you take a boomerang to post on Instagram!

24. Play board games. They don’t have to be holiday based board games. You can play Scrabble, Clue, Charades, Head’s Up, whatever you would like. As long as you are spending quality time with your loved ones, that is all that matters.

25. Say Thank your loved ones for more than your gifts. Thank them for how much they have done for you over the year. Thank them for being a part of your life. 

January Nelson

January Nelson is a writer, editor, dreamer, and occasional exotic dancer. Her work has appeared on Facebook, …

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29 Differences Between Life In Your Early 20s Vs. Life In Your Late 20s

29 Differences Between Life In Your Early 20s Vs. Life In Your Late 20s

You’ve aged like a fine wine that you hopefully paid more than $3 for…

1. Drinking alcohol

Early 20s: How much of this vodka from a plastic bottle can I drink before I puke?
Late 20s: How much of this wine can I drink before I involuntarily pass out at 10pm?

2. Wine

Early 20s: [in grocery store] Ok, where’s the cheapest bottle or box of wine that I can find? I’ll take that one.
Late 20s: [in grocery store] Ok, where’s a $20 bottle of wine that’s on sale for $15.99 that also has a nice label? I’ll take that one.

3. The definition of a “big night out”

Early 20s: RAGE! All-nighter, it’s 6am, let’s start daydrinking. I’ll sleep when I’m dead!
Late 20s: It’s midnight and I ate too much ravioli, I’ll sleep right fucking now actually.

4. Hangovers

Early 20s: Me and ten of my friends are hungover together, hair of the dog, brunch!
Late 20s: It’s just me, my headache, a delivery guy, and a Netflix marathon through half-closed eyes.

5. Other people’s opinions

Early 20s: I want you to like me!
Late 20s: Bitch I do what I want.

6. Eating vegetables

Early 20s: I bought the tomato, garlic, and onion Ragu.
Late 20s: How much kale, celery, romaine, chard, spinach and carrot can I fit into this smoothie without it tasting like it was literally blended from the dirt?

7. Eating junk food

Early 20s: Kraft mac & cheese, Doritos, McDonald’s… all in one day.
Late 20s: Kraft mac & cheese, bathroom, Doritos, bathroom, McDonald’s, bathroom, antacid, bathroom, bathroom, antacid.

8. Kale

Early 20s: ???????? Um, no thanks, I’m not a rabbit thank you very much.
Late 20s: In everything!!!!!!!!!!!!

9. The movies

Early 20s: Here, fill this Coke bottle with whiskey, sneak it in, then let’s makeout for a while!
Late 20s: Are you seriously trying to makeout with me right now? I’m watching a movie that I paid $15 to see!

10. Animated movies

Early 20s: Cartoons? Lame!
Late 20s: Let’s all go see the new Pixar movie at 7pm on a Friday night and cry at the end!

11. Dancing

Early 20s: Something I do with another person that is reminiscent to dry humping.
Late 20s: Something I do completely by myself in my underwear in my kitchen listening to music from the 90s.

12. Speed limits

Early 20s: Is there a cop around? No? Weeeeeee!
Late 20s: I’m going to go maximum 5 mph over the speed limit because I am a safe and responsible driver. If that kid behind me doesn’t stop tailgating me soon, I’m going to go the speed limit so they learn their lesson about speeding. I’m delivering my own brand of vigilante justice. I’m Batman in a Prius!

13. Driving, in general

Early 20s: I think driving recklessly is fun!
Late 20s: Those damn youths make me terrified of being on the road.

14. Cleaning your apartment

Early 20s: Hahahah, clean? Me? Are my parents coming to visit? No? Then, put that vacuum away, sir!
Late 20s: If this apartment is not clean by every Monday morning, then I am going to lose my goddamn mind!

15. Hiking

Early 20s: Is someone going to have sex with me at the end of this hike? No? Ok, not going.
Late 20s: No, I cannot hang out Friday night, Janet, because my hike on Saturday morning is not going to hike itself!

16. Dating

Early 20s: OMG, does he/she like me baaaaaaack?! We hooked up, but I still don’t know!
Late 20s: We are either doing this thing or we’re not doing this thing, lemme know, I have shit to do.

17. The kitchen

Early 20s: A place that holds my microwave.
Late 20s: A place that holds the ingredients I will use to prepare meals with my own hands.

18. A clean kitchen

Early 20s: Ummmmm, yeah, I’ll just keep using dishes until I run out of clean dishes, then I will clean only one dish at a time as I need it, then when the sink is too full to even clean the one dish I need, I will relent and clean everything like I am on a coke high, except I won’t be, but it’ll like it.
Late 20s: My actual idea of torture would be if someone forced me to go to sleep before I was able to clean my kitchen.

19. Interior decorating

Early 20s: How much is that couch? Free off the street? Awesome, let’s get that one.
Late 20s: If my apartment does not look like an infusion of West Elm and Anthropologie, then someone is going to get cut.

20. Exercise

Early 20s: Meh, too much effort.
Late 20s: If I don’t exercise, I believe my muscles will actually atrophy. Also, everything fucking hurts.

21. Water

Early 20s: Something I drink to offset all the alcohol in my body.
Late 20s: Something I drink because my body is no longer working on autopilot and the struggle to survive is real.

22. Dishes

Early 20s: Paper plates unless it’s Top Ramen or cereal in which case I will use the one IKEA bowl I have in my entire apartment.
Late 20s: Fancy, casual, ones with black and white stripes, bowls of varying depth: which do you prefer?

23. Things to drink other things with

Early 20s: I’m still using the red plastic cups I bought in bulk for that beer pong championship.
Late 20s: I have red wine and white wine glasses, champagne flutes, juice carafes, coffee mugs, tea mugs, espresso cups. Basically, there is no drink you can throw my way that my cabinet does not have a proper container for. Come at me, beverages!

24. Organizing

Early 20s: Uhhhh, organizing? You mean like putting my papers into binders and shit?
Late 20s: OMFG, organizing shit GIVES ME LIFE! I may have actually gotten turned on the last time I was in The Container Store. Take me home, varying sizes of plastic containers that come with adhesive labels!

25. Farmer’s Markets

Early 20s: Whyyyyyy mom, are you dragging me to this at 8:30 in the morning?!
Late 20s: Hey hon, get the reusable bags, let’s get there before 8am to get the freshest peaches!

26. Date Night

Early 20s: This is a thing old people do, right?
Late 20s: The actual only way we’re going to keep this relationship from falling apart.

27. Sleeping

Early 20s: Five hours and I’m good to go, let’s party!
Late 20s: My entire day and possibly my week will be ruined if I do not get minimum 8 hours of REM cycle sleep.

28. Planners

Early 20s: Here’s where I put my loose suggestions of when I should go to class, even though we both know I won’t make it to most of these. Plus, who needs a planner? I live and die by spontaneity!
Late 20s: I literally forget all my plans unless I put them into a planner, which reminds me I need to get some fucking Gingko Biloba for my broken memory.

29. People who are 25

Early 20s: Oldddddddd.

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Meghan launches Grenfell charity cookbook

Image copyright Reuters

The Duchess of Sussex has launched her first solo charity project as a royal – a cookbook in support of Grenfell families and others.

Meghan has written the foreword to a recipe book produced by cooks at the Hubb Community Kitchen, based near the tower in west London.

The duchess has been working with volunteers there since January.

She said she felt “connected” to the project as “a place for women to laugh, grieve, cry and cook together.”

The book, called ‘Together: Our Community Cookbook’, includes 50 recipes by women whose community was affected by the tower block fire in June 2017, which killed 72 people.

Crisis and joy

A group of women formed the community kitchen at the Al Manaar Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre in the summer following the disaster, to prepare fresh food for their families and neighbours.

They gathered together some favourite recipes in the book, with the proceeds helping to continue the work of the Hubb in supporting Grenfell families and others in the community.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Meghan has been working with the community kitchen since January

The duchess helped the group find a publisher and her Royal Foundation provided assistance with legal and administrative issues.

In her foreword, she said that the Hubb brought cultures together under one roof and allowed people to enjoy “the universal need to connect, nurture, and commune through food, through crisis or joy”.

‘Proper comfort food’

“Through this charitable endeavour, the proceeds will allow the kitchen to thrive and keep the global spirit of community alive,” the duchess said.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Two of the cooks, Intlak Al Saiegh and Ahlam Saeid, show off their work

Family recipes from across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean are featured in the book.

In their introduction, the women said: “Our kitchen has always been a place of good food, love, support and friendship.

“We cook the recipes we’ve grown up with; there’s no stress, and the recipes always work because they have been made so many times – it’s proper comfort food.”

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‘Ick’: rats, roaches and rank smells dampen NYC composting program

Plans to expand program are on hold as gag-inducing pong and vermin are holding back residents, foodies and hipsters from saving food scraps

It was meant to be an ambitious environmental program but efforts at composting in New York are breaking down amid rats, roaches and rank smells.

New Yorkers are relatively good at recycling but an ick factor is holding them back from saving food scraps for reprocessing, the authorities admitted.

In a sweaty city that regularly has back to back humid days in the eighties and nineties Fahrenheit all summer, some householders are recoiling from the scheme in a cloud of fruit flies.

Now plans to expand New Yorks organics collection program are on hold as even eco-minded residents, foodies and hipsters wrestle with the idea of bags of putrid mush sitting on their kitchen counter tops awaiting disposal.

City-issued large brown plastic collection bins that are put out on the sidewalk have special fastening lids to keep out vermin but, full of deteriorating leftovers, still often exude a gag-inducing pong when opened.

New York mayor Bill de Blasio introduced a pilot program five years ago, hoping hundreds of thousands of tons of this food-loving citys leftovers and grass mowings would be churning their way through the system, to be turned into alternative energy or fertilizing compost.

But expansion has been put on hold because there is insufficient participation to be cost-effective. The city collected only about 13,000 tons last year and found that the 3.5 million people currently in the voluntary program are only separating 10.6% percent of their potential scraps.

Honestly, I think its a complete waste of time, says Anselmo Ariza, who maintains the trash and recycling bins for several blocks of apartment buildings in Brooklyn. Some people use them, but most of them just put trash and plastic bags in there.
Marzena Golonka complained that the citys weekly pickup at her apartment building in Brooklyn is not frequent enough to keep the stink and rats away.

Its vile, she says. Until sanitation starts doing their job effectively, Im not going to have a brown bin.

De Blasios goal of sending zero waste to landfills by 2030 depends on residents and businesses separating their organic waste, which currently makes up a third of the trash that ends up in landfills and is a major producer of greenhouse gases.

The city is still committed to expanding the program to all 8.5 million New York City residents, but right now is focused on making the system more efficient, sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia said.

We are having to overcome the ick factor, Garcia said.

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Facebook launches Portal auto-zooming video chat screens for $199/$349

Facebook’s first hardware product combines Alexa (and eventually Google Assistant) with a countertop video chat screen that zooms to always keep you in frame. Yet the fancy gadget’s success depends not on functionality, but whether people are willing to put a Facebook camera and microphone in their home even with a physical clip-on privacy shield.

Today Facebook launches pre-sales of the $199 10-inch screen Portal, and $349 15.6-inch swiveling screen with hi-fi audio Portal+, minus $100 if you buy any two. They’ve got “Hey Portal” voice navigation, Facebook Messenger for video calls with family, Spotify and Pandora for Bluetooth and voice-activated music, Facebook Watch and soon more video content providers, augmented reality Story Time for kids, a third-party app platform, and it becomes a smart photo/video frame when idle.

Knowing buyers might be creeped out, Facebook’s VP of Portal Rafa Camargo tells me “We had to build all the stacks — hardware, software, and AI from scratch — and it allowed us to build privacy into each one of these layers”. There’s no facial recognition and instead just a technology called 2D pose that runs locally on the device to track your position so the camera can follow you if you move around. A separate chip for local detection only activates Portal when it hears its wake word, it doesn’t save recordings, and the data connection is encrypted. And with a tap you can electronically disable the camera and mic, or slide the plastic privacy shield over the lens to blind it while keeping voice controls active.

As you can see from our hands-on video demo here, Facebook packs features into high-quality hardware, especially in the Portal+ which has a screen you can pull from landscape to portrait orientation and an impressive-sounding 4-inch woofer. The standard Portal looks and sounds a bit stumpy by comparison. The Smart Camera smoothly zooms in and out for hands-free use, though there are plenty of times that video chatting from your mobile phone will be easier. The lack of YouTube and Netflix is annoying, but Facebook promises there are more video partners to come.

The $199 Portal comes in $20 cheaper than the less functional Amazon Echo Show (read our gadget reviewer Brian Heater’s take on Portal below), and will also have to compete with Lenovo and Google’s upcoming version that might have the benefit of YouTube. Portal and the $349 Portal+ go on sale today in the US on, Amazon, and Best Buy in both black and white base colors. They ship in November when they’ll also appear in physical Amazon Books and Best Buy stores.

Facebook tries its hand at hardware with Portal

Hands-On With Portal

Deep inside Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters, the secretive Building 8 lab began work on Portal 18 months ago. The goal was to reimagine video chat not as a utilitarian communication tool, but for “the feeling of being in the same room even if you’re thousands of miles apart” Facebook Portal’s marketing lead Dave Kaufman tells me. Clearly drinking the social network’s Kool-Aid, he says that “it’s clear that Facebook has done a good job when you’re talking about the breadth of human connection, but we’re focusing on the depth of connection.”

The saddening motive? 93% of the face-to-face time we spend with our parents is done by the time we finish high-school, writes Wait but Why’s Tim Urban. “It felt like punch in the gut to people working at Facebook” says Kaufman. So the team built Portal to be simple enough for young children and grandparents to use, even if they’re too young or old to spend much time on smartphones.

Before you even wake up Portal, it runs a slideshow of your favorite Facebook photos and videos, plus shows birthday reminders and notifications. From the homescreen you’ll get suggested and favorite Messenger contacts you can tap to call, or you can just say “Hey Portal, call Josh.” Built atop the Android Open Source framework, Facebook designed a whole new UI for Portal for both touch and voice. Alex is integrated already. “We definitely have been talking to Google as well” Camargo tells me. “We view the future of these home devices . . . as where you will have multiple assistants and you will use them for whatever they do best . . . We’d like to expand and integrate with them.”

Portal uses your existing social graph instead of needing to import phone numbers or re-establish connections with friends. You can group video chat with up to seven friends, use augmented reality effects to hide your face or keep children entertained, and transfer calls to and from your phone. 400 million Facebookers use Messenger video chat monthly, racking up 17 billion calls in 2017, inspiring Facebook to build Portal around the feature. Kaufman says the ability to call phone numbers is in the roadmap, which could make Portal more tolerant of people who don’t live on Messenger.

Once a video call starts, the 140-degree, 12-megapixel Smart Lens snaps into action, automatically zooming and recentering so your face stays on camera even if you’re bustling around the kitchen or playing with the kids. A four-microphone array follows you too to keep the audio crisp from a distance. If a second person comes into view, Portal will widen the frame so you’re both visible. Tap on a person’s face, and Portal Spotlight crops in tight around just them. Facebook worked with an Oscar award-winning cinematographer to make Smart Lens feel natural. Unfortunately it can’t track pets, but that got so many requests from testers that Facebook wants to add it in. I suggested Portal should let you call businesses so you could move around or be entertained while on hold, though the team says it hasn’t discussed that.

Portal’s most adorable feature is called Story Time. It turns public domain children’s books into augmented reality experiences that illustrate the action and turn you into the characters. You’ll see the three little pigs pop up on your screen, and an AR mask lets you become the big bad wolf when you might impersonate his voice. Kids and grandparents won’t always have much to talk about, and toddlers aren’t great conversation partners, so this could extend Portal calls beyond a quick hello.

Facebook Portal Story Time

Beyond chat, Facebook has built a grip of third-party experiences into Portal. You can use any Alexa to summon Spotify, Pandora, or iHeartRadio, and even opt to have songs play simultaneously on yours and someone else’s Portal for a decentralized dance party. Portal also acts as a Bluetooth speaker, and Spotify Connect lets it power multi-room audio. Portal+ in portrait mode makes a great playlist display with artwork and easy song skipping. The Food Network and Newsy apps let you watch short videos so you follow recipes or catch up on the world as you do your housework. And while you can’t actually browse the News Feed, Facebook Watch pulls in original premium video as well as some viral pap to keep you occupied.

My biggest gripe with Portal is that there’s no voice controlled text messaging feature. Perhaps we’ll see that down the line, though, as Facebook Messenger is now internally testing speech transcription and voice navigation. You can’t use WhatsApp, Instagram Direct, or pop open a web browser either. Even with the Smart Lens subject tracking, Portal is stuck on a table and lacks the convenience of video chatting from a phone in your portable, stabilized gimbal commonly known as your hand. Other shortcomings could be shored up with the gadget’s app platform that is currently invite-only, but Facebook will have to prove there are enough Portal buyers out there to lure developers.

So how will Facebook make money on Portal? “we definitely don’t have ads on the devices, and we don’t see that coming” says Camargo. Facebook wouldn’t reveal the margin it will earn selling the device, but when asked if it’s a loss leader for driving ad views on its social network, Camargo tells me “I wouldn’t say that’s the case”, though boosting engagement is surely an incentive. Portal could earn money from enterprise clients, though, as Facebook is already internally testing a version of its Workplace team collaboration’s video chat feature on Portal. The team laughs that Facebook employees are starting to prefer Portal to their office’s expensive and complex video conference hardware.

Privacy vs Utility

After Cambridge Analytica and Facebook’s recent 50 million user breach, it’s understandable that some people would be scared to own Portal’s all-seeing eye. Privacy makes Portal a non-starter to many even as they seem comfortable with Google or Amazon having access to their dwelling. In hopes of assuaging fears, Facebook put a dedicated button atop Portal that electronically disconnects the camera and microphone so they can’t record, let alone transmit. Portal isn’t allowed to save video, and Facebook says it won’t store your voice commands (though Alexa does). Oh, and just to kill this pervasive rumor, Camargo definitively confirmed that Facebook’s smartphone apps don’t secretly record you either.

Facebook Portal’s physical camera privacy shield

For added protection, snap on the plastic privacy shield and you’ll blind the lens while still being able to voice-activate music and other features. If you use these, especially when you’re not video chatting, the privacy threat drops significantly. The fact that the shield isn’t attached on a hinge to swing on the place makes it feel like a last-minute scramble after a year of privacy scandals, even though Camargo claims all hardware decisions were locked in before this year.

Doing his part on the PR offensive to combat the privacy narrative, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg shared a photo of his young daughters playing with Portal, and wrote “Our girls don’t use a lot of screens yet, but we’re happy for them to do video calls to see their grandparents or so I can see them when I’m traveling.”

You could see Zuckerberg’s willingness to ship Portal amidst a storm of negative press as either infuriatingly negligent as Facebook’s privacy troubles remain, or a show of impressive conviction that the smart home is a future people want that the company must be part of. Maybe Portal is an improbable Hail Mary, but maybe it’s a calculated bet that the cynical and vocal minority don’t represent the average person who cares more about convenience than privacy. Camargo admits that “If no one wants it, ever, we will reassess. But we also don’t think we’ll come and get it all right so we will continue to evolve, we’re already investing in expanding the product line with more products we want to launch next year.”

Mark Zuckerberg’s daughters play with a Facebook Portal

Overall, Portal could replace your favorite Alexa device and add seamless video chatting through Messenger if you’re willing to pay the price. That’s both in terms of the higher cost, but also the ‘brand tax’ of welcoming the data-gobbler with a history of privacy stumbles into your home. But Facebook also benefits as a neutral party to Amazon Alexa and Google. If it can integrate both assistant into one device alongside Portal’s own, it could offer the best of all worlds.

For a first-time hardware maker, Facebook did a remarkable job of building polished devices that add new value instead of reinventing the smart home wheel. Teaming up with Amazon and eventually Google instead of directly competing with their voice assistants shows a measure of humility most tech giants eschew. Yet a history of “move fast and break things” in search of growth has come back to haunt Facebook. Video chat is about spending time with people you love and trust, and Facebook hasn’t earned those feelings from us.

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Anna Faris Perfectly Sums Up What It’s Like To Cook With Kids

Actress Anna Faris remembers how much fun she had cooking with her mom as a kid, which makes the moments when she gets to cook with her 6-year-old son, Jack, even more special. She won’t lie, though. It can be an unpleasant experience at times.

“First of all, it’s a mess,” Faris told HuffPost in an interview on Wednesday.

Jack, whom Faris shares with actor Chris Pratt (the couple announced their split in August 2017), apparently is fond of one of the messiest processes in cooking: cracking eggs. Faris said he’s also a fan of making “disgusting cookies” with some unusual ingredients. And “he loves the fire elements of the stove, which unnerves me,” Faris joked. 

Thanks to birthday gifts from Faris’ mom, Jack is well prepared with his own little apron and a set of child-safe kitchen knives. The “Mom” star said cooking with her son is “very much an important family bonding time.”

This experience led Faris to partner with Uncle Ben’s for the rice company’s Homework Pass Challenge, which encourages schools to use the brand’s “homework pass kit” so students can cook with their families every night for a week. The kit is available on the Uncle Ben’s website, and includes downloadable kitchen lessons that feature recipes alongside education resources like math problems and fun facts. 

Michael Kovac via Getty Images
Last month, Faris surprised one of the 12 schools that agreed to use Uncle Ben’s “homework pass kit” to let the students know they were getting out of homework for a week.

Faris said she loves the idea of promoting family time together and has seen how her son is more open to trying new foods when he’s a part of the cooking process.

“I think when they’re involved with the cooking and their families, not only do they try more things, but maybe they’re less likely to trudge down to the dinner table, too,” she said.

The actress, who also talks about motherhood on her podcast “Unqualified,” said she remembers not always being a fan of eating dinner with her family as a kid.

“We had family dinners almost every night,” she said. “I remember feeling sulky, but halfway through dinner, I’d be like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re bonding.’ I’m so grateful that my parents insisted on that for us ― my brother and I ― growing up.”

She said her mom, whom she called “an amazing cook,” typically prepared “very healthy food,” which Faris is grateful for now. She did say, however, that sometimes while visiting her friends’ houses, she’d feel a bit jealous of their options.

“I could down a bag of chips on a playdate,” she joked.

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Vegan meal delivery startup Allplants is served 7.5M Series A funding

Allplants, a London-based startup that delivers ready-made “plant-based” meals (that’s vegan, to you and me), has raised £7.5 million in Series A funding. The round is led by VC firm Octopus Ventures, which was an early backer in healthy snack delivery company Graze.

Additional investors in the round include existing backer Felix Capital (which I’m told has doubled its seed investment), Swedish VC firm Otiva, unnamed partners at VerlInvest (who are participating in a personal capacity), David Milner (ex-CEO Tyrells), Simon Nixon (founder of MoneySupermarket), and video blogger Jack Harries. Allplants reckons it is the U.K.’s largest Series A round for a vegan company.

Based on the premise that switching to a plant-based diet is the most impactful way to reduce our environmental footprint (and improve health), Allplants has developed a delivery service that wants to make it “effortlessly easy to eat more plants”. Specifically, either as a one-off or on a subscription basis, it delivers healthy, chef-made, vegan meals, for you to reheat at home.

They are “quick frozen” to lock in freshness and the idea is that you receive six meals at a time, to serve one or two people each, making the model more scalable and delivery more cost-effective. When your food is delivered you store it in your own freezer and cook/eat as needed, before your next order.

Since being founded in 2017 by brothers Jonathan and Alex Petrides, Allplants says it has served over 250,000 meals nationwide to plant-inspired foodies and built a “movement” with over 70,000 online fans. Notably, the company is a B-Corp, promising to do good by people and the planet.

Meanwhile, Allplants says it will use the investment to develop a broader range of ready-to-eat food, accelerate the growth of its community, further grow its North London-based 40-plus team, and expand the capacity of its production kitchen, which will operate on renewable and waste-created energy.

Adds Allplants’ Jonathan Petrides: “Most allplants customers aren’t veggie or vegan, they’re curious and hunting for convenient, healthy ways to boost their busy lives. This investment well help us fuel the plant-based movement forward”.

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No joke as ex-comic becomes Slovenia’s new prime minister

Slovenia’s new prime minister used to make people laugh. Handling the disparate demands of his five-party coalition government is unlikely to leave much time for jokes.

Once a satirist who impersonated prominent politicians, Marjan Sarec has taken the helm of a largely centrist government — a rare phenomenon, at least recently, in Central Europe where populists have been on the march from Italy to Poland.

Sarec, who has become Slovenia’s youngest ever premier at 40, will face a tough job keeping the minority government afloat. After all, the government’s majority in parliament is slim and the right-wing opposition is not going to give Sarec a honeymoon in office.

Enacting too many reforms is not going to be easy in that environment and that could potentially lead to disgruntlement in a country of just 2 million people.

The tight parliamentary arithmetic was evident Thursday when the new government was narrowly endorsed. Only half the 90-member backed the government, just enough to keep away from power the anti-immigrant allies of Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Analysts warned it is too early to say whether the elevation of a moderate government spells a turning point in the region.

“At stake now is Europe, more than Slovenia,” said Janez Markes, an analyst for the Delo newspaper. “Slovenia at this moment, I hate to say it, is not part of the problem.”

The success of the new government could depend heavily on whether Sarec, who gave up a successful acting career when he first entered politics, proves he is up to the task.

Sarec served twice as the mayor of his native Kamnik, in central Slovenia before gaining prominence when he forced a presidential runoff vote last year against veteran politician Borut Pahor.

“It is easier to observe from the side and criticize than to do something,” Sarec said Thursday in parliament. “It is time to start working now.”

One of the mainstays of Sarec’s act was impersonating former prime minister, Janez Jansa, who is now his main right-wing opponent.

With a group of young artists, Sarec hosted a satirical radio show dubbed ‘Radio Ga Ga’ that was popular throughout Slovenia in the 1990s. Some of his performances show Sarec altering his voice to mock politicians’ accents, singing or screaming with a kitchen cloth on his head as an alternative poet.

Saso Hribar, a journalist who worked with Sarec, says he remembers the new prime minister as highly professional and considers him thoroughly prepared for his any of his roles.

“Sarec blew up a good private business when he gave up acting,” Hribar quipped.

As the new prime minister, Sarec is certain to face strong opposition from Jansa’s Slovenian Democratic Party, which won most votes at June 3 election, but not enough to form the government.

Linked to Hungary’s Orban, Jansa “will try to do anything to subvert this government,” said Darko Strajn, the head of Alternative Academy think tank.

However, Strajn said Sarec is a political “personality in the making,” and his readiness to compromise and his negotiating prowess to form the 5-party coalition, should serve him well.


Ali Zerdin contributed to this report.

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Colbert Selling His Snide Trump Children’s Book To Help Hurricane Victims

Stephen Colbert’s hilarious monologue mocking President Donald Trump’s cringe-worthy words of comfort in the wake of Hurricane Florence is going to help storm victims.

Colbert skewered the president on “The Late Show” after Trump’s trip to Colbert’s native South Carolina earlier this month for his awkward conversation-stoppers. The president told one resident whose home was destroyed and who had a strange boat marooned in his storm-ravaged yard: “At least you got a nice boat out of the deal.”

Colbert put all the crazy things Trump said in a mock children’s book called Whose Boat Is This Boat? Comments That Don’t Help in the Aftermath of a Hurricane.

Now the children’s book is actually going to be published, and will be out Nov. 6 (midterm election day), Colbert announced on his show Thursday and on Twitter. The author is “Donald Trump (by accident).” Every quote was actually said by Trump.

Trump was preoccupied with wrecked boats on his trip to the Carolinas. In one head-scratcher he says: “To see what we’re seeing — this boat, I don’t know what happened, but this boat just came here.”

All proceeds will go to the Foundation for the CarolinasThe One SC FundThe North Carolina Disaster Relief Fund and World Central Kitchen to help those impacted by Hurricane Florence.

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Why Amazon is putting Alexa in wall clocks and microwaves

A sampling of some of the new Echo devices Amazon just launched.
Image: karissa Bell/mashable

In case there was still any doubt about Amazon’s vision for the smart home, the company just made its intentions clear: it wants to dominate every aspect of your house.

The company revealed a dozen new Alexa-powered gadgets on Thursday, including redesigned Echo speakers, a new subwoofer and amplifier, a wall clock, and, yes, a microwave.

Taking over the smart home

Of these, the $59.99 microwave (officially called the AmazonBasics Microwave) attracted much of the attention because, well, it’s pretty damn random, right? But while some wondered about the usefulness of having Alexa inside your microwave, it also offers the clearest look at how Amazon plans to put Alexa on every surface it possibly can.

So why a microwave? Is it actually faster than just pushing a few buttons? According to Amazon, it opted for the microwave because it’s an appliance that hasn’t changed much in the last few decades. And, more importantly, one that can still be frustratingly complicated. Do you know how to use all the built-in presets on your microwave? I definitely don’t.

Though microwave is Alexa-enabled, it doesn’t have any speakers or microphones built in. Instead, it pairs to a nearby Echo speaker. There is an Alexa button on the microwave, but this is just for saving time; if you push the button on the microwave, you can simply say what preset you want, like “one potato,” without saying “Alexa” or “microwave.”

At launch later this year, Alexa will be able to understand dozens of presets, as well as commands like “add 30 seconds.” Amazon says more commands will be added over time as well.

Strategically, though, the microwave is about much more than making popcorn slightly faster. It’s powered by something called Amazon Connect Kit, which will soon be available to the makers of other kitchen gadgets. This means device makers can make their blenders and coffee makers and mixers compatible with Alexa without having to remake their products with microphones and speakers and custom software.

If you don’t want to wait for manufacturers, though, you’ll have another option: Amazon’s new $24.99 Smart Plug, which lets you control any device you plug into it with your Echo. Think of it as essentially an Alexa-enabled on/off switch. 

Echo Wall Clock.

Image: karissa bell/mashable

The somewhat bulky plug does a few neat things in the background as well. You connect it to your home WiFi network by scanning a barcode on the back of the plug with the Amazon app, which should make setup relatively painless.

Finally, there’s the $29.99 Echo Wall Clock, which is meant to take advantage of what might be the most popular feature on all smart speakers: timers. The clock connects to your Echo speaker and gives you a visual cue to track your timers. 

New and improved Echos

Amazon revamped much of its Echo lineup, with new Echo Dot, Plus, and Show speakers. The good news is that all three are way less ugly than the previous models. The Echo Dot, previously a plastic hockey-puck shaped speaker, has been completely redesigned. The new version now looks a bit like a larger Google Home Mini. It’s rounder, and covered in fabric (available in black or white). 

On the inside, the new Echo Dot has also been engineered to sound louder and clearer. In the brief demos I heard, it did better than the original, though I was in a loud room at the time.

All this also means it’s a bit larger than the original, but it shouldn’t take up much more space. Most importantly, the new Echo Dot is priced the same as the original at $49.99.

The larger $149.99 Echo Plus has also ditched the plastic covering in favor of fabric which, again, makes it look way better and more like a “premium” speaker. It’s also shorter and rounder, making it look more like last year’s Echo 2. On the inside, the Plus has gained a new temperature sensor, so it can detect the temperature of its surroundings, as well as upgraded audio.

The relatively new Echo Show also got a much needed facelift. While the previous version looked like some kind of teleconferencing device, the new Echo Show places the speaker on the side of the device, making it look much less bulky. 

Amazon also delivered its answer to Google’s Chromecast Audio with the $34.99 Echo Input, a thin disc-like gadget you connect to an existing speaker in order to turn it into a smart, Alexa-enabled speaker.

If you’re really serious about upgrading your audio setup, Amazon has offered a solution in the form of the $129.99 Echo Sub. The sub pairs to your existing Echo speakers, which can now be paired in stereo and support multi-room audio. 

In the demo I heard it sounded pretty good by my ear — with a noticeably thumpy bass—  but again, I was in a loud demo room so it’s hard to judge the audio quality at this point. What is clear is that Amazon wants to fight the perception that Echo speakers aren’t meant for people who care about sound quality.

Does all that seem like too much Alexa? Perhaps. But Amazon doesn’t need you to buy all of its products or even most of them. What it is trying to do is make its ecosystem of hardware and software an essential part of the things you do in your home every day, whether it’s listening to music, turning off the lights, or cooking popcorn. 

It’s no secret that the smart home, right now, is kind of a mess. From complicated setup processes to getting a bunch of disparate gadgets to sync up to one another, we’re still a long way off from the cohesive vision so many tech companies have promised us. 

For Amazon, the solution isn’t just to make Alexa smarter and easier to use, it’s to integrate it with every conceivable appliance and gadget you could possibly need or want. Once you’ve bought into one part of the ecosystem, why wouldn’t you keep investing in it? 

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Cops Use Slain Woman’s Fitbit To Charge 90-Year-Old Stepdad

A 90-year-old man in California has been charged in the slaying of his 67-year-old stepdaughter after police alleged his alibi was untrue based on evidence from her fitness tracker.

On Sept. 13, a co-worker of pharmacy technician Karen Navarra went to the woman’s San Jose home to conduct a welfare check when she failed to show up for work. Inside the residence, the co-worker found Navarra’s bloodied body slumped over a chair in the kitchen.

When homicide investigators arrived on the scene, they observed “multiple deep and intrusive wounds” on Navarra’s head and a “gaping laceration” on her neck, according to a report by San Jose police. Navarra’s right hand was clasping a large kitchen knife, which authorities suspect was planted in an attempt to stage a suicide.

A subsequent autopsy determined Navarra’s injuries could not have been self-inflicted and are consistent with injuries caused by a hatchet or ax, police said.

Anthony “Tony” Aiello, who is married to Navarra’s 92-year-old mother, is believed to be the last person to see her alive. Questioned by police, Aiello allegedly said he brought Navarra pizza and biscotti on Sept. 8 and visited with her for about 15 minutes before leaving.

Aiello further claimed he saw Navarra drive by his house later that day, according to court documents. Aiello allegedly said he’d seen someone with her, seated in the passenger side of the vehicle.

San Jose Police Department
Authorities have identified Anthony Aiello as a suspect in the slaying of Karen Navarra.

But in piecing together the evidence, police began to suspect Aiello’s version of events could not be true.

Cops say Aiello’s alibi began to fall apart when they compared surveillance video to data collected from Navarra’s Fitbit, a wearable device that measures a person’s fitness metrics and heart rate.

Navarra’s Fitbit, authorities said, recorded a “significant spike” in her heart rate at 3:20 p.m. local time on Sept. 8. The spike was allegedly followed by a rapid slowing of her heart rate, which the device stopped registering at 3:28 p.m., police said.

Surveillance footage recorded outside Navarra’s residence on Sept. 8 allegedly shows Aiello’s car was parked in her driveway from 3:12 p.m. to 3:33 p.m., indicating he was present at the time of her death, police said. The same video footage allegedly shows Navarra did not leave her residence after Aiello’s visit – meaning she could not have driven by his house, police said.

“After explaining the abilities of the Fitbit to record time, physical movement and heart rate data, he was informed that the victim was deceased prior to his leaving the house,” court documents read. “Aiello stated that could not be true because she had walked him to the door when he left the residence.”

Aiello allegedly told investigators “someone else might have been in the house,” police said.

Rich Fury via Getty Images
Fitbits on display in Los Angeles, California, on July 28, 2018.

Police are citing other evidence as well. When authorities conducted a search of Aiello’s residence they allegedly found two shirts with blood spatter. Aiello, according to court documents, told investigators he might have cut his hand while wearing those shirts.

“He was told that the deposits of blood were not localized in one area and were more consistent with splatter,” court documents read. “Aiello indicated that he might have cut his hand and shaken it while he was wearing those shirts.”

Authorities have not commented on a possible motive in the slaying.

Aiello was arrested Sept. 25 and booked on suspicion of murder. He was remanded to the Santa Clara County Jail, where he’s being held without bond, pending a Thursday court appearance.

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