April 14, 2017 / Comments Off on HTC’s One X10 is official, but only in Russia
HTC has officially announced the One X10 — in Russia, that is. The news comes from AndroidCentral, and as rumored, the new mid-range phone’s standout feature is a giant, 4000 mAh battery that the company claims will get you through almost two full days of use on a single charge. With a low-resolution screen paired to that massive battery, that claim seems totally reasonable, although a final judgement will have to wait until the One X10 makes its way to users.
Aside from the battery, the rest of the phone is pretty much what you’d expect from a mid-range Android phone in 2017: 5.5-inch 1080p screen, a MediaTek Helio P10 processor, 3GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage. The cameras are a 16-megapixel rear shooter and an 8-megapixel front facing camera with a wide angle lens for selfies. HTC has given the One X10 a few more premium features, though, including a a metal body and fingerprint sensor. It’s not a particularly flashy phone when it comes to specs or design, but the battery life — if accurate — could be enough of a differentiator to make it stand out.
The One X10 has curiously only been announced on HTC’s Russian site for 19,990 rubles (roughly $355), but there’s been no word yet if the phone will see a wider release.
April 14, 2017 / Comments Off on Facebook is stepping up efforts to automatically identify fake accounts and Likes
Facebook is increasing its efforts to cut down on spam and improve security. Today, the company announced that it has put an end to a spam operation that generated thousands of fake Likes on publisher’s pages. Facebook says it’s been fighting the operation for six months as part of a wider crackdown on fake accounts.
According to Facebook, the fake Likes are the result of a campaign to create fraudulent accounts that would Like popular pages, through which the fake accounts could then attempt to make friends to spam. Facebook says it’s identified and removed the fake accounts and Likes, which it says will result in “99 percent of impacted Pages with more than 10,000 likes [seeing] a drop of less than 3 percent” of Likes.
The news fits in line with a more general statement Facebook released yesterday regarding its efforts to reduce spam and false information on the social network by cracking down on fake accounts. Coupled with the recent push against fake news and inaccurate information being shared on the site, the announcements from Facebook show that the company is continuing to take spam and fraud more seriously going forward, which can only be a good thing.
April 14, 2017 / Comments Off on Kendrick Lamar is releasing another album on Sunday, according to internet sleuths
Kendrick Lamar’s new album Damn dropped last night. Anticipation was high, and Kendrick’s fans reacted to the album the way the internet has taught them to: by dissecting it for clues. Clues about what?, you, a person who is merely content to have this album, might ask. Clues about another album, the internet would respond. According to a theory floating around and rapidly growing, Lamar is going to release another album this Sunday, and it’s called Nation.
Let’s back up. The theory seems to have started a few days ago with a thread in the subreddit r/Kendrick Lamar. The pervading theory is supported by the fact that today is Good Friday (a day that marks the crucifixion of Jesus in Christianity) and two days from now is Easter Sunday (a day that celebrates his resurrection from the dead). Damn + Nation = Damnation.
As with all internet conspiracy theories, the clues don’t stop there, but they do get much stranger. For example, if you combine the letters in the Damn tracklist that appear against a white wall on the album’s back cover, they make an anagram for “Earth led 2 death.” Others have speculated it’s actually an anagram for “Death 2 the leader,” but there aren’t enough E’s for that to work. And on the Damn album cover, the “M” hangs over Kendrick’s head in a way that, if you squint, could look like devil horns. If you imagine similar art for an album called Nation, the “O” could look like a halo.
Another “clue” is a line from “The Heart Part IV,” a one-off single that Lamar released at the end of March: “I said it’s like that, dropped one classic, came right back / ‘Nother classic, right back / My next album, the whole industry on a ice pack / With TOC, you see the flames / In my E-Y-E’s; it’s not a game.”
Internet sleuths have decided that “TOC” stands for “The Other Color.” The first track on Damn is called “Blood,” and the album’s title appears in red. In this case, the other color would be blue (which some have pointed out could be a reference to Crip gang members). Last night, Kendrick changed his Spotify profile picture from one where he’s standing in front of a red wall, to one where he’s standing in front of a blue wall.
To top it all off, the idea that another new Kendrick album does exist somewhere was sneakily confirmed by Sounwave, an in-house producer for Kendrick’s label TDE who produced several tracks on Damn.
But what if I told you… that’s not the official version..
Shortly after that, Sounwave also tweeted a photo of Morpheus from The Matrix, who, if you’ve never seen the movie, says this line: “You take the blue pill — the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill — you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
The rabbit hole does go deep, and it’s easy to see how fans could keep looking for more. Even Kendrick seems to have planted some clues in the album. Damn is stuttered with references to Christianity, exploring ideas like immaculate conception, prayer, and the apocalypse, alongside stories of major moments in Kendrick’s life. Then there’s the fact that the album’s first track, “Blood,” ends with a gunshot that seems to signify his death. Its final track, “Duckworth,” also features a gunshot, followed by audio played in reverse.
April 14, 2017 / Comments Off on Let’s Watch It! allows friends to watch & react to videos together on iMessage
A new application for iMessage called “Let’s Watch It!” introduces an easy way for you to share and watch YouTube or Twitch videos with friends to watch together, as well as react to them, and even voice or video chat while viewing.
The iMessage App Store doesn’t yet have a lot of breakout hits at this point, but group video chatting seems to be an exception. Last month, a growing video chat app called Fam raised $1.8 million to continue to invest in its video chat platform, with the intention of expanding to include features like game-playing, interactive live masks and filters, and – yes – watching videos together.
But Let’s Watch It! has beaten Fam to the gate with its own implementation of group video viewing, as it turns out.
The app, has been around since early March, but recently added support for turning on the front-facing camera and the microphone in the app, giving it more of a social, real-time feel. But these features are optional – you can toggle a switch at the bottom of the screen to enable or disable the functionality as needed.
As for the video viewing experience itself, Let’s Watch It! does a good job here. If anything, the most difficult thing about using the app is navigating the clunky iMessage App Store, and then getting to the app from the iMessage interface. But once you’ve got it loaded, it’s straightforward to use.
The app presents a scrollable list of popular videos, or you can search for a particular title in YouTube, YouTube Live, or Twitch. You can toggle through the video sources from the hamburger menu on the left. When you find a video you want to share, you just tap it. This places a video thumbnail into an iMessage thread, ready for sending.
When the recipient gets the video and taps it, they’ll be directed to download the app if they don’t already have it installed.
But once they’re in Let’s Watch It! with you, everyone can view the video together in real-time.
When someone joins the viewing party, confetti appears all over the screen, letting you know they’ve arrived and are now watching with you. The viewers each have their own username and icon below the video, which is either a default avatar, a sleeping avatar if they’re offline (complete with zzzz”), or a live video feed piped in from the phone’s camera, if they’ve toggled that feature on.
If one person has already started watching the video, the newcomer will be joined at the same spot so the two streams are synced up. However, either party can rewind the video and start it again.
While viewing, you can tap on emoji reactions that are a variation on those you’d find on Facebook, plus the standard thumbs up and thumbs down. These will float up over the video where they’ll also be seen by other viewers.
In testing, I didn’t have issues with the videos not syncing or any lagging, but there was one small glitch that I came across. When a video finishes, the app moves on to whatever video it has queued up to auto-play next. If you then try to tap the video thumbnail you were sent in iMessage to re-watch the original video again, it doesn’t play. Instead, the app will just restart the video that had been autoplaying in the queue.
This feature is likely by design. As latecomers join in a group video viewing session by tapping on the thumbnail, it makes sense to sync them up to whichever video the group has moved on to next, instead of the first that was sent out. But it’s still not ideal.
However, this is a minor quirk, and can be resolved by seeking out the original video and re-sending it as a new thumbnail in iMessage.
The app was created by the team from NEA-backed Little Labs, which is regularly experimenting with new app platforms, having previously built smartwatch-first apps like a watch face designer for Android Wear called Facer, mobile games for Apple Watch, and more recently, games for iMessage. (They also built the official game for the movie “The Martian,” among other things.)
Currently, its iMessage game Let’s Puck It! has grown to over a million users, says Little Labs co-founder Kris McDonald, and its success encouraged the company to develop more interactive apps for Apple’s iMessage platform.
April 14, 2017 / Comments Off on Netflix’s Mystery Science Theater 3000 revival is as funny (and necessary) as the original
In November 2015, Mystery Science Theater 3000 creator Joel Hodgson announced a Kickstarter campaign to help bring the show back. After the initial wave of excitement subsided, fans and skeptics started asking questions. Would this be a reunion of the original cast and crew? If so, what would “original” mean, given that during its 11-year run, MST3K cycled through different casts and hosts, with Hodgson giving way to Mike Nelson in the lead role? Most importantly: Since Hodgson and his old collaborators were still making good money by mocking cheesy old movies with the Cinematic Titanic live show and DVDs, and the RiffTrax audio commentaries, did the world really need another Mystery Science Theater?
Through interviews and Kickstarter updates, Hodgson clarified. The revival would keep the same basic format that worked so well from 1988 to 1999, with mad scientists forcing a jumpsuited goofball and his robot friends to endure the worst of B-cinema. But while previous cast and crew members were welcome to drop by and pitch in, Hodgson would hire a fresh host, comedian Jonah Ray — and Ray would tap two of his pals, Hampton Young and Baron Vaughn, to be the new voices of familiar protagonist ’bots Crow and Tom Servo.
Skeptics remained skeptical. But fans were intrigued enough to break a Kickstarter record, pledging more than $6 million to finance 14 new episodes. Netflix struck a deal to release the new season, which debuts Friday, April 14. And judging by the first of the new batch — a righteous, hilarious skewering of the 1961 Danish monster movie Reptilicus—there won’t be a lot of buyers’ remorse.
After the Netflix logo fades, the latest iteration of MST3K serves up an immediate nostalgic callback to the show’s old opening recommendation: “Turn down your lights (where applicable).” Then, after a lengthy bit of backstory introducing Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt as the new “mads,” Kinga Forrester and “TV’s Son of TV’s Frank,” Reptilicus begins, and Ray, Young, and Vaughn start tossing out rapid-fire references to everything from Finding Nemo to The Wicker Man to Jacques Tati to Prince. They even trot out old Mystery Science Theater in-jokes, shouting “Rat Patrol! In color!” when an army vehicle rolls onto the screen, and “Diarrhea is like a storm raging inside of you” over a shot of a roiling ocean.
Though Hodgson and company could’ve taken advantage of Netflix’s commercial-free open-endedness, they’ve made a version of the show that could’ve aired 25 years ago: 90 minutes long, with regular breaks, and with host segments that feature songs, sketches, letters from fans, and even an “invention exchange.” It feels like 1992 all over again. Should it feel like 1992, here in 2017? Answering that means understanding what made MST3K matter in the first place.
Conventional wisdom has the debut of The Sopranos on HBO in 1999 as the beginning of TV’s new golden age, but the decade leading up to that moment was filled with exciting, entertaining experiments with the medium, spurred by a boom in cable channels. In the 1980s, cable had emerged as a home for sports, public-affairs programming, and repeats of old TV shows or movies. In the 1990s, increased competition prompted a demand for material that could make channels stand out from the pack. Soon, between Beavis & Butt-head on MTV, Iron Chef on Food Network, Space Ghost: Coast to Coast on Cartoon Network, The Kids in the Hall on HBO, and a hearty assortment of other clever cartoons, sketch shows, game shows, and offbeat genre hybrids, telephiles had good reason to jump around the dial.
Hodgson concocted Mystery Science Theater 3000 in 1988 while living in Minnesota, on a break from his thriving career as a prop comic. In its nascent form on the Minneapolis UHF station KTMA, the show was a hodgepodge of goofy, geeky ideas. It was a little bit old-fashioned monster-movie matinee, a little bit DIY puppetry, a little bit local-TV kids’ show, and a little bit retro science-fiction saga. By the time the then-fledgling Comedy Central picked up the series, Hodgson and his creative team had a keener sense of how to balance original material with the weekly grind of watching a crummy old film, and they’d discovered that if they wedged in as many jokes as possible, they could throw in some that only a select few would get.
That’s one big reason for the affection and outright devotion so many people feel for this show. It was a rinky-dink series, produced in the middle of the country, by smart, funny people who hadn’t been ground through the mill of either New York or Los Angeles showbiz. It connected with the sprawling subcultures of geeks and pop obsessives, many of whom had the same media diets, nerdy backgrounds, and schlubby Midwestern fashion sense as the performers on the screen. MST3K’s barrage of references to everything from old cartoons to rock music to art-cinema allowed anyone who’d just stumbled across the show to take ownership, because the show felt like it was made by people just like them. As internet bulletin boards became more popular, viewers connected with each other, sharing favorite jokes, swapping tapes, and spreading the word to potential fans. Mystery Science Theater became one of the first original cable programs that critics latched onto, hailing it as equal to or even better than network TV programming.
Hodgson stepped down from the show in 1993, in the middle of its fifth Comedy Central season, after it became an established cult hit. He left behind a well-oiled machine that kept churning out hilarious episodes without him, even as other cast members left and ratings declined. The series shifted to the SCI FI Channel until 1999, when it was cancelled. But Mystery Science Theater 3000 never really went away. It disappeared from television until recently, when a healthy handful of the first decade-plus of episodes returned to syndication (and occasionally to Netflix). But first Rhino and then Shout! Factory kept the home-video market steadily supplied with VHS tapes and DVDs, which the cast and crew promoted at conventions and special events, between their new movie-riffing endeavors.
Meanwhile, the success of the basic MST3K formula — adding jokes to cheaply acquired pre-existing footage — inspired other comedians to follow suit. MST3K disciples produced overt homages like ESPN Classic’s Cheap Seats, which had twin stand-up comics Jason and Randy Sklar riffing on some of the goofiest clips in the archives of sports broadcasting. The 1990s and 2000s spawned Talk Soup and its successor The Soup, where the worst of reality TV became fodder for snarky commentary. YouTube has spawned its own industry of post-MST3K smart-alecks, gleefully trashing everything from video games to movie trailers. What is a “Cinema Sins” or “Everything Wrong With [Movie]” YouTube video but a MST-like skewering, minus the silhouettes?
But Netflix’s revival version grasps something that most of the copycats miss: Mystery Science Theater was never just about sneering. The new Jonah Ray version of the series recaptures the original version’s handmade, “Hey kids, let’s put on a show” charm. The sets and effects look fussed-over and intricately detailed, but also inexpensive enough that any diligent, gifted community-theater tech could’ve pulled them off. During the first break in Reptilicus, Ray and the ’bots launch into a Hamilton-esque rap (penned by nerdcore songwriting duo Paul Sabourin and Storm DiCostanzo) about giant monsters around the world. In that song, Ray, Young and Vaughn hit every tricky, rapid-fire aural cue, but also knock over props and sing like spirited amateurs. The presentation throughout the first new episode is smart and energetic, but not always slick.
The main thing the Netflix MST3K gets right is the original’s giddy media deconstruction. During Reptilicus, there are jokes about the movie’s slow pace (“Feel free to begin the scene any time, guys”), and about the stock characters and casual sexism (“Brigadier General Military Industrial Complex, this is Miss Doctor Woman”). Ray and the ’bots have some fun with the poor quality of the source material itself (“Either this print is in really bad shape, or it’s raining tar”), and the movie’s distinctly Danish setting (“Protect the parfumerie!”).
This is what the original Mystery Science Theater 3000 did at its best: It taught viewers to look closely at the small details of what they were seeing on-screen, not just to make fun, but so they wouldn’t be lulled into shutting their brains off whenever a film turned tedious. By making jokes about establishing shots, transitions, set design, and the like, the show has always encouraged its audience to grapple with the totality of a piece of entertainment, and to question even the basic visual tools it uses to impart information. In this age, when we’ve all become more anxious about whether we’re being misled by the mainstream media, that kind of fine attention is crucial. Watching MST3K is a fun way to sharpen our eyes.
“Fun” would be reason enough for this revival to exist. But what’s so heartening about the new MST3K is that Hodgson and his latest crew know being silly doesn’t excuse being lazy. So they’re attentive, attuned, and always on the lookout for a topper to every gag. About halfway through Reptilicus, Tom Servo remarks that a character playing chess looks a little like Andrew Lloyd Webber. That’s pretty funny. Ray then starts idly singing one of Webber’s songs, as though the character actually is Webber. That’s even funnier. And because the chess-player keeps putting his hand over his lips while contemplating his next move, Ray muffles the song whenever the character’s mouth is covered, and sings out when it’s not.
That, friends, is a Mystery Science Theater 3000 joke. It draws an observant pop-culture reference from an unrelated project, then reintegrates it into the original material, so that for a few seconds, a throwaway moment in a throwaway movie becomes something surprising, amusing, and wonderfully weird. It’s what the show has always done best, from 1988 to now.
April 14, 2017 / Comments Off on This ‘tricorder kit’ could let you diagnose pneumonia at home someday
A seven-member team, including one emergency room doctor, won $2.6 million this week for their new tricorder-esque invention called the DxtER. The iPad-based system weighs less than five pounds and can diagnose 34 health conditions, including urinary tract infections, diabetes, stroke, sleep apnea, tuberculosis, and pneumonia.
They created it for the XPrize Competition, which was announced in 2012 and challenged 312 participants to create a device under five pounds that could diagnose 13 health conditions. Obviously, the winning team, Final Frontier Medical Devices, far exceeded that number.
The system walks users through the diagnosis steps while analyzing data collected from its noninvasive sensors. Its blood test, for example, monitors glucose, hemoglobin, and white-blood cell count through a finger cuff instead of a lancet. They used three 3D printers to manufacture 65 DxtER units at home. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration offered regulatory guidance to the team throughout the competition to help them prepare for a possible FDA review. While the device has been tried in people, no results have yet been published.
A second group, Dynamical Biomarkers Group, won the $1 million second-place prize. Their device connects to a smartphone and includes three modules: a Smart Vital-Sense Monitor, a Smart Blood-Urine Test Kit, and a Smart Scope Module.
While neither of these kits are as easy as a tricorder, and still require a significant amount of hardware, it’s cool to think of a day where we might not have to rush to urgent care for something diagnosable. It’d also probably save us money on expensive lab tests, although I’m not entirely sure what you’re supposed to do after confirming you have an infection and need antibiotics stat. I guess go to a doctor after all.
April 14, 2017 / Comments Off on How to watch this year’s Star Wars Celebration online
This week, Star Wars fans from around the world are descending upon Orlando, Florida, for this year’s Star Wars Celebration, the official convention for the franchise. The event kicks off today and runs through Sunday, April 16th. There is quite a bit to look forward to: there will be news from The Last Jedi, season 4 of Rebels, and Battlefront II.
If you can’t make it to Florida, Lucasfilm has you covered. The studio is teaming up with Verizon to stream over 30 hours of content online through The Star Wars Show, featuring panels, celebrity guests, interviews, and quite a bit more.
Stay tuned to The Verge for coverage throughout the weekend, and check out the full schedule of events, and the live-streaming schedule below. We’ll update this as more panels are added.
Thursday, April 13th
Star Wars40th Anniversary Celebration: 11AM ET
Dave Filoni: animated Origins and Unexpected Fates: 1:30PM ET
Ian McDiarmid: Tales from the Dark Side: 3:15PM ET
Ray Park: Prepare to be Mauled: 5:00PM ET
Friday, April 14th
The Last Jedi Panel: 11AM–12:30PM ET
The Making of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: 1:30PM ET
Smooth Talkin’ with Billy Dee Williams: 2:45PM ET
Heroines of Star Wars: 3:30PM ET
Carrie Fisher Tribute: 5:30PM ET
Saturday, April 15th
Star Wars Rebels season 4 sneak peek: 11AM–12:30PM ET
Battlefront II panel: 2:30PM ET
Sunday, April 16th
Celebration Orlando Closing Ceremony: 4PM ET
This post was originally published on Thursday, April 13 and has been updated to include Friday’s live stream.
April 14, 2017 / Comments Off on The Hot New Hip-Hop Producer Who Does Everything on His iPhone
A few minutes after Steve Lacy arrived at a dingy, weed-clouded recording studio in Burbank, the 18-year-old musician flopped down in a plush leather chair in the control room. Vince, one of the studio’s proprietors, came in to show Lacy how the mixing boards and monitors worked. Lacy didn’t care; he was just in it for the chair. He picked up his new black-and-white Rickenbacker guitar, then reached into his Herschel backpack and yanked out a mess of cables. Out of the mess emerged his iRig, an interface adapter that connects his guitar directly into his iPhone 6. He shoved it into the Lightning port and began tuning his instrument, staring at the GarageBand pitch meter through the cracks on the screen of his phone.
Lacy’s smartphone has been his personal studio since he first started making music.
Guitar ready, Lacy relocated into the studio. He usually works in the vocal booth, where he’ll light candles and hang for hours, but since I had a cameraman with me he agreed to sit somewhere a little more visually appealing—and bigger. Lacy, wearing jean shorts and a plaid khaki shirt underneath an unzipped blue hoodie, sat on a drum throne in the center of the studio and re-assumed his previous pose: right leg crossed over left, Beats headphones on his ears, iPhone perched precariously on his bare knee (he swears this isn’t how he cracked the screen) and connected to the guitar in his lap. Then he went to work, kind of. He’d never call it work. He doesn’t even call it recording, or songwriting, or producing. He calls it “making beats.”
It’s a weird recording setup, but it’s working for Lacy. Last year, he was nominated for a Grammy for executive-producing and performing on the 2015 funk-R&B-soul album Ego Death, the third release from The Internet and Lacy’s first with the band. He’s a sought-after producer, featured on albums like J. Cole’s “4 Your Eyez Only” and Kendrick Lamar’s new “Damn.” Earlier in 2017, he released his first solo material, which he’s playing as part of the setlist for The Internet’s worldwide tour. (Somewhere in there he also graduated high school.) The only connection between his many projects? All that music is stored on his iPhone.
That night in Burbank, Lacy had no real agenda or deadline. It was just a brainstorm, a jam session. He paged through the drum presets in GarageBand for a while before picking a messy-sounding kit. With two thumbs, he tapped out a simple beat, maybe 30 seconds long. Then he went back to the Rickenbacker. He played a riff he’d stumbled on while tuning, recording it on a separate GarageBand track over top of the drums. Without even playing it back, Lacy then reached down and deleted it. It took three taps: stop, delete, back to the beginning. He played the riff again, subtly differently. Deleted it again. For the next half hour, that’s all Lacy did: play, tap-tap-tap, play again. He experimented wildly for a while, then settled on a loose structure and began subtly tweaking it. Eventually satisfied with that bit, he plugged in his Fender bass and starts improvising a bassline. A few hours later, he began laying vocals, a breathy, wordless melody he sang directly into the iPhone’s microphone. He didn’t know quite what he was making, but he was feeling it.
All night, Lacy goofed around. He found a sword in the studio, and made up a shockingly catchy song called “Sword in the Studio” that’s still rattling around in my brain. He paused every few minutes to snack on Sour Patch watermelons or let out a deafening burp. Occasionally, when I asked him a question, he’d respond with a British accent. He paced around the room, took a call from his mom, and joked with his manager, David Airaudi. Watching him work, it felt more like play.
Lacy’s smartphone has been his personal studio since he first started making music. Even now, with all the equipment and access he could want, he still feels indelibly connected to something about making songs piece by piece on his phone. He’s also working this way to prove a point: that tools don’t really matter. He’s feeling a tension that’s been in the music industry since the Tascam 424 Portastudio made mobile recording easy in the 80s, and has come up time and again since then. He wants to remind people that the performance, the song, the feeling matter more than the gear you use to record it. If you want to make something, Lacy tells me, grab whatever you have and just make it. If it’s good, people will notice. Maybe even Kendrick Lamar.
The Accidental Grammy Nominee
One of Lacy’s earliest music memories comes from fifth grade or so. This was circa 2009, when Jerkin’ was the new dance craze. At school in Torrance, California, a bunch of eighth-graders would tell him to grab two pens and tap out beats while they jerked. “I was so honored,” he says, “because they were the cool kids!” He quickly learned to use erasable pens, which are plastic, because the glass ones would break and get ink all over his hands. He also learned he had a knack for making beats, though everyone else seemed to know that already.
Since it’s all in his pocket, Lacy is ready to play his stuff at any time. Which was particularly handy last fall, when Lacy found himself in the studio with Kendrick Lamar.
When Lacy and I first talk, on the Venice beach a few hours before heading to the studio, he seems to be thinking about his musical history for the first time. (He’s also distracted by the cheetah tattoo on his abs he got the first half of the day before, which itched like crazy.) Most of his stories go the same way: our young protagonist shows up, goofs around, and something magical happens. Like when Jameel Bruner, a high school senior when Lacy was a freshman, took Lacy under his wing. Bruner played keys; Lacy had learned guitar and bass. “He puts me on all this new music,” Lacy says of Bruner. “I looked up to him a lot. On keys, that man? Crazy. Playing with him felt so good.”
Bruner started bringing Lacy around to a Hollywood recording studio in 2014, where he was working on a new album with his band, The Internet. Lacy watched and learned, seeing the production process first-hand. Then one day, Matt Martians, one of The Internet’s founding members, needed a bass player. Bruner said, hey, Steve plays bass. “And we get to the studio,” Lacy says, “and we’re just instantly making bangers.” Much of what Lacy and Martians made in those early sessions wound up on Ego Death, but at the time Lacy just thought he was jamming. “When people ask how it felt to know you’re co-executive producing an album,” Lacy tells me, “I’m like, I didn’t know?”
It was only after Ego Death got that Best Urban Contemporary Album Grammy nom that Lacy decided a music career was for him. (Some signs are hard to ignore.) But he was going to school in Harbor City, 25 miles and untold traffic away from the Hollywood studio. He didn’t own a laptop, either. But he did have a phone. He jailbroke his iPhone, which gave him access to an app called Bridge that could save songs straight from the internet. He also tore through the App Store, experimenting with iMachine, BeatMaker 2, iMPC, GarageBand, and others. Mostly he started making beats all the time. At home. While driving. In class. Once outside a barbershop, when there were a bunch of people ahead of him in line and he had a hook idea in his head. Lots of musicians use voice memos to record and remember snippets of songs, of course. It’s just that for Lacy, the stuff stayed on his phone. He’d build tracks in pieces, then put them together and upload to Soundcloud or Tumblr. At first, nobody was really listening, but song by song, beat by beat, he gained a following.
Making music on his phone is mostly about the simplicity, the convenience. It’s a little about skipping the traffic on the way to the studio. But there’s one other advantage: since it’s all in his pocket, Lacy is ready to play his stuff at any time. Which was particularly handy last fall, when Lacy found himself in the studio with Kendrick Lamar.
Normally, Lacy likes to do all his dealing artist-to-artist. He’ll DM other musicians who follow him on Twitter, or just call them. But he got to Lamar a slightly more traditional way: through producer DJ Dahi, who he met thanks to Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig. Dahi, Lacy says, “brought me in to see Kendrick just to make some beats with him, just work on some ideas.” At one point, as things naturally do, the room got quiet. Everyone was on their phones, nothing was really happening. So Lacy pipes up. “Let me play you some stuff,” he told Lamar. That’s how Lacy likes to work—not jumping straight to collaborating, just playing everyone what he’s working on. If they’re into it, great. If not, no worries.
With Lamar’s attention, Lacy played him a couple of songs from his demo, and then a track he’d worked on with singer Anna Wise, a longtime Lamar collaborator. Wise and Lacy had recently been in the studio together—Lacy’s more versatile with his tools when he’s working with other artists, some of whom think the whole iPhone thing is weird—and all the equipment was screwing up. So Lacy told Wise, “OK, let me make a lick on my laptop, bounce it to my phone, and we’ll play this acoustic.” He showed Wise how to use GarageBand, and sent her into a vocal booth with a phone and a pop filter. As soon as she sang the track, which they called “Wasn’t There,” they both knew they had something special.
So Lacy played this track for Lamar, his beat with Wise’s singing. “And as soon as I played it,” Lacy says, “[Lamar] goes, ‘Yo, put your number in my phone.’” Lamar hit Lacy up later, saying he might want to do something with the beat, so Lacy sent it to him. He hoped for the best, but didn’t expect much—plans change all the time, especially when you’re Kendrick Lamar. A few months later, after never hearing back, Lacy texted Lamar to see if he wanted to get together again. Lamar responded he couldn’t, he was in the studio finishing his album. So Lacy replied, “Got the tracklist?” followed by the eyes emoji. Lamar responded, “Lol, ‘Wasn’t There’ is Track 4.” (It’s actually track seven on the album, “Pride.”) Suddenly Lacy, who’s been a fan of Lamar’s since middle school and still rues the day his M.A.A.D City CD got stolen, had a hand in the most anticipated hip-hop album of 2017. He sat in his car for a while, screaming with joy.
Make It Up as You Go
When I ask Lacy what he thinks of how far he’s come, he seems almost afraid to overthink it or jinx it somehow. Nothing he’s accomplished so far was planned, he says. “I literally had no fucking idea what I was doing,” he says. “And from that, I got a Grammy nomination. So I’m like, OK, this is my life.” Not planning got him here; he’s going to keep not planning. But now that he’s out of high school, and putting off college for now, there’s a lot more to do. Lacy and Airaudi are trying to figure out how to make more money off all these collaborations, for one thing. And there’s that tour coming soon, too. Lacy’s deciding how that’ll work. He digs the idea of a backing band playing his songs, but says “the DIY in me wants to do a one-man show.”
It’s immediately clear that Lacy’s not interested in fitting into anyone’s idea of what a musician should do or what music should sound like. Some of Lacy’s songs are 90 seconds long, verse and chorus meant to be played over and over. Others are more traditional. “He talks about changing what it means to be pop music,” Airaudi, his manager, tells me. “Why doesn’t that include song structure? Why doesn’t that include song length?” Lacy refuses to call his solo debut, “Steve Lacy’s Demo,” an album, and hates that iTunes labeled it an EP.
Even the style of his music is hard to pin down: he’ll take the melody from a folk song, pair it with a soul-heavy bass, and then funk the funk out of the guitar line. “The hybrid sounds a little odd at first glance, I know,” The music website Consequence of Sound wrote about his song “Dark Red,” “but just think of Mac DeMarco kicking it with some Motown records.” Lacy calls his style “Plaid,” a jumble of colors and patterns that somehow work together to make one awesome design. Whether it’s wild shirts, Prince songs, or the movie Get Out, Lacy says he has a thing for art that’s one of one. Musically, he experiments with everything, trying not to sound like anything you know.
One thing won’t change, though: Lacy’s going to keep making music on his iPhone. He does own a laptop now, and he knows how to use the producer-preferred Ableton software. But there’s something about the freeform creativity the phone allows, the fact that recording in GarageBand isn’t the hacky first step in the process but the whole thing. He’s even come to like its sound better. He’s made a few songs on his laptop, which “sounded too clean,” he says. “The beats I make in Ableton, I feel like I have to get those mixed by a professional to beef them up. But GarageBand masters it so it’s at a cool level already.” But it’s more than that, even: When Lacy tried to work on his laptop, he says he found himself creatively bare, just completely out of ideas. So he grabbed his phone and starting goofing around. Suddenly the juice started flowing again.
The most recent addition to his studio setup? A second phone. Mostly because too many people now have his number and it won’t stop ringing long enough to let him work, but also because it helps with the process. “I can play the instrumental” on one handset, he says, and “and record the voice memo on my other phone.” The previous setup was clunkier—and the way Lacy did it, downright dangerous. “I would have to drag the beat into GarageBand, try to get the vocal as I’m driving.” What he does now is just as illegal, but probably a little safer.
The problem is, the new phone is an iPhone 7, which doesn’t have a headphone jack. That means he can’t plug in the iRig and hear the track played back at the same time—he tried a bunch of dongles at the studio, and nothing worked. So it was back to the cracked iPhone, at least until he can get his hands on the iRig HD2 and its integrated headphone jack. The cracks don’t seem to bother him, though. He doesn’t care what he’s using. He’s just there to make beats.
April 14, 2017 / Comments Off on How to block calls on an iPhone
There’s no getting around it: There will always be people you just don’t want to talk to. For many of us, those unwanted calls come in the form of persistent ex-lovers trying to rekindle what has been lost, or telemarketers offering an all-expenses-paid luxury cruise to a tropical island off the southern tip of Costa Rica. Thankfully, Apple’s most-recent mobile operating system and the iBlacklist app have finally supplied a workaround method for blocking pesky callers. Whether the separation is merely temporary, or more permanent, is entirely up to you.
Here’s our how-to guide about how to block calls with an Apple iPhone regardless of your OS version. You won’t be able to block unlisted numbers and those blocked using other methods, but at least you’ll be able to bar any known number from contacting you via phone calls, messages, and FaceTime.
Block calls using iOS 7, 8, 9, or 10
It’s been a long time coming, but Apple has finally built an OS with built-in blocking utilities (and we are better for it). The feature, coupled with all versions of iOS since the release of iOS 7, allows users to quickly block calls, messages, and Facetime requests sans any unnecessary external software or third-party apps. It’s a welcome and convenient inclusion — one accessible through both your iPhone’s settings menu and contact list — but one also only available on the iPhone 4 and later, iPad 2 and later, iPad Mini, and fifth-generation iPod touch.
Once properly set up, blocked calls will automatically be routed to your voicemail. There will be no indication a call, text, or FaceTime request has been received on your end, but send receipts and other indications will still appear on the sender’s device as they would normally — meaning the sender will not be alerted of your decision to block them. Call-blocking is a one way street when using iOS 7 – 10, so you can still contact blocked numbers via phone call, text, and FaceTime with no hindrance, if you should decide that you want to.
Step 1: Download and install iOS 7, 8, 9, or 10 — If you haven’t already, back up your device and upgrade to iOS 7-10 via iTunes or your Wi-Fi network. To do so using the latter option, tap the main Settings icon from your smartphone’s home screen, select the General option near the top of the resulting menu, and then tap Software Update. Ensure your device is connected to a power source and tap the Download and Install button.
Step 2: Navigate to Blocked menu — Tap the main Settings icon when viewing the home screen. Depending on your version of iOS, you may find the call blocking menu in a different place. On iOS 10, it is accessed by scrolling down to Phone; on earlier versions, you’ll find it by tapping on General first, then Phone. On the following screen, under the Calls section, you’ll find a menu item listed as either Call Blocking & Identification or simply Blocked. Either will take you to a page where you can add a number. Alternatively, you may select either the Messages or FaceTime option from Settings to access the same Blocked menu offered through the Phone settings.
Step 3: Block the number — Tap the blue Block Contact button and select the desired number you wish to block from the resulting contact list. To unblock a user, simply tap the Edit option in the top-right corner of the Call Blocking & Identification page, followed by the red subtraction sign directly beside the user you wish to unblock. Afterward, tap the red Unblock button to confirm the changes.
Alternative blocking method — Tap the Phone icon while viewing the home screen, select either all calls or missed calls and tap the information icon to the right of the number you wish to block. Now, scroll to the bottom of the resulting info panel, and tap the blue Block this Caller option, followed by Block Contact to confirm the request.
April 14, 2017 / Comments Off on RIP: Internet privacy, NES Classic, and Apple and Qualcomm’s friendship
This week on Vergecast, Chris Plante is in town! Nilay, Dieter, and Paul bring him in to discuss a few things that confused us all throughout the week — Apple and Qualcomm suing each other, how the FCC may kill net neutrality, and Nintendo discontinuing the NES Classic.
There’s a lot more in between all that so take a listen, give us a review, and enjoy your weekend.
If you enjoyed this podcast and read through this whole post, we have more stuff you can listen to! We have Ctrl-Walt-Delete with Walt Mossberg and Nilay Patel, which dives deep into tech. We have Verge Extras, which experiments with audio and podcasting in new and interesting ways. You might also want to check out Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, and Too Embarrassed to Ask hosted by Lauren Goode! You can find them all in iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and anywhere you get your podcasts nowadays.