Patrick Stewart is returning to the role of Jean-Luc Picard for a new Star Trek series

Did you ever think Patrick Stewart would return to the role of Jean-Luc Picard? Neither did he.

But he will! Sir Pat Stew himself just announced the news on Instagram, timed to line up with an on-stage announcement at the Star Trek Las Vegas 2018 convention:

I will always be very proud to have been a part of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but when we wrapped that final movie in the spring of 2002, I truly felt my time with Star Trek had run its natural course. It is, therefore, an unexpected but delightful surprise to find myself excited and invigorated to be returning to Jean-Luc Picard and to explore new dimensions within him. Seeking out new life for him, when I thought that life was over.

During these past years, it has been humbling to hear stories about how The Next Generation brought people comfort, saw them through difficult periods in their lives or how the example of Jean-Luc inspired so many to follow in his footsteps, pursuing science, exploration and leadership. I feel I’m ready to return to him for the same reason – to research and experience what comforting and reforming light he might shine on these often very dark times. I look forward to working with our brilliant creative team as we endeavor to bring a fresh, unexpected and pertinent story to life once more.

The official account for the new (but separate) Star Trek Discovery series sheds light on a few more details: the story will focus on the “next chapter” of Picard’s life (after Next Generation, presumably), and will be made available on CBS’ online subscription/original content service, CBS All Access.

Stewart shared a few more details at the Las Vegas convention, noting that it was still early days and they’re still working out what it’ll all look like:

He may not… be a captain anymore. He may not be the Jean-Luc that you recognize and know so well. It may be a very different individual; someone who has been changed by his experiences. Twenty years will have passed — more or less exactly the time between the last movie (Nemesis) and today.

We have no scripts, as yet. We’re just talking, talking, talking storylines.

It will be, I promise, I guarantee, something very, very different. But it will come to you with the same passion, and determination, and love of the material, and love of our followers and fans… exactly as we had it before.

Alas, just about everything else about the show is still a mystery for now, presumably because it’s not all totally finalized yet. Name? Unknown. How many episodes? Who knows!

Maybe what the world needs right now is some Star Trek. Not the flashy, snappy JJ Abrams Trek — just good ol’ Picard out there getting his Prime Directive on.

Here’s Patrick Stewart’s surprise Star Trek convention visit in full, as uploaded by Jaime Bastidas (the announcement comes in at 9:20):

Tesla is building its own AI chips for self-driving cars

“We’ve been in semi-stealth mode on this basically for the last 2-3 years,” said Elon Musk on an earnings call today. “I think it’s probably time to let the cat out of the bag…”

The cat in question: the Tesla computer. Otherwise known as “Hardware 3”, it’s a Tesla-built piece of hardware meant to be swapped into the Model S, X, and 3 to do all the number crunching required to advance those cars’ self-driving capabilities.

Tesla has thus far relied on Nvidia’s Drive platform. So why switch now?

By building things in-house, Tesla say it’s able to focus on its own needs for the sake of efficiency.

“We had the benefit […] of knowing what our neural networks look like, and what they’ll look like in the future,” said Pete Bannon, director of the Hardware 3 project. Bannon also noted that the hardware upgrade should start rolling out next year.

“The key,” adds Elon “is to be able to run the neural network at a fundamental, bare metal level. You have to do these calculations in the circuit itself, not in some sort of emulation mode, which is how a GPU or CPU would operate. You want to do a massive amount of [calculations] with the memory right there.”

The final outcome, according to Elon, is pretty dramatic: he says that whereas Tesla’s computer vision software running on Nvidia’s hardware was handling about 200 frames per second, its specialized chip is able to do crunch out 2000 frames per second “with full redundancy and failover”.

Plus, as AI analyst James Wang points out, it gives Tesla more control over its own future:

By having its own silicone, Tesla can build for its own needs at its own pace. If they suddenly recognize something the hardware is lacking, they’re not waiting on someone else to build it. It’s by no means a trivial task — but if they can pull it off without breaking the bank (and Elon says it costs them “the same as the current hardware”), it could end up being a significant strength.

As for how they’ll get the chips into existing Teslas, Elon says: “We made it easy to switch out the computer, and that’s all that needs to be done. You take out one computer, and plug in the next. All the connectors are compatible.”

Four million people are using Apple’s OS betas

For the past few years, Apple has made early versions of its operating systems available to those willing to brave the bugs. Through its beta software program, anyone willing to deal with spotty battery life or a crash or three could load up pre-release builds of iOS, macOS, watchOS or tvOS.

Ever wonder how many actually take advantage of it?

According to Tim Cook on today’s earnings call, more than four million people are currently running on the betas.

Alas, that’s as detailed as he got. He didn’t break down which platforms had the most beta users (though I’d bet iOS or macOS lead the way), nor what percentage of that beta group was developers (accessing the beta to debug their apps before the update) versus consumers (who just want to poke around the new goods early).

For reference: As of February of 2018, Apple had 1.3 billion active devices across Apple TV, iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and Mac. So if each of the users Tim Cook mentioned is running a beta OS on one device, that’s around 0.3 percent of active devices running on a beta.

While that percentage might not sound huge, having four million people happily stress test your software before you officially ship it is a rare strength that few other companies can claim. Still, Apple has had a few rather glaring bugs slip through the cracks — from the annoying but forgettable bug that borked the letter “i” in iOS for a few days, to more severe security issues like the root user bug discovered in macOS at the end of last year. Could Apple be doing more to encourage pre-release bug hunting?

Firefox is getting a new logo (or ten)

When you think of “Firefox”, you probably think of something that looks like this:

Or, perhaps, something like this:

That logo (or some iteration between the two) has been the browser’s logo since it launched back in 2002. Its time for change, Mozilla says.

In a blog post about “evolving the Firefox brand”, Mozilla Creative Director Tim Murray outlines the company’s thinking: Firefox isn’t just one browser now. With side projects like Firefox Rocket (the company’s browser for connections with less bandwidth) and Firefox Reality (Firefox, but for virtual reality), the company is finding it needs a bit more wiggle room with its design language.

While they shared a few work-in-progress potential logos, they were quick to note that none of them are final. They might tweak things over time (and they’re asking for feedback), or just go back to the drawing board all together.

The whole thing might sound a bit up-in-the-air right now, and that’s mostly intentional — it’s still pretty early days in the process. But eventually, Firefox will be getting a new logo; or, more accurately, new logos.

The work was presented in two potential “systems”, each comprised of one “Masterbrand” logo and eleven auxiliary logos. The masterbrand would be the primary one used for representing the brand as a whole, while those beneath it could each represent an individual product.

The two new “Systems” of icons:

If it’s a choice between the two systems, I like System 2 — but I’ve always liked the existing Firefox logo, and that’s the set that feels like more of an update and less of a complete replacement. It’s more “Firefox”, less just “fox”.

Firefox says the branding shift should come together “over the next few months” — so if you’re a fan of the classic logo, it’ll still be hanging around for a while.

Tesla is making a $1500… surfboard?

Tesla is no stranger to branded merch. Its got the standard company swag — the hats, the shirts, and the mugs. It’s got quirkier stuff, like miniature Teslas for kids and USB chargers shaped like the Superchargers that juice up their vehicles.

And now they’ve got… surfboards?

While it’s now gone for some reason (It sounds like it sold out. We’ve asked Tesla about it), a product page went live in its shop early this morning detailing a $1500 Tesla-branded board. Electrek caught the description before the page vanished:

“Designed by the Tesla Design Studio in collaboration with Lost Surfboards and Matt “Mayhem” Biolos, surfboard shaper for World Surf League Championship athletes. The Limited Edition Tesla Surfboard features a mix of the same high-quality matte and gloss finishes used on all our cars. The deck is reinforced with light-weight “Black Dart” carbon fiber, inspired by the interiors in our cars, and featuring tonal logos in subtle contrast gloss.”

While its unclear why the product page is gone now, a Google cache of it is visible here, and a few people on Twitter mention being able to get orders in before it went down.

At $1500 before tax, the board is… certainly on the higher end of the surfboard pricing scale. A solid board from a company like JS or Ripcurl would cost you around $750. Most of the boards made by Lost (the company Tesla is doing the collab with here) go for around $700-800. But with a limited run of 200 boards, they’re probably going to sell out here anyway. My gut feeling is that many of these could end up being wall pieces or permanent roof rack accessories rather than shredding up the ocean — but who knows.

And for the curious surfers out there: based on Lost’s other “Black Dart” models, this board comes in at 6’8″ long. It doesn’t come with fins. The now-gone product page said all 200 boards should ship within 2-10 weeks.

Here’s all the photos that were on the product page:

[gallery ids="1682128,1682129,1682127,1682126"]

Google Assistant can now do things automatically at a scheduled time

Back at Google I/O, Google announced two new features for Google Assistant: custom routines, and schedules. Both focusing on automating things you do regularly, but in different ways.

The first lets you trigger multiple commands with a single custom phrase — like saying “Hey Google, I’m awake” to unsilence your phone, turn on the lights, and read the news. Schedules, meanwhile, could trigger a series of commands at a specific time on specific days, without you needing to say a thing.

While custom routines launched almost immediately after I/O, scheduling has been curiously absent. It’s starting to roll out today.

As first noticed by DroidLife, it looks like scheduling has started rolling out to users by way of the Google Home app.

To make a schedule:

  • Open the Google Home app
  • Go to Settings>Routines
  • Create a new routine with the + button
  • Scroll to the “Set a time and day” option to schedule things ahead of time

If you don’t see the “time and day” option yet, check back in a day or two. Google is rolling it out over the next few days (generally done in case there’s some bug it missed), so it might pop up without much fanfare.

Want your bedroom lights to turn on every morning at 7 am on workdays? You can do that. Want that song from the Six Flags commercials to play every day at noon to get you over the hump and/or drive your roommates up a wall? Sure! Want to double check the doorlock, dim the downstairs lights, and make sure your entertainment center is off at 2 am? If you’ve got all the smart home hardware required, it should be able to handle it.

While a lot of things you might use Google Assistant for can already be scheduled through their respective third-party apps (most smart lights, for example, have apps with built-in scheduling options), this moves to bring everything under one roof while letting you fire off more complicated sequences all at once. And if something breaks? You’ll know where to look.

Segway’s whacky new roller shoes will cost $399

Did you know Segway is making a pair of self-balancing roller shoes? It is! The company has been tinkering with all sorts of new form factors since it was acquired by Ninebot in 2015, from half-sized Segways to kick scooters. Next up: inline… shoe… platform things.

Called the Segway Drift W1s, they sorta look like what would happen if you took a hoverboard (as in the trendy 2016 hoverboard-that-doesn’t-actually-hover “hover”board, not Marty McFly’s hoverboard), split it in two and plopped one half under each foot.

It released a video demonstrating the shoes a few weeks back. Just watching it makes me feel like I’ve bruised my tailbone, because I’m clumsy as hell.

Pricing and availability was kept under wraps at the time, but the company has just released the details: a pair will cost you $399, and ship sometime in August. Oh, and they’ll come with a free helmet, because you’ll probably want to wear a helmet.

A new product page also sheds some light on a few other previously undisclosed details: each unit will weigh about 7.7lbs, and top out at 7.5 miles per hour. Riding time “depends on riding style and terrain,” but the company estimates about 45 minutes of riding per charge.

I look forward to trying these — then realizing I have absolutely no idea how to jump off and just riding forever into the sunset.

Valve’s answer to Discord is now live for everyone

Just a month ago, Valve announced Steam Chat — an overhaul to its aging chat system, and the company’s answer to rapidly growing competition from apps like Discord. At the time, it was a beta limited only to those who were granted access.

Today it’s opening up to all.

As Devin put it when the beta features rolled out, the previous chat system “may as well be ICQ.” It was useful for a quick chats, but it felt much too limited for anything beyond that.

The new Steam Chat, meanwhile, takes a huge step toward being a modern chat offering. It groups contacts by the game they’re playing, shows whether or not they’re currently in-game or in a match, offers easy access to your “favorite” contacts and allows for big group chats and persistent channels. It supports inline media (GIFs! SoundCloud! YouTube!), encrypted voice chat and has both a browser-based client and a client built into Steam.

Will it kill Discord? Probably not.

While it might stymie the losses of the more casual players who might otherwise find their way over to Discord, it’ll be tough to sway anyone who has already come to call Discord home. Many Discord gaming groups have deep roots, with many of them having elaborate channel setups and relying on bespoke customizations like bots that help them schedule matches or raids.

If you want to check out the new chat system and already have Steam installed, just pop into Steam and tap the “Friends and Chat” button in the bottom right.

Pokémon GO gets ‘Lucky’ Pokémon obtainable only by trading

Pokémon GO just got a little surprise update, complete with a curious new feature: “Lucky” Pokémon.

Most things in Pokémon GO are adapted from things that already exist in the Pokémon universe. Items like incense, lucky eggs and the like all exist in the main Pokémon series (though what these items actually do tends to be a bit different in GO).

Lucky Pokémon, as far as I know, is a new concept altogether.

So what are they? And how are they different from existing Shiny Pokémon?

Shiny Pokémon are rare variations of existing Pokémon with colors that differ from the standard. You might tap on your 398th Dratini, for example, only to find that it’s bright pink instead of the standard blue. You might randomly tap a Minun to find that it has green ears instead of blue, or an Aron with red eyes instead of blue. It’s a fun way to keep players tapping on Pokémon even after their Pokédex is technically complete. The differences are only skin deep, though; beyond the visual shift, Shiny Pokémon are generally functionally the same as their non-shiny version.

The new “Lucky” Pokémon, meanwhile, don’t look much different (save for a sparkly background when you look at them in your collection). They do, however, have a little functional advantage: powering them up requires less stardust. In other words, you’ll be able to make them stronger faster and with less work.

How do you get ’em? By trading. While folks are still working out the exact mechanics, it looks like non-Lucky Pokémon have a chance to become Lucky Pokémon when traded from one player to another. According to Niantic, the odds of a Pokémon becoming “lucky” after a trade increase based on how long ago it was originally caught.

And for the collectors out there: yes, for better or worse, “Lucky” Pokémon are now a category in the Pokédex. Niantic just added trading to Pokémon GO a month ago, and this is a clever way to get players to care about trading even after they’ve already caught everything there is to catch.

This update also brings a few other small changes, mostly just polishing up the way the friend/trading system works:

  • You can now give friends nicknames. That’s super useful for remembering who is who, or for remembering that you added PikaFan87 because they promised to trade you a Kangaskhan
  • You now get a bit of XP for sending gifts
  • Gifts can now contain stardust
  • You can now delete gifts from your inventory

Indie gem Stardew Valley will get multiplayer on August 1st

Stardew Valley, the popular indie farming simulator (it’s more fun than “farming simulator” makes it sound, I promise) is quite possibly the chillest game of all time. But, without any multiplayer aspect, it can get … a bit lonely. From farming, to fishing, to exploring mines, it’s always felt like a game that would be better with friends.

We’ll soon find out if that’s true. After about year of work has been put into the feature, the game will get cooperative multiplayer starting on August 1st.

There’s a slight catch: multiplayer will be limited to PC/Mac/Linux, at first. The trailer (below) says support will roll out to Nintendo Switch/PS4/Xbox One “soon,” but doesn’t get into specifics.

Multiplayer Stardew Valley will support up to four (4) players on the same farm, with all players sharing the same money and farmland. According to this page on the Stardew Valley fan wiki, groups will be able to tweak the game a bit to their tastes (specifically, they can scale things like profit margins and in-game item costs) to account for the added ease of having four players doing the work that was previously designed for one.

Stardew Valley is surprisingly in-depth for a game built primarily by just one person; while it’s published by a company, the vast majority of the work — from the pixel art, to the musical composition, to the programming — is done by Eric “ConcernedApe” Barone. By the beginning of this year, it was reported that the game had sold more than 3.5 million copies. GQ did a profile on Barone and how he built the game.

Barone clarified a few things on Twitter shortly after the trailer went live:

  • If you’ve already found your way into the multiplayer beta, there won’t be any major changes in the public releases besides a “few last-minute bug fixes”
  • While work on the console builds is underway, he doesn’t have any release dates in mind yet
  • No split-screen or shared screen co-op — if you want multiplayer, you’ll need your own device to play on