Jill Stein on the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Investigation of Her Campaign for Russian Collusion: ‘There Is No There There’

The former Green Party candidate calls the inquiry evidence of a “new McCarthyism.”

This late November, the Senate Intelligence Committee delivered a request for internal communications and documents to Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein. According to former members of Stein’s 2016 presidential campaign, the request arrived through intellience commitee chairs Sen’s Richard Burr and Mark Warner, who are seeking information for the ongoing Russiagate investigation. While the Senate Intelligence Committee has yet to make the details of its inquiry into Stein’s campaign public, Republican Sen. Richard Burr told reporter Emma Loop that he is looking for evidence of Stein’s “collusion with the Russians.”

In recent weeks, the bipartisan investigation into Russian meddling has strayed from its focus on Trump and begun targeting left-wing political figures. Last month, the House Intelligence Committee sent a subpoena to Randy Credico, a retired comedian, noted prison reform activist and local New York political gadfly, seeking information on rumors that he had served as a go-between for right-wing operative Roger Stone and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. And now, Senate investigators have trained their sights on Stein, a veteran anti-war activist and pediatrician despised by Hillary Clinton partisans, who blame her for throwing the election to Trump.

I spoke to Stein immediately after the news from BuzzFeed leaked of the Senate inquiry into her campaign. She characterized the demand for Green Party documents as clear evidence of a “new McCarthyism, which is the flip side of a military madness that is stronger than ever in this country.”

“This is the continuing focus of empire and austerity and the assault on democracy that goes with it,” she continued. “The silver lining is we will get a chance at the microphone. A lot of people will be screaming at us but some people will hear us.”

Since news broke of the congressional inquiry into Stein’s campaign, she has been a punching bag for hardcore Democrat partisans. Zac Petnacas, the former rapid response director for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, proclaimed, “Jill Stein is a Russian agent” eight times in one tweet until he reached the maximum character limit.

The origins of allegations against Stein lay in the so-called Steele Dossier, a collection of unverified claims cobbled together by a former MI5 agent named Christopher Steele, who was paid by the DNC and the Clinton campaign. According to journalist Howard Blum, Steele relied on “an army of sources whose loyalty and information he had bought and paid for over the years.” Under the watch of James Comey, the FBI also made a deal to fund the dossier, but the arrangement fell apart, leaving it to the Clinton camp to funnel fees to Steele through the opposition research firm, Fusion GPS.

In addition to claiming that Putin held compromising footage of sex workers urinating on Trump on camera in a VIP suite at the Moscow Ritz, the dossier accused Stein of having been funded by the Russian government to attend a gala hosted by the Russian-backed news network, RT.

Stein told me this claim is false: “I paid my own way to Moscow. They [the Russian government] did not pay for my hotel or expenses, and I have the receipts to prove it.”

A gala dinner and collusion illusions

The RT gala was organized in November 2015 as a celebration of the international network’s 10th anniversary. Dignitaries, diplomats, politicians, media professionals, and activists from around the world gathered in Moscow for the event. I was among those invited to attend and I accepted. I wanted to interact with colleagues from around the globe and had long considered RT a valuable space in a conformist American media environment that is increasingly hostile to dissenting opinions, particularly where Western foreign policy is concerned.

During the two-day affair, I participated in a public panel discussion with former Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson, historian Peter Kuznick and the Christian Science Monitor’s Moscow correspondent, Fred Weir, among others. I did not have a chance to collude with any Russian officials, though I did attempt a selfie with Mikhail Gorbachev as he brushed by me in a hallway. As far as I know, the only person who received a fee to attend the RT gala was former Gen. Michael Flynn, who was previously unknown to guests and was referred to dismissively as the “Obama general.” Flynn’s one-on-one with RT host Sophie Shevardzadze went over poorly; he was regarded as inarticulate and uninformed by a range of audience members I spoke to (I did not attend).

The event culminated with a catered dinner featuring live music and a video mash-up of RT’s greatest hits over the years. I spent much of the time at a table chatting with former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura and his family, and Lee Camp, a left-wing political comedian who hosts the popular RT program, “Redacted Tonight.” None of us had any inkling that the festivities would come to be seen as a de facto crime scene by packs of Beltway reporters and congressional investigators. It would be months before Flynn emerged as a wild-eyed Trump surrogate and a full year before the Russiagate narrative was spun out of the ashes of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

At a table immediately in front of the stage, Stein was seated beside Willy Wimmer, the former foreign minister of Germany. Also at the table was Czech former Deputy Prime Minister Cyril Svoboda, a Russian filmmaker named Emir Kustursca and Flynn. Stein said her only substantive conversation was with Wimmer, and it lasted about two minutes. In the middle of the event, Russian President Vladimir Putin strode into the room alongside his chief of staff and spokesman. They briefly seated themselves at the dignitaries’ table before Putin appeared on stage for a few remarks, then shuffled toward the exit.

I asked Stein what took place when Putin arrived at her table. “Putin briefly ran around the table and shook everyone’s hand. No names were exchanged, it was an impersonal greeting,” she recalled. “There was nothing about that table that facilitated any communication of any sorts. The one person there who spoke English and Russian fluently was sitting next to Michael Flynn and translated what he said was the conversation between Flynn and Putin. It amounted to something to the effect of, ‘How are you? I’m fine.'”

Stein told me she had requested a moment with Putin or Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss US-Russian cooperation on nuclear non-proliferation and de-escalating the conflict in Syria. “Hillary Clinton was promoting a no-fly zone in Syria, which would have put us in the position of shooting down Russian planes when we have 2,000 nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert. So communication with your adversaries was important and we were in a crisis at the time. Our [Green Party] communications were exemplary,” she asserted. “They were content-focused, not about quid pro quo or any backroom deals. They were on target and in the words of JFK, I believe we should never negotiate out of fear, and never fear to negotiate.”

In the end, Stein was able to meet only with the foreign affairs chair of the Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament. A statement posted on Stein’s campaign website outlined her agenda for the meeting: “a new commitment to collaborative dialogue between our governments to avert disastrous wars for geopolitical domination, destruction of the climate, and cascading injustices that promote violence and terrorism.”

Stein’s visit to Moscow was part of a wider itinerary that brought her in contact with like-minded political figures across the Atlantic. She had just visited Paris, where she participated in a conference on climate change and rubbed shoulders with Jeremy Corbyn, now the leader of the UK Labour Party. “Corbyn had pretty much the same stance on the need for a peace offensive in the Middle East, a weapons embargo in the region, the dangers of a no-fly zone in Syria and on the need for nuclear non proliferation,” she recalled. “These aren’t fringe ideas and most of the world sees them as absolutely critical.”

Picture of a pseudo-scandal

In the weeks after Hillary Clinton’s election loss, a photograph of Stein seated at the table with Putin and Flynn began making the rounds. For many frustrated Democrats, the image was clear evidence of a nefarious conspiracy between a fringe third-party candidate, a Trump aide and Putin to deprive Hillary of her historic destiny. In their minds, Stein was not just a spoiler, but a spy.

“The fact that they got a photo out of this allowed them to launch a baseless smear campaign,” Stein said. “And they distorted the event itself. It was practically a who’s who of the peace community on hand.”

In July, Stein’s name was added to a Senate Judiciary Committee letter demanding communications between Donald Trump Jr., Russian officials and members of Trump’s presidential campaign. There was no indication that Stein had ever interacted with Trump Jr., and she denounced the letter as “an obvious smear designed to generate a fake news feeding frenzy.”

So far, no material has turned up to validate the committee’s unusual line of inquiry. In the face of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s request, Stein pledged cooperation. “We intend to provide any documents that are relevant,” she maintained, “but we had very little communications with Russia other than through RT for our appearances and limited logistics around the RT conference.”

But in the frenetic atmosphere of Russiagate, even Stein’s interviews with RT America have become grounds for suspicion. An error-laden report released by the Director of National Intelligence this January cast RT as a key aspect of Kremlin meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Among the transgressions the DNI accused RT of committing was hosting a third-party debate that gave a platform to candidates like Stein. The report also complained that RT was guilty of promoting “radical discontent.”

Despite the storm of accusations, Stein remains confident that her name will eventually be cleared. “Real people are not buying this effort to demonize us and [the investigation has] lost the thread. There is simply no there there,” she stated. “But there will be a lot of damage done before it comes out on the other end.”

 

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Google Pixel 2 XL fingerprint scanner slower following Android 8.1 update

  • Some Google Pixel 2 XL are experiencing slower fingerprint unlock times following the Android 8.1 Oreo update
  • The only solution so far seems to be using the Always On display
  • Google is now investigating the issue

We have been tracking all the Google Pixel 2 XL issues since launch. This handset has thus far been the more problematic of Google’s most recent flagship pair (the other device being the regular Google Pixel 2), and we’ve now got another issue for the list. Unlike some of the previous troubles, however — which were fixed by the Android 8.1 Oreo update — this appears to have occurred as a result of the update.

As noted in the Google Product Forums (via Android Central), some users are reporting that their Pixel 2 XL fingerprint scanner became less responsive after installing Android 8.1 Oreo.

Editor’s Pick

Rather than the nippy fingerprint unlock experienced before, it’s said that the Pixel XL 2 can now take a second or more to unlock. Apparently, using the Always On display can resolve the issue, but it’s not a feature everybody wishes to make use of. Google employees have since responded to the thread and are now reaching out to individuals for bug reports and more information, so a fix may not be far off.

While a second-long delay might not sound like a big deal, to a person unlocking their phone dozens of times per day, and having previously experienced almost instantaneous unlocking, I can understand the frustration. Let us know if you’ve experienced this in the comments.

The best tech gifts for men

Yes, the holidays are almost here again, and so if you haven’t finished shopping yet, it’s time to start thinking about what to get those special people in your lives. Or the people you want to suck up to – could go either way. So this year, we have a roundup of some of the best gifts you can give that will apply to most guys… though many of them will honestly make sense for anyone regardless of age or gender. Or you can go regift that fondue set from last year. We won’t judge. Should you decide not to go that route, here are some things you can think about.

Looking for even more options? Check out the following guides:

  • 10 cheap tech gifts that only look expensive
  • Best tech gifts under $25
  • Best tech gifts under $50
  • 11 cheap secret Santa gifts
  • These gifts look like they come straight out of Star Trek
  • 6 geeky gift ideas that aren’t just for nerds anymore

Exercise tracker

Exercise trackers are a thing these days. They allow you to track your steps, heart rate, and a number of other vital statistics to keep you healthy and happy. The Fitbit Blaze is Fitbit’s first foray into smartwatch territory. The Fitbit Blaze uses Fitbit’s custom software to track your body’s stats, and deliver some smartwatch notifications as well. The design is a little on the chunky side, but it can average around four days of battery life.

See more

If Fitbit isn’t his style, maybe give the Garmin Vivosmart a look.

Get Fitbit Blaze at Amazon
Get Garmin Vivosmart at Amazon
 

Home Assistant

Home assistants are one of those items that, once you have them, you can’t live without them. From checking on weather, appointments, or traffic to controlling your smarthome, a home assistant is one of the more futuristic technologies available today. But they can be a little pricey and it seems like something one wouldn’t buy for oneself, which is what makes it a perfect gift!

Google Home is a great product, and it even allows you to make phone calls and play movies and YouTube videos on your Chromecast-connected TVs. Google Home is a jack-of-all-trades kind of product, while other home assistants are a little more focused in one area or another. So, The home is definitely our recommendation in this gift guide. Check it out in the links below.

If your recipient is more Amazon-focused, then the second-generation Echo is also a great buy. Don’t forget both Google Home and the Amazon Echo have “mini” counterparts – you know, if you don’t love them THAT much.

See more
Get Google Home at Google
Get Amazon Echo at Amazon

VR Headset

In the world of VR, Oculus is by far the best known brand out there. While devices like the HTC Vive offer an outstanding experience the Oculus Rift headset is one of the go-to models in the world of VR. It offers a great array of games, plus support from a multi-billion dollar company which is always helpful. The Oculus Rift requires a pretty hefty computer to hook up to, much like the Vive, but the price is a bit lower – around $100 dollars lower.

Truth be told, the HTC Vive is a great experience too – you won’t really go wrong with either one. But Oculus has the name recognition and has a much stronger source of cash, tipping the scales in its favor.

Of course, if your recipient has a Playstation, the Sony Playstation VR is a great headset as well.

Get Oculus Rift at Amazon
Get HTC Vive at Amazon
Get PlayStation VR at Amazon

Headphones

In case you haven’t noticed, wired headphones are a dying breed. At least, those with a 3.5mm jack are. It remains to be seen what will happen with USB Type-C connectors or lightning connectors (hashtag #courage). For now, it’s best to adapt or die, so let’s talk about some bluetooth headphones.

The Jaybird X3 bluetooth in-ear headphones are sleek and stylish with great connectivity. These headphones come with a nice carrying case as well, making them a nice little package. That being said, these are in-ear monitors, which isn’t for everyone. The sound coming from them tends to be good, but not great, so if sound quality is of the utmost importance, or you’re not a fan of in-ear headphones, you may want to look at the Grado SR60e instead.

Get Jaybird X3 at Amazon
Get Grado SR60E at Amazon

Media Streaming

More and more of our content is coming from the internet these days. With the somewhat recent introductions of cable replacement services, like YouTube TV, Sling TV, and others, cord-cutting is becoming a real possibility for many folks out there. Of the wide variety of set top boxes that are out there, Roku stands above the rest. First and foremost, Roku has been doing this for a long time – long before the cord cutting phenomenon began. The Roku Express is an inexpensive, but not underpowered little box that can load up all of your cord-cutting apps without breaking a sweat, and without breaking the bank.

Roku’s UI is also very nice and very streamlined. Oddly enough, Amazon’s Instant video app works much better on the Roku than it does on the Fire Stick. Go figure. Speaking of the Fire Stick, that’s not a bad alternative to a Roku, if you happen to like Amazon’s interface and ecosystem.

See more
Get Roku Express at Amazon
Get Amazon Fire TV Stick at Amazon

Tablet

The future of tablets doesn’t really look all that bright if we’re going to be totally honest. But, there are still some solid use-cases for tablets today. The aforementioned cord-cutting/media streaming is a big one. Gaming is a solid number two. Whatever the case, tablets are still here, and they’re still fun to play with. And in the tablet space, the industry leader is far and away the iPad. From its inception the iPad has handled the transition from small phone screen to large tablet screen the best. Apps are designed exclusively for the iPad, and not just scaled up.

Sure, the iOS interface is about as exciting as watching paint dry in a cornfield in Iowa after 8 hours of fishing having caught no fish. I may be overstating, but the point is, even though the interface is not exciting, the apps make the ecosystem, and iPad app development is not going anywhere any time soon. However, if you’re a fan of thumbing your nose at industry trends, the runner up in the tablet market – the Amazon Fire also sports a solid lineup of devices to choose from with its own app ecosystem – assuming you can live without Google services.

Editor’s Pick
Get iPad Pro at Amazon
Get Fire tablets at Amazon

Phones

Of course if you really want to blow away a man during the holidays, who doesn’t love a new phone to play with. And recently, the Google Pixel 2 XL is one of the most solid phones you can buy today. It’s true, there may or may not be some screen issues, and until those can be addressed it’s hard to throw a lot of weight behind this recommendation. But, by the time you procrastinators out there are looking to shop for the holidays, perhaps we might have more clarity.

That being said, the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is also a great phone to pick up for the holidays. Samsung has been absolutely killing it in the hardware department, and the Note 8 takes real advantage of that stylus. For a powerful phone that will last and last, the Note 8 might just be your phone of choice this holiday season – especially when it comes to snapping photos and sending them to friends and family.

See more
Get Google Pixel 2 XL at Verizon
Get Samsung Galaxy Note 8 at Amazon

Laptop

But since we’re talking about computing power, why settling for a phone or tablet when a full-blown laptop might be just what the doctor ordered. And in that area, the Dell XPS 13 is a beautiful line of laptops that absolutely kills it in the hardware department. The Dell XP 13 laptop can be just as powerful as you need it to be – it’s a very versatile line of laptops and comes in a number of configurations. But all of them come in the same gorgeous package.

If you’re not a Windows fan, give a long hard look at the ASUS Chromebook Flip. With a full touchscreen, tablet mode, USB-C ports and more, this is a solid contender in the Chromebook space.

Get Dell XPS 13 at Amazon
Get Asus Chromebook Flip at Amazon

Robot vacuum

When you think of robot vacuums, you think of Roomba. Sometimes you think of a puppy on a Roomba, but that’s a different conversation. Having a robot vacuum wandering around the house, doing what you hate to do is one of those wonderful things that you don’t think you need, until you have it. Giving this as a gift to someone is another one of those “you won’t buy it for yourself, so here” gift ideas. The Roomba 690 is one of the midrange options which gets you a lot of bang for your buck. It has WiFi connectivity and can be controlled using an app, plus there’s a host of other bonuses and add-ons that are pretty huge.

If the Roomba doesn’t float your boat, you can also take a look at the iLife A4. We also have a breakdown of a number of different robot vacuums over on DGiT.

Get Roomba at Amazon
Get iLife A4 at Amazon

Smart Coffee Pot

Coffee is arguably one of the most important parts of waking up in the morning. Millions of customers standing in line at Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and more every day can’t be wrong. But this is the future, and the future of coffee is in the smart Coffee Pot. Not to mention, we all like to drink coffee while we watch radar; everyone knows that. Enter the Mr. Coffee Smart WeMo Coffee Maker. This app-controlled coffee pot lets you automate much of the coffee making process – check the status of the coffee pot, set daily schedules for brewing, etc.

Alternatively, you could also take a look at the Behmor Connected Coffee Pot. We also wrote up a comprehensive look at smart coffee pots over a DGiT. Take a look!

Get WeMo Coffee Maker at Mr. Coffee
Get Belmor Coffee Maker at Amazon

TV

Vizio.com

Nothing says love during the holidays like a new TV, but getting the best new TV, without busting your budget can be a pretty big ask. The Vizio M Series 55-inch TV offers a lot of bang for your buck, and comes with an Android tablet to boot. The downside is, you use this android tablet as a remote which can be less than ideal. But to wrap up a TV and a tablet for the holidays, is a pretty big win in our opinion, so this would be a good way to go.

If you’re looking for a TV for gamers, the TCL P607 is a solid buy as well. Both TV’s are full array backlit instead of edge lit resulting in better black levels.

Get Visio TV at Amazon
Get TCL TV at Amazon

Drone

What man doesn’t want a drone? For the money, the DJI Spark is one of the best out there. Remarkably slim and stable, you can even fly the DJI spark using gestures, rather than a remote. Sure, it’s mostly a parlor trick at the moment, but it’s still pretty awesome tech and fun to brag about at parties. The DJI Spark is a great, “Grab and go” type of drone which will get you some great shots, and has a fair bit of range as well.

But it you want to really blow their doors off, take a look at the Phantom 4, also by DJI. The Phantom 4 is the Cadillac of drone flying with a range of two miles and more. Learn even more about your drone options over at DroneRush.

Get DJI Spark at Amazon
Get DJI Phantom 4 at Amazon

Home Game Console

At the beginning of the year, Nintendo came out with its new gaming console, the Nintendo Switch. At first, the console was tough to get hands on. Now the system can be had at most retail outlets without much hassle. The Nintendo Switch is one of the most versatile gaming systems out there. The tablet-like console has controllers on either side that slide off, the tablet itself has a kickstand, plus there’s an included dock to hook the console up to a TV. It is very close to an optimal gaming solution.

It’s not without its drawbacks – it’s a little underpowered compared to most modern gaming consoles. But the versatility of gaming scenarios, from family game nights, to road trips is pretty much unparalleled by any other system. If you know a gamer who doesn’t have a Nintendo Switch, this would put a smile on their face. Of course you could also get an Xbox or PS4, but odds are the person in your life already has one if they are into games at all. 

Get Nintendo Switch at Amazon

Smartwatch

Smartwatches are one of those fun accessories to a smartphone that you need to use, in order to understand. Unlike many accessories of this nature, there’s a pretty high barrier of entry to get in on this trend. So, what better way to bring joy to a man’s heart than with the gift of a smartwatch. The Samsung Gear S3 Frontier smartwatch is a stylish smartwatch that works great with his Android smartphone. The Tizen-based watch even add Samsung Pay ability through the watch, making contactless or magnetic stripe payments fun and easy. The days of cash are numbered and contactless payment opportunities are becoming more and more widespread. Best get on that wagon now.

Of course, if you need a watch for an iPhone user, look no further than the Apple Watch Series 3. No seriously, look no further, because that’s basically the only smartwatch that will work. The Apple Watch Series 3 adds LTE connectivity to the fold, which can be a great addition to the smartwatch family.

Looking for more options? Be sure to check out our guide to the best smartwatches.

Get Samsung Gear S3 Frontier at Amazon
Get Apple Watch at Amazon

Power bank

You can’t anticipate what’s going to happen on a daily basis, especially when it comes to your smartphone battery. So many smartphones today boast “all day battery life” which frankly leaves little room for error if your day is going to be longer than planned. Sometimes, you’ve just had a heavy gaming day. Whatever the reason, it’s always a good idea to have some extra juice on you when you need to tether on the train ride home, or entertain the kid while in line at the DMV. Does that seem to specific? Because believe me, it happens.

In cases like those, the Anker Powercore+ 20,000 mAh power bank might be a little on the beefy side, but it is very slick looking and slips easily into a bag. Plus it gives you PowerIQ technology and even a USB Type-C port for charging. This will top you off at the end of a long day, or keep you going during an overnight camping trip.

If you need something a little more compact, take a look at the Eighty Plus 10,000 mAh power bank. It’s a lot more sleek and also more attractive. We have a full rundown of a number of other power banks here on Android Authority. If neither of these two are exciting – well, that’s because they’re power banks, but we also have a longer list to look at.

Get Eighty Plus 10,000 at Amazon
Get Anker External Battery at Amazon

Tracking Beacon

People lose stuff. Like always. Which is why there has been a recent surge in tracking tags that attach to your stuff, so you can locate it when you lose it. Use cases for these things extend from wallets and purses, to bikes, to keys – you name it. Many of these tracking tag systems rely on the crowd to throw a blanket of coverage over an entire area. Connectivity range is limited, so in order to track items beyond 30 feet away from your phone, Tile users can report items they come across to their owners. It’s an elegant solution that requires a ton of user adoption in order to saturate an area.

Tile, and similar competitor Trackr have both gotten the type of widespread adoption required to make this somewhat of a reality. There are still gaps, to be sure, but GPS enabled trackers have miserable battery life and cost a lot of money. If you know someone who tends to misplace items, Tile or Trackr might just be a good stocking stuffer this holiday season.

Get Tile at Amazon
Get Tracker at Amazon

So that’ll do it for our holiday gift guide for the men in your life. ‘Are any of these items on your shopping list? Think we left something out? Hit us up in the comments below and let us know what you’ll be camping out on Black Friday for.

Disclosure: E-Commerce Content is independent of editorial content and we may receive compensation in connection with your purchase of products via links on this page. This post may contain affiliate links. See our disclosure policy for more details.

Watch: Former Navy Officers Tell NY Times They Had a UFO Encounter in 2004

A video from the Department of Defense shows the encounter with the strange object.

In an interview with the New York Timestwo former US Naval pilots described an encounter with what they believed to be a UFO during an exercise in 2004 that left one pilot saying he “felt weirded out” right after.

According to Cmdr. David Fravor and Lt. Cmdr. Jim Slaight, they were 100 miles out into the Pacific  when they were hailed by radio by an operations officer aboard the U.S.S. Princeton wanting  to know if they were carrying weapons.

The two men recall that they were told, “Well, we’ve got a real-world vector for you,” with the radio operator informing them that the Princeton had been tracking a mysterious aircraft which appeared suddenly at 80,000 feet, before plummeting towards the sea and hovering at  20,000 feet.

Asked to investigate the pilots searched for the object, finding it and describing it as “an aircraft of some kind — whitish — that was around 40 feet long and oval in shape. The craft was jumping around erratically, staying over the wave disturbance but not moving in any specific direction,” according to Fravor.

Fravor stated that, as he approached the object, “It accelerated like nothing I’ve ever seen,” adding he was “pretty weirded out.”

The two pilots had other encounter with the object before it once again pulled away.

Fravor recalled that he told another pilot about the encounter, explaining to him, “I have no idea what I saw. It had no plumes, wings or rotors and outran our F-18s,” before adding: “I want to fly one.”

You can read the whole interview here

Video below provided U.S. Department of Defense:

 

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Are You Suffering from Selfitis?

A new study has identified the taking of too many selfies as an actual illness. But how do you know if you’ve got it?

Name: Selfitis.

Age:Three years old.

Appearance: Chin up, lips out, zero attention span.

This sounds like it might be an illness. Correct, it absolutely is. A joint study by Nottingham Trent University and Thiagarajar School of Management has proved it beyond all doubt.

But what is it?A condition that causes people to post too many selfies on the internet.

I mean, that hardly sounds like cholera. But it might be just as dangerous. Did you know that 36 people have genuinely died from taking selfies this year alone? Some fell in rivers and drowned, others were hit by trains. One was trampled by an elephant.

What does that have to do with selfitis? Maybe if these people had spent less time taking selfies and more time looking around for rampaging elephants, they would still be with us.

Now I’m scared. Give it to me straight: do I have selfitis? I’m pleased you asked. The study has developed the Selfitis Behaviour Scale to help diagnose those who think they might suffer from selfitis. All you have to do is assign the following statements with a value between one and five.

OK, shoot. “I feel more popular when I post my selfies on social media.”

Five. “By posting selfies, I expect my friends to appraise me.”

Five. “When I don’t take selfies, I feel detached from my peer group.” “Taking different selfie poses helps increase my social status.” “I use photo-editing tools to enhance my selfie to look better than others.”

Five five five. Oh boy, sounds like you might just be a chronic case.

What does that mean? According to the research, it means that you’re likely to balance low self-confidence with obsessive attention-seeking, and you hope that by compulsively detailing the minutiae of your life online, you will somehow feel like part of a larger group that doesn’t necessarily exist.

Well duh.Yeah, I know, me too.

Is there any treatment available? Not yet, but I suppose we could just put our phones down for a second and experience the real world in the moment. Ha, no, just kidding.

Do say:“I can’t come to work today. As you can see on Instagram, I’m suffering from a nasty bout of selfitis.”

Don’t say: “Finally, proof that anyone who owns a selfie stick is unwell.”

 

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Magic the Gathering Arena

I’ve been in the Magic the Gathering Arena beta for quite a while, but only this week the NDA dropped. So now I can finally express how incredibly disappointed I am with this game. In Magic Duels they had a great game which was mobile and playable for all different sorts of players, including casual and new players. And they stopped supporting that to make Magic Arena, which is solely tailored for the needs of a very small hardcore crowd.

Magic the Gathering is 25 years old this year. So over the years there have been quite a lot of digital editions of the game. And every time, after a few years Wizards of the Coast stopped support of the current platform and launched a new platform. Which means that every time any cards you had bought became useless, and you needed to start your collection all over again. One needs to be very hardcore under those conditions to invest heavily into Magic Arena. But with Magic being the original pay to win game, the people who do invest heavily have a huge advantage over those who don’t.

Because Magic Arena only features a single player vs. player mode, constructed, this mode is dominated by those hardcore players. You simply can’t start up Magic Arena and play a fun, casual game. There are neither casual PvP modes like two-headed giant, nor are there any modes to play against an AI of various difficulty levels for practice or just plain fun. There aren’t even less cutthroat competitive events, like limited mode leagues. There is only hardcore constructed, where anybody who isn’t hardcore and who hasn’t spent much on cards is just simply crushed. There doesn’t even appear to be some sort of matchmaking algorithm to even try to get people a more equal opponent.

That means that the flow of play of Magic Arena for a new player looks like this: He starts his first game, gets crushed, then gets crushed again and again, until he either uninstalls the game, or pulls out his wallet to be able to play with the big boys. My guess is that very few people will opt for the latter. It is as if the developers had carefully studied exactly what made Hearthstone such a big success and then decided to do exactly the opposite. Magic the Gathering simply isn’t such a mass market game any more that you can run a digital platform only for the hardcore.

I really don’t understand why Wizards of the Coast had to stop supporting Magic Duels, they could have kept that one going for the casual and mobile players. There is no overlap in the target audience of Magic Duels and Magic Arena. And now I am really sad that there isn’t any digital Magic game for me any more.

D&D Reader

Another app for players of Dungeons & Dragons has been announced, called D&D Reader. Basically it is a kind of e-book reader only for D&D rulebooks and adventures. Instead of bringing a backpack full of books to your game, you bring a single tablet with all the information on it. And to some extent it is searchable, which isn’t the case for paper books.

Now a few years ago I would have said that this is a brilliant idea, exactly what I needed. But since then I spent $280 to get access to all D&D books in digital form on D&D Beyond. As long as I have internet access, that gives me the same functionality: Able to read any D&D book on my tablet and search it. But the new D&D reader app is from a different company. So, you guessed it, if I wanted to use that app as well, I would need to pay *again* for all those books. Which would be the third time, since I already own the books in paper format and on D&D Beyond. Just to have offline access. No thanks!

Wizards of the Coast really need to rethink their strategy on this one. In this time and age it is a great idea to have content available in different ways, paper, online, and offline digital. But a full collection of D&D books is already expensive to buy once. The paper books should include a coupon for all digital versions. I was already exaggerating by buying the books twice, but who on earth is going to go for a third version at full price?

Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp

I never owned any Nintendo Wii or 3DS console. Which means that I have never played any game of the Animal Crossing franchise. I was aware that these games existed due to the generally good press they got, but never played one. So when recently Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp was released on iOS, I decided to give it a try. And ended up seriously disappointed: There is no game in this game!

My general model of modern games is that they have a core game, e.g. combat or a type of puzzle, embedded in a shell of story, rewards, and character progression. Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp certainly has the shell part of that: There is a basic story, you do get plenty of rewards for what you do, and there is some sort of character progression in the form of levels and friendship levels to a growing number of animals. However there isn’t really a core game. The core consists of clicking on resources to gather them. And that’s it. There is no puzzle to solve to gather those resources, no monster to kill, nothing. Some of the resources have a vague hint of a game, which is tapping once to start the process, and then needing to tap a second time within a time window when “tap” is written on your screen, but that is as complicated as it gets. Other resources, like fruits from trees, don’t even have that, you just click to gather them.

Crafting isn’t really a game either, you just provide the money and resources and wait for minutes or hours until your crafted item is finished. So all you can do in this game is gather resources, and keep various animals happy by providing them either the resources directly or some furniture crafted from those resources. There is a complete absence of any challenge or even actual gameplay. Describing Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp as a game for children is actually insulting to children.

That the mobile version only provides you with limited amounts of resources every 3 hours or lets you wait for hours for your crafting to finish, but then “allows” you to speed those things up with a currency you get for real money is just the icing on the cake. After playing the game long enough to make sure that I hadn’t accidentally overlooked a real game in there, I just uninstalled Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp. Unless you desperately want a game with absolutely no challenge or real gameplay at all, I can’t recommend this.

Bridge Constructor Portal is not the Portal game you expected, and that’s just fine

When Bridge Constructor Portal was announced earlier this month, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t taken aback. After all, I have played the first two Portal games, and while this mobile spin-off incorporates some of the series’ elements, I wouldn’t call it the follow-up that Portal fans have been clamoring for.

Even so, $5 isn’t asking for a lot, and, at least on paper, Bridge Constructor Portal has plenty to offer.

The game tasks players with being able to use metal girders and suspension wires to build bridges. These bridges allow the always-moving vehicles to get across from one side of the level to the other. Because the game employs a realistic physics system, you have to make sure that the bridges you build properly distribute weight. Otherwise, the bridges will collapse under all the stress.

Whereas previous Bridge Constructor games stopped there, however, Bridge Constructor Portal, you guessed it, uses elements of the Portal series to make the levels that much trickier. For example, many levels include sets of portals where you can hurl vehicles, companion cubes, and other objects through. Items like propulsion gel, sentry turrets, and aerial faith plates are also present and accounted for.

With that combination, the more you progress within Bridge Constructor Portal, the more you realize that the levels end up looking like a frenzy of flying vehicles than your typical roadway. Then again, there’s nothing typical about the game, so I suppose it’s fitting.

As with the Portal series, objects sent through portals maintain their momentum, so you will have to think about how to best use them. It’s no surprise, then, that things can get rather complicated, rather quickly, and they do. The unlimited number of dry runs lend to the send of progress, however, and lend to a sense of accomplishment once you finally get past a certain level you might be stuck on.

Also lending to that sense of accomplishment is the way that Bridge Constructor Portal scales the difficulty. Each level allows you to either get by with one vehicle or a convoy of them. The risk is greater with completing levels with a convoy of vehicles, since you have to account for the greater weight and increased chance of collisions, but you get to brag about it to others.

Not that completing levels with one vehicle is a trivial matter — the game’s mind-boggling levels will make you think hard about how best to approach them, so there is no feeling of scraping by if you manage to get one vehicle from one side of the level to the other.

Editor’s Pick

Making that journey a bit more fun is GLaDOS, the dry and sometimes sarcastic AI voiced by Ellen McLain. She is as witty as ever and brought a smile to my face when I heard her voice, only for that smile to go away as I realize that my bridge engineering skills are not as good as I might think they are.

Poor bridge engineering skills aside, I never felt like Bridge Constructor Portal wasn’t fun. Sure, it might not have been the Portal game I was expecting, but it’s great to look at, the music selection is spot-on, and the game itself was fun to play. Making things better, levels beg to be replayed, since there is usually more than one way to complete them.

If you want to catch a glimpse of what’s possible with the Portal series beyond the Portal gun, Bridge Constructor Portal will be available tomorrow, December 20 for $4.99. The game will also be released for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch in early 2018 for $9.99.