Airbus Tests Its Modular Plane Interior Concept, Transpose

The good people of A3, the California-flavored startup-within-a-multinational-corporation at Airbus, calls it a “low fidelity aircraft,” but I’ll level with you: Its latest experiment went down in a tent in an airplane hangar.

Still, Airbus had loftier goals than the locale might suggest. Researchers armed with Ikea furniture, board games, and plastic-wrapped meals, wanted to know how people would handle themselves if airlines swapped those cramped rows of miserable seats for something more imaginative. They tested something A3 calls “Transpose”—a conceptual modular cabin that offers a bevy of in-flight activities: a facial over here, a latte over there, a spin class up front.

Think that’s weird? Well, once the plane lands, a crew can pop out one interior and toss in a new one, moving things about to create the next flight’s passenger experience.

If this concept, which Airbus did in December, seems too good to be true, that’s because it likely is (more on that in a bit). But unlike many aircraft designs that evoke either hope or horror, Airbus hasn’t tossed this idea into the lavatory trash can just yet. It has six people on the concept full-time, and they’re getting help from 100 engineers and product designers.

The testing, which involved 66 human lab rats, revealed that people dug the idea, and had no problems navigating the newness. “We found out that during the chaos times, passengers started directing each other: ‘We need a rule here, we need a social norm of how we pass each other,’” says Larry Cheng, A3’s passenger experience design and research lead. Luxury and choice may not be familiar concepts to most economy flyers, but this test indicates they’d catch on quick.

Out of the Lab, Into the Sky

So when do you get to hop aboard? Well, after Airbus gets all those cool interior concepts past the Federal Aviation Administration and its European equivalent. (A3 says talks are in progress, but there’s no real timeline for regulatory approval.) And after it figures out all of the important engineering stuff, like how to run electrical, plumbing, and oxygen and fire systems through a plane with an interior that shifts about.

That’s the practical stuff. Then there’s the question of whether airlines—the customers here—want highly customizable interiors. “In my mind, you have enough equipment manufacturers building enough variance in aircraft types that airplanes are able to closely match for their structure and market focus,” says Gary Weissel, an aircraft interiors consultant. The headache of storing and changing interiors might not make sense when an airline can just lease the craft it needs, for as long as it needs it.

But the biggest impediment might be financial, because any square footage on an airplane not hosting a human body is losing revenue. “You have to charge people to fly them through the air, because they’re taking up weight and space in a cylindrical tube that’s burning hydrocarbons,” says Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst with the Teal Group. More space to move around means less money for profit-hungry airlines. Airbus says Transpose could defray costs through brand sponsorships—maybe SoulCycle would pay to host cloud classes for high-class clientele?—and by very carefully balancing its tradeoffs.

The good news for you, suffering sardine, is that many of Transpose’s ideas are, in a way, modular. Airbus’ work on the shiny stuff, like coffee bars in the sky, could apply to the simpler things that still make a difference, like easily installing newer and cushier seats, or offering à la carte amenities. “It’s very risky, it’s a very different way of thinking,” says Jason Chua, an A3 project executive, “and that’s why we’re running a ton of different experiments.”

So the next time you see a tent in an air hangar filled with Ikea furniture and grown-ups playing “Operation,” know that at least they’re trying something new in there.

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A Russian Slot Machine Hack Is Costing Casinos Big Time

In early June 2014, accountants at the Lumiere Place Casino in St. Louis noticed that several of their slot machines had—just for a couple of days—gone haywire. The government-approved software that powers such machines gives the house a fixed mathematical edge, so that casinos can be certain of how much they’ll earn over the long haul—say, 7.129 cents for every dollar played. But on June 2 and 3, a number of Lumiere’s machines had spit out far more money than they’d consumed, despite not awarding any major jackpots, an aberration known in industry parlance as a negative hold. Since code isn’t prone to sudden fits of madness, the only plausible explanation was that someone was cheating.

Casino security pulled up the surveillance tapes and eventually spotted the culprit, a black-haired man in his thirties who wore a Polo zip-up and carried a square brown purse. Unlike most slots cheats, he didn’t appear to tinker with any of the machines he targeted, all of which were older models manufactured by Aristocrat Leisure of Australia. Instead he’d simply play, pushing the buttons on a game like Star Drifter or Pelican Pete while furtively holding his iPhone close to the screen.

He’d walk away after a few minutes, then return a bit later to give the game a second chance. That’s when he’d get lucky. The man would parlay a $20 to $60 investment into as much as $1,300 before cashing out and moving on to another machine, where he’d start the cycle anew. Over the course of two days, his winnings tallied just over $21,000. The only odd thing about his behavior during his streaks was the way he’d hover his finger above the Spin button for long stretches before finally jabbing it in haste; typical slots players don’t pause between spins like that.

On June 9, Lumiere Place shared its findings with the Missouri Gaming Commission, which in turn issued a statewide alert. Several casinos soon discovered that they had been cheated the same way, though often by different men than the one who’d bilked Lumiere Place. In each instance, the perpetrator held a cell phone close to an Aristocrat Mark VI model slot machine shortly before a run of good fortune.

By examining rental-car records, Missouri authorities identified the Lumiere Place scammer as Murat Bliev, a 37-year-old Russian national. Bliev had flown back to Moscow on June 6, but the St. Petersburg–based organization he worked for, which employs dozens of operatives to manipulate slot machines around the world, quickly sent him back to the United States to join another cheating crew. The decision to redeploy Bliev to the US would prove to be a rare misstep for a venture that’s quietly making millions by cracking some of the gaming industry’s most treasured algorithms.

From Russia With Cheats

Russia has been a hotbed of slots-related malfeasance since 2009, when the country outlawed virtually all gambling. (Vladimir Putin, who was prime minister at the time, reportedly believed the move would reduce the power of Georgian organized crime.) The ban forced thousands of casinos to sell their slot machines at steep discounts to whatever customers they could find. Some of those cut-rate slots wound up in the hands of counterfeiters eager to learn how to load new games onto old circuit boards. Others apparently went to Murat Bliev’s bosses in St. Petersburg, who were keen to probe the machines’ source code for vulnerabilities.

By early 2011, casinos throughout central and eastern Europe were logging incidents in which slots made by the Austrian company Novomatic paid out improbably large sums. Novomatic’s engineers could find no evidence that the machines in question had been tampered with, leading them to theorize that the cheaters had figured out how to predict the slots’ behavior. “Through targeted and prolonged observation of the individual game sequences as well as possibly recording individual games, it might be possible to allegedly identify a kind of ‘pattern’ in the game results,” the company admitted in a February 2011 notice to its customers.

Recognizing those patterns would require remarkable effort. Slot machine outcomes are controlled by programs called pseudorandom number generators that produce baffling results by design. Government regulators, such as the Missouri Gaming Commission, vet the integrity of each algorithm before casinos can deploy it.

But as the “pseudo” in the name suggests, the numbers aren’t truly random. Because human beings create them using coded instructions, PRNGs can’t help but be a bit deterministic. (A true random number generator must be rooted in a phenomenon that is not manmade, such as radioactive decay.) PRNGs take an initial number, known as a seed, and then mash it together with various hidden and shifting inputs—the time from a machine’s internal clock, for example—in order to produce a result that appears impossible to forecast. But if hackers can identify the various ingredients in that mathematical stew, they can potentially predict a PRNG’s output. That process of reverse engineering becomes much easier, of course, when a hacker has physical access to a slot machine’s innards.

Knowing the secret arithmetic that a slot machine uses to create pseudorandom results isn’t enough to help hackers, though. That’s because the inputs for a PRNG vary depending on the temporal state of each machine. The seeds are different at different times, for example, as is the data culled from the internal clocks. So even if they understand how a machine’s PRNG functions, hackers would also have to analyze the machine’s gameplay to discern its pattern. That requires both time and substantial computing power, and pounding away on one’s laptop in front of a Pelican Pete is a good way to attract the attention of casino security.

The Lumiere Place scam showed how Murat Bliev and his cohorts got around that challenge. After hearing what had happened in Missouri, a casino security expert named Darrin Hoke, who was then director of surveillance at L’Auberge du Lac Casino Resort in Lake Charles, Louisiana, took it upon himself to investigate the scope of the hacking operation. By interviewing colleagues who had reported suspicious slot machine activity and by examining their surveillance photos, he was able to identify 25 alleged operatives who’d worked in casinos from California to Romania to Macau. Hoke also used hotel registration records to discover that two of Bliev’s accomplices from St. Louis had remained in the US and traveled west to the Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, California. On July 14, 2014, agents from the California Department of Justice detained one of those operatives at Pechanga and confiscated four of his cell phones, as well as $6,000. (The man, a Russian national, was not indicted; his current whereabouts are unknown.)

The cell phones from Pechanga, combined with intelligence from investigations in Missouri and Europe, revealed key details. According to Willy Allison, a Las Vegas–based casino security consultant who has been tracking the Russian scam for years, the operatives use their phones to record about two dozen spins on a game they aim to cheat. They upload that footage to a technical staff in St. Petersburg, who analyze the video and calculate the machine’s pattern based on what they know about the model’s pseudorandom number generator. Finally, the St. Petersburg team transmits a list of timing markers to a custom app on the operative’s phone; those markers cause the handset to vibrate roughly 0.25 seconds before the operative should press the spin button.

“The normal reaction time for a human is about a quarter of a second, which is why they do that,” says Allison, who is also the founder of the annual World Game Protection Conference. The timed spins are not always successful, but they result in far more payouts than a machine normally awards: Individual scammers typically win more than $10,000 per day. (Allison notes that those operatives try to keep their winnings on each machine to less than $1,000, to avoid arousing suspicion.) A four-person team working multiple casinos can earn upwards of $250,000 in a single week.

Repeat Business

Since there are no slot machines to swindle in his native country, Murat Bliev didn’t linger long in Russia after his return from St. Louis. He made two more trips to the US in 2014, the second of which began on December 3. He went straight from Chicago O’Hare Airport to St. Charles, Missouri, where he met up with three other men who’d been trained to scam Aristocrat’s Mark VI model slot machines: Ivan Gudalov, Igor Larenov, and Yevgeniy Nazarov. The quartet planned to spend the next several days hitting various casinos in Missouri and western Illinois.

Bliev should never have come back. On December 10, not long after security personnel spotted Bliev inside the Hollywood Casino in St. Louis, the four scammers were arrested. Because Bliev and his cohorts had pulled their scam across state lines, federal authorities charged them with conspiracy to commit fraud. The indictments represented the first significant setbacks for the St. Petersburg organization; never before had any of its operatives faced prosecution.

Bliev, Gudalov, and Larenov, all of whom are Russian citizens, eventually accepted plea bargains and were each sentenced to two years in federal prison, to be followed by deportation. Nazarov, a Kazakh who was granted religious asylum in the US in 2013 and is a Florida resident, still awaits sentencing, which indicates that he is cooperating with the authorities: In a statement to WIRED, Aristocrat representatives noted that one of the four defendants has yet to be sentenced because he “continues to assist the FBI with their investigations.”

Whatever information Nazarov provides may be too outdated to be of much value. In the two years since the Missouri arrests, the St. Petersburg organization’s field operatives have become much cagier. Some of their new tricks were revealed last year, when Singaporean authorities caught and prosecuted a crew: One member, a Czech named Radoslav Skubnik, spilled details about the organization’s financial structure (90 percent of all revenue goes back to St. Petersburg) as well as operational tactics. “What they’ll do now is they’ll put the cell phone in their shirt’s chest pocket, behind a little piece of mesh,” says Allison. “So they don’t have to hold it in their hand while they record.” And Darrin Hoke, the security expert, says he has received reports that scammers may be streaming video back to Russia via Skype, so they no longer need to step away from a slot machine to upload their footage.

The Missouri and Singapore cases appear to be the only instances in which scammers have been prosecuted, though a few have also been caught and banned by individual casinos. At the same time, the St. Petersburg organization has sent its operatives farther and farther afield. In recent months, for example, at least three casinos in Peru have reported being cheated by Russian gamblers who played aging Novomatic Coolfire slot machines.

The economic realities of the gaming industry seem to guarantee that the St. Petersburg organization will continue to flourish. The machines have no easy technical fix. As Hoke notes, Aristocrat, Novomatic, and any other manufacturers whose PRNGs have been cracked “would have to pull all the machines out of service and put something else in, and they’re not going to do that.” (In Aristocrat’s statement to WIRED, the company stressed that it has been unable “to identify defects in the targeted games” and that its machines “are built to and approved against rigid regulatory technical standards.”) At the same time, most casinos can’t afford to invest in the newest slot machines, whose PRNGs use encryption to protect mathematical secrets; as long as older, compromised machines are still popular with customers, the smart financial move for casinos is to keep using them and accept the occasional loss to scammers.

So the onus will be on casino security personnel to keep an eye peeled for the scam’s small tells. A finger that lingers too long above a spin button may be a guard’s only clue that hackers in St. Petersburg are about to make another score.

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How the New Supreme Court May Tackle Tech’s Big Questions

As our Supreme Court weighed the First Amendment implications of brutal video games back in 2011, Justice Samuel Alito cut in with a sarcastic jab: “Well, I think what Justice Scalia wants to know is what James Madison thought about video games. Did he enjoy them?”

This wasn’t the first time that scientific advances had divided these super-conservative justices—and that speaks to a crucial point. While the confirmation hearings for Judge Neil Gorsuch will involve familiar debates over how to read the Constitution, judicial orientations toward new technology can scramble the fields in surprising ways.

Law isn’t immune to technology’s disruptive capacity. What matters most in 10, 20, or 50 years won’t be confined to musings on originalism. Instead, it’ll hinge on a mix of questions inflected by unimaginable scientific discoveries and technical innovations.

In thinking about the Court, it’s therefore vital to consider judicial perspectives on emerging technology.

Take video games. When the Court weighed a law restricting the sale or rental of violent video games to minors without parental approval, deep splits emerged. While Alito and the late Justice Antonin Scalia traded barbs over Madison’s views on Grand Theft Auto, other Justices peppered advocates with questions about Mortal Kombat and slaughtering Vulcans. The Court was of many minds regarding games that generate an immersive experience of savage violence.

Ultimately, the Court fractured in bizarre ways: Scalia, the originalist-in-chief, was joined by four avowed living constitutionalists (Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan) to strike down California’s law. In unsparing terms, his opinion dismissed the idea that violent video games are any different from comic books, which once were thought to corrupt the youth.

Scalia’s usual allies, Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts, wrote separately to reject Scalia’s assertion that nothing had changed. Soon enough, they warned, we’ll see “games that allow troubled teens to experience in an extraordinarily personal and vivid way what it would be like to carry out unspeakable acts of violence.” And that difference might be decisive in the constitutional reckoning.

Meanwhile, the fifth horseman in the conservative column, Justice Clarence Thomas, ignored technology. Instead, he set off into the 18th century colonial wilderness, emerging with an assertion that the First Amendment “does not include a right to speak to minors … without going through the minors’ parents or guardians.” Justice Stephen Breyer, too, would have upheld the law, but for diametrically opposed reasons: dozens of cutting-edge social science papers showing a compelling correlation between virtual and actual violent behavior.

Intuitions about new technology thus reshuffled the deck in ways that “originalism” and other theories can’t explain.

So too in 2013, when the Court weighed a Maryland law requiring officers to obtain DNA from many arrestees. This was the first time the Court dealt with DNA databases. As Alito remarked, it was “perhaps the most important criminal procedure case that [the] Court has heard in decades.”

The Court split 5-4, again along irregular lines. This time, though, Alito, Roberts, and Breyer—all of whom had agonized over new technology in the video game case—joined a majority by Kennedy that displayed no anxiety about DNA databases. Kennedy had once warned against “elaborating too fully on the [constitutional] implications of emerging technology before its role in society has become clear.” But here his lack of “elaboration” on the potential threat to liberty was treated by many as a statement in its own right.

Now it was Scalia who seemed most attuned to the perils of modernity. Joined in dissent by Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, he marked his “doubt that the proud men who wrote the charter of our liberties would have been so eager to open their mouths to royal inspection.”

But new technology is not always divisive. Sometimes it unexpectedly unifies the Justices, when they discern that innovation has given new form to ancient evils.

This occurred in 2014, when the Court considered whether, while searching a person “incident to arrest,” the police may examine digital information on cell phones without a warrant. Faced with this loaded question, the Court unanimously held that a warrant is required.

The Chief’s opinion, rife with citations to iPhone User Guides and WebMD, recognized that cell phones are “now such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy.” The Chief drew a direct line from the 1790s to the present: just as the Framers reviled “general warrants,” which “allowed British officers to rummage through homes in an unrestrained search,” so must we protect cell phones, which “hold for many Americans the privacies of life.”

These issues are just the tip of the iceberg. In the years ahead, courts may struggle with many other such questions that scatter the usual axes of judicial disagreement—like limits on using 3D printers to manufacture guns, police requests for data from smart-home devices, forcing cell phone owners to reveal passcodes, and more. Indeed, several cases now before the Court may have huge effects on tech.

Judges typically are not scientists by training, nor are they expert in the scientific method. But they have tremendous power to shape scientific development, and to be shaped by it in turn. Sometimes they affect technological advancement directly—in patent law, copyright cases, and review of federal regulations. Sometimes they affect it indirectly—by loosening rules on money in politics in ways that impact Silicon Valley, by examining immigration policies that govern access to scientific talent, and by protecting civil rights that are preconditions for a free society. And sometimes technology shapes them in the subtlest ways—such as when they casually invoke Facebook and iPhones.

In all of these circumstances, high-profile disputes over originalism, textualism, and “pro-business” or “anti-defendant” judging are only part of the story. An important part, to be sure, but not always decisive.

Although often overlooked, judicial attitudes toward and awareness of evolving technology can shape society in far-reaching ways. In assessing justices, it is therefore important to ask: What is this person’s orientation toward technological innovation, and is he or she sensitive to the Court’s evolving role in that process?

Judge Gorsuch, for instance, is a devoted originalist. The most famous originalist, Scalia, was almost always wary of claims that technology requires new rules. At times, he seemed to proudly flaunt his lack of scientific understanding. As a result, in too many cases, Scalia relied on old, ill-fitted legal categories and some very clumsy analogies.

This led Alito, in a case about GPS tracking of a car, to wonder if Scalia was basing his analysis on a hypothetical constable hiding himself in a stage coach for months and months. Alito added, “The Court suggests that something like this might have occurred in 1791, but this would have required either a gigantic coach, a very tiny constable, or both—not to mention a constable with incredible fortitude and patience.”

Yet nothing about originalism necessarily requires this mindset. An originalist more open to technology could seek to engage at a deeper level with questions about how original public meaning intersects with scientific capabilities unknown to 18th century Americans. At the very least, a committed originalist could still develop a refined grasp on new science, to make sure his centuries-spanning logic rests on good facts.

On this score, while we have grave disagreements with many of Judge Gorsuch’s views, his track record in the Tenth Circuit is at least partly encouraging. When faced with questions about faulty police databases and efforts to interdict child pornography in cyberspace, he has displayed a sensitivity to the underlying technology that suggests he may be more interested in these matters than Scalia.

We cannot know what the future holds. But we can at least seek to understand how our highest court will face the challenges ahead.

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President Trump’s EPA Administrator Nominee Scott Pruitt Has a Rep for Politicizing Science

Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma’s attorney general, is probably going to be the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. The full Senate will almost certainly vote to confirm him to the cabinet-level job this week. And that has the scientists who work for the EPA freaking out.

The problem is, well, that whole protecting-the-environment thing. Advocacy groups complain Pruitt ignored scientific reports that showed oil and gas drilling have caused an epidemic of earthquakes in Oklahoma and failed to enforce pollution rules that would have stopped waste from Arkansas chicken farms from floating downriver into Oklahoma. As Oklahoma’s AG, Pruitt sued the EPA over mercury, methane, and other environmental rules, although he lost.

And he doesn’t seem to think climate change is a threat worth studying, either. But lots of EPA science overlaps with climate issues. “It does put people in an awkward position when they can’t mention climate change effects in a report, even though its important to future planning in all kinds of water-related issues,” says one EPA scientist who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.

So what could happen to that work if Pruitt takes the helm? It could start taking longer for scientific studies to work their way through the EPA’s bureaucracy. Some material may stay in draft form; EPA rules say if work gets finalized it has to get released to the public. “I would hope that career employees and mid-level supervisors would provide some guidance, and make sure that proper scientific work are not holding anything up that is important,” the scientist says.

That’s the real concern—not that all mention of climate change could be forever redacted, but that political concerns could hinder the progress of science. The weeks since President Trump took office have been confusing; the “beachhead” team that arrived during the transition announced plans to review EPA scientific documents on a case-by-case basis, block all state and local grants, and strip the climate change portal on the EPA website. Congress and EPA staff complained and the team reversed all the decisions, although language identifying carbon emissions as the cause of climate change has been scrubbed, according to Climate Central.

The EPA press office did not respond to a request for comment.

If agency bureaucrats vet actual science before releasing it, “you will have an alternative set of facts. That is going to hurt the quality of decisionmaking and ultimately the welfare of the country, says Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a Washington-based watchdog group that sent a letter to the president last week asking him to strengthen existing protections for EPA scientists.

PEER wasn’t alone in the letter-writing game. Sigma Xi, the research honor society, wrote to President Trump urging that he maintain a posture of scientific transparency. The American Geophysical Union wrote to ten federal agency heads protesting restrictions on the flow of scientific information. Neither has yet received a reply.

Now, it’s true that EPA already has a scientific integrity policy that is supposed to “ensure that the Agency’s scientific work is of the highest quality, free from political interference or personal motivations” as well as conflicts of interest. But enforcement has been uneven, including during the Obama presidency. EPA scientists have faced pressure to change their conclusions about sea level rise in the Chesapeake Bay and the effects of fracking on groundwater supplies.

If his past efforts are any indication, Pruitt will continue on that path. “He has attacked the agency where the science is very solid,” says Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists and a former deputy director of the National Marines Fisheries Service under President Clinton. “How he will do in an agency specifically set up to do science-based health and safety protections is an open question.”

On the other hand, every transition between presidential administrations comes with uncertainties—but the bureaucracy can be remarkably stable. EPA staffers are more loyal to science and the environment than a president or an administrator, as one long-time EPA official, now retired, put it. Any attempt to quash science or its communication to the public will likely be met with leaked documents, forwarded e-mails and anonymous tweets, no matter how many senators vote to confirm Scott Pruitt.

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Cantina Talk: That Rogue One Spin-Off Novel We Wanted? Oh, It’s Happening

Hey, you probably haven’t heard, but Star Wars: Episode VIII has an official title now: Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It’s also got a red logo, which might, like, mean something. But most importantly of all, we are now freed of having to call it Episode VIII, which has been annoying for a while now. This game where fans are made to wait and wait for movie titles is played out. Why does Lucasfilm always tease like that? The Force was not strong with them on tha—oh. You’re here for the other updates about Star Wars? OK, fine, if you insist.

That Rogue One Spin-Off You Want Is Happening

Source: Lucasfilm and Disney publishing
Probability of Accuracy: 100 percent.
The Real Deal: Hey, you know how you left the theater after seeing Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and thought, “You know what? I want to see more Chirrut and Baze”? Well, guess what: you’re going to get more Chirrut and Baze. The warrior-monk and Rebel from Jedha will be the stars of one of a pair of new young reader novels featuring Rogue One characters, with Jyn Erso starring in the other. Both Greg Rucka’s Guardians of the Whills (the Chirrut/Baze book) and Beth Revis’ Rebel Rising (which fills out Jyn’s childhood while in Saw’s care) will be released in May, and are available for pre-order right now.

Funny, Could’ve Sworn Wedge Was Right Here a Second Ago…

Source: Star Wars guru Pablo Hidalgo and Skywalker Sound’s Matthew Wood
Probability of Accuracy: If it’s come from Pablo, it’s gospel. (And probably canon, too.)
The Real Deal: It’s the Rogue One plot element that you might not have caught on first viewing: Where was Wedge during the space fight at the end of the movie? He is, after all, a member of Red Squadron in A New HopeTurns out, his absence wasn’t just intentional, it was even addressed in the movie itself if your ears were sharp enough. According to Lucasfilm Story Group’s Pablo Hidalgo, Wedge couldn’t have been at Scarif, because A New Hope is the first time he’s seen the Death Star (as implied by the “Look at the size of that thing” line), but filmmakers anticipated fans wondering why he wasn’t there, so they included a voiceover to explain:

But… why was he staying on Yavin IV, beyond plot mechanics to keep him safe for A New Hope? Hidalgo had a suggestion:

Seriously, let’s just call that canon. Shall we? Let’s.

But Wait. Who’s the Ultimate Jedi?

Source: The wonderful world of Twitter, and The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson
Probability of Accuracy: Can jokes be accurate?
The Real Deal: While the Internet speculated its collective mechanical heart out trying to work out just who The Last Jedi could refer to, the director of the next Star Wars movie decided that it was time to introduce everyone to the Ultimate Jedi… courtesy of the Mountain Goats, of all people:

What is particularly amusing is the idea that we’re all assuming that this is just a joke, whereas Johnson is double-bluffing everyone and actually revealing some kind of spooky cannibal Jedi that he’s really going to introduce in the next movie. We’ll find out in December, but until then, we’re staying appropriately suspicious.

Han Solo Cup

Source: More Twitter, this time from Han Solo standalone film director Chris Miller
Probability of Accuracy: It’s entirely on point.
The Real Deal: Just when you were reading reports that Donald Glover hasn’t even seen the screenplay for the solo Han Solo movie yet, prompting you to wonder when the movie was going to start production, co-director (with Phil Lord) Chris Miller shared this on Twitter:

Two things: Firstly, good “Han Shot First” pun, Mr. Miller. Secondly, Red Cup? You mean, like this? We see what you did there.

Maybe We’ll Find Out What Happened to Lando After All

Source: Online speculation based on an excerpt of an upcoming novel
Probability of Accuracy: It’s at least partially true. So, maybe 50-50?
The Real Deal: The final book in Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy, which takes place immediately following Return of the Jedi, is being released at the end of this month, and a preview on io9 reveals that it’ll feature a character who’s been missing from canon since the 1983 movie, at least when it comes to what came after the fall of the Empire: Lando Calrissian. In the book, readers get to find out that he and Lobot return to Cloud City, but that things aren’t exactly as he’d hoped. Will they also get an explanation in the book as to why he didn’t show up in The Force Awakens?

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A Blackjack Superstar Explains the Odds of the Historic Patriots Win

Last night, football fans witnessed the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. With eight minutes and 30 seconds left in the third quarter, the New England Patriots were down 28-3. But they inched forward until they pushed the game into overtime—a first for the Super Bowl—and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady marched his team down the field to win Super Bowl LI. It was an epic turnaround—but it wasn’t really the Patriots that made it happen. Every mistake that let them come back could have been avoided. And my life at the blackjack table can shed light on what the Atlanta Falcons did wrong.



Jeff Ma was the leader of the MIT blackjack team that inspired the book Bringing Down the House and the movie 21. He founded and sold tenXer, an HR anlytics company, to Twitter, where Ma is currently the Senior Director of Analytics.

Every decision in blackjack can be dictated by simple math: There’s always a right and wrong answer. The average blackjack player loses about 3 percent of the money they put on the table—but if you play basic strategy perfectly, you reduce the casino’s edge to about 0.5 percent. Still, even if they know the right thing to do, very few people actually play perfect basic strategy. Why? Because humans are subject to cognitive bias—and that’s what brought the Falcons down tonight.

It’s more complex than blackjack, of course, but there is a basic strategy for football coaching. If you analyze the thousands of football games played in the last 10 years, you can devise a set of rules that almost always lead to a win. Computers do the hard work: They take all the possible situations and calculate the probability of each outcome. A coach could input possession, down, distance, and score and come up with one best decision for the team at that moment. All you need to do is follow the math. But like in blackjack, it can be hard to keep focus on time-tested statistical strategies under stress.

Let’s start midway through the third quarter, when the Falcons were up 28-3. They had about a 98 percent chance to win. The Patriots took a full six minutes to score a touchdown. Still, the Falcons had the advantage.

That’s when the crazy stuff happened.

Up 28-10 with two minutes left, the Falcons had a 99 percent chance to win the game. That probability comes from readily-available calculators—which run Monte Carlo simulations, taking into account the four variables of possession, down, distance, and score. But then the Falcons made a series of errors in basic strategy.

The first mistake that quarterback Matt Ryan and the Falcons made was not letting the clock run down to fewer than 10 seconds on every play. Every second that they waste is a second that the Patriots don’t have to advance. Simple.

But in play after play, the Falcons snapped the ball when they didn’t need to. Sometimes with more than 20 seconds left to go. In blackjack, this is the same as standing a soft 17: an ace and six. Normally, a hand that adds up to 17 is a losing hand—but the beauty of the ace is you can play it as an 11 or a one. If you get dealt a 10, you can play the ace as a one and you still have 17. There is no risk to taking one more card. And there is no risk in letting the clock run down under 10 seconds.

The second basic strategy mistake the Falcons made was not rushing the football when they had a comfortable lead. Over the course of the game, the Falcons were gaining an above-average 5.8 yards per rush (the league average is around 4.3 yards per play). Very little good could come from a pass at this point in the game—an incomplete pass is bad, a sack is bad, and a holding penalty is bad—especially when you’re already averaging 5.8 yards per rush. Again, this basic strategy would have carried little risk.

All night, the Falcons had played aggressively—and it worked. With 4:40 left, they had the ball at the Patriot’s 22-yard line with an eight-point lead. Again, that’s a stunning 99 percent chance to win based on the score, along with the fact that the Falcons had the ball with almost a sure field goal. Any simulation going forward would tell you the Falcons just needed to run. They could have taken a knee three times in a row and kicked a field goal. But instead they decided to pass. And pass. And pass.

Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan thought they needed to be aggressive the rest of the night. But all they needed to do was play basic strategy—and let the clock run. What they did was akin to hitting a 15 when the dealer has a six showing: They put themselves at risk. And the result is the craziest turnaround in Super Bowl history.

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The Best Super Bowl Commercials, From Avocados to Zelda

The Super Bowl, in its current form, is known for two things: football, and companies spending millions to get a 30-second spot on the air in between touchdowns. Super Bowl LI was no different. But this year, not too surprisingly, things got political. Just a week after President Trump signed his executive order on immigration, Budweiser’s Super Bowl ad celebrated the contributions of foreign nationals. Audi’s spot called for equal pay for women. Kia turned Melissa McCarthy into an eco-warrior. And 84 Lumber made an ad with a border wall—but that one was found to be too controversial to put on TV. But there were some fun ads, too. (To wit: The avocado lobby taking on the Illuminati.) The best of the best are below, just in case you were on a snack run when they aired.

Budweiser: ‘Born the Hard Way’

Eberhard Anheuser meets German immigrant Adolphus Busch in this tale of the founding of one of America’s most well-known breweries. Is it a not-subtle commentary on President Trump’s immigration policy? Yes. But does it make its point? Also yes.

Eberhard Anheuser meets German immigrant Adolphus Busch in this tale of the founding of one of America’s most well-known breweries. Is it a not-subtle commentary on President Trump’s immigration policy? Yes. But does it make its point? Also yes.

Audi: ‘Daughter’

Audi gives a full-throated endorsement of equal pay for women in this ad where a father watches his daughter (spoiler alert) win a soapbox derby race. All together now: Awwww.

Audi gives a full-throated endorsement of equal pay for women in this ad where a father watches his daughter (spoiler alert) win a soapbox derby race. All together now: Awwww.

84 Lumber: ‘The Journey Begins’

84 Lumber’s ad depicts a mother-daughter journey across many miles. The original version of the commercial, which contained an image of a border wall, was turned away by Fox, so the building supply chain cut the ad short and made the rest available on its website—like Go Daddy, except not gross.

84 Lumber’s ad depicts a mother-daughter journey across many miles. The original version of the commercial, which contained an image of a border wall, was turned away by Fox, so the building supply chain cut the ad short and made the rest available on its website—like Go Daddy, except not gross.

Avocados from Mexico: #AvoSecrets

The Illuminati, like Gretchen Weiners’ hair, is full of secrets. And in this ad, the biggest one they have to keep is about the health benefits of avocados. Hey, if they can keep the guac flowing, it might be a good PR move for them—especially after they got disavowed by Beyoncé.

The Illuminati, like Gretchen Weiners’ hair, is full of secrets. And in this ad, the biggest one they have to keep is about the health benefits of avocados. Hey, if they can keep the guac flowing, it might be a good PR move for them—especially after they got disavowed by Beyoncé.

Hulu: A Handmaid’s Tale Trailer—’My Name Is Offred’

Has the game distracted you from worrying about the world turning into a complete dystopia? Worry not, here’s a trailer for Hulu’s adaptation of A Handmaid’s Tale!

Has the game distracted you from worrying about the world turning into a complete dystopia? Worry not, here’s a trailer for Hulu’s adaptation of A Handmaid’s Tale!

Nintendo: Switch Commercial

“Why are you watching a game when you could be playing a game?” this first-ever Super Bowl commercial from Nintendo asks. Well, why? Oh yeah, because the Switch doesn’t come out until March 3. Carry on.

“Why are you watching a game when you could be playing a game?” this first-ever Super Bowl commercial from Nintendo asks. Well, why? Oh yeah, because the Switch doesn’t come out until March 3. Carry on.

Buick: Cam Newton and Miranda Kerr

Want to see how Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton would fare on a pee-wee league team? Buick is here to show you. It would also like to show you that they can get model Miranda Kerr in their ad.

Want to see how Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton would fare on a pee-wee league team? Buick is here to show you. It would also like to show you that they can get model Miranda Kerr in their ad.

Buffalo Wild Wings: ‘The Conspiracy’ with Brett Favre

Brett Favre has a conspiracy-theorist yarn chart about who’s really to blame for all of his interceptions. The culprit? Buffalo Wild Wings, for some reason. (Saucy fingers, maybe?)

Brett Favre has a conspiracy-theorist yarn chart about who’s really to blame for all of his interceptions. The culprit? Buffalo Wild Wings, for some reason. (Saucy fingers, maybe?)

Squarespace: Calling

John Malkovich evokes his vaguely (or not so vaguely) threatening persona for Squarespace. This is only medium funny, but the detail that Malkovich wants the domain because he’s working on a clothing line makes it distinctly charming.

John Malkovich evokes his vaguely (or not so vaguely) threatening persona for Squarespace. This is only medium funny, but the detail that Malkovich wants the domain because he’s working on a clothing line makes it distinctly charming.

Kia: ‘Hero’s Journey’ with Melissa McCarthy

Honestly, we have no idea why Melissa McCarthy is playing an accident-prone environmentalist for Kia. But here she is!

Honestly, we have no idea why Melissa McCarthy is playing an accident-prone environmentalist for Kia. But here she is! Jason Statham and Gal Gadot Kick Some Ass

Wix outdoes Squarespace in the battle of web-design firm ads by booking Jason Statham and Gal Gadot. Sorry, John Malkovich—you can’t compete with Wonder Woman.

Wix outdoes Squarespace in the battle of web-design firm ads by booking Jason Statham and Gal Gadot. Sorry, John Malkovich—you can’t compete with Wonder Woman.

Logan: ‘Grace’

This new trailer for Logan didn’t give us much we hadn’t seen before in previous trailers, but it was definitely more action-packed. If this movie does, indeed, become Hugh Jackman’s final turn as Wolverine, he’s going out swinging.

This new trailer for Logan didn’t give us much we hadn’t seen before in previous trailers, but it was definitely more action-packed. If this movie does, indeed, become Hugh Jackman’s final turn as Wolverine, he’s going out swinging.

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Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl LI Halftime Show Drones Have a Bright Future

The best Super Bowl halftime shows leave indelible memories, be it a notorious wardrobe malfunction, that goofy Left Shark, or every last second of Beyoncé’s two appearances. It’s too soon to say whether anything Lady Gaga did tonight will resonate, but at least she offered something new: An army of dancing drones, ducking and dodging over the Houston skyline, transforming from stars to a fluttering flag.

It’s probably first time you’ve seen 300 drones flying in formation, but it’s almost certainly not the last. The technology underpinning the Intel Shooting Star drone system is fascinating in and of itself, but its potential applications are even more so. The same drones that accompanied Lady Gaga will one day revolutionize search-and-rescue, agriculture, halftime shows, and more.

First, though, let’s focus on the fun stuff.

Drone Show

Performing for a global audience of about 160 million or so people represents this drone platform’s biggest stage, but Intel has done this before. The company’s Shooting Star drone squad recently finished a three-week run at Disney World, and last year 500 synchronized drones flew in Sydney, setting the highly specific world record for “most unmanned aerial vehicles airborne simultaneously.”

Each drone is about a foot long square, weighs just over eight ounces, and sports a plastic and foam body to soften inadvertent impacts. They aren’t as flashy as consumer quadcopters, which is just as well, because you’re not suppoaed to notice them. Instead, you’re supposed to notice the four billion color combinations created by the onboard LEDs, and the aerial acrobatics choreographed with meticulous coding.

Each drone communicates wirelessly with a central computer to execute its dance routine, oblivious to what the hundreds of machines around it are doing. The system can adapt on the, er, fly, too. Just before showtime, the computer checks the battery level and GPS signal strength of each drone, and assigns roles accordingly. Should a drone falter during the show, a reserve unit takes over within seconds.

All of which is pretty cool in its own right. But making it work for the biggest television event of the year takes a whole different level of planning.

Red Zones and Red Tape

Student of Super Bowl security measures and FAA regulations may by this point have some questions. The government strictly forbids drones within 34.5 miles of Houston’s NRG Stadium, after all, and the FAA limits on how high drones can fly in any circumstance, let alone above 80,000 or so people. How on earth did Intel get away with it?

The short answer is, it taped the show earlier this week.

The long answer is worth exploring though, because it provides insight into the evolution of Shooting Star system and where it might go from here.

Preparations kicked off in early December, when Intel’s engineers started wading into the mind-numbing logistics of choreographing 300 dancing drones. Do they fly inside the stadium? How are they integrated into what Lady Gaga is doing onstage? Is stadium’s domed roof open or closed? “The whole halftime is a huge execution monster of an exercise,” says Anil Nanduri, who leads Intel’s drone efforts.

Once Intel and the Super Bowl creative team understood the restraints, they started storyboarding the show, settling on a sparkling array of stars that culminates in one giant, glittering, fluttering flag effect. Oh, and also the Pepsi logo, which was at least blue if not red and white.

It was a brief performance, and secondary to Gaga’s onstage glitter and glam. Pulling it off, though, was a feat. The team required a dispensation from the feds—an especially tricky task given that NRG Stadium sits within Houston Hobby Airport’s air traffic control jurisdiction, and that Intel and the NFL had just weeks to put it all together.

Swarm Hugs

Synchronized programmable drones are entertaining for sure, and you can see them providing a wow factor like fireworks. They’re easier to control, allow for more elaborate effects, and are reusable. But the technology offers far more practical, and potentially life-saving, applications.

“I see them searching for a lost hiker with multiple drones at night with the right payloads looking for them,” says Nanduri. “Or search and rescue efforts after a landslide, when it’s hard to get people on the ground.”

There are commercial applications, too. Instead of sending humans to inspect hazardous areas of, say, a construction site, send a few dozen drones. And what better way to inspect hectares of crops than to outsource it to a fleet of quadcopters?

All of this is at least a few away, though, and not just because of the technological limitations. FAA regulations, for instance, require that drone operators to maintain a line of sight with their charges, which makes it hard to deploy them in collapsed buildings or remote areas. And individually programmed drones may prove less effective than smart drones that can “think.”

For now, though, there are light shows. And while they may not pack the punch of Prince serenading a stadium with “Purple Rain,” the drones did make for a memorable halftime show.

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While You Were Offline: Beyoncé Is Having Twins and the Internet Is Having a Cow

Big news: Beyoncé is pregnant. This would send the Internet into a frenzy under any circumstances, but during a week when there was another explosive bit a of news every 10 minutes, Queen Bey’s Instagram announcement quickly diverted everyone from a moment of panic to one of collective joy. Even better, she’s having twins, which means finally we have another Star Wars meme to go alongside the Carrie Fisher is the leader of the Resistance one that’s been going around for a while. Meanwhile, a Twitter hashtag helped Uber lose 200,000 customers and might have pushed the CEO of the company to drop out of President Donald Trump’s business advisory council. Oh, and Trump has also seemingly declared war on Arnold Schwarzenegger. What even is this world? Let’s find out together in this round-up of things you might have missed on the world weird web over the past seven days.


What Happened: President Trump doesn’t seem to have the strongest grip on history. Thankfully, Twitter found the funny side.
Where It Blew Up: Twitter
What Really Happened: Can we talk about President Trump’s amazing speech earlier this week to launch Black History Month?

Actually, let’s let Late Night with Seth Meyers’ Amber Ruffin do it for us:

Thankfully, even as the lame stream media acted as if it was a disaster, Twitter managed to see the funny side, spinning off into the bizarre history of alternative facts that the president might actually believe about black history:

The Takeaway: It’s funny, you see, because the alternative is to take it seriously, and that’s just heartbreaking. Still, there was one upside from the whole thing, if you look at it the right way:

Sure, But Which Woman?

What Happened: Funny story: A sexist comment reportedly made by President Trump led to a social media uprising. But we expected it would, right?
Where It Blew Up: Twitter, media reports
What Really Happened: The leaks coming out of the White House since Trump took office have been plentiful: We’ve been told by anonymous sources that he has to have screen time regulated by staff, that he really can’t do diplomacy well, and, according to one report on Thursday, that he “liked the women who work for him ‘to dress like women,’” which… yeah. The report went on to say, “We hear that women who worked in Trump’s campaign field offices—folks who spend more time knocking on doors than attending glitzy events—felt pressure to wear dresses to impress Trump.”

It’s exactly the kind of sexist narrative that people expected, which meant that it got all kinds of attention. Twitter, of course, couldn’t leave it alone either, creating the hashtag #DressLikeAWoman to respond:

The Takeaway: Let’s look to style icon Katherine Hepburn for the final word on this one, shall we?

Maybe It’s a Band Name, Like the Brian Jonestown Massacre

What Happened: When is a terrorist attack not a terrorist attack? When it never happened, obviously. Did you hear that, Kellyanne Conway?
Where It Blew Up: Twitter, media reports
What Really Happened: Hey, remember when Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway talked about “alternative facts” as a way to avoid admitting that Press Secretary Sean Spicer had lied to the press? Turns out, she practices what she preaches; in an MSNBC interview this week, Conway cited the “Bowling Green Massacre” as a reason why it’s important to fight back against terrorists with things like the executive order on immigration. Funny story! There’s no such thing as the Bowling Green Massacre.

You bet that the media was quick quick to point out that Conway had invented a fake attack to defend the administration, but Twitter wanted to get to the bottom of things.

The Takeaway: Although Conway would later try to explain that she just misspoke, but there are those who remain braced for the next wave in the ongoing war between the current administration and its stated opposition:

Jar-Jar Binks Comes Out of Hiding

What Happened: Just when you didn’t expect it, Jar-Jar Binks returned to the Internet this week, in the most unexpected place.
Where It Blew Up: Twitter, media reports
What Really Happened: Ah, the Drudge Report! Famed bastion of post-truth in a world that has finally come around to its way of thinking! If you can make it there, you’ll make it anyw—wait. What’s that on the front page?

To no one’s surprise, the return of Jar-Jar made headlines. Confused, concerned headlines. Has anyone checked in on Ahmed Best?
The Takeaway: Really, we all thought we were doing OK before this news broke, let’s be honest.

Someone Ask Keanu Reeves, Just to Be Sure

What Happened: It was the meeting of two of the buzziest Twitter accounts when the ACLU turned to Merriam-Webster for help.
Where It Blew Up: Twitter, media reports
What Really Happened: This one doesn’t need a lot of explanation, as it unfolded on Twitter in pretty much real time. All you really need to know is that, in light of current events, the American Civil Liberties Union is receiving a boost in attention and donations. Which led to the tweet that started the whole thing off.

Ah, yes; checking with the Merriam-Webster Twitter account, which is itself undergoing a significant boost in attention these days. How would it weigh in on the topic?

So, now we know—and have a meet-cute moment for two of Twitter’s most media-friendly accounts of the moment. A little light entertainment for once! And just when you thought it was over…

Seriously, this is far too cute.
The Takeaway: Well… yeah. (Oh, and just to tie it back to an earlier topic!)

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Inside the Race to Invent a Fish-Free Fish Food

What do a Web 1.0 pioneer, a Russian-born fisherman, and a scientist who shoots lasers into poop for a living have in common? America’s first 100 percent vegetarian trout.

Bill Foss, Kenny Belov, and Rick Barrows have spent years weaning their farmed fish off of industrial fish food. You see, even though commercial fish farms can be more sustainable than ocean fishing, the food that fattens up those aquatic livestock—made from things like soy, corn, chicken meal, blood meal, and fish meal—is less virtuous. Humans have to hunt fish in the ocean and grind them up into food pellets so that fish in tanks might live.

Last year, Foss and Belov, who own a trout farm together, and Barrows, their diet formulation expert, entered an international competition designed to accelerate the development of fish diets made with novel ingredients. The F3 (fish-free-feed) challenge is a race to sell 100,000 metric tons of fish food, without the fish. Earlier this month, start-ups from places like Pakistan, China, and Belgium joined their American competition at the Google headquarters in Mountain View, CA, showing off feed made from seaweed extracts, yeast, and algae grown in bioreactors.

The timing of the competition is no accident. People eat 150 million tons of seafood every year, and as of 2014, more than half of all those fish, shrimp, and bivalves are raised on farms. But aquaculture is still a very young science, especially when it comes to what farmers feed their fish. “The availability of fish meal has made for really lazy nutritionists,” says Barrows, who recently retired from the USDA Agricultural Research Service, where he spent decades evaluating ingredients and formulating hundreds of fish diets. “You can pretty much put in 50 percent fish meal and you’re set.”

Fish meal—dried and ground up fish bits—and its more lubricious counterpart, fish oil, are made from cheap species that humans don’t eat that much: sardines, herring, anchovies, krill. But lots of other ocean animals do eat them; they’re kind of the linchpin of marine ecosystems. Lose the forage fish, lose a lot more. And as those forage fish catches are getting smaller, fish meal and oil-based diets are getting more expensive. Since 2012, prices have risen more than 80 percent. “Aquaculture is growing so fast that it can’t possibly continue to use any more,” says Kevin Fitzsimmons, a biologist at the University of Arizona and former president of the World Aquaculture Society. “Forage fish are just maxed out.”

So Silicon Valley investors—some of whom are observing at the F3 challenge—are finally ready to double down on sustainable aquaculture. “All these early adopters see the writing on the wall,” says Foss, who co-founded a little company called Netscape before he became a trout farmer and sustainable seafood distributor. “The competition just gets them into the same room to help each other see that yes, there is a way forward.” Still, finding the right combination of these alternative ingredients is no easy feat. Lucky for Foss and Belov, Rick Barrows isn’t your average lazy nutritionist.

Up Bridger Creek

Outside the Bozeman Fish Technology Center in Montana, a layer of freshly-fallen snow covers the long rows of outdoor fish ponds, drained now for the winter. Inside, it’s a light dusting of finely powdered wheat and corn and soy particles that covers the heavy machinery. Commercial extruders heat up the feed mixture and squeeze it out of tiny holes, making pellets anywhere from 250 microns to 9 millimeters across. There are pulverizers and roll grinders and even something called a spheronizer, that, you guessed it, makes tiny, perfectly uniform spheres. It’s not standard equipment for most feed makers. Barrows got it from a pharmaceutical company in Japan.

When everything is running at once, it gets really loud in here. And hot. This sweltering building is where Barrows makes all the feeds he’s come up with over the years. To test them, he heads over to a nearby warehouse lined with dozens of big blue plastic tubs for raising fish, all snaked together with hundreds of feet of PVC pipe. Spring water from Bridger Creek flows through on command.

The first step is to gauge hatchling approval. For six weeks they feed some baby trout the new diet, while others get a control diet. If it performs well, they test how well the fish take in the nutrients and if they like the taste. To do that, they hand-feed older fish until they get full, monitoring how much they eat, how the fish grow, and how healthy their poops are. That’s where the lasers come in. Barrows uses them to measure a metric he calls “feces durability.” A lot of plant-based diets give trout diarrhea.

“Fish, like other animals, require nutrients, not any specific ingredient,” he says. “People say I’m turning a lion into a vegetarian. But that’s not what we’re doing. We’re turning soybeans into meat.” The latest feed Barrows has formulated for Foss and Belov uses omega-3 fatty acids from algae grown in Brazilian bioreactors. They estimate that they save about 40 metric tons of wild-caught fish for every ton of algae-derived omega-3s they use.

The feed also contains ingredients like flax oil and a meal made from the ground-up rejects of the California pistachio industry. (About a quarter of the nuts are too broken or off-colored to make the cut.) Together it provides a balanced, nutritious meal for Belov and Foss’s rainbow trout, which are raised on a farm they own in Susanville, CA. But they’re always looking at new ingredients—like barley proteins and black soldier fly larvae. The goal is to have an arsenal of regionally-produced proteins, so that if one commodity spikes, they can just switch over to a different one.

At the moment, Foss and Belov are their own best customers. They make about 325,000 pounds of feed a year, which all goes to feeding the trout at their farm. At that rate, they know don’t have a hope of winning the F3 challenge. But they also never set out to be feed manufacturers in the first place. They just did it because no one else was. And whether they wanted to or not, they’re now in the business. Last week they sent their first shipment to a trout farm outside of Mexico City. If all goes well with the trials, they’ll officially have their first feed client. It might be a small step. But Foss says the market will do the rest.

“You can see these two trajectories, where our feed prices are coming down and fish oil and fish meal are going up,” he says. “Where those two meet is when we stop being a niche project and start being a mainstream solution to a global problem.”

His best guess for when that happens? About two years from now. So set your sights on 2019 for vegetarian fish suppers—but don’t be surprised if the Google cafeteria beats you to it.

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