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Steve Carell donned a bald wig to troll President Trump as Jeff Bezos on SNL

Comedian Steve Carell hosted Saturday Night Live last night, and Amazon’s announcement of the final selections for its secondary headquarters in Queens, New York and Crystal City, Virginia was the main focus of one sketch. In it, Carell portrayed Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to explain the real reason why those two locations made the cut: to troll President Donald Trump.

Carell uses the sketch to paint a picture of Bezos using his company and wealth to try and humiliate Trump: “Sure, he attacked me repeatedly on Twitter, but I chose our new locations because they were ideal for growing business, not just to make Donald Trump think about how I’m literally 100 times richer than he is.” He goes on to tout another headquarters in Palm Beach, Florida, right across from Trump’s resort at Mar-a-Lago, his 2013 purchase of The Washington Post — flashing a bunch of choice headlines — and “announces” a new delivery service called Amazon Caravan, in which anything being delivered to a Trump-owned building will be handed off by a large group of Honduran immigrants. He closes out by flicking a switch to project an Amazon logo on the White House.

It’s a goofy sketch that’s on the nose, but it highlights the speculation that Bezos and Amazon’s selections were motivated by a desire to deliver a giant middle finger to the president, who has been a frequent critic of Bezos and his company. After the announcement of the site selections, Trump told The Daily Caller that he felt that while the company took the best deals it got, that the cities were giving up a lot, and speculated that it could be a bad decision if Amazon’s fortunes decline. For his part, Bezos has criticized the President and his rhetoric, saying that it’s “dangerous to demonize the media.”

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13 hr.
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The first trailer for season 4 of Syfy’s The Magicians teases a magical revolution

Syfy renewed its urban fantasy show The Magicians for a fourth season in February, and announced that the next season would hit next January. This weekend, the network gave us a look at what to expect with the first full trailer for the upcoming season.

The series is based on Lev Grossman’s The Magicians trilogy, in which a student named Quentin Coldwater (played by Jason Ralph) discovers that magic is real when he enters a magical school called the Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy. He begins to learn about magic, and eventually discovers that the setting of his favorite series of fantasy novels, Fillory, is real, and that the magical world is darker and more problematic than he imagined. The series loosely follows the novels, and at the end of the second season, the characters lost the ability to use magic, and spent the third season working to regain it. They do, but at a cost: they lose their memories, and end up back on Earth living in the regular world.

This new trailer hints that their amnesia will be short-lived, but that the magic that they previously used was being rationed, controlled by an extra-dimensional Library that the characters have visited over the course of the prior seasons. There’s hints of alternate realities, deals with powerful gods, and the start of a magical revolution to fix the world.

Season 4 of The Magicians premieres on January 23rd, 2019. You have some time to get caught up on the series — the first two seasons are available on Netflix (the third is expected to hit sometime next month.)

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12 hr.
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A podcast reopens a grisly and complicated cold case in New Hampshire

In 1985, a hunter walking through Bear Brook State Park in Allenstown, New Hampshire made a grisly discovery: a 55 gallon drum left deep in the woods, containing two sets of skeletonized remains, which investigators believed had been left in the woods for years. A subsequent investigation yielded little results until 2000, when a second barrel containing another pair of bodies was discovered, just a hundred meters away.

Forensics experts determined that the first two bodies were of an adult female and a younger girl, while the second barrel contained the bodies of two young girls. Over the years, authorities released facial reconstructions of all four victims, but to date, none have been identified. DNA showed that three of the victims — the woman and the oldest and youngest girls were related, but the middle child wasn’t.

Last year, authorities made a small break in the complicated case — they were able to connect a woman named Denise Beaudin — who had vanished in 1981 with her boyfriend Robert Evans and was later murdered by him — to the Allentown murders. Evans had then fled to California, abandoned Beaudin’s daughter, and in 2002, was convicted of murdering his wife, Eunsoon Ju. While he died in 2010, a 2017 DNA comparison linked him to the middle child in the Bear Brook case, and uncovered his true identity — Terrence “Terry” Peder Rasmussen.

Earlier this fall, New Hampshire Public Radio reporter Jason Moon delved into the Bear Brook case with a seven-episode series that sought to untangle the case and its various angles. Bear Brook ultimately leads Moon across the country and into the latest scientific efforts used to give names to the faces of the four victims who were left in the forest all those years ago.

Listen to Bear Brook on NHPR, Apple Podcasts, and Stitcher.

 Image: NHPR

Moon tells The Verge that discovering the case and turning it into a podcast was a long process. “I found it as you said as a normal reporter — there was a press conference about it in 2015, when [New Hampshire authorities] announced the isotope results,” he explained. That’s when he first “discovered it and got hooked on the story — not just the story itself, but what the interesting stuff they were doing with the isotopes,” as well as the amateur investigators that were studying the case on their own. “It was early on when I thought that it could be more than a straight news feature.”

Moon actually ended up writing a news feature at the time, a seven-minute piece that he ultimately never produced, describing it as the entire podcast in seven minutes. Months later, one of his colleagues noted that the story felt like it could be a long-term thing, and he worked on it as a side project in the following months. Earlier this year, he was able to devote himself full time to the project, which resulted in the final podcast.

When he started work on the project, the story expanded further and further as it became clear that Rasmussen left behind a trail of bodies between New Hampshire and California. Initially, he began following up with the work being done on the four bodies discovered in Allenstown. But in the midst of his reporting, other details turned up — the link between those victims and Beaudin, her daughter, and the murder of Ju in California. “That was a shock to me,” Moon said. He was looking into a 30-year-old cold case — new developments were already unexpected, to say the least.

What was also surprising to Moon was the role that DNA played and “how powerful this genetic genealogy technology is, in terms of being used to identify folks through these databases.” Earlier this spring, an investigation made headlines around the world when investigators used a website called GEDmatch to uncover the identify of a serial killer known as the Golden State Killer — a former police officer named Joseph James DeAngelo. Using DNA discovered from crime scenes, they were able to locate people related to DeAngelo, which in turn led them to him. While law enforcement has its own DNA databases, using a commercially available one where people post their own results, was novel, and a potential new — and controversial — method for identifying victims or perpetrators in cold cases.

“I’m not sure a lot of people really have reckoned with that yet,” Moon says. “I certainly haven’t. I’m still reeling from the fact that I have thousands of genetic cousins in online databases right now, and that could be used to identify me even if I never put my DNA online. The power of all that is very fascinating.” He notes that law enforcement is rushing to use commercial databases to try and solve the thousands of cold cases that have been left unsolved across the country.

While the series has concluded, Moon and NHPR will continue to report on the case. Moon says that he and the station haven’t gotten tips from people, but he hopes that the series will jog people’s memories and turn into leads that the police can use. Last week, he and producer Taylor Quinby produced a short update with a minor update — as the police worked to uncover more of Rasmussen’s victims, they were able to identify the body of a woman discovered in Tennessee, identifying her as a woman who had vanished from a juvenile detention facility in 1984 in New Hampshire. The woman wasn’t one of Rasmussen’s victims — the timeline doesn’t match with his movements, but it was the result of a tip that came in as a result of the investigation. Ultimately, Moon and Quinby believe that they will eventually discover the identities of the women killed in New Hampshire, and plan to continue to provide updates as the story develops.

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15 hr.
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Smart speakers have no idea how to give us news

One of the most exciting things about a new kind of device is how little we know about what it’s good for. At this point, we basically know what a smartphone can do, but the possibilities for a voice-activated, internet-enabled speaker are still more or less untested. There are lots of ideas, some good and some bad, and we’re still figuring out which is which.

A new report from the Reuters Institute suggests that the current round of news apps may be one of the bad ideas. The institute’s survey finds that users simply aren’t enjoying the news briefings, and they’re taking a backseat to more concrete functions like information searches and immediate tasks. 46 percent of UK users listened to the briefings regularly, but only one percent listed it as the most valued function, and many offered specific complaints about overlong programs and confusing controls for skipping ahead. As Nieman Lab put it, there just wasn’t that much love for news content.

It’s particularly embarrassing because so many features are aimed at solving this exact problem. Alexa has a bunch of different Flash Briefings designed to give you a quick rundown of everything that’s happened, along with 90-second audio reports from ___ like Marketplace and Axios. Google Home has a whole set of custom news commands designed to let you skim through different stories or find stories on particular topics. A lot of time and energy from tech and media companies alike went into making this work — but for whatever reason, it just never came together.

The Reuters report gives us a few hints about why that is. A lot of the problem is the content itself: sometimes reports would be outdated, or mangled through awkward text-to-speech programs. Other reports were too long, spending five minutes on a story when 30 seconds would have been preferable.

Other problems seem like straightforward results of the voice interface. People care where their news comes from, but the audio-only interface makes it hard to keep track of who you’re listening to. Most listeners weren’t sure how to change the defaults, so even if there was an outlet they would have enjoyed, they couldn’t find it.

But the biggest problem is that we simply don’t know what we want. Smart speakers aren’t radios, and podcast-style shows aren’t suited for an interface that discourages browsing and library-building. Assistants are great at handling specific questions like “Alexa, who’s governor of Wisconsin?” — but walking through the most important events of the day is a different thing. It may be that smart speakers just aren’t any good at it.

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14 hr.
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