Saturday, February 16, 2019

Photos Show F-14 Used In Top Gun 2 Production Snared In Carrier's Crash Barricade

Just yesterday, we reported that the F-14 Tomcat used in the production of Top Gun 2, as well as Tom Cruise, were spotted aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt. Now, new photos have come to light showing that same aircraft entangled in the ship's crash barricade. As we noted in our previous piece, this is the first time a Tomcat has been on the deck of an operational U.S. Navy carrier in years. In addition, we have also obtained more information on where this particular Tomcat, which is now dressed-up for the film with phoenix-like insignias, came from.

The fact that the F-14 is set up to appear as if it made an emergency landing into the ship's barricade indicates that this is likely the culmination of a tense action sequence in the film. The barricade is a nylon net that is attached to the ship's arresting gear system that 'catches' a stricken airplane that cannot, or has a very low probability of, 'trapping' normally aboard the ship by catching one its arresting wires.

The ship's barricade risers are erected on the USS Theodore Roosevelt during Top Gun 2 two production.

The barricade is also used if an aircraft has only one shot at landing and there are no other divert airfields available that it can safely make it to. The usual alternative to a barricade engagement is an ejection, a dangerous affair that is even more perilous out in the open ocean and especially in bad weather conditions. An ejection also means the total loss of an aircraft, the airframe that may be packed with packed with sensitive technologies sinking to the ocean floor.

You can read more about the barricade and watch other videos of it in action by checking out this past article of mine.

It's worth clarifying again that this aircraft is not flyable. There are no flyable Tomcats anywhere in the world outside of Iran. Getting one back in the air in the U.S. would be nearly impossible due to bureaucratic red tape and cost, among other factors.

As for the origins of the Tomcat used in the production, the jet is F-14A #159631, the 178th Tomcat Grumman built, which has called the San Diego Air And Space Museum's Gillespie Field Annex in El Cajon home for years.

F-14A #159631 at Gillespie Field in El Cajon, California.

Multiple sources have told us the elements had taken their toll on the jet, which has sat outside for years. It was in need of restoration with certain components showing alarming signs of corrosion. Clearly, lending the plane to star in Top Gun 2 would give the beleaguered airframe stardom unlike any other Tomcat that calls a museum or gate guard position home. Lending the jet to be used in the movie would turn the F-14 in need of help into a top attraction and the production budget of the film clearly helped clean it up for shooting.

With that in mind, the phoenix symbols now painted on its airframe sort of have a second meaning outside the movie's plot. This retired plane was really given a second shot at life and will surely be treasured going forward.

We will continue to give you updates as Top Gun production aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt unfolds. Stay tuned!

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com

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Friday, February 15, 2019

Why the Tesla Model 3 isn't branded as a Model 3

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Look at the back of your car or the next car passing by. Unless it's an ultraluxury Lamborghini or something similar, you likely just saw which car company made the car (maybe a Honda) as well as which model it is (probably a Civic). 

Now look at the backside of a Tesla Model 3, the electric car company's newest sedan.

It's almost entirely bare, save for the Tesla logo above the license plate. (The dual motor version is badged and says "Dual Motor," so there are exceptions.) Its predecessors, Models X and S, out in 2015 and 2012, respectively, didn't get this same treatment — their names were prominently displayed on the backs of the car. But when the new Model 3s first started appearing out of factories and on roads in 2017 the only clue a car was the Model 3 was a Model 3 license plate frame from the dealership. Now that the cars are more abundant, the frames are coming off, and there's little to indicate which car it is. Read more...

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That USAF RC-135 Rivet Joint Caribbean Spy Flight Was Far More Common Than Most Think

For weeks now, Venezuela has been in the grips of a political battle between President Nicolás Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido, who the United States and dozens of other countries have recognized as the country’s legitimate head of state. The plane spotting community is now among those intently watching the situation for signs of curious air traffic, or a potential U.S. military intervention. So, it certainly turned heads when a U.S. Air Force RC-135V Rivet Joint spy plane made an unusually public appearance recently in the Caribbean Sea. But Rivet Joint missions in the region are more common than many people might know and this sortie may not necessarily have been related to the crisis in Venezuela at all.

Expert military aviation tracker and friend of The War Zone @aircraftspots was first to notice the RC-135V, serial number 63-9792, using the callsign Gismo 84, in the Caribbean on Feb. 14, 2019. The airliner-sized intelligence gathering platform subsequently linked up with a KC-10A Extender tanker, Spur 57. This isn’t uncommon for Rivet Joint flights, which can be many hours long as the planes fly long tracks close to target areas gathering valuable intelligence.

GISMO84 is currently MARSA with KC10 SPUR57 conducting aerial refueling. pic.twitter.com/Ag3If2sxfJ

— Aircraft Spots (@AircraftSpots) February 14, 2019

Rivet Joints, which include the RC-135Vs, as well as the functionally equivalent RC-135Ws, are among the most capable aerial intelligence gathering platforms the Air Force has at present. The aircraft fly with crews of more than 26 individuals and can perform a variety of task simultaneously.

The aircraft have powerful signals intelligence suites that allow them to detect and listen in on enemy communications, as well as geolocate those transmitters. Among the Crypto Linguists onboard, there will be individuals who are fluent in various languages relevant to the mission at hand so that they can begin analyzing the content of what the plane’s sensors pick up immediately. Other personnel man stations to categorize the emitters and keep an eye out for anything new or unusual.

An RC-135V/W Rivet Joint.

Lastly, electronic warfare officers can use the same signals intelligence systems to geolocate and categorize radars and other systems associated with integrated air defenses, allowing the Rivet Joints to help build a so-called “Electronic Order of Battle” of enemy or potentially hostile forces in a given area. In the lead up to the U.S.-led missile strikes in Syria in April 2018, Rivet Joints flew regularly off the coast of that country to grab the latest information about the Syrian military’s air defense posture. The information gathered is essential to allied combat mission planning, greatly enhancing the survivability of manned tactical aircraft, cruise missiles, and drones.

A robust array of data links and communications systems allow the RC-135s to send information back to base, to regional command centers, or forces on the ground, in near real time. Altogether, the Rivet Joints have an impressive mix of highly-proven strategic and tactical surveillance capabilities.

An official graphic showing the internal configuration of the RC-135V/W Rivet Joints and the tasks assigned to the various members of the crew. The not at the bottom refers to the plane's ability to perform

So, it is possible that Gismo 84 might have been heading to a station off the Venezuelan coast to monitor the Maduro regime’s recent deployment of various air defense assets. There have been various sightings of Russian-made S-125 medium-range surface-to-air missile systems, among other anti-aircraft artillery, moving toward the country’s shared border with Colombia, a major U.S. ally that has routinely criticized Maduro. Venezuelan forces also recently conducted what appeared to be an exercise with their long-range S-300VM surface-to-air missile systems, which the country also acquired from Russia.

#UPDATE: S-125 air defence batteries with support equipment (radar, transloaders, fire control vehicles, logistics trucks) noted moving into position aound San Cristobal, Venezuela (drills near the Colombian border)- Via @M3t4_tr0n @ConflictsW pic.twitter.com/4MrKzx4hGu

— ELINT News (@ELINTNews) February 12, 2019

Another S-125 convoy spotted in San Cristobal de Táchira today. Full convoy including support vehicles, 2 transloaders, 1 mobile launcher and a Low Bow Radar system#Venezuela #15F pic.twitter.com/RTiYK6i5uV

— CNW (@ConflictsW) February 15, 2019

#Breaking: #Venezuela releases the S-300 from mothballs. Preparing for an #American attack? pic.twitter.com/T0dK2isvaH

— ImageSat Intl. (@ImageSatIntl) February 7, 2019

Venezuela’s very public displays of its air defense capabilities can only be seen as a signal to the United States, in particular, that the country’s military remains loyal to Maduro and is prepared to respond to any American intervention. It’s also part of a broader propaganda push to present the embattled leader as firmly in power.

The RC-135 could have been in the area keeping its electronic ears open for relevant communications chatter, too. The Rivet Joint passed near Cuba, which is one of Maduro’s few supporters in the region. While Cuban authorities are almost certainly advising the Venezuelan leader, some members of the U.S. government have accused Cuban authorities of more actively directing his actions and policies, but so far there is no hard evidence that this is the case. Regardless, the United States would have to be very interested in know what the two countries might be coordinating.

While it was unusual for the Rivet Joint to pop up on public accessible flight tracking software, at least historically, it’s certainly not unusual for the aircraft to be flying in the region. When it comes to Cuba, for instance, Rivet Joints have long flown routes from bases in the United States to gather strategic intelligence about that island, run by a regime that is a long-time American adversary, irrespective of any ties it has to Venezuela. These sorties were, at least for a time, were given the nickname Bitter Wind.

Mention of Bitter Wind

RC-135s, flying from sites in the United States and forward bases in Latin America and the Caribbean, including the Dutch island of Curaçao, also routinely take part in counter-narcotics operations in Central and South America. Beyond Bitter Wind, we know that intelligence gathering sorties as part of missions nicknamed Beach Wind, Seminole Wind, and Shula Wind have all taken place in or around Central or South America thanks to documents the author previously obtained via the Freedom of Information Act.

Front to back, two US Air Force E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) radar planes, an RC-135V/W Rivet Joint, and two KC-135R Tankers at the US forward operating location on the Dutch island of Curaçao.

RQ-4 Global Hawk flights nicknamed Beach Axe have occurred in areas under the purview of both U.S. Southern Command and U.S. Northern Command. The former oversees operations in Central and South American, as well as the Caribbean, while the latter is responsible for the area around the United States itself, as well as Canada and Mexico.

A portion of the table of contents from a 2009 US Air Force internal history describing various Global Hawk missions, including Beach Axe and Seminole Axe

The Air Force has also nicknamed U-2 Dragon Lady sorties over Colombia, specifically, as Seminole Emerald and Seminole Game. With all this in mind, the Beach Wind missions most likely involved Rivet Joints operating in areas adjacent to the Caribbean, at least in part, while Seminole Wind missions may have involved flights directly over Colombia.

Mention of Seminole Gamemulti-intelligence" U-2 flights over Colombia, as well as Lake Game flights over Haiti and the Dominican Republic, from a 2010 US Air Force internal history. The Lake Game missions were in support of the humanitarian response to the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which also impacted the neighboring Dominican Republic to a lesser extent." />

Beyond intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft, the U.S. Air Force also regularly deploys a wide variety of combat aircraft, even including B-1 and B-52 bombers, to the Caribbean to support counter-drug operations. These missions, which you can read about in more detail here, are billed as training exercises that give aircrews a unique opportunity to search for and track real-world targets in a maritime environment.

Also, on Feb. 14, 2019, @CivMilAir, another active online plane tracker and friend to The War Zone spotted a B-52 making a somewhat unusual flight over Florida. Gismo 84 and this bomber might have been part of a larger surge of assets to support a particular counter-narcotics operation.

???????? US Air Force B52 bomber at 24,000ft heading over Florida pic.twitter.com/kOAk0MA40A

— CivMilAir ? (@CivMilAir) February 15, 2019

In August 2016, the Air Force took part in a similar effort, known as Operation Big Week. This involved the deployment of B-1s, B-52s, E-8C Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) battlefield management command and control aircraft, among other assets, in the Caribbean.

None of this is to say that increased attention from plane spotters on the region due to the crisis in Venezuela hasn’t uncovered curious and suspicious aerial activity. But it has also shone a light on the extensive and routine, if largely unpublicized activities of U.S. government aircraft, including U.S. military planes, across Latin America, as well.

So, Gismo 84’s trip into the Caribbean could have been tied to the crisis in Venezuela, but it may well have been just business as usual.

Contact the author: jtrevithickpr@gmail.com

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Ferrari SF90: The Scuderia's Hopeful Challenger for the 2019 Formula 1 Season

Scuderia Ferrari revealed its 2019 Formula 1 entry, the SF90, to the world's media on Friday morning. The Italian outfit hopes this black and red-themed racer will be the one to bring them within contention of another Manufacturers' Championship in 2019.

With the SF90, Ferrari has changed the shade of red used on its F1 cars; the car bears an "opaque" matte finish that technical director and newly promoted team principal Mattia Binotto acknowledges is a performance-driven change. Though the finish reduces the car's weight by a seemingly negligible amount, winning cars in F1 have always been engineered by an "every ounce counts" philosophy.

Binotto reportedly wanted to display the SF90 in a way that it gave away fewer of Ferrari's tricks as possible before winter testing begins in Barcelona, and as such, the car displayed should not be taken as an Australia-spec car. Nevertheless, the engine cover is noticeably slimmer than that of the 2018 car, lending credence to offseason rumors that Ferrari has been working on cooling efficiency. A returning "T-wing" like that seen on 2017 cars is back in lieu of a "monkey seat" in the technical grey area above the exhaust, but below the rear wing. Like most other teams to reveal their cars so far, Ferrari has designed its front wing to brush air outward, maintaining some of the outwash that the new 2019 regulations were designed to prevent.

Though a less consequential change, Ferrari has once again changed its F1 car naming scheme, for the ninth time since 2010. While its predecessor the SF71H was named in honor of a team anniversary, the SF90 name bears no obvious relation to Ferrari's heritage or its own design specification.

Ferrari's race drivers in 2019 will be comprised of tenured champion Sebastian Vettel, now in his fifth year of racing for the Scuderia, and relative newcomer Charles Leclerc, who impressed in his rookie season with Alfa Romeo Sauber. Notorious for its favoritism, Ferrari will likely designate number one and number two drivers, which in the early season are likely to be Vettel and Leclerc respectively. If Leclerc meets Ferrari's high expectations of him, he could swap roles with Vettel sometime in the 2019 season.

The SF90 will be first fired in anger during winter testing in Barcelona, where Ferrari engineers will work out whether their radical solutions to the Mercedes-AMG problem are effective.

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Thursday, February 14, 2019

Airbus ends A380 production with Emirates swap to A330neo & A350

With the cancellation of the last 39 Airbus A380 orders from Emirates, and following a series of trickled-out final cancellations from other airlines, Airbus will deliver the final superjumbo in 2021 and end production. The decision comes in the context for Emirates of “a review of its operations, and in light of developments in aircraft and engine technologies”, Airbus said this morning.

“As a result of this decision we have no substantial A380 backlog and hence no basis to sustain production, despite all our sales efforts with other airlines in recent years. This leads to the end of A380 deliveries in 2021,” said Airbus’ outgoing chief executive officer Tom Enders, axing the programme at the end of his tenure and allowing incoming CEO Guillaume Faury to start on an optimistic note.

“The A380 is Emirates’ flagship and has contributed to the airline’s success for more than ten years. As much as we regret the airline’s position, selecting the A330neo and A350 for its future growth is a great endorsement of our very competitive widebody aircraft family,” said Faury, who is currently president of Airbus Commercial Aircraft.

Emirates will return to operating the A330 in the form of the -900neo. Image: Airbus

As part of the negotiation with Airbus, Emirates is to replace its A380 orders with 40 A330-900neo re-engined twinjets and 30 A350-900 composite twinjets, underlining the evolution of the aviation industry away from four-engined aircraft towards smaller, lighter jets.

“The A330neos will be deployed on Emirates’ regional destinations, and also enable the airline to serve smaller airports and thereby open new routes and connectivity for its global network,” said the airline today. “The A350s will supplement Emirates’ long-haul operations, providing the carrier with added flexibility in terms of capacity deployment on 8 to 12 hour missions from its Dubai hub.”

Emirates will operate the A350 on its longhaul routes. Image: Airbus

Emirates chairman and chief executive officer Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum summed up the purpose of the twinjet order, stating that it “will complement Emirates’ fleet mix, support our network growth, and give us more flexibility to better serve seasonal or opportunistic demand”.

Rotation
Indeed, both the airline’s needs and its competitive landscape have changed from when it first ordered and began to operate the A380, with substantially greater bilateral air access agreements with a growing number of countries, as well as slowing passenger numbers growth in key markets.

Airbus made it clear that will continue to support the A380, and will be looking to continue to win services contracts along the lines of the cabin refurbishments it has agreed with existing operators.

Emirates’ al Maktoum may well have teased some of that work as investments, and it would not be a surprise if these services were quietly included as part of the deal: “The A380 will remain a pillar of our fleet well into the 2030s, and as we have always done, Emirates will continue to invest in our onboard product and services so our customers can be assured that the Emirates A380 experience will always be top-notch.”

From a passenger experience perspective, the immediately recognizable A380 spent a decade as the traveler’s choice thanks to the spacious 3-4-3 economy class configuration on the main deck, the intimate 2-4-2 layout with side bins at the windows upstairs, a variety of lounges, bars and showers for premium travelers, and the best premium passenger experience that was offered at the time.

Indeed, Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr this morning highlighted his passengers’ and crews’ positive views of the A380, while also noting its market issues:

#CarstenSpohr at a conference in Addis Abeba: "We are delighted that we can continue to use the #A380." @AirbusPress pic.twitter.com/KiNAdGgMgh

— Lufthansa News (@lufthansaNews) February 14, 2019

Yet many airlines have failed to upgrade their onboard product since: Air France still offers an angled lie-flat seat and, as RGN confirmed with the airline just this week, is not revealing any plans for upgrades at this time. With clarity about the end of the program now, it would not be surprising to see a burst of refurbishment orders as Airbus looks to recoup some of the costs of its A380 program. The nature of those refurbishments — including whether airlines push for economy class densification — will be telling.

The problem with the 3-5-3 A380 layout, as demonstrated by @AirlineFlyer. #paxex #AIX15 pic.twitter.com/iXkvbKpGM2

— John Walton 🏳️‍🌈✈💺 (@thatjohn) April 14, 2015

The reasons for the A380’s failure to win as much business as Airbus had hoped will be the subject of analysis for years to come. But for many in the world of aviation, the first modern double-decker aircraft will have achieved its place in history as the flagship of fleets for more than a decade, introducing passenger experience unrivaled and unimagined ever before.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

'Frozen 2' trailer has unleashed a flurry of reactions

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On Wednesday, Disney released the first teaser trailer for Frozen 2. If you have been anywhere near a child (or some adults; no shame) in the past six years, you know this is a huge deal.

The teaser is pretty different than the franchise's previous sneak peeks. For one thing, its tone is fairly dark — there's lots of sweeping orchestral music, plenty of action, and even some sword-brandishing. We also glimpse at least one new character, who some fans hope is Anna's girlfriend. (She's probably voiced by Evan Rachel Wood.)

On Twitter, people are already freaking out and theorizing. And making bad jokes about the cold. Read more...

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Mercedes-AMG Aims for 6th-Consecutive Double World Championship Season With W10 F1 Car

Mercedes-AMG F1 Team has revealed its 2019 Formula 1 car, the W10, whose livery gets a facelift to mark an updated regulatory era.

As is true of all 2019 cars, the W10 has wider wings, and a series of other aerodynamic tweaks meant to make closely following another car easier. Extra space for sponsors has been freed near the barge boards and on the rear wing endplates, where Mercedes displays two different brands.

Though in many ways an evolution from the ($400 million) formula that has won Mercedes every World Constructors' Championship (WCC) since 2014, the revised rules have Team Principal Toto Wolff on edge.

"The 2019 season will be a new challenge for all of us," stated Wolff at the car's reveal.

"The regulations have changed quite substantially. We have to start from scratch, we need to prove ourselves again—against our own expectations and against our competitors. We start the season with zero points, so we're taking nothing for granted and there's absolutely no feeling of entitlement to be at the front. In fact, with the regulation change for the new season, every team can have a shot at the title and we're seeing all of them as a potential threat."

The W10 will be driven by five-time World Drivers' Champion Lewis Hamilton and his multiple Grand Prix-winning teammate Valtteri Bottas. With his win at the final race of the 2018 season, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Hamilton became the first driver to surpass 3,000 career points, as well as 400 points in a season. Bottas had a less memorable 2018 and often found himself on the receiving end of misfortunes when in a position to win a race. With his role at Mercedes in question, the Finnish driver has vowed to give 2019 everything he's got.

"This sport is funny, you never know what happens in the future," Bottas told Autosport. "But I think the right mentality for me to approach next year is like I have nothing to lose. I just want to go for it and drive like I stole it, like it's my last race, last day ever. That's a good plan."

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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

It isn’t just apps. China’s cinemas broke records during Lunar New Year

China celebrated Lunar New Year last week as hundreds of millions of people travelled to their hometowns. While many had longed to see their separated loved ones, others dreaded the weeklong holiday as relatives awkwardly caught up with them with questions like: “Why are you not married? How much do you earn?”

Luckily, there are ways to survive the festive time in this digital age. Smartphone usage during this period has historically surged. Short video app TikTok’s China version Douyin noticeably took off by acquiring 42 million new users over the first week of last year’s holiday, a report from data analytics firm QuestMobile shows. Tencent’s mobile game blockbuster Honor of Kings similarly gained 76 percent DAUs during that time, according to another QuestMobile report.

People also hid away by immersing themselves in the cinema during the Lunar New Year, a movie-going period akin to the American holiday season. This year, China wrapped up the first six days of the New Year with a record-breaking 5.8 billion ($860 million) yuan box office, according to data collected by Maoyan, Alibaba’s movie ticketing service slated for an initial public offering.

The new benchmark, however, did not reflect an expanding viewership. Rather, it came from price hikes in movie tickets, market research firm EntGroup suggests. On the first day of Year of the Pig, tickets were sold at an average of 45 yuan ($6.65), up from 39 yuan last year. That certainly put some price-sensitive audience off — though not by a huge margin as there wasn’t much to do otherwise. (Shops were closed. Fireworks and firecrackers, which are traditionally set off during the New Year to drive bad spirits away, are also banned in most Chinese cities for safety concerns.) Cinemas across China sold 31.69 million tickets on the first day, a slight decline from last year’s 32.63 million.

Dawn of Chinese sci-fi

wandering earth 2

Image source: The Wandering Earth via Weibo

Many Chinese companies don’t return to work until this Thursday, so the box office results are still being announced. Investment bank Nomura put the estimated total at 6.2 billion yuan. What’s also noticeable about this year’s film-inspired holiday peak is the fervor that sci-fi The Wandering Earth whipped up.

American audiences may find in the Chinese film elements of Interstellar’s space adventures, but The Wandering Earth will likely resonate better with the Chinese audience. Adapted from the novel of Hugo Award-winning Chinese author Liu Cixin, the film tells the story of the human race seeking a new home as the aging sun is about to devour the earth. A group of Chinese astronauts, scientists and soldiers eventually work out a plan to postpone the apocalypse — a plot deemed to have stoke Chinese viewers’ sense of pride, though the rescue also involves participation from other nations.

The film, featuring convincing special effects, is also widely heralded as the dawn of Chinese-made sci-fi films. The sensation gave rise to a wave of patriotic online reviews like “If you are Chinese, go watch The Wandering Earth” though it’s unclear whether the discourse was genuine or have been manipulated.

Alibaba’s movie powerhouse

This record-smashing holiday has also been a big win for Alibaba, the Chinese internet outfit best known for ecommerce and increasingly cloud computing. Its content production segment Alibaba Pictures has backed five of the movies screened during the holiday, one of which being the blockbuster The Wandering Earth that also counts Tencent as an investor.

Tech giants with online streaming services are on course to upend China’s film and entertainment industry, a sector traditionally controlled by old-school production houses. In its most recent quarter, Alibaba increased its stake to take majority control in Alibaba Pictures, the film production business it acquired in 2014. Tencent and Baidu have also spent big bucks on content creation. While Tencent zooms in on video games and anime, Baidu’s Netflix-style video site iQiyi has received wide acclaim for house-produced dramas like Yanxi Palace, a smash hit drama about backstabbing concubines that was streamed over 15 billion times.

Seeing all the entertainment options on the table, the Chinese government made a pre-emptive move against the private players by introducing a news app designed for propaganda purposes in the weeks leading to the vacation.

“The timing of the publishing of this app might be linked to the upcoming Chinese New Year Festival, which the Chinese Communist Party sees as an opportunity and a necessity to spread their ideology,” Kristin Shi-Kupfer, director of German think tank MERICS, told TechCrunch earlier. “[It] may be hoping that people would use the holiday season to take a closer look, but probably also knowing that most people would rather choose other sources to relax, consume and travel.”

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California backs down on high-speed LA-to-SF rail plan

dims?crop=2952%2C1969%2C0%2C0&quality=85There were concerns about the logistics of California's planned high-speed rail system even as construction began, and those practical realities are finally hitting home. Governor Gavin Newsom said he plans to scale back the rail system, building jus... https://engt.co/2X1mjrF
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Tim Cook-backed shower startup Nebia shows off a warmer, water-saving shower head

I’m not in the habit of getting naked during meetings at startup offices, but this time it felt appropriate.

Nebia, a shower startup that has attracted investments from the likes of Apple CEO Tim Cook and former Google chairman Eric Schmidt’s foundation is back with some new cash (though it won’t divulge how much) and a new generation of its thoughtfully designed shower heads that aim to dramatically reduce the amount of water people use while cleaning up.

After a lengthy chat with Nebia CEO Philip Winter who discussed all of the nuances of the Nebia’s second-gen “Spa Shower” that they just launched a crowdfunding campaign for today, he asked whether I’d like to try it out. With a couple hours of empty space in my calendar, I said “Why not?” and wandered over to the startup office’s shower showroom.

Shower Thoughts

This was probably the most analytical thinking I’ve done in the shower about the process of showering itself.

The shower head in my bathroom at home is pretty standard and basically concentrates the water into a couple dozen streams organized in a circle that are firing at an even pace. It’s nothing fancy, I couldn’t tell you the brand, but I can say that I spend at least 20-30 minutes in there everyday without exception.

Nebia’s shower is wildly more complicated — as a $499 shower should be — but it’s the combination of different techniques that leads to a shower that feels full and refreshing but is using significantly less water than you’re used to. The customer for this is probably placing a healthier premium on the fact that it’s great for the environment than that it’s a spa-type experience, the shower head uses 65 percent less water than your average shower head, the company says.

The Nebia shower is all a very strange feat of engineering and involves the water being “atomized” as they called it, with water droplets being significantly smaller when it exits some nozzles leading to an enveloping mist and larger and warmer jets being shot out of the shower head’s center. The big improvement in this generation is that the water is about 29 percent warmer.

How does the shower head even control warmth? Isn’t all the water coming from the same heater? As Winter explained to me, things are a lot more complicated when it comes to how Nebia handles thermodynamics. Smaller water droplets means increased surface area exposed to the room temperature which means greatly sped up heat dissipation. In practice, this means that the distance the water can travel from the shower head before getting chilly is a much shorter journey than your current shower. To adjust that, Nebia fires the water droplets three times quicker and maintains some larger droplet streams to maintain the heat for longer.

Nebia does a bit of cheating by also having a second shower head firing from the hip. The wand adds to the water being used but still keeps the system using about half of the amount of water that the average shower head uses.

Thankfully, there was also room for a side-by-side comparison as I was able to try out both the gen-1 and gen-2 Spa Shower in the same bathroom. The shower experience didn’t feel wildly distinct but the difference in water heat when cranked to full blast was notable, my own temperature sensing isn’t quite finely tuned enough to confirm the 29 percent figure, but that doesn’t seem off.

Ultimately, it was the best shower I’ve had in a startup’s offices to date, but it was also a shower that didn’t feel as though I was resting my head under a light trickle of cold water like other low-flow showers. It’s a real product though at this point it’s also a decidedly premium product, even with the $100 crowdfunding discount of the $499 retail price. Beyond the warmer water, the new shower’s easy-install system is now compatible with about 95 percent of American homes, the company says. There’s also a new matte black color option and a little matching shower shelf you can add to keep that high-design look.

The company, which launched out of Y Combinator, has attracted some top investors who seem to be intrigued by the water-saving impact. The company says they’ve already shipped over 16,000 shower heads and that over 100 million gallons of water have been saved.

This latest round boasts follow-on investment from Tim Cook and The Schmidt Family Foundation as well as some new investors like Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia, Starwood Hotels co-founder Barry Sternlicht, Fitbit co-founder James Park and Stanford StartX.

The crowdfunding campaign kicked off today and has already blown through $300k in pre-orders (they’ve already sold most of the $349 early bird deals); the company hopes to ship the first 2.0 shower heads in June.

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