Many of you reading this won’t remember ever having VCRs. Heck, half of my students haven’t ever held a floppy disk in their hands. But the war between VHS and Beta ended long ago, and now movies on magnetic tapes are rare and getting rarer. If I’m being honest, I don’t mind the change: videotapes were grainy, they got worse the more times you watched them, and you had to rewind them (literally, you had to wind the tape backward from one internal spool to another, that’s how they worked). I’m glad we didn’t settle on the vinyl-LP-sized Laser Disks, and now I have a number of pretty decent “blu-ray” copies of the films I want to watch over and over again. But this week marked a day to remember for some, as news surfaced that the last VCR manufacturer — the Japanese company Funai, which sells them around the world under the Sanyo label — is calling it quits for the machines that read videocassettes. Just like horse-drawn carriages and quill pens, I’m sure they won’t ever fully go away, but if you wanted (for some reason) to play your old tapes, well, it’s about to get a little harder.
Facebook made news this week by test flying its new autonomous, solar-powered “internet plane,” Aquila in a 90-minute flight above Arizona. Coupled with an announcement out of their labs of a new advancement in photodetector development, and you can start to see their plans coming into focus in the next few years. The plan is simple: Facebook needs more users, and people need internet access to use Facebook. Ergo, getting internet access to people without it is in the company’s best interests. Fleets of the planes will autonomously fly over areas without infrastructure, communicating with each other using “free space optical communication,” lasers firing between the craft and funneling data to the backbone of the internet and back and beaming signal down to the ground. We’re still years away from the plan coming to fruition, but it’s not hard to imagine one day getting your internet in rural areas from a friendly autonomous drone circling lazily overhead. NPR has more on the story.
Master Plan, Part Deux
Elon Musk’s “Master Plan, Part One” for Tesla is wrapping up. His four main objectives, set a decade ago, were (1) to create a low sales volume car, which was the Model S, (2) to use the profits from that to develop a medium sales volume car, which was the Model X, (3) to use the money from that to develop a cheap, affordable electric car for the masses, which is the forthcoming Model 3, and (4) to provide solar energy for people to power their cars with. So now that’s squared away, he’s released another master plan, which he’s apparently naming after a parody Rambo flick from the early 90s starring Charlie Sheen. The “Master Plan, Part Deux” (I almost wish I were kidding), calls for the commodification of a rooftop-solar-plus-battery solution; an expansion of Tesla’s vehicles into other parts of the vehicle market, making pickup trucks, buses, and cargo transport trucks (semis/tractor-trailers/etc); full-blown autonomy for all its vehicles; and, because of that last one, the ability to let your car drive other people around when you’re not using it, all to make you a little pocket change. There’s also support in there for the commodification of the factory where Teslas and their batteries are made, the so-called Gigafactory, upon which so much of this expansion relies. All told, it’s not a bad plan. It might sound a bit nuts, but given how everything Musk does sounds a bit nuts, and how so far he’s managed to actually do all the things he’s said he would… I guess I’ll look forward to having a car that pays for itself by driving strangers around while I’m at work. You can read the whole plan over at Tesla.
Here’s what else we got up to this week, just in case you didn’t see:
- On Monday I linked to a pretty silly attempted Marxist takedown of Pokémon Go
- On Tuesday I tried to understand what “Make America Great Again” might mean for the well-meaning
- On Wednesday I shook my head in awe at SpaceX’s plan to return all three boosters from Falcon Heavy launches
- On Thursday I explained why a “dry heat” is a better thing than a high Humidex value, and
- On Friday, Elle celebrated a small win for women in Nottinghamshire, where catcalling will soon be criminal
If you missed any of them, go check them out now!
Best of the Rest
As usual there’s plenty more to talk about than I can get to, so here it is, your weekly linkspam:
- The Food Science Institute reacted to an Organic Trade Association press release, pointing out organic’s big lie
- Astronomy Now covered the big “X” at the center of the Milky Way and what it might mean for our galaxy’s past
- A research organization in the Netherlands is going to fund replication in a big way
- A new “vaccine” is in the works for Alzheimer’s
- President Obama is trying to expand access to wireless charging stations for America’s electric car drivers, and
- Oh My God American Gods Trailer American Gods Trailer
That’s all for today. Thanks for reading! I only get paid in my own (and your) enthusiasm, so please like This Week In Tomorrow on Facebook, follow me on Twitter @TWITomorrow, and tell your friends about the site!
If you like our posts and want to support our site, please share it with others, on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit — anywhere you think people might want to read what we’ve written. Thanks so much for reading, and have a great week.
Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as an editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.