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LanceLetter - A Real-ish Lightsaber; Starlink's Potential; Elon Musk on SNL



May 10 · Issue #229 · View online

Stuff that matters.

Conjured while trying to drown out the noise of a trillion cicadas

Starlink could change the broadband game
There are currently 1,300 table-sized, 560 lb. SpaceX Starlink satellites above us, with an eventual goal of 12,000 orbiting the earth. Leaving aside the potential for ruining stargazing, these satellites could eventually deliver high-speed broadband to many of the planet’s underserved areas.
Last week, after SpaceX launched another 60 satellites into space, the company revealed that half a million people have already signed up for Starlink. For now, the $99-a-month service is still in beta (they expanded it somewhat last year) and it’s going to be a while before the satellite network is built out. Even so, if the system proves reliable, millions more could sign up to truly cut their cable broadband cords.
Whatever you think of SpaceX and Elon Musk (more on him later), the Starlink satellite system could move us closer to universal broadband access. The next goal, though, should be affordable broadband access.
Speaking of SpaceX, the company also finally stuck the landing on its Starship prototype. This comes after repeated, and spectacular fails in which the ship would launch, flip itself around in the air and then slam to the ground.
Clearing this major hurdle means we’ve just moved one tick closer to interplanetary travel.
Snapchat filter suit
The question of personal responsibility versus responsible product creation and marketing is in the news again as a Federal Court ruled that Snapchat can be sued in the death of three teens who used the app and a filter.
At issue is what the filter apparently urged users to do, which is move fast and share it on Snapchat. The three teens did so in a cornfield until their car slammed into a tree, killing all three of them.
I’ve watched a lot of social media and have noted how some extreme “challenges” on Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram, and other platforms encourage dangerous (selfies on a cliff) or illicit behavior (dangerous pranks). The chance to be seen or even going viral spurs users to risky behavior.
All of this happens on these platforms and, in a way, they’re the reason it’s happening. Without that chance at social media fame, most teens wouldn’t engage in these acts. On the other hand, can we really blame the platforms?
The mistakes I made as a teen (so many) were inevitably dumped at my feet and I had to deal with them. In the case of these teens, though, no one is left to accept responsibility. So, the parents are quite understandably looking for someone to blame. Snapchat is the obvious choice, but I’m not sure it’s the right one.
My guess is this ruling will move up through the courts until it’s in the Supreme Court’s lap. At that point, the nine justices will have an important decision to make: Can platforms be held responsible for the actions of the users? If Snapchat can be sued because someone used a filter in a way that is explicitly warned against, then really anyone who is harmed while using a social media platform might be able to successfully sue.
I don’t think this ruling will hold up on appeal but if it does, it’ll set a dangerous precedent and could mark a distinct change in how social media platforms work and what they allow users to post on their platforms.
A “real Lightsaber”
Disney made headlines this week when it unveiled–in a super short teaser–what appeared to be a functioning Star Wars Lightsaber. A woman dressed like Rey from the new trilogy held the hilt in her hands and then a white beam of light extended from it, stopping at the length of a traditional Jedi lightsaber. No further explanation was offered, and the clip lasted mere seconds, but Star War fans lost their minds.
As for my mind, I assumed it was neither a “real lightsaber” nor even some sort of short-beam laser. It had to be mechanical.
Later, I stumbled on a post from special effects expert Tom Spina who found the original patent (I found it, too) and answers to how this lightsaber really works. As I suspected, there’s a mechanism, actually, a motor, and a strip of LED lights similar to the ones I have lining my office desk that roll out as the cone is ejected and light up in sequence. It’s a really nice bit of engineering and one definitely worthy of a patent. As for whether or not the Disney Lightsaber will be worth your money when it comes out, that depends on how desperately you want to look like a “real” Jedi.
Musk Watch
Did you catch Tesla CEO and controversial billionaire Elon Musk’s Saturday Night Live stint? Musk threw himself into the task pretty much the same way he’s tackled electric vehicles and space: 1000%. He starred in multiple sketches (wore a lot of wigs) and wasn’t terrible. Overall, it was one of the better SNLs and even held a bit of real news.
During his opening monologue, Musk revealed that he’s the first person with Asperger’s Syndrome to host SNL. As he said it, I tried to remember if Musk had ever made that revelation before. It did not come up when I spoke to him in 2012. In fact, I could not remember him ever mentioning it.
I guess the question is, does that news prompt a reevaluation of some of Musk’s actions and comments (occasionally bizarre and tone-deaf)? We’ll see.
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Programming note: LanceLetter is taking a brief break. No newsletter next week, but I’ll be back on May 24 with lots of new stuff.
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