5G: still not a race

Hi pals, and happy holidays to you if you celebrate them. Last week I briefly mentioned that the newsletter would be intermittent through the holidays and I intend to keep that promise. I'll be showing up in your inbox few times at most between now and the new year. Once that new year hits, though, watch out: we're going to be making some changes to the newsletter. I won't spoil them yet, but I'm excited. 

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- Dieter

Verge Deal of the day 

The Sonos Beam is back down to $319, and includes a free gift card

Today is the last day to take advantage of rush shipping from retailers. After that, your only choice will to be to physically go to stores and buy what's in stock. So if possible, shop today with our update list of last-minute gift ideas. It's full of good deals, like the Sonos soundbar deal above, and more.

News from The Verge

The 84 biggest flops, fails, and dead dreams of the decade in tech

Really good, really fun, really sad list put together by Sean Hollister and the whole Verge staff. And if you scroll down to number one and aren't sure you agree with that pick, I invite you to read the very next story in this newsletter.

Verizon hits goal of launching 5G in more than 30 cities

We need better metaphors for understanding and judging the 5G rollout. Speed isn't good because it can vary so widely depending on backhaul, location, and the type of 5G you're getting (mmWave, mid-band, etc). Number of cities isn't good because if it's the kind of 5G Verizon is using right now, a more accurate count would be number of 100-meter bubbles around cell towers on street corners without trees in the way (and no rain at the moment).

In a world where these companies were actually held to account for providing accurate coverage maps by the FCC, I could imagine any number of metrics that would actually be useful for consumers looking to buy a 5G phone or switch networks to get better 5G coverage. I would love it if every carrier was required to show some combination of percent of populated areas covered, median speed, and average price per GB.

But we don't live in that world. We live in this one, where the FCC has been using rural broadband as a feel-good cover for giving away the wireless farm to carriers -- and those carriers have been lying about the breadth and quality of those coverage maps. The FCC's response to this important problem? A somewhat sternly-worded letter.  

Here's one more bad metaphor for 5G's rollout: a race. 5G not a race. In a race you have competitors on an equal playing field vying to be the single winner, for which there is a tangible reward. Even if you wanted to make the case that US carriers were engaged in such an endeavor, you're leaving out the most important part of 5G: consumers who will actually pay for it and should theoretically get real benefits from the new network.

T-Mobile's merger trial has been all about Dish

Russel Brandom and Makena Kelly, reporting from the courtroom:

Ergen drew a stark comparison with Sprint, which has laid off employees and drawn back from infrastructure investment in recent years, apparently in preparation for the pending merger. "We want to be in the business," Ergen said on Tuesday. "Sprint doesn't want to be in the business. We do."

The power tool company behind DeWalt, Black & Decker and Craftsman is testing batteries that don't explode

Sean Hollister:

last year, Amionx showed me a secret sauce that can be applied to a battery's electrodes, without changing the manufacturing process, that can stop a fire before it occurs — kind of like a fuse. The company won't say what the recipe is, only that it creates a physical gap between the electrode and current collector when a battery starts to heat up, which forces electricity to take a slower, more difficult path through the cell and stop short of an explosion.

Boeing's new Starliner spacecraft lands in the desert after shaky first flight to space

Loren Grush:

Boeing's new passenger spacecraft, the CST-100 Starliner, landed safely in the New Mexico desert this morning, bringing a swift end to a very rough debut flight to space. The space capsule, which didn't have any people on board, was meant to spend up to a week in orbit and dock with the International Space Station. But a software problem during launch prevented the Starliner from reaching the station, and Boeing was forced to bring the spacecraft home after just two days.

Popular chat app ToTok is reportedly secret United Arab Emirates spying tool

Genuinely chilling:

A report from The New York Times has revealed that messaging app ToTok, popular in the United Arab Emirates, is in fact a government spy tool, created for the benefit of UAE intelligence officials and used to track citizens' conversations and movements.

Apple is reportedly developing satellite technology to support its devices

Is this Samsung's next Galaxy Fold?

Samsung had teased this with a graphic earlier this year, but this looks like our first hardware leak. I'm pretty excited for this form factor -- big phones are bad for pants with small pockets, and all anybody makes anymore are big phones.

Tesla vehicles can soon be charged at EVgo charging stations in the US

And you thought your USB dongle situation was bad.

The 10 best video games of 2019

Why video games and board games aren't a good measure of AI intelligence

James Vincent interviews Fran├žois Chollet:

But a machine has no such constraints. A machine can absolutely be designed to play chess. So the inference we do for humans — "can play chess, therefore must be intelligent" — breaks down. Our anthropomorphic assumptions no longer apply. General intelligence can generate task-specific skills, but there is no path in reverse, from task-specific skill to generality. At all. So in machines, skill is entirely orthogonal to intelligence. You can achieve arbitrary skills at arbitrary tasks as long as you can sample infinite data about the task (or spend an infinite amount of engineering resources). And that will still not get you one inch closer to general intelligence.
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