Monthly Archives: February 2016

Why You Should Own Your Cable Box

The tyranny of the set-top box may soon be over.
The way it works now, you’re forced to rent a cable box from the likes of Time Warner Cable and Comcast to the tune of about $230 per year. The very idea that in 2016 you need a dedicated piece of hardware, whether it’s Comcast’s X1 or Time Warner Cable’s latest “whole home” DVR, just to tune into Guy’s Grocery Games on Food Network is crazy on its own, but the fact that you have to rent these boxes in perpetuity is even worse.
The Federal Communications Commission on February 18 issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would make it so that consumers wouldn’t have to rent a set-top box from their cable company.
Although this is just the first step in a lengthy process, the prospect of being able to own your own cable box, just as you’re able to own your own cable modem or smartphone, already has supporters of the measure giddy with excitement.
And that’s great, of course, but I wanted to lean more about the possible implications of being able to own my own set-top box. (I’d have to get cable first, but that’s another matter.) I’d expect to see lower prices as a result of competition among hardware makers, but is that all? What happens when more and more people, from different communities, can afford cable? Might networks be encouraged to create more diverse programming? Heck, what are the odds that the cable companies will fight this tooth and nail (spoiler: it’s a lock), and why?
To find some answers to questions like these I reached out to some folks to get a better understanding of the big picture here.
To discuss these issues I’m joined In this edition of Radio Motherboard by John Bergmayer, a senior staff attorney at the Public Knowledge advocacy group; FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn; and Michael Scurato, Vice President of Policy at the National Hispanic Media Coalition.
Radio Motherboard is available on iTunes, SoundCloud, and can also be played using your favorite podcasting app. As always, thank you for listening.

Apple vs the FBI

Earlier this week, a federal judge in California ordered Apple to help the FBI brute force hack into the encrypted iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters, setting up a legal showdown that could have far-reaching ramifications for the future of encryption and privacy in the United States. Here’s what you need to know.

Video Games Are Missing Black Voices (Literally)

There aren’t many black characters in video games with speaking roles, which is why it’s controversial when some of them are voiced by white actors. The most recent example is Nadine Ross, the strong, black, female antagonist in the upcoming Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, who is played by a white voice actress.
To some black players, the fact that major black characters—few and far between as they are—are often voiced by white actors is a reflection of a systemic problem. It’s not the same as a black actor playing a white character, they say, because white actors and white players don’t have a problem with discrimination and exclusion—white people are well represented, if not overrepresented, throughout the industry.
This week’s Radio Motherboard features freelance journalist Shonte Daniels, who wrote the original piece for Motherboard; Kotaku writer Evan Narcisse; and voice actor Dave Fennoy, talking about the practice of casting white actors as black characters and the way black people are portrayed in games in general.

The Hyperloop

The hyperloop, Elon Musk’s futuristic, tube-based “fifth mode of transportation” has stoked imaginations unlike any recent transportation technology except for maybe self driving cars.

Lots has been said about it—Musk called it a “cross between a Concord, a railgun, and an air hockey table,” while the media has latched on to the promised speeds of more than 700 mph and travel times between San Francisco and Los Angeles of 35 minutes.

But much of the promise of the hyperloop still remains theoretical. That changed in a small way last weekend, when SpaceX hosted the first part of its “Hyperloop Pod Design Challenge,” a contest that asks 180 university teams to design the capsules that will actually go inside the hyperloop. In June, 22 of the teams will test their pods in a track being built by SpaceX. I traveled to Texas A&M University to meet the teams, meet the companies actually building the hyperloop, and to separate out the hype from what’s actually happening.