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Ted Lasso, the Olympics, and Talking About Mental Health

The Monitor is a weekly column devoted to everything happening in the WIRED world of culture, from movies to memes, TV to Twitter.

Throughout TV history, there has been one go-to image of a therapist: a smartly dressed person in a well-appointed office, possibly holding a notepad, asking far more direct, pointed questions than the average therapist typically would. From Lorraine Bracco on The Sopranos to Niecy Nash on the current season of Never Have I Ever, this is the archetype.

On the new season of Ted Lasso, though, Sarah Niles’ Dr. Sharon Fieldstone is thoughtful and calm, and she rides a collapsible bike to work—proof that Ted Lasso is the kind of show where people have honest conversations about mental health.

Throughout its first season, and now into its second, the Apple TV+ series has set itself apart by being both wickedly smart and downright hokey. The earnestness drips off of every scene. But rather than serve up a few hours of toxic positivity each season, Lasso—essentially a workplace comedy about a NCAA football coach (Jason Sudeikis) who gets recruited to lead a British Premier League football (soccer) team—actually creates a space where everyone, including gruff footballers, talk about their feelings in a way rarely seen in fictional sports stories.

Its frankness is so revolutionary that writer Charlotte Clymer, in a recent newsletter, unveiled what she calls the “Lasso test.” Like the Bechdel test, a litmus for sexism in films and TV, the gauge for the Lasso test is simple: “At least two men talk to each other about their mental health or emotional well-being in a frank and vulnerable and loving way without needing to involve women as vehicles or guides for their self-improvement.” If you think this is an easy test to pass, you’re not watching enough television.

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Of course, this doesn’t mean everyone on Ted Lasso is readily having these conversations all the time—Dr. Fieldstone is there for a reason, after all. But it does show a willingness to talk about mental health at a time that’s sorely needed. Sixteen months into the Covid-19 pandemic, things are still rough, and, as Clymer points out in her piece, “doomscrolling has migrated offline and become doomthinking.” Even when people aren’t scanning for updates on the Delta variant or the latest vaccination numbers, they’re still walking through the world trying to figure out when to mask up, or encountering fights between those who do and those who don’t. Anxieties and intrusive thoughts are seemingly at an all-time high and impacting workplace performance—even for athletes.

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On Tuesday, Olympic gymnast Simone Biles removed herself from women’s all-around competition at this year’s Tokyo Games, saying she wasn’t in the right head space to compete. Her announcement comes after tennis star and fellow Olympian Naomi Osaka bowed out of the French Open and Wimbledon, citing the psychological toll of participating in big tournaments.

Just a few years ago, the narrative in the sports world might’ve been that athletes of their caliber should be able to suck it up, play through the pain. But in 2021, mostly, they were lauded for being champions of self-care.

“Mental health over the last 18 months is something people are talking about,” retired Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps told the AP. “We’re human beings. Nobody is perfect. So yes, it is OK not to be OK.” Biles was stunned by all of the support, tweeting that she now saw she is more than her gymnastics accomplishments, “which I never truly believed before.”

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This is not meant to give too much credit to popular culture, but at least some of this shift in thinking surely results from more honest conversations about mental health in the media. Beyond comedies like Lasso, there are podcasts like Teenager Therapy. The HBO dramas In Treatment and Euphoria both go deep on issues like depression, addiction, and the struggle to ask for help. Netflix’s docuseries Naomi Osaka gets painfully close to the tennis champion’s inner worries. Even the recent Anthony Bourdain documentary, Roadrunner, features the beloved chef and TV personality, who committed suicide in 2018, in counseling. And those are just the conversations in popular media. Online, particularly on social media like TikTok and Twitter, people have been talking more openly than ever about their emotional well-being. These are small pockets of conversation, but it’s hard to imagine anyone would be talking about Britney Spears’ conservatorship this way without them.

This is just the beginning. Even Ted Lasso himself is reticent about therapy, sharing a common sentiment in this week’s episode: “Why pay someone to do what a friend should do for you for free?” As my colleague Amit Katwala at WIRED UK noted this week, Biles is just the latest in what could be a long list of athletes who eventually get overwhelmed by the pressures of their sports. Same goes for people in any profession: acting, media, politics. There’s still work to be done—Texas’ deputy attorney general Aaron Reitz had to apologize this week after calling Biles a “national embarrassment”—but the conversation is happening. And the world is learning to listen.


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A Mammoth Tusk Reveals a Woolly (and Unprecedented) Tale

When they overlaid the tusk data onto their isotopic rodent map, the researchers found that the mammoth was born in the lower Yukon basin and spent his early years grazing in the interior of Alaska, between the Brooks and Alaska mountain ranges. When he reached sexual maturity at about 16 years old, the mammoth broadened his range, moving farther north into the Brooks mountains. The scientists tracked him as he migrated between the interior of Alaska and the northern slope of the mountain range, possibly seeking food as the seasons changed, sometimes traveling over 300 miles in just a few months.

“That was very surprising to me,” says Bataille of these ranges, which were much larger than he’d expected. “It definitely asks the question why. What happened? Why is he doing this? Why is he moving this way, and so fast?”

This indication that mammoths needed a very large habitat to thrive could give us clues about why they went extinct, says David Nogués-Bravo, an associate professor of historical biogeography at the University of Copenhagen, who was not involved in the study. During this mammoth’s life, sometime at the very end of the last ice age, the Earth was warming up. Boreal forests were starting to take over the mammoths’ home on the grassy plains. Humans may have shown up and started hunting them too. By about 6,000 years after this mammoth’s death, the species was almost extinct. It’s hard for scientists to tease apart how different stressors could have collided to wipe out the mammoths, but having this basic data about their home ranges and how much they moved around could help them build models to recreate what might have happened.

Nogués-Bravo says techniques like isotopic mapping are a big step forward because they could help scientists trace the process of extinction. “It’s really opening up a big window to help us understand why species go extinct,” he says. That could ultimately help scientists anticipate what might happen to other large animals, like elephants, in the coming years as climate change and human interference limit their habitats.

But there are limits to how fine a picture the data from this tusk can paint. Nogués-Bravo says these maps are probably pretty accurate at giving a sense of where the animal generally was. But they aren’t GPS. “I’m more skeptical about the specific routes that they tried to model,” he says. To trace those routes, researchers would need really accurate isotope data from every square kilometer of the area, which is a level of detail their rodent-based map doesn’t have.

Still, while the portrait is a bit blurry, it’s an unprecedented look at what a single mammoth was doing during its life. For example, as Wooller and Bataille examined the base of the tusk, they started to see signs of trouble. The patterns of the strontium isotopes revealed that the animal was moving less and less, staying in a relatively small area and not migrating the hundreds of miles it had before. Scientists estimate that mammoths usually lived into their sixties or seventies, but at only 28 years old, this mammoth was starting to die. Over the last year of its life, the levels of nitrogen isotopes in its tusk started to spike, a pattern that indicates starvation in mammals. “It was like we captured what caused it to die,” says Wooller, though why the mammoth stopped moving and eating normally is still a mystery.

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The Next Big Challenge for Lunar Astronauts? Moon Dust

As NASA and private space companies prepare to send equipment—and eventually astronauts—back to the moon, they are facing a nearly invisible threat to any future lunar outpost: tiny particles of dust. Ground-up lunar rock, known as regolith, clogs drills and other delicate instruments, and it’s so sharp that it scratches space suits. Because the dust absorbs sunlight, it can also overheat sensitive electronics.

Dust particles also pose a health risk. Even though Apollo-era astronauts only went outside during a few days on each mission, some reported burning eyes and stuffy nasal passages when they returned from moon walks and took off their dust-covered space suits inside the capsule. Images from the Apollo 17 mission, which focused on geology and featured seven-hour trips in the lunar rover, show astronaut Gene Cernan’s face covered in dust, like some outer space coal miner. During a technical briefing when he returned to Earth, Cernan told NASA officials that lunar dust was nothing to sneeze at. “I think dust is probably one of our greatest inhibitors to a nominal operation on the moon,” Cernan said. “I think we can overcome other physiological or physical or mechanical problems, except dust.”

The grit clogged the radiators that removed heat and carbon dioxide from space suits and wore a hole in the knee of Cernan’s outer space suit, according to Phil Abel, who researches moon dust as manager of the Tribology and Mechanical Components Branch at NASA’s Glenn Research Center. (Tribology is the study of wear and friction.) The Apollo 17 astronauts brought dust into the capsule, where it smelled like gunpowder and caused lunar module pilot Harrison Schmitt to have hay fever symptoms, according to a report from a NASA workshop on lunar dust in 2020.

Here’s how one Apollo 12 astronaut described what happened when he returned to the lunar module after a walk on the moon: “The [module] was filthy dirty and had so much dust that when I took my helmet off, I was almost blinded. Junk immediately got into my eyes.” (The quote appears in a 2009 NASA report entitled “The Risk of Adverse Health Effects From Lunar Dust Exposure.”)

Researchers at Stony Brook University exposed human lung and brain cells to lunar dust and found that it killed 90 percent of the cells, according to a study published in the journal GeoHealth in 2018. In fact, respiratory health is a top concern if and when humans return to the moon, according to Abel. “These particles get lodged down deep in your lungs, and that’s a long-term health risk,” Abel says. “There was some concern at the time that if we had needed to do more on the moon’s surface, some of the space suits would have started to leak at too high a rate. It’s something we have been working on to improve.”

The last Apollo spacecraft left the moon on December 14, 1972, bringing Schmitt and Cernan home. Now, NASA officials say they plan to land scientific gear on the moon in 2022, with the possibility of putting astronauts’ boots on the lunar surface as soon as 2024 under the Artemis program. Scientists at NASA Glenn Research Center are sending up an experiment in 2023 called the Regolith Adherence Characterization mission, which will determine how dust sticks to materials during landing and lander operations. The information they get back will help them figure out how to design equipment that can repel dust, and space suits that won’t break down from the wear and tear of the sandpaper-like grit that covers them.

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Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 and Galaxy Z Flip3 Review: Folding Fun

We all use our phones on the can. There’s no shame in admitting it. Sometimes it’s just to stare at a cat nonchalantly pushing a glass off the countertop, and other times it’s to respond to Slack notifications. There are some tasks I generally loathe doing on my phone, so I usually wait until I get back to the comfort of my desk. That’s until Samsung’s new folding phone came into the bathro—er, picture.

The Galaxy Z Fold3 has the shape of the ancient Nokia E90 Communicator; it’s tall and remote-like, but it opens up like a book to reveal a sprawling 7.3-inch screen. There’s also a narrow screen on the front for the times you don’t need all that screen space (or when you don’t have two free hands). The sales pitch? Convert your phone into a mini-tablet anywhere. 

Two days into using it, the bathroom was where this premise clicked. I was responding to an email, but I needed to simultaneously look at an attachment. On a normal phone, I could’ve toggled between the attachment and the email, but that’s annoying, especially when you’re trying to reference text in the attachment. Using a cramped split-screen mode isn’t all that fun either. 

But with the Fold3, I opened the phone up and put the attachment on the right side of the screen and the email draft on the left. No need to memorize anything and no need to juggle apps. Yay! I’ve been doing many more of these tasks on the Fold3, ones I usually would’ve saved for a laptop or PC. Not always in the bathroom! Sometimes while lying in bed before the day starts, or when I’m out walking the dog. And it’s not always work-related. 

I’ve also spent some time with Samsung’s other folding phone, the Galaxy Z Flip3, which is less a productivity tool and more a smartphone that can actually fit in almost any pocket. These two gadgets are iterations on their predecessors, but they’ve hit a level of maturity that makes them the first folding phones I feel comfortable recommending to, well, just about anyone who can stomach their prices. 

Flip Out

The Flip3 uses the familiar clamshell design.

Photograph: Samsung

Of the two foldables, the Galaxy Z Flip3 has a broader appeal. It’s delightfully colorful and stylish, not to mention it starts at an attractive $1,000, which is among the lowest prices we’ve seen for a device in this category. (Its accessories look equally fantastic.) Best of all, it’s compact. Take a normal, rectangular smartphone, then fold it in half so the top edge comes down to meet the lower edge. That’s the Flip3. How can you hate that? 

In its folded state, it’s around the size and thickness of a stack of Post-Its. It can pretty much fit anywhere. Yep, even those skinny jeans, so you can shove those cargo pants back into storage. Every time I had it on my desk or nightstand, I couldn’t stop admiring how little space it took up. If you’ve ever complained about the size of modern smartphones, this is a good solution. I also really like the physicality of opening and closing a phone. I noticed I kept playing around with it in my hands when I wasn’t using it, like a super expensive fidget spinner. 

New in this model is the larger 4-inch cover screen. You’ll need to double-tap to wake it (or press the power button), and you can scroll through several widgets, such as weather, calendar, and music playback. Swipe to the right to see your notifications. To do anything more, you’ll need to flip the phone open. It’s great that you can do more on the larger cover screen, but there’s a good deal Samsung can still do here to make it even more useful. For example, I’d love to be able to use voice dictation to reply to messages without needing to open the Flip3. 

I did run into an issue where the cover screen kept activating in my pocket, changing the brightness of the screen or launching Samsung Pay and the weather app. A minor inconvenience, but no one likes ghost touches.

Unfortunately, you can’t literally flip the phone open like you would a flip phone of old. Try that here and your Flip3 will fly out of your hands. There’s a good deal of tension in the hinge, so you need to open it up with two hands. You can open it one-handed, but the few times I was successful, the Flip3 nearly slipped out of my grasp in the process. A lip on one of the edges would make things easier, like the kind you see in the design of some laptops.

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Covid Has Created a Virtual Renaissance for Life Drawing

Alida Pepper was staring down depression. Stuck in her apartment in San Francisco, she worried that all the plans she’d made were about to unravel. For months, Pepper, a full-time life drawing model, had been working extra hours to save for an upcoming surgery and had been putting additional cash aside to take time off to recover. Now, a forced break from work was threatening to undo everything. She wasn’t alone, of course. This was March 2020, the dawn of the Covid-19 pandemic, and everyone was struggling. But Pepper was in a very particular bind: How to continue in a profession dependent on being seen and drawn in close quarters.

During the second week of the lockdown, she found something that felt like a solution. An artist herself, Pepper sketched fellow model Aaron Bogan as he experimented with modeling on Instagram Live. Inspired, she tested different software—Zoom, Blue Jeans, Instagram—with her community to see whether it was possible for her to work the way Bogan had. Virtual life drawing, it seemed, could be the solution Pepper needed.

The standard template for life drawing hasn’t changed much in centuries: a musty studio, a model on a dais holding a pose while a circle of artists works at easels. But with Covid-19 lockdowns in effect, studios stood empty and models stayed home, their employment options evaporating. Then, everything changed. Suddenly, life drawing was reborn—filling up video-chat grids the way it had once populated studios. Artists began sketching from home, inspired by models posing live on their computer screens. The methods used weren’t exactly new—video conferencing existed before the pandemic, after all—but the changes they brought to life drawing went far beyond what anyone expected. “Online life drawing was a game changer,” says Diane Olivier, who taught life drawing at City College of San Francisco from 1991 through 2020. It allowed students to keep learning and drawing, and it kept models employed.

Virtual life drawing does have its challenges. Connectivity and viewing-screen sizes can be issues. No camera can replicate the full range of tone and detail the naked eye can see. And there’s the undeniable fact that the artists are looking at a two-dimensional image, not a person in the flesh. But even as artists and models turned bugs into features, they discovered ways virtual environments could enable things they couldn’t do before. Life drawing groups sprang up everywhere. People who’d never practiced the art form before started picking up pencils. Folks who’d never modeled, or been able to, found a place on a new pedestal.

The biggest barrier that virtual life drawing knocked down? Access. Suddenly, people who didn’t live near studios or who had disabilities that made it hard to leave home could draw from anywhere with an internet connection. “Models can now choose their own setting,” says Isobel Cameron, who along with her sister Emily runs the UK-based group Fat Life Drawing. “We’ve had a model who loved being in the water and posed in the bathtub with a camera set up overhead. And another who posed in the forest.

Christian Quinteros Soto posed for a London-based life drawing group while in the middle of a serene forest in Sweden.

Illustration: Suhita Shirodkar

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El Salvador’s Bitcoin Gamble Is Off to a Rocky Start

As El Salvador enters its bitcoin era, its sky will sparkle with the lights of a platoon of drones. “We are throwing an event,” says American cryptocurrency evangelist Brock Pierce. “They did a big one at Burning Man in the past. They did one during the Super Bowl. So we brought down the best drone crew in the world, and we’re going to be putting on quite a show in the sky.”

A former child actor, and current tech investor and notorious Burner, Pierce led a delegation of crypto entrepreneurs in June to the Central American country, following president Nayib Bukele’s announcement that El Salvador would adopt bitcoin as its legal tender, in addition to the US dollar, starting on September 7, 2021. Since then, Pierce has been in touch with government officials in El Salvador—“I just got off the phone with the president’s brother,” he says—and with businesspeople looking to establish a presence in the country to cater to its novel crypto needs. He is now back in El Salvador to attend the big day. “The rate at which they’ve been able to implement this is rather astounding,” he says. “Like all things, I’m assuming it’s going to be less than perfect at first. But perfection is the enemy of progress.” 

The speed at which the Bukele government has brought about this experiment, kick-starting the country’s bitcoinization just 90 days after the parliament passed the law sanctioning the shift, is indeed eye-popping. To the point that one wonders whether the country, and its population, would have benefitted from a longer lead-up. Or, at least, from more transparency.

Crucial details regarding how the adoption of bitcoin will play out in practice are still unclear or have only been disclosed in recent days. A government regulation issued on August 27 established that Salvadoran banks will have to offer the exchange of bitcoin for dollars and vice versa—when carried out through a government-backed wallet—without charging commissions; the regulation also requires that all companies providing bitcoin-related services register with a government body, and adopt anti-money-laundering measures. (It is not clear what the penalties would be for failing to do so.)

“This was done a week and a half before September 7,” says Mario Aguiluz, chief sales officer of IBEX Mercado, a Guatemalan firm that sells bitcoin exchange and payment solutions, which also operates in El Salvador. “You really have to ask whether the government is ready. It’s a mixed bag.”

There is also a dearth of information about the government’s own bitcoin wallet, called Chivo. It’s known that it will work in concert with 200 Chivo ATM machines where users would be able to exchange their bitcoin for cash, free of commissions (a recent Economist story reports a 5 percent fee being charged when converting dollars into bitcoins, although the publication must have used a third-party wallet), and that each Chivo wallet will come complete with $30 worth of bitcoin as a government freebie. What we do not know is who exactly has developed the wallet or the ATM machines and what technology will underpin it.

According to Chris Hunter, cofounder of bitcoin firm Galoy, such plans are changing “almost hour-by-hour.” Hunter, whose bitcoin payment service in the Salvadoran coastal village of El Zonte reportedly inspired the nationwide project, says that the situation was still “very fluid” as of early September. As recently as last week, he was convinced that Chivo would not be able to use the lightning network, a system that dramatically speeds up bitcoin transactions, which would otherwise take several minutes to be confirmed. “Now, it seems pretty clear to me—if you asked me to make a wager—that it will be enabled as of Tuesday,” Hunter says. El Salvador’s government did not reply to a request for comment.

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How Computationally Complex Is a Single Neuron?

Our mushy brains seem a far cry from the solid silicon chips in computer processors, but scientists have a long history of comparing the two. As Alan Turing put it in 1952: “We are not interested in the fact that the brain has the consistency of cold porridge.” In other words, the medium doesn’t matter, only the computational ability.

Today, the most powerful artificial intelligence systems employ a type of machine learning called deep learning. Their algorithms learn by processing massive amounts of data through hidden layers of interconnected nodes, referred to as deep neural networks. As their name suggests, deep neural networks were inspired by the real neural networks in the brain, with the nodes modeled after real neurons—or, at least, after what neuroscientists knew about neurons back in the 1950s, when an influential neuron model called the perceptron was born. Since then, our understanding of the computational complexity of single neurons has dramatically expanded, so biological neurons are known to be more complex than artificial ones. But by how much?

To find out, David Beniaguev, Idan Segev and Michael London, all at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, trained an artificial deep neural network to mimic the computations of a simulated biological neuron. They showed that a deep neural network requires between five and eight layers of interconnected “neurons” to represent the complexity of one single biological neuron.

Even the authors did not anticipate such complexity. “I thought it would be simpler and smaller,” said Beniaguev. He expected that three or four layers would be enough to capture the computations performed within the cell.

Timothy Lillicrap, who designs decisionmaking algorithms at the Google-owned AI company DeepMind, said the new result suggests that it might be necessary to rethink the old tradition of loosely comparing a neuron in the brain to a neuron in the context of machine learning. “This paper really helps force the issue of thinking about that more carefully and grappling with to what extent you can make those analogies,” he said.

The most basic analogy between artificial and real neurons involves how they handle incoming information. Both kinds of neurons receive incoming signals and, based on that information, decide whether to send their own signal to other neurons. While artificial neurons rely on a simple calculation to make this decision, decades of research have shown that the process is far more complicated in biological neurons. Computational neuroscientists use an input-output function to model the relationship between the inputs received by a biological neuron’s long treelike branches, called dendrites, and the neuron’s decision to send out a signal.

This function is what the authors of the new work taught an artificial deep neural network to imitate in order to determine its complexity. They started by creating a massive simulation of the input-output function of a type of neuron with distinct trees of dendritic branches at its top and bottom, known as a pyramidal neuron, from a rat’s cortex. Then they fed the simulation into a deep neural network that had up to 256 artificial neurons in each layer. They continued increasing the number of layers until they achieved 99 percent accuracy at the millisecond level between the input and output of the simulated neuron. The deep neural network successfully predicted the behavior of the neuron’s input-output function with at least five—but no more than eight—artificial layers. In most of the networks, that equated to about 1,000 artificial neurons for just one biological neuron.

Neuroscientists now know that the computational complexity of a single neuron, like the pyramidal neuron at left, relies on the dendritic treelike branches, which are bombarded with incoming signals. These result in local voltage changes, represented by the neuron’s changing colors (red means high voltage, blue means low voltage) before the neuron decides whether to send its own signal called a “spike.” This one spikes three times, as shown by the traces of individual branches on the right, where the colors represent locations of the dendrites from top (red) to bottom (blue).

Video: David Beniaguev

“[The result] forms a bridge from biological neurons to artificial neurons,” said Andreas Tolias, a computational neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine.

But the study’s authors caution that it’s not a straightforward correspondence yet. “The relationship between how many layers you have in a neural network and the complexity of the network is not obvious,” said London. So we can’t really say how much more complexity is gained by moving from, say, four layers to five. Nor can we say that the need for 1,000 artificial neurons means that a biological neuron is exactly 1,000 times as complex. Ultimately, it’s possible that using exponentially more artificial neurons within each layer would eventually lead to a deep neural network with one single layer—but it would likely require much more data and time for the algorithm to learn.

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14 Best Weekend Deals: Gaming, Tech, and Cycling Gear

The next season is approaching fast, and temperatures are slipping. Whether you stubbornly refuse to be chased indoors or retreat to a warm living room, we won’t judge you. Check out these deals on video games, cycling apparel, and record player accessories; you just might spark a new lifelong obsession.

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Gaming Deals

Logitech G Pro X

Photograph: Logitech

Check out our guides to the Best Keyboards and Best Gaming Mice for more, plus our how-to on building your own PC.

We think the Logitech G Pro X (8/10, WIRED Recommends) is among the most comfortable gaming headsets out there. It’s not wireless, but it looks elegant, produces an expansive soundstage, and you can use Logitech’s software to control the quality of your voice. The mic was created in collaboration with Blue, and it’s excellent. 

Hey! Listen! Nintendo games rarely go on sale, and this small discount on the masterful Breath of the Wild brings the game to a lower-than-average price. If you’ve yet to pick it up for your Switch, now is the time to catch up before the sequel arrives in 2022. 

Enjoy the clickety-clack, tactile feel of the mechanical key switches as you vanquish Nazis and aliens. This wireless board gets up to 40 hours on a charge and has customizable RGB lighting. If you need help rationalizing the purchase, remember that mechanical keyboards typically last for well over a decade of regular use.

This pro-grade webcam built for streaming jumps around in price a lot, and it recently went as low as $150. It’s still an uncommonly low price, and a great option if you plan to hop on Twitch as you game. You’ll need to download Razer’s Synapse software and tweak a few settings to get the picture quality the way you want, but the resulting image is sharp and excellent. 

Cycling Deals

Gore Wear C7 Windstopper Pro

Photograph: Backcountry

Complete your cycling experience by visiting our guides to the Best Bike Locks and Best Biking Accessories.

The C7’s trim fit is perfect for cycling, where you don’t want baggy fabric dangling around the handlebars. Its Gore Windstopper fabric cuts through wind and rain drizzle to keep you pedaling even when the weather turns on you, and reflective logos make you more visible to traffic.

If it’s not cold enough outside for a full jacket, you can get by with a pair of tight elastic arm warmers. Antimicrobial treatment keeps them from stinking up as quickly as other, untreated synthetic arm warmers. These are sold as a pair.

Once it gets truly cold, the cycling shorts go in the closet and the cycling tights come out. These full-length tights wick away sweat while keeping you warm and toasty. A rear waist pocket keeps your phone handy and away from the bike seat.

Nothing is worse than biking with sweat-soaked underwear. The effects of chafing from wet fabric can stick around for days, like a bad curse. Slap on some synthetic liner shorts under your pants to wick away sweat and stay comfortable.

Only certain colors are on sale. These half-finger gloves aren’t the best for very cold rides, but the gel padding will add some comfort by cushioning your hands from the handlebars. Reviews warn that they run very small, so consider sizing up.

Miscellaneous Deals

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Photograph: Samsung

Peek at our Best Vinyl Accessories, Best Android Phones, and Best Workout Earbuds guides for more options. 

This is the lowest price we’ve ever seen for the Galaxy S21 Ultra (8/10, WIRED Recommends). It’s one of the best Android phones around, with a really fun (and unrivaled) camera system in the US that lets you capture objects far away with up to 10X optical zoom. 

This is our favorite bedside smart display. There’s no camera, so you don’t need to worry about prying eyes, and you can turn the microphone off with a physical switch. You can set it to display photos in an album via Google Photos. Plus, you get all the benefits of Google Assistant. Ask it to set alarms, reminders, general queries you’d type into Google.

The price frequently fluctuates on this streaming stick, but this is one of the lowest prices we’ve seen recently. If you’re always watching movies and shows on Prime Video, this is the streaming stick you should use. The Alexa-enabled remote works well, and while you can watch non-Amazon content like Netflix and Hulu, know that this device largely promotes all things Amazon.

These are some of our favorite wireless earbuds for working out. They’re wireless, but a cord runs between each earbud. That makes them last longer than the competition, and also lets you hang them around your neck when you’re done working out. 

Clip the on-page coupon for $5 off before checkout. Clean your records! Gunk and grime build up in the grooves and can become stubborn to remove if you go too long between cleanings. This kit comes with a brush, air blower, cleaning solution and gel, and a cleaning cloth. 

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Sci-Fi Is a Good Way to Learn Political Theory

Joseph Reisert, a government professor at Colby College, has found that science fiction novels such as Brave New World add a lot of value to his “Introduction to Political Theory” class.

“I wish I could claim that this idea was original with me, but actually I got the inspiration from the first political theory class I took as an undergraduate,” Reisert says in Episode 485 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “The professor at that time assigned a political theory class that began with Plato and ended with Brave New World, and he made a lot of the connections for us then that I try to bring out when I teach it in my class.”

Reisert says that science fiction can help us imagine scenarios that we would never consider otherwise. “Science fiction enables us to try out, in literature, very different sets of social arrangements,” he says, “and through the medium of story maybe even get beyond that reflexive, ‘It’s different so it must be bad,’ and sort of play out in our heads, ‘Well, could this work? What would that mean? If we change this thing, what happens to these other things?’ I think fiction does that really well.”

Reisert is currently teaching Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel The Dispossessed to help students understand Marxist ideas of a society without private property. “It’s the one imagining of a society without property that seems reasonably plausible to me,” he says. “I love that novel, and I think the central insight there is that to make that society without property work, even apart from the organizational challenges, requires a kind of moral transformation that’s not easy to accomplish.”

Another advantage of science fiction novels is that they tend to be more entertaining than political treatises, meaning that students are more likely to actually read them. “One shouldn’t underestimate the importance of having a light, easy reading at the end of a long semester right before people take exams,” Reisert says.

Listen to the complete interview with Joseph Reisert in Episode 485 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.

Joseph Reisert on Star Trek:

“Even as a kid I knew it was progressive—there’s still the Cold War going on and there’s a Russian on the bridge, and it’s interracial. But what struck me as a kid, and what I still really like about it is the optimism of the vision. I just found that so appealing, and the sort of mediating balance among [the characters]. If you think of Kirk as courage or spiritedness, and Spock as reason or intelligence, and McCoy as basically heart or friendship, all three of them turn out to be necessary. There are at least a few original series episodes where they come upon an apparently perfect but stagnant society that [puts] limits on intellectual inquiry, assertiveness, exploration, and daring, and the Enterprise folks bring it down.”

Joseph Reisert on Brave New World:

“[Bernard] is trying to impress Lenina Crowne by taking her to the Savage Reservation, and that’s where they meet John and Linda, and they bring them back to London. … When Linda dies, John kind of snaps and his disgust at the Brave New World is unleashed, and so he decides he’s going to liberate the Delta caste workers at the hospice for the dying by throwing away their drug ration. ‘Be men! Be free!’ he shouts to them. A riot ensues, and you’ve got to love the Brave New World, they break it up by foaming everyone with soma gas, and I think they have anesthetic water pistols so people fall asleep. And there’s the big, booming voice of their hypnotic instruction urging them to start an orgy. I think it actually ends with an orgy, this riot.”

Joseph Reisert on free speech:

“I definitely am pretty close to a free speech absolutist. Part of it is that anything I see being censored by somebody, I usually regard that as a reason to [think], ‘Well maybe I should look again at that idea, because somebody’s really afraid of it.’ It’s just so offensive to adults to say, ‘You can’t hear this’ or ‘You can’t hear that,’ and I think politically it’s just deeply corrosive. I think it’s much better to let people talk, because if they stop talking the next thing is violence. … There is a kind of—I don’t even think it’s a large group, but there’s a kind of loud, censorious, progressive set of students who really can’t abide having their pieties challenged at all, and they can make life difficult for people who would even want to talk about alternative perspectives, let alone actually embrace them. And I think that just has to be resisted at all costs.”

Joseph Reisert on Brave New World vs. Nineteen Eighty-Four:

“Even though I don’t altogether agree with [Mustapha Mond’s] defense of the Brave New World, he in some ways embodies all the virtues that nobody else in the Brave New World is really allowed to cultivate. … When O’Brien [in Nineteen Eighty-Four] is eating real chocolate or having real coffee, in a weird sort of way he’s tasting the sorrow of the other party. The point of it for him is the sadistic boot-on-face-forever. Whereas Mond is kind of wistful. ‘If they read Othello, they couldn’t understand it, and it would unsettle them. Yeah it would be nice if they could have real art, but the price would be too high.’ It’s not like he’s enjoying the deprivation of others, which is the vibe I get from Nineteen Eighty-Four.”

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