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Star Wars Ventures Deep Into Thrawn’s Past in This Ascendancy: Chaos Rising Excerpt



Thrawn’s past casts a long shadow.
Thrawn’s past casts a long shadow.
Image: Sarofsky Design/Del Rey

In Star Wars’ current canon, we’ve seen Thrawn’s rise as one of the Empire’s most cunning Grand Admirals. Books have shown us how he left his homeworld and the unknown regions to explore “our” side of the Star Wars galaxy, but Timothy Zahn’s latest trilogy is delving back into that past, and io9 has a look inside.

Del Rey’s Chaos Rising is the first book in a brand new trilogy—dubbed Ascendancy—that Zahn is writing about his most iconic Star Wars creation. The story takes place years before we would meet him in Star Wars Rebels, or when he first ventured into Imperial space, or even when he first crossed paths with Anakin Skywalker during the Clone Wars. Taking us beyond the edge of Star Wars’ galaxy and into the unknown regions, Chaos Rising will explore Thrawn’s homeworld Csilla, the heart of the Chiss Ascendancy, and the nine families that rule Chiss society.

Chaos Rising sees the peace on Csilla thrown into disarray when its capital is rocked by a devastating attack from mysterious, unseen enemies. Desperate to find out who is targeting the Ascendancy, the mission to find out who is behind the assault is given to a standout young Defense Fleet cadet, named Mitth’raw’nuru, looking to ingratiate himself into the powerful Mitth family. Or, for those not up on their Cheunh, as you and I (and his friends, his enemies, and almost certainly his frenemies as well) know him: Thrawn!

Illustration for article titled iStar Wars/i Ventures Deep Into Thrawns Past in This iAscendancy: Chaos Rising/i Excerpt
Image: Sarofsky Design/Del Rey

In our exclusive excerpt below from one of Chaos Rising’s interstitial flashback moments—places throughout the story that highlight key memories from Thrawn’s past—Cadet Mitth’raw’nuru crosses paths with a fellow young Chiss named Al’iastov, who will go on to play a major part in his and Chaos Rising’s story.

Al’iastov is what is known as an ozyly-esehembo in the Chiss language, translated into Star Wars’ English-equivalent as a “sky-walker.” Sky-Walkers, who are mostly female, play vital roles aboard Chiss starships: they’re actually Force-sensitives, and use their precognitive abilities to help ships navigate through the volatile interstellar ephemera that made the Unknown Regions, well, unknown. But through use, their powers fade, and Al’iastov finds her career as a Sky-Walker near its end…until a chance meeting with a young Cadet potentially puts her on a very interesting path. Check out the full excerpt below, or, if you’d prefer to listen to it, click the video to hear narrator Marc Thompson’s reading of it from the Chaos Rising audiobook!


The journey ended, and Al’iastov brought herself out of Third Sight into the muted light of the Chiss Defense Force Transport Tomra’s bridge. She lifted her hands away from the navigational controls, a hollow feeling in both stomach and heart. “Senior Commander?” she asked ten­tatively, looking at the helm officer seated beside her.

“We’ve arrived,” he confirmed. “Thank you. I’ll take it from here.”

“Okay,” Al’iastov murmured. Unstrapping, she stood up and walked across the quiet bridge to the hatch.

She walked through the opening and continued down the empty corridor toward the captain’s quarters, where she and her caregiver had been given space. The Tomra never went outside the Ascendancy, so it didn’t have a proper sky-walker suite. Mafole, Al’iastov’s caregiver, had complained about that, very loudly, which had made Ju­nior Captain Vorlip mad right back at her.

On Al’iastov’s other ships, her caregiver usually met her outside the bridge and walked her back to the sky-walker suite. But after Mafole’s fight with Vorlip, she’d de­clared she wouldn’t leave their room until they reached Naporar, and had told Al’iastov she’d be walking back and forth alone.

And as Al’iastov walked the long corridor, her eyes blurred with tears.

There was no reason to have a sky-walker on this trip. She knew that. The routes within the Ascendancy weren’t like the ones out in the Chaos. Here, the pathways were clear, and the pilots knew how to get where they were going.

That was why the fleet had put Al’iastov’s test here. Trips like this were a safe way to see if a sky-walker could still do her job.

The pilot hadn’t said anything. Neither had Junior Cap­tain Vorlip.

But Al’iastov knew.

She hadn’t been able to keep the Tomra on the right path. The pilot had had to correct the course as they trav­eled.

Her Third Sight was mostly gone. Her job was ended. The only life she’d ever known was over. A full year ahead of the usual schedule, her life was over.

At age thirteen.

“Are you all right?”

Al’iastov stopped short, rubbing away the tears that had kept her from seeing the other person’s approach. A young man in a black uniform stood facing her a few steps away. There weren’t any insignia pins on his collar, which marked him as a cadet, and his shoulder patch had a sunrise on it. That was one of the Nine Families, she knew, but she couldn’t remember which one. “I’m fine,” she said. One of her other caregivers had told her once that she should never complain about how she was feeling. “Who are you?”

“Cadet Mitth’raw’nuru,” he said. “Journeying to the Taharim Academy. Who are you?”

“Al’iastov.” She winced, remembering too late that her identity was supposed to be kept a secret from everyone except the highest-ranking officers. “I’m the captain’s daughter,” she added, repeating the lie she was always supposed to give if anyone outside the bridge crew asked.

Thrawn’s eyebrow rose, just a bit, and Al’iastov’s sink­ing heart sank a little deeper. He didn’t believe her. Not only was her life over, but she was probably in trouble now, too. “I mean—”

“It’s all right,” Thrawn said. “What’s wrong, Al’iastov? Can I help?”

Al’iastov sighed. She wasn’t supposed to complain. But for once she didn’t really care what she was supposed to do. “I don’t think so,” she said. “I’m . . . just worried. About . . . I don’t know. About what I’m going to do.”

“I understand,” Thrawn said.

Al’iastov caught her breath. Had he figured out what she was? Her brief moment of uncaring rebellion van­ished, leaving her once again fully aware that she was going to be in trouble. “You do?” she asked carefully.

“Of course,” Thrawn said. “All of us feel uncertainty as we travel through life. I don’t know specifically what con­cerns you, but I assure you that all the cadets aboard this ship are also facing changes in their futures.”

She felt a bit of relief. So he didn’t know she was a sky-walker. “But you all know where you’re going,” she said. “You’re a cadet, and you’re going to be in the Defense Force. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

“You’re a ship captain’s daughter,” Thrawn said. “That will surely open many opportunities. But just because I know I’m going to the academy doesn’t mean there aren’t a great many unknowns. And uncertainty can be the most frightening of mental states.”

And then, to Al’iastov’s surprise, Thrawn got down on one knee in front of her, putting his face a little lower than hers. Grown-ups almost never did that. Even most of Al’iastov’s other caregivers had usually stood straight up looking down at her. “But while all of us face a variety of paths, we all have the power to choose among them,” he continued. “You have that power as well, the power to choose which of those paths is the right one for you.”

“I don’t know,” Al’iastov said, feeling the tears start up again. What kind of choices did a thirteen-year-old failed sky-walker even have? No one had talked much to her about that. “But thank you for—”

“What’s going on here?” The harsh voice of Junior Cap­tain Vorlip came from behind her. “Who are you, and what are you doing here?”

“Cadet Mitth’raw’nuru,” Thrawn said as he quickly stood up. “I was exploring the ship when I came upon your daughter. She seemed distressed, and I stopped to offer assistance.”

“You’re not supposed to be in this corridor,” Vorlip said sternly. She walked past Al’iastov and stopped in front of Thrawn. “Didn’t you see the authorized personnel only signs?”

“I assumed they were intended to stop nonmilitary per­sonnel,” Thrawn said. “As a cadet, I thought I would be ex­empt.”

“Well, you aren’t,” Vorlip said. “You’re supposed to be back with the other cadets.”

“My apologies,” Thrawn said. “I merely wished to get the feel of the ship.” He bowed his head and started to turn away.

Vorlip put out her arm to block his path. “What do you mean, the feel of the ship?”

“I wanted to study its rhythms,” Thrawn said. “The deck has subtle vibrations that reflect the ebb and flow of the thrusters. Our movement through hyperspace was punctu­ated by slight hesitations and swells. The airflow indicates small variations as we change direction. The compensa­tors occasionally lag slightly behind course changes, with effects that are again transmitted through the deck.”


“Really,” Vorlip said. She didn’t seem as angry now. “How many spaceflights have you had before this one?”

“None,” Thrawn said. “This is my first voyage away from my home.”

“Is it.” Vorlip stepped close to him. “Close your eyes. Keep them closed until I tell you otherwise.”

Thrawn closed his eyes. Vorlip took him by the upper arms, and without warning, began spinning him around.

Thrawn’s arms flailed outward with surprise. His feet stumbled, trying to keep up with his body’s movements. Vorlip kept him spinning, and also slowly moved around with him. When she was a third of the way from where she’d started, she caught his upper arms and brought him to a stop.

“Eyes still closed,” she said, holding him steady. “Which way is forward?”

Thrawn was silent a moment. Then, he raised a hand and pointed toward the Tomra’s bow. “There,” he said.

Vorlip kept holding him for a second. Then she let go and moved a step back. “You can open your eyes,” she said. “Return to your quarters. And don’t ever pass that kind of sign until you’re damn sure you’re allowed.”

“Yes, Captain,” Thrawn said. He blinked a couple of times as he finished getting his balance. He nodded to Vorlip, nodded and smiled at Al’iastov, then turned and left.

“I’m sorry,” Al’iastov said quietly.

“It’s all right,” Vorlip said. She was still looking at Thrawn.

“Are you mad at him?” Al’iastov asked. “He was only trying to help me.”

“I know.”

“Are you mad at me?”

Vorlip turned and gave her a small smile. “No, of course not,” she said. “You’ve done nothing wrong.”

“But . . .” Al’iastov stopped, feeling confused.


“I’m not mad at anyone,” Vorlip said. “It’s just . . . it took me fifteen voyages, in four different ships, before I devel­oped that kind of awareness. This Mitth’raw’nuru did it in one.”

“Is that strange?”

“Very,” Vorlip assured her.

“He seems nice,” Al’iastov said. She paused, thinking about what he’d said about paths. “What happens to me when I leave here?”

“You’ll be adopted,” Vorlip said. “Probably into one of the Nine Ruling Families—they like to have former sky-walkers.”


“It’s a prestige thing,” Vorlip said. “I’m sure you realize that girls with your ability are very rare. It’s an honor for one of you to be made a merit adoptive.”

Al’iastov felt her throat tighten. “Even when we’re no use to anyone?”

“Don’t say things like that,” Vorlip said sternly. “Every person is valuable. My point is that you’ll be welcomed into whatever family adopts you. They’ll take care of you, send you on to further education, and eventually find a ca­reer that you’re best suited for.”

“Unless they throw me out.”

“I told you to stop talking like that,” Vorlip said. “They’re not going to throw you out. You’re prestige for the family, remember?”

“Yes,” Al’iastov said. She still didn’t completely believe it, but there was no use talking any more about it now.

But there was one more point. “Do I get to choose which family I want?”

Vorlip frowned. “I don’t know. To be honest, I don’t know any of the details about how these things are done. Why, are you looking at a specific family?”

“Yes,” Al’iastov said. “The Mitth.”


“Really.” Vorlip glanced over her shoulder. “Like Cadet Thrawn?”


Vorlip huffed out a thoughtful breath. “As I say, I don’t know how it works. But there’s certainly no reason you can’t ask. Actually, now that I think about it, a former sky-walker with your record should be able to ask for whatever you want.”

And there it was. Vorlip had said it. Former sky-walker.

Al’iastov’s navigational career was officially over.

But strangely, it suddenly didn’t seem to matter so much now. “That’s what he said,” she told Vorlip. “He said I’d be able to choose my path.”

“Well, cadets say all sorts of things,” Vorlip said, dismiss­ing both Thrawn and the conversation with a wave of her hand. “Come—I need you and your caregiver in my office. There are forms we need to fill out.”

Mitth’raw’nuru, he’d named himself, Al’iastov re­minded herself as she and the captain walked.

Mitth’raw’nuru. She would remember that.

And when the time came, the Mitth family would defi­nitely be getting a request.

Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising is set to release on September 1—and, as announced on StarWars.com today, first-run copies of the book will come with suitably Chiss-ian blue-tinted pages, and special color accents throughout the book.

For more, make sure you’re following us on our Instagram @io9dotcom.

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Was Quibi the good kind of startup failure?



Editor’s note: Get this free weekly recap of TechCrunch news that any startup can use by email every Saturday morning (7 a.m. PT). Subscribe here.

Startup failure is easy to hold up as a type of martyrdom for progress, especially if the founders are starting out scrappy in the first place and trying to save the world. But heroic narrative gets complicated when the startup failure involves the biggest names in entertainment, dubious product decisions, and well over $1 billion in losses in an already very competitive consumer tech subcategory.

I was going to skip any mention of Quibi because, like me, you have heard more than enough already. But this week its shutdown announcement turned into a debate on Twitter about the nature of startup failure and whether this was still the right kind. Many in the startup world said it was still good, basically because most any ambitious startup effort leads to progress. Danny Crichton, in turn, argues that the negativity was fully justified in this case.

Let’s be honest: Most startups fail. Most ideas turn out wrong. Most entrepreneurs are never going to make it. That doesn’t mean no one should build a startup, or pursue their passions and dreams. When success happens, we like to talk about it, report on it and try to explain why it happens — because ultimately, more entrepreneurial success is good for all of us and helps to drive progress in our world.

But let’s also be clear that there are bad ideas, and then there are flagrantly bad ideas with billions in funding from smart people who otherwise should know better. Quibi wasn’t the spark of the proverbial college dropout with a passion for entertainment trying to invent a new format for mobile phones with ramen money from friends and family. Quibi was run by two of the most powerful and influential executives in the United States today, who raised more money for their project than other female founders have raised collectively this year.

Ouch. However, I think this still misses the bigger dynamic happening.

Quibi was so easy to criticize that it created an opportunity to plausibly defend for anyone who wants to show that they are here for the startups no matter how crazy. When you defend Quibi, you’re defending your own process, and making it clear to the next generation of startups that you’re personally not scared off from other people with crazy ideas and have the will to try even if the result is a big mess. Which is who founders want to hire in the early days, and who investors want to bet on.

I support both sides of this mass-signaling game. Analysts and journalists have provided a broad range of valuable insights about how Quibi was doing it wrong, that are no doubt being internalized by founders of all types. Meanwhile, Quibi defenders are no doubt sorting through their inbound admirers for great new deals. All in all, Quibi and the debate around it might ultimately make future companies a little better. Which is what we all wanted in the first place, right?

Root Insurance plans pricing as Datto goes public

The IPO market has not shut down (yet) for election turmoil and whatnot. First up, managed service provider Datto went out on Wednesday and has inched up since then — a strong outcome for the company and its private equity owner, even if third parties did not benefit from an additional pop. A few more notes from Alex Wilhelm:

Datto’s CEO Tim Weller  told TechCrunch  in a call that the company will still be well-capitalized after the public offering, saying that it will have a very strong cash position.

The company should have places to deploy its remaining cash. In its S-1 filings, Datto highlighted a COVID-19 tailwind stemming from companies accelerating their digital transformation efforts. TechCrunch asked the company’s CEO whether there was an international component to that story, and whether digital transformation efforts are accelerating globally and not merely domestically. In a good omen for startups not based in the United States, the executive said that they were.

Next to market, Root Insurance released its stock pricing set this week, raising the goal to a valuation above $6 billion. It’s definitely on track to be Ohio’s biggest tech IPO to date. Here’s Alex again, with a comparison against Lemonade, another recently IPOed insurance tech provider for Extra Crunch:

[I]t appears that Root at around $6 billion is cheap compared to Lemonade’s pricing today. So, if you’d like to anticipate that Root raises its IPO price range to bring it closer to the multiples that Lemonade enjoys, feel free as you are probably not wrong. Are we saying that Root will double its valuation to match Lemonade’s current metrics? No. But closing the gap a bit? Sure.

For insurtech startups, even Root’s current pricing is strong. Recall that Root was worth $3.65 billion just last August. At $6.34 billion, the company has appreciated massively in just the last year and change. A small repricing could boost Root’s valuation differential to a flat 100% rather easily.

So, for MetroMile and ClearCover and the rest of the related players, do enjoy these good times as long as they last….

Image Credits: Dong Wenjie (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

AR/VR is coming (sooner than expected)

A year ago, the market looked quite young. But now, the pandemic has made the value of augmented and virtual reality clearer to the world. Lucas Matney, who has been covering the topic here for years, just conducted a survey of seven top investors in the space. While they mostly continue to see the vertical as a bit early, they see it getting relevant fast. Here’s one key response, from Brianne Kimmel of Work Life Ventures, on Extra Crunch:

Most investors I chat with seem to be long-term bullish on AR, but are reticent to invest in an explicitly AR-focused startup today. What do you want to see before you make a play here?

I think it all comes down to a unique insight and a competitive advantage when it comes to distribution. And so, I’ll use these new [Zoom] apps as an example, I think that they’re a great example where there are certain aspects of roles and certain highly specialized skills where teaching educating and doing your daily job on Zoom won’t actually cut it. I do foresee AR applications becoming an integral part of certain types of work. I also think that now that as a lot of the larger platforms such as Zoom are more open, people will start building on the platforms and there will be AR-specific use cases that can help industries where, you know, a traditional video conferencing experience doesn’t quite cut it.

Busy Zurich street scene with blurred electric car and pedestrians. Luxury electric cars are popular in Zurich. In the background are retail shops and offices. Zürich often ranks in the top ten most liveable cities in the world.

Zurich startup scene loaded with talent

In other survey news, Mike Butcher continues his (sadly virtual) tour across European startup hubs for EC, this week checking in with investors in Zurich, Switzerland. Here’s a tidy explanation of the city and country’s deep technical experience, from Michael Blank of investiere:

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?

Switzerland has always been at the forefront of technological innovation in areas such as precision engineering or life sciences. We strongly believe that Switzerland will also thrive in the long run in those areas. Thinking for example about additive manufacturing startups such as 9T Labs or Scrona, drone companies such as Verity or Wingtra or health tech startups such as Aktiia or Versantis.

Brussels investors, Mike is headed your way next. You can reach him here.

Around TechCrunch

Announcing the agenda for TC Sessions: Space 2020
Rocket Lab’s Peter Beck is coming to TC Sessions: Space 2020
Extra Crunch Partner Perk: Get 6 months free of Zendesk Support and Sales CRM

Across the week


This serial founder is taking on Carta with cap table management software she says is better for founders

Equity Monday: Three neat venture rounds, and Alibaba’s latest

The smart speaker market is expected to grow 21% next year

Financial institutions can support COVID-19 crowdfunding campaigns

Ready Set Raise, an accelerator for women built by women, announces third class

Extra Crunch

Here’s how fast a few dozen startups grew in Q3 2020

Late-stage deals made Q3 2020 a standout VC quarter for US-based startups

Founders don’t need to be full-time to start raising venture capital

Three views on the future of media startups

Dear Sophie: What visa options exist for a grad co-founding a startup?


From Alex:

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast (now on Twitter!), where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

Myself, along with Danny and Natasha had a lot to get through, and more to say than expected. A big thanks to Chris for cutting the show down to size.

Now, what did we get to? Aside from a little of everything, we ran through:

Whew! It was a lot, but also very good fun. Look for clips on YouTube if you’d like, and we’ll chat you all next Monday.


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Why can’t I fix my own phone, toaster, or tractor?



As critically ill COVID-19 patients started showing up in droves at emergency rooms around the world, ventilators became a crucial technology keeping patients alive. When hospitals’ own resources became overwhelmed, the Strategic National Stockpile dusted off and distributed thousands of the life-support machines throughout the country.

But not all were in working condition.

J. Scot Mackeil, a biomedical technician with more than 40 years of experience, worked on a team tasked with inspecting machines sent to Massachusetts’s Emergency Management Agency. In mid-April, while performing spot checks on hundreds of ventilators packed in freight pods, Mackeil discovered one with a damaged power connector.

But when he asked the manufacturer to send him a replacement part, he was surprised to receive the manufacturer’s response: “ ‘Absolutely no.’ ”

“I had just expected, ‘Oh, no problem. Where can we send it?’ ” he said. “I wasn’t expecting them to dig their heels in.”

Mackeil was well aware of what’s become a common obstacle for hospitals: Manufacturers not only have a monopoly over even simple replacement parts, but they also often allow only their authorized service technicians to repair equipment.

Mackeil told The Markup that over his career, manufacturers resisting hospitals doing their own repairs has become the norm.

“Medical equipment manufacturers look at the service phase of the device life as a huge profit center,” Mackeil said.

With the ventilator, he had thought they might relent.

“It was just a shame,” he said.

It’s not just medical device manufacturers who keep a tight grip on the inner workings of the products they sell—mobile phones, game consoles, coffee makers, and farm equipment all share examples of the same sort of repair restrictions that advocates calling for “right to repair” laws seek to eliminate.

And though you might technically own your camera, game console, blender, or phone, you repair it at your own peril. Going outside the official route for fixes is either impractical without repair manuals and proprietary tools or could void the machine’s warranty (though consumers have some protections on that front).

“We are no longer able to fix the things we buy,” said Gay Gordon-Byrne, who is the executive director of The Repair Association, a coalition of businesses and organizations seeking legislation across the country that would give consumers the right to repair their own machines.

The right-to-repair movement has drawn an unusual coalition of stakeholders, including environmentalists, libertarians, engineers, independent repair shop owners, gamers, hobbyists, and farmers.

Groups like The Repair Association have helped push consumer electronic right-to-repair bills introduced in dozens of states. None, however, have become law in recent years.

Lobbyists for the electronics manufacturers have also raised concerns that unqualified repairs could lead to dangerous failures of their products and that states with right-to-repair laws could become havens for hackers.

Such laws could eliminate a manufacturer’s monopoly on not only who can fix a product—but also on when a product is essentially deemed unfixable.

Why won’t Apple fix my phone? Can someone else do it? 

Today’s mobile phone is a marvel of precision engineering—watertight seams, sealed batteries, and a lack of visible fasteners that would make most consumers unsure of how you would even go about opening it. To get inside requires detailed schematics, diagrams, and specialized tools.

Apple has all of those, of course, but in July 2019, Apple VP Kyle Andeer testified to Congress that the company and its authorized service providers perform only four types of iPhone repair: display, battery, speaker, and camera. If your phone dies (when it is no longer covered by warranty or optional AppleCare coverage) and it can’t be fixed by one of those repairs, Apple may suggest you buy another phone.

Jessa Jones, founder of  iPad Rehab, a mobile device repair shop in Honeoye Falls, N.Y., says that’s disingenuous.

“I think that my customers are largely unaware that what they’re being told by the manufacturer of the device, about the problem that they’re having and about the repairability of that problem, is false,” she told The Markup.

“We aim to avoid the need for repair in the first place,” Apple spokesperson Keri Fulton said in a statement to The Markup. “But when a repair is needed, there should be safe, dependable options available to bring a device back to its best possible performance.”

Jones runs a popular YouTube channel on which she uses her soldering skills under a microscope to perform several repairs that Apple does not offer.

She particularly specializes in restoring data from dead phones—often helping people recover precious photos of loved ones.

“There’s a chip on the board that is soldered on there that contains all of your memories, and those memories are encrypted by default,” Jones said, and it’s time-consuming though entirely possible to retrieve.

“The only way to decrypt that and get them back out is you’ve got to get a multi-meter out and solve problems on that logic board,” she said.

Jones also noted that there are many relatively simple repairs that shouldn’t require a trip to the Apple Store or an authorized dealer.

Tips are easy to find online, and sites like iFixit offer detailed repair guides, tools, and replacement parts. Independent phone repair shops can be found in towns large and small, but they often operate without official manufacturer certifications to repair devices. These shops may use unofficial aftermarket parts from overseas, or replacement parts harvested from inoperable phones.

But like many other device manufacturers, Apple increasingly employs strict digital controls over the hardware that the device detects, making non-Apple repairs of some components impossible without Apple diagnostic tools.

“Our ability to just take something from the junkyard of iPhone parts and plug it into your new phone is becoming increasingly limited, because the parts are now serialized, meaning there’s a serial number in the part that the phone refuses to operate [without],” said Jones.

Fulton from Apple declined to comment but pointed The Markup to the company’s 2020 Environment Report, which says products are becoming easier to repair.

“For our iPhone devices, we’ve utilized stretch release adhesives, which securely hold the battery during use yet can be swiftly debonded by service partners to install replacements,” the report says.

Apple is not alone in making devices that are hard to repair. Jones said manufacturers of Android devices employ manufacturing techniques that make repairs difficult. iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens told The Markup, though, that there are manufacturers who are voluntarily adopting right-to-repair principles.

“Motorola is the first smartphone manufacturer that stepped up and is basically complying with right to repair,” he said. “They have worked with us.”

There’s a diverse, growing movement behind the right to repair — but it faces hurdles 

Some of the earliest calls for right-to-repair legislation came from farmers, who’ve been struggling for the ability to fix their own John Deere tractors for years. John Deere equipment is sold with software restrictions that only authorized technicians can bypass, frustrating traditionally self-reliant farmers.

During their campaigns for president, both Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders cited the plight of these farmers unable to repair their own equipment and called for a national right-to-repair law as part of a host of proposals to help American farmers that ended up being adopted as a plank in the Democratic platform for 2020.

A spokesperson for John Deere declined to comment.

The company has recently made an effort to smooth things over, offering a program with diagnostics, training, and documentation for farmers wanting to do their own repairs, starting in 2021.

In 2018, an alliance of right-to-repair advocates won long-sought exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to allow farmers and other consumers to break software locks on the products they own—without breaking the law. These latest exemptions (which are considered every three years under the law) enable the legal “jailbreaking” of new phones, voice assistants, and software locks on tractors, cars, and home appliances—though not on video game consoles. Importantly, they also allow you to hire someone to do this breaking for you.

Massachusetts, where a voter-initiative automotive right-to-repair law passed in 2012 with 86 percent voting in favor, shows the potential popularity of expanding such laws.

This November, Massachusetts voters will consider an update to the automotive law, which would allow consumers to access and control the automobile diagnostic and telemetric data that’s increasingly sent directly to car manufacturers via cellular radios.

Massachusetts also has a consumer electronics right-to-repair bill that advocates say is the furthest along of any in the country, though it’s currently awaiting a vote by both chambers of the state legislature.

The Massachusetts bill has served as a template for proposed automotive and consumer electronic right-to-repair legislation around the country—some of which has come close to becoming law, only to be killed at the last minute by lobbying from electronics and automobile manufacturers. New York State lobbying disclosures for 2018, for instance, show that Apple, Verizon, Facebook, AT&T, Toyota, Caterpillar, and others all successfully lobbied against a proposed “Fair Repair Act.”

Industry groups opposing right to repair include Consumer Technology Association, Association of Equipment Manufacturers, and TechNet (a large industry group whose members include Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Comcast).

In 2019, TechNet’s then Northeast executive director, Christina Fisher, testified before the Massachusetts state legislature’s Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure in opposition to the proposed digital right-to-repair bill.

Fisher argued that the bill was “legislation in search of a problem”—that consumers already have plenty of choices for repairs and that such laws would hurt innovation.

TechNet declined to comment for this story, pointing The Markup to the group’s previous statements.

An all-star list of engineers and cyber security professionals founded Securepairs in 2018 to counter these arguments, which the group says are without merit.

What comes next?

If Massachusetts were to pass the nation’s first consumer electronic right-to-repair law, it could have national influence. When the Massachusetts Automotive Right to Repair bill passed in 2012, all major car manufacturers signed a memorandum of understanding voluntarily adopting the requirements of the Massachusetts law nationwide.

Aside from legislation, Apple does appear to be moving forward with several efforts at increasing the availability of parts and repairs for its products, but recent internal emails, disclosed as part of a U.S. House antitrust subcommittee hearing in July, show internal confusion surrounding these initiatives.

“What is our repair strategy? Are we comfortable releasing our repair manuals for all products moving forward?” read one email from Lori Lodes, Apple’s former director of corporate communications, from March 2019.

Apple declined to comment on these emails directly and referred The Markup back to its 2020 Environment Report, in which the company says it has “broadened the reach of Apple authorized service repair. Through a partnership with Best Buy, we added 1000 more AASP locations in 2019, tripling the number of U.S. AASP locations compared to three years ago.”

Meanwhile, prompted by the pandemic, there’s a bit of a guerrilla movement afoot, at least when it comes to medical devices.

When Wiens, CEO of repair website iFixit, heard about the crisis of the shortage of ventilators in Italy as that country struggled at the height of its first wave of COVID-19 cases, he wanted to help. Aside from selling replacement parts and repair tools, iFixit offers detailed documentation for repairing electronics—and Wiens decided they could do something similar for crucial medical equipment.

Wiens and his team collaborated with volunteers to collect and organize a free library of more than 13,000 service and maintenance manuals for lifesaving medical equipment. The move was potentially legally risky, but so far, the materials remain online.

Originally published on themarkup.org

This article was originally published on The Markup by Jon Keegan and was republished under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license.

For more gear, gadget, and hardware news and reviews, follow Plugged on Twitter and Flipboard.

Published October 24, 2020 — 17:00 UTC


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SpaceX launches 60 more satellites during 15th Starlink mission



SpaceX has launched another batch of 60 Starlink satellites, the primary ingredient for its forthcoming global broadband internet service. The launch took place at 11:31 AM EDT, with a liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. This is the fifteenth Starlink launch thus far, and SpaceX has now launched nearly 900 of the small, low Earth orbit satellites to date.

This launch used a Falcon 9 first stage booster that twice previously, both times earlier this year, including just in September for the delivery of a prior batch of Starlink satellites. The booster was also recovered successfully with a landing at sea aboard SpaceX’s ‘Just Read the Instructions’ floating autonomous landing ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

Earlier this week, Ector County Independent School District in Texas announced itself as a new pilot partner for SpaceX’s Starlink network. Next year, that district will gain connectivity to low latency broadband via Starlink’s network, connecting up to 45 households at first, with plans to expand it to 90 total household customers as more of the constellation is launched and brought online.

SpaceX’s goal with Starlink is to provide broadband service globally at speeds and with latency previously unavailable in hard-to-reach and rural areas. Its large constellation, which will aim to grow to tens of thousands of satellites before it achieves its max target coverage, offers big advantages in terms of latency and reliability vs. large geosynchronous satellites that provide most current satellite-based internet available commercially.


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