YC’s latest VR bet is a team building a cyberpunk anime MMO

There are niche startups and then there are VR companies going after fans of the “cyberpunk fantasy anime aesthetic.”

Ramen VR is one of only a few virtual reality startups that Y Combinator has bet on in the past few years and is only one of two in the company’s most recent batch of bets. It has a niche approach, but it’s hoping to build an MMO that can leanly grow alongside the slow-but-steady virtual reality market. Like any content play that’s hoping for VC dollars, Ramen VR wants eventually to be a platform.

“Long-term, our goal isn’t just to create a game, but we’ve seen the issues of VR platforms that tried to be platforms before they had a meaningful use case. If you’re just trying to be a chat room or platform without any users, that doesn’t work,” CEO Andy Tsen tells TechCrunch.

The company’s first title is called Zenith, and it’s an anime-inspired fantasy title that plays with cyberpunk themes as well. The founders are really aiming to give VR geeks the game that they want, one that taps into the 80s futuristic aesthetic with gameplay that pays tribute to popular sci-fi books, movies and games of the era.

MMOs are attracting quite a bit of inbound interest in the venture-backed startup world. Part of the reasoning has been because of people seeing the scope a title like Fortnite was able to achieve so quickly after going virall; the other part is the prevalence of developer tools that gaming startups are able to easily plug into their tech stacks. Ramen VR is using Improbable’s SpatialOS to bring persistent online gameplay to its users.

The company just rolled out a Kickstarter to gauge interest for Zenith; they launched a week ago and have raised $132,000 in the crowdfunding campaign thus far. Backers get access to a VR version of the title as well as a desktop PC copy. The startup plans to roll out across VR devices, including PC systems, PlayStation VR and Oculus Quest.

“The whole point is that it’s not just on one device, it’s a world, it’s literally the Upside Down from Stranger Things layered on top of your entire world. At any point, no matter what screen you’re on, you can access that,” CTO Lauren Frazier tells us.

The startup still has a bit of development ahead of them, but the current plan is to launch an Alpha in six months, a beta in nine months and to go live broadly a year from now.

How to Dispose of a Broken Pair of Headphones

Photo: Shutterstock

On Amazon, a pair of headphones by a manufacturer called HiFiMan costs $2,250. According to reviews, of which there are 28 supposed buyers, one commenter said his pair broke and that he wouldn’t buy another pair again. (His review mentions that this was his second set from the company.)

Last week, we wrote about how to get rid of valuable electronic waste like your used Xbox and Playstation gaming consoles. If your headphones have stopped working, and even a repair shop can’t come to the rescue, it’s important to dispose of them the right way; headphones, like consoles, are complicated to recycle because they must be disassembled to be repurposed.

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Before you throw out your old pair of headphones, which may or may not cost a few thousand dollars, research your options so you can avoid adding to the problem of electronic waste.

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Photo: Ian Waldie (Getty Images)

Send them to a facility that will recycle them

Typically, headphones are made of three components which include the speakers (that often contain magnets), a casing that covers those speakers, and a cord. Depending on the exact brand and model, there might be aluminum or copper wires, as well as foam or rubber around the pads around your ears, as Recycle Nation writes. Meanwhile, Airpods and its case are mostly made of various types of plastic and metal.

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If you have non-working headphones, your first step before choosing to recycle them on your own is to check with the manufacturer. They may accept them and recycle the pair on your behalf. (Apple will recycle your broken Airpods and other Apple-branded products, for example.) Also, it’s good to check with the manufacturer to see if your headphones are still under warranty; it won’t solve your trash problem, but at least you’ll have the pair replaced for free.

If your manufacturer doesn’t offer a recycling program, do some research for nearby big-box retailers. Best Buy stores, for instance, will accept used headphones for recycling (or for trade-in, if they’re still working). Look for recycling kiosks just inside the store or just refer to the customer service if you’re unable to locate them.

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Otherwise, use Earth 911’s search locator to find nearby electronic waste drop-off locations. Search for “Audio Equipment,” your zip code, and results for nearby facilities will appear. Going through the effort of driving to a facility might not be worth it for a single pair of headphones, so it would be a good opportunity to assemble other electronics you want to dispose of, too. (Maybe you have a non-working gaming console or pair of speakers taking up too much space in your living room.)

Otherwise, mail your headphones to recycling programs like those at JLab Audio; just enter your email, fill out a form, send in your headphones or earbuds, and they’ll recycle it on your behalf. They’ll also send you a code to receive 30% off any order of new headphones over on their website.

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How to maintain the quality of your headphones

If your pair of earbuds are on their last leg and adhered together with only duct tape, there are a few things you can do to extend their lifespan (and to avoid purchasing a new pair time and time again).

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As Gizmodo writes, you should take basic precautions, like avoiding too hot or cold temperatures or yanking out the cable to remove them—pull the end instead. Also, avoid submerging them in liquids and keep away from places with high humidity.

And how you store them is important, too. “An easy way to make your earbuds last longer is by wrapping them up properly,” u/n00bcrusher wrote on a Reddit thread. “About 90% of the time earbuds stop working is because we don’t wrap them properly and the wire on the inside just splits in half.”

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As this video from the Verge demonstrates, to avoid your headphones from becoming tangled and possibly stop working altogether, hold out three fingers and wrap the cord around them; toward the end of the wire, begin to wrap down the middle so it doesn’t come loose. (It should look like a bow by the time you’re done.)

And if you think your headphones might be worth salvaging, find an electronics store that might able to repair them, though it could cost more than to replace them depending on your pair.

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Instead, if you’re able to, invest in a good pair of headphones like those from Sennheiser or Sony any other brand over the cheap ones you might find at a drug store; you might end up spending more to replace those cheap headphones. But don’t buy a pair that cost you $2,250. That’s just dumb.

Here’s Every Device You Can Use to Stream Disney+

Image: Disney

Disney+ is almost here. We know many important details about Disney’s standalone streaming service—including how much it’ll cost and what you’ll be able to watch—and the final piece of the puzzle was just revealed: all the devices you can use to stream Disney+ at launch.

And as you’ll see from the following list, there are some notable omissions. Here’s everything that will support Disney+ when the service launches on November 12:

  • Apple TV
  • Android devices, including Android TV
  • Chromecast
  • iOS and iPadOS
  • PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 4 Pro
  • Roku devices, including smart TVs with the Roku TV OS
  • Web browsers via disneyplus.com
  • Xbox One consoles, including the Xbox One S and One X

Notice what’s missing? Amazon products. No Fire TV devices or Kindle Fire tablets will support the service, at least at launch. The Nintendo Switch is absent from the list as well, meaning that Hulu and YouTube are still the only streaming platforms available on Nintendo’s latest console.

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It’s always possible that Disney+ could expand to Amazon and Nintendo’s products in the future, but for now, that doesn’t seem to be part of Disney’s plan for its new service.

That said, Ultra HD streaming does seem to be part of the plan—at least for select content that supports UHD 4K and HDR. You’ll need a strong enough internet connection and devices that can manage that resolution, of course, but Disney+ won’t charge you extra to access the best video quality you can get.

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Disney+ will cost $6.99 monthly or $69.99 annually, or you can bundle Disney+ with ESPN Plus and the basic Hulu service for just $12.99 a month. If you’re curious about other features included in Disney+, or how the service stacks up to competitors like Hulu and Netflix, check out our comparison guide and our round-up of all the shows and movies that will be streamable when the platform launches later this year.

Use Google to Roll Dice for Your Favorite Tabletop RPG

If you ever find yourself without your dice bag, or you’re feeling lazy, don’t worry. You can make it through your Dungeons & Dragons game—or whatever you play—by using Google to roll all the dice you need. Yes, even those quirky dice that have many more sides than what regular people are used to seeing.

To get started, simply pull up Google on your desktop, laptop, or mobile device. Within the search bar, type in the kind of die you want to roll and the number Google should roll. As of when we published this article, you can pick from the following dice:

  • d4
  • d6
  • d8
  • d10
  • d12
  • d20

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So if you wanted to roll for a decently powerful Magic Missile your character is blasting at an angry kobold, you’d type “5d4+5″ into Google. When you do, you get a little dice-rolling animation on the Google results page that shows you the final count. You can then add extra dice (as needed), click any dice to clear out their rolls, or adjust your modifier if you made a typo. You can even re-roll over, and over, and over if you’re trying to fudge a particular result or, say, min/max your new character’s stats Baldur’s Gate-style.

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The one downside of Google’s implementation is that you can’t combine dice in your initial search query. In other words, you can’t type “1d4+1d8″ to get a combined result for those two separate rolls. You’ll have to first search for a “1d4,” for example, and then click the d8 on the results page to add it in.

You’ll also have to get creative if you’re rolling dice that don’t appear on Google’s list—like a d100. In that case, you’ll want to search for “2d10″ and agree to use the first die as your tens digit and your second die as your ones digit. If you’ve been involved with role-playing games for any length of time, this should be familiar territory.

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[9to5Google]

Save Big on a Ton of Aukey Gear During Their Back-to-School Sale

Best Tech DealsThe best tech deals from around the web, updated daily.   

Save big on a boatload of Aukey gear during the company’s back-to-school sale. Everything from keyboards starting at $18, power banks, USB-C hubs, and GaN chargers are discounted. Just a heads up, you’ll only see the deal price if you add the promo code at checkout or if there’s a clippable coupon on the product page.

If you’re on a budget but are looking to add a mechanical keyboard to your setup, Aukey’s line of keyboards are on sale. Prices start at just $18 for this blue-switch equipped tenkeyless model, just clip the coupon on the page and use the promo code SMA57P4Q at checkout.

Here are the rest of your options:

A number of charging accessories from Aukey are also on sale. The star of the show: the 60W PD wall charger, available for $35 after you clip the code on the page and use the promo code E7W6KLYI at checkout.

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Our deals researcher Corey tried one out and he says “I’ve tested it with my Dell USB-C (requires 45W) laptop, my Switch, and my Pixel 3. All charge at the highest speed and none caught on fire or fried.”

Here are the rest of your options:

If you have one of those new MacBooks with the too few IO ports, this USB-C hub adds an HDMI port, two standard USB ports, and two card slots. Just use the code NYVP9OW6 to bring it down to $40.


Save The Receipts for Your College Textbooks

Heading back to class this fall? While some textbooks are moving to the cloud, there’s a good chance that you’ll have to buy or rent at least a few textbooks for your college classes. And there’s always that one professor who makes everyone buy the newest edition of the textbook, even though it costs $80 more than last year’s version. But you may be able to recover some of those costs.

Once you’ve emptied your wallet at the campus bookstore, stash your receipts somewhere safe until tax season rolls around. You may want to refer to them when you prepare to file your return.

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Because the IRS deems books, supplies, and equipment necessary expenses toward your education, it allows you to deduct them on your annual tax return.

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The deduction is a part of the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which allows undergraduate students to deduct the costs of education from their taxes, to include tuition, room and board, transportation, and all those extra fees on your tab each semester. The tax credit is worth up to $2,500 per tax year.

Graduate students can deduct the cost of textbooks through the Lifetime Learning Credit, which covers education expenses up to $2,000 per tax year. (For graduate students, tuition and fees can be deducted via a separate deduction, unlike the AOTC, which lumps all education expenses under one credit.)

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Sure, it’s not cash back in your pocket, but anything that reduces your tax burden can help you stabilize your finances while you’re in school.

The IRS has an online tool to walk you through the education-related credits or deductions you might be eligible to take. If you’re just heading off to school or going back after some time off campus, you may want to take a spin through the eligibility survey to know what you can expect come tax time.

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What to Do If Your Pet Is Overweight

Photo: Getty Images

A roly-poly pup or kitty can be an adorable little chonker, but if your pet is big enough that the vet says it’s time to lose weight, it can be hard to figure out exactly how to put your furry friend on a diet. Here are some tips to follow through on your plan, without ruining their diet every night when they start making puppy-dog eyes at your pizza.

Work out a plan with your vet

Just as there are many diets that can work for people, there are many approaches that could work for your pet—but it’s hard to stick to a plan if you don’t actually have one. If “just feed him less” hasn’t worked so far, you might want some specific guidelines on what and how much to feed your pet, and what to do in place of their usual treats.

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Fortunately, if it’s a vet who tells you that your pet needs to slim down, that’s exactly the person who can help you formulate a plan. Make sure they nail down some specifics you can work with, or refer you to someone who can. The American Animal Hospital Association’s guidelines say that an appropriate plan should include:

  • A realistic goal weight for your pet
  • How to reduce their calories
  • What kinds of foods and treats they should be eating
  • A plan for how much food and how much exercise they should be getting
  • Scheduling a follow-up visit to check in on how things are going

If you noticed on your own that your pet could stand to lose some weight, ask about that next time you’re at the vet’s—both to make sure your assessment is correct, and to get a solid plan in place.

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It’s important to make sure that everyone who takes care of your pet is on board with the plan, and that you communicate well. You don’t want to feed your doggo dinner and then have your partner feed them a second dinner an hour later.

Measure everything

Especially if your pet is small, you’ll have to be precise in how much food you’re feeding them. Your vet’s plan should have included an amount of calories per day; break that up into their usual number of meals plus an allowance for treats (the AAHA suggests 10% for treats).

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It may turn out that a full can of cat food is too many calories for a single feeding, so you may need to weigh out the correct amount of food and store the rest in the fridge until the next meal. Annoying, but worth it to be able to stick to the plan.

Introduce exercise

In pets as in humans, diet is more important than exercise when it comes to losing or maintaining weight, but exercise is still good for us no matter what. Your plan should include some idea of how to get a little bit of exercise for your pet. Dogs are easy: start with a few short walks, and work them up to more, longer walks. If they love to run at the dog park, visit the dog park more often. For cats, exercise will come mainly in the form of play and “enrichment”—in other words, making their home more interesting. If they love to chase a laser pointer or run into boxes, give them more opportunities to do that.

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Find ways to avoid saying no

A hungry pet will beg for food. A bored pet may beg for food, too. If you’re comfortable being a hardass and just saying no—congratulations, this will be easy for you. But most of us aren’t, and that’s normal. We love them. They’re hungry. They whine. We reach for the treats.

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As Deborah Linder writes at the Conversation, food treats are one way we show love for our pets. But there are other ways to express love, or to answer begging. Among them:

  • Reward or entertain your pet with things that aren’t food—throwing a ball, for example. Often begging is more about wanting to play with you than the food itself.
  • Use food puzzles to slow down the pet’s eating and entertain them.
  • Feed the pet as you play games with them, so they “earn” their food by doing tricks (they’re just getting food and attention at the same time, so it’s not really work if they’re having fun).
  • Find low calorie treats that you can give your pet without ruining their diet.
  • Time feedings so that if there’s a certain time they tend to beg, they’ll already be well fed. Cats in particular like to eat at night, so you can set timed feeders to go off while you’re sleeping.

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And if your pet begs while you’re eating, it may be easiest to keep them out of the kitchen at mealtimes so the food is out of sight and out of mind.

Don’t Let Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant Auto-Dial Companies

We’ve talked about how fake business listings can show up on Google Maps despite Google’s regulations, and use the appearance of legitimacy to exploit customers and other business. As it turns out, it’s pretty easy for AI assistants to fall prey to fake information, too.

Say you’re trying to contact a company, and you ask a digital helper like Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant to find and call the company’s phone number for you. If the phone number the assistant picks is fake, you may wind up talking to someone pretending to work for the company you called. In reality, this person could be a scammer who will then try to get you to send them money or other personal information.

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To be fair, your AI assistants aren’t to blame; they’re simply performing the task they’ve been asked to do. The number they find is the number they call. The Better Business Bureau explained why the mismatch occurs in a recent article:

Scammers create fake customer service numbers and bump them to the top of search results, often by paying for ads. When Siri, Alexa, or another device does a voice search, the algorithm may accidentally pick a scam number.

One recent victim told BBB.org/ScamTracker that she used voice search to find and call customer service for a major airline. She wanted to change her seat on an upcoming flight, but the scammer tried to trick her into paying $400 in pre-paid gift cards by insisting the airline was running a special promotion. In another report, a consumer used Siri to call what he thought was the support number for his printer. Instead, he found himself in a tech support scam.

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Perhaps future updates or better regulations will reduce these sort of scams in the future, but as with most things in life, the best solution is to simply be mindful of the risk and take preventative measures to avoid falling prey to opportunistic scams like these.

  • Don’t use your assistants to call businesses. Look up the business yourself and call it.
  • If you use your assistants to call businesses, verify the number they’re dialing.
  • When signing up for a service or paying for something within these conversations, use your credit card—it’ll be easier to dispute the charge later if you’ve been scammed.
  • Don’t wire money to a business.
  • Don’t use other payment methods that feel odd—if a normal business really, really wants you to pay for a normal service using gift cards, for example.
  • Don’t give out more information than you have to. Odds are good the “airline” you called probably doesn’t need your social security number to change your seat on an upcoming flight.
  • Use common sense; if the business you called seems oddly pushy or is requesting information it should probably already have, you might want to make an excuse, hang up, and call the business back with an number you’ve verified is accurate.

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We’d also recommend checking out our previous post about how to spot and report fake companies on Google Maps, since this is where most of the dubious contact info is pulled from in the first place.

How to Jailbreak Your iOS 12.4 iPhone or iPad

Photo: YungTeriyaki1

Jailbreaking your iPhone—removing Apple’s restrictions that prevent you from installing any apps on your device that you want or messing with settings Apple otherwise locks down—isn’t for everyone. It can be a risky process to begin with, and doing it voids your warranty, but it’s a great way to extend the life of an older device or something you don’t carry around for everyday use.

Apple has made the process a lot more difficult over the years, which is why the recent revelations that there is a somewhat-easy jailbreak for iOS 12.4 (the latest version of Apple’s iOS) is pretty exciting. At least, you now have a small window to jailbreak your updated device before Apple releases iOS 12.4.1 to fix an iOS 12.2 vulnerability it accidentally unpatched—hence the resurrected jailbreak technique.

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You’ll be using the popular unc0ver tool to jailbreak your device. And you’ll want to follow along to one of the many video tutorials that have popped up for iOS 12.4, as jailbreaking can be a little head-scratching if you’ve never done it before.

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Start by making sure you’re running iOS 12.4, which you can check via your device’s Settings > General > About screen. The jailbreak also only appears to work for devices using an A7–A11 chips, so, you won’t be able to perform the hack on your newer iPhone XS, XS Max, or XR, nor the 2019 iPad Mini or iPad Air, which all use A12 chips.

Assuming your device is eligible, you’ll want to download Cydia Impactor and the latest version of the Undecimus .IPA. Unzip and run Cydia Impactor, and then plug your iPhone or iPad into your Windows PC or Mac. Make sure your computer “trusts” your device, or vice versa, if you haven’t allowed that already.

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Drag the .IPA you downloaded into the Undecimus app, and then enter your Apple ID and password. Once the jailbreak installs onto your device, pull up Settings on your device, tap on General, and tap on Device Management (which should be under Profile and VPN). Tap on your Apple ID and tap the option to “trust” that same email address.

From there, turn off Siri (via the top three options in your Settings app’s Siri & Search section), turn on Airplane Mode, and then use your device’s buttons to power it down. Power it back on. Once it loads, launch the unc0ver app. Tap the big blue “Jailbreak” button. Cross your fingers. When prompted to reboot your device, do that, and then launch the unc0ver app and hit the Jailbreak button (again). Repeat this process one more time when your device restarts, which should install the unofficial app store Cydia on your device.

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I haven’t used this jailbreak myself, so I can’t confirm first-hand about anything else you’ll need to do to ensure it keeps working. As iClarified writes for earlier versions of iOS:

  • This is a semi-tethered jailbreak so you will need to launch unc0ver and tap Jailbreak each time you reboot.
  • If you don’t have a developer account you will need to re-sideload the unc0ver app every seven days.

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We never said jailbreaking was easy. However, this is the price you pay for hacking your iPhone or iPad to run whatever you want.

If you’re having trouble getting the jailbreak to work, I recommend checking out the incredibly healthy community over at /r/jailbreak, which might be able to answer any questions you have (assuming someone else hasn’t also encountered any bugs you’re seeing).

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How to Stop Feeling Like an Impostor, With Psychologist Jessamy Hibberd

Photo: John Noonan (Unsplash)

In this episode of The Upgrade, we’re discussing impostor syndrome, the psychological phenomenon wherein people question their successes and have an internalized fear of being discovered as a fraud.

We hear from Lifehacker’s staff writer Nick Douglas, who explains why he keeps something called a “brag file.” We’ll also chat with clinical psychologist Jessamy Hibberd, author of the book The Impostor Cure. And our producer takes to the streets to find out how people deal with their own feelings of inadequacy (spoiler alert: some of them don’t have any).

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Listen to The Upgrade above or find us in all the usual places where podcasts are served, including Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Stitcher, and NPR One. Please subscribe, rate, and review.

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Upgrades of the Week

Every week we talk about one tiny thing making a big difference in our lives. For Alice, it’s the chrome extension TabSnooze. For Melissa, it’s the library app Libby. 

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Do you have an upgrade you need to tell the world about? Send an email or voice memo to upgrade@lifehacker.com. We might just share your message on the podcast.

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