Govee Flow Pro Review: Colorful Reactive Smart Lighting

Smart lighting is an easy way to create some ambiance in a room and change the feel of the space. It comes in many forms nowadays, from smart bulbs and light strips to all kinds of oddly shaped lamps. The Govee Flow Pro is one such RGB accessory that’s designed to flank a TV or monitor screen to bring a splash of diffuse light and color to your setup.

It’s easy to pick colors or animations, but the real attraction of these vertical light bars is their ability to match on-screen action and react to music—all for just $80. That’s significantly more affordable than other devices that offer reactive smart lighting. There’s a bit of setup and finagling required to get the Govee system going, but it works. The catch? It relies on a camera. 

Some Setup Required

Photograph: Govee

The Govee Flow Pro system comes with a pair of 10.5-inch rectangular  plastic light bars and a choice of two mounting solutions: stick them to the back of a TV or monitor, or slot them into stands. The light bars connect to a separate control unit via a lengthy USB-C cable, and the camera—yes, camera—plugs into the unit’s USB-A port. You’ll need to then hook the power adapter to the control unit to light the whole thing up.

The control unit has a power button, a color cycle button, and a button to switch to audio-reactive lighting, which brings us to the reason why there’s a camera here at all. You point the webcam-like device at your monitor or TV so it can see what’s going on and adjust the colors of the light bars to match. Watching a fiery scene from a movie? The camera tries to pick up the colors and directs the light bars to mimic them for a more immersive feel. 

To do all of this, you first need the Govee Home app on your phone and run through a calibration process that involves sticking orange foam squares onto your TV screen or monitor. It took around 30 minutes to complete this setup process. Both the control unit and the camera have an adhesive backing, so you’ll want to pick a permanent spot for them carefully. The camera is angled to watch your TV or monitor and needs to be in the center top or bottom of the screen. This won’t work for every household as some bezel-less TV designs make placement at the top awkward, and placing it at the bottom can block the TV’s infrared sensor for the remote control. 

The light bars are also designed for screens between 27 and 45 inches, and the reactive lighting won’t work properly with other screen sizes. If you have a 55- or 65-inch TV, you can get similar functionality from Govee’s Immersion TV Lightstrip.

Govee’s app has a ton of colors, scenes, and other preset lighting effects to choose from. It feels a little chaotic and takes some getting used to, but it’s worth experimenting here. You can create lighting effects if you’re prepared to spend the time learning how it works, and you can also schedule your light bars to turn on and off automatically.

Is It Ok to Torment Non-Player Characters in Video Games?

SUPPORT REQUEST: I’m playing a sim-style game, and the non-player characters that you deploy have particular skills, weaknesses, likes, and dislikes. So I sometimes put them in situations that I know will make them uncomfortable, like sending a guy who is afraid of space out to mine an asteroid. The results can be hilarious. But I also feel a little uneasy that I’m not letting them live their best lives. Am I being unethical?

Dungeon Master 


Dear Dungeon Master,

Games of this sort allow ordinary mortals to live out the fantasy of playing God. You become the demiurge of your own digital cosmos, dictating the fates of characters whose lives, such as they are, remain subject to your whims. Playing them tends to raise the sorts of questions that have long been taken up by theological and tragic literature.

Ever since we humans started writing, it seems, we have suspected that we are pawns in the games of higher beings. In the Iliad, Hector, upon realizing that he is facing death, complains that men are playthings of the gods, whose wills change from one day to the next. It’s a conclusion echoed by Gloucester in King Lear, as he wanders the heath after being ruthlessly blinded. “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods. / They kill us for their sport.”

In the book of Job, Satan and God place a bet on whether Job, a most righteous man, will curse God if enough suffering and hardship befall him. After securing God’s permission, Satan kills Job’s children, his servants, and his livestock and causes his body to break out in boils. Job, who has no clue that his suffering is simply the subject of a gentleman’s wager, can only assume that his woes are divine punishment. “My flesh is clothed with worms and clods of dust,” he cries out. “My skin is broken, and become loathsome … My life is wind.”

It’s difficult to read such passages without sympathizing with the human victims. And I imagine that the uneasiness you feel when provoking your characters means you suspect that you are similarly making them suffer for your own entertainment. Of course, non-player characters—NPCs—are just algorithms with no minds and no feelings, hence no ability to feel pain or discomfort. That is, at any rate, the consensus. But humans, as you probably know, have a bad track record of underestimating the sentience of other creatures (Descartes believed animals were simply machines and could not feel pain), so it’s worth taking a moment to really consider the possibility of algorithmic suffering.

Many NPCs rely on behavior tree algorithms that follow rote if-then rules, or—in more advanced characters—machine-learning models that develop their own adaptive methods. The ability to suffer is often tied to things like nociceptors, prostaglandins, and neuronal opioid receptors, so it would seem that video game characters lack the neurological hardware required for a pain response. Emotional distress (our ability to feel fear, anxiety, discomfort) is more complex, from a neurological standpoint, though emotion in humans and other animals often relies to some degree on external stimuli processed by the five senses. Given that these algorithms have no sensory access to the world—they can’t see, feel, or hear—it’s unlikely that they are capable of experiencing negative emotions.

Still, when it comes to the ethics of suffering, neurology is not the only relevant consideration. Some moral philosophers have argued that the ability to hold preferences—the capacity to see the world in terms of positive and negative outcomes and to develop decisionmaking processes about these outcomes—is a definitive criteria for real suffering. One advantage of speaking of preferences rather than pain is that whereas pain is entirely subjective, felt only to the person who is suffering, preferences can be observed. We know cats have preferences because they recoil from bathtub water and sometimes scamper off when approached by dogs. The fact that your NPCs have, as you put it, “particular skills, weaknesses, likes, and dislikes” suggests that they do in fact have preferences, though this is also something you can test by simple observation. When you put them in undesired situations do they resist or struggle? Do they exhibit facial expressions or body movements you associate with fear? You might object that such behavior is simply programmed in by their designers, but animal preferences could similarly be thought of as a kind of algorithm programmed by evolutionary history.

9 Best Espresso Machines and Accessories for Home Baristas (2022)

There’s always room to up your game, and there are quite a few additional tools that can help you make the best espresso you can. These ones are all tools you’d employ before the brew, setting the stage for the perfect extraction.

Fellow Atmos Canister for Coffee Beans

A vacuum canister is a great way to store your coffee beans. By vacating the chamber of all air every time you close it, the Fellow Vacuum Canister slows down the degradation of all those flavorful oils and chemical compounds inside your (hopefully locally roasted) favorite coffee beans.

OXO Conical Burr Grinder

This is one of our top picks in our Best Coffee Grinders guide, and it’s a good choice for espresso. Espresso requires a fine and consistent grind, the likes of which you can easily get out of a burr grinder. Just be sure to get in there and give your burrs a sweep now and then—maintenance which the OXO makes easy, with a bean bin that snaps apart without any fuss.

Bezzera Bottomless Portafilter

Nothing will improve your espresso brewing like a bottomless portafilter. Not because it will make your coffee better, it’ll make you better by making you more aware of your mistakes and inconsistencies. Bottomless portafilters are finicky, and when your grind is off or you’ve over-tamped your grounds, the bottomless portafilter lets you see that in how the espresso coats the bottom of the filter and pours down into the cup. Be sure to double-check the circumference on your espresso machine’s group head though (the place the filter attaches). There are a number of standard sizes, so you need to make sure you order the right one. The most common are 53 mm and 58 mm, and almost every bottomless portafilter comes in each of these sizes.

WPM Tamping Mat

Tamping mats are just a thick, soft piece of rubber or silicone, but they make it much easier to maintain a consistent tamping pressure (and a clean tamping space so you won’t stain your kitchen table with coffee or scratch it with the bottom of your tamp). You can also use a folded kitchen towel, but these are easy to rinse off.

Crema Distributor & Tamp

Once you put your grounds into your portafilter, the next step is giving them a good, even tamping. You want to use about 30-40 pounds of pressure, and while you can use a scale to determine exactly what that feels like, I find it’s better to just press with your upper body, then extract a shot and see how it went. If it’s too bitter, you tamped too hard, if it’s too watery you didn’t tamp hard enough. A distributor (also called a leveler) makes it easy to get an even surface for you to tamp, and this one has a tamp on one side and a distributor on the other so you can level off your beans, then flip this tool over and give ’em a good tamp. Just make sure you get one that fits the circumference of your machine’s portafilter!

Duralex Picardie Shot Glasses, Set of Six

These are my favorite shot glasses in general, but they’re also great espresso shot glasses—tall and narrow enough to allow a wonderfully aerated crema to form on top, and made of tempered glass so they can stand up to the heat. They’re also great for serving up smaller drinks like macchiatos—a shot of espresso with a dollop of froth on top.

Ground-Level Ozone Is a Creeping Threat to Biodiversity

It’s well established that chronic exposure to high ozone levels is a serious threat to human health, exacerbating heart and lung problems such as asthma and emphysema, and causing decreased birth weights. One study found that more than 1 million premature deaths are caused globally each year by high levels of ozone.

Research also shows that crops and forests are damaged or killed by ozone, either directly or indirectly, as ozone makes them more susceptible to insects, disease, and drought. Ozone does more damage to plants than all other air pollutants combined, according to the US Department of Agriculture. The gas is predicted to cause a substantial decline in global food production. One recent study predicted that by 2050, wheat yields would decline by 13 percent, soybeans by 28 percent, and corn by 43 percent because of rising temperatures and ozone.

While it’s clear that ozone can take a toll on all living organisms, research has not, until recently, looked at its effects on biodiversity. Scientists believe, however, that the impacts are substantial. This month the International Union of Forest Research Organizations, a global network of scientists, is holding a conference titled Air Pollution Threats to Plant Ecosystems. Ozone is at the top of the list.

In a paper published last year, 20 researchers in Europe and Asia, including Agathakleous, modeled what could happen to ecosystems in coming decades as a result of ozone pollution. They concluded that ozone will affect “the composition and diversity of plant communities by affecting key physiological traits” and can cause a cascade of changes that diminish biodiversity. In their paper, the researchers urged officials to take ozone into account in efforts to protect and restore biodiversity and said its effects should be included in assessments of atmospheric pollution and climate change.

Research is showing that ozone affects plants in a wide variety of ways.

“It paralyzes the plants’ stomata,” said Howard Neufeld, a plant ecologist at Appalachian State University, “and so they release more water than they take in.” Stomata are the microscopic openings on the surface of leaves where trees exchange gases with the atmosphere. Ozone damages them and interferes with a variety of processes, including photosynthesis.

Ozone also damages leaves and accelerates their aging. “As leaves are injured, photosynthesis goes down; a plant makes less sugars, and it has fewer resources,” says Neufeld. “It also affects the movement of sugars to roots, which reduces root growth, making them more susceptible to drought and nutrient deficiencies and disease.”

Ozone damage can also alter the timing of leaf fall and shrink leaf size, reducing the amount of litter and affecting the microbial communities that thrive in decomposing leaves. Microbes in the litter and soil are critical to taking up nutrients, helping trees resist disease and use water efficiently.

Ozone’s impacts on soil also affect the rhizosphere—the root system and its associated microbes, fungi, and other organisms. “When the plants respond to ozone, they consume energy,” said Agathokleous. “When they use so much energy, there is less to provide to organisms in the soil, and the chemical composition can be affected.” Less nutritious leaves can also affect the life cycle of animals that feed on them.

The 5 Best Mesh Wi-Fi Routers (2022): For Large Homes and Small Budgets

The enormous Netgear Orbi range has a strong reputation, but the company’s many similar models make it tricky to choose the right one for you. The AX4200 RBK753 (I swear they’re just mashing the keyboard at this point) mesh system I tested falls somewhere in the middle of the range and proved suitable for a large home. Setup was surprisingly tricky, taking more than an hour and several restarts to complete, as the app kept sticking on a loading screen. The router and nodes are large, but I like the curved design. I also appreciate the LED light turning off when things were working and displaying different colors to flag issues; every router should work this way. There are three gigabit Ethernet ports on the main router and two on each node.

Once up and running, the coverage, speeds, and stability proved to be worth the wait, and each node was able to deliver similar speeds as the main router. Speeds were a hair behind the Asus XT8, with some limitations at longer distances for individual units. But with two nodes, this system offers expansive coverage. The simple mobile app allows you to pause the internet entirely or by device or profile, see what devices are connected, check speed, analyze Wi-Fi (see the connection strength as you move around), set up a guest network, and a few more things. It’s very good at recognizing devices, which makes dividing them into profiles easier. You must access the web interface for advanced features.

The parental controls and Netgear Armor security powered by Bitdefender require a subscription, and it’s pricey at $70 per year. This does include scanning for potential vulnerabilities on your network and the option to install Bitdefender on supported devices to prevent potential hacks. The parental controls are comprehensive and easy to configure. Unfortunately, I noticed Netgear Armor caused a slight lag when web browsing, and when new devices join the network it triggers an automatic scan and a notification on your phone, which gets old fast. These services start out free for 30 days, but you need to pay up afterward, which can be annoying. 

The mobile app is straightforward, but it often takes a few seconds to load. Settings are also limited; there’s no mixed mode for WPA2 and WPA3 security like on the TP-Link above, you can’t split bands, and there’s no option to prioritize traffic for specific activities or devices. This is also a pricey system with the need for a subscription on top if you want the parental controls and added security (though you don’t need it). There is a free tier for parental controls, but it’s severely limited.

Having said all that, the Orbi AX4200 does deliver fast, reliable Wi-Fi over a large distance, and I didn’t have a single connectivity issue or dropout while testing it.


Vilo Mesh Router (3-Pack)

Best Budget Option

Photograph: Vilo

The Demise of White House Market Will Shake Up the Dark Web

You’ve probably never heard of White House Market. Google can’t find it. Its vendors don’t advertise much. The few public references to the website are on Reddit forums or specialty tech blogs. But among users of the dark web, WHM was, for years, the go-to online marketplace for illegal drugs and fraudulent credit cards.

Despite never reaching the peak trading volumes of its more-famous cousins Silk Road and AlphaBay, White House Market had established itself as one of the most popular—and secure—markets on the dark web. So when WHM unexpectedly closed on October 1, it came as a shock to the platform’s dedicated user base.

The site’s one-page resignation letter was short on details, saying simply that White House Market had “reached our goal” and that “now, according to plan,” the site was shutting down.

“Thanks everybody for your business, trust, support and of course for placing decent amounts of money in our pockets,” the letter read. “We may come back some time in the future with a different project or we may not.” The letter was signed by WHM’s lead administrator, who is known only by his online handle, “mr_white.”

At the time of its closing, the platform had nearly 900,000 users, of which more than a third—roughly 326,000—were active. Like other dark web markets, it was accessible only on anonymity browsers like Tor and I2P. Going by its advertised numbers, White House Market had around 3,000 vendors, whose listings included credit card and bank fraud, forged documents, illegal and prescription drugs like cannabis and ecstasy, opioids like heroin and oxycodone, hallucinogenic drugs including ketamine and PCP, cocaine, steroids, and amphetamines or meth.

That final listing matches the site’s theme, which features Walter White from Breaking Bad on the banner. But unlike Walter White’s fictional operation, this one had a global presence, with vendors and buyers stationed all around the world, although most transactions were conducted in English.

On Tuesday, less than a month after White House Market ceased operations, the Department of Justice announced the results of Operation Dark HunTor—a sweeping, international dark web takedown that resulted in 150 arrests, along with the seizure of weapons, drugs, and more than $31 million in cryptocurrency and cash. A select few of the dark-net vendor accounts identified were sourced to White House Market, according to court documents. Whether WHM and its administrators are under ongoing criminal investigation is an open question.

It’s unclear how much money WHM’s founders made since starting the site in August 2019, but they charged a 4 percent commission on all sales via an almost-untraceable cryptocurrency called Monero. Nicolas Christin, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University whose research focuses on online crime modeling, security economics, and cryptocurrency, estimates that White House Market facilitated at least $35 million in sales, meaning the administrators’ take-home pay could have been at least $1.3 million over the past two years.

On the high end, Christin estimates, sales could have reached $120 million, which would mean the site’s admins walked away with nearly $5 million.

White House Market was also known for its exceptional digital security, dependable customer service, and, perhaps ironically, its ethics: It didn’t allow vendors to sell child pornography, offer murder for hire, or market weapons, explosives, or poisons.

Open Source Doesn’t Mean More Software Is Better Software

A generation earlier, Microsoft founder Bill Gates offered his own theory about how to create good, useful software, writing a scathing letter to the “hobbyists” who were sharing his company’s BASIC software: “Who can afford to do professional work for nothing? What hobbyist can put three man-years into programming, finding all bugs, documenting his product, and distribute it for free? The fact is, no one besides us has invested a lot of money in hobby software.”

Today there is some sort of hybrid system, where tech giants like Google, Facebook, and others are big contributors to the free software Linux project, which is still crucial to their businesses. In fact, 75 percent of contributions to Linux come from programmers who work for companies. The system has made these companies very rich, and their position is quite dominant. They don’t fear a small startup unseating them using Linux—the way they once dethroned Microsoft. Even Microsoft has revised its view. Company president Brad Smith said last year that “Microsoft was on the wrong side of history when open source exploded at the beginning of the century, and I can say that about me personally. The good news is that, if life is long enough, you can learn … that you need to change.”

This form of success, however, has brought with it a fundamental shift: A project once meant to help the little players is now propping up the biggest of them. It’s a shift in identity the community has yet to fully reckon with. This is because when it comes to the software itself, everything is humming along nicely. But beyond matters of coding, free software has been inert. On vital questions like how to make social networks safer for women or minorities or more conducive to productive debate or more likely to spread accurate information, free software hasn’t improved things at all—rather, it’s become an enabler, as Mastodon has been for Truth Social.

In that sense, free software joins a litany of “free” things—including markets and speech—that purport to solve problems by opening the floodgates. With enough eyes all bugs are shallow, the thinking goes, while the answer to bad speech is more speech, and a society that puts freedom before equality will get a high degree of both. In truth, these free ideals perform well only on their own terms, that is, generating more wealth or speech or software.

When Rochko first discovered Gab was using Mastodon back in 2019, it led to a lot of soul-searching. He did his best to isolate Gab from other networks operating the software. One user of mastodon.social, the social network run by the Mastodon project, pressed for more, saying, “Wonder how feasible it is to have a LICENSE that explicitly forbids it from being used for hate.” Rochko’s response was lacking. He said that on a practical level, he had failed to get agreements from the 600 contributors at the time, so he would need each individual’s approval to change the licensing, but also that he wanted the protection of the free software system—“if someone violates AGPLv3, there are multiple established institutions willing to defend it, which a custom license does not benefit from.”

What exactly is the point of enforcing a license if it doesn’t accomplish what you want—namely to stop Donald Trump from using it to foment hate and oppose democracy? We really don’t have the luxury of treating software as some sort of academic exercise, removed from real-life consequences. Code in one corner, hate in the other. If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that the two can’t be separated.

That earlier question, prompted by Gab’s use of Mastodon, bears reconsideration: Why not a license that prohibits hate? Or one that insists that software not be used for bad purposes, like making money from hate? In conversations with free software advocates, I have suggested a license limited to non-commercial uses. That provision would solve the Truth Social problem in a snap. And for the free software community, it would represent an important step toward taking notice of how its code shows up in the world.

Your Essential Guide to the Best Tequilas

Tequila has come a long way in the last few years. Where once it was slammed with a lick of salt and a wedge of lime, it has grown up to become a sophisticated sipping drink or a top-class cocktail ingredient. The allure of this Mexican spirit is such that celebrities including George Clooney, Justin Timberlake, Kendall Jenner, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson have all started their own tequila brands, and with great success. 

Tequila-based drinks are fast becoming firm favorites with cocktail lovers. Building on the ubiquity of the flagship margarita is the paloma (traditionally tequila and grapefruit soda, but this drinks works really well with Ting, or San Pellegrino’s blood orange offering), now tequila and tonic is challenging the traditional G&T. The tequila variations pair wonderful with Mexican food, too.

Our guide pulls together some of the best brands to sip straight, as well as those for making the perfect paloma or mean margarita—¡Salud!

Be sure check out our other beverage buying guides, including our list of the best non-alcoholic beer, wine, and spirits for our favorite picks in every category.

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Best Gear and Tips to Keep Your Home Warm in the Winter (2022)

Your home has the airtight integrity of a submarine with a screen door. All that expensive heating you pay for during fall and winter mingles with the cold air continuously spilling in through windows, doors, floors, and electrical sockets. Buildings—even new ones—are a lot draftier than one would expect, and the volume of cold winter air that can seep through the tiniest crack of pinhole is mind-bogglingly significant.

There are ways to mitigate it with a few quick fixes. You could buy a thermal leak detector to find the cold spots in your home, but before buying anything, take a cursory look. You can get an idea if there are gaps in your door frames and baseboards and if you can feel the cold air rushing in through the weatherstripping around your windows.

We’ve outlined several things you can do to insulate your home and keep the hot air in this winter. These are all approachable projects anyone can tackle, and none of it costs much money. With the savings to your electricity bill, they might even pay for themselves.

Updated November 2021: We’ve swapped out the DAP caulk for GE caulk, added electrical socket plugs and another jacket to keep warm, and updated retailer availability and pricing.

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Get Caulking

Photograph: Lowe’s 

More likely than not if you live in an apartment or an older home, you’ve got gaps in that 90-degree angle where your walls’ baseboards meet your floor. These gaps may not look big, but the amount of cold air rushing through them and into your home is significant. Check around the window frames’ molding for gaps too.