Review: Netflix documentary on Bill Gates reveals chaos, determination and love ‘Inside Bill’s Brain’

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“Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates” is a profile of the Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist airing on Netflix. (Netflix screen grab)

In his relentless pursuit to try to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems around sanitation, disease eradication and climate change, Bill Gates is practically robotic in his quest for information and in his inability to give up. It’s glimpses of the Microsoft co-founder’s human side that help power “Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates,” a three-part documentary series from Netflix.

Directed by Academy Award winner Davis Guggenheim (“An Inconvenient Truth”), the series is at times an intimate and revealing look at Gates’ life, from his upbringing to his education, his family and friendships, the drive to make Microsoft a global powerhouse, the transition to philanthropy, and his love for and partnership with wife Melinda Gates.

For those familiar with many of the benchmarks and anecdotes from Gates’ long life in the public eye, there are repeated tales of his accomplishments and idiosyncrasies. They are spliced throughout three 50-minute episodes with footage from his home and offices in Seattle to far-flung locations around the planet.

Stories from his two sisters, his wife, current and former co-workers, friends, and the voice of the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen are used to illustrate what many think they know when it comes to what is going on “Inside Bill’s Brain.”

The series will be released on Netflix on Friday. Here’s the trailer, followed by recaps of the three parts, which GeekWire watched this week:

Episode 1

If you think you do a pretty good job of staying up on your reading, watching this television show is gonna sting a bit. But keep reading here, at least, because it’s not normal to consume information the way Bill’s brain does.

Books are a constant in Guggenheim’s documentation, whether we’re inside the Gates family’s home library or watching Gates lug a stuffed tote bag everywhere he goes. That bag, by the way, is washed and reloaded weekly, we learn.

“I’ve been with him on vacation and he’ll read 14 books,” friend Bernie Noe recalled. “That’s a gift, to read 150 pages an hour. I’m gonna say it’s 90 percent retention. Kind of extraordinary.”

His sister Libby McPhee remembered thinking he was “kind of weird” and was always locked in his messy, book-strewn room for hours as a kid.

“I think left to his own devices he might have stayed in his room and read books all day long,” she said.

Bill Gates arrives at his Hood Canal, Wash., property with his book bag, which might as well get a starring credit in “Inside Bill’s Brain.” (Netflix screen grab)

It’s all part of the portrait of Gates’ early childhood, and the push/pull between his own desire to consume information with the desires of his mother that he be more social. When asked about the worst day of his life, tears well in Gates’ eyes when he recalls the day his mother died.

His well-to-do upbringing, viewed through home movies, is juxtaposed against the struggles of children in the developing world today. Gates’ fascination with sanitation and his quest to reinvent the toilet have been well documented. “Inside Bill’s Brain” doesn’t shy from the shitty reality of what people are up against, either.

Again, reading comes into focus. A New York Times article by Nick Kristof, on the deaths of children caused by unsanitary water, is credited with changing the course of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and putting the focus on global health.

“This article was quickly forgotten, except that it had a couple of important readers in Seattle,” Kristof said.

Other great quotes:

  • “He is on time to the minute, every single meeting without fail. Time is the one commodity that he can’t buy more of. It’s a limited resource. It’s finite. He’s got the same 24 hours in a day that the rest of us have.” — Lauren Jiloty, Gates Ventures.
  • “I’ve never heard him complain about [Melinda]. He’s the only person on this earth who I’ve never heard complain about his wife.” — Mike Slade, one-time Microsoft marketing chief.
  • “She never thought my table manners were perfect. I don’t think I’ve solved that. So she’d still have things that she’d encourage me to do better on.” — Bill Gates, on his mother.
Melinda Gates throws her hands in the air when asked what’s inside her husband’s brain: “It’s chaos!” (Netflix screen grab)

Episode 2

When Melinda Gates was told the series is called “Inside Bill’s Brain” she couldn’t stop laughing. When asked why, she said, “Because it’s chaos! I wouldn’t want to be in that brain. There is so much going on all the time. It’s unbelievable.”

Part of filling that brain comes from Gates’ longtime practice of engaging in “think week” at his home on Washington’s Hood Canal. Books may fill his brain, but Diet Coke fuels the rest of his system.

Gates’ brain is compared to a computer’s central processing unit, and his time away from all other obligations, to read and do critical thinking, is also called “CPU time.”

“As I’ve gotten to know bill in this phase of his life, it seems like he’s turned his whole life into one long, continuous think week,” Guggenheim said.

The philanthropic focus of this episode is on disease eradication and polio specifically, and the billions spent by the Gates Foundation on this challenging pursuit.

Life-shaping friendships also come into view, including Lakeside School relationships with Kent Evans and Paul Allen and Gates’ immersion into computer programming with his classmates. His later and ongoing connection to billionaire investor Warren Buffett is also celebrated.

A meeting of the Lakeside Programming Group, with Paul Allen, Ric Weiland and Bill Gates. (Lakeside School Photo)

“Paul was certainly cooler than I was,” Gates said of Allen, recalling Allen’s interest in science fiction and guitar. He recounted their work as youngsters writing a scheduling program for Lakeside’s entire student body and how that led to other work.

They moved to Vancouver, Wash., together for a job and in one of the series’ more fun moments, Gates recalled seeing the 1972 blaxploitation film “Super Fly” with Allen — “we were the whitest guys ever!” — as well as another classic.

PREVIOUSLY: Bill Gates patched things up with Paul Allen, hoped to travel the world with Microsoft co-founder

“We went to see ‘Taxi Driver’ together,” he said, before parroting the famed dialogue of that 1976 film’s star, Robert De Niro. “You talkin to me? Who the f*** you think you’re talking to?’”

The episode also launches into the beginnings of Microsoft and the fanatical dedication of the software startup’s founders.

Other great quotes:

  • “We had a lot of fun. I had never gotten drunk and Paul got me drunk. Paul was into Jimi Hendrix and there was the song ‘Are You Experienced?’” — Bill Gates.
  • “Bill and I were yin and yang. There was a stylistic difference in terms of intensity.” — Paul Allen.
  • “A key advantage I had was being fanatical, that is taking all my capabilities day and night and just focusing on, ‘OK, how do I write good software? I didn’t believe in weekends. I didn’t believe in vacation.” — Bill Gates
A younger Bill Gates at his Microsoft desk. (Netflix screen grab)

Episode 3

The final episode deals with another pillar of philanthropy in Gates’ arsenal: clean energy solutions. But like the rest of the series, it flits back and forth between relationships, Microsoft and other obligations which shaped Gates and continue to compete for his attention.

For as much as Guggenheim and others have made it clear that Gates processes information like few other people, the documentary chronicles a clutter of emotions, life events, victories, struggles and responsibilities that make what’s “Inside Bill’s Brain” feel very much like the rest of us.

Is he wrong sometimes? Melinda Gates is asked. “Absolutely!” she said.

PREVIOUSLY: Inside the lab where Bill Gates’ TerraPower is inventing the future of nuclear energy 

Does she call you on your shit? Gates is asked. “A lot of it, sure.” he said. Not all of it? “Well, I hope she doesn’t know all of it. … No, i’m just kidding!”

The connection and partnership between the Gateses is very much solidified here, and it sheds some light on how their love came to be. When Melinda was new to Microsoft there were “a lot of men there!” and she was still “looking around.” But after dating, “I love yous” were eventually exchanged and Bill needed to decide if he could commit to Melinda and Microsoft.

She said at one point a whiteboard in his bedroom had the pros and cons of getting married scribbled on it.

Microsoft’s skyrocketing success (dancing Ballmer, of course) and antitrust battle is juxtaposed against this turning point for the young couple, who would eventually turn away from Microsoft and toward their foundation and a planet and population that could use their expertise and resources.

TerraPower test assembly
A view inside TerraPower’s laboratory in Bellevue, Wash., where Bill Gates wants to build the next generation of nuclear reactors. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Climate change and Gates’ desire to do for clean energy what he did for computing is the final focus. But can he get there with nuclear energy? “What if the thing that terrifies us could actually save us?” Guggenheim asks.

It’s a years-long struggle, against public concern fueled by disasters at Chernobyl and Fukushima and most recently against the political posturing of the Trump administration in its trade battle with China.

Ever the optimist who insists harder work is often the answer to solving complex problems, we’re left wondering whether Gates ever knows when it’s time to give up on something. Is it a superpower or a flaw?

Asked about one main criticism of himself, that he’s a technophile who thinks technology will save everything, Gates said he’s basically guilty of that.

“Any problem I will look at how technical innovation can help solve that problem,” Gates said. “It’s the one thing I know and the one thing I’m good at. That’s my hammer. And a lot of problems look like nails, because I’ve got a hammer.”

Other great quotes:

  • “You bet. I’d rather have them live there than next to a coal plant or natural gas plant.” — Bill Gates, on whether he’d want his kids down river from one of his nuclear reactors.
  • “Nuclear reactors are not the thing you get into if you want to win popularity contests. Eliminating polio is a lot more popular.” — Nathan Myhrvold, co-founder of Intellectual Ventures Lab.
  • “When we first met, she had other boyfriends, and I had Microsoft.” Bill Gates, on dating Melinda.

Amazon announces new Fire TV devices, including first smart soundbar and more powerful Cube

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The Nebula Soundbar — Fire TV edition. (Amazon Photo)

Amazon’s desire to power your television-viewing experience through its array of Fire TV devices took another step forward on Wednesday with the announcement of a new smart soundbar, a second-generation Fire TV Cube and more.

In Berlin at IFA 2019, Europe’s tech trade show, Amazon unveiled its first expansion of Fire TV Edition beyond smart televisions, teaming with Anker to launch the Nebula Soundbar – Fire TV Edition. The device will turn any TV into a smart TV experience — and news of it happened to fall on the same day that competitor Roku announced its own soundbar doubling as a streaming box.

PREVIOUSLY: Amazon Fire TV execs eye more voice integrations and global expansion

Amazon’s Nebula Soundbar features support for 4K Ultra HD, a unified smart TV user interface, near-field Alexa voice control, Dolby Vision pass through and more. The included Voice Remote with Alexa allows for navigation of the Fire TV experience as well as turning the compatible TV on and off, and control of soundbar functions like power, volume and mute.

It’s priced for pre-order at $229.99 in the U.S., with shipping beginning Nov. 21. The Roku device will reportedly sell for $180.

Amazon’s new Fire TV Cube. (Amazon Photo)

Amazon also unveiled the latest edition of its Alexa-enabled Cube, calling it the fastest and most powerful Fire TV device yet. Still priced at $119.99, the Cube update comes more than a year after the initial release of the product.

Behind a hexa-core processor, Amazon has boosted the hands-free voice control capabilities of the new Cube, with far-field voice recognition as well as Local Voice Control, an on-device processing feature that lets users more quickly execute frequent voice commands, such as “Alexa, scroll right,” “Alexa, go home,” “Alexa, select number one,” and more.

In a streaming media device market that includes players such as Google, Apple, and Roku, Fire TV leads the way with more than 37 million users around the world, according to Amazon.

“Fire TV Cube was the first hands-free streaming media player powered by Alexa, and since launching last year we have gathered a wealth of feedback from customers about how they use voice in the living room,” Marc Whitten, VP of Amazon Fire TV, said in a news release. “Over the past year, we have continued to expand and advance the Fire TV Cube experience based on this feedback with dozens of new features including Multi-Room Music, Follow-Up Mode, and Alexa Communications.”

Fire TV Cube is available today for pre-order on Amazon in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Germany and Japan. It begins shipping Oct. 10 in the U.S.

The Toshiba 65-inch Fire TV Edition smart TV. (Amazon Photo)

Amazon’s lineup of new devices with Fire TV Edition integration included much more than the soundbar as it announced new partnerships and new generations of smart TVs.

Along with Best Buy, Amazon has already sold millions of Insignia and Toshiba Fire TV Edition smart TVs in the U.S. and Canada. A new 65-inch Toshiba with Dolby Vision will be available in the U.S. next month.

New collaborations in Europe with Dixons Carphone, MediaMarktSaturn and Grundig will bring Fire TV Edition smart TVs to customers in the U.K., Germany and Austria.

Netflix just released the trailer for its upcoming Bill Gates docuseries — and it looks amazing

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It’s a look at Bill Gates we’ve never seen. It’s a look “Inside Bill’s Brain” as the first trailer for the upcoming Netflix docuseries was released on Thursday.

From Academy Award winning director Davis Guggenheim (“An Inconvenient Truth,” “He Named Me Malala”), the three-part series is an “in-depth and unfiltered” look at the Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist’s life.

From his childhood to his rise at the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant to his pursuit of solutions for the world’s most pressing problems, the trailer looks like just what we would want out of documentary on such a unique personality.

The 2 1/2-minute clip opens with Gates answering a series of rapid-fire questions, including “what’s your favorite food?” Hamburger, of course.

As for his biggest fear?

“I don’t want my brain to stop working,” Gates says.

Bill Gates’ notes illustrate the “framework in his mind” as seen in a new Netflix documentary. (Netflix screen grab)

Cue the dramatic cello, as we watch Gates’ eyes flit from side to side across computer screens, images show his voracious note taking, and his wife Melinda Gates explains how he works like few others — “It’s chaos!” she exclaims.

After clips showing his drive and rise to massive success at Microsoft, portrayed as contrary to his mother’s best wishes, Gates says, “I had the wrong way of looking at things. In life you have to decide, ‘What’s important in the world?’”

The trailer then shifts into Gates’ work at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and his focus after Microsoft on disease eradication, climate change and renewable energy. True to Gates’ own optimistic worldview, the music becomes more upbeat and the energy of the trailer rises again, showing what can be accomplished.

“There’s many challenges,” Gates says. “It’s harder than I expected.”

“Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates” premieres on Netflix Sept. 20.

Dimmest bulb on ‘Jeopardy’ is Alexa as Amazon’s A.I. is tasked with turning down the stage lights

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“Jeopardy” host Alex Trebek and Amazon’s Echo smart speaker. (, Amazon Photos)

Alex and Alexa — it’s a match made in geek heaven.

Amazon’s recent sponsorship of the popular television quiz show “Jeopardy” comes with some prime-time product placement for the tech giant, as longtime host Alex Trebek has been turning to Alexa, the omnipresent voice assistant, for his own assistance.

Before presenting a Final Jeopardy clue about Russian composers on Wednesday night’s episode, Trebek was joined at his podium by an Echo smart speaker. TrebEcho, anyone?

But rather than have Alexa play alongside the smartypants contestants, “Jeopardy” turned to artificial intelligence to turn down the stage lights.

“All right, Alexa, dim the lights,” Trebek said.

“OK,” Alexa answered, with all the personality of a robot on a game show.

The stage lights did dim and the show’s iconic theme music kicked in. Trebek — a five-time Emmy winner and member of the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame — just stared off blankly, perhaps pondering after decades in the business whether a ‘bot with answers to questions could replace him as the guy with questions to answers.

It’s not the first time Alex and Alexa have teamed. Amazon smart speaker owners can hear Trebek’s voice and play a game hosted by A.I. by saying, “Alexa, start Jeopardy.” The skill was introduced more than three years ago.

As far as getting in on the ad game with others who target the hit show, it figures into Amazon’s hefty spending of late. Marketing expenses have already nearly topped $8 billion this year, surpassing the $5.6 billion spent in all of 2018.

Netflix documentary ‘Inside Bill’s Brain’ to offer unique look at Bill Gates’ work on big problems

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Bill Gates hopes a TV series on his work will engage more people to help solve the problems he’s working on. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Bill Gates — and what goes on inside his head — is coming to Netflix.

A three-part docuseries called “Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates” will air on the streaming television channel and, according to Netflix, offer “unprecedented access to Gates as he pursues unique solutions to some of the world’s most complex problems with the same level of optimism, curiosity, and fervor that inspired his original vision for Microsoft.”

The series was directed by Academy Award-winner Davis Guggenheim (“An Inconvenient Truth,” “He Named Me Malala”) and is set to premiere Sept. 20.

The Microsoft co-founder left the Redmond, Wash.-based tech giant in 2000 and with his wife formed the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He told Entertainment Weekly why he agreed to the idea of a film about his work.

“Davis had the idea of making a documentary that looked at the big projects I take on that are risky and might not happen otherwise, and that was interesting to me,” Gates said. “It may seem counterintuitive to make this documentary while we’re still in the middle of solving these really hard problems, but I’m hopeful that maybe more people will get engaged in some of these issues and help solve them. I hope this documentary leaves people optimistic that big problems can be tackled.”

Amazon rolls back prices to 1959 with L.A. stunt to promote hit show — gas for 30 cents snarls traffic

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Extra cheap gasoline in Santa Monica, Calif., on Thursday was part of a marketing stunt for the Amazon Prime Video series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” (Twitter Photo via @MaiselTV)

Amazon pulled out all the stops — and stopped the flow of traffic — with a Los Angeles promotion on Thursday for its television hit “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” In a nod to the comedy’s 1959 setting, Amazon staged #MaiselDay and helped select businesses roll back pricing 60 years.

The stunt is part of Amazon’s Emmy campaign for the series, which scored 20 nominations for the Sept. 22 event. According to the Los Angeles Times, nearly 30 business, including restaurants, salons and gas stations were taking part.

The Verge reported that gas for 30 cents at a Santa Monica station caused a little bit of a headache when those trying to snag the deal snarled traffic, too. Police reportedly had to briefly shut down the promotion to keep traffic moving, and The Verge said Amazon was working to limit the number of cars in line.

The “Mrs. Maisel” Twitter account shared images from a variety of locations where fans of the show, and fans of cheaper stuff, were taking advantage of the promotion.

One guy got a 75-cent shoe shine. Others lined up at the famous Pink’s for 59-cent hot dogs.

Paul Allen’s Petrel project wins spotlight in TV show about Pacific War shipwrecks

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Rob Kraft is Vulcan’s director of subsea operations. (Image © 2019 Navigea Ltd. / R/V Petrel)

The voyages of the R/V Petrel, funded by the late Seattle billionaire Paul Allen, are the focus of a National Geographic documentary premiering on Monday – and as a prelude to the show, the leader of the Petrel team is talking about what it takes to find historic shipwrecks in the Pacific.

“Our missions have led to discovery of over 30 historically significant shipwrecks, diverse ecosystems and encounters with rare marine species,” Rob Kraft, Vulcan’s director of subsea operations, says in an online Q&A. “The environment we operate in brings inherent dangers, challenges and risk that most people will never experience.”

That all sounds like a natural fit for the next episode of “Drain the Oceans,” a National Geographic series that delves into what we’d find beneath the waves if the world’s oceans could magically disappear.

“Pacific War Megawrecks” focuses on the Petrel’s discovery of the USS Lexington, an aircraft carrier that sank in 1942 during the Battle of the Coral Sea; and of the USS Indianapolis, a Navy cruiser that delivered parts of the Hiroshima atomic bomb in 1945 but was sunk before the bomb was dropped.

Kraft says the saga of the Indianapolis “generated tremendous public interest in the story of its sinking and the harrowing circumstances for survivors.” And during the search for the Lexington, he and his crew were “awestruck by the various airplanes that were distributed around her hull on the ocean floor.”

But Kraft declines to name his favorite shipwreck story.

“I challenge everyone to read about each and every ship that has an honored place in history and should be remembered,” he says.

Watching “Drain the Oceans,” on TV or eventually online, is a good place to start. But to get the whole story, check out the R/V Petrel section of the website, one of the legacies left behind after the Microsoft co-founder’s death last October. Click on the links below for GeekWire’s coverage, and stay tuned for future discoveries from the Petrel.

“Pacific War Megawrecks” has its premiere as part of the series “Drain the Oceans” at 9 p.m. Monday on the National Geographic Channel, but check local listings for the complete schedule.

Leggo his Eggo: Jeff Bezos doesn’t waffle on his love for ‘Stranger Things’ as he binges Netflix hit

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“Stranger Things” Season 3 is now streaming on Netflix. (Netflix Photo)

Jeff Bezos may own his own streaming television network in the form of Amazon Prime Video, but he still found time this weekend to binge the competition’s hottest series.

In a post on Instagram Monday evening, the Amazon CEO said that he watched all of Season 3 of “Stranger Things” on Sunday with his kids and a few of their friends.

“God, Eggos are good, and the show was even better. Awesome season,” Bezos wrote, holding up a box of the toaster-ready breakfast waffles in his photo, in a nod to the character Eleven, who loved the food. In the background of the image was a DIY version of the show’s alphabet wall, complete with holiday lights.

“Stranger Things” returned to Netflix on July 4 and the hype extended beyond one tech titan. Microsoft got in on the act with the release of a Windows 1.0-inspired app tied to the date of that operating system’s release and the show’s setting — 1985.

Little-known twists in moonshot tales come to light for Apollo 11’s golden anniversary

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Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins (played by Patrick Kennedy) looks out at the moon in a dramatization that’s part of “8 Days: To the Moon and Back.” (BBC Studios)

Even after 50 years, it’s still possible to find new angles on one of history’s most widely witnessed events — as this year’s retellings of the Apollo 11 moon saga demonstrate.

The golden anniversary of the historic mission to the lunar surface in July 1969 provides the hook for a new wave of documentaries showing up in movie theaters and on video screens. Perhaps the best-known example is “Apollo 11,” which capitalized on recently rediscovered 70mm film footage from NASA’s vaults as well as 19,000 hours’ worth of audio recordings of Mission Control conversations.

But “Chasing the Moon,” a six-hour documentary series that premieres Monday on PBS, freshens the Apollo story in different ways. Oscar-nominated filmmaker Robert Stone goes back to the roots of the U.S.-Soviet moon race and brings in perspectives that rarely get a share of the spotlight.

For example, Sergei Khrushchev, the son of ’60s-era Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, helps tell the Russian side of the story — including the fact that the “missile gap” used as the rationale for the President John Kennedy’s ramped-up space program didn’t actually exist. Just before his assassination in 1963, a budget-conscious Kennedy floated an offer to cooperate with the Soviets on moon missions — but the Soviets turned him down, for fear that their secrets would be exposed.

“Chasing the Moon” also turns the spotlight on hidden figures including Poppy Northcutt, the first woman engineer to work in NASA’s Mission Control; and Ed Dwight, the test pilot who seemed destined to become Apollo’s first black astronaut but lost his place after Kennedy’s death. (In the documentary, Dwight recalls how Ed White, one of the astronauts who would later die in the 1967 Apollo 1 fire, kept getting fan mail that was meant for him instead.)

PBS is serving up several more final-frontier documentaries as part of its “Summer of Space” extravaganza, including a look at modern-day lunar exploration titled “Back to the Moon” (premiering July 10);  “8 Days: To the Moon and Back,” a co-production with the BBC that includes dramatizations of moonshot moments (July 17); “Ancient Skies,” tracing the history of astronomy (July 24); and “The Planets,” a grand tour of the solar system (July 24). There’s even an online-only space series called “Stellar” and a book tie-in for “Chasing the Moon.”

National Geographic takes a different tack in its retelling of the Apollo story. Premiering on Sunday, “Apollo: Missions to the Moon” knits together a two-hour documentary that relies exclusively on archival video. Poppy Northcutt makes her appearance in a ’60s-era miniskirt. There’s an inside look at the lives of the astronauts’ families, courtesy of TV coverage from the time. And we see TV personalities and news anchors chronicling the space effort’s feats, foibles and failures as they happen.

The Smithsonian Channel is adding a twist of augmented reality to “Apollo’s Moon Shot,” its six-part documentary series: You can download an app for iOS or Android that gives you the sense of sitting inside the Apollo 11 command module, lets you take a selfie in a virtual spacesuit, or watch a Saturn V rocket lift off from your AR-enhanced surroundings.

In cooperation with the Smithsonian, USA Today and Florida Today are gearing up their 321 Launch augmented-reality app to track the Apollo 11 mission as it happened 50 years ago, on an hour-by-hour basis starting July 16. The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation is offering it own AR app for iOS and Android called “JFK Moonshot.” And Microsoft has created an Apollo AR app for HoloLens — which unfortunately was involved in something of a misfire at its launch in May.

Book authors are also in the hunt for new angles to Apollo. When science writer Nancy Atkinson was doing the research for her newly published book, “Eight Years to the Moon,” she came across reports of a potentially catastrophic anomaly that occurred during the Apollo 11 command module’s re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere. The problem was addressed by the time Apollo 13 was launched and faded into the background.

Atkinson said an engineer who was in on the Apollo 11 debriefings shared information about the anomaly with her for the book. The engineer also shared the details with the team working on NASA’s Orion deep-space crew capsule “so that the same problem doesn’t happen for future missions returning from the moon or elsewhere,” she told GeekWire.

You can get the full story in “Eight Years to the Moon,” starting on page 214. “Being honest here, I want people to buy the book!” Atkinson joked.

Last month we compiled a book roundup for Apollo anniversary reading, but here are a few more new works worthy of note:

John Oliver rips Amazon over warehouse work and tech giant’s operations chief calls it ‘insulting’

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Working conditions in Amazon’s fulfillment centers got a blistering critique at the hands of the HBO series “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” on Sunday. And in a what has become a new norm at the tech giant, a top executive didn’t wait long to fire back on Twitter.

Oliver’s 21-minute report on warehouses and workers focused a great deal on Amazon, with other jabs at retail rival Walmart as well as conditions at a facility that handles Verizon phones.

Oliver hit on some of the consistent points used to question what workers go through to ensure that items are shipped in the speediest fashion by Amazon. He referenced previous reports on inadequate bathroom breaks, long shifts and lots of miles of walking, and even an instance where a robot in a fulfillment center punctured a can of bear spray that sickened workers.

Oliver joked that it was alarming that anyone would treat his “stupid” Amazon purchases with the urgency that warehouse workers clearly demonstrate.

“You’re not delivering diphtheria medicine to a remote Alaskan village here, you’re delivering novelty horse head masks to people who frankly forgot they ordered them until they showed up,” Oliver said.

Dave Clark, Amazon’s senior vice president of Operations, woke up in a tweeting mood the morning after the segment aired. In three posts Monday, he said that he is a fan of the show, but that Oliver is wrong on Amazon. Oliver and producers did not take Amazon up on an offer to tour a facility and ultimately the portrayal of the company is “insulting,” Clark said.

Oliver did throw Amazon a bone for raising minimum wage to $15 an hour and he said they’re not the “worst actor in the industry” because they generally don’t subcontract out their warehouses.

“But being ‘not the worst’ is a low, low bar,” Oliver said. “And they have huge influence here,” he said, adding that a move to reduce Prime free shipping from two days to one caused Walmart to follow suit in the ultra-competitive industry.

“Basically Amazon is the industry trend setter,” Oliver said. “They’re the Michael Jackson of shipping: they’re the best at what they do, nobody tries to imitate them and nobody who learns a third thing about them is happy that they did.”

On “Last Week Tonight,” a worker dances on bad knees in a spoof mocking Amazon’s promotional videos for fulfillment centers. (YouTube screen grab)

Clark’s reaction is in line with what we’ve seen of late from the normally reserved tech giant, which has taken a more active role in calling out any high-profile dialogue that questions its business practices. The company has been particularly vocal in going after politicians such as Sen. Bernie Sanders or Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Jay Carney, a former press secretary for President Obama, is now Amazon’s public policy and communications chief. CNBC reported recently on his unique presence in the company’s highest ranks, saying that CEO Jeff Bezos hired Carney as Amazon was entering a tougher regulatory environment around taxes and shipping regulations and eventually drone delivery rules and content copyright legislation.

CNBC said that under Carney’s leadership, “Amazon’s policy team ramped up dramatically, going from a group of a few dozen people to roughly 250 people today.” And sure enough, he didn’t miss Clark’s tweets, which he shared on Monday.

Oliver’s report was peppered with plenty of comedy — he even took a shot at the shape of Bezos’ Blue Origin rockets — but like much of what he sets his sights on at “Last Week Tonight,” there was a hefty amount of scathing criticism baked in.

“The more you look at Amazon the more you realize that its convenience comes with a real cost,” he said. “We used to have to drive to stores to buy things. Now those things are brought directly to us and they’re somehow cheaper. That didn’t just happen with a clever algorithm. It happened by creating a system that squeezes the people lowest on the ladder hard.”