Fed up Toronto residents managed to push the city into fixing a sinkhole by passive aggressively planting tomatoes in it.
A huge pothole has marred Poplar Plains Road "for months now," according to CityNews reporter Brandon Rowe.
Fed up with the city's slow progress on getting it fixed, the gardeners of Toronto banded together and planted tomatoes in the pothole.
No this isn’t a community garden! Some fed up residents in the Summerhill area planted tomatoes in this sinkhole as they wait for the city to fix it. One woman tells me that the crater has been on Poplar Plains Cres. for months now@CityNews pic.twitter.com/bXiVMhGdrF
Source: Mashable | 18 Aug 2018 | 5:00 pm
Source: Engadget RSS Feed | 18 Aug 2018 | 4:33 pm
Jennifer Lopez knows what the people want, and what the people want are romantic comedies.
On Friday night's Tonight Show, Lopez talked to host Jimmy Fallon about her upcoming film Second Act, in which she stars as a woman who enters the corporate workforce in her forties, per Entertainment Weekly. She'll act opposite Milo Ventimiglia of This Is Us and Gilmore Girls fame.
After gushing over "heartthrob" Ventimiglia, Lopez and Fallon moved onto the topic of romantic comedies, a genre the singer and actress feels people "need."
"You need that funny, quirky look at life sometimes — that romantic look at life," she said. Read more...More about Entertainment, Culture, Jennifer Lopez, Entertainment, and Movies Tv Shows
Source: Mashable | 18 Aug 2018 | 4:07 pm
Source: Engadget RSS Feed | 18 Aug 2018 | 3:01 pm
Nick Jonas and Priyanka Chopra's engagement went Instagram official, and the internet can't handle it.
Jonas reportedly popped the question a month ago on Chopra's 36th birthday. The couple didn't make the official announcement until Saturday morning, however, after a traditional engagement ceremony in Mumbai.
Jonas and Chopra both posted adorable photos from their Roka ceremony — one of the traditional Indian pre-wedding events — on Instagram.
"Future Mrs. Jonas," Jonas posted. "My heart. My love."
"The only way to do this ... with Family and God," Chopra said. "Thank you for all your wishes and blessings." Read more...More about Twitter, Nick Jonas, Priyanka Chopra, Culture, and Web Culture
Source: Mashable | 18 Aug 2018 | 2:54 pm
Dozens of people in the Southeast U.S. were treated to a special cosmic show in the wee hours of Friday morning.
An exceedingly bright fireball meteor streaked above that part of the country at about 1:19 a.m. ET on Friday, and it was caught in the act by NASA's all sky cameras in Alabama.
"Early results indicate the fireball, which was at least 40 times as bright as the Full Moon, was caused by a small asteroid 6 feet (2 meters) in diameter," NASA said in a Facebook post.
It's possible that some small pieces of the meteor made it to the ground — where they're known as meteorites — but it's unclear whether any small chunks made it all the way through the atmosphere, NASA added. Read more...More about Space, Nasa, Science, Meteors, and Fireballs
Source: Mashable | 18 Aug 2018 | 2:26 pm
When we think about designing our dream home, we don’t think of having a thousand roommates in the same room with no doors or walls. Yet in today’s workplace where we spend most of our day, the purveyors of corporate office design insist that tearing down walls and bringing more people closer together in the same physical space will help foster better collaboration while dissolving the friction of traditional hierarchy and office politics.
But what happens when there is no office at all?
This is the reality for Jason Fried, Founder and CEO of Basecamp, and Matt Mullenweg, Founder and CEO of Automattic (makers of WordPress), who both run teams that are 100% distributed across six continents and many time zones. Fried and Mullenweg are the founding fathers of a movement that has inspired at least a dozen other companies to follow suit, including Zapier, Github, and Buffer. Both have either written a book, or have had a book written about them on the topic.
For all of the discussions about how to hire, fire, coordinate, motivate, and retain remote teams though, what is strangely missing is a discussion about how office politics changes when there is no office at all. To that end, I wanted to seek out the experience of these companies and ask: does remote work propagate, mitigate, or change the experience of office politics? What tactics are startups using to combat office politics, and are any of them effective?
“Can we take a step back here?”
Office politics is best described by a simple example. There is a project, with its goals, metrics, and timeline, and then there’s who gets to decide how it’s run, who gets to work on it, and who gets credit for it. The process for deciding this is a messy human one. While we all want to believe that these decisions are merit-based, data-driven, and objective, we all know the reality is very different. As a flood of research shows, they come with the baggage of human bias in perceptions, heuristics, and privilege.
Office politics is the internal maneuvering and positioning to shape these biases and perceptions to achieve a goal or influence a decision. When incentives are aligned, these goals point in same direction as the company. When they don’t, dysfunction ensues.
Perhaps this sounds too Darwinian, but it is a natural and inevitable outcome of being part of any organization where humans make the decisions. There is your work, and then there’s the management of your coworker’s and boss’s perception of your work.
There is no section in your employee handbook that will tell you how to navigate office politics. These are the tacit, unofficial rules that aren’t documented. This could include reworking your wardrobe to match your boss’s style (if you don’t believe me, ask how many people at Facebook own a pair of Nike Frees). Or making time to go to weekly happy hour not because you want to, but because it’s what you were told you needed to do to get ahead.
One of my favorite memes about workplace culture is Sarah Cooper’s “10 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings,” which includes…
- Encouraging everyone to “take a step back” and ask “what problem are we really trying to solve”
- Nodding continuously while appearing to take notes
- Stepping out to take an “important phone call”
- Jumping out of your seat to draw a Venn diagram on the whiteboard
Sarah Cooper, The Cooper Review
These cues and signals used in physical workplaces to shape and influence perceptions do not map onto the remote workplace, which gives us a unique opportunity to study how office politics can be different through the lens of the officeless.
Friends without benefits
For employees, the analogy that coworkers are like family is true in one sense — they are the roommates that we never got to choose. Learning to work together is difficult enough, but the physical office layers on the additional challenge of learning to live together. Contrast this with remote workplaces, which Mullenweg of Automattic believes helps alleviate the “cohabitation annoyances” that come with sharing the same space, allowing employees to focus on how to best work with each other, versus how their neighbor “talks too loud on the phone, listens to bad music, or eats smelly food.”
Additionally, remote workplaces free us of the tyranny of the tacit expectations and norms that might not have anything to do with work itself. At an investment bank, everyone knows that analysts come in before the managing director does, and leave after they do. This signals that you’re working hard.
Basecamp’s Fried calls this the “presence prison,” the need to be constantly aware of where your coworkers are and what they are doing at all times, both physically and virtually. And he’s waging a crusade against it, even to the point of removing the green dot on Basecamp’s product. “As a general rule, nobody at Basecamp really knows where anyone else is at any given moment. Are they working? Dunno. Are they taking a break? Dunno. Are they at lunch? Dunno. Are they picking up their kid from school? Dunno. Don’t care.”
There is credible basis for this practice. A study of factory workers by Harvard Business School showed that workers were 10% to 15% more productive when managers weren’t watching. This increase was attributed to giving workers the space and freedom to experiment with different approaches before explaining to managers, versus the control group which tended to follow prescribed instructions under the leery watch of their managers.
Remote workplaces experience a similar phenomenon, but by coincidence. “Working hard” can’t be observed physically so it has to be explained, documented, measured, and shared across the company. Cultural norms are not left to chance, or steered by fear or pressure, which should give individuals the autonomy to focus on the work itself, versus how their work is perceived.
Lastly, while physical workplaces can be the source of meaningful friendships and community, recent research by the Wharton School of Business is just beginning to unravel the complexities behind workplace friendships, which can be fraught with tensions from obligations, reciprocity and allegiances. When conflicts arise, you need to choose between what’s best for the company, and what’s best for your relationship with that person or group. You’re not going to help Bob because your best friend Sally used to date him and he was a dick. Or you’re willing to do anything for Jim because he coaches your kid’s soccer team, and vouched for you to get that promotion.
In remote workplaces, you don’t share the same neighborhood, your kids don’t go to the same school, and you don’t have to worry about which coworkers to invite to dinner parties. Your physical/personal and work communities don’t overlap, which means you (and your company) unintentionally avoid many of the hazards of toxic workplace relationships.
On the other hand, these same relationships can be important to overall employee engagement and well-being. This is evidenced by one of the findings in Buffer’s 2018 State of Remote Work Report, which surveyed over 1900 remote workers around the world. It found that next to collaborating and communicating, loneliness was the biggest struggle for remote workers.
Graph by Buffer (State of Remote Work 2018)
So while you may be able to feel like your own boss and avoid playing office politics in your home office, ultimately being alone may be more challenging than putting on a pair of pants and going to work.
Feature, not a bug?
Physical offices can have workers butting heads with each other. Image by UpperCut Images via Getty Images.
For organizations, the single biggest difference between remote and physical teams is the greater dependence on writing to establish the permanence and portability of organizational culture, norms and habits. Writing is different than speaking because it forces concision, deliberation, and structure, and this impacts how politics plays out in remote teams.
Writing changes the politics of meetings. Every Friday, Zapier employees send out a bulletin with: (1) things I said I’d do this week and their results, (2) other issues that came up, (3) things I’m doing next week. Everyone spends the first 10 minutes of the meeting in silence reading everyone’s updates.
Remote teams practice this context setting out of necessity, but it also provides positive auxiliary benefits of “hearing” from everyone around the table, and not letting meetings default to the loudest or most senior in the room. This practice can be adopted by companies with physical workplaces as well (in fact, Zapier CEO Wade Foster borrowed this from Amazon), but it takes discipline and leadership to change behavior, particularly when it is much easier for everyone to just show up like they’re used to.
Writing changes the politics of information sharing and transparency. At Basecamp, there are no all-hands or town hall meetings. All updates, decisions, and subsequent discussions are posted publicly to the entire company. For companies, this is pretty bold. It’s like having a Facebook wall with all your friends chiming in on your questionable decisions of the distant past that you can’t erase. But the beauty is that there is now a body of written decisions and discussions that serves as a rich and permanent artifact of institutional knowledge, accessible to anyone in the company. Documenting major decisions in writing depoliticizes access to information.
Remote workplaces are not without their challenges. Even though communication can be asynchronous through writing, leadership is not. Maintaining an apolitical culture (or any culture) requires a real-time feedback loop of not only what is said, but what is done, and how it’s done. Leaders lead by example in how they speak, act, and make decisions. This is much harder in a remote setting.
A designer from WordPress notes the interpersonal challenges of leading a remote team. “I can’t always see my teammates’ faces when I deliver instructions, feedback, or design criticism. I can’t always tell how they feel. It’s difficult to know if someone is having a bad day or a bad week.”
Zapier’s Foster is also well aware of these challenges in interpersonal dynamics. In fact, he has written a 200-page manifesto on how to run remote teams, where he has an entire section devoted to coaching teammates on how to meet each other for the first time. “Because we’re wired to look for threats in any new situation… try to limit phone or video calls to 15 minutes.” Or “listen without interrupting or sharing your own stories.” And to “ask short, open ended questions.” For anyone looking for a grade school refresher on how to make new friends, Wade Foster is the Dale Carnegie of the remote workforce.
To office, or not to office
What we learn from companies like Basecamp, Automattic, and Zapier is that closer proximity is not the antidote for office politics, and certainly not the quick fix for a healthy, productive culture.
Maintaining a healthy culture takes work, with deliberate processes and planning. Remote teams have to work harder to design and maintain these processes because they don’t have the luxury of assuming shared context through a physical workspace.
The result is a wealth of new ideas for a healthier, less political culture — being thoughtful about when to bring people together, and when to give people their time apart (ending the presence prison), or when to speak, and when to read and write (to democratize meetings). It seems that remote teams have largely succeeded in turning a bug into a feature. For any company still considering tearing down those office walls and doors, it’s time to pay attention to the lessons of the officeless.
Source: TechCrunch | 18 Aug 2018 | 1:47 pm
Source: Engadget RSS Feed | 18 Aug 2018 | 1:28 pm
Crafty zookeepers are keeping a set of newborn panda twins alive by switching them out every day.
Although twins aren't uncommon, when pandas have multiple babies they tend to devote all of their attention to only one of their cubs, leaving the other to starve.
But these zookeepers have managed to get new panda moms to care for both babies by rotating them out, tricking the pandas into believing they only have one cub to care for.
A BBC Earth video — narrated by the one and only David Attenborough — shows the keepers' technique. Read more...More about Science, Viral Videos, Pandas, Culture, and Climate Environment
Source: Mashable | 18 Aug 2018 | 1:16 pm
This is One Good Thing, a weekly column where we tell you about one of the few nice things that happened this week.
The QE food expert shared a delightful Boomerang of the pair enjoying a beautiful moment together. In the clip, the wombat chills on the avocado chef's lap, and Antoni looks like he's about to melt.
It's unclear when and where exactly the video was taken. Could it be from the Fab Five's trip to Australia a few months ago to give the residents of Yass a makeover? Possibly! And if so, really Antoni? Why would you wait so long to post this? Read more...More about Wombat, Queer Eye, Antoni Porowski, One Good Thing, and Culture
Source: Mashable | 18 Aug 2018 | 1:00 pm
Unicorn exits are taking flight.
With the IPO window wide open, an apparent record number of venture-backed companies privately valued over $1 billion have launched public offerings this year. Crunchbase data shows 23 unicorn IPOs globally so far in 2018, well outpacing full-year totals for 2016 and 2017.
Collectively, this year’s newly public unicorns are doing pretty well too. Most priced shares around or above expectations. We’re also seeing a lot of impressive aftermarket gains. At least six are currently valued at more than $10 billion.
Meanwhile, unicorn M&A volumes are chugging along as well, with at least 11 deals so far this year. Big transactions like Walmart’s $16 billion acquisition of Flipkart and Microsoft’s $7.5 billion purchase of GitHub have helped boost the totals.
It all adds up to some enormous numbers. We’ll delve into those in more detail below, focusing on year-over-year comparisons, geographic breakdown, biggest exits and more.
How 2018 compares to prior years
First off, a bit of context. A lot of startup-related metrics are on track to hit multi-year or record highs in 2018. These are lofty times for supergiant funding rounds, venture capital fundraising and unicorn investment, to name a few. Given that pattern, it’s not surprising to see a pickup in unicorn exits too, including some really big names like Xiaomi, Spotify and Dropbox.
That said, if one focuses on anticipated exits, as opposed to the ones that already occurred, even this year’s phenomenal IPO streak may seem comparatively humdrum. There’s mounting excitement around the potential for even bigger offerings next year from Uber, Airbnb, Didi Chuxing and others.
If markets don’t implode in the next few months, and at least some of these household names make it to market, it’s likely 2019 will be an even bigger year for unicorn IPOs than 2018. Unfortunately, however, we don’t have hard data on the future, so we’re left comparing this year to the prior two in the chart below:
As you can see, we’re already well ahead of last year’s totals. On the IPO front, not only are the 2018 unicorn offerings more numerous, they’re also bigger. In 2017, out of 16 unicorn IPOs, there were two at initial valuations above $10 billion (Snap and online insurer ZhongAn). So far this year, there have been five.
Geography of unicorn exits
The exiting unicorns are also a geographically diverse bunch, with the U.S. and China accounting for the lion’s share and Europe trailing a distant third.
In the chart below, we look at the geographic breakdown in more detail:
While the U.S. produced the largest number of unicorn exits, they weren’t the biggest. Notably, this year’s most valuable IPOs and M&A deal involved companies based in Europe and Asia.
Of the six 2018 debuts currently valued at $10 billion or more, detailed below, only one, Dropbox, is a U.S. company. In the chart below, we look at who topped the rankings:
Adding it up
The grand tally of 2018 exits provides a clear counterpoint to skeptics (your author included), who questioned whether fast-growing unicorn populations and valuations would hold up with acquirers and public market investors.
It appears prices are keeping up nicely. The vast majority of U.S. unicorn exits this year, for instance, were close to or above private market valuations. Among U.S. IPOs the only big fizzle was Domo. While Dropbox looked like a “down round IPO” at first, strong aftermarket performance has the company above its highest reported private valuation.
All these giant exits add up. The unicorns that went public this year currently have a collective market capitalization north of $200 billion. Add in roughly $45 billion from M&A deals, and we’re talking close to a quarter of a trillion (!) dollars in post-exit value.
These big exits come as investors continue to funnel record sums into high-valuation private companies. So far this year, investors have poured more than $200 billion into venture and growth-stage startups, with more than $70 billion going into companies already valued at $1 billion or more.
In sum, we’re seeing big numbers all around — going in as investments and coming out as exits. Eventually, all parties wind down. But for now, this one rages on.
Source: TechCrunch | 18 Aug 2018 | 12:09 pm
For Ariana Grande, the song "get well soon" off her new album sweetener is a deeply personal one, inspired in part by the 2017 Manchester terrorist attack at one of her concerts that left 22 people dead.
In a Friday interview with Ebro Darden on Apple Music's Beats 1 radio, Grande spoke through tears about the song and her experiences following the attack.
But early in the interview, Grande notes that the song isn't just about Manchester.
"It's also about personal demons and anxiety, and more intimate tragedies, as well," she said. "Mental health is so important. People don't pay enough mind to it... People don't pay attention to what's happening inside... That's why I felt like it was important. I just wanted to give people a hug, musically." Read more...More about Entertainment, Music, Culture, Ariana Grande, and Culture
Source: Mashable | 18 Aug 2018 | 12:03 pm
Source: Engadget RSS Feed | 18 Aug 2018 | 12:00 pm
It’s Summer Lovin’ Week here at Mashable, which means things are getting steamy. In honor of the release of Crazy Rich Asians, we’re celebrating onscreen love and romance, looking at everything from our favorite fictional couples to how Hollywood’s love stories are evolving. Think of it as our love letter to, well, love.
Entertainment fans love love, but this Romance Week we wanted to take a moment to appreciate the TV couples that didn't make it. Where would any of our romantic journeys be without a little (okay, a lot) of failure?Entertainment, Television, Movies, Netflix, and Relationships
Source: Mashable | 18 Aug 2018 | 12:00 pm
As money and talent flows into the crypto and blockchain worlds, a persistent question keeps coming up: what is going to be the “killer app” that drives adoption for these nascent technologies? The answer may well be quite simple: gaming in Asia.
That’s the theory for Cryptokitties, the notable purveyor of cute cats. The company has started expanding into China, Japan, and Korea as it attempts to capture a large market of gamer and crypto enthusiasts there, and it is building on the playbook pioneered by Uber when it launched in China in 2014.
Back in March, Andreessen and Union Square Ventures led a $12 million Series A round into Cryptokitties. A portion of that money went into Cryptokitties’ ambitions to expand into Asia. In fact, Cryptokitties’ largest user markets have been, and still are, the U.S. and China, followed by Russia.
For those unfamiliar with Cryptokitties, it’s often been alluded to as a digital version of Beanie Babies. Cryptokitties are virtual collectibles in the form of cute cats that can be bought, sold, collected and traded with cryptocurrency, with all the transactions listed on the blockchain. Owners who purchase these kitties can then breed them with other kitties to produce new baby kitties.
The company is part of Axiom Zen, the Vancouver and San Francisco-based design studio that originally built the game. Since its launch in 2017, Cryptokitties has also built a third-party app platform for crypto developers called the Kittyverse, open-sourced their digital asset licensing platform, and started a crypto gaming investment fund. The company currently has about 70 employees and is headquartered in Vancouver.
One of the main purposes why Cryptokitties raised venture capital was for geographical expansion. Having ample capital to not worry about cash flow as the company steps on the gas is certainly quite helpful. But as a business, Cryptokitties was already doing fine. Back in June when I was having a discussion with the company, Cryptokitties was already profitable starting in week three.
The company has successfully differentiated itself from many other crypto decentralized apps (dApps for short) companies out there by proving that they could make money first and have a sustainable user base. Jimmy Song from Blockchain Capital once said, you can make money three ways in crypto, and those are “selling mining machines, starting up Crypto exchanges, and organizing Crypto conferences.” Nonetheless, Cryptokitties was an outlier. With its newly raised money, the team was looking to deploy the capital for hiring, building out it’s Kittyverse, and expanding in Asia.
Asia and China has a Large and Untapped Crypto Gaming Market
Benny Giang, one of the co-founders of Cryptokitties, has been tasked with Cryptokitties Asia expansion since late 2017. Since then, the team has launched Cryptokitties in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. During the launch, in order to avoid another one of Ethereum’s network clogs like what happened in late 2017, the iOS app launch was initially limited to 5,000 new players, based on selected WeChat accounts.
Benny believes blockchain games in Asia are a huge untapped market but with increasing competition. Whereas the intersection of gaming and blockchain users is still pretty limited in the Americas, in Asia, that audience is significantly larger. This is primarily due to three reasons: 1) the awareness of cryptocurrency and blockchain is more prevalent in Asia, 2) the regulatory markets are more developed and sophisticated (for better or worse) in China, Korea, and Japan, and 3) there is a proportionally higher number of gamers in Asia than the U.S.
China is the biggest market in this intersection, but there have been challenges. As Cryptokitties launched and grew in the last year, the company saw competition and copycats (pun intended) from China moving quickly into the market. In the beginning of 2018, just as Cryptokitties was launching in China, Xiaomi, the mobile phone maker that recently IPO-ed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, launched their own crypto collectible called Cryptobunny. Baidu, the large search engine of China, also recently launched Cryptopuppy.
Go to Market Learnings from Uber in China – Identifying the Right Local Partners and Hires
As Benny and team began doing research on the Asia market, they realized that working in a market that’s twelve hours away is not easy. Taking some of its lessons from Uber’s experience in China, they decided that they needed to localize their go-to-market approach.
One of the reasons Uber ended up exiting the Chinese market was that it did not successfully build a product catered to Chinese citizens. Despite the large sum of money it was pouring into the Chinese market, Uber was still losing market share to Didi. Another suggested reason for the failure was that Uber should have gone to market with a local partner like Didi instead of going head to head with them. The Cryptokitties team knew that they wanted to expand correctly, and subsequently identified a local partner in China to target the market there.
In January 2018, Axiom Zen partnered with Animoca Brands to publish the Cryptokitties game on mobile in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Animoca is a Hong Kong-based, privately-held developer and publisher of games, with a number of games using popular IP such as Garfield, Ultraman, and Doraemon. By working with Animoca, Cryptokitties was able to build out a localized website for its Chinese-speaking audience, provide native-speaker support services, and host numerous giveaway events.
In my discussion with him, Benny provided some insightful advice on go to market strategy in Asia. First, he mentioned that for a blockchain gaming company like themselves, it is best to find two local partners – one in blockchain and one in gaming – to help navigate the landscape. This kind of well-thought-out, go-to-market strategy requires hard work and local community understanding that very few cryptocurrency teams have achieved.
Currently, most Western crypto companies do not apply a traditional tech-oriented go-to-market strategy when trying to expand into other regions. Instead, most of them choose to leverage their “global communities.” They would incentivize these regional token holders to do local marketing and encourage them to find more token supporters and buyers in their region. Nonetheless, that type of marketing approach effectively identifies people who want to make a quick buck, rather than users who can sustain a platform.
Secondly, tasteful and culturally-appealing design is also very important when it comes to dApps. Cryptokitties originally differentiated themselves from other dApps by creating beautiful cats on the blockchain that immediately caught people’s attention. They have also decided to apply a similar local strategy in China.
Momo Wang is the creator of the highly popular Tuzki character, a black and white line drawing of a bunny that’s used widely across various instant messaging platforms, particularly WeChat .
The popular character Tuzki (Photo courtesy WeChat)
Cryptokitties hired Momo as a brand ambassador and contributor to the Artist Series to design kitties for them. By doing so, they are able to appeal to an audience who may have a different local taste.
Benny adds that it is essential for dApp companies to create beautiful websites and great user experiences that appeal to local communities. However, there are also cons when building beautiful websites for a blockchain company that is decentralized by nature. Smooth user interfaces in the form of a traditional website or an app fall under the jurisdiction of a traditional tech business. Internet companies in China, for example, require approval and licensing from the government to be able to operate and serve its citizens.
China has become the wild west of crypto and blockchain, and there will continue to be unforeseen obstacles. It certainly isn’t easy for Cryptokitties to be the first western dApp company to venture into China, but in the next five years, we’ll see a significant number of Western companies heading east – and these early learnings will be invaluable.
Source: TechCrunch | 18 Aug 2018 | 11:29 am
Harrowing new footage released by California's firefighting agency Cal Fire reveals the massive fire tornado that led to the death of a firefighter on July 26.
Per the report, the tornado "was a large rotating fire plume that was roughly 1,000 feet in diameter at its base" and managed to reach a height of 40,000 feet.Climate, Science, California, Extreme Weather, and Climate Change
Source: Mashable | 18 Aug 2018 | 11:11 am
Source: Engadget RSS Feed | 18 Aug 2018 | 10:30 am
When the internet created the Slender Man, it did not realize it had made manifest the fears of a whole generation adrift in the digital age.
Faceless, amorphous, and boundless, the tall black-suited figure sprang from the crowdsourced anxieties of our online hivemind. Countless internet urban legends existed before and after him. But Slender rose above all, his empty face an uncanny reflection of the virtual void we summoned him from.
Recently Hollywood tried to capitalize on his internet phenomenon with a movie that received a resounding "meh." Unsurprisingly, movie execs fail to grasp exactly what makes the legend of a nefarious man in a business suit so terrifying to millennials. Read more...More about Watercooler, Entertainment, Digital Age, Slender Man, and Beware The Slenderman
Source: Mashable | 18 Aug 2018 | 10:00 am
Source: Engadget RSS Feed | 18 Aug 2018 | 9:00 am
Source: Engadget RSS Feed | 18 Aug 2018 | 5:31 am
The action you take within the next 48 hours could change your life. That’s how much time you have left to apply to TechCrunch Startup Battlefield, our world-renowned pitch competition, which takes place at Disrupt Berlin 2018 on November 29-30. The application deadline expires on August 20th at 9 p.m. PST. Don’t waste another minute — apply right here, right now.
TechCrunch Startup Battlefield is the stuff of Silicon Valley legend. Some of today’s biggest names in tech launched their early-stage startup in our premier pitch competition. Companies like Vurb, Dropbox, Mint, Yammer, TripIt and more. Since 2007, more than 750 companies have competed (and now form our alumni community), collectively raised $8 billion in funding and generated 102 exits. Not. Too. Shabby.
This is your opportunity to join that august alumni group — can you just imagine the networking possibilities? But hold on, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Here’s what you need to know about applying and competing.
TechCrunch editors, who clearly have a sharp eye for choosing successful startups, scrutinize every application. They’ll pick the founders of roughly 15 early-stage startups to go head-to-head in the Startup Battlefield competition. This is a highly competitive vetting process, and our acceptance rate typically hovers around three percent.
The founders of each team receive free pitch coaching (from our expert editors), and they’ll be rehearsed and ready to step onto the TechCrunch Main Stage in front of a live crowd numbering in the thousands. Not to make you sweat, but that audience is filled with investors, the very people who can make your dreams come true.
Teams have just six minutes to present a live demo to a distinguished panel of investors and entrepreneurs. Following each pitch, the judges get six minutes to put each team through their paces by asking a series of tough questions.
Next comes round two, and only five teams will make the cut to pitch again — to a fresh set of judges — and endure another round of probing questions.
Remember that live audience? It’s also filled with media outlets looking to write up the next big thing. Plus, we live-stream the entire Startup Battlefield competition to a global audience on TechCrunch.com, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter (and make it available later, on-demand). It’s awesome exposure — for all participating teams — that travels across Europe and around the world. Of course, the winners do get a bit more reward — namely the bragging rights, the Disrupt Cup and the $50,000 grand prize. That’s equity-free cash money, friends.
This is a classic nothing-to-lose and everything-to-gain scenario. Don’t sit this one out. Come and launch your startup to the major influencers in the European and global tech scene.
Startup Battlefield takes place at Disrupt Berlin 2018 on November 29-30, and the application window closes August 20 at 9 p.m. PST. You have just 48 hours left to submit your application — right here.
Source: TechCrunch | 18 Aug 2018 | 4:02 am
Source: Engadget RSS Feed | 18 Aug 2018 | 3:35 am
Source: Engadget RSS Feed | 18 Aug 2018 | 12:32 am
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If you’re a certain age, it’s likely that you’ve never given a second thought to buying a municipal bond or the process of bond buying, even if you’ve intuited, rightly, that’s it’s an intentionally opaque business.
Yet there could be a big opportunity for startups, and for people looking for places to invest, and for cities with crumbling infrastructures, in disrupting the status quo.
First, there’s a strong case for buying bonds. Late last year, the Trump administration capped at $10,000 the amount that taxpayers can deduct in property tax and local and state income tax. Most people with hefty tax bills are benefiting in other ways from that same new tax bill, but this aspect of it isn’t so great for them, and municipal bonds can help. The reason: interest income paid on muni bonds is exempt from federal tax. (Bonds issued within one’s state can also be free of state tax.)
What about people without hefty tax bills? For one thing, bonds are a very safe investment. They’re not sexy, it’s true ( they typically deliver interest in the single digits), but they also feature low default rates. Whether debts from states, cities, or counties, they’re typically government guaranteed and paid back in full at the end of their term. In fact, muni bond default rates have been as low as below .03 percent over the last decade. What’s also compelling — perhaps even more so — is that bonds can give residents an opportunity to help out the community where they live. For example, Oakland, Ca. voters in 2016 overwhelmingly approved a $600 million bond to fix old city streets and build affordable housing.
You might be wondering at this point where the new opportunity lies and what role tech can play. Let’s start with the moolah, which there happens to be a lot of sloshing around the municipal bond market. Last year, Morningstar Direct reported $34 billion in net inflows to municipal bond funds and exchange-traded funds, and there’s a lot of action happening outside these kinds of products, which package up a bunch of bonds to create a diversified portfolio for investors.
Like any financial services disruptor, the idea here is to offer what the big financial institutions are offering but to do it at less cost.
There’s also room to create many more bonds than are currently available. As the New York Times reported earlier this year, fewer municipal bonds have been hitting the market ever since the financial crisis of 2008. More, the Trump administration’s new tax law revision eliminated something called “advance refunding issues,” which the Times describes as a type of municipal bond financing that accounts for around 15 percent of the market. Where there’s constrained supply, there’s demand.
Right now, there aren’t tons of startups paying attention to public finance, and perhaps just one company laser focused on bringing the muni bond market into the 21st century: Neighborly, which is a six-year-old, Bay Area-based company that’s very progressive, to say the least, for a bond broker. In 2017, its technology enabled the city of Cambridge, Ma., to create $2 million of “mini bonds” that allowed residents to earn tax-exempt interest for smaller check sizes than typically possible, and the residents were able to invest that money directly in a variety of projects, without going through a middleman. (Apparently, it was successful; Cambridge staged a second mini bond sale earlier this year.)
Earlier this year, Neighborly convinced the city of Berkeley, Ca., to stage an initial coin offering that it’s dubbing an “initial community offering.” The idea is to deliver crytocurrency tokens in exchange for investments into cash-strapped projects in Berkeley — tokens that will be backed by municipal bonds. (Bond holders can receive their money back in digital coins or cash.) The project is still in development, but if it works, it could provide a roap map for other cities.
Whether Neighborly winds up being a pioneer in the space- – or else trampled by a newer entrant — remains to be seen, but a recent on-stage sit-down with a longtime political strategist turned investor, Bradley Tusk, opened our eyes to the possibilities. You can check out part of that conversation below. Note that Tusk is not an investor in Neighborly but has more recently begun advising the company. Our chat has been edited for length.
TC: You think the muni bond market is broken. Why?
BT: We have a system now that, on the one hand works. Governments can issue debt. People will pay for it. You can build projects and people will get paid back. That basically works. But it’s a very opaque, very closed system. And in the way that tech has managed to disrupt other very closed industries and force change and make them more cost efficient and transparent, there’s no reason that can’t happen in public finance as well.
[Earlier in my career], I was at Lehman Brothers . . . and they didn’t know where to put me so they stuck me in public finance. The people who worked there were honest, they weren’t the people who bankrupted the global economy. But they made a lot of money, and effectively, it was just all layered on top of the taxpayers. It’s built into [banks’] underwriting costs. And you just don’t need that any more.
TC: So right now, bonds are mostly made available through brokers who charge too much in your view. But is skipping straight to “initial community offerings” or employing blockchain technologies the right way to go? You could see that scaring people.
BT: I think blockchain gets confused with crypto and ultimately, it’s just a better system of piping, a more efficient way of moving data across a ledger from Point A to Point B and done n a way where it’s distributed across lots of different places so that it’s more secure and less hackable. But it’s plumbing; it’s infrastructure at the end of the day. So it will evolve to the point where it will just make a transaction that’s complicated and has lots of different parties and pieces just easier and faster. It’s no different than how the Internet makes it faster to do things we used to do. Email is faster than writing a letter. Text is faster than email.
[To your point], what Neighborly is trying to achieve isn’t solely dependent on blockchain. I don’t think it existed in the form it does now when [Neighborly founder and CEO Jase. Wilson] first came up with this idea. The main notion is you have a public finance system that’s expensive and opaque and not particularly democratic. You meanwhile have a lack of awareness by the people most impacted by the decisions [about where bond money should go], and those are real inefficiencies in the marketplace that Neighborly and other companies are trying to do address. Blockchain should just help them do it more efficiently over time.
TC: Is Neighborly making already available bonds to users of its platform or creating new bond offerings?
BT: Both. It can participate in a process and make bonds available or it can work with a municipality that, say, wants to create community-owned broadband.
TC: What about challenges in persuading governments to work with startups like Neighborly? Aren’t there a lot of special interests and existing relationships to overcome?
BT: Yeah, there’s a huge problem right now, which is that you have all these firms that advise government on issuing debt or participate in the process that, even though a lot of them are prohibited from giving money directly to candidates, they are very, very entrenched. They have relationships with mid-level people at budget offices everywhere.
This is a cartel that has to be taken on, just like Uber has had to take on the taxi industry and Airbnb has taken on hotels. In some ways, it’s an even harder cartel to fight because it’s so opaque. No one really understands how the budgeting process works internally, so it’s a big cartel and it’s a silent cartel, which in some ways is the most powerful of all, so it’s a pretty big fight. I give Neighborly a lot of credit for taking it on.
TC: Is there a precedent here?
BT: [Not really.] One company does it well, then 15 more pop up. The first one has to do all the heavy lifting and take on all the fights and that’s probably what’s going to happen here, too. When market opens up, and people realize there’s money to be made, you’ll see more come in, but right now, there’s just one company that I’m aware of that’s doing most of the work.
Public finance departments are good at really working over who gets to issue and underwrite the debt, and Neighborly would rather live in a world where they didn’t have to play that game, but to some extent, the real world of politics still exists.
Source: TechCrunch | 17 Aug 2018 | 8:49 pm
It’s been a while since I defragged — years, probably, because these days for a number of reasons computers don’t really need to. But perhaps it is we who need to defrag. And what better way to defrag your brain after a long week than by watching the strangely satisfying defragmentation process taking place on a simulated DOS machine, complete with fan and HDD noise?
That’s what you can do with this Twitch stream, which has defrag.exe running 24/7 for your enjoyment.
I didn’t realize how much I missed the sights and sounds of this particular process. I’ve always found ASCII visuals soothing, and there was something satisfying about watching all those little blocks get moved around to form a uniform whole. What were they doing down there on the lower right hand side of the hard drive anyway? That’s what I’d like to know.
Afterwards I’d launch a state of the art game like Quake 2 just to convince myself it was loading faster.
There’s also that nice purring noise that a hard drive would make (and which is recreated here). At least, I thought of it as purring. For the drive, it’s probably like being waterboarded. But I did always enjoy having the program running while keeping everything else quiet, perhaps as I was going to bed, so I could listen to its little clicks and whirrs. Sometimes it would hit a particularly snarled sector and really go to town, grinding like crazy. That’s how you knew it was working.
The typo is, no doubt, deliberate.
The whole thing is simulated, of course. There isn’t really just an endless pile of hard drives waiting to be defragged on decades-old hardware for our enjoyment (except in my box of old computer things). But the simulation is wonderfully complete, although if you think about it you probably never used DOS on a 16:9 monitor, and probably not at 1080p. It’s okay. We can sacrifice authenticity so we don’t have to windowbox it.
The defragging will never stop at TwitchDefrags, and that’s comforting to me. It means I don’t have to build a 98SE rig and spend forever copying things around so I have a nicely fragmented volume. Honestly they should include this sound on those little white noise machines. For me this is definitely better than whale noises.
Source: TechCrunch | 17 Aug 2018 | 8:09 pm
According to a report by the American Cancer Society, an estimated 266,120 women will be newly diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States this year and (according to a 2016 estimate) can expect to pay between $60,000 and $134,000 on average for treatment and care. But, after hundreds of thousands of dollars and non-quantifiable emotional stress for them and their families, the American Cancer Society still estimates 40,920 women will lose their battle to the disease this year.
Worldwide, roughly 1.7 million women will be diagnosed with the disease yearly, according to a 2012 estimate by The World Cancer Research Fund International.
While these numbers are stark, they do little to fully capture just how devastating a breast cancer diagnosis is for women and their loved ones. This is a feeling that Higia Technologies‘ co-founder and CEO Julián Ríos Cantú is unfortunately very familiar with.
“My mom is a two-time breast cancer survivor,” Cantú told TechCrunch. “The first time she was diagnosed I was eight years old.”
Cantú says that his mother’s second diagnosis was originally missed through standard screenings because her high breast density obscured the tumors from the X-ray. As a result, she lost both of her breasts, but has since fully recovered.
“At that moment I realized that if that was the case for a woman with private insurance and a prevention mindset, then for most women in developing countries, like Mexico where we’re from, the outcome could’ve not been a mastectomy but death,” said Cantú.
Following his mother’s experience, Cantú resolved to develop a way to improve the value of women’s lives and support them in identifying breast abnormalities and cancers early in order to ensure the highest likelihood of survival.
To do this, at the age of 18 Cantú designed EVA — a bio-sensing bra insert that uses thermal sensing and artificial intelligence to identify abnormal temperatures in the breast that can correlate to tumor growth. Cantú says that EVA is not only an easy tool for self-screening but also fills in gaps in current screening technology.
Today, women have fairly limited options when it comes to breast cancer screening. They can opt for a breast ultrasound (which has lower specificity than other options), or a breast MRI (which has higher associated costs), but the standard option is a yearly or bi-yearly mammogram for women 45 and older. This method requires a visit to a doctor, manual manipulation of the breasts by a technologist and exposure to low-levels of radiation for an X-ray scan of the breast tissue.
While this method is relatively reliable, there are still crucial shortcomings, Higia Technologies’ medical adviser Dr. Richard Kaszynski M.D., PhD told TechCrunch.
“We need to identify a real-world solution to diagnosing breast cancer earlier,” said Dr. Kaszynski. “It’s always a trade-off when we’re talking about mammography because you have the radiation exposure, discomfort and anxiety in regards to exposing yourself to a third-party.”
Dr. Kaszynski continued to say that these yearly or bi-yearly mammograms also leave a gap in care in which interval cancers — cancers that begin to take hold between screenings — have time to grow unhindered.
Additionally, Dr. Kaszynski says mammograms are not highly sensitive when it comes to detecting tumors in dense breast tissue, like that of Cantú’s mom. Dense breast tissue, which is more common in younger women and is present in 40 percent of women globally and 80 percent of Asian women, can mask the presence of tumors in the breast from mammograms.
Through its use of non-invasive, thermal sensors EVA is able to collect thermal data from a variety of breast densities that can enable women of all ages to more easily (and more frequently) perform breast examinations.
Here’s how it works:
To start, the user inserts the thermal sensing cups (which come in three standard sizes ranging from A-D) into a sports bra, open EVA’s associated EVA Health App, follow the instructions and wait for 60 minutes while the cup collects thermal data. From there, EVA will send the data via Bluetooth to the app and an AI will analyze the results to provide the user with an evaluation. If EVA believes the user may have an abnormality that puts them at risk, the app will recommend follow-up steps for further screening with a healthcare professional.
While sacrificing your personal health data to the whims of an AI might seem like a scary (and dangerous, if the device were to be hacked) idea to some, Cantú says Higia Technologies has taken steps to protect its users’ data, including advanced encryption of its server and a HIPAA-compliant privacy infrastructure.
So far, EVA has undergone clinical trials in Mexico, and through these trials has seen 87.9 percent sensibility and 81.7 percent specificity from the device. In Mexico, the company has already sold 5,000 devices and plans to begin shipping the first several hundred by October of this year.
And the momentum for EVA is only increasing. In 2017, Cantú was awarded Mexico’s Presidential Medal for Science and Technology and so far this year Higia Technologies has won first place in the SXSW’s International Pitch Competition, been named one of “30 Most Promising Businesses of 2018” by Forbes Magazine Mexico and this summer received a $120,000 investment from Y Combinator.
Moving forward, the company is looking to enter the U.S. market and has plans to begin clinical trials with Stanford Medicine X in October 2018 that should run for about a year. Following these trials, Dr. Kaszynski says that Higia Technologies will continue the process of seeking FDA approval to sell the inserts first as a medical device, accessible at a doctor’s office, and then as a device that users can have at home.
The final pricing for the device is still being decided, but Cantú says he wants the product to be as affordable and accessible as possible so it can be the first choice for women in developing countries where preventative cancer screening is desperately needed.
Source: TechCrunch | 17 Aug 2018 | 5:23 pm
Over the last five days, Tesla shareholders watched the value of their stock decline by roughly 16 percent and saw nearly $8 billion in value erased, as the company’s celebrity chief executive, Elon Musk, had what amounts to a very public breakdown.
However, Musk is not the only person responsible for the collapse of Tesla’s stock price. As The New York Times article which precipitated the latest slide in Tesla’s value on the public markets makes clear, the company’s board is also to blame.
For months, Musk has been showing signs of strain (generously speaking), and has been accused of making questionable decisions to drive growth and stifle criticism or dissent at the revolutionary electric vehicle company he founded.
During that time, as Shira Ovide notes in her piece from Bloomberg, Tesla’s board (primarily composed of Musk’s friends, relatives and initial investors) took no public steps to control or manage the situation.
Some Tesla board members are reportedly concerned about Elon Musk's workload and his use of Ambien.
If so, here's a solution for directors: Do your jobs. https://t.co/fQaENm9tS7
— Shira Ovide (@ShiraOvide) August 17, 2018
Privately and on background the board (or certain members) expressed concern over Musk’s recent behavior, drug use (both medicinal and recreational) and Twitter habits.
Those concerns should have been aired at the board level and the company’s directors should have exercised their ability to manage the mercurial Musk as his public actions became increasingly unmoored.
Something could have happened after the disastrous earnings call with analysts. It could have happened around the time of the strange active shooter allegations that were made against a Tesla whistleblower. It could have happened after Musk called a diver involved in the rescue of trapped and starving children a “pedo.”
At any of those moments the board could have stepped in and demanded that Musk face the consequences for actions that cost his company billions of dollars. They did not, and now Tesla’s position is more precarious than ever.
The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating Musk for his public statements around privatization plans for Tesla that may or may not have been real.
It’s another distraction for the company’s chief executive at a time when he is already under tremendous pressure to meet production targets for the company’s troubled Model 3 rollout (even as it begins to hit its targets).
The problem is that Musk’s cult of personality is so intertwined with Tesla’s corporate identity, there’s a fear that as Musk goes so goes Tesla. That’s no way to run a business, and it’s no way to ensure long-term value for shareholders (either as a public or private company).
Ultimately the board at Tesla needs to step in and take a more active role in overseeing the company, before the next decision they find themselves confronted with is the company’s liquidation.
Source: TechCrunch | 17 Aug 2018 | 5:01 pm
Most mornings, after sifting through the night’s mail haul and skimming the headlines, I make myself a cup of coffee. I use a simple pour-over cone and paper filters, and (in what is perhaps my most tedious Seattleite affectation), I grind the beans by hand. I like the manual aspect of it all. Which is why this robotic pour-over machine is to me so perverse… and so tempting.
Called the Automatica, this gadget, currently raising funds on Kickstarter but seemingly complete as far as development and testing, is basically a way to do pour-over coffee without holding the kettle yourself.
You fill the kettle and place your mug and cone on the stand in front of it. The water is brought to a boil and the kettle tips automatically. Then the whole mug-and-cone portion spins slowly, distributing the water around the grounds, stopping after 11 ounces has been distributed over the correct duration. You can use whatever cone and mug you want as long as they’re about the right size.
Of course, the whole point of pour-over coffee is that it’s simple: you can do it at home, while on vacation, while hiking or indeed at a coffee shop with a bare minimum of apparatus. All you need is the coffee beans, the cone, a paper filter — although some cones omit even that — and of course a receptacle for the product. (It’s not the simplest — that’d be Turkish, but that’s coffee for werewolves.)
Why should anyone want to disturb this simplicity? Well, the same reason we have the other 20 methods for making coffee: convenience. And in truth, pour-over is already automated in the form of drip machines. So the obvious next question is, why this dog and pony show of an open-air coffee bot?
Aesthetics! Nothing wrong with that. What goes on in the obscure darkness of a drip machine? No one knows. But this — this you can watch, audit, understand. Even if the machinery is complex, the result is simple: hot water swirls gently through the grounds. And although it’s fundamentally a bit absurd, it is a good-looking machine, with wood and brass accents and a tasteful kettle shape. (I do love a tasteful kettle.)
The creators say the machine is built to last “generations,” a promise which must of course be taken with a grain of salt. Anything with electronics has the potential to short out, to develop a bug, to be troubled by humidity or water leaks. The heating element may fail. The motor might stutter or a hinge catch.
But all that is true of most coffee machines, and unlike those, this one appears to be made with care and high-quality materials. The cracking and warping you can expect in thin molded plastic won’t happen to this thing, and if you take care of it, it should at least last several years.
And it better, for the minimum pledge price that gets you a machine: $450. That’s quite a chunk of change. But like audiophiles, coffee people are kind of suckers for a nice piece of equipment.
There is of course the standard crowdfunding caveat emptor; this isn’t a pre-order but a pledge to back this interesting hardware startup, and if it’s anything like the last five or six campaigns I’ve backed, it’ll arrive late after facing unforeseen difficulties with machining, molds, leaks and so on.
Source: TechCrunch | 17 Aug 2018 | 4:26 pm
The Movado Group, which sells multiple brands, including Lacoste, Tommy Hilfiger and Hugo Boss, has purchased MVMT, a small watch company founded by Jacob Kassan and Kramer LaPlante in 2013. The company, which advertised heavily on Facebook, logged $71 million in revenue in 2017. Movado purchased the company for $100 million.
“The acquisition of MVMT will provide us greater access to millennials and advances our Digital Center of Excellence initiative with the addition of a powerful brand managed by a successful team of highly creative, passionate and talented individuals,” Movado Chief Executive Efraim Grinberg said.
MVMT makes simple watches for the millennial market in the vein of Fossil or Daniel Wellington. However, the company carved out a niche by advertising heavily on social media and being one of the first microbrands with a solid online presence.
“It provides an opportunity to Movado Group’s portfolio as MVMT continues to cross-sell products within its existing portfolio, expand product offerings within its core categories of watches, sunglasses and accessories, and grow its presence in new markets through its direct-to-consumer and wholesale business,” said Grinberg.
MVMT is well-known as a “fashion brand,” namely a brand that sells cheaper quartz watches that are sold on style versus complexity or cost. Their pieces include standard three-handed models and newer quartz chronographs.
Source: TechCrunch | 17 Aug 2018 | 4:25 pm
Ofgem, the U.K. government’s regulator for gas and electricity, has revealed that projects trialled under the Low Carbon Networks Fund (LCNF) could save 215 tonnes of CO2.
The program ran for six years, ending in 2015, with the aim of helping Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) develop cost effective and energy efficient solutions for the smart grid of the future.
Implementation of some of the smart grid projects could see benefits of between $6 billion to $10 billion, according to the Ofgem review.
“Today’s review has found that network companies have improved their innovation, which is significant progress,” said Jonathan Brearley, a senior partner for networks at Ofgem.
“However, there is great potential to go further. Our challenge to the companies is to build on this progress and become high-level innovators, while delivering more for less. Involving third parties in the projects will help network companies take this next step,” he added.
Looking out for a new energy grid
The LCNF provided $750 million over the six years to companies large and small that were developing innovative solutions for the energy grid.
“It is important that companies take this opportunity. We need a more innovative grid which will allow consumers to get the most out of their smart meters which are being rolled out across the UK,” said Brearley.
Ofgem will now run a Network Innovation Competition (NIC) each year, a successor to the LNCF, which will provide £70 million per year for innovative projects.
Several reports have said that Britain will not be able to achieve the goals set out at the Paris Agreement earlier this year, if it continues to pollute the Earth with the same amount of carbon as its using currently. This fund could be one way to reduce the country’s usage, without effecting the consumer in any way.
The post This smart grid program could save millions of tons of CO2 annually appeared first on ReadWrite.
Source: ReadWrite | 14 Dec 2016 | 10:00 pm
The Internet of Things is sweeping across the globe at breakneck speeds, and before we know it, our entire lives will be facilitated by connected technology.
We’re already seeing the IoT make an incredible impact on how the industrial world operates, and we’re seeing it seep into household goods to bring convenience and efficiency to consumers’ lives.
However, one less-explored (but fast-growing) area where connected technology is poised to make a big splash lies in the public sector: Specifically, how municipalities incorporate smart technology into their environments to save money, enhance the lives of their constituents, and entice the best and brightest businesses to set up shop within their borders.
Living in a Smart City
Imagine using a digital voice assistant like Siri to buy tickets for a big concert. Then, as your autonomous vehicle chauffeurs you to the venue, the streetlights lining the road form a cocoon around you, turning on as you approach and turning off soon after you pass. City-sponsored drones zip around overhead, looking out for any traffic bottlenecks that might impact your journey.
Then, when you pull up to the municipal garage outside the arena, a kiosk tells you exactly where the nearest vacant parking spot is, making the experience a stress-free breeze.
This is just a small sampling of what life will be like in a smart city. But even in this simple example, several key details went into creating the smooth experience. Among them: The streetlights must respond to the presence of a vehicle, the drones flying overhead must know how to identify and report traffic patterns, the municipal parking lot must be able to track each spot’s occupancy, and so forth.
Coordination is key
Too often, city departments dive headfirst into the realm of connected technology without coordinating their efforts. For example, the utilities department will deploy one network for its smart meters, while the department of transportation uses a different one for its energy-efficient streetlights. Ultimately, this results in a variety of compatibility issues that leave cities with headaches and high costs.
On top of that, with this uncoordinated approach, key day-to-day data ends up siloed off within departments. This makes it difficult for city leaders to fully capitalize on the treasure trove of insights made possible by the IoT. Unnecessary resources must be devoted to connect this siloed information, which results in a slower analysis process and could lead to accuracy issues.
Also, due to the fact that network longevity concerns have plagued the IoT throughout its existence, a city utilizing more networks than necessary is only making things more difficult (and costly) for itself once the next sunset comes around. Therefore, city departments must work in tandem when deploying IoT technologies, keep network longevity in mind, and strive to keep things as streamlined as possible.
The perks of a cohesive Smart City
When properly built, smart cities reap countless benefits that include:
1. Sustainability. Cities that embrace IoT technology can optimize their use of resources, including water, fuel, energy, and even waste. The city of Los Angeles, for example, installed LED bulbs in its streetlights and successfully cut its energy use by 60 percent. The Dutch city of Eindhoven took things even further by installing streetlights similar to the ones I described earlier — they turn on and off depending on how busy the street is.
Aside from saving the environment, smart cities save big bucks thanks to their IoT initiatives. Los Angeles’ LED bulbs save the city $8 million per year, and the city of Barcelona saved more than 75 million euros in 2014 by adopting IoT-driven smart water, lighting, and more.
2. Community. A city that illustrates a commitment to improvement through smart initiatives is more likely to build strong, well-informed, and healthy communities.
For example, by creating an autonomous smart bus network and offering free citywide Wi-Fi, Barcelona has effectively encouraged its residents to drive less, walk more, and get out and explore the area. As a result, pollution levels have decreased, obesity rates have dropped, and residents feel engaged with their hometown.
In America, Atlantic City, N.J., is embracing smart technology by installing LED streetlights that feature charging stations and display screens that keep citizens informed of current events and emergency announcements.
3. Growth. Smart cities don’t just save municipalities money and improve the lives of current residents; they also attract new residents. Who wouldn’t want to live and work in a city with great air quality, low utility costs, reliable public transit, and free-flowing Wi-Fi?
Businesses in particular flock to cities that take care of their smart infrastructure because it lowers operating costs. One study predicts the global business community will spend more than $18 billion incorporating smart technology into buildings in 2017 — which far surpasses the $5.5 billion it spent back in 2012.
The energy savings in smart buildings make the move worthwhile, typically paying for itself on an enterprise level within a year or two. Smart windows alone can save up to 26 percent on cooling and 67 percent on lighting costs.
In order for a smart city to truly bring its IoT-driven features to life and see long-term value in its investment, it must create a cohesive and holistic smart infrastructure. Every department must be involved and understand how IoT-driven solutions can benefit them, and they must work together to create a seamless, streamlined experience that optimizes life for its current (and future) residents.
When smart cities operate in harmony, their citizens, industries, and environments all thrive.
John Horn joined Ingenu after serving as president of RacoWireless, a leading provider of machine-to-machine (M2M) connectivity solutions. He led the company to record growth and multiple awards for its accomplishments, including recognition as the “Most Innovative Company” and “Entrepreneurial Company of the Year.” Before joining RacoWireless, Horn was a leader at T-Mobile for more than nine years.
The post 3 benefits a smart city can gain from smart infrastructure appeared first on ReadWrite.
Source: ReadWrite | 14 Dec 2016 | 9:15 pm
PARC, the research and development arm of Xerox, announced on Tuesday that it has secured part of $19 million in federal funding from the Energy Department to develop peel-and-stick sensors for homes, businesses, and other buildings.
The peel-and-stick sensors will be able to detect air quality, temperature, humidity, occupancy, and more, according to PARC. Instead of using batteries, which are hard to recycle, the sensors will be powered using RF energy.
“Sensors need to be low-cost, easily deployed, require little or no maintenance, and be able to store enough energy to do their job. PARC’s flexible, printed and hybrid electronics enable the unique peel-and-stick form factor, provide affordable, plug-and-play installation, and allow for remote radio frequency power delivery,” said David Schwartz, project lead and manager of Energy Devices and Systems at PARC.
PARC thinks that the peel-and-stick functionality will give the sensors compatibility in all scenarios, since it removes the hard installation process and provides more a deeper and more accurate understanding of the building environment.
PARC sensors could be adopted to other markets
The peel-and-stick sensors could be adopted in other markets, including building efficiency applications, smart cities, industrial and resident safety, and wearables.
“Distributed, networked sensing and data collection is the basis of the IoT. PARC is poised to provide a variety of the IoT sensors given our deep and rich history in printed electronics,” said Schwartz.
PARC is one of 18 selected projects by the U.S. Department of Energy to improve the efficiency of America’s buildings. Earlier this year, the Energy Department revealed the annual energy bill for the entire country was $430 billion.
“Improving the efficiency of our nation’s buildings presents one of our best opportunities for cutting Americans’ energy bills and slashing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz. “These innovative technologies will make our buildings smarter, healthier, and more efficient, driving us toward our goal of reducing the energy use intensity of the U.S. buildings sector by 30 percent by 2030.”
The post PARC secures federal funding to develop peel-and-stick sensors appeared first on ReadWrite.
Source: ReadWrite | 14 Dec 2016 | 8:30 pm
Studies of traffic congestion regularly point much blame at cars circling for parking. To tackle this perennial problem, Get My Parking is joining a smart city initiative to launch a smart parking pilot in India.
As reported in Firstpost, the Delhi-based startup’s technology is being tested in government smart city initiatives.
“We are getting a lot of traction from various municipal corporations,” said Get My Parking CEO Chirag Jain. “We have started a pilot project in Jaipur.”
Jain describes his company as providing a technological solution that allows the smart location of free parking spots through a smartphone app. The technology was the brainchild of alumni from IIT Madras and FMS Delhi.
He explained that the need for his company’s solution came from examination of how chaotic parking systems lead to many vehicles driving slower than the normal flow of traffic as they seek a spot to leave their cars.
“Just imagine when hundreds of cars are doing that at the same time,” said Jain.
Get My Parking received recent kudos from senior government figures including Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The praise came from the successful use of the startup’s technology that helped ease traffic chaos during Kumbh Mela, the mass Hindu pilgrimage where members of the faith travel to bathe in a sacred river.
Get My Parking attracting investor interest
The company is also attracting the attention of investors. Recently the startup drew a first funding round from Chennai Angles and is hoping to close its second round of financing soon.
One of the areas that Jain says is of key importance is ensuring the parking technology integrates into smart city infrastructure in a secure way to keep citizens safe.
“Security is of prime concern as we work with a lot of consumer data,” he said. “The security is taken care of accordance to utmost privacy for our consumers.”
The interest in developing such smart city technology comes as India is expanding its internet infrastructure to facilitate growth in Internet of Things technology.
Source: ReadWrite | 14 Dec 2016 | 7:27 pm
According to a recent Gartner survey, almost a third of fitness tracker or smartwatch owners end up ditching them. The survey studied about 9,000 users from the U.S., Australia and the U.K. Reasons for the dropped tech use vary from wearables breaking, to just becoming bored of them.
“Dropout from device usage is a serious problem for the industry,” said Angela McIntyre, Gartner research director. “The abandonment rate is quite high relative to the usage rate.”
According to McIntyre, it is time for wearable devices to get creative and offer consumers something they cannot typically find on their IPhones or Android handsets.
“To offer a compelling enough value proposition, the uses for wearable devices need to be distinct from what smartphones typically provide. Wearables makers need to engage users with incentives and gamification,” she explained.
As it stands, the smartwatch adoption rate is only 10 percent. However, fitness wearables have reached the early mainstream categorization, sitting at 19 percent. Virtual reality headsets like the Oculus rift are currently at 8 percent.
Most owners of fitness trackers and smartwatches tend to buy their own. Thirty-four percent of fitness wearables are given as gifts, and only 26 percent of smartwatches, such as Apple Watches, are gifted.
Most users wear their health tracking devices all day, yet not all enjoy putting them on. Fitbits and other health monitoring gadgets are also more popular in the U.S. than in Australia. They are a bit more popular in Australia than they are in the U.K.
And looks could also be part of the problem
Of those surveyed by Gartner, 29 percent believe fitness trackers are ugly. Finding one that looks nice can be costly, said Mikako Kitagawa, principal research analyst at Gartner. “Fitness tracker cases and wristbands designed by fashion brands are sold as higher-priced upgrades, which may be a barrier to purchase,” she explained.
The U.S. currently is the leader in actual smartwatch purchase rates, followed by the U.K and then Australia. A majority of owners are 44 years of age or younger, and more than half use their smartwatches on a daily basis.
The post Do fitness wearables need an affordability upgrade? appeared first on ReadWrite.
Source: ReadWrite | 14 Dec 2016 | 3:00 pm
An increasing number of farm fires are being caused by electrical arc faults, a high-power discharge of electricity between two or more conductors. Nare IoT Labs, a South Korean startup, has developed a cost effective solution to prevent and warn farmers of any faults, before the fire starts.
The system, called “Prevention System for Electrical Arc Fires,” is bundled into a small Internet of Things (IoT) module that can recognize the difference between a harmless arc and a dangerous one that could spiral into a fire.
With that knowledge, Nare IoT is able to send warnings to a farmer’s smartphone and let the farmer turn off a power grid near the electrical arc to avoid further damage. Inside the module is an alarm, which goes off when a dangerous electrical arc happens.
“The rise Internet of Things was an opportunity for us. Affordable modules and network fees allow vendors like us to create more sophisticated systems cheaply,” said CEO Choi Seoung Wook, the founder of Nare IoT Labs.
Started with farm security cameras
Choi has previously built security cameras for farmers to spot robbers and report them to the police, a crime that was become more commonplace in South Korea. The startup sells a bundle for farmers to receive the complete security package, but Nare’s technology can also be bought al-a-carte if farmers only want a certain module.
Nare IoT is only available in South Korea at the moment, though there are plans to bring it to Japan as an OEM. Choi said to ZDNet that he plans to export the system to European and Asian markets, albeit with different marketing and sales practices.
This is another example of IoT providing meaningful solutions to customers that do not have large budgets. The system has already been installed in 500 farms in South Korea, and is already reducing insurance costs for farmers.
The post Using IoT to help farmers to protect livestock from fires appeared first on ReadWrite.
Source: ReadWrite | 14 Dec 2016 | 2:13 pm
A new report says Google has spun out its self-driving unit — now called Waymo — and is undertaking a major pivot away from making its own autonomous vehicles, instead moving to become a provider of self-driving car tech for major automakers.
These Google car revelations revealed in a lengthy report on tech site The Information.
If the suggestions prove true, Google and its parent company Alphabet are undergoing a major shift away from developing their own self-driving cars. The Google cars were eventually to get rid of traditional user control mechanisms like foot pedals and steering wheels.
“Google Car executives had long made clear the company’s true mission of building a car that didn’t have a steering wheel or pedals, and the two-person prototypes in fact had what were considered to be temporary gear given that a safety driver is required to test self-driving tech,” recounted the USA Today article.
Instead, the tech giant is now reportedly refocusing its efforts on developing self-driving vehicle technology that can be incorporated into traditional cars.
This would represent a major scaling-back of Alphabet’s ambitious eight-year project to develop autonomous vehicles requiring no traditional user control mechanisms.
Furthering the speculation of Google’s change in focus is The Information’s news that the “Chauffeur” self-driving car team is being moved out of Google X’s future technology focused “moonshot” division.
The Information suggested increasing competition in the self-driving car space prompted Google Co-Founder Larry Page to reconsider the autonomous vehicle program focus.
Self-driving field is getting crowded
In recent years, many new players have rushed into the self-driving car field, including startups like Drive.ai and processor-maker Nvidia. As well, traditional carmakers are also diving deep into the technology to develop new versions of their vehicles.
This apparently sparked Google’s fear of being left behind in an increasingly aggressive race to commercialize the new car technology. And hence the move to become a technology provider for traditional car manufacturers became the preferred option.
Industry experts suggest that the goal for both car makers and technology firm is to develop autonomous transportation for ride-sharing services rather than individual consumers. Ride-sharing based business models include increased profit potential from the vehicles being in constant service unlike private robotic cars.
As evidence, drive-sharing colossus Uber has recently proven to be among the most aggressive companies in the race to develop self-driving cars.
The post Google’s Waymo to put big car firms in the robot car driver’s seat appeared first on ReadWrite.
Source: ReadWrite | 13 Dec 2016 | 9:30 pm
Scotland’s seven major cities are teaming up to develop a number of smart city projects, backed by a $31 million war chest.
According to Scottish Construction Now, the seven cities will springboard off the funding to collaboratively develop themselves into future-capable digital hubs.
See also: Outdated thinking on wireless could doom UK smart cities
The smart cities program is under the mantle of the Scottish Cities Alliance, which includes Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Perth and Stirling along with the Scottish government.
European Regional Development Funding will contribute $13 million to smart cities initiatives, with another $18 million chipped in by the seven cities.
“By working together Scotland’s cities are utilizing economies of scale to learn individually and share that knowledge collectively, to be at the cutting edge of Smart City technology and the benefits that brings,” said Andrew Burns, Chair of the Scottish Cities Alliance. “Our inter-city approach to developing Smart City solutions has been praised publicly by the European Commission and we have attracted the attention of other nations who are looking to emulate our collaborative model.”
A variety of smart city programs have already been given the green light to begin development in Scotland.
Intelligent Street Lighting projects are being piloted in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Perth and Stirling. The lighting technology will incorporate LED bulbs and connected sensors, and is expected to provide energy savings and improved safety for the public and drivers.
Now the bins are smart, too
Smart waste management services will be developed in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Stirling and Perth. The waste projects will incorporate smart bin technology that improve efficiency by alerting workers to empty the garbage cans only when full.
Besides these infrastructure-related projects, Scottish cities will see the development open data initiatives under the smart city programme. The cities will build data publication platforms that incorporate data analytics capabilities.
The cities expect to the open data projects sparking better decision-making on urban issues which will improve services and efficiencies.
The Scottish initiatives come amidst a global rush to develop smart city programs. However, experts suggest that early stage smart cities often struggle to develop clearly defined entry points.
The post Aye! Smart city projects squirrel away $31m in Scotland appeared first on ReadWrite.
Source: ReadWrite | 13 Dec 2016 | 8:30 pm
With trends like ride sharing, autonomous vehicles, and the connected car, the auto industry is increasingly in the spotlight. As drivers contemplate letting computers take over control of the wheel for them, it brings up some important questions. What will cars of the future look like? What things will drivers be able to accomplish on their rides to work? And most importantly, what cool features will they be able to enjoy now that their attention doesn’t have to be on the road?
1. No parking skills? No need to fret
Parking sucks, especially the dreaded parallel. It’s often tricky in congested areas, it sometimes leads to smashed alloy wheels and it’s deeply embarrassing when not done correctly, which is why most are happy to hand over valet duties to a robot. Ford, Renault and many premium brands already own a system that will hunt down parallel and reverse parking spots and then use sensors and cameras to correctly steer the vehicle into the space, only calling upon a human for throttle inputs.
But things are about to get a whole lot easier, as BMW and Mercedes-Benz now boast tech that simply requires a prod of a smartphone for perfect parking results. BMW’s Remote Control Parking is already on the 7 Series — and due to be rolled out on more models next year — and sees the car autonomously reverse into and pull out of spaces, while Mercedes’ Remote Parking Pilot does a similar thing but also caters for perpendicular parking. The latter will appear on the new E-Class, which is due out late this year or early 2017.
2. Connected from the road to the kitchen
When your car knows to open the garage door and turn the AC on as you head down the road, you know you’ve hit peak connectivity. The ease of access for drivers as cars become a tool to become your personal assistant is rapidly advancing. The latest multimedia systems allow for emails to be read and sent, hands-free calls to be made and Twitter to be updated on the move by some of the largest car manufacturers like Nissan. Some even know to power themselves!
The cars of the future will be an extension of your home. As the auto industry combines to meld with the IoT revolution, we’ll see connectivity that we’ve never had before. Wouldn’t it be great to record your favorite television show when you’re running late by communicating with your vehicle? The cars of the future and you will end up being quite the team. Can’t wait or don’t want to buy a new car? Adapters from companies like Autobrain, Automatic and Vinli will turn your car (as long as it’s built after 1996) into the 4G connected, Wi-Fi enabled, connected car of the future.
3. A mobile living room
When car owners are no longer required to keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel because computers are in the driver’s seat, the journey will be just as important as the destination. To the discerning 21 century mediaphile, this means HD screens, on-demand content streaming and one-kick ass, next-generation audio system to experience it with, just like one might in their living room but with the bonus of a smaller space and killer surround sound. Companies such as Auro-3D have partnered with companies like Porsche to introduce three-dimensional spatial sound patterns that replicate real-life sound experiences that are reminiscent of the best concert halls, but all in the comfort of your own car. This set up delivers the best-possible music playback to make every trip a new driving experience, not just a ride.
4. Goodbye dials, hello gestures
Why touch, when you can wave? Rear-view mirrors, radios, and more are moving away from the antiquated dial system to understand hand gestures through infrared cameras. Touch screens are increasingly becoming the easiest way to communicate with your vehicle over fumbling with dial switches. But the cars of the futures don’t want to have you even deal with potential smudges to that chrome finish. Thanks to leadership from Audi and Volvo, in efforts to de-clutter the dashboard to make you safer and more efficient, we’re going to see even touch screens get the boot as swipes and gestures will be the simplest and safest way to control functionality. Wave goodbye to those dials.
5. Never lose your keys again
We’ve seen in recent years the shift from key to keyless entry but next-generation cars take this one step further by completely removing them altogether. In the future, drivers will be able to unlock and start their cars using a fingerprint, retina scan or voice activation—similarly to how we access our smartphones today. And with how much time drivers save by not tearing the house apart looking for lost keys, they might be able to finish that book or learn a new language—or not. Plus, you’ll never have to worry about your teenager taking your car out without permission ever again. “Open the driver door, Tesla!” “I’m sorry Dave, I can’t do that.”
With all the cool new car technology on the horizon, it’s enough to make anyone want to give up public transit to commute in bumper-to-bumper traffic to catch up on shows, listen to the hottest new album release or just hang out with friends.
The post 5 futuristic connected car technologies that are here now — or will be soon appeared first on ReadWrite.
Source: ReadWrite | 13 Dec 2016 | 7:30 pm
Several months ago, CCS Insight surveyed 2,000 people in the US and UK about what they would most like to have tracked about themselves, and a large portion of them answered with, “stress levels.” It looks as though their requests are being answered. Mental health is a big focus in the tech industry right now.
According to George Jijiashvili, an analyst at CCS Insight who focuses on wearable tech, “It has been suggested that by using galvanic skin response (GSR) technology, a user’s stress levels can be determined.”
Interestingly enough, computer vision is 82% accurate at reading human emotions, which is better than humans themselves. So it is no wonder that what are coming next in the tech world are wearables that read exactly what is going on in a person’s emotional health, not just physical, and align it with what is going on in the individual’s life.
One way to look at what is in store for sensing emotions is to break it down into analysis and algorithms, input and output in the form of apps. Some innovations have already been looked at, like temporary tech tattoos that can read facial expressions, but there is more interest in practical emotion sensing gadgets that could easily go mainstream and assist in monitoring mental health.
“Jawbone and Basis have previously used GSR technology in their wearables to determine perspiration levels and heart rate, but I believe that its potential hasn’t been fully explored yet. I continue to believe that next year Fitbit and other major players in the wearables space will start expanding the capabilities of their device by adding additional sensors,” says Jijiashvili.
Several million users have been added to the mobile app, Headspace, over the past few months. Several others have started using manual mood-watching Apple Watch apps, such as Thriveport. Pebble is a company that has users enter their mood levels throughout the day via its Happiness app. However, the fate of the Pebble Happiness study is in questions, after the Fitbit buyout. Apparently, Fitbit is interested in the software, and it might just show up in future Fitbit trackers.
How emotion tracking works
The most difficult parts of emotion tracking are the algorithms behind how biometric sensors and manual mood diaries work to provide insights given based on breathing and changing lifestyle habits. Any company focused on this will probably not be interested in sharing their algorithms, but a couple of companies such as Vinaya and its upcoming Zenta, along with the makers of the Feel wristband, have discussed the basics of their science.
Zenta is a biometric bracelet that measures galvanic skin response, along with heart rate and heart rate variability, and combines this with a person’s digital life — calendar, social media — to construct a picture of his or her emotional life. Vinaya’s algorithms match physiological signals to emotions like affection, anger and melancholy based on an academic model.
“What technology can enable us to do today is truly amazing. But as we let our devices and virtual realities distract us from the present and negatively impact our wellbeing, we should recognize that this is an unbalanced relationship,” says Kate Unsworth, Vinaya’s co-founder. “We’ve built a lab in London, where our team conducts research and experiments into things like stress, anxiety, sleep, happiness, peace and fulfillment.”
There are some other pretty interesting things being offered in this new world of mental health tracking. Intel and British-Cypriot fashion designer, Hussein Chalayan, have collaborated to turn emotions into art. They use brainwaves, heart rate and breathing tracking “smart glasses” to gather data on emotions such as nerves, stress and attraction. Then they analyze them and turn them into videos. In each case, the visualizations change as respiration or heart rates change in real time. This project will be featured in the Design Museum in London until April.
It looks as though 2017 is set to be a big year for wearable tech that focuses more on our mental health. Monitoring health can play a big part in preventing many diseases. Our emotional wellbeing is critical, and the tech world is noticing.
The post Tech world aims to tackle the mental health issue next appeared first on ReadWrite.
Source: ReadWrite | 13 Dec 2016 | 6:30 pm