TechCrunch13:22
TechCrunch is a group-edited blog that profiles the companies, products and events defining and transforming the new web.

 
 
1. Bitcoin and the crypto market is once again crashing hard13:26[−]

It’s not been a pretty year for anyone who owns Bitcoin, but the last 24 hours has been a period to forget as the cryptocurrency dropped below $100 billion in market cap for the first time in more than a year.

You have to go back to the end of October — the 29th to be precise — for the last time that the total circulation of Bitcoin in the market dropped below $100 billion.

It looks like this will be the first 24-hour period to hold that rate — so much for the relative price stability that many in the industry had complained about, be careful what you wish for!

The dip follows a decline that took Bitcoin’s price below the mark $6,000 for the first time this year — it has since plunged below $5,600. That, in turn, caused havoc in the altcoin market with valuations plummeting double-digit percentages nearly across nearly all of the top 100 valued tokens. Of the top ten, Cardano is down 14 percent, Litecoin 13 percent and Ethereum and EOS 12 percent. The changing prices also saw Ripple’s XRP token rise above Ethereum to become the second most valued cryptocurrency behind only Bitcoin.

As ever, the source of the malaise is tough to diagnose.

Bitcoin Cash, which is about to undergo a hard fork, looks to be the most likely cause.

Bitcoin Cash is about to undergo a hard fork that’ll result in two different chains — Bitcoin Cash ABC (BCHABC) and Bitcoin Cash SV (BCHSV) — and that has caused a great deal of uncertainty in the market.

You could argue that this situation caused the value of Bitcoin to decrease, that often draws owners of altcoins who trade their tokens for the cheaper Bitcoin. That movement can negatively impact both Bitcoin and the altcoins that are traded.

Of course, there are a wide number of theories as to what is happening out there. One thing that is for sure is that the markets are bleeding pretty hard today.

Note: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.

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2. Lies, damn lies, and HQ212:56[−]

There are few things certain in our world except for the uplifting tendencies of technology. I’ve spent the past few years trying to prove this to myself, at least, by interviewing hundreds of thinkers on the topic. I’ve come to a singular conclusion: when tech moves into a city, be it an iOS dev shop or a robotic facility for making widgets, things change primarily for the better. Given the recent rush to gain 25,000 or so jobs from Amazon’s HQ2 and the subsequent grumbling by cities passed over, it is difficult to refute this, but I’d like explore it.

Many cities have gained from tech, both historically and recently. Pittsburgh, for example, had a plan to become a tech city back in the early 1990s after seeing the value coming out of Carnegie Mellon and the other universities in town. Anecdotally, Pittsburgh remained a fairly depressed steel town until at least 2000. I recall walking on CMU’s campus one weekend, long after my graduation in 1997, and marveling at how the small school had blossomed thanks to an influx of tech money. Next to halls named after dead and gone thinkers and makers was the Gates building, built with the largesse of the biggest tech maker in recent history. Then Uber moved in and all hell broke loose. In 19997 the Lawrenceville neighborhood was a rundown riverfront redoubt full of brown fields and finely-made hovels. Then Uber landed there. Now it’s become the hub for multiple research and tech companies and the neighborhood has blossomed, even rating it’s own corporation and team of boosters who invite you to dine in a spot once associated with dive bars and non-ironic pierogi. A few weeks ago I enjoyed Nashville hot chicken and Manhattans in what was once a funeral home for steel workers.

In short, having tech brings about what Richard Florida called the “creative class.” This group of makers, be they chefs, artists, coders, or engineers, all come to a place and almost inevitably improve it. In some cases this creative class is disparate, spreading throughout a city like a symbiotic fungus. In other places they are centered in a single neighborhood, working their magic from the core out. I’ve seen this in many places but none more clearly than in Toledo, Ohio or Flint, Michigan where a small core of artists are working mightily to turn a city in ruin into a place to live.

And I understand that all is not rosy in the world urban growth. Uber drivers in creative-classed cities are usually people displaced from their cheap rents by rich hipsters. As a friend noted, when you gentrify a place where to those who cannot afford artisanal kombucha, let alone the rent, go? They are either thrust into the suburbs – an irony that should give cities like Grosse-Point-ringed Detroit pause – or they vanish from view even though they exist in plain sight. Nowhere is this clearer then in the refuse-strewn streets of San Francisco.

Yet cities with deep, systemic problems still debase themselves to get tech jobs. They offer tax abatements, $1 land leases, and produce cloying videos to prove that they, alone, are the hardest working of the bunch. The first and most galling effort appeared when Foxconn, a massive manufacturing company, promised to land like an alien invasion force in rural Wisconsin. The idea there was simple: Foxconn wanted tax cuts in exchange for “creating” “jobs” – scare quotes in both cases necessary. As it had in Brazil before, Foxconn promised more than it could ever deliver. From a previous report:

Foxconn has created only a small fraction of the 100,000 jobs that the government projected, and most of the work is in low-skill assembly. There is little sign that it has catalyzed Brazils technology sector or created much of a local supply chain.

Manufacturing jobs are not tech jobs. In the end these true manufacturing jobs will end up going to countries with historically cheap labor pools and Foxconn will use its tax breaks to build a facilities in the US to help it abate future cross-border taxes. The jobs that it will create will be done by robots and only the smartest in these rural counties will get jobs… watching robot arms lift flatscreens off of an assembly line for years. Gone are the days of ubiquitous middle class manufacturing jobs and they will never come back. The sooner the heartland accepts this the better.

So cities turn to true tech. Cities know that tech helps and they bow to its captains of industry. But why won’t tech help cities?

Tech companies reduce inefficiencies. Self-driving car companies are aimed at reducing the number of inefficient truckers on the road. Drone companies are aimed at reducing the number of inefficient postal carriers on the sidewalk. And always-on audio assistants and smart devices are there to reduce our dependence on nearly every facet of a local ecosystem including the local weatherperson, the chef with an empty restaurant but hundreds of Seamless orders, and the local cinema. They know that when they land in a place they take over, much like Wal-Mart did in its early heyday. The benefits of this takeover are myriad but the erosion of culture they bring is catastrophic. Yet mayors still don silly hats and dance a merry jig to get them to move to their blighted areas. After all, it’s far easier than actually doing something.

The answer for cities, then, is to build from within. Pittsburgh didn’t get Uber because it prayed for that rude beast to stalk its shores. It got Uber because it built one of the best robotics programs in the country. Denver and Boulder aren’t tech hubs because they gave anyone a massive abatement. They became tech hubs because they became places that techies wanted to congregate and they built networks of technologists who left their cubicles on a weekly basis and met for lunch. That’s right: in many cases, all it takes for a tech scene to thrive is for the CTOs of all the major organizations to meet over curry. The network effects created by this are manifold. In fact, some of the biggest complaints I heard in many cities was that the CTOs of corporations who called those cities home – Chase Bank, GrubHub, etc. – rarely stepped out of their carefully manicured cubicle farms. An ecosystem cannot thrive if its most successful hide. Just ask Detroit.

Cities must subsidize creative districts, not creative destruction. Cities must woo technologists with a network of rich angels, not bribery. Cities must prepare for a future that doesn’t yet exist and hope that some behemoth will find a home there. Otherwise they’re sunk.

This sort of forward thinking is done in dribs and drabs across the country. Every city has its accelerators full of potential failure. These companies quickly discover that without seed capital, St. Louis or Chicago might as well be the Death Valley. Detroit has worked hard to create a startup culture and it seems to be working but in many cases these startups are folded, Borg-like into Quicken Loans and cannot stand on their own. The south is stuck in energy production and invests little in things that would draw technologists to the beautiful cities along the coast.

Maybe this is because startups make no money. Maybe this is because innovation is expensive. And maybe the lack of long-term strategy exists because mayoral staffs turn over so quickly in these convoluted times. These are valid excuses but woe betide the city that clings to them.

New York and Virginia got HQ2 because their cultures are mercenary at worst and transient at best. They already knew the hard bargain of technology versus culture and were willing to make the deal. The tens of thousands of folks who will walk through Amazon’s doors on the first day will change Long Island City for the better and no other city will claim those benefits (and detriments.) Tech is a business. It doesn’t care where it lands as long as there are enough college-educated behinds to sit on blue inflatable desk balls and enough mouths to drink free nitro coffee. It bypasses places that are seemingly entrenched in political infighting and failed innovation and it will continue to do so until cities do for themselves what Amazon will never do: future-proof their place in the world and create a place for generations to grow and change.

Photo by Michael Browning on Unsplash

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3. Snap up a spectator ticket to Startup Battlefield Africa 201812:00[−]

Dont miss your chance to bear witness as a cohort of sub-Saharan Africas exceptional entrepreneurs launch their early-stage tech startups to the world. Startup Battlefield Africa 2018, our premier pitch competition, takes place on 11 December in Lagos, Nigeria.

Join us to cheer on the competitors and enjoy a series of outstanding panel discussions from the regions top tech and VC leaders. Spectator tickets cost $10 + VAT — theyre going fast, so grab your tickets today.

With more than 300 technology hubs connecting entrepreneurs across Africa, the continents startup scene continues to evolve and grow rapidly, which makes it an exciting time and place to be an early-stage startup founder or investor. Thats why in addition to the Startup Battlefield competition weve added exciting panel discussions to this action-packed day. We recruited a slate of experts to share their insight, discuss emerging trends and talk about what it takes to succeed in Africas diverse startup ecosystem.

Youll hear from leading founders and investors alike. Heres a sample of what to expect, and be sure to check out the full list of speakers.

  • Chris Folayan, the founder and CEO of Mall for Africa, a global economy e-commerce infrastructure company that lets Africans buy directly from international online retailers in the U.S. and Europe, as well as local online retailers in Africa
  • Nichole Yembra, chief financial, risk and investment officer for Venture Garden Group (VGG) and a managing partner at GreenHouse Capital
  • Olaoluwa Samuel-Biyi, co-founder at SureGifts, a Nigeria-based gift card retailer and technology provider

Of course, Startup Battlefield is the star of the show, and heres a brief rundown of how it works. The format consists of three preliminary rounds with up to five startups going head-to-head in each round. Teams have just six minutes to pitch and present a live demo to a panel of judges consisting of top tech founders and VCs. Following each pitch, the judges get six minutes to ask in-depth questions.

No more than five teams move to the finals, where theyll pitch again to a new set of judges and answer a second round of Q&A. The judges confer and select one outstanding startup as the TechCrunch Startup Battlefield Africa 2018 champion. The winning founders receive US$25,000 in no-equity cash, plus a trip for two to compete in Startup Battlefield in San Francisco at TechCrunch Disrupt 2019 (assuming the company still qualifies to compete at the time).

The TechCrunch Startup Battlefield Africa 2018 action takes place in Lagos, Nigeria on 11 December. Tickets are limited; when theyre gone, youre out of luck. Buy your spectator ticket today. We cant wait to see you in Lagos!

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4. 48-hours only: Early-bird prices for Disrupt Berlin 201811:01[−]

Das ist super geil this is awesome! Early-bird prices for Disrupt Berlin 2018 passes have returned to the roost. But you need to act fast, because our time-sensitive offer expires in just 48 hours. This opportunity translates to serious savings in any language up to 500. Heres even more good news. During this sale, anyone who buys a Startup Alley Exhibitor pass will receive three Founder passes instead of two.

The sale clock starts on 15 November at 12:00 a.m. and ends on 16 November at 11:59 p.m. (CET). Dont waste another minute. Jump on this 48-hour flash sale and buy early-bird passes to Disrupt Berlin 2018 before they go extinct.

If theres one thing youll find in abundance at Disrupt Berlin, its opportunity. From top-tier speakers and world-class networking to deep-dive panel discussions and Startup Battlefield our world-renowned pitch competition Disrupt Berlin is packed with people and events that shape the tech startup industry.

Theres no shortage of reasons to attend Disrupt, but dont take our word for it. Listen to what your peers say about their Disrupt experience:

  • TechCrunch Disrupt is one of the best startup conferences. Its massive but so well organized, and the media exposure is much better than at other events. Its a great place for startups to network for leads, investors, industry contacts and partnerships. Jana Rosenfelder, COO, Actijoy
  • The exposure we received at TechCrunch Disrupt completely changed our trajectory and made it easier to raise funds and jump to the next stage. David Hall, co-founder and president of Park & Diamond.
  • Disrupt was an amazing experience. It introduced us to a number of potential industries and partnerships that we would have never considered had we not had fresh sets of expert eyes looking at our technology. Amber Hopkins Grow, marketing consultant at Loji; principal, AHG Marketing.

And if thats not enough to get you to pack your bags for Berlin, consider this. Founders who exhibit in Startup Alley might just win a shot to compete in the Startup Battlefield. Das ist super geil!

Disrupt Berlin 2018 takes place on 28-29 November, but this early-bird flash sale ends in just 48 hours. Dont miss out, buy your passes today.

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5. Urban Massage re-brands to Urban as it launches wellness services beyond massage11:00[−]

Urban Massage, the London-headquartered startup that lets you book a vetted massage therapist “on-demand”, is expanding into new wellness services in addition to changing its name.

Now simply called Urban, the company, which operates in several U.K. cities along with Paris, is adding the ability to book an expert nail technician, GOsC-regulated osteopath, or skin therapist. It will utilise the same logistics tech and app experience that enables therapists to be booked with as little as an hour’s notice.

Founder Jack Tang tells me the move into new wellness categories forms part of a wider strategy to build Europe’s leading “holistic wellness” platform. This will see the company add fitness, yoga and other mental wellbeing-focused activities in the near future, including meditation.

Further ahead, Urban has plans to integrate digital therapy services, such as counselling.

Urban founder Jack Tang

Urban founder Jack Tang

Tang says that since Urban launched back in 2014, it has provided 389,000 treatments, and today sees a 42 percent repeat rate for bookings. The company claims 101,000 active users, and 2,500 active therapists on its platform. Its wellness practitioners have collectively earned ?16.4 million via Urban in the past four years, and, I’d suggest, in a much fairer deal than the “self-employed” terms often offered to massage therapists by hotels or spas.

As a side note, I’m a user of Urban, and book a regular massage after I injured my neck and shoulder earlier this year. Tang says this is pretty common, in that many people only embrace massage therapy to combat pain, but afterwards discover the longer term wellness benefits, especially in terms of managing stress within a major city.

He also says that customers were asking for additional wellness category products. Notably, many of Urban’s registered massage therapists have related expertise and treatment skills and also wanted a way to utilise them within a familiar platform.

Since TechCrunch last covered Urban, a lot has happened, including an announced funding round: In August 2016, Urban closed ?3.5 million in a Series A led by Felix Capital. “We got on and focused on delivering best experiences to our customers,” says Tang, refreshingly. With no current neck pain, I reply that this was probably the right decision.

In February, Urban acquired two competitors: Milk Beauty, on the consumer side, and B2B focussed Freauty to bolster its corporate wellness offering. Most recently, the company raised a further ?3.5 million in an equity crowdfunding campaign on Seedrs. This saw Urban add 800-plus new investors, the majority of whom are current customers, therapists, and staff, along with existing VC backers.

And this March, Urban launched “Urban Curates,” a collection of at-home treatments in collaboration with top beauty and wellness brands including the likes of Estee Lauder Companies, and Unilever Prestige. This, Tang explained, is viewed as a new retail channel for brands, whereby consumers want to make “experience-led” purchases as an alternative to the high street.

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6. Google is closing its Schaft robotics unit after failing to find a buyer10:22[−]

Sad news for anyone into giant robots: Google parent Alphabet is closing down Schaft, its secretive unit that develops bipedal robots aimed at helping out in disaster efforts and generally looking badass.

The news was first reported by Nikkei, but Alphabet confirmed to TechCrunch that the business will be shuttered. It said it is helping staff find new roles, most of which will likely be outside of Google and its Alphabet parent.

Firstly up, many people — myself included — might have forgotten that Alphabet owns Schaft .

The company was scheduled to be sold to SoftBank alongside Boston Dynamics — another of Alphabet’s robotics ventures — through a deal that was announced last year. Boston Dynamics made the transition but Schaft didn’t. Softbank never shouted that omission from the rooftops, but a source with knowledge of the deal told us that certain conditions agreed for the deal were not fulfilled, hence Schaft remained with Alphabet.

Our source explained that Alphabet’s robotics focused shifted away from Schaft and instead to non-humanoid robots and industry-led solutions such as robotic arms. The departure of Andy Rubin, the controversial robotics evangelist who reportedly got a $90 million payout to leave amid sexual misconduct allegations, seemed to speed up its demise inside the organization.

Alphabet shopped the Schaft business fairly widely — since 2016 and after the SoftBank deal collapsed — but to no avail, we understand. That left closing it down as the last remaining option.

Schaft was founded in 2012 by a group led by University of Tokyo professor Yuto Nakanishi.

Alphabet acquired Shaft and Boston Dynamics in 2013, the former was part of a group of seven acquisitions, in undisclosed deals.

There’s been plenty of attention on Boston Dynamics and its crazy, even scary, robots which can trek across all terrains and get up instantly when knocked over, but Schaft maintained a fairly quiet presence. Indeed, its first major prototypes weren’t revealed until some two years after its acquisition.

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7. Legrand acquires smart home startup Netatmo10:15[−]

French hardware startup Netatmo got acquired by the biggest manufacturer of switches and sockets in the world, Legrand. Terms of the deal are undisclosed.

Legrand and Netatmo already collaborated together on some products. Back in 2017, the company announced that it would work with industrial groups to connect everything in your home, starting with Legrand and Velux.

With Legrands C?liane with Netatmo switches and power outlets, you could build a house with a smart electrical installation from day one. This way, you could have a wireless master switch near your entrance, activate some outlets using Amazon Alexa and control your home from Messenger.

Our strategy is the connected home. But there are some connected features that we cant sell to consumers because those products are sold to professionals directly, Netatmo founder and CEO Fred Potter told me at the time of the original announcement.

Netatmos team is going to be integrated into Legrand. Legrand plans to release more connected objects in the future. Netatmo founder and CEO Fred Potter is becoming CTO of Legrands research & development division. According to the announcement, Netatmo was generating $51 million (45 million) in annual revenue.

Netatmos first product was a weather station. It works over Wi-Fi and was one of the first weather stations that you could check from your phone.

More recently, the company released security products, such as a connected camera that identifies faces on the device itself, a similar camera that works outdoor and a connected smoke alarm. Some people called Netatmo the Nest of Europe as the company also released smart thermostats and radiator valves.

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8. Welcome to the awkward future of the open office09:09[−]

I have seen the future in fact, I have worn it. Its big and awkward kind of digs into the top of your head with little metal bars designed to hold it in place.

I was like 95 percent sure Wear Space was some viral bit of social commentary the first time it popped up online. And yet, here I am at a TechCrunch event in Tokyo and the horse blinder-style wearable was right there for all the world to see and try on. So try it on, I did.

The device is still very much in prototype mode, so the uncomfortable bit is something that will likely be resolved before the device starts shipping. The awkwardness of actually wearing the thing, on the other hand, is the sort of thing that takes time to dissipate.

The product is light weight a good quality for something designed to be work on the head for hours at a time. Its really just a wireframe with a cloth covering that blots out your peripheral vision, while still giving you plenty to look at in front of you. It somehow felt dystopian and weirdly comforting all at once. At very least, I feel like I have a new-found respect for horses.

Inside are a pair of on-ear headphones. Theyre not noise canceling, so they wont block out everything, but maybe having read on ambient noise is a net positive on something like this.

I will say this: having seen the bizarre things people will put on their heads for the 14 hour plane ride it took to get to Japan, nothing about the Wear Space feels out of the realm of possibility. I mean, if this can be a thing, why not, right?

Keep in mind, too, that weve done this to ourselves. Open offices were going to the be the great workplace revolution of the early 21st century, and all we got were these strange horse blinders for people.

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9. New York politicians push back on Amazon HQ2 plans07:30[−]

Amazons HQ2 process was bound to polarize (though I do enjoy a good dueling op-ed on these pages) no matter how it landed. But the decision to set up shop in New York City is likely ruffling more feathers than just about any other possible outcome.

As a resident of neighboring Astoria, Queens, the less I say about the matter the better Im going to assume you didnt click on this story to read five paragraphs of me complaining about the N train and my rent.I will say I havent spoken to too many fellow NYC residents who are excited about the personal impact Amazons move will have on quality of life.

A number of local and state representatives are also finally starting to weigh in on the matter, and many of the comments dont reflect the sort of capitalist cheerleading one anticipates from elected officials. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand took to Twitter to express concern with how the process played out.

In particular, the one-time Blue Dog Democrat (who handily won her latest Senate bid a few weeks back) singles out Amazons tax breaks, along with the impact on struggling families, writing, One of the wealthiest companies in history should not be receiving financial assistance from the taxpayers while too many New York families struggle to make ends meet.

New York assemblyman Ron Kim took things further, promising legislation aimed as using tax subsidies to help cancel student debt, rather than prop up Amazon. Its a move that reflects Bernie Sanders recent successful bid to provide Amazon warehouse employees a $15 minimum wage.

Congress member-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez expressed support for Kim and voiced her own disappointment in a deal that was brokered without community input.

Amazon is a billion-dollar company, Ocasio-Cortez wrote. The idea that it will receive hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks at a time when our subway is crumbling and our communities need MORE investment, not less, is extremely concerning to residents here.

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10. Sweet Escape connects travelers to photographers for truly Insta-worthy holiday pics07:30[−]

The rise of smartphone cameras and social media in recent years has fuelled a new level of marking and sharing memories using photos, but one startup is betting that people are prepared to go the next level and spend money to hire professional photographers to make their photos even better.

Focused on travel, Sweet Escape is an Indonesia-based startup that to work with over 2,000 photographers across over 400 cities in some 100 countries. The idea is simple. If you’re traveling — overseas or locally — and want high quality photos of your trip, or just part of it, you can use Sweet Escape to find and book out a local snapper for you and your group.

Photo shoots last for two hours and are charged at $300, Sweet Escape founder David Soong told TechCrunch in an interview, while activities vary from regular holiday snaps, to weddings and honeymoons, proposals, anniversaries, family get-togethers, graduations and more. While he didn’t disclose revenue, Soong said the three-year-old business has seen its revenue grow by 8X over the last year.

Sweet Escape has raised $1 million to date, including a recent seed round in August. Now it is aiming to raise its Series A to broaden its global focus, starting with more offices in Southeast Asia, and go beyond travel customers.

Though the thought of forking out $500 for photos doesn’t immediately appeal to me — the ultimate social media humbug — it isn’t hard to imagine a large demographic of travelers are open to it. Particularly when that cost is shared across a group and the photos are far higher quality than your average camera or selfie stick-mounted phone.

Already, Sweet Escape claims to have served 10,000 customers. It encourages users to book in advance but it also offers last-minute matching to photographers, all of whom are tightly vetted, with the photos themselves returned within three days. That’s a figure that Soong said will drop to 24 hours next year thanks to Sweet Escape’s in-house team, which handles all editing for the photographers.

But travel is just the starting point for Sweet Escape.

“Behavior has changed dramatically in the last 10 years,” Soong said. “We were more private but social media has changed the way people share — now, if you dont have a picture of the trip then it isnt real. But photos are an investment”

“More and more people are booking us for occasions like birthdays, holidays, graduations and others events, and we increasingly see more use cases than we originally envisaged. The travel angle allows us to scale much faster if you look at Airbnb, you have to go global right away — but once we have a good amount of usage in a city, we can go deeper,” added COO and co-founder Emile Etienne.

Soong and his team of 70 are primarily in Jakarta with some staff located in the Philippines, but he is aiming to expand the on-the-ground presence in travel spots in Southeast Asia. That’s likely to include Singapore, Thailand and beyond, although the business isn’t just present in Asia — Sweet Escape already has a network of photographers covering 40 cities in the U.S. The idea is to help raise awareness of the service among consumers and photographers and explore more local services that the platform could host.

For photographers, Sweet Escape seems appealing because it can help remove the toil of having to bring clients in. Those for whom photography is a part-time hobby, in particular, can build it in and around their working and daily lives, Soong argued. Beyond taking quality photos — all photographers provide samples for assessment to join the platform — Soong said that would-be Sweet Escape snappers need to know their city, be proud of it and able to host guests who visit.

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11. These temporary electronic tattoos could redefine wearables07:19[−]

Wearables are great, sure, except you have to wear them. Wouldn’t it be nice if that functionality was printed right onto your skin? Well, even though it’s not for everybody, it sounds like it might soon be a possibility: CMU researchers have created a durable, flexible electronic temporary tattoo that could be used for all kinds of things.

This might sound familiar we’ve been hearing about electronic tattoos for a while now. But previous methods were slow and limited, essentially painting oneself with conductive ink or attaching a thin conductive film. If the idea is going to take off, it needs to be easily manufactured and simple to apply. That’s what the team hopes they’ve accomplished here.

“We’re reporting a new way of creating electronic tattoos,” said CMU’s Carmel Majidi in a video from the university. “These are circuits that are printed on temporary tattoo film. We print circuits made of silver nanoparticles, and then what we do is we coat those silver nanoparticles with a liquid metal alloy. The liquid metal fuses with the silver to create these conductive wires on the tattoo; the tattoo can easily be transferred to skin, and the conductivity is high enough to support digital circuit functionality.”

The big advance, as co-author Mahmoud Tavakoli explained in a news release, is the ability to join the inkjet-printed nanoparticle patterns with the other metal (a gallium indium alloy) at room temperature.

“This is a breakthrough in the printed electronics area,” he said. “Removing the need for high temperature sintering makes our technique compatible with thin-film and heat sensitive substrates.”

In other words, it can easily be attached to fragile things like temporary tattoo film, cheap and abundant, or perhaps to a bandage. Fortunately the tattoos are also quite flexible, maintaining their functions when deformed, and won’t rub off easily.

The most obvious application is in the medical field, where a tattoo could perhaps replace a finger clip or armband heart monitor, or perhaps include chemical sensors that test blood sugar and alert the user if it gets too low. There are plenty of other ways that a skin-mounted circuit could be applied, but most haven’t been thought up yet. It may be time to brainstorm!

The paper describing the e-tattoo technique was published in the journal Advanced Materials.

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12. Indiegogos guaranteed shipping provides refunds for failed campaigns06:52[−]

For all the potential upsides of crowdfunding, backing a project always feels like a gamble. And some fairly high profile campaigns over the last few years have helped removed some of the models luster. Indiegogos hoping to curb some of those failures with guaranteed shipping, a new feature that suspends funding unless a product actual ships.

The crowdfunding site has laid out the terms of the program, which was first highlighted by The Verge. Guaranteed shipping will launch with a select number of campaigns early next year. Those Marketplace campaigns will feature a a badge letting users know theyre covered.

Pre-Order sellers undergo an assessment for a period of up to 90 days to determine whether they will be able to ship on time, the company writes on an FAQ page. If Indiegogo isn’t satisfied with the results of that assessment, we’ll refund your order.

The concept isnt a rethink of crowdfunding exactly, but it does signal a shift in thinking for platforms in the wake of the first bubble. Indiegogo has spent the last few years attempting to diversify and reposition its offerings after former COO David Mandelbrot took over CEO duties from co-founder Slava Rubin back in 2016.

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13. Dolby releases branded wireless headphones06:01[−]

Dolbys been making a bigger push for consumer recognition in the last few years, so it was really just a matter of time before it released a branded product. As far as those things go, headphones make as much sense as anything.

Even so, the over-ear bluetooth headphone market is a tough on to crack, between quality sets from Bose and Sony, along with the flashiness of Beats and its ilk. Dolby Dimension are working a pretty interesting angle here, however, as the first wireless headphones perfected for home entertainment, rather than going after the same frequent flier demo as most of the competition.

Reviews so far are pretty positive on both sound and comfort, which is nice, given the fairly astronomical $599 asking price. Its a lot to ask for a pair of headphones catering to a relative niche in the overall market after all, most of us likely find ourselves less inclined to wear a headset at home. Its not like being on a plane or public transit where forcing others to listen to your music qualifies you as one of historys greatest monsters.

The Dimension offers a premium build and the sort of sound quality one expects from Dolby calibrated devices. Theres also a number of different settings to let ambient sound in or block it out completely, along with some clever touches like head tracking, which keeps the sound source in place as you move.

The headphones are available online starting today and will be hit b8ta stores next month.

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14. Sweetgreen is officially a unicorn03:41[−]

Salad startup and retailer Sweetgreen recently raised a $200 million Series H round led by Fidelity that valued the company at more than $1 billion. This round brings Sweetgreen’s total amount of funding to $365 million.

With this additional $200 million in funding, Sweetgreen is setting its eyes on other food categories and looking to expand its delivery offerings. Sweetgreen is also looking at using blockchain technology to create more transparency in the supply chain.

“As a company we are focused on democratizing real food,” Sweetgreen co-founder and CEO Jonathan Neman said in a statement. “Our vision is to evolve from a restaurant company to a food platform that builds healthier communities around the world.

Sweetgreen has always been a tech-focused business with its order-ahead mobile app built in-house at the company. According to Forbes, Sweetgreen’s online ordering revenue is growing at 50 percent year over year. Since its launch in 2007, Sweetgreen has grown to 90 locations across eight states.

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15. Pirate Studios raises $20M from Talis Capital for its self-service tech-enabled music studios03:00[−]

Pirate Studios, the music technology company that operates fully automated and self-service 24 hour music studios, has secured $20 million. The investment was led by Talis Capital, the London-based VC family office.

Talis was already an existing backer of Pirate Studios, with Talis’ Matus Maar also named as a co-founder of the startup. Other investors include Eric Archambeau (Spotify investor and ex-partner at Benchmark and Wellington Partners), Bart Swanson of Horizons Ventures, and partners of Gaw Capital, the $20 billion Hong Kong-headquartered proptech fund.

The new funding will enable Pirate Studios to continue to expand across the U.K., Germany and the U.S., where it has been building what the startup describes as a community of musicians, DJs, producers and podcasters who need access to professional rehearsal, production and recording studios at affordable rates. The company charges as little as ?4 per hour, depending on what kind of music studio space and facilities you book.

However, what really sets Pirate Studios apart from a lot of existing rehearsal rooms and music production and recording studios, is that the startup is employing a lot of tech to power the logistics around its service and, in theory, make it a lot more scalable. This includes online booking, 24 hour keycode access, and other IoT controls for managing facilities.

Perhaps even smarter, Pirate Studios offers “automated recording” and live streaming from many of its studios. This means that bands or DJs rehearsing in one of the company’s rooms can easily record their session via built in room mics and other inputs, and the studio’s cloud software will handle mixing and mastering afterwards. Likewise, rooms are set up to be able to video and audio stream sessions, too.

Both options tap into the YouTube, SoundCloud, and Spotify generation’s unstoppable appetite for more content from their favourite upcoming and established acts, as well as the dreaded music industry’s favourite new metric: how much social media reach an act has, which can in turn make or break a recording contract opportunity or the chance to get booked at larger, more lucrative live events.

I say all of the above as someone who was previously in quite a serious band and used to book rehearsal rooms on a regular basis. I’m also still in touch and collaborating with a number of gigging musicians and professional acts. However, during the last ten years, I’ve seen quite a few studios in London go out of business as property owners look to cash in, and even though there is something a little WeWork about Pirate Studios’ model (and being backed by relatively large amounts of VC cash at this stage) which makes me slightly uneasy, overall I’m very bullish on what the company offers.

Without a place to practice, hone your craft, in addition to somewhere to perform, rock ‘n’ roll really would be dead.

To that end, in just three years, Pirate has grown to 350 studios in 21 locations, including London, New York, and Berlin.

Cue statement from David Borrie, co-founder and CEO of Pirate Studios: When we founded Pirate Studios our dream was to create innovative spaces to support emerging talent. We want to see music thrive and help musicians get their music out to their fans, through whatever route they think is most appropriate. We are building both the physical space to create, as well as the technology to record and share, that puts power back into the hands of musicians in a period when the digitisation of music continues to radically upset the old order of this industry”.

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16. Airbnb hosts offer free housing to evacuees displaced by California wildfires02:01[−]

With California’s recent cluster of devastating wildfires destroying homes and claiming lives, Airbnb is offering some shelter to displaced residents in its home state. This week, the company added free housing listings to serve evacuees affected by the Hill and Woolsey Fires outside Los Angeles and the Camp Fire in northern California.

The free Airbnb housing is currently available through November 29, 2018 for both displaced residents and relief workers helping out with recovery. The Camp Fire area shows as many as 700 participating homes in the area and the Hill and Woolsey fire areas show more than 1,400.

Airbnb disaster housing

Airbnb disaster housing

The California fires aren’t the first disaster relief housing that Airbnb has coordinated. The company has a disaster relief hub where it surfaces current disasters in which people might be in need of housing. Right now, Airbnb is also coordinating free housing through hosts near Marseille after a building collapsed in the French city earlier this month. Two months ago, Airbnb encouraged hosts to sign up to offer their homes as residents evacuated before Hurricane Florence.

To sign up as an emergency housing host in one of those areas, you can follow the instructions behind the button to “sign up your home” after clicking through to your area from Airbnb’s main emergency housing portal.

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17. RFID stickers could signal contaminated food01:39[−]

If a food item isn’t safe to eat, it’s best to find that out before someone eats it. But manual testing of every jar and bottle isn’t possible, even when a threat, like the recent baby food scare, is known. MIT researchers have found a way to check many items instantly, non-invasively and from a distance using the RFID tags many products already have.

RFID, or radio frequency identification, uses a tiny antenna embedded in a sticker or label that’s activated and powered by radio waves at a very specific frequency. When a transceiver sends out a 950Mhz signal, the RFID tag wakes up and re-transmits a slightly different signal identifying itself. Products that announce themselves? Convenient for doing inventory!

What the researchers found was that this return signal, outside the actual information-bearing part, can be affected by the actual contents of the product, since the radio waves have to pass through them. Consequently, a jar full of pasta sauce and one full of olives would produce different signal profiles as would an untouched jar of baby food compared with one contaminated with melamine.

“Its almost as if we have transformed cheap RFIDs into tiny radio frequency spectroscopes,” said Fadel Adib, co-author of the paper describing the new system, in an MIT news release.

The problem is that these differences can be very minor and it’s not like they’ve been documented anywhere this is the first time anyone’s tried this. So naturally, the team turned to machine learning. They trained up a model that can tell with confidence what a signal profile corresponds to, with the minor variations that come from, say, slight differences in orientation or glass width.

Right now the system, which they call RFIQ, can tell the difference between pure and melamine-contaminated baby formula, and between various adulterations of pure ethyl alcohol. That’s pretty much everything on my shopping list so I’m set, but obviously the team would like to have it apply to many more products. Now that the method has been shown to work, that’s the plan.

The task will only get harder, as things like environmental variables (shelves) and other wireless interference add to the problem. But machine learning algorithms are good at plucking signal out of the noise, so with luck the technique will work without too much trouble.

You can read the full paper documenting the RFIQ system here (PDF).

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18. The Correspondent launches campaign to bring its ad-free journalism to the US01:29[−]

De Correspondent, a Dutch news organization aiming to “unbreak the news,” is planning to launch in the United States next year as The Correspondent. To fund its efforts, it’s hoping to raise $2.5 million from future readers.

Co-founder and CEO Ernst Pfauth (a former tech journalist who previously served as editor in chief at The Next Web) said this campaign is meant to test the waters of whether U.S. readers are interested in The Correspondent’s journalism. If it raises the money, it will launch in the U.S. next spring. If it doesn’t, it will reconsider those plans.

“We want there to be a critical mass that supports this,” Pfauth said. “We don’t want to launch, then see if enough people are interested.”

What the company has developed in the Netherlands, and what it’s hoping to replicate in the U.S., is a news organization with a direct connection to readers. For one thing, that means foregoing any ad revenue and relying entirely on readers for support. (Hence the crowdfunding campaign, where you can sign up by paying any amount you want.) It has a paywall, but any member can circumvent it and promote stories they think are important by sharing the individual links.

For another, it means treating readers as a key source for stories. In Pfauth’s view, by signing up as a “founding member,” you’re not so simply paying for a subscription, “Youre joining a cause. You not just giving us your money though the money is essential but you’re sharing your knowledge and spreading articles.”

The Correspondent

If that sounds a bit touchy-feely, here’s a concrete example: Last year, the organization broke the news that a videotape and related documents showed that Shell had detailed knowledge about the dangers of climate change as far back as 1991. And apparently it obtained the crucial material from a reader.

Pfauth said that in most cases, reporters at The Correspondent will share their story ideas with members as soon as they start working on it, which allows readers to share their perspectives as the story develops. That can mean talking to doctors about hospital bureaucracy, or interviewing refugees about their experiences. It also means that The Correspondent encourages its journalists to spend 30 to 50 percent of their time going through the comments section (which it calls the “contributions” section), where only members can post.

Pfauth argued that all of this is crucial for breaking out of the limited perspective of so many news stories, where journalists “only talk to people who get paid to talk to the press.” That description struck close to home I’m someone who spends a lot of their time dealing with PR pros who, yes, get paid to talk to me, or to entrepreneurs who are trying to convince me to write about their companies.

So how do you get people to share their perspective in a less self-interested (or, in the case of comments, less rant-y) way? Pfauth pointed to tactics like making sure to verify the identity of sources and asking “really specific questions.” But he also said, “Most people are idealistic about the thing they really care about. They want the information to be good.”

“You are going to find examples of other newspapers who have done things like this, but its always incidental, its not routine,” he added. “In our organization, we have this systematic approach to every story that we cover.”

This strategy makes it harder to quickly cover breaking news, but in fact, Pfauth said that’s quite intentional.

“We tell our correspondents, please ignore the news the news is about incidents,” he said. “Focus on the topics in your beat that are really changing our society.”

As part of this campaign, The Correspondent has also enlisted a number of high-profile “ambassadors” who support its mission. Those ambassadors include FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver, Wikimedia’s Jimmy Wales, director Judd Apatow, journalist, musician Roseanne Cash, journalist and investor Om Malik and others.

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19. Facebook Messenger starts rolling out Unsend; heres how it works01:22[−]

Facebook secretly retracted messages sent by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, TechCrunch reported seven months ago. Now for the first time, Facebook Messenger users will get the power to unsend too so they can remove their sent messages from the recipients inbox. Messages can only be unsent for the first 10 minutes after theyre delivered so that you can correct a mistake or remove something you accidentally pushed, but you wont be able to edit ancient history. Formally known as “Remove for Everyone,” the button also leaves a “tombstone” indicating a message was retracted. And to prevent bullies from using the feature to cover their tracks, Facebook will retain unsent messages for a short period of time so if theyre reported, it can review them for policy violations.

The Remove feature rolls out in Poland, Bolivia, Colombia and Lithuania today on Messenger for iOS and Android. A Facebook spokesperson tells me the plan is to roll it out globally as soon as possible, though that may be influenced by the holiday App Store update cut-off. In the meantime, its also working on more unsend features, potentially including the ability to preemptively set an expiration date for specific messages or entire threads.

The pros are that users want to be in control . . . and if you make a mistake you can correct it. There are a lot of legitimate use cases out there that we wanted to enable, Facebooks head of Messenger Stan Chudnovsky tells me in an exclusive interview. But conversely, he says, “We need to make sure we don’t open up any new venues for bullying. We need to make sure people aren’t sending you bad messages and then removing them because if you report them and the messages aren’t there we can’t do anything.”

Zuckerberg did it; soon you can, too

Facebook first informed TechCrunch it would build an unsend feature back in April after I reported that six sources told me some of Mark Zuckerbergs Facebook messages had been silently removed from the inboxes of recipients, including non-employees with no tombstone left in their place. We saw that as a violation of user trust and an abuse of the companys power, given the public had no way to unsend their own messages.

Facebook claimed this was to protect the privacy of its executives and the companys trade secrets, telling me that After Sony Pictures emails were hacked in 2014 we made a number of changes to protect our executives communications. These included limiting the retention period for Marks messages in Messenger. But it seems likely that Facebook also wanted to avoid another embarrassing situation like when Zuckerbergs old instant messages from 2004 leaked. One damning exchange saw Zuckerberg tell a friend “if you ever need info about anyone at harvard . . . just ask . . . i have over 4000 emails, pictures, addresses, sns. what!? howd you manage that one? the friend replied. People just submitted it . . i dont know why . . . they trust me . . . dumb fucks Zuckerberg replied.

The company told me it was actually already working on an Unsend button for everyone, and wouldnt delete any more executives messages until it launched. Chudnovsky tells me he felt like I wish we launched this sooner when the news broke. But then six months went by without progress or comment from Facebook before TechCrunch broke the news that tipster Jane Manchun Wong had spotted Facebook prototyping the Remove feature. Then a week ago, Facebook Messengers App Store release notes accidentally mentioned that a 10-minute Unsend button was coming soon.

So why the seven-month wait? Especially given Instagram already allows users to unsend messages no matter how old? The reason why it took so long is because on the server side, it’s actually much harder. All the messages are stored on the server, and that goes into the core transportation layer of our how our messaging system was built, Chudnovsky explains. It was hard to do given how we were architected, but we were always worried about the integrity concerns it would open up. Now the company is confident its surmounted the engineering challenge to ensure an Unsent message reliably disappears from the recipient.

The question becomes who owns that message? Before that message is delivered to your Messenger app, it belongs to me. But when it actually arrives, it probably belongs to both of us, Chudnovsky pontificates.

How Facebook Messenger’s “Remove for Everyone” button works

Facebook settled on the ability to let you remove any kind of message including text, group chats, photos, videos, links and more within 10 minutes of sending. You can still delete any message on just your side of the conversation, but only messages you sent can be removed from their recipients. You cant delete from someone else what they sent you, the features PR manager Kat Chui tells me. And Facebook will keep a private copy of the message for a short while after its deleted to make sure it can review if it’s reported for harassment.

To use the unsend feature, tap and hold on a message you sent, then select “Remove.” You’ll get options to “Remove for Everyone” which will retract the message, or “Remove for you,” which replaces the old delete option and leaves the message in the recipient’s inbox. You’ll get a warning that explains “You’ll permanently remove this message for all chat members. They can see that you removed a message and still report it.” If you confirm the removal, a line of text noting “you [or the sender’s name] removed a message” (known as a tombstone) will appear in the thread where the message was. If you want to report a removed message for abuse or another issue, you’ll tap the person’s name, scroll to “Something’s Wrong” and select the proper category such as harassment or that they were pretending to be someone else.

Why the 10-minute limit specifically? We looked at how the existing delete functionality works. It turns out that when people are deleting messages because its a mistake or they sent something they didn’t want to send, it’s under a minute. We decided to extend it to 10, but decided we didn’t need to do more, Chudnovsky reveals.

He says hes not sure if Facebooks security team will now resume removing executive messages. However, he stresses that the Unsend button Facebook is launching is definitely not the same feature as what was used on Zuckerbergs messages. If Facebook wanted to truly respect its users, it would at least insert the tombstone when it erases old messages from executives.

Messenger is also building more unsend functionality. Taking a cue from encrypted messaging app Signals customizable per thread expiration date feature, Chudnovsky tells me hypothetically, if I want all the messages to be deleted after six months, they get purged. This is something that can be set up on a per thread level, though Facebook is still tinkering with the details. Another option would be for Facebook to extend to all chats the per message expiration date option from its encrypted Secret messages feature.

Its one of those things that feels very simple on the surface. And it would be very easy if the servers were built one way or another from the very beginning, Chudnovsky concludes. But it’s one of those things philosophically and technologically that once you get to the scale of 1.3 billion people using it, changing from one model to another is way more complicated. Hopefully in the future, Facebook wont give its executives extrajudicial ways to manipulate communications or at least not until its sorted out the consequences of giving the public the same power.

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20. Government denies Oracles protest of $10B Pentagon JEDI cloud RFP00:58[−]

When Oracle filed a protest in August with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that the Pentagon’s $10 billion JEDI RFP process was unfair, it probably had little chance of succeeding. Today, the GAO turned away the protest.

The JEDI contract has been set up as a winner-take-all affair. With $10 billion on the table, there has been much teeth-gnashing and complaining that the deck has been stacked to favor one vendor, Amazon. The Pentagon has firmly denied this, but it hasn’t stopped Oracle and IBM from complaining loudly from the get-go that there were problems with the way the RFP was set up.

At least with the Oracle complaint, the GAO put that idea firmly to rest today. For starters, the GAO made it clear that the winner-take-all approach was just fine, stating “…the Defense Departments decision to pursue a single-award approach to obtain these cloud services is consistent with applicable statutes (and regulations) because the agency reasonably determined that a single-award approach is in the governments best interests for various reasons, including national security concerns, as the statute allows.”

The statement went on to say that the GAO didn’t find that the Pentagon favored any vendor during the RFP period. “GAOs decision also concludes that the Defense Department provided reasonable support for all of the solicitation provisions that Oracle contended exceeded the agencys needs.” Finally, the GAO found no evidence of conflict of interest on the DOD’s part as Oracle had suggested.

Oracle has been unhappy since the start of this process, going so far as having co-CEO Safra Catz steer her complaints directly to the president in a meeting last April long before the RFP period had even opened.

As I wrote in an article in September, Oracle was not the only vendor to believe that Amazon was the favorite:

The belief amongst the various other players, is that Amazon is in the drivers seat for this bid, possibly because they delivered a $600 million cloud contract for the government in 2013, standing up a private cloud for the CIA. It was a big deal back in the day on a couple of levels. First of all, it was the first large-scale example of an intelligence agency using a public cloud provider. And of course the amount of money was pretty impressive for the time, not $10 billion impressive, but a nice contract.

Regardless, the RFP submission period ended last month. The Pentagon is expected to choose the vendor in April 2019, Oracle’s protest notwithstanding.

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