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Inside the Gigafactory: Tesla’s most important project

Journalists sit in cars and a shuttle as a guard checks to make sure every passenger is on his list. They’re the security guards for Tesla’s biggest and most important endeavor, the Gigafactory. When completed, it will occupy space equivalent to 107 football fields. The automaker has invited us for a tour of the largest battery-manufacturing factory on the planet.

To construct the enormous three-floor factory and meet the goal of producing 400,000 preordered Model 3s by the end of 2018, Tesla is building the Gigafactory in phases. A section is completed and equipment is moved in while the next portion is being erected. It’s not so much a single building but a series of connected structures.

Section A is already cranking out battery packs for Powerwalls. Sections B and C have battery cell manufacturing equipment being installed and are being primed for production. Section D has one exterior wall and floors, but it’s still mostly steel girders and rebar. Meanwhile, two days before we arrived, work started on Section E, which is currently just a skeleton of steel.


This section-by-section process continues inside. For example, the third floor will be one long cell assembly line. There’s already one line installed and being prepped for testing. The next room over is being readied for identical equipment. And the next room over from that, and again, and again until the length of the third floor is a series of cell-producing juggernauts.

With each new setup, the process will be tweaked based on what Tesla and Panasonic have learned from the machines already pumping out batteries. It’s about optimization, according to CEO Elon Musk, something that been part of the factories’ DNA from the beginning. Since the original plans, the partnership has figured out that the Gigafactory will be able to produce three times as many battery packs as thought.

But it needs to move quickly and start building the 400,000 preordered Model 3s. “We need to get roughly a third the size of the original building to support half a million cars a year,” Musk said at the event. Those orders forced the company to push up its Gigafactory plans by two years, and now Tesla believes it can meet the production schedule for entry-level Teslas in 2018.


Musk notes that the Gigfactory is more than just a way to get batteries into its cars. He said, “the factory itself is considered to be a product. It’s the machine that builds the machine and actually deserves more attention from creative problem-solving engineers than the part that it makes.” Tesla will gradually transition a majority of its research to improving its factory’s workflow.

That efficiency will drive the battery price per kilowatt hour down at least 30 percent by 2020, according to Musk.

It’s all going to start in this already-massive Gigafactory, 30 minutes outside Reno. When complete, it will produce enough battery packs for 1.5 million cars a year. In 2015, Tesla sold only 50,580 EVs, which means it has plenty of room to grow. If demand explodes outside the United States, the automaker plans to open additional Gigafactories that will also build the automobiles.


Today’s factory — even though it’s not even 20 percent completed — is a remarkable undertaking not only by Tesla, but by Panasonic, which jumped on board at the planning phases and hasn’t looked back. And while the goal is to wean people off fossil fuels and get more electric cars on the road, the Gigafactory’s output will be only for Tesla products. Other automakers will have to get their batteries elsewhere. Musk talked about the importance of being faster than anyone else. “Speed is the ultimate defense,” he said. The CEO is acting more like an early settler out to get the best piece of land than the leader of a company. But it’s not just about being first or the quickest to him. He seems to really enjoy what he’s doing.


The best multiroom wireless speaker system

By Chris Heinonen

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology. Read the full article here.

We’ve spent hundreds of hours over several months using six multiroom wireless speaker systems in every possible room and even outside, and determined that Sonos is the best. It has a class-leading music ecosystem, excellent sound quality, and unparalleled ease of use. Because Sonos has a variety of great-sounding speakers at different prices, just about anyone can get into a Sonos system with room to grow.

Who should get this

Multiroom wireless speaker systems are for people who want to be able to play music all over their house and easily control it from their phone, tablet, or computer. They let you play different songs on each speaker, or group speakers together to play the same song in multiple rooms. They support both local media libraries and streaming services, allowing you to play music from almost any source. They make it easy to expand your system by just adding another speaker or zone.

If you care only about music in a single room, or don’t care about multiple sources, other options—like Bluetooth and AirPlay speakers—will work for less money, although they require your phone, tablet, or computer to be the streaming source. (Multiroom wireless audio solutions access the music sources directly, so they won’t wear down your phone’s battery life.)

How we picked and tested

We spent several months using six speaker systems in every room (and even outside) to find the best multiroom wireless speaker system. Photo: Chris Heinonen

We looked for audio systems that could be set up in multiple rooms, either as speakers or as sources for an existing audio system. We wanted systems that could play back local music (your MP3s, for example) and stream music from online sources (Spotify and the like) completely from your smartphone or tablet so that you would never need to physically access the speaker. Each speaker, or “zone,” needed to be able to play from a different source than other speakers, or to be grouped with those other speakers for all of them to play from the same source. The ideal multiroom wireless speaker system is reliable and easy to install and update. It should also offer a large variety of products at a wide range of prices, as well as support for Bluetooth or AirPlay.

We researched all the models currently available, and we spoke to Ty Pendlebury of CNET and Darryl Wilkinson of Sound & Vision, who review multiroom wireless speaker systems. We then picked the most promising systems, and for each one we brought in at least two zones’ worth of equipment for testing.

Once we got everything in, we put the speakers all around the house, from the basement to upstairs, to make sure range wasn’t an issue. We listened to local files and the main streaming services (Spotify, Pandora, Amazon, Apple Music) on all of the contenders. In the case of soundbars, we watched movies and TV as well. With systems that had a 3.5-millimeter line-in, we used a switcher to send the same music to all the speakers and directly compare them.

Our pick

Sonos has done the multiroom wireless speaker system thing longer than anyone, and the company’s experience shows. Photo: Chris Heinonen

Sonos is the best multiroom wireless speaker system because it supports the most streaming services, has a wide selection of great-sounding speakers, offers thorough search features, and comes with a well-organized app that runs on almost all major platforms. Sonos keeps its platform current by adding more services regularly, introducing new features such as Trueplay room-correction technology, and updating its models. The Sonos user experience is the best of any of the multiroom wireless speaker systems available.

Sonos offers speakers that start at the low end with the small Play:1 and extend to the Playbar soundbar for use with a TV. You can use a single speaker, combine two into a stereo pair, or even build a 5.1-channel home theater system using the Playbar, two other speakers for surrounds, and the matching Sub. If you already have speakers that require an amp, you can use the Connect to add them into a Sonos system. The Connect also has a stereo input if you want to connect a turntable, tape deck, or Bluetooth receiver. Passive speakers, like our favorite bookshelf speakers, can be added by using the Connect:Amp, but if you’re looking for a stereo solution you can get a pair of the impressive Play:1s for less. The most serious audiophiles might consider upgrading to a pair of Play:5s.

Currently, Sonos supports 48 streaming services, whereas many other multiroom systems offer a half dozen or fewer. That selection covers all the major ones, including Spotify, Pandora, Amazon, Google Play, and Apple Music. You can also play back your local music library and subscribe to podcasts. No matter how or where you get your music, the odds are that Sonos will support it. Plus, Sonos keeps all of its services inside a single, well-designed app for your computer or smartphone, which makes it easy to search across every service you subscribe to.

Budget pick

Google Chromecast Audio makes it easy to affordably convert sound systems around your house into a whole-home audio system.

If you aren’t ready to invest a few hundred dollars into a Sonos system, the Google Chromecast Audio offers an affordable and compelling alternative. You get an Oreo-sized puck with a single 3.5-mm output that is both analog and optical. It lets you stream from a huge number of iOS and Android apps (Spotify, TuneIn, Google Play, Plex, Pandora, and more), supports grouping rooms together, and offers high-resolution audio.

However, it doesn’t have the simple, single app that Sonos offers (instead, it’s integrated into individual apps and browsers). Also, some services still don’t work with it, and because it isn’t a unified hardware-and-software system, you’ll need to turn on a separate speaker each time you want to listen. Sonos handles all of that directly inside the app. But you can forgive a lot of its downsides at this price.

This guide may have been updated by The Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.


Wearable tech will be everywhere at this year’s Olympics

It’s almost time. The 2016 summer Olympics are less than a week away, with the opening ceremony scheduled for August 5th. This year’s event, which runs through August 21nd, takes place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where the organizers have reportedly struggled to prepare for the games. Whether Rio is ready or not, some of the world’s best athletes will be there to compete for gold medals in just a few days. Naturally, technology will have a presence at the Olympics. That includes wearables designed to make life easier and safer for Olympians as well as others supposed to help in training. Read on in the gallery below to learn about eight different pieces of gear the athletes will be using.


Democrats at the DNC were divided on last week’s email hack

On Wednesday, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump stared directly into a camera during a press briefing and said: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 [Hillary Clinton] emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” This remark came after thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee were released by Wikileaks; the FBI has indicated it believes Russia was behind the attack. Trump has since said he was being “sarcastic” and his campaign manager denied claims that the candidate was calling for Russia to hack anyone.

But that didn’t stop Democrats from denouncing his language in the strongest of terms. “This has to be the first time that a major presidential candidate has actively encouraged a foreign power to conduct espionage against his political opponent,” said Hillary Clinton’s campaign. (What the Clinton campaign didn’t mention is that this sort of maneuvering isn’t entirely unheard of, even within the Democratic party.)

And at least two speakers at the Democratic National Convention directly took Trump to task for his comments. “This morning, [Trump] personally invited Russia to hack us,” said retired Navy Admiral John Hutson. “That’s not law and order. That’s criminal intent!” Former secretary of defense Leon Panetta said: “[Trump] asked the Russians to interfere in American politics. Think about that for a moment. Donald Trump is asking one of our adversaries to engage in hacking or intelligence efforts against the United States to affect our election.”

If the tone from speakers at the DNC was severe, the sampling of delegates and attendees that I talked to on Wednesday were resigned to Trump saying whatever he wants with essentially no backlash. “It’s Trump, so you never know what his one-liner is going to be,” said Patricia Slovacek, a longtime Clinton supporter and delegate from Austin, TX. “It’s like crying wolf: You call so many times that even if something he said was true we wouldn’t know.”

Democratic National Convention: Day Four

Image credit: Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images

That sense that Trump can say whatever he wants and suffer no consequences was a common thread among people I interviewed. “What is he thinking? That is going to help us how? Yes, let’s promote state-sponsored terrorism,” sighed Stacey Anderson, a Hillary Clinton supporter and delegate from Montana. Along with that resigned feeling, attendees felt this was just another example of Trump “trying to use fear to get people to vote for him,” as Anita Green (a Bernie Sanders delegate from Montana) put it.

This was a point on which Clinton and Sanders supporters aligned. “He’s still a buffoon, he’s still a quasi-fascist authoritarian xenophobic racist piece of shit,” said Zachary Benton of Washington, “but no, my opinion hasn’t really changed [because of his comments].” Benton and his companion Megan Little from Washington described themselves as the type of people who would support a “true progressive” despite how Sanders’ campaign for president ended.

Unsurprisingly, most Bernie Sanders supporters I spoke with had very different feelings about the impact of the leaked emails. Some of those emails revealed what can easily be interpreted as favoritism from the Democratic National Committee for Clinton over Sanders. “It was validation for how I was already feeling,” said Little. “It kind of proves to the rest of the country that there was some serious wrongdoing.” Tony Floria, a Sanders-supporting delegate from Indiana, was a bit more measured in his criticism. “Here’s a slight political scandal in which some officials of the DNC behaved in ways that were highly unprofessional, maybe unethical, when they were supposed to be neutral,” he told me.

But it didn’t really change his opinion of Clinton: He prefers Sanders, but was willing to admit that Clinton isn’t the devil she’s made out to be by a pocket of Sanders supporters. “I’m highly critical [of Clinton], that’s why I’m a Sanders supporter. I think she has been at the center of some of the worst decisions — for instance, she was one of the many suckered in on the Iraq war vote.” But then Floria gave her some surprising credit. “There’s been a number of other decisions she’s made in her career that I support and admire, like her advocating for healthcare reform,” he says.


Image credit: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images

Most Clinton supporters didn’t take major issue with the content of the emails that got some Sanders backers so angry. “I think that we have all said things and emailed things that we regret,” said Stacey Anderson, the Clinton supporter and delegate from Montana. “I don’t feel like any of those were showing any across the board cohesive conspiracy plan.” Mark Glaze, a consultant working in Washington, DC on reducing gun violence, agrees. “I’m a Hillary supporter, and still it’s an outrage that the DNC didn’t retain neutrality,” he said. “But even so, it’s clear it had no effect on the race and it’s not a reason for the kind of agitation the Bernie supporters are showing.”

Ultimately, many people I talked to said despite the email controversy, the party needs to pull together if it wants to have a shot of winning the election this November. “It’s time for the party to unite and get together, because it’s the only way we’re going to defeat Donald Trump,” said Ernest Morris, a delegate from the US Virgin Islands. “And as a country, we must defeat Donald Trump.” After two weeks of conventions in which both the Republicans and Democrats showed more internal dissent than is usually seen at these events, it feels like whichever party can overcome that tension and pull its supporters together will have a good shot at success this fall.


Broods used the Microsoft Band to create music-video magic

Microsoft is no stranger to collaborating with musicians to show off creative uses for its technology. With the Music x Technology project, the company has worked with acts like Big Grams, Neon Indian, KEXP, Phantogram and others to use its Kinect to enhance the musical experience for fans. I got a first-hand look at “Realiti: Inside the Music of Grimes” back at Moogfest in May, an exhibit that let fans remix parts of a song by interacting with a mesh surface. With the help of creative agency Listen, Microsoft teamed up with electropop duo Broods to produce a music video using the Microsoft Band.

In the past, the Music x Technology initiative has done a lot of motion tracking using the Kinect camera’s depth sensors. This time around, Microsoft’s wearable is the key to the project, tracking Georgia Nott’s movements during the video shoot for the song “Heartlines.” In fact, this is the first time the project has used the device while working with an artist. After gathering heart-rate and body-temperature data during the filming process, the team created geometric visuals based on the stats that were overlaid on top of actual footage. Why do this? Hint: It’s about more than just showing off what the Microsoft Band can do.

“The goal is trying to communicate on another emotional level, not just through audio and facial expressions,” Caleb Nott, Georgia’s brother and the other half of Broods, told Engadget. “There are all sorts of ways that emotion can translate into something else. If you can communicate your emotions through your temperature and heartbeat, that’s a more sensual experience.”

With that in mind, Broods wanted a subtler way to capture the heart-rate data, because their previous video had a more industrial feel. Using a device like the Microsoft Band that’s worn on the wrist like a watch did just that. “A piece of medical equipment would have been more invasive, so I think this was a really cool way of doing it,” Nott said. “It’s really awesome to get biodata and visualize it in an interesting way.”

A still from the “Heartlines” video with the Microsoft Band-generated graphics added.

At certain points in the video, you’ll notice the pink-hued geometric shapes that look like they’re pulsing from the torsos of the musicians. Given the title of the song, the choice to track heart rate seems obvious, but the way it’s used in the video isn’t too on the nose. The added graphics aren’t present in every shot in which one of the Broods appears; they show up only to emphasize words and action at specific spots in the video. “I want to feel your heartlines, I want to feel your heart,” the song’s lyrics plead, and the pulsing shapes allow the viewer do just that as the graphics rotate around the performers.

The process of tracking vitals during the video shoot wasn’t without its challenges. Nott said one entertaining part of the process was watching the poor production person who had to stay within range of Georgia’s wrist while also being careful not to step into the frame. “There was a guy running around with a laptop dodging and darting trying to stay out of the shot,” he said. “He was so stressed out, the poor guy.”

Caleb Nott also said this was his first time trying a fitness tracker; prior to the project with Microsoft, he hadn’t worn one. His sentiments about having the Band on his wrist echoed what I’ve heard from wearable owners before: It’s hard getting used to the gadgets for long periods of time if you don’t wear a watch on the regular. “I don’t wear watches or any kind of jewelry, so it was pretty different,” he said.

Explaining how the Microsoft Band is used live during the LA event.

In addition to the video, Broods will use the Microsoft Band to generate visuals during performances on their upcoming tour. Starting next week, the duo’s heart rate and temperature will be tracked and translated into on-stage lighting and visuals in real time. Steve Milton, of creative agency Listen, said what concert-goers can expect to see during the tour will be different from what’s in the new video, but the wearable will still be keeping tabs on Georgia’s stats as she moves around the stage.

“On tour, the band has a really great lighting display, so we’ve worked with the tour production team to use the Microsoft Band to capture Georgia’s biodata during her performance and effect the lighting display on stage,” Milton said. As a preview of how the Microsoft Band will be used live, Broods did a small performance at Capitol Records in Los Angeles this week.

What’s next for the Microsoft Band in terms of the Music x Technology project? Milton says the team of collaborators has yet to find the limits of the wearable device when it comes to more creative uses. “The Microsoft Band can track a number of things: heart rate, calorie burn, sleep quality and exercise,” he explained. “We focused on heart rate given the creative direction of the project, but we have really just started scratching the surface here. We’re excited to see where we can take this and how we can move beyond visuals to music and sound.”

Speaking of controlling music and sound, Caleb Nott already has his eye on using the Band to manipulate a drum machine. In some behind-the-scenes footage detailing the making of the music video, he said that connecting the gadget so that heart rate controls the kick and body temperature can manipulate a snare or hi-hat isn’t beyond the realm of possibility.

“It’s something that I’d like to do, but I think first on the list is integrating it into our live performance,” Nott said. “We have to see where that takes us, because [using the Band to make music] could be quite different depending on how you’re feeling.”

Who knows — maybe on the duo’s next tour the siblings will employ a Microsoft Band to create a new version of a song, live on stage? One thing’s for sure: We haven’t seen the last of the company using its wearable in a musical setting.

All images courtesy of Microsoft Music x Technology. Video shoot photos by Nils Erik Vogth-Eriksen and LA event photo by Mekael Dawson.

Source: Microsoft Music x Technology


Evernote’s CEO on ‘unlocking the potential of every idea’

Evernote carved out a name for itself in the startup world with its relentless focus on productivity, synchronization and mobility (it debuted on the iPhone with the App Store’s launch in 2008). Today, almost 10 years since it was founded, the company has more than 200 million users. It wasn’t an easy path to success, though: For years its customers complained about unstable apps, it suffered a major security breach in 2013 and recent pricing changes caused an uproar by removing key free features. I sat down with the company’s new CEO Chris O’Neill, who replaced longtime exec Phil Libin, to chat about where things are headed.

It’s been a year since you joined Evernote. What’s the progress been like, and where do you see the company headed?

I’m tremendously pleased. I was pretty quiet when I showed up. I was focused on the core product, the team and the path to sustainability. We’ll be relentless and continue to invest in the editing experience, search experience and other features. The team is just amazing. We’ve put in place a world-class leadership team, people who have experience navigating from startups to more mature companies.

I’ve spent over half my time building the team. Not just the leadership team, but the next level down, rounding out our technical side, building up marketing and design. Also, I’ve been articulating the values about how we’ll operate as a company, as well as being clear about why we exist as a company.

On the path to sustainability, we’ve raised a lot of money [over $200 million], we’re an early on pioneer in a very attractive area. Over 2 billion notes are taken every day. We’re seeing a surge in cloud-based acquisitions and productivity apps. But I didn’t want to raise any more money. I wanted to control our own destiny without dipping into anything beyond the cash we have in the balance sheet. We’re prioritizing monetization. We’ve had our first cash-flow positive month in March, Q3 is shaping up to be the best in the history of the company.

So, how has the response been to the new pricing?

Any time you make changes to prices, there’s going to be an uproar, true as night follows day. We saw some noise for a few days … It’s pretty much died down. In terms of the response, it’s been fantastic frankly. I’d say equally sized group of people saying “I love this product, I use it quite extensively and I’m willing and happy to pay.” Incidentally it’s the only time we’ve raised prices in the history of the company.

We have an obligation to our users to be a sustaining company that lasts forever. We call it Evernote for a reason. If we want to invest and make the service incredible, we need to make decisions on how to sustain the business model. Freemium is fantastic to build scale, but ultimately we felt it was the right move for the company to set us up for the long term … There’s social media noise, but then people vote with their feet. And we’re far, far ahead of our expectations.

We’re not being bashful about it — we’re being open. We’re being transparent and saying we have something of value. We have a free tier to the product; it’s quite generous and robust, and people who use the product extensively we’re not being shy about asking them to pay. There’s no such thing as a free lunch in life.

Are you worried about not attracting as many users if the free offering is more limited? Or is the focus now more on trying to get the people who actually use it to pay?

You need to invest across all stages of the funnel. We haven’t seen noticeable changes to our registered user count, which are hovering north of 75,000 every day … We’ll continue to invest in that, we’ll continue to invest in engagement with the product, which is in many ways the biggest challenge. That’s true for ourselves and any productivity-related app. How do you introduce someone, explain the value, it doesn’t happen right away. The benefits pay off over time. But once the people use the product, they’re generally more than happy to pay.

Evernote used to have a lot of side apps and other aspects that have been shut down over time. Were those decisions more about focusing on the core product?

At the heart it’s about being true to what the original mission of the company was, which was really to solve information overload. In our case it was to help you remember things. But in terms of the side apps, companies take risks, and there was a point where it was the game to have many apps covering lots of different use cases. And what we found was that it made sense to embed a lot of the functionality of these side apps. For example, some of functionality in Penultimate or Skitch, you’re finding a lot of those things in the actual app. They’re really valuable things that users want, as opposed to having a side thing.

“Once the people use the product, they’re generally more than happy to pay.”

There are others, like Evernote Hello or Food, those were more geared towards a lifestyle sort of brand. Each of those apps had a great and passionate following. Ultimately, business sometimes is about making tough decisions. In order to make the core as incredible as it could possibly be, I have a belief you can only do one or two things really well. So you really need to double down on that. A relatively controversial choice, which I thought was even easier, was shutting down the physical goods market.

It was a nice thing to have for a while, but it never made much sense.

Well, it didn’t to me, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a wise bet at the time. I think good companies take bets, but they also have the discipline afterwards to look back and see if it panned out as they expected. That’s what all that was about: getting laser focused, reinvesting in the core and adding new experiences.

The syncing stuff, which by definition is almost invisible, we’re fundamentally overhauling it. Search upgrades, like with the quick switcher [Press Open Apple + J on Mac], you’ll fall in love with. It’ll actually learn over time to find things more easily.

How are you evolving Evernote’s security? Are you looking at encryption or anything like that?

I think about three things around Evernote, the scale, the global aspect and the user trust. And nothing else really matters more than the latter. We’re looking at a world-class security team, and we’re also exploring what moves to a public cloud might look like. There’s been a whole bunch of innovation when you look at Microsoft and AWS. The amount of encryption and security have evolved in incredible ways. I think that’s where we’ll see the biggest amount of pickup, wrapped together with our security.

Can you tell us any more about the behind the scenes changes you’re making?

Basically, we put quality at the very front and center, and with sync we track crashes, latency, and in all those cases many of those are down by 95 percent. Ultimately, I want to get those things to zero. People trust us with their memories, their ideas big and small, Evernote just has to work every time. The proof is in the pudding, we see fewer people reaching out to us in our customer support centers. That’s one pretty tangible bit of evidence … We’ve hired a new CTO [Anirban Kundu] — he’s in the midst of rethinking sync to take advantage of new technology.

How does your vision for Evernote differ from what [former CEO] Phil Libin was talking about? He had ideas around augmented reality and Evernote spreading across devices easily.

I was having lunch with Stepan [Pachikov], the founder of the company, who really likes to focus on memory. He wanted to build a place to keep things he wanted to recall, he viewed it as an extension of his brain. I think he was very prescient in predicting information overload. He figured we’d see mobile phones explode, and he was right.

We’ve consistently delivered on this idea of being a digital archive, because your brain is just a terrible place to store things … If you think of evolving from just sort of remembering things, but to remembering and thinking. My vision is we should facilitate the thinking process. So what does that mean? The digital archive needs to be there, and we basically need to allow ingestion at the speed at which thought happens. You’re typing right now, but clearly voice is tomorrow … There’ll be a world where we can tap into the synapses, I don’t know when that’ll be, but you’ll have a thought and it’ll just go to Evernote.

The opposite of that is surfacing information … We’ll find a new word for what it means to have just the right information at just the right time. It’ll really tap into the context graph.

The thinking process evolves in a couple different ways to me. One is that there’s so much shallow work, like Twitter feeds and Slack messages. Work has changed fundamentally in a couple different ways, in many ways for the better, but in many ways for the worse. Talking about the better side, we collaborate across borders within companies, and teams are the primary unit of actually getting things done. I primarily believe the company you build is the team you build.

The bad side is, knowledge workers are spending 80 percent-plus of our time in meetings, responding to email, creating email, communicating to death. Research shows that typically a third to 40 percent of meaningful collaboration happens with 5 percent or less of people. So you have your stars being drown out by asking for opinions. There’s this idea that real work usually happens at night, usually after all of your other responsibilities. That just really stinks.

In a society laden with distractions, we envision that uncluttered space, where you can work on ideas that change the world in big or small ways. The mission we have is to unlock the potential of every idea … So going from remembering to thinking, when I’m in a meeting, I basically don’t want to have my next meeting suck because no one captured the notes, or no one captured the action items. Everything should be captured, whether it’s voice, whether it’s written, or a transcription. There’s task management software out there, but I think in a lightweight way, I see a world where the collection and management of information is tied to tasks. Not in a heavy way, though: Our research suggests that’s just another thing to manage.

This interview has been edited and condensed.


Small Number of SwiftKey Users Discover App Leaked Private Data to Strangers

A week after launching a new emoji-predicting keyboard, SwiftKey is now facing some pushback after a few users noticed that the main SwiftKey app was propagating suggestions related to the email accounts, phone numbers, and names of complete strangers (via The Telegraph). The Microsoft-owned app, available on iOS and Android, is widely known for its artificial intelligence and machine learning tools, which create custom word predictions based on what each user has previously typed.

In order to fully take advantage of these features, SwiftKey accesses various personal bits of information — previous texts, emails, and regularly used names and phrases — to bolster its database, with a synchronization feature that keeps all of a user’s data updated across various devices. Now, one SwiftKey user has discovered that someone unknown to them was given access to this data thanks to the app’s predictive features. Thankfully, the stranger was helpful in informing the compromised user about their privacy slip.

“A few days ago, I received an email from a complete stranger asking if I had recently purchased and returned a particular model of mobile phone, adding that not one but two of my email addresses (one personal and one work address) were saved on the phone she had just bought as brand-new,” said the user. “It also suggested, when she typed a zero, the telephone number for someone I had phoned recently.”

According to the anonymous source, the stranger went through every letter in the alphabet and got predictive suggestions of the affected user’s contact list and even the address of private servers used to connect to the internet at their workplace. A similar occurrence happened for one Redditor recently, but this time it crossed a language barrier as well, with German predictions of private information suggested for a user in the United Kingdom.

According to SwiftKey, the problem stems from a bug in that synchronization feature, so the company has deactivated syncing information across devices until it can get to the root of the problem. A spokesperson for the company said, “Recently, a limited number of our customers noticed unexpected words pre-populating when typing on their mobile phone,” but promised users that the app is “okay to use” in the meantime given the low number of users affected and that their personal data will not be lost while the sync ability is down.

Tag: SwiftKey
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Nobel-Winning Economist Calls Apple’s Irish Tax Arrangement ‘Fraud’

Joseph Stiglitz, an economic professor at Columbia University and 2001 recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, has described Apple’s tax arrangements in Ireland as “a fraud” in a recent interview with Bloomberg TV.

“Here we have the largest corporation in capitalization not only in America, but in the world, bigger than GM was at its peak, and claiming that most of its profits originate from about a few hundred people working in Ireland — that’s a fraud,” Stiglitz said. “A tax law that encourages American firms to keep jobs abroad is wrong, and I think we can get a consensus in America to get that changed.”

Under current U.S. laws, Apple is able to shift billions of dollars in profits to Ireland, where it operates multiple subsidiaries, sheltering those earnings from up to a 35 percent corporate tax rate in the United States. Ireland has a much lower corporate tax rate of 12.5 percent, but Apple is believed to have a sweetheart deal with Ireland that sees it pay less than 2 percent in exchange for creating jobs in the country.

Apple has been the subject of a European Commission probe related to its Irish tax arrangements since June 2014, with the executive body investigating whether the deal constitutes illegal state aid. Ireland’s finance minister Michael Noonan recently said he expects a decision to be reached by September or October, and Apple could owe more than $8 billion in back taxes depending on the outcome.

Apple insists it is the largest taxpayer in the world and that it pays every cent of tax it owes under current laws. In a late 2015 interview with 60 Minutes correspondent Charlie Rose, Apple CEO Tim Cook described tax avoidance accusations against the company as “political crap,” adding that the United States has a tax code that is “awful for America” and “made for the industrial age.”

Apple provided the following statement during its March 2016 meeting with the European Parliament’s tax committee:

“Apple is the largest taxpayer in the world. In 2015 we paid 13.2 billion dollars in taxes worldwide, which is an effective tax rate of 36.4%”, its representatives said when asked about the company’s tax structures in Europe and the state aid investigation launched by competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager. However, they were not prepared to disclose its EU and Irish tax figures. “Those are confidential. When country-by-country reporting will become mandatory, we will of course follow”. Apple, like Google, pays most of its taxes in the US, where most of its employees are based and its research is done.

Apple is only one of several multinational corporations that have been scrutinized for possible corporate tax avoidance in Europe over the past few years, with others including Amazon, Google, IKEA, and McDonald’s. Last year, the European Commission ordered Starbucks and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to each pay up to €30 million in back taxes, after ruling that the companies benefited from illegal tax deals.

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

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Apple Urges Supreme Court Not to Send Samsung Case Back to Lower Court

Apple has urged the U.S. Supreme Court to rule against Samsung’s request to send a longstanding patent lawsuit between the two companies back to lower court for further proceedings, reports Reuters.

Apple told the court that its South Korean rival has “no evidence” that design patent damages should be based on anything less than the value of an entire smartphone, according to court documents filed on Friday. The Supreme Court agreed to hear Samsung’s case in December.

Samsung argued that it has been hit with “excessive penalties” for allegedly copying the design of the iPhone. The company claims that the penalties were unfair because Apple was awarded damages from the total profits of the product, while the infringing patent only applied to a component of the smartphone rather than the whole device.

Apple was awarded nearly $1 billion in damages in 2012, but a significant part of the decision was reversed in 2015, leaving Samsung owing $548 million. Samsung has already paid the $548 million, but could win its money back if the ruling is overturned. The patent lawsuit dates back to 2011.

Tags: Samsung, lawsuit
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Apple CEO Tim Cook Plans to Host Fundraiser for Hillary Clinton Next Month

Apple CEO Tim Cook plans to host a fundraiser that will benefit Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, reports BuzzFeed. Cook, along with Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environment, policy, and social initiatives, will host the event as private citizens, not as representatives of Apple.

Cook and Jackson plan to raise money for the Hillary Victory Fund, a committee that contributes to the Clinton campaign, the Democratic National Committee, and 38 state parties. Invites for the event, which will take place on August 24, went out this morning.

Apple CEO Tim Cook is eager to demonstrate support for Democrats and Republicans to strengthen Apple’s relationship with both parties.

The Hillary fundraiser will follow a fundraiser Cook co-hosted for Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan in June. Cook and Ryan teamed up to host a private breakfast in Menlo Park on June 28. Money raised benefited Ryan and a fundraising committee that helps elect other House Republicans.

While Cook hosted a fundraiser for Ryan, Apple elected not to support the 2016 Republican Convention in Cleveland due to some of presidential nominee Donald Trump’s controversial statements on the subjects of minorities, women, and immigrants.

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

Tags: Tim Cook, Hillary Clinton
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