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5
Oct

Bloomberg: Twitter is locked in an internal battle over sale


Something is rotten in the state of Twitter, and it looks as if some of the blame should be laid at the feet of Jack Dorsey. At least, that’s the sentiment of a lengthy report from Bloomberg that discusses the company’s current malaise. According to sources, there’s a three-person battle amongst the firm’s leadership over what Twitter should be, and what its future holds. Dorsey reportedly wants to keep running Twitter as an independent company, while co-founder and board member Ev Williams wants to pursue a sale.

Sat between the two is the company’s Chief Financial Officer, Anthony Noto, who has seized de facto control of the company. The report explains that Dorsey’s management style has become so “passive” and “contemplative” that Noto has stepped up to fill the void. In this telling, it is Noto rather than Dorsey who is credited with sealing a cut-price deal with the NFL to stream 10 Thursday Night Football games this season. Further anonymous sources say that Noto, whose stated job is just to run finance, is spearheading the company’s move into live video. The result is that Jack Dorsey’s power as head of the company has been eroded by his more proactive subordinate.

All of this comes while potential suitors for the company are lurking in, well, they’re not even the shadows at this point. Salesforce, Google and even Disney are all reportedly lining up bids to purchase Twitter and define what it actually is. That remains the site’s biggest problem, since it exists in a quantum state between a social network, microblogging service and broadcasting platform all at the same time. It has untold potential, but the uncertainty over how it operates is one of the reasons that advertisers are taking their money to Facebook and Snapchat.

Source: Bloomberg

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5
Oct

Here’s what you missed at the ‘Made by Google’ event


It may be time to bid a sad adieu (sadieu?) to the beloved Nexus line and hello to Google’s new Pixel phones, but we’ve still got a whole slew of fresh hardware to look forward to. In addition to the higher-end handsets, Google also unveiled the Daydream View VR headset, the Chromecast Ultra, a WiFi router, as well as the official price and availability of its Home smart speaker. Tying all of the gadgets together is the company’s AI Assistant, which you can use on the Pixels and Home, and Google promises to make it available on more platforms in future. Our senior editors Nicole Lee and Chris Velazco break down what all this new stuff means for you, and share their impressions of the new products.

Click here to catch all the latest news from Google’s fall event.

5
Oct

OurMine retaliates against BuzzFeed for exposing an attacker


The account hijackers at OurMine are fond of intruding into the personal worlds of their celebrity targets, but they don’t respond kindly when someone turns the tables. BuzzFeed is recovering after OurMine compromised its website in retaliation for an article that claimed a Saudi teen is likely responsible for many of the group’s attacks. The OurMine team “altered several posts,” including the article in question. The stories should return to normal soon, BuzzFeed says.

OurMine didn’t mince words on the modified posts. It claimed that BuzzFeed was sharing “fake news about us” (read: it could be accurate) and threatened to make the site’s “database” public if there’s ever a follow-up attack. It’s not clear that OurMine actually has what it says, though. To date, its ‘hacks’ have really involved discovering account login details — it doesn’t compromise whole servers, like you’d expect with a conventional hack. While we don’t want to rule anything out, it’s entirely possible that this is bluster meant to discourage investigators from pursuing the truth.

Source: BuzzFeed (Twitter), (archived)

5
Oct

Lightseekers brings your video game into the real world


Action figures can look a little staid next to video games where your character can walk, talk and fire all manner of weaponry. But there’s still something special about the tactile experience of holding a cool character in your hand, which is why we’ve seen game developers embrace the world of toys with products like Skylanders, Amiibo and LEGO Dimensions. But, while placing a figure on a base can unlock characters or entire worlds, the interaction between game and toy tends to end there. Lightseekers, launching today on Kickstarter, changes that dynamic by making its action figures a living (and almost breathing) part of its games.

Lightseekers, in some ways, is almost reminiscent of the film Small Soldiers. Except the toys don’t actually move and they definitely don’t try to kill anyone (we hope). They’re fully articulated and will light up and talk in response to the game. Instead of using NFC like many other toys-to-life titles, the figures communicate with the Lightseekers game via low-power Bluetooth, essentially creating an ongoing dialogue between the two.

The program will detect the presence of a figure and allow you to “claim” it in-game, so you can control the character in an action RPG that has you exploring the magical world of Tantos, collecting items and battling against the evil Umbron. Characters level up as you play, with the data stored on the figurine. There’s also a special “lending” feature that will let your friends borrow the character for a while, but ultimately the figure and all its associated in-game data belongs to you.

Though it’s being crowdfunded, Lightseekers is actually a collaboration by game developer PlayFusion and toy manufacturer Tomy. PlayFusion is a relatively new company, but several employees, including CEO Mark Gerhard, worked on the long-running MMORPG RuneScape. Instead of limiting their expertise to just PC and Mac, the Lightseekers game will also be available for iOS and Android — a departure from many other toy-to-life games, which are typically designed for consoles like Xbox, PlayStation and Wii U (Skylanders is available for iOS). It means more people will be able to play the game, since most families own a mobile device of some sort.

The game mechanics are specifically designed toward being touch-friendly and accessible for all ages. There are no tight turns or small platforms that would require the use of a more precise directional pad or physical joystick, and the characters can act independently so beginners and younger players needn’t worry about being fast enough. Special attacks and items can be used, however, so more experienced players still have opportunities to employ some strategy.

Lightseekers

While the game works just fine on its own, the figures are the only way to unlock its full potential. If you place a toy weapon in the hand of your action figure, that weapon will immediately appear in the game with a bit of fanfare. A few in-game items will be exclusive to the action figures, such as a jetpack that lets your character hover around. This backpack isn’t just there for decoration: It unlocks a mini-game where you race an NPC in the air while collecting coins. Thanks to a built-in accelerometer, the action figure is the controller — you have to “fly” it in your hand, waving and rocking the toy in the direction you want your avatar to go.

Lightseekers

The figures are designed to interact with the real world as much as possible. In addition to detecting when your phone or tablet is nearby, they know when other figures are around and react to those too. If Toy Story 2 broke your heart with Jesse’s story of neglect and abandonment by her original owner, Lightseekers addresses that kind of treatment directly: The figures activate when you pick them up, and comment if it’s been a while. It’s all in jest but, let’s face it, you’re going to feel a little bad. I’m glad that none of my Animal Crossing Amiibo can do this, because it’s been years since I last played and I don’t want to be reminded of all the unwatered flowers and unpicked weeds that are waiting in my village.

Like Animal Crossing, Lightseekers also makes use of special cards to add content to the game. Instead of the old-school barcode cards from the GameCube era or the current NFC Amiibo cards on the 3DS, Lightseekers uses augmented reality. Just place the card on the table and point your phone or tablet’s camera at it and the character or item will pop out and join your game.

When you’re done playing video games, the cards are part of a collectable card game that’s fully playable on its own without the mobile app or the action figures. The Lightseekers universe will also expand into other media, including an animated TV program. The current plan is to have the figures react to key scenes in it. PlayFusion is currently working on its own software that can identify TV shows and movies by their audio patterns faster and with fewer problems than existing apps like Shazam. The current demo features a dinner scene from the Hobbit. When Ori says, “I don’t like green food,” one of the Lightseeker figures lights up — even with people talking loudly in the room.

Before Lightseekers can take over your kid’s playroom or your office, they have a Kickstarter to conquer first. Fifty bucks will snag you a Mari or Tyrax figure, a weapon and a handful of AR cards, along with a slew of in-game perks. One hundred and fifty dollars nets both figures plus extra weapons, while players who are champing at the bit to enter the world of Tantos might opt for the $300 tier, which gets you into the physical beta. Of course, if all of these are too rich for your blood, the game will be free to play on Android and iOS starting early next year.

Source: PlayFusion

5
Oct

Nanomachines just won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry


If you want to know how far nanotechnology has come, you only need to ask the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. It just awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry to researchers Bernard Feringa, Jean-Pierre Sauvage and Sir J. Fraser Stoddart for their work on the “design and synthesis of molecular machines.” All three have been instrumental to making nanomachines possible. Sauvage kicked things off in 1983, when he linked ring-shaped through a mechanical bond instead of the usual electron-sharing bond. Stoddart carried the torch when he slipped a moving molecular ring on to an axle in 1991, while Feringa built the first molecular motor in 1999.

The technology has come a long way in the years since, but that’s not the point of the prize, the Acadamy explains. It’s an acknowledgment that the scientist trio got the ball rolling. They brought nanomachines to the “same stage” that electric motors reached in the 1830s — while they’re simple novelties right now, they could lead to a revolution. Researchers are already working on microscopic drug delivery systems and smart, property-changing materials, and those are likely just the start of what’s possible.

Via: New York Times

Source: Nobelprize.org

5
Oct

NSA contractor arrested for reportedly stealing secrets


The New York Times reports that the FBI quietly arrested and charged an NSA contractor in late August on suspicion of stealing, and potentially disclosing computer code relating to an offensive hacking program designed to break into the network systems of adversarial foreign governments like Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.

The contractor in question is Harold Thomas Martin III, 51, of Glen Burnie, MD according to authorities. He was charged on August 29th with theft of government property and unauthorized removal and retention of classified materials by a government employee or contractor. If convicted, he faces up to 11 years in federal prison.

Authorities raided Martin’s house back in August, shortly before arresting him and discovered both physical documents and digital files containing highly classified information. Officials also recovered materials from his car and a pair of storage sheds located on his property. There’s no word yet on what source code, exactly was stolen but the fact that the Shadow Broker story dropped right around the same time that the FBI began investigating Martin is an interesting coincidence to say the least.

Lazy: This guy and @Snowden both worked at @BoozAllen, so they are the same.

Not lazy: Booz must have a unique contract. Let’s investigate.

— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) October 5, 2016

Another interesting coincidence is that both Edward Snowden, who famously disclosed the government’s foreign and domestic spying programs to the US media before fleeing to Russia, and Martin were contracted to the NSA through the Booz Allen Hamilton consulting firm. Booz Allen Hamilton consulting declined to comment on the matter. Either way, this is not a good look for the NSA, which has now been burgled by its own contractors twice in three years.

Source: New York Times

5
Oct

Pebble 2 review: An affordable smartwatch with a fitness bent


Pebble is in a tough spot. Once a pioneer in smartwatches, it now has to fight off competition from brands like Apple and Samsung, as well as more affordable devices, even ones that feel more like fitness trackers. Earlier this year, the company unveiled a pair of new smartwatches designed to occupy that middle ground. They are the Pebble 2 and the Pebble Time 2, both of which retain much of the same functionality as previous-gen Pebbles, but with one key difference: They now have built-in heart rate monitors. Combined with a revamped Health app, the Pebble line is much more fitness-focused than before.

At $129, the Pebble 2 is the more affordable of the two, and it’s aimed at those who want a no-frills smartwatch with some workout features. Think of it as a fitness tracker with basic smartwatch functionality thrown in — and priced for people who don’t want to spend “smartwatch money.”

Hardware

If you liked the design of the original Pebble, then the Pebble 2 should strike your fancy as well. Its black and white e-paper display, plastic housing and silicone straps are reminiscent of the company’s first-ever wearable, which debuted in 2012. Some might appreciate the retro design, but I have to say I’ve outgrown it. The original Pebble probably looked sleek four years ago, but in 2016 the monochrome screen feels dated, with the complete package giving off a Fisher-Price vibe.

That said, there are a few differences that set the Pebble 2 apart from the original. While the screen still measures 1.26 inches across, the surrounding bezel is much thinner than before. The result is a slimmer, more streamlined look, with a chassis that measures 39.5 x 30.2 x 9.8mm. The strap itself also feels softer and more pliable than the original. It’s comfortable enough to wear for a full workday and even to bed. Also, instead of a plastic coating on top of the display, the Pebble 2’s screen is now covered in a more durable Corning Gorilla glass.

And, of course, when you flip the watch around you’ll see the built-in heart rate sensor. By default, it tracks your resting heart rate every 10 minutes. It can also monitor your beats per minute consistently throughout a workout, which is useful if you have a target heart rate in mind for your cardio sessions. Also on the rear are the magnetic charging pins that doubles as a smart accessory port for a variety of third-party “smart straps,” which add more functionality like wireless charging and NFC payments. Speaking of straps, there are two quick-release triggers allowing you to easily swap out the default silicone ones with any other 22mm band.

The Pebble 2 has the same button layout as its predecessors; there’s a back button on the left and a trio of keys on the right (more on that later). As far as internals go, the Pebble 2 is pretty similar to the original Time, which came out last year. It has a built-in microphone for voice replies and notes; an accelerometer; and a backlight, which you can enable by just moving the watch around. It’s also water resistant up to 30 meters, so you can take it for a swim.

Software

As with all of Pebble’s previous watches, setup is easy. Download the companion Pebble app, pair it with your phone just like you would any other Bluetooth device, and away you go. From there, you’ll use the app to do pretty much everything, like adding watchfaces and configuring notifications. Seeing as how the Pebble 2 is one of the first to support heart rate activity, I recommend trying a watchface that’s able to display that information.

When Pebble introduced the Time last year, it also unveiled a new interface, dubbed the Timeline. The idea was that you would navigate through the watch in chronological order; the top button would lead to past events while the bottom one would give you a heads-up on upcoming stuff. Going in the past, for example, would bring up the score for last night’s baseball game, while going into the future would tell you what the weather forecast was going to be like the next day.

With the latest Pebble software update and the company’s recent emphasis on health and fitness, that interface once again feels different. From the watchface, the top button leads to a quick view of your health stats (step count, hours slept and current heart rate). The center button launches the app menu, while the bottom key shows current and upcoming events. Each button can also be mapped as a quick launch key to any application you like. Simply press and hold on them to trigger the appropriate shortcuts.

Another addition to the Pebble interface are “Quick View” notifications that offer pop-up peeks at upcoming events. By default, these reminders appear 15 minutes prior to the event, but you can adjust that in the settings.

In addition, as you’d expect, the Pebble 2 comes with a few pre-installed apps. They include a Workout app that tracks your heart rate when you’re on a run, walk or any other kind of workout. Other stock programs display the local weather, music controls, an alarm clock, stopwatch and a timer. You can also choose from over 15,000 different third-party watchfaces and apps in the Pebble app store. Additionally, if you don’t want to be bothered with notifications for a while, you can enable a do-not-disturb feature called Quiet Time.

By default, your Pebble will receive every single notification that your phone gets. If that sounds like too much, you can always disable notifications from the Pebble app. Also by default, text and email replies aren’t enabled. So if you want the ability to respond to messages from the watch, you’ll have to switch that on in settings. Speaking of the sort, you can either send a canned response or you can hit the voice button to dictate a speech-to-text reply — features you’ll find on other watch platforms too.

The biggest change to the Pebble app since we last tested it is the addition of that aforementioned Health tab. There you’ll find an overview of your steps, heart rate and sleep habits. The activity module displays your steps taken, calories burned, distance traveled and active time over a day, week or month. The heart rate module includes a graph of your heart rate throughout the day, while the sleep section shows how many hours you’ve slept in a given day, week or month. It’ll also tell you how many of those hours counted as “deep” sleep.

I’ve used the Pebble 2 for five days so far, and during this period I’ve found that the watch does a good job keeping track of the number of steps I take in a given day, as well as the quality of my sleep. I have a fairly erratic sleep schedule — I might sleep four hours, wake up, stay up for a couple hours, and then sleep for another four hours — and the watch was able to track that odd behavior pretty accurately. I also really liked that it was able to automatically detect when I was working out without me having to launch an app or hit a start button.

The Pebble 2 has a rated battery life of up to seven days, which seems about right. I last charged it five days ago, and despite a slew of app, Slack and email notifications, it’s still holding strong at 30 percent. Not too shabby.

The competition

With its plastic exterior and simple features, the Pebble 2 doesn’t measure up to high-end smartwatches like the Apple Watch Series 2, Series 1 or the Moto 360 Sport. But that’s OK, because it’s nowhere near as expensive either. It’s priced at $129, while the other two start at $369, $269 and $200, respectively.

Compared to fitness trackers too, the Pebble 2 is fairly priced. The Fitbit Charge 2 offers many of the same features, but costs $150. The Fitbit Blaze is priced at $200, though it has GPS, which the Pebble 2 doesn’t. The discontinued Basis Peak was also priced at $200, and probably came the closest to the 2 in terms of features. If you want a more serious fitness tracker, you’d do well to look at the $200 Garmin Vivosmart HR+, which includes a heart rate monitor and GPS, support for basic notifications, and various other workout-related features that Garmin is already known for. But the Pebble 2 trumps all of these trackers as a standard smartwatch in that it offers a much wider selection of third-party apps.

To address the lack of GPS, Pebble will be offering a separate device called the Core early next year. The Core is essentially a runner’s companion for your Pebble smartwatch. It packs GPS and a 3G modem, so you can stream Spotify on it while you’re running, no phone required. The Core will cost $99, so a Pebble 2 and Core combination would ring in at $228. But since it adds those extra features, it could be worth it for some.

Yet, perhaps the Pebble 2’s biggest competition is Pebble’s other upcoming wearable, the Time 2. That offers the same features as the Pebble 2, except it adds a color screen, stainless steel body and a generally more stylish design. It’s worth noting that at $199 the Time 2 costs $70 more, but to my mind that’s worth it for a watch that’s infinitely better-looking.

Wrap-up

Even though Pebble already offered support for several popular health apps, the Pebble 2 is the company’s first genuine attempt to make a more fitness-friendly device. The ability to track your heart rate, plus the addition of Pebble’s new Health app, makes it so much easier to not only track your daily step count but also your passive heart rate and sleeping patterns. As long as you can put up with its unsophisticated design, the Pebble 2 combines the benefits of a fitness tracker with the core functions of a basic smartwatch at a reasonable price.

5
Oct

Blue Origin successfully tests its crew escape system


Blue Origin’s escape system test went by without a hitch. Jeff Bezos’ private spaceflight outfit successfully ejected the crew capsule from the New Shepherd rocket about 45 seconds after launch, shooting it away at about 400MPH before parachutes carried it safely to Earth. On top of this, Blue Origin landed New Shepherd again — there were worries that the capsule’s rocket would damage the booster and prevent it from landing safely. You can watch it yourself below, starting at the 1:05:58 mark.

This should be the last time you see this New Shepherd rocket in action, since Bezos said he would put it in a museum if it made the landing. It certainly has quite the storied (if brief) history: it’s the first reusable rocket to visit space and safely land, and also the first to actually see reuse. It managed the feat five times before retirement.

It’s a sharp contrast to what we’ve seen with rivals like SpaceX. Elon Musk’s company has yet to reuse a rocket, but it’s the only one of the two firms to have delivered honest-to-goodness payloads into space, or to manage sea landings. Blue Origin simply isn’t interested in cargo runs, though. It’s focused on manned flights, and space tourism in particular (service could start in 2018) — it may have have a narrower scope, but it’s making more progress within that scope.

Source: Blue Origin (YouTube)

5
Oct

Apple’s Tim Cook and Eddy Cue Named to Vanity Fair’s 2016 New Establishment List


Apple CEO Tim Cook is ranked 11th on Vanity Fair’s 2016 New Establishment List, its annual ranking of the top 100 so-called Silicon Valley hotshots, Hollywood moguls, Wall Street titans, and cultural icons. Cook’s profile was rather nondescript about him personally, instead focusing on Apple’s recent battle with the FBI over its refusal to unlock an iPhone belonging to a San Bernardino shooter.

Apple senior vice president Eddy Cue, who oversees Apple Music, iCloud, the iTunes Store, and other services, was also named to the list at 54th. Cue is mentioned as being an “increasingly important part of Apple’s future.”

Cue, whose domain includes content, Internet software, and services, is widely believed to be an increasingly important part of Apple’s future—pushing the company into music-themed programming and other forms of content. Apple recently acquired a television series based on “Carpool Karaoke,” the popular brainchild of James Corden (No. 80).

Other notable company-related figures that made the cut include Disney CEO and Apple board member Bob Iger, 4th, former Apple investor Carl Icahn, 42nd, and Steve Jobs’ widow Laurene Powell Jobs, 73rd.laurene-powell-jobs

CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT
One of the world’s richest women (net worth: approximately $17 billion), Steve Jobs’s widow is pouring her wealth into Emerson Collective, a philanthropic organization that, like Priscilla Chan’s (No. 60), is structured as a limited-liability corporation.

DISPLAY OF VULCAN CHESS MASTERY
Powell objected to the Aaron Sorkin–written Steve Jobs movie (and to the Walter Isaacson book on which it was based), but she needn’t have bothered: the film flopped with moviegoers.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos topped the list, helping the online retailer turn five consecutive profitable quarters, followed by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel, Iger, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch, Didi Chuxing’s Jean Liu and Cheng Wei, and Beyoncé. The Kardashians rounded off the list at 100th.

Tags: Tim Cook, Eddy Cue, vanityfair.com
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5
Oct

Existing Apps That Added Support for Messages Saw ‘Profound’ Growth in iOS 10


After reporting a few weeks ago that the Messages App Store has grown to 1,650 applications, 75 percent of them sticker packs, Sensor Tower recently published another report detailing the download growth statistics for pre-existing apps that introduced Messages support in iOS 10. According to the research firm, the advantages of being an original presence in the Messages App Store during launch week had a “profound” effect on the surge of downloads for each app.

Sticker-making app JibJab sits firmly atop the pile of apps looked at by Sensor Tower. Originally introduced in 2014, Apple advertised the app’s new Messages-ready compatibility in the Messages App Store during iOS 10’s launch, and JibJab subsequently saw a download growth of more than 1,500 percent the week of September 12, 2016, which Sensor Tower compared to two weeks prior, August 29, as a statistical baseline.

The data accrued throughout the study uses the same parameters for each app. It should also be noted that Sensor Tower’s measurements only took into account well-established apps that received more than 50,000 downloads for August and September, 2016.

As you can see, the animated-sticker-making app JibJab, which has been available on the App Store since 2014, witnessed tremendous download growth of more than 1,500 percent for the week of September 12, 2016, compared to our baseline, the week of August 29, 2016. As one of the very first apps to debut on the iMessage App Store, JibJab also benefitted from featuring by Apple within the in-app storefront.

Being a first mover on the iMessage Apps platform has clearly paid off for these apps.

A few other apps that have introduced Messages support saw notable growth, just not as intense as JibJab’s performance. GIF Keyboard took second place, with a 129 percent increase in downloads during iOS 10’s launch week. Tenor’s app has also been around since 2014, but with the advent of Messages apps users no longer have to allow the company access to their keyboard and laboriously copy/paste each gif into a message.

The top five was rounded out by song-sharing app Genius (108 percent increase), GIF search service Giphy (77 percent increase), and App Store gaming mainstay Words With Friends (74 percent increase).

Words With Friends is the only game in Sensor Tower’s top ten list, which is mostly made up of social interactive experiences. The data also shows the effect Messages-enabled apps have had for non-social add-ons as well, including apps that streamline previously cumbersome activities, like deciding on a restaurant with friends in OpenTable (65 percent increase), and picking a movie showtime in Fandango (31 percent increase).

New apps add support for Messages nearly every day, but sticker packs remain the most popular app type in Apple’s new Messages App Store. Of the more than 1,650 applications on the App Store for Messages (when originally reported), sticker packs made up 1,251 apps, 944 of which are paid versus 307 that are free.

Related Roundup: iOS 10
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