An Astonishing 773 Million Records Exposed in Monster Breach

There are breaches, and there are megabreaches, and there’s Equifax. But a newly revealed trove of leaked data tops them all for sheer volume: 772,904,991 unique email addresses, over 21 million unique passwords, all recently posted to a hacking forum.

The data set was first reported by security researcher Troy Hunt, who maintains Have I Been Pwned, a way to search whether your own email or password has been compromised by a breach at any point. (Trick question: It has.) The so-called Collection #1 is the largest breach in Hunt’s menagerie, and it’s not particularly close.

The Hack

If anything, the above numbers belie the real volume of the breach, as they reflect Hunt’s effort to clean up the data set to account for duplicates and to strip out unusable bits. In raw form, it comprises 2.7 billion rows of email addresses and passwords, including over a billion unique combinations of email addresses and passwords.

The trove appeared briefly on MEGA, the cloud service, and persisted on what Hunt refers to as “a popular hacking forum.” It sat in a folder called Collection #1, which contained over 12,000 files that weigh in at over 87 gigabytes. While it’s difficult to confirm exactly where all that info came from, it appears to be something of a breach of breaches; that is to say, it claims to aggregate over 2,000 leaked databases that contain passwords whose protective hashing has been cracked.

“It just looks like a completely random collection of sites purely to maximize the number of credentials available to hackers,” Hunt tells WIRED. “There’s no obvious patterns, just maximum exposure.”

That sort of Voltron breach has happened before, but never on this scale. In fact, not only is this the largest breach to become public, it’s second only to Yahoo’s pair of incidents—which affected 1 billion and 3 billion users, respectively—in size. Fortunately, the stolen Yahoo data hasn’t surfaced. Yet.

Who’s Affected?

The accumulated lists seem designed for use in so-called credential-stuffing attacks, in which hackers throw email and password combinations at a given site or service. These are typically automated processes that prey especially on people who reuse passwords across the whole wide internet.

The silver lining in Collection #1 going public is that you can definitively find out if your email and password were among the impacted accounts. Hunt has already loaded them into Have I Been Pwned; just type in your email address and keep those fingers crossed. While you’re there you can also find out how many previous breaches you’ve been a victim of. Whatever password you’re using on those accounts, change it.

Have I Been Pwned also introduced a password-search feature a year and a half ago; you can just type in whatever passwords go with your most sensitive accounts to see if they’re out in the open. If they are, change them.

And while you’re at it, get a password manager. It’s well past time.

How Serious Is This?

Pretty darn serious! While it doesn’t appear to include more sensitive information, like credit card or Social Security numbers, Collection #1 is historic for scale alone. A few elements also make it especially unnerving. First, around 140 million email accounts and over 10 million unique passwords in Collection #1 are new to Hunt’s database, meaning they’re not just duplicates from prior megabreaches.

Then there’s the way in which those passwords are saved in Collection #1. “These are all plain text passwords. If we take a breach like Dropbox, there may have been 68 million unique email addresses in there, but the passwords were cryptographically hashes making them very difficult to use,” says Hunt. Instead, the only technical prowess someone with access to the folders needs to break into your accounts is the ability to scroll and click.

And lastly, Hunt also notes that all of these records were sitting not in some dark web backwater, but on one of the most popular cloud storage sites—until it got taken down—and then on a public hacking site. They weren’t even for sale; they were just available for anyone to take.

The usual advice for protecting yourself applies. Never reuse passwords across multiple sites; it increases your exposure by orders of magnitude. Get a password manager. Have I Been Pwned integrates directly into 1Password—automatically checking all of your passwords against its database—but you’ve got no shortage of good options. Enable app-based two-factor authentication on as many accounts as you can, so that a password isn’t your only line of defense. And if you do find your email address or one of your passwords in Have I Been Pwned, at least know that you’re in good company.


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Apple, Amazon called out for 'incorrect' Taiwan, Hong Kong references

TAIPEI/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – One of China’s top government-linked think tanks has called out Apple Inc, Amazon.com Inc and other foreign companies for not referring to Hong Kong and Taiwan as part of China in a report that provoked a stern reaction from Taipei.

FILE PHOTO: An electronic screen displays the Apple Inc. logo on the exterior of the Nasdaq Market Site following the close of the day’s trading session in New York City, New York, U.S., August 2, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) said in a report this month that 66 of the world’s 500 largest companies had used “incorrect labels” for Taiwan and 53 had errors in the way they referred to Hong Kong, according to China’s Legal Daily newspaper. It said 45 had referred to both territories incorrectly.

Beijing considers self-ruled Taiwan a wayward province of China and the former British colony of Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 and operates as a semi-autonomous territory.

China last year ramped up pressure on foreign companies including Marriott International and Qantas for referring to Taiwan and Hong Kong as separate from China in drop down menus or other material.

The report was co-written by CASS and the Internet Development Research Institution of Peking University. An official at the Internet Development Research Institution told Reuters that it had not yet been published to the public and declined to provide a copy.

A spokesman for Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said Taiwan would not bow to Chinese pressure.

“As for China’s related out-of-control actions, we need to remind the international community to face this squarely and to unite efforts to reduce and contain these actions,” Alex Huang told reporters in Taipei.

Beijing has stepped up pressure on Taiwan since Tsai, from the pro-independence ruling party, took office in 2016.

That has included rising Chinese scrutiny over how companies from airlines, such as Air Canada, to retailers, such as Gap, refer to the democratic island in recent months.

Nike Inc, Siemens AG, ABB, Subaru and others were also on the list. Apple, Amazon, ABB, Siemens, Subaru and Nike did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.

Reporting By Yimou Lee, Jess Macy Yu, Josh Horwitz; Additional Reporting by Shanghai Newsroom, Gao Liangping, Cate Cadell, Pei Li, Brenda Goh and Naomi Tajitsu in TOKYO; Editing by Paul Tait and Nick Macfie

Bracing for a Hazy Robo-Future, Ford and VW Join Forces

Sensor partnerships. Subsidiary acquisitions. Software collaborations. The autonomous driving world is about as incestous a place as Caligula’s palace, and it got a little more so today, when Ford and Volkswagen announced a formal and long-anticipated alliance.

“The alliance we are now building, starting from first formal agreement, will boost both partners’ competitiveness in an era of rapid change,” Herbert Diess, the CEO of Volkswagen, said on a call with reporters. He and Ford CEO Jim Hackett said the partnership—which is not a merger—will begin with the companies jointly developing and building medium-sized pickups and commercial vans, to debut as early as 2022. The automakers said the arrangement should “yield improved annual pre-tax operating results” by 2023. So hopefully, this makes everyone richer.

After that, well, the companies have signed a “memorandum of understanding” to collaborate on electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, and mobility services. The shape and details of those partnerships are yet to be determined.

Diess is right about that “rapid change” bit. The automotive industry has shifted remarkably in the last decade, with new vehicle and vehicle-adjacent tech players—Tesla, Waymo, Aurora, Argo AI—injecting fresh blood (and panic) into the business of building cars. Ford and VW seem to believe that banding together will help them not only survive, but thrive.

The companies will need to do that in a world where, eventually, someday, the human driver is obsolete. The path to self-driving domination is not yet clear. What services will automotive manufacturers manage for themselves? Which technologies will they build and own? Ford and VW have spent the last few years toying with different answers to these questions, and by joining forces, each has diversified its AV portfolio. It might be evidence, as automotive writer Pete Bigelow points out, that the companies are making smart, strategic decisions about how to spend their R & D dollars in this confusing, in-between time. Or that they’re flailing. Maybe both.

Both VW and Ford already have (quasi) in-house automated vehicle software teams. VW has built up a 150-person “Autonomous Intelligent Driving” unit as part of its Audi brand, which is building a full AV software stack. (Audi itself has pledged to spend $16 billion on electric and self-driving vehicles through 2023.) And the German automaker is working on self-driving with the AV developer Aurora, which is headed up by self-driving tech veterans.

Ford has a large stake in Pittsburgh-based AV software company Argo AI, whose work is a key element of the automaker’s pledge to have a fully automated robotaxi in operation by 2021. And it has spent time and money boning up on “mobility” tech, purchasing companies like transit software-maker TransLoc, transportation cloud platform Autonomic, (recently killed) shuttle service Chariot, and scooter-share company Spin. It’s trying to figure out how best to connect customers to transportation, and what they’d like to see out of a transportation service, anyway.

It’s not clear yet how these various minglings will affect Ford and VW’s work. Argo AI is involved in the discussions between the companies, but specifics are scarce. “We’re not going to speculate on the details of the advanced discussions that are ongoing,” says Alan Hall, a spokesperson for Ford.

Khobi Brooklyn, a spokesperson for Aurora, did not say what role the company might play in the alliance. “As we continue to build relationships across the transportation ecosystem with providers of vehicles, transportation networks and fleet management operations, we are confident that we will be able to deliver the benefits of self-driving technology safely, quickly, and broadly,” she wrote in a statement. Aurora has said that it has not ruled out working with other automotive manufacturers on self-driving cars; it also has partnerships with Hyundai and EV startup Byton.

Another element of this “diversification” that should benefit both companies: They get easier access to the others’ regional strengths—and regulatory environments. VW has invested serious money in South America, Africa, and China. But despite a new plan to establish a plant in Tennessee, the German carmaker is weaker in the US, Ford’s home turf. “From Volkswagen’s perspective, it would make a lot of sense to cooperate with an American player given that the regulatory conditions for preparing the breakthrough of autonomous driving are more advanced in the US than they are in Europe,” Diess told reporters. Break out those German-English dictionaries.


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Exclusive: Facebook brings stricter ads rules to countries with big 2019 votes

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Facebook Inc told Reuters on Tuesday that it would extend some of its political advertising rules and tools for curbing election interference to India, Nigeria, Ukraine and the European Union before significant votes in the next few months.

FILE PHOTO: Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to a screen projection of Facebook logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

As the largest social media service in nearly every big country, Facebook since 2016 has become a means for politicians and their adversaries to distribute fake news and other propaganda.

Buying Facebook ads can widen the audience for such material, but some of those influence efforts may violate election rules and the company’s policies.

Under pressure from authorities around the world, Facebook last year introduced several initiatives to increase oversight of political ads.

Beginning on Wednesday in Nigeria, only advertisers located in the country will be able to run electoral ads, mirroring a policy unveiled during an Irish referendum last May, Katie Harbath, Facebook’s director of global politics and outreach, said in an interview.

The same policy will take effect in Ukraine in February. Nigeria holds a presidential election on Feb. 16, while Ukraine will follow on March 31.

In India, which votes for parliament this spring, Facebook will place electoral ads in a searchable online library starting from next month, said Rob Leathern, a director of product management at the company.

“We’re learning from every country,” Leathern said. “We know we’re not going to be perfect, but our goal is continuing, ongoing improvement.”

Facebook believes that holding the ads in a library for seven years is a key part of fighting intereference, he added.

The library will resemble archives brought to the United States, Brazil and Britain last year.

The newfound transparency drew some applause from elected officials and campaign accountability groups, but they also criticized Facebook for allowing advertisers in the United States to obfuscate their identities.

The Indian archive will contain contact information for some ad buyers or their official regulatory certificates. For individuals buying political ads, Facebook said it would ensure their listed name matches government-issued documents.

The European Union would get a version of that authorization and transparency system ahead of the bloc’s parliamentary elections in May, Leathern said.

The ad hoc approach, with varying policies and transparency depending on the region, reflects local laws and conversations with governments and civil society groups, Harbath said.

That means extra steps to verify identities and locations of political ad buyers in the United States and India will not be introduced in every big election this year, Leathern said.

In addition, ad libraries in some countries will not include what the company calls “issue” ads, Leathern said.

Facebook’s U.S. archive includes ads about much-debated issues such as climate change and immigration policy even though they may not directly relate to a ballot measure.

Australia, Indonesia, Israel and the Philippines are among nations holding key votes this year for which Facebook said it is still weighing policies.

Leathern and Harbath said they hoped to have a set of tools that applies to advertisers globally by the end of June. They declined to elaborate, saying lessons from the next couple of months would help shape the worldwide product.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Facebook is pictured during the Viva Tech start-up and technology summit in Paris, France, May 25, 2018. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/File Photo

“Our goal was to get to a global solution,” Harbath said. “And so, until we can get to that in June, we had to look at the different elections and what we think we can do.”

Other Facebook teams remain focused on identifying problematic political behavior unrelated to ads.

Last month, researchers working for a U.S. Senate committee concluded that the Russian government’s Internet Research Agency used social media ads and regular posts on inauthentic accounts to promote then presidential candidate Donald Trump to millions of Americans. Russia has denied the accusation.

Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

The Final Season of 'Game of Thrones' Has a Launch Date

Happy Monday, and welcome to another installment of The Monitor, WIRED’s roundup of the latest in the world of culture. In today’s news, HBO has finally coughed up a release date for the final season of Game of Thrones, Netflix is facing a lawsuit, and it looks like the Super Bowl won’t be marooned without a halftime show act.

Finally, a Date to Watch the Thrones

Always one to keep fans waiting in anticipation, HBO waited until three months out before to announce the launch date for Season 8 of Game of Thrones. Sunday night, just before the season premiere of True Detective, the network aired a teaser revealing that the epic fantasy’s final run will begin on April 14. What will the show look like when it does return? Snowy, as the Stark children—Arya, Sansa, Jon Snow—are about to confront some family demons at Winterfell. Or, at least, that’s what it seems like if the show’s new vague-as-hell-trailer is to be believed. Don’t worry, we’re sure plenty of third cousins you don’t remember will show up as well. And maybe Ed Sheeran.

If You Want to Sue Netflix, Turn to Page Petty-Seven

In “Huh, didn’t see that coming!” news—there’s a lot of that these days, admittedly—Chooseco, the publisher behind the Choose Your Own Adventure books, is suing Netflix over its interactive Black Mirror episode, Bandersnatch. In the interactive episode, a young videogame programmer designs a game based on a “choose your own adventure” book, and the episode itself lets viewers make choices about what the characters will do in the story. Chooseco’s suit claims it has the trademark to the phrase “choose your own adventure” and that Netflix doesn’t have a license to use it. The company is seeking at least $25 million in damages, though it’s also possible that if the judge doesn’t like the way the arguments proceed, she’ll just bang her gavel and restart things from an earlier point.

Hold Up, Is That Adam Levine?!

After Rihanna, Adele, Jay-Z, and others reportedly passed on the gig, the NFL announced Sunday that Maroon 5 will be playing the halftime show at this year’s Super Bowl. The band—along with Big Boi and Travis Scott, who are joining them in hopes of stemming a mass Puppy Bowl exodus—will bring their Jagger-like moves to Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on February 3. And while he’s not part of the proceedings, we can only hope A$AP Ferg is nearby, his long quest at an end.


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Huawei Canada executive leaves post as scrutiny of company grows

NEW YORK/OTTAWA (Reuters) – One of Huawei Canada’s top executives on Friday disclosed he was leaving his post after more than seven years with the Chinese telecommunications equipment maker, which is facing heightened scrutiny over security issues from Canada and its allies.

FILE PHOTO: Huawei Canada Vice President of Corporate Affairs Scott Bradley stands outside after the B.C. Supreme Court bail hearing of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, who was released on a $10 million bail in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada December 11, 2018. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

Scott Bradley disclosed his departure as the company’s senior vice president for corporate affairs in a post on LinkedIn that did not give a reason for the move. He could not immediately be reached for comment.

Huawei Technologies Co is under intense scrutiny in the West over its relationship with the Chinese government and U.S.-led allegations that its equipment could be used by Beijing for spying.

On Friday, sources told Reuters that Poland arrested a Huawei employee and former Polish security official on spying allegations, a move that could fuel Western concerns about the security of the company’s technology.

Bradley was a key public spokesman for Huawei Canada, which has been under the spotlight since Canadian authorities in December arrested the chief financial officer of its parent company at the request of the United States.

Huawei is a major supplier of telecommunications equipment in Canada, where Bradley had served as chair of the 5G Canada Council, a national trade group promoting adoption of next-generation high-speed wireless technology.

The Canadian government last year launched a new security review of Huawei’s 5G technology, which at least two major Canadian carriers have said they plan to test in small-scale pilots.

Bradley will serve as special adviser to the company, assisting the company “as required,” Huawei Canada President Eric Li said in a memo to staff that was obtained by Reuters.

“We are saddened to see him leave but grateful for the tireless work he has put in to help us grow our brand and public image, and build various relationships with government,” Li said.

Bradley confirmed on LinkedIn that he intended to advise the company.

“As we start 2019, it is time for a change,” Bradley said in the post. “I continue to believe passionately in all of the values our Canadian team represents, and I believe that our team is one of the most innovative in the world.”

Jim Finkle in New York and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Tom Brown

Ockam provides easy to deploy identity, trust, and interoperability for IoT developers

Featured stories

Maybe you’re not going to buy a $7,000 smart toilet, but the Internet of Things (IoT) is on its way to your home and office. Silly gadgets aside, IoT device inventors face many programming challenges. It’s hard adding identity, trust, and interoperability to IoT hardware. The Ockam startup will change this for the better.

Customers want IoT devices to be trustworthy and work with other vendors gear. Programmers know that’s easier said than done. Many IoT vendors’ answer is to not bother to add sufficient security or interoperability to their gadgets. This leads to one IoT security problem after another.

Ockam’s answer is to make it easy to add identity, trust, and interoperability by providing programmers with the open-source, Apache-licensed Ockam Software Developer Kit (SDK). With it, developers can add these important features to their devices without a deep understanding of secure IoT network architecture or cryptographic key identity management.

Also: Internet of Things (IoT): Cheat sheet TechRepublic

This is provided by a Golang library and a Command Line Interface (CLI). Additional languages, features, and tools will be supported in future releases.

Once properly embedded within a device’s firmware, the Ockam SDK enables the device to become an Ockam Blockchain Network (OBN) client. OBN provides a decentralized, open platform with high throughput and low latency. It also provides the infrastructure and protocols underpinning Ockam’s SDK.

Devices are assigned a unique Decentralized ID (DID). The DID is cryptographically secure identities for an array of entities. While used primarily to identify devices, it can also represent people, organizations, or other entities. With this, developers can codify complex graph relationships between people, organizations, devices, and assets.

Once on OBN, devices can can share data as verified claims with any other registered network device. This is secured by Ockam-provided, blockchain-powered Public Key Infrastructure (PKI).  Devices can also verify data that they receive from other registered OBN IoT devices. OBN is free of charge for developers until its general availability release later this year.

This may all sound complex, but the complexities are hidden away behind its serverless architecture: A developer only needs the SDK. OBN’s complications, such as PKI, are abstracted away.

Some of Ockam’s structure may sound familiar. That’s because it’s taking a page from Twilio. Just like Twilio provides a common layer between telecommunications infrastructure and developers, to make it easy to incorporate messaging into applications, Ockam provides a “common rail” for adding secure identify to IoT devices. With a single line of code, Ockam enables developer to provision an immutable identity to a device.

Also: 7 ways to use Alexa around the office CNET

OBN is built on Microsoft Azure confidential compute. Microsoft Engineering is a dedicated technical partner, and Ockam CEO Matthew Gregory led Azure’s open-source software developer platform strategy.

Together, Ockam and OBN provides a backbone for the next generation of high performance IoT ecosystems. Ockam is interoperable and built for multi-party IoT networks. So, in theory, your devices will be able to work with other vendor’s gear.

According to Yorke Rhodes, co-founder of blockchain at Microsoft Azure: “Ockam’s team is best in class, bringing together skills and experience in enterprise, IoT, secure compute, scale-up, and Azure. We are thrilled to be collaborating with them on their innovative solution for the IoT developer community.”

I don’t know about “thrilled,” but I do know if I were building IoT devices, which I want to work and play well and securely with other devices, I’d be working with Ockam. It promises to make high-quality IoT development much easier.

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How Netflix Opened Up Pandora's Box With 'Bird Box'

Credit: Netflix

Any investor in Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) knows the standard touch-points that are frequently hit on by analysts – lack of ratings info, a perceived over-spending on shows and the company’s long-standing quest to conquer the movie industry chief among them. When any news tied to any of those areas comes out, it is like catnip to the media.

Granted that’s the point.

Netflix is one of the rare companies that can subscribe to the “any coverage is good coverage” mantra as they just enjoy being in the conversation. As analysts have seen, it thrives off of speculation and conjecture because everyone knows it won’t comment so it just creates more and more buzz around the content.

Yet in the case of Bird Box, something new happened. The company DID respond and put out actual data on viewing, but more importantly, it then ELABORATED on that data giving investors a rare glimpse behind the curtain – which ultimately just created more questions. It is infuriating.

Though, it’s also brilliant.

Netflix has again managed to reveal “just” enough to spark a new conversation but not enough to reveal anything to give their rivals any type of edge. Or did they? That’s the question investors and analysts are scrambling to make sense of and overall it’s a fascinating situation.

First, as always, some background.

Netflix’s goal to be as dominant in film as it is in television is well-documented. The problem is largely two-fold. Part of it is the film industry is well aware of how the TV industry basically sold itself out of power and the other half is the company under-estimated the power of a shared experience like going to the movies.

However, over the last few years, Netflix has doubled down on their efforts by recruiting top tier talent like The Coen Brothers, Martin Scorsese, Alfonso Cuaron, Will Smith, Adam Sandler and most recently Sandra Bullock.

Bullock is one of the most beloved actresses of the modern era. Not only is she talented, but she’s gone through the fire and came out unscathed. She’s as versatile as she is intelligent. The feeling with former Universal executive turned Netflix film czar Scott Stuber was that audiences would flock to her films whatever the medium.

And he was right.

According to Netflix, her latest project Bird Box (which he brought over with him) was viewed by 45,037,125 subscribers – a new record for a Netflix movie over its first seven days. The problem is that not only is that number oddly specific, it is mind-boggling. If taken on the surface, that would mean roughly 1/3 of all Netflix subscribers watched the film.

Now some people have taken this to the extreme and tried to put a dollar value to it, which is even more absurd and investors should pay it no mind. The logic is that if you take that total and multiply it by the price of a movie ticket (roughly $9.16), then Bird Box would have made around $413 million at the box office.

To give you a comparison that’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens type money.

Again, that is ludicrous and even Netflix would never be so bold to infer that (though it has come close in past instances). Not only is it nowhere near an apples-to-apples comparison, but it also furthers the narrative and Netflix knows that so it has no reason to even attempt to set the record straight.

What was so unique this time, though, was many media outlets asked for more information and instead of the usual answer of some clever way of saying “no comment,” Netflix actually commented. The company specified the number came from the number of accounts that surpassed 70% of the runtime and clarified it counted every account once (so the number didn’t include any repeat viewings).

Here’s the rub – that’s where the info stopped and from there it’s down the same rabbit hole as before. Netflix once again successfully chummed the waters and then let the feeding frenzy ensue. By answering questions, it actually opened the door to more questions which is a practice investors in the industry in this area are very familiar with by this point.

Personally, my biggest question is why 70%? Wouldn’t you try to find a number like 75% which represents 3/4 of the film or even 50/51% to show that people watched at least half the movie? 70% just seems like an odd choice and it makes me wonder how precipitous the drop-off was at 75% that they wouldn’t use it? Or was it the opposite and too high of a number to be believable? Not that 45 million is believable either, but that’s expected when talking about Netflix which makes claims that they have no intention of backing up.

And that’s also the point.

We’ve reached a new world where companies don’t have to be held to the same standards as others and it creates a Wild West of sorts. Investors can enjoy the windfall now, but they also need to just be warned this is a dangerous game Netflix is playing in the long-run. They opened Pandora’s Box and right now it is benefiting them, but it is only a matter of time until it backfires.

The problem is one of these days Netflix is going to make a claim that it can’t walk back and it may have already done that here. It basically defined what the company counts as a “view”, and while it’s not anywhere near the full secret sauce, it’s an ingredient that won’t go unnoticed. In fact, the company has already taken steps to put safeguards in place as they have told media this info applies only to Bird Box and it “should not be taken as a metric for all Netflix content.”

How does that work?

No seriously, how does that work? Does that mean it counts views at 70% of run-time for movies, but not TV series? Or does that mean it counts views at whatever percent helps its case more? Again, because there’s no checks and balance, they don’t have to answer that question. Or any follow-ups.

Yet, what is unfortunately buried in this whole thing is that if you take the numbers out of this for a second, you’ll see a movie starring a talented actress and directed by a gifted female director (Emmy-winner Susanne Bier) was able to garner this type of positive response from the public. We should just take a second to recognize that as in this day and age it is sadly a rarity. These women deserve an immense amount of credit for the work they shepherded.

To be fair, it is also a statement to the industry by Netflix that it is willing to be a change-maker in that regard – but by not releasing verifiable numbers, it doesn’t do people like Bier a lot of good when making future deals. That’s also part of the reason why Crazy Rich Asians’ writer Kevin Kwan picked a traditional studio over Netflix when selling the film rights. He wanted to have something concrete he could show the industry as proof that American audiences will see a movie headlined entirely by Asian actors – but that’s a story for another day.

For now, yes it looks like it’s Netflix’s world now and we are just living in it, but investors shouldn’t drink the Kool-Aid without realizing there’s likely more to these stories that we don’t know and more we should know that can help better the industry.

The Hollywood Reporter’s Daniel Feinberg may have summed it up the best:

“I’m fairly sure Bird Box is a phenomenon of some sort, but without verifiable data or comparative data for context, a Netflix-affiliated Twitter feed coming down from on-high with suspiciously specific (and yet entirely vague) data is the epitome of nonsense.”

And by the way, phenomenon is a good way to describe it as this week Netflix again took to Twitter, but this time to ask its viewers NOT to partake in what has been dubbed the Bird Box challenge. Because the Internet is the Internet, social media users decided to see which everyday tasks they could accomplish while blindfolded (as the characters are for most of the film).

Hint, it did not go well.

Regardless, the fact remains the movie hit the mark for Netflix, and numbers aside, it did exactly what it was intended to do – start a conversation.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Before You Quit Your Day Job for a Startup, Make Sure You Can Answer These 7 Questions

I’ve heard pitches from more than 20,000 entrepreneurs over the last two decades.  The top question I’m asked (other than “Will you invest in me?”) is, “Is my idea any good?”

Wantreprneuers from far and wide track me down to get my blessing before they quit their well-paying job to start a startup. Over the decades and in conjunction with other angel investors and venture capitalists, I’ve developed a seven-question list that potential founders should ask themselves before coming to ask me.

If your answer to all seven of these questions is “yes,” your idea is probably excellent. If not, you have some work to do.

1. Are you obsessed with the industry, customers, or problem?

Successful founders love what they do. They would learn about the industry, customer segment or problem even if they weren’t being paid. To be successful, you must be obsessive about your startup opportunity.

The difference between obsessive and caring is quite large. Caring is a given, and it’s not enough. Being obsessive means that you think about something dozens a time a day. If you aren’t obsessive, you won’t be able to accumulate the insights needed to garner strategic advantage–insights that only come from focusing on something for thousands of hours. 

2. Can you build the solution? 

Ideas are worthless until combined with relentless execution. You must be able to execute both your idea and your product. At the very least, you need to be able to create a prototype or minimum viable product, something you can get into the hands of early adopters and generate early proof of concept traction.

3. How elastic is demand?

Pain killer or vitamin? Cost saver or revenue generator? The best opportunities solve unmet market needs where demand is inelastic. This yields better margins in the long run and quicker traction in the short run.

Your opportunity must satisfy a need, not a want. A need is something you can’t live without. Air, water, and food are the classic examples. A want is something you can live without, like fancy shoes or expensive cars.

As the price of wants go up, demand for them peters out. Startups that satisfy needs will always have easier times attracting early adopters and generating revenue. 

4. Is the market large and growing?

Today, the market for anti-hacker security is hot. The market for thoroughbred horseshoes is not. Why focus on a small win? You’re investing your blood, sweat, and tears. Make sure the win is worth it.

By the way, the risk is actually much greater when you focus on a niche. Since you have less pool to swim in, you have less chance to learn through iteration. Always focus on bringing your solution into a market that is large and growing. It’s OK to start with a niche, but there must be lots of room to grow.

5. Are you exponentially better?

If you’re entering an extant market, you’re automatically at a disadvantage with sunk costs and less brand recognition than your competitors. To overcome that, you must be ten times faster, cheaper, stronger, and lighter than every other company in your industry to get people to switch from incumbent products.

Netflix killed Blockbuster by offering ten times the quantity of content at one-tenth the cost. Your solution must be exponentially better than any alternatives.

6. Are you ready to go all in? 

Design thinking and the Lean Startup method allow you to start most businesses as a side hustle. Your long-term goal still needs to be full time, all the time, all in. No one has ever changed the world with half measures.

7. Do you have frictionless access to early adopters?

Early adopters are customers who have the problem you solve, and are currently trying to solve that problem with a radically less efficient method. Before spell-check software, we used third party proofreaders, which were ten times more expensive and time consuming.

To be successful, you need a clear and low cost to get early adopters and turn them into your beachhead. Make sure you’re able to get your product directly to customers.

Samsung, Huawei supply majority of own modem chips, Qualcomm says

SAN JOSE, Calif. (Reuters) – The two largest smart phone makers in the world supply a majority of their own modem chips to help their devices connect to wireless data networks, according to evidence presented at an antitrust trial for chip supplier Qualcomm Inc (QCOM.O).

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Qualcomm is seen during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain February 27, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

A trial between the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and Qualcomm kicked off in a federal courtroom in California on Friday, with the regulators arguing that Qualcomm engaged in anticompetitive patent licensing practices to preserve a monopoly on modem chips. The case is being closely watched because it may shed light on the likely eventual outcome of the global legal battle between Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and Qualcomm.

Apple has alleged that Qualcomm engaged in illegal business practices, and Qualcomm in turn has alleged Apple violated its patents, scoring victories in China and Germany last month.

Qualcomm has argued its licensing practices follow long-established industry norms and that it charges broadly the same licensing rates that it had for many years before it ever started selling chips.

That has become a big market for Qualcomm, which controlled 59.6 percent of the $15.3 billion market for 4G modem chips in 2017, according to IDC’s Phil Solis, who studies mobile chips for the research firm.

But Bob Van Nest, an attorney representing Qualcomm in the case, also sought to show that Qualcomm is not dominant in the world’s two biggest handset makers.

During opening arguments, Van Nest’s presentation said that Huawei [HWT.UL] internally sources 54 percent of the modem chips it puts in its devices and gets only 22 percent of its modems from Qualcomm, with the remainder coming from other unnamed makers. Samsung (005930.KS) internally sources 52 percent of the modem chips it uses, with 38 percent from Qualcomm and the rest from other makers, according to the presentation.

Huawei and Samsung did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Also, the FTC’s case centers not on the overall modem chip market – which includes slower chips that go into cheaper handsets – but rather the market for speedy “premium” chips where Qualcomm is among the only options.

Huawei and Samsung are both large diversified technology corporations that make many other products aside from premium-priced smart phones. Huawei’s HiSilicon unit supplies the chips for its high-end phones such as its Mate and P series. Samsung’s chip division supplies processors and other components for many of its handsets and is also a dominant global supplier of memory chips beyond its own products.

The two firms are also Apple’s fiercest rivals in the market for premium smart phones costing $700 or more. Apple depends entirely on Intel Corp (INTC.O) and Qualcomm for modem chips, though the iPhones released in 2018 use Intel modems exclusively.

Technology news publication The Information last month reported here that Apple was designing its own modem chip, citing Apple job listings and a source briefed on Apple’s plans. Apple declined to comment on its plans.

For the second quarter of 2018 – the most recent figures available from IDC – Apple was the third-largest smart phone supplier by volume, with Samsung and Huawei in first and second place, respectively.

Reporting by Stephen Nellis; Editing by James Dalgleish

The Simple Engineering That Will Keep NYC's L Train Rolling

Ever since the last of the brackish water slithered out of the Canarsie Tunnel in the aftermath of 2012’s Superstorm Sandy, New Yorkers have been bracing for the pain. Public transit officials have long warned that the water damage to the 94-year-old tunnel, full of just-as-old subway equipment, would eventually require a long, painful, deeply inconvenient rehabilitation. That’s the tunnel that runs under the East River, carrying many of the L subway train’s 400,000 daily riders from popular Brooklyn neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Bushwick into Manhattan.

The surgery was scheduled for April 2019, when the stretch of L train that takes New Yorkers across Manhattan and into Brooklyn was scheduled to shut down for a 15-month repair job. Ahead of what they officially deemed the “L-pocalypse,” local officials created piles of plans to ramp up bus service, encourage biking, and run new ferry routes, and everything else they could think of to keep all those commuters from taking to cars and making already bad traffic fully catastrophic.

Those plans (as well as wilder ones proposed by concerned citizens) became a lot less necessary Thursday morning, when Governor Andrew Cuomo called a surprise press conference to proclaim that no, the L train won’t close completely, and yes, it will still be fixed for the future.

The new plan for the next few years is to keep the train open and running as normal during weekdays, whilst doing repairs on nights and weekends (the details remain fuzzy). The board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the subway, has yet to adopt the new plan, which was proposed by a commission of half a dozen engineers based at Columbia and Cornell Universities that Cuomo assembled last month, two years after the decision was made to close the line. But the agency put out a press release Thursday afternoon saying it “accepted the recommendations.”

Curious politics are clearly at work here, but New Yorkers are unlikely to care, as long as the subway keeps running. And if it does, it’ll be thanks to two bits of subway engineering infrastructure: benchwalls and cable racking.

Let’s start with benchwalls. If the train stopped in the tunnel and you had to get out, these are the stretches of concrete, running along each wall and resembling big benches, that you’d be walking on. Facilitating emergency exits is one of their main functions—without them, you’d have to jump out of the train, onto the ground and risk hitting the third rail. Benchwalls also hold most of the goodies that make the subway work, including the power and communications cables. When workers were building the line, which started service in 1924, putting the cables in the concrete was the best way to protect them from things like hungry rats and water damage.

Over the past century, those benchwalls have started to deteriorate, a process accelerated by the flooding from Hurricane Sandy. Explaining its full shutdown plan in 2016, the MTA said the tunnel’s bench walls “must be replaced to protect the structural integrity of the two tubes [east and west] that carry trains through the tunnel.”

Replacing these things involves jackhammering away concrete, removing the rubble, replacing the cabling inside, setting new concrete, and having it dry. It’s work you can’t do overnight or on weekends, because any one section takes several days. And you can’t run trains without leaving a walkway to lead people to safety in an emergency.

The new plan involves giving those benchwalls a bit of a demotion. They’ll still be used for emergency egress, but they won’t hold the cables anymore. Instead, the L train will use a “cable racking” system, in which new power and comms lines will be strung up and attached to the sides of the tunnel, above the benchwalls. Turns out, their protective jacketing has advanced since the Prohibition Era. “We’ve had tremendous progress in materials,” says Peter Kinget, a Cornell electrical engineer who served on the panel. , If the jacketing catches fire, it doesn’t produce noxious fumes. It’s impervious to vermin and H2O, obviating the need for the concrete armor. The workers will also shore up the sections of benchwall that are crumbling with fiber reinforced polymer, Cuomo says, leaving the old, inactive cables entombed inside.

That decoupling of the benchwall’s duties is a big deal, because it makes the work much easier to execute. You can cut back service at night and on weekends (by running trains in just one of the tunnel’s twin tubes) and have workers slip underground, setting up the racks and new cables segment by segment. During normal hours, the train operates as it usually does, pulling power from the cables already in the benchwalls. Once the work is done, the MTA will switch the trains over to the new set of cords.

Cable racking has been used for new metro lines in London, Hong Kong, and the Saudi capital of Riyadh, Cuomo says. This would be its first use in the US, and the first time it’s been used to fix up an existing line.

“It’s a clever solution,” says Matt Cunningham, a civil engineer and global director of infrastructure for Canadian engineering firm IBI. It’s cheaper and easier than replacing all the cable-filled benchwalls, and it’s a proven method. “It’s going to work.”

Which brings up the unanswered question of why this idea is just surfacing now. Why not before the MTA decided on the full shutdown, then spent two years preparing for it? It makes Cuomo the politician who averted the traffic-spewing L-pocalypse—but it also makes one wonder why he didn’t come to the rescue earlier. (He’s been governor of New York since 2011.) In his press conference, he presented this as new solution, which is true if you compare it to the techniques used to build the subway in the previous century, but not if you take a slightly narrower view. “It’s not new technology that’s only now become available,” Cunningham says.

Of course, limiting service during nights and weekends to make this fix will still inflict some suffering, and the MTA has a terrible record of mismanaging this sort of operation, so any promises about deadlines or costs should be doubted. “You’re not getting a root canal on five teeth, you’re getting a root canal on three teeth,” says Allan Rutter, of Texas A&M’s Transportation Institute. “There’s gonna be pain.”

In infrastructure as well as in dental surgery, you’ve got to accept some drilling and discomfort. But less is definitely more.


More Great WIRED Stories

How Can We Best Prepare for Job Automation?

The best way to prepare is to transition away from things that are largely routine and predictable. Try to find a role that is largely focused on tasks that are not easy to automate.

I think this generally includes 3 areas:

  1. Creative work — where you are building something new, thinking outside the box in non-predictable ways, etc.
  2. Human-centered work — where you build sophisticated relationships with people. This would include caring roles, as with a nurse or social worker, but also business roles where you need a need understanding of your clients.
  3. Skilled trade work — this includes jobs that require lots of mobility, dexterity and flexibility in unpredictable environments. Examples would be electricians or plumbers. Building a robot that can do these jobs is probably far in the future.

What you do NOT want is to be the person who’s only role is to sit in front of a computer performing some predictable task–like cranking out the same report again and again. If you have a job like this you should worry and look to transition in other roles in the 3 areas I listed above.

One very important part of adapting is to realize that future careers will nearly all require continuous learning. So whether you are concerned with yourself or your children, a focus on learning–getting good at it and truly enjoying it–will be one of the most important components of success.

This question originally appeared on Quora – the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions:

Published on: Jan 3, 2019

The 10,000 Foot View of Your Business You Must Take Before Picking a Software System

That’s so vague, and that’s exactly the reason why so many companies struggle to make meaningful process working “on the business”, year after year. Let me help to clarify these confusing terms, and give you the direction that you need to make a dent this year.

The “system” is the tool that you use to get the job done. It could be a big piece of machinery, but for most of us, it is the different software tools that your company runs on.

“Processes” are the sequence of steps that you and your team take to do the work — the actions, regardless of the system. The problem is, too many entrepreneurs start with the system.

Instead of focusing on how you manage a client project, you focus on how the project management tool works.

You can get lost in a sea of software, and end up jumping ship from one to the next chasing features that may or may not matter to your business. But, if you understand your process first, it’s like going to the grocery store with a list, and not an empty stomach.

I was working with a retail store once that used spreadsheets to manage their inventory, credit card terminals for each sale, PayPal for online transactions, handwritten sheets for their packing lists, and a bloated database tool for customer information. Instead of stepping back and looking at the business as a whole, they solved one problem at a time with another software, creating a complicated mess of their operations.

It shouldn’t be so hard. Whatever industry you’re in, here’s how to fine tune your process first to make sure you’re investing in something that can stick. 

Map your process.

Break out the sticky notes! I’ve banned those little yellow clutter-causers from my office, except for when we’re working on processes. Then, we break them out of their special hiding place and go nuts!

If you don’t have sticky notes, use a whiteboard or a blank sheet of paper, and draw each linear step in your product fulfillment or service delivery process. Each step (or sticky) should represent a significant step in your process. So, combine small things like “open this URL” and “go to this page” and “enter this password” into something broader like “log into online store.”

Your core company process should stretch from how you attract prospects, close a sale, onboard the customer, deliver the product or service, collect payment, and and continue to engage the customer. 

Find your bottlenecks.

The simple act of writing out the steps of your process is bound to surface some inefficiency. Where in your process are there bottlenecks — or slow downs — today? Where are there too many handoffs where information or tasks could flow more seamlessly from one person or department to another?

Now, you don’t need to fix your entire process in one sitting. That isn’t the point. But, you do want to identify where you have some work to do. These inefficiencies or areas for improvement could be supplemented or solved with the right system. You are building your shopping list. 

Become a ‘manual’ master.

A client hired me once wanting to build a custom software for a new way to facilitate meetings. The idea was full of assumptions about how the users would behave, and what problems they were trying to solve. 

Instead, I suggested that he use index cards to replicate the functionality manually, and offline, for a full month before we quote out the software. That way he could validate some assumptions before investing a dime in a custom software project. The idea was dead a weak later, and he saved a lot of money. 

Similarly, think of the software tools and systems that you invest in a way to improve the efficiency of your manual process, not a gamble on a brand new, untested way to work.

Scale with a system.

Now, with a proven manual process and a wish list of requirements, you are ready to go system shopping. 

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the thousands of tools available. If you’re software shopping, check out review sites like Capterra an G2Crowd, or maker communities like Product Hunt to see how each system is differentiated before diving into demos. 

With hardware, consider renting a device before making a big purchase, or talking to another customer that is successfully using the equipment. 

The system you ultimately select should increase your capacity by eliminating bottlenecks and making your proven process more efficient. Your process shows you generally how to get from point A to point B, like a path through the woods. As you test that process, the “path in the woods” gets more and more defined, and perhaps you invest a little in clearing the leaves and branches, or building stairs on a steep hill. 

When do decide to build a highway from point A to point B — your system —  you should be confident in the path, and eager to increase the traffic down the route. 

Google wins U.S. approval for radar-based hand motion sensor

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Alphabet Inc’s Google unit won approval from U.S. regulators to deploy a radar-based motion sensing device known as Project Soli.

Google signage is seen at the Google headquarters in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., December 19, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said in an order late on Monday that it would grant Google a waiver to operate the Soli sensors at higher power levels than currently allowed. The FCC said the sensors can also be operated aboard aircraft.

The FCC said the decision “will serve the public interest by providing for innovative device control features using touchless hand gesture technology.”

A Google spokeswoman did not immediately comment on Tuesday, citing the New Year’s Day holiday.

The FCC said the Soli sensor captures motion in a three-dimensional space using a radar beam to enable touchless control of functions or features that can benefit users with mobility or speech impairments.

Google says the sensor can allow users to press an invisible button between the thumb and index fingers or a virtual dial that turns by rubbing a thumb against the index finger.

The company says that “even though these controls are virtual, the interactions feel physical and responsive” as feedback is generated by the haptic sensation of fingers touching.

Google says the virtual tools can approximate the precision of natural human hand motion and the sensor can be embedded in wearables, phones, computers and vehicles.

In March, Google asked the FCC to allow its short-range interactive motion sensing Soli radar to operate in the 57- to 64-GHz frequency band at power levels consistent with European Telecommunications Standards Institute standards.

Facebook Inc raised concerns with the FCC that the Soli sensors operating in the spectrum band at higher power levels might have issues coexisting with other technologies.

After discussions, Google and Facebook jointly told the FCC in September that they agreed the sensors could operate at higher than currently allowed power levels without interference but at lower levels than previously proposed by Google.

Facebook told the FCC in September that it expected a “variety of use cases to develop with respect to new radar devices, including Soli.”

The Soli devices can be operated aboard aircraft but must still comply with Federal Aviation Administration rules governing portable electronic devices.

Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Jonathan Oatis

The 10 Most Googled People of 2018 (Who'd You Look Up?)

There’s perhaps no better log of what’s on your mind than your browser search history. (Who hasn’t deleted their search history on a shared computer?)

It stands to reason, then, that getting a window into our collective psyche is as simple as perusing Google’s list of most-searched terms of the year. Google recently released The Year In Search–a comprehensive breakdown of everything we searched for this year, organized by category.

So what was on our minds in 2018? When it comes to people, these individuals were. Don’t worry–if you don’t know one … I Googled it for you:

10. Cardi B

American rapper whose standout hits include Bodak Yellow and this year’s breakout, I Like It, which currently has 674M streams on Spotify and counting. 

9. Stormy Daniels

Her legal name is Stephanie Clifford, and she is an American stripper, porn star, and director who got into a legal battle with Trump and his lawyer Michael Cohen this year. Trump and company paid Daniels $130,000 to stay quiet about an affair she says had with Trump in 2006.

8. Hailey Baldwin

Daughter of Stephen Baldwin, she’s a model and TV personality who married Justin Bieber this year. While legally married, the couple has yet to stage a large-scale wedding with family and friends.

7. Brett Kavanaugh

A polarizing figure, Kavanaugh was appointed to the Supreme Court this year following what some described as an excruciating and exhausting battle for confirmation. Multiple allegations of sexual misconduct were levied against him. 

6. Jair Bolsonaro

Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil in October, 2018. A very right-wing figure, many have compared him to Trump.

5. Khloé Kardashian

Younger sister of Kim Kardashian, Khloe nearly broke the internet this year when she had her baby girl, True Thompson, in April 2018.

4. Logan Paul

On December 31, 2017, controversial vlogger Paul uploaded a YouTube video showing the corpse of a suicide victim. The video gained 6.3M views within 24 hours, sparked outrage on many fronts, and almost cost Paul his YouTube channel. Paul has since been reinstated on the platform and contributed $1M to suicide prevention agencies.

3. Sylvester Stallone

Stallone did not die this past year, but a lot of people feared otherwise. In February, popular searches included “Sylvester Stallone dead 2018” and “Did sylvester stallone die.” The countries where the hoax was passed around the most? South Africa, Ghana, and Bolivia (the U.S. came in 22nd on the list of Stallone searches).

2. Demi Lovato

A Grammy-nominated musical artist, Lovato was hospitalized this year for a suspected overdose. “I have always been transparent about my journey with addiction,” Lovato said on social media. “What I’ve learned is that this illness is not something that disappears or fades with time. It is something I must continue to overcome and have not done yet. I will keep fighting.”

1. Meghan Markle

Markle married Prince Harry in a royal wedding this year, the guest list of which included Serena Williams, George Clooney, Oprah, Elton John, and the Spice Girls.

Got a McDonald's or Burger King Coupon? Here's the Smart, Surprising Thing to Do With It. (You Only Have 3 Days)

This is a story about a smaller restaurant chain trolling McDonald’s, Burger King, and other giants of the business. And it’s kind of brilliant. Before the details, a quick explanation.

The fast food industry is a smart and fun one to follow no matter what business you’re in, and for two big reasons.

First, there’s the pure scale. Make a menu change at McDonald’s for example, and you’re upending the routines of hundreds of thousands of hungry Americans. You can learn a lot just by watching how they develop and test new products.

But second, there’s the marketing.

Think of McDonald’s, which spends $2 billion a year on marketing and ads. That’s half the entire value of its much smaller competitor, Wendy’s. It’s an incredible chance just to unpack what they do, and figure out why they think that various ideas will work.

Which brings us to some shoot-the-moon marketing campaigns that can actually turn the big chains’ efforts on their heads.

The only catch? You had to place the order from a McDonald’s restaurant. (Technically, just being within 600 feet was close enough to trigger the offer.)

Of course, Burger King isn’t small; just smaller than McDonald’s. But it shows how if you’re creative, you can use a competitor’s strength–in that case the fact that there are roughly twice as many McDonald’s in the U.S. than there are Burger King locations–to your advantage.

But what if you don’t have 1.7 million Twitter followers and a full time social media marketing operation, like Burger King, to get word of your deal out.?

What if you don’t even have a mobile app (or a burning desire to get people to download your app, which is what the Burger King promotion and so many others these days are all about)?

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Smoothie King.

Again: not exactly tiny, although very small compared to McDonald’s and Burger King. Smoothie King has close to 800 stores, heavily concentrated in warmer weather parts of the country.

It’s privately held, and even if you’ve never tried it, you might recognize the name from the $40 million naming deal it has for the NBA New Orleans Pelicans home arena (“Smoothie King Center“).

Now, like its bigger competitors, Smoothie King also has a rewards app, and it’s launched a contest to try to incentivize people to download and use it. (The “Change-a-Meal Challenge.”)  

But what attracted me to this whole thing is how Smoothie King is kicking off its promotion: By letting you use any coupon from any other fast food restaurant — McDonald’s or Burger King included — at Smoothie King.

It’s good for only one day, New Year’s Eve, and regardless of the competitor’s coupon’s value, it gets you $2 off a smoothie at Smoothie King on December 31.

And in truth, I don’t know how many people would take advantage of it. But that doesn’t really matter in a way; what matters in this social media age is whether you can find a truthful, fun way to troll your competitors and turn their strengths to your advangage.

As a marketing strategy, I think it’s brilliant.

As for the Smoothies, well, I don’t know. I’m writing this from New Hampshire, and it looks like the nearest Smoothie King would be a three hour drive away. You’ll have to let me know in the comments.

Exclusive: White House mulls new year executive order to bar Huawei, ZTE purchases

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump is considering an executive order in the new year to declare a national emergency that would bar U.S. companies from using telecommunications equipment made by China’s Huawei and ZTE, three sources familiar with the situation told Reuters.

FILE PHOTO: A man walks past a sign board of Huawei at CES (Consumer Electronics Show) Asia 2018 in Shanghai, China June 14, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song

It would be the latest step by the Trump administration to cut Huawei Technologies Cos Ltd [HWT.UL] and ZTE Corp, two of China’s biggest network equipment companies, out of the U.S. market. The United States alleges that the two companies work at the behest of the Chinese government and that their equipment could be used to spy on Americans.

The executive order, which has been under consideration for more than eight months, could be issued as early as January and would direct the Commerce Department to block U.S. companies from buying equipment from foreign telecommunications makers that pose significant national security risks, sources from the telecoms industry and the administration said.

While the order is unlikely to name Huawei or ZTE, a source said it is expected that Commerce officials would interpret it as authorization to limit the spread of equipment made by the two companies. The sources said the text for the order has not been finalized.

The executive order would invoke the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, a law that gives the president the authority to regulate commerce in response to a national emergency that threatens the United States.

The issue has new urgency as U.S. wireless carriers look for partners as they prepare to adopt next generation 5G wireless networks.

The order follows the passage of a defense policy bill in August that barred the U.S. government itself from using Huawei and ZTE equipment.

Huawei and ZTE did not return requests for comment. Both in the past have denied allegations their products are used to spy. The White House also did not return a request for comment.

The Wall Street Journal first reported in early May that the order was under consideration, but it was never issued.

HIT TO RURAL NETWORKS

Rural operators in the United States are among the biggest customers of Huawei and ZTE, and fear the executive order would also require them to rip out existing Chinese-made equipment without compensation. Industry officials are divided on whether the administration could legally compel operators to do that.

While the big U.S. wireless companies have cut ties with Huawei in particular, small rural carriers have relied on Huawei and ZTE switches and other equipment because they tend to be less expensive.

The company is so central to small carriers that William Levy, vice president for sales of Huawei Tech USA, is on the board of directors of the Rural Wireless Association.

The RWA represents carriers with fewer than 100,000 subscribers. It estimates that 25 percent of its members had Huawei or ZTE equipment in their networks, it said in a filing to the Federal Communications Commission earlier this month.

The RWA is concerned that an executive order could force its members to remove ZTE and Huawei equipment and also bar future purchases, said Caressa Bennet, RWA general counsel.

It would cost $800 million to $1 billion for all RWA members to replace their Huawei and ZTE equipment, Bennet said.

Separately, the FCC in April granted initial approval to a regulation that bars giving federal funding to help pay for telecommunication infrastructure to companies that purchase equipment from firms deemed threats to U.S. national security, which analysts have said is aimed at Huawei and ZTE.

The FCC is also considering whether to require carriers to remove and replace equipment from firms deemed a national security risk.

FILE PHOTO – The logo of China’s ZTE Corp is seen on the building of ZTE Beijing research and development center in Beijing, China June 13, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee

In March, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said “hidden ‘back doors’ to our networks in routers, switches — and virtually any other type of telecommunications equipment – can provide an avenue for hostile governments to inject viruses, launch denial-of-service attacks, steal data, and more.”

In the December filing, Pine Belt Communications in Alabama estimated it would cost $7 million to $13 million to replace its Chinese-made equipment, while Sagebrush in Montana said replacement would cost $57 million and take two years.

Sagebrush has noted that Huawei products are significantly cheaper. When looking for bids in 2010 for its network, it found the cost of Ericsson equipment to be nearly four times the cost of Huawei.

Reporting by Diane Bartz and David Shepardson; Editing by Chris Sanders and Leslie Adler

Hate Telemarketers? This Brilliantly Simple Legal Trick Totally Destroys Most of Them (Why Did It Take So Long?)

My fellow Americans, we live in a divided time. But there is one thing we all agree on.

It’s only getting worse. By next month, nearly half of all incoming cell-phone calls will be spam. Half! Sure, the government cracks down on a few of the worst offenders. But they’re fighting with a hand tied behind their back. Now, a small group of lawmakers wants to change that.

So here’s the problem, the reason why it hasn’t been fixed before — and why a laughably simple legal trick could very likely be the solution.

Surprise: it’s totally legal!

The scenario has to do with spoofed Caller ID. You’re at home, or at work, or wherever, and you’re suddenly interrupted by a call you don’t recognize. Only… it’s from the same area code and exchange as your cell phone. 

As an example, my phone number is (424) 245-5687. I might get a call from say, (424) 245-9999.

Now, the call isn’t really originating from that number — or likely from any real traceable number. It’s just set up that way to make it look like a local call, so I might be more likely to answer.

You might assume that doing this would be illegal. I mean, I’m a lawyer (not practicing, but still), and I was pretty sure people had been prosecuted for wire fraud for doing less.

But it turns out that’s not the case at all. In fact, the Federal Communications Commission says it’s only illegal to make this kind of spoofed Caller ID call if you do so “with the intent to defraud, cause harm or wrongly obtain anything of value.”

No provable bad faith or fraud? No problem, under the current law.

Welcome to Kentucky

It’s in this context that an unlikely savior might come to the rescue.

Meet Kevin Bratcher, a state legislator in Kentucky who introduced a bill to make it illegal to spoof a Caller ID for almost any reason at all.

It wouldn’t matter if you could later prove that, for example, “technically if the person jumped through all these hoops and paid these upfront fees they could get a free trip to the Bahamas.” 

Simply “causing misleading information to be transmitted to users of caller identification technologies, or to otherwise misrepresent the origin of the telephone solicitation,” would result in a very significant fine: $500 for a first offense, and $3,000 for each subsequent offense.

There would be  few minor exceptions for things: things like if the recipient knew his or her true phone number or location, or friends playing an innocuous prank on one another.

But beyond that, it would be a strict law.

“I came up with this because I just had a campaign, and everywhere I went people were asking me, ‘Why can’t you do something about all these calls with fake IDs?'” Bratcher, a Republican who has been in office for 22 years, told me recently. “And I was receiving them too. Just a light bulb went off on my head: Why is anyone trying to give you a call with a fake ID? That needs to stop.:

A big part of the problem

I realized something after Bratcher and I talked: it’s not just the scammers who have latched onto this spoofing strategy. 

For example, Bratcher didn’told me about receiving spoofed Caller ID phone calls from a 501(c)(3) he supports, and that’s based in Washington, D.C. The calls looked like they were coming from Kentucky.

That’s also what he says to those who might suggest that anyone sophisticated enough to spoof a Caller ID might also be sophisticated enough not to get caught. For a big part of these calls — maybe even a majority — the fraud stops with the spoofed number.

Legitimate charities aren’t going to want to be tarred with this brush.

Why can’t the government work for us?

For now, if the law were only changed like this in one state, it would be a complicated and potentially expensive strategy for legitimate charities to risk fines and bad press for spoofing IDs in Kentucky.

But while the initial news coverage of Bratcher’s bill suggested it might be the first attempt like this in the country, I’ve talked with Indiana officials who say they’ve been doing something similar.

It’s hard to believe that other states and the federal government itself would be far behind.

I’ve written a lot recently about other ways to cut down on telemarketing calls. There’s the “Lenny” bot, which is truthfully one of my favorites from an entertainment standpoint, as it’s simply an Australian chatbot designed to waste telemarketers’ time.

And since Lenny hasn’t actually been widely released, I also suggested perhaps we could all team up to do a sort of “manual Lenny” — basically stringing telemarketers along, wasting their time, and driving up their employers’ costs so as to destroy their business model.

Those stories got a giant response. Because it’s a problem everyone faces.

And so, shouldn’t our government work for us, instead of us having to hack together ideas on our own to solve these kinds of problems?

It feels like a winner issue for any lawmaker who wants to run to the head of the crowd, and become known as a champion of the people. People seem to want this.  

Ready, headset, go: Retailers racing ahead with VR for staff training

The circa 5,000 virtual reality (VR) videos viewed over two weeks by Costa Coffee staff, looking to understand how best to prepare the company’s Christmas drinks range, highlight the appetite for learning in the organisation using this technology.

That is the view of Laura Chapman, head of learning at Costa, who says festive-themed training videos were not mandatory for its workforce, but they really captured the imagination of its people at this busy time of year.

“It’s still early days for us, but feedback show us teams are motivated to learn this way,” she says, commenting on the recent introduction to over 1,500 Costa stores of Google Cardboard headsets and associated tools, enabling teams to access 360-degree footage of coffee-making tips and techniques.

The move was announced at the end of October, and was primarily a way of helping induct new staff in the ways and methods of Costa baristas ahead of the busy Christmas trading period. However, it’s a platform that can be used for training all year round.

Chapman says the VR element is embedded into what she describes as an already comprehensive training programme, and currently includes tips on how to make an Americano or the Black Forest Hot Chocolate which appears on the menu in December.

And as consumers continue to seek out more compelling experiences, expertise and different types of engagement during a trip to a retail or food and beverage outlet, there are several ways the Costa VR staff training tool is catering for these demands by preparing staff accordingly.

“We have a high volume of millennials in the workforce, so we wanted to be able to provide an engaging and innovative way of training them, one which would really excite them to learn,” says Chapman.

“The VR 360 videos we currently have provide a wider insight into the coffee growing process with footage of coffee plantations in Peru along with sneak peaks inside our state of the art roastery and coffee lab in Basildon.

“In addition to this, we also feature drinks tutorials on our key products, so teams can learn faster by immersing themselves in a real-life environment.”

Walmart is another big retail business that is well under way with its use of VR for operational gain. Facebook-owned Oculus Go VR headsets are being used by the grocer’s staff across the US, with the STRIVR-created content teaching people about technology and compliance, and aiding soft skill development like empathy and customer service.

To indicate the scale of the technology’s usage, the plan is for four VR headsets in every Walmart “supercenter”, and two units to every neighbourhood market and discount store. In total, the retailer says 17,000+ headsets are in use at Walmart today.

VR training must run deep

Ed Greig, chief disruptor at Deloitte, agrees that some of the best cases of VR usage in retail are around staff training.

“If you want to change the behaviour of your staff, that’s something you can do with VR in a way you couldn’t do with text-based e-learning,” he says.

“Some organisations are still using paper-based learning, and these are organisations that in other areas are very technical, but VR can enhance this process.”

Greig backs VR’s ability to improve the soft skills of store associates to align them with company values or to provide a platform for helping more senior staff improve management and empathy, but ultimately he sees the biggest gains for retailers coming from its wider deployment by human resources departments.

Wider recruitment

He acknowledges the idea of VR being used as a staff training tool has opened up conversations with Deloitte clients about their wider recruitment and subsequent learning strategy. As retailers embark on widescale digital transformation, he sees VR playing a central role in improving store design, supply chain operations, and general processes.

“Our motto is ‘fall in love with the problem not the solution’,” says Greig.

“There is a real danger with a new tech like VR and the subsequent modifications to that tech that people can fall in love with the solution [and forget why they need it in their businesses]. If you’re going to use VR, it should be about reshaping your entire learning strategy and how you look to develop people throughout the organisation.”

“It’s really effective when it’s used as part of the recruitment process, providing a consistency of experience for employees right from the first moment they have contact with a certain company,” he says.

“If retailers can nail that, it gives them a whole load of additional time where they’ve got people thinking about their brand values, and they can hit the ground running once they’re on the team.”

In a future internet of things (IoT) environment, Greig predicts multiple ways VR could play a part in the “digital twin” process, where a retailer’s physical premises are effectively digitally cloned. One can imagine staff using VR in this format to remotely change a retail store’s lighting or signage setting in real time, he asserts.

VR as standalone entertainment

VR is cropping up in various guises across retail, be it Virgin Holidays using Google Cardboard in stores to help customers experience locations before they book them, or Tommy Hilfiger kitting out global flagships with WeMakeVR-loaded SamsungGear devices to showcase its catwalk shows to in-store visitors.

But some of the most impactful uses of it revolve around creating an event out of VR technology. At Westfield Stratford City in 2016, Samsung ran an in-shopping-centre pop-up, enabling around a quarter of a million people to try out its Gear VR to experience roller coaster rides in North America or holidays in remote destinations.

Judging by that success, it is perhaps clear why ImmotionVR, a company that designs content for VR and operates simulators in public places around the UK, is continuing to scale its business based on a similar cinematic-like premise.

With 12 locations across the country, including at Manchester’s Arndale Centre, Birmingham’s Star City, Intu Derby, and most recently, Wembley’s London Designer Outlet, the company is creating theme-park-like, family-friendly experiences starting from £5 in shopping centres around the UK.

Martin Higginson, CEO of Immotion Group, says his company is looking to help the wider retail industry not by selling it VR technology as an internal solution, but by setting up its simulators and VR installations deep within retail – in the aisles of shopping centres or in locations left behind by collapsed or down-sizing retail chains.

“We’re focused on delivering an out-of-home experience,” he says.

“Currently shopping in general needs to bring theatre, because without that retail will wither on the vine. The high street and shopping malls need to change and start creating more theatre be it additional dining spaces, VR or something else; there needs to be a unique mix that creates a ‘theme park’ within shopping centres.”

Incentivising shopping mall visits

Higginson argues that venues from ImmotionVR, which creates its own content from its Manchester studios and offers VR experiences covering scenarios ranging from roller coaster rides to swimming with sharks off the coast of Tonga, can give families an added incentive to visit a shopping mall.

There is also a focus within the business on providing VR-enabled destinations for work parties and educational trips for schoolchildren.

“We want to create Disneyland in Westfield or Lakeside, or wherever – shopping centre owners have massive challenges with the likes of House of Fraser and Debenhams going through turmoil,” he says.

“We can bring experiences to shopping centres and fill them with guests throughout the week, helping malls become leisure destinations rather than venues for straight-out shopping.”

Higginson also argues the continued growth of his brand will open up VR to the mainstream. As a result, the tech might become more widely used in the home and in the workplace. In short, society could be about to see more of it in its various forms.

Costa and Walmart are clearly on the start of their VR journeys, but the staff engagement it has resulted in, and – in the case of Walmart – the rapid extended roll-out of the technology to date, suggests further exploration and usage is imminent.

VR roll-out a reality

Walmart announced in September that its VR technology was set to be accessible for all employee training across its entire US store portfolio, following initial usage solely for staff development in Walmart Academies. More than one million Walmart associates will now receive the same level of training as those in the academies, the retailer said.

Meanwhile, all of Costa’s fully owned stores – as opposed to its franchise and concession partners – have a Google Cardboard headset that allows staff to experience VR. And Chapman acknowledges the business is looking to make them available to its partnerships and international stores, while additional ideas for its usage keep arising.

“We could provide ‘on-the-job’ experiences to potential candidates so they get an idea as to what it’s like working in one of our stores,” she says.

“The coffee growing process and following the coffee journey from bean to cup is also something that we feel would be useful for inductions for everyone in the Costa family both among our store teams and in our support centre.”

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin Raises Questions of Bank Stability: Hold Onto Your Hat

The entire financial system that everyone, including all businesses, depends on sits on the need for trust. And in a couple eof tweets, the Treasury Department and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin may have shaken that trust loose.

The Treasury Department said that Mnuchin held a series of calls with CEOs of major banks: Bank of America, Citi, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo.

The CEOs confirmed that they have ample liquidity available for lending to consumer, business markets, and all other market operations. He also confirmed that they have not experienced any clearance or margin issues and that the markets continue to function properly.

Equity markets have been rocky for various reasons, including tariff wars, general uncertainty, and the Fed increasing interest rates. No markets rise forever and we’ve seen a long run. A recent survey of global CEOs showed that chief financial officers overwhelmingly expect a recession by 2010 and many think 2019 will be the year.

In turbulent times, there are tremendous reasons for businesses to be wary and for governments to be concerned about basic banking issues like liquidity. Without enough money available, institutions can’t lend money and an economy can grind to a halt.

But aside from public inquiries like bank stress tests mandated by law, deep inquiries happen out of public views. No one wants to start a panic, undermine public confidence, and potentially start runs on banks, with people looking in total to take out more money than the banks actually have. (The lending business depends on institutions leveraging deposits, which means lending out many times more than they have on hand.)

Mnuchin’s move might have made sense if there were public concerns about bank stability. Bank stocks have been taking a hit with market oscillations. When people worry about the economy, they expect that banks may suffer. When things slow, fewer people and companies take out the loans that are the source of institutional income.

But there hasn’t been a lot of concern about underlying bank stability. At least, there wasn’t until Sunday evening when the tweets hit the fan. Particularly as Mnuchin was reportedly on vacation in Mexico.

While apparently intended to as a pre-emptive reassurance to investors, the tweet may have done just the opposite, stoking fears that the government is bracing for the worst.

MarketWatch then copied a number of investor tweets. Here’s one.

The substance was much of what I heard in my circle of financial people and business and economics reporters. One could only manage “WTF?”

It may be that all is well. But markets react to expectation and emotion and things have been shaken already. You now much reexamine your strategy in the wake of decreasing confidence in the economy and keep a close eye on new statements that could further shake things up.

2018 Was the Year That Tech Put Limits on AI

For the past several years, giant tech companies have rapidly ramped up investments in artificial intelligence and machine learning. They’ve competed intensely to hire more AI researchers and used that talent to rush out smarter virtual assistants and more powerful facial recognition. In 2018, some of those companies moved to put some guardrails around AI technology.

The most prominent example is Google, which announced constraints on its use of AI after two projects triggered public pushback and an employee revolt.

The internal dissent began after the search company’s work on a Pentagon program called Maven became public. Google contributed to a part of Maven that uses algorithms to highlight objects such as vehicles in drone surveillance imagery, easing the burden on military analysts. Google says its technology was limited to “nonoffensive” uses, but more more than 4,500 employees signed a letter calling for the company to withdraw.

In June, Google said it would complete but not renew the Maven contract, which is due to end in 2019. It also released a broad set of principles for its use of AI, including a pledge not to deploy AI systems for use in weapons or “other technologies whose principal purpose or implementation is to cause or directly facilitate injury to people.” Based in part on those principles, Google in October withdrew from bidding on a Pentagon cloud contract called JEDI.

Google also drew criticism after CEO Sundar Pichai demonstrated a bot called Duplex with a humanlike voice calling staff at a restaurant and hair salon to make reservations. Recipients of the calls did not appear to know they were talking with a piece of software, and the bot didn’t disclose its digital nature. Google later announced it would add disclosures. When WIRED tested Duplex ahead of its recent debut on Google’s Pixel phones, the bot began the conversation with a cheery “I’m Google’s automated booking service.”

The growth of ethical questions around the use of artificial intelligence highlights the field’s rapid and recent success. Not so long ago, AI researchers were mostly focused on trying to get their technology to work well enough to be practical. Now they’ve made image and voice recognition, synthesized voices, fake imagery, and robots such as driverless cars practical enough to be deployed in public. Engineers and researchers once dedicated solely to advancing the technology as quickly as possible are becoming more reflective.

“For the past few years I’ve been obsessed with making sure that everyone can use it a thousand times faster,” Joaquin Candela, Facebook’s director of applied machine learning, said earlier this year. As more teams inside Facebook use the tools, “I started to become very conscious about our potential blind spots,” he said.

That realization is one reason Facebook created an internal group to work on making AI technology ethical and fair. One of its projects is a tool called Fairness Flow that helps engineers check how their code performs for different demographic groups, say men and women. It has been used to tune the company’s system for recommending job ads to people.

A February study of several services that use AI to analyze images of faces illustrates what can happen if companies don’t monitor the performance of their technology. Joy Buolamwini and Timnit Gebru showed that facial-analysis services offered by Microsoft and IBM’s cloud divisions were significantly less accurate for women with darker skin. That bias could have spread broadly because many companies outsource technology to cloud providers. Both Microsoft and IBM scrambled to improve their services, for example by increasing the diversity of their training data.

Perhaps in part because of that study, facial recognition has become the area of AI where tech companies seem the keenest to enact limits. Axon, which makes Tasers and body cameras, has said it does not intend to deploy facial recognition on police-worn cameras, fearing it could encourage hasty decision-making. Earlier this month Microsoft president Brad Smith asked governments to regulate the use of facial recognition technology. Soon after, Google quietly revealed that it doesn’t offer “general purpose” facial recognition to cloud customers, in part because of unresolved technical and policy questions about abuse and harmful effects. Those announcements set the two companies apart from competitor Amazon, which offers facial recognition technology of uncertain quality to US police departments. The company has so far not released specific guidelines on what it considers appropriate uses for AI, although it is a member of industry consortium Partnership on AI, working on the ethics and societal impact of the technology.

The emerging guidelines do not mean companies are significantly reducing their intended uses for AI. Despite its pledge not to renew the Maven contract and its withdrawal from the JEDI bidding, Google’s rules still allow the company to work with the military; its principles for where it won’t apply AI are open to interpretation. In December, Google said it would create an external expert advisory group to consider how the company implements its AI principles, but it hasn’t said when the body will be established, or how it will operate.

Similarly, Microsoft’s Smith worked with the company’s AI boss Harry Shum on a 149-page book of musings on responsibility and technology in January. The same month, the company disclosed a contract with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and promoted the potential to help the agency deploy AI and facial recognition. The project, and its potential use of AI, inspired protests by Microsoft employees, who apparently had a different interpretation of the appropriate ethical bounds on technology than their leaders.

Limits on AI may soon be set by regulators, not tech companies, amid signs that lawmakers are becoming more open to the idea. In May, new European Union rules on data protection, known as GDPR, gave consumers new rights to control and learn about data use and processing that can make some AI projects more complicated. Activists, scholars, and some lawmakers have shown interest in regulating large technology companies. And in December, France and Canada said they will create an international study group on challenges raised by AI modeled on the UN’s climate watchdog, the IPCC.


More Great WIRED Stories

WIRED’s Favorite Gear of 2018: iPhone XR, Google Home Hub, and More

Every trip around the sun, we prod, poke, and test hundreds of products here at WIRED. Most of them are just fine. Not boring—few things are truly boring these days. But a lot of what we see doesn’t register more than a notch or two on the excite-o-meter.

However, every so often, we get a product in our hands that clearly stands out, either by pushing its category forward with some new innovation, or perfecting an established and already noteworthy design. When we get to handle a product like this, it gives us a rush of excitement that makes us want to tell you about it, explain why we love it, argue about why it’s important.

The products below exhibit the new ideas that pushed consumer tech forward during 2018. The list spans the width of our purview, from mobile phones and televisions to transportation, parenting, and the smart home. This is the best gear of the year.

Best Mobile Device: iPhone XR

Phuc Pham

The iPhone XR is not the fastest iPhone you can buy (that would be the XS). It’s also not the iPhone with the best screen (that would be the XS Max) or the best camera (same). The XR is the iPhone with the best battery life however; it delivers 11 hours of juice per charge. It’s also the 2018 iPhone that offers the best value of the Apple’s entire mobile line. And really, that’s the thing that lead us to name the iPhone XR our mobile device of the year. In a market where companies are pushing the capabilities of their phones to the limit and nudging the prices ever higher to match, the iPhone XR presents a more modestly priced ticket to the future. It comes very close to matching the best of the best $1,000 phones, but does so at only $750. Yes, there are even cheaper phone options, but none of them come with Apple’s attentive eye for hardware, software, and user experience. —MC

Best Audio Device: Sony WH1000XM3 Headphones

Sony

After years of trying, Sony’s third-generation WH-1000XM finally matched the noise canceling abilities of Bose top cans, the QC35 II. They still aren’t the perfect wireless headphones (people will have a tough time hearing you on phone calls), but thanks to the inclusion of Sony’s new QN1 chip, the 1000XM3 match or exceed Bose’ ability to silence the outside world in most situations. There are some added perks too. The Sonys are hi-res certified, with roomier and more lively sound than most noise-canceling competitors. They deliver a nice punch of bass when needed too. Somehow, the touch controls are fairly intuitive to use, and the buttons that do exist are easier to find and identify than Sony’s previous XM2s. The real kicker is that they get more than 30 hours of play on a charge; 40 if you turn noise canceling off. —JVC

Best Voice Assistant Product: Google Home Hub

The Google Home Hub ships in October for $149.

Phuc Pham

If you want to clearest picture of how AI could become ambiently accessible throughout your home in the future, look here. Google’s Home Hub has the voice-activated Assistant inside. It can control your smart home devices, answer questions, and play videos and music. And it really is meant to be an “ambient” device. The seven-inch screen flicks on when you ask for it, then disappears into the decor after, either by displaying AI-selected photos you’ve shot with your phone, or by showing the weather or a clock. Google gave its partners a many-month head start to build smart displays, and there were a few that we really like, such as those from JBL and Lenovo. But when we first saw Google’s own solution, it made clear the company’s vision about how these things should look and behave—much like when Google debuted the Pixel phone, which put into focus the company’s thinking about Android hardware. Also, it doesn’t point a camera at you, which we like. Though it’s still imperfect, the Home Hub is a product that makes sense in a category that often seems adrift. —MC

Best in Transportation: Scooters

Halie Chavez

If you saw this transpo development coming, please take my money. This was, improbably, the year of scooter-share. The things showed up on in almost every venture capitalists’ portfolio and on almost every street corner, racking up millions of rides and miles across the world. They’re pretty cheap, they’re fun to ride. I’m nearly even convinced people look sort of fine while they’re riding them? (Is this what Stockholm syndrome feels like?) Don’t get me wrong: The big scooter companies, including Lime, Bird, Uber, Lyft, and Spin, all have important things to work on. Their scooters aren’t lasting long enough on the streets, thanks to vandals and thieves, and many have questioned whether they’re truly safe to ride. (The US Centers for Disease Control is doing a study into that very issue.) It’s also extremely annoying when you finally find one and realize that its battery is dead or its electronics are on the fritz. Plus, the companies need to keep working hand in handlebar with government officials, who are wary of private businesses that want to claim public space for their own. But man, isn’t hopping aboard one of these wheeled steeds nicer than getting stuck in traffic on your way to work again? —AM

Best Home Entertainment Product: LG C8 OLED

LG

LG’s OLED display tech continues to reign over the TV market. It’s the reason why the C8 is our favorite television of 2018—and the same reason we picked the C7 last year. This new LG panel has many of the same problems most every TV has (even the most expensive models), like a confusing remote and poor sound. But nothing can match the visual quality of OLED displays, and LG is still the only company that makes them. Over the next couple of years, OLED should trickle down from high-end televisions into average-priced sets that everyone can afford. Then we’ll all get to see the benefits. The 8 million pixels light themselves up independently, so you don’t need a traditional backlight. You get more vibrant colors and blacks are as inky-dark as possible because each pixels can turn itself completely off. The C8 is expensive (the 55-inch costs $1,697) but the picture is worth it. —JVC

Best Laptop: Microsoft Surface Laptop 2

Microsoft

Frills may be in short supply on the second-generation Surface Laptop, but if you’re taking stock of Windows 10 machines with the same clean lines and portability as the brand new MacBook Air, Microsoft’s updated clamshell sits at the front the crowd. (Plus, that alcantara chassis is handsome.) This year’s pick for the best laptop has an eighth-generation Intel Core processor and a ten-hour battery that bests most other ultraportables. It’s also quite affordable at $999 and, unlike the MacBook Air, the Surface Laptop has a touchscreen. —MC

Best Cord-Cutting Device: Roku Premiere+

Roku

This was supposed to be the year when we finally started casually talking to our TVs. Amazon marched out its Fire TV Cube in the summer and a few Alexa-connected soundbars followed too. Those were neat, but not amazing. Luckily, Roku didn’t even bother to compete there. It stayed the course, making cheap and great media streamers. Its 2018 Premiere and Premiere+ aren’t packed with smart assistant features—you can’t ask the devices to ship you a new toaster. Nope. They have the same simple interface and voice-search remote Rokus have had for a long time, with a few small additions like easier-to-find free movies and TV shows. And unlike that $120 Amazon Cube, Roku’s boxes are each about the size of a fun-size KitKat and can play 4K movies for $50 or less. —JVC

Best Wearable: Apple Watch Series 4

Apple

Apple’s wearable was little more than a curiosity when it first arrived in 2015. Now, four generations and almost four years later, the Apple Watch has grown to become one of the most capable fitness trackers you can buy, and undeniably the best computer you can put on your wrist. This year’s top wearable shows that Apple continues to push its product design forward, watchOS keeps getting faster and more usable, and the addition of sensors that can take an ECG reading makes the device more useful if you’re monitoring your health. Now if only Apple can do something about the Watch’s only truly painful flaw: the single-day battery life. —MC


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How to find that scarce cloud talent

You’re walking to your car from a major public cloud
provider’s building that houses about 1,000 employees. You have
an envelope on your windshield that looks like an invitation to a
fancy wedding.


To read this article in full, please click here

(Insider Story)]]>

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How To Take 100% Responsibility For Your Life

In his bookOutwitting the DevilNapoleon Hill discusses a moment in which he met his “other self” — the side of him that wasn’t indecisive and unclear about the future. This “other self” operated entirely out of faith and definiteness of purpose.

After several months of deep depression, when Hill was at a personal rock bottom, he reached a point where enough was enough.

He got to the point where he no longer cared what other people thought of him.

He heard the voice in his head — his “other self” — and he decided to follow that voice with complete obedience, regardless of how ridiculous or seemingly crazy it was.

He had nothing to lose, and only to gain.

He listened with exactness and acted immediately — regardless of the uncertainty and regardless of the potential consequences. He didn’t allow himself even a second to question himself or hesitate.

As the ancient philosopher, Cato said, “He who hesitates is lost.”

Research done at Yale University has shown that, if you hesitate for even a few seconds when you feel inspired to do something — like help someone — that your chances of doing it drop DRAMATICALLY even after 2-4 seconds.

If you feel inspired to do something, you must act IMMEDIATELY. Every second counts.

Hence, Hill decided to act with complete obedience, immediately, no matter what his other self told him to do.

A Life Without Hesitation

This voice told him who to seek for financial aid in publishing his books. It told him to book world-class suites at hotels when he didn’t have the money to pay for it. It gave him brilliant business ideas which he acted upon immediately.

At a personal and profession rock bottom, Hill entered a mental state with infinite power. Having spent over 25 years interviewing the most successful people of his era, he had heard others talk of this mentality, yet he had never experienced it himself. Now, he was having an experience that validated everything he had learned.

Many others have been gripped by their “other self.” Tony Robbins explains this notion as a 3-part process:

  1. Make a decision while in a passionate or peak state
  2. Committing to that decision by removing everything in your environment that conflicts, and by creating multiple accountability mechanisms
  3. Resolve within yourself that what you have decided is finished. It will happen.

Make Big Decisions While In A Peak State

It is your responsibility to put yourself into a peak state, every single day. Why would you want to live any other way? Why would you want to drag yourself through the day and through your life?

Upgrade your standards for yourself. Upgrade your standards for the day. Put yourself into a heightened state and then make some profound and committed decisions to move forward.

What Commitment Really Means

Making a commitment means you’re seeing it through to the end. It means you are leaving yourself no escape routes. You are burning any bridges that might lead to lesser paths of distraction. Your decision has been made. There’s no going back. You’ve passed your point of no return.

Where decisions are made in a single moment, commitment is seeing those decisions into the future. Especially when life gets difficult.

Resolving Within Yourself That The Decision Is “Final”

Resolve means it’s done,” said Robbins. It’s done inside [your heart], therefore it’s done [in the real world.] When you are resolved, there is no question whatsoever. To quote his Air-ness, Sir Michael Jordan, Once I made a decision, I never thought about it again.

When you resolve within yourself that “it’s done,” then it’s done. It doesn’t matter that the path to your goal is uncertain — come hell or high water — you’re going to get what you want.

There are two people in the world: those who 1) get the results they want and 2) those with excuses for why they didn’t get the results.

As Yoda said, There is no try. Only do or do not.”

Are you doing, or not doing?

Seriously?

Are you committed and resolved?

Is it done in your mind?

Or are you still unsure?

Most People Want Certainty

Most people will not act on their dreams because those dreams don’t have certain outcomes.

People would prefer external security over inner freedom.

However, when you have inner freedom, you are completely fine embracing the uncertainty of pursuing your dreams. You don’t need the outcomes to be certain. You already know within yourself that if you really want something, you’ll get it. You know God will help you. You know that when you set goals and dreams, and follow the process of transforming yourself into a person who can have those goals, that nothing is impossible to you.

Resolve Means You Know Your Goals Are Already Yours

When you resolve within yourself — it means that you already know it’s going to happen. You believe it. Every day you cause yourself to believe it even more by affirming to yourself that what you want is already true. Hence, Neville Goddard has said, Assume the feeling of your wish fulfilled.

When you’re resolved, nothing can stop you. You don’t react to situations, you impact and alter them. All doubt and disbelieve have left your mind.

You’re committed.

Few People Have Confidence

Most people have an incredibly weak relationship with commitment. People break commitments to themselves all the time. They perpetually lie to themselves. As a result, few people have genuine confidence.

Confidence is not something you can fake. It’s a reflection of your relationship with yourself. And if you aren’t consistent with yourself, then you don’t love yourself.

When you can’t trust yourself to do what you tell yourself you’re going to do, you’re not going to make any real decisions. Rather, you’ll dwell in a state of indecision, which is a weak and powerless state.

Most people are too afraid to commit to anything because they already know they’re going to break their commitment.

A Challenge to Anyone Hearing Something Deeper From this Message

If you are feeling something inside of you wanting to be more in your life, I have a personal challenge for you.

Make a decision today. Something you’ve wanted to do or have been planning to do for a long time.

Commit to doing that thing.

Right now. Do SOMETHING. Create action, right now. The moment you begin moving forward, you alter your trajectory and identity.

Act now, or forever hold your peace.

Resolve within yourself that you already have it in you. If you didn’t, it wouldn’t have been gnawing at you all this time.

For example, one study found that people who made a public commitment to recycling were far more likely to do so than those who didn’t make a public commitment.

When you make a commitment, you develop a self-concept that lines-up with your new behavior. This perceptual shift is your cognitions, values, and attitudes aligning with your new behavior. Hence, your desire to be viewed as consistent — firstly to others and then eventually to yourself — shifts how you see yourself.

You begin to see yourself based on the commitment you’ve made. Eventually, if your behavior matches your commitment for a long enough period of time(this study argues it takes around 4 months), your attitudes will also change.

Fake it until you make it?

Make the decision you want to. Eventually, you grow into that decision through your commitment and personal resolve.

This isn’t faking anything.

It’s living with intention.

It’s living with definiteness of purpose.

So what’s the challenge?

Publicly commit to something to TODAY. Don’t be rash or impulsive about this. Think about it for a moment. Make a plan! That plan doesn’t need to be elaborate. In the least, consider the goal you have and a few sub-goals that would be required to achieving your larger goal.

Don’t put the cart before the horse.

But make a decision.

Make it highly public.

Elon Musk unveils his first Los Angeles-area tunnel

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk made a brief public appearance late on Tuesday to unveil the first tunnel completed by the underground transit venture he launched two years ago as an ambitious remedy to Los Angeles’ infamously heavy traffic.

Tesla Inc. founder Elon Musk speaks at the unveiling event by “The Boring Company” for the test tunnel of a proposed underground transportation network across Los Angeles County, in Hawthorne, California, U.S. December 18, 2018. Robyn Beck/Pool via REUTERS

But contrary to some of his own hype from several months ago, free rides were not part of the grand opening.

In a 30-minute presentation carried by live webcast, Musk touted the newly finished 1.14-mile (1.83 km) tunnel segment as a breakthrough in low-cost, fast-digging technology being pioneered by his nascent tunneling firm, the Boring Company.

Musk has advertised the proof-of-concept tunnel as a first step toward developing a high-speed subterranean network capable of whisking vehicles and pedestrians below the “soul-destroying” street traffic of America’s second-largest city at up to 150 miles per hour. But such a system has a long way to go.

The new tunnel was excavated along a path that runs not through Los Angeles but beneath the tiny adjacent municipality of Hawthorne, where Musk’s Boring Company and his SpaceX rocket firm are both headquartered.

Musk, best known as head of the Tesla Inc electric car manufacturer and energy company, launched his foray into public transit after complaining on Twitter in December 2016 that L.A.’s traffic was “driving me nuts,” promising then to “build a boring machine and just start digging.”

In May, the company gave the world a preview of the Hawthorne tunnel, posting a fast-forward video of its interior shot by a camera traveling the length of the cylindrical passageway, which measures about 12 feet (3.7 m) in diameter.

On Tuesday, Musk put the total price tag for the finished segment at about $10 million, including the cost of excavation, internal infrastructure, lighting, ventilation, safety systems, communications and a track.

By comparison, he said, digging a mile of tunnel by “traditional” engineering methods costs up to $1 billion and takes three to six months to complete.

FASTER THAN A SNAIL?

Musk boasted of several cost-cutting innovations, including higher-power boring machines, digging narrower tunnels, speeding up dirt removal, and simultaneous excavation and reinforcement.

He also invoked his favorite comparison with a snail, a creature he said moves 14 times faster than the speed of a typical tunneling machine. “Aspirationally, we should be slightly faster than a snail,” he said.

Musk did not say how long it took to burrow his new tunnel, which ended up running short of the 2-mile easement his company originally requested for the project.

But he showed pre-recorded video footage of a newly built elevator station designed to carry passengers from street level to the tunnel’s subterranean entryway. The video featured a modified Tesla Model X luxury car on the elevator.

When fully operational, the “loop” system as Musk envisions it will consist of passenger- and automobile-carrying platforms called “skates” that can zip through the tunnels by way of electric power once they descend into the underground network.

Alternately, he said, passenger cars could be outfitted with retractable side wheels allowing them to travel through the loop autonomously.

Musk arrived at Tuesday night’s event in a Tesla vehicle so equipped, emerging from the car at one end of the tunnel – bathed in green and blue interior lights – as he was cheered by a small, enthusiastic crowd gathered for the presentation.

Musk created a stir earlier this year by promising free trips through the tunnel once it opened. However, no such rides were in the offing on Tuesday night. A company message posted online beforehand said tunnel tours “are by invitation only,” citing “unbelievably high demand.”

If successful, the Hawthorne tunnel is envisioned as eventually connecting to a network of other tunnels, yet to be built.

Slideshow (19 Images)

Last month, the Boring Company scrapped plans for a 2.7-mile segment under a West Los Angeles neighborhood, settling litigation brought by community groups opposed to that project.

But Musk’s company said it was moving ahead with a proposed tunnel across town to connect Dodger Stadium, home of the city’s Major League Baseball team, to an existing subway line.

In June, Boring was selected by Chicago to build a 17-mile underground transit system linking that city’s downtown to its main airport. The company also has proposed an East Coast Loop that would run from Washington, D.C., to the Maryland suburbs.

Reporting by Steve Gorman, Editing by Bill Tarrant and Rosalba O’Brien

Elon Musk Unveils the Boring Company’s Car-Flinging Tunnel

From a parking lot in a quiet, manufacturing-dominated suburb of Los Angeles, Elon Musk and his Boring Company tonight unveiled what he believes is the future of “mass transit” and the best way to eliminate the scourge of traffic: electric, autonomous vehicles carrying an extra set of wheels, shooting through layers of thin tunnels at speeds up to 150 mph.

If that sounds a little fantastical—well, duh. Musk’s presentation, punctuated by a glitzy entrance aboard a Tesla Model X that traveled through the company’s accent-lit, 1.4-mile test tunnel, filled in a few details about his ambitious plans to destroy LA congestion with new and improved tunnel boring processes. But the test tunnel still seems to be a test tunnel, and the Boring Company in a deeply experimental phase. A bevy of questions remain.

“I think this is, like, really a panacea,” Musk said standing in front of the tunnel, which extends from a SpaceX parking lot into the city of Hawthorne. A panacea for a terrible ill. Traffic, he said, “is like acid on the soul.”

A few big elements of the Boring Company’s “mass transit” concept, which it’s calling “the Loop”, have changed since Musk last presented it in May. Gone are the “electric skates”, the platforms that were to ferry vehicles throughout an extensive tunnel network whose tendrils BoCo would like to one day spread throughout the LA metro area / the world. Instead, users will now have to mount specialized wheels on their own electric, autonomous vehicles, which will guide the vehicles along the tracks in the tunnels. These look a bit like bicycle training wheels, but sit parallel to the ground:

Gone, too, is the Boring Company’s 16-passenger pod concept, the centerpiece of what Musk once said was a system that would put pedestrians and cyclists first. This is a system meant to carry people’s cars—as long as they are fully electric and capable of driving themselves. For those without such vehicles, Musk said, cars would continually circulate the Loop system to pick up and drop off anyone who wants a ride. Press materials provided by the Boring Company say each tunnel should one day be able to support 4,000 cars per hour—about 16,000 passengers, provided each car is nearly full. That’s the capacity of about 11.5 full (but not packed) New York City subway trains.

Boring

“We are no way saying there shouldn’t be other means of public transport,” Musk said during the Tuesday night event. “Let us do everything we can along every direction to alleviate traffic.”

The technology is also far from finished. The car that traveled through the test tunnel, which the company used to give demo rides to fans and journalists, only hit speeds of around 50 mph, not 150 mph. (Musk said it was capable of traveling 110 mph.) And Musk admitted to The LA Times that the ride was bumpy, and that the Boring Company “kind of ran out of time.”

“The bumpiness will not be there down the road,” he told the Times. “It will be as smooth as glass. This is just a prototype. That’s why it’s just a little rough around the edges.”

Hawthorne’s city council allowed the company’s project to fast track through the environmental review process because it’s a demonstration, not a functional form of mass transit, and because the city concluded its construction wouldn’t disturb neighbors. Musk says the company digs so deeply beneath the earth that its tunneling isn’t perceptible from above and rightly notes tunnels are safe in earthquake-prone spots like LA. BoCo spent just under two years and $10 million building this test tunnel.

Musk tweeted the Boring Company into existence in December 2016, when he cracked a joke about being so frustrated by LA traffic that he would buy a tunnel boring machine and “just start digging”. By early 2017, there was an honest-to-God hole in the SpaceX parking lot, the beginnings of the test track that the company unveiled today. Musk has argued that cities like LA can only quash traffic by going “3D down or 3D up”, and that flying cars (that would be up) are too dangerous.

Thus, his vision: layers of underground road carrying hundreds of thousands of vehicles traveling at high speeds, transported into the netherworld by thousands of elevators woven throughout the sprawling city. (Musk likened system to “wormholes”.) Boring has said it will charge riders $1 each, will finance this vision itself, and won’t accept government funds.

Transportation engineers and urban planners have criticized the plan, which they argue does not address the underlying causes of traffic, like bottlenecks at highway on- and off-ramps (or the elevator entrances and exits where cars will enter the system) and urban sprawl. The plan faces another foe: the public environmental review process, which can sometimes take over a decade for an infrastructure project of this ambition.

To pull this off, Musk has acknowledged that he will have to bring down the cost of digging tunnels and speed up the process—dramatically. Eventually, Musk has said, he would like his modified boring machine to beat his pet snail, Gary, in a race, increasing the standard boring pace by a factor of 14. (Professional tunnel engineers have publicly cast doubt on whether Musk’s innovations are possible. Also, the original Gary is long dead. BoCo now cares after Gary VI.) He has also said his tunnels’ reduced width—about 12 feet at their widest—will also bring down costs.

Musk also announced last summer that the soil unearthed by his tunneling efforts would be repurposed into bricks, which will be sold through another Muskian spinoff, The Brick Store LLC. The bricks have already been used to build a Monty Python and The Holy Grail-type tower on the grounds of SpaceX’s headquarters. BoCo has also promised to release life-size LEGO sets.

The Boring Company has also popped up all over the country. There’s this test tunnel, in Hawthorne, and the company’s plan to build a small system running between one of three LA Metro subway stations to Dodger Stadium. (Musk told reporters Tuesday that he would like to build out the entire LA system by 2028, when the city will host the Olympics.)

Boring has also promised a DC to Baltimore connection, but hasn’t received all the permits needed to make that project truly go. Plus, there’s a high-speed connection between downtown Chicago and O’Hare International Airport, which Musk has promised to build for no more than $1 billion, a pittance for a major infrastructure project. Boring is reportedly in the midst of an environmental review process there. (That project, which had been championed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, may face political challenges now that Emanuel is leaving office.)

One project that’s no longer on the Boring Company’s list: another test tunnel in West Los Angeles. BoCo pulled out of that project after settling a lawsuit with two local neighborhood groups, which argued the company was attempting to circumvent city rules by getting a metro-wide project appealed piecemeal.

So yes, it’s been a long and confusing road to this point. Musk has proposed a raft of ideas associated with his tunneling. Many have been questionable, but most have been exciting, if for nothing but their audacity. But maybe this meandering is the way to the future. It’s certainly the way of Musk, a man who’s never been much for the traditional, stodgy way of doing things, where you mull over a plan, announce it in a carefully worded press release, then spend the next few years executing it just like you said you would. Some CEOs wear suits and sit in the backs of limos. Others emerge from tunnels in rumpled flannel. You decide which group make better showmen—and which change how things really work.


More Great WIRED Stories

Amazon is Making a Truly Radical Change, and It Could Change Everything That You Think About Amazon

Our vision is to use this platform to build Earth’s most customer-centric company, a place where customers can come to find and discover anything and everything they might want to buy online. 

Over the next two decades, that was the mantra. In fact, the bestselling book about the company was literally called, The Everything Store. (You can find it on Amazon of course, even though Bezos’s wife wrote that she hated it.)

Now, however, it suddenly seems that there’s an asterisk next to that idea of “anything and everything”–at least according to a truly fascinating story in The Wall Street Journal.

The problem is that while Amazon can sell almost everything, it can’t necessarily sell everything profitably.

In fact, there’s an internal acronym for certain products that Amazon has listed on its site, and pledged to fulfill, but on which the company is actually in the red. 

They’re known as items that can’t realize a profit. Or “CRaP” for short. Really. As Laura Stevens, Sharon Terlep and Annie Gasparro write in the Journal:

Think bottled beverages or snack foods. The products tend to be priced at $15 or less, are sold directly by Amazon, and are heavy or bulky and therefore costly to ship–characteristics that make for thin or nonexistent margins.

So, what do you do if you’re the world’s largest retailer, a/k/a The Everything Store*, and you decide there are products you’d rather not sell products that you don’t make money on?

You stop selling them. But in a way that people hopefully don’t notice, according to the Journal.

For example, Amazon sells Smartwater on its site. But the retail giant changed the default order size from $6.99 for a six-pack (which works out to $1.17 a bottle) to a 24-pack for $37.20 (which works out to $1.55 per bottle).

In other cases, Amazon just discontinues poorly margined items, or pressures manufacturers to change packaging or make other adjustments that it thinks will improve online sales.

And, it pressures some manufacturers to ship directly to customers who buy on Amazon,, so that Amazon can save on warehouse and shipping costs. The good news, in a way, is that the pressures fall hardest on other big companies that have the resources to make changes to their products–and hopefully sell more.

As examples, Seventh Generation, which is owned by Unilever PLC, changed the sizes of some products it sells on Amazon and stopped offering lower margin products like paper towels online.

And Mars Wrigley Confectionery emphasizes larger, more profitable bags of Life Savers candy on Amazon.

This all kind of makes sense, and it’s hard to hold Amazon’s feet to the fire to sell products that simply aren’t profitable. 

But it’s also kind of funny, for people who have been around long enough to remember the early days of the Internet. Amazon’s moves here are a response to the same pressures that destroyed some early dot-com darlings like Webvan, Pets.com, and my personal favorite (although much smaller), Kozmo.

All of these offered free shipping on ridiculously inefficient orders–a 30-pound bag of dog food, sent via UPS, for example. It was all about burning through investment capital to get big fast back in those days.

Frankly, Amazon did the same thing for a long time, enduring years of unprofitability to become the world’s biggest and most successful retailer. In the end, it worked.

Amazon got big. And now, it makes the rules.

Foxconn not in settlement talks with Qualcomm in Apple battle: attorney

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – The lead attorney for the group of Apple Inc device assemblers seeking at least $9 billion in damages from Qualcomm Inc said on Sunday the contract manufacturers are not in settlement talks with the mobile chip supplier and are “gearing up and heading toward the trial” in April.

FILE PHOTO: A motorcyclist rides past the logo of Foxconn, the trading name of Hon Hai Precision Industry, in Taipei, Taiwan March 30, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo

The conflict is but one aspect of the global legal battle between regulators, Apple and Qualcomm, which supplies modem chips that help phones connect to wireless data networks.

Last week, Qualcomm secured a preliminary victory in a patent lawsuit in China that would have banned sales of some Apple iPhones there. Apple later said it believed it was already in compliance but would change its software “to address any possible concern” about its compliance.

But Qualcomm was also handed a setback in an antitrust lawsuit brought against it by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission when a judge said it will not be able to mention that Apple ditched Qualcomm chips for competing ones from Intel Corp when the case goes to trial next month.

Qualcomm representatives did not immediately return a request for comment on Sunday outside of U.S. business hours.

The group of contract manufacturers – which includes Foxconn parent Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd, Pegatron Corp, Wistron Corp and Compal Electronics Inc – became embroiled in the dispute between Apple and Qualcomm last year.

In the supply chain for electronics, contract manufacturers buy Qualcomm chips and pay royalties when they build phones, and are in turn reimbursed by companies like Apple. Qualcomm sued the group last year, alleging they had stopped paying royalties related to Apple products, and Apple joined their defense.

The contract manufacturers have since filed claims of their own against Qualcomm, alleging the San Diego company’s practice of charging money for chips but then also asking for a cut of the adjusted selling price of a mobile phone as a patent royalty payment constitutes an anticompetitive business practice.

They are seeking $9 billion in damages from Qualcomm for royalties they allege were illegal. That figure could triple if the manufacturers succeed on their antitrust claims.

Ted Boutrous, a high-profile partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP who is representing the contract manufacturers, told Reuters that statements from Qualcomm executives suggesting there were meaningful settlement talks with the contract manufacturers were “false.”

“To the extent Qualcomm has indicated there have been licensing discussions with the contract manufacturers, they’ve basically made the same sort of unreasonable demands that got them to where they are right now, which impose significant preconditions to even discuss a new arrangement,” Boutrous said.

In July, Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf told investors on the company’s quarterly earnings call that Qualcomm and Apple itself were in talks to resolve the litigation.

At a hearing in the case in San Diego on Nov. 30, one of Apple’s attorneys disputed that notion, saying there had not been “talks in a number of months. So the parties are at loggerheads and are going … to have to go into trial.”

Reporting by Stephen Nellis in San Francisco; Editing by Chris Reese and Himani Sarkar

This Study of 195 Billion-Dollar Companies Found 6 Counterintuitive Truths About Building a Unicorn

Ali Tamaseb, a founder turned venture capitalist at Data Collective VC, recently spent 300 hours gathering data on billion-dollar startups. He generated 100 charts exploring their history and outlined dozens of valuable insights–all in a quest to learn what billion-dollar startups look like at inception. 

Tamaseb gathered data on 65 key factors from all 195 unicorn startups based in the U.S. His work included all startups since 2005 that have publicly reached a valuation of more than $1 billion. The least surprising finding is that almost 60 percent of billion-dollar startups were created by serial entrepreneurs. In fact, he found that 70 percent of billion-dollar founders were “superfounders,” or founders with at least one previous exit of more than $50 million. This aligns with both traditional thinking and my experience.

I can also attest to some of the other trends from this study based on my investment history, but several of Tamaseb’s findings are contrary to my experience and to widely accepted investor wisdom. These counterintuitive findings are the most valuable in my mind:

1. Industry knowledge isn’t required.

Contrary to what I’ve always believed, Tamaseb found that most founders of billion-dollar startups don’t have direct experience in the industry or domain they are trying to disrupt (except in healthcare and pharmaceuticals, where 80 percent of founding CEOs had direct experience in the target market.)

2. Technical CEOs aren’t necessarily more successful.

Tamaseb’s data addresses a widely debated topic: do technical founding CEOs do better than non-technical founding CEOs when it comes to creating a billion-dollar startup? His data showed a 50-50 split.

I had always believed that a technical startup (biotech, SaaS, mobile apps, etc.) should be led by someone who could build the product, but this research showed that non-technical founders can also succeed. So I went back into our portfolio at Ryerson Futures and found that some of our most successful startups to date had technical CEOs, but many more had business-minded or domain experts in the CEO role. So perhaps I need to revisit this bias, and perhaps you should too.

3. You don’t need to be capitally efficient. 

In the world of startups, capital efficiency refers to how much money a startup needs to spend in order to be able to sustain itself on internally generated funds. A startup that is capital efficient spends a little to make a lot. 

While VCs often focus on investing in capital efficient companies, less than 45 percent of the billion-dollar companies in Tamaseb’s pool were capital efficient. The rest required a high level of investment to scale–indicating that a company doesn’t need to be self-sufficient to be worth $1 billion.

4. It’s (usually) not OK to be a copycat.

Tamaseb found that more than 60 percent of billion-dollar startups had a very high level of product differentiation compared to what was already in the market. He also found that the worst competition case comes from copying what another startup is doing, especially when that other startup is well funded.

While that makes sense, it is not consistent with some billion-dollar startups, such as Rocket Internet, that were created in China, India, Germany and elsewhere over the last decade and were clones of startups like eBay, Amazon, Tinder, and Facebook.

5. You don’t have to be first to market.

Only 30 percent of the billion-dollar startups in the study were first to market, and just under 40 percent entered markets with five or more competitors.

Contrary to widely held beliefs, the best markets for billion-dollar startups already have a number of large incumbents, and often the startup uses the inefficiencies of these incumbents as a point of disruption.

Timing is always key when launching a startup. Too early and the market won’t buy; too late, and all the early adopters will already be using another startup’s products. The majority of billion-dollar startups went after markets that were already large and growing.

6. You don’t need to be part of an accelerator to be successful.

Accelerators are all the rage worldwide. As of 2018, there are more than 1,500 programs to accelerate startups. Despite the marketing produced by accelerators like Techstars and Y Combinator, the majority of billion-dollar startups in the U.S. did not participate in a formal accelerator program. I find this surprising, since unicorns like Airbnb, Dropbox, Quora, Stripe, and Twilio all came from accelerators. So why are so few unicorns on this list coming from accelerators?

I think the answer comes from the fact that 70 percent of billion-dollar founders are superfounders. Perhaps founders with a previous exit don’t need the network, knowledge and mentorship that accelerators offer. Maybe that means not being a superfounder is just one more reason to apply to accelerators–to learn from others. That is certainly what I focus on. 

Quantum Computers Threaten the Web’s Security. We Must Take Action Now.

Inside the stark and sweeping Eero Saarinen-styled exterior of the Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, IBM’s blue jeans-wearing boffins are assembling a new generation of super-powered computers built on quantum mechanical principles. These otherworldly machines dangle from sturdy, metal frames, looking like golden chandeliers, or robotic beehives. The devices perform their magical-seeming operations inside vacuum-sealed, super-cooled refrigerator encasements. It’s a technology that combines both brains and beauty.

Future iterations of these quantum computers will be able to solve mathematical problems ordinary computers have no hope of computing. They will vastly speed up classical calculations, accurately model complex natural phenomena like chemical reactions, and open as yet unexplored frontiers for scientific inquiry. Despite seeming arcane, machines like these will touch every aspect of our lives—from drug discovery to digital security.

IBM scientists examine quantum computing hardware.

IBM scientists examine quantum computing hardware.

Courtesy of IBM.

This latter area presents significant challenges. One advantage quantum computers have over traditional ones is a knack for factoring large numbers, an operation so difficult for present-day computers that it has become the foundation for almost all today’s encryption schemes. A sufficiently advanced quantum computer, on the other hand, can chew through these math problems with the destructive force of that metal-melting Xenomorph blood in the Alien film franchise. The prospect of quantum computing necessitates a complete rethinking of cryptography.

Today’s encryption may be rendered obsolete sooner than most people anticipate. As Adam Langley, a senior software engineer at Google, has pointed out in a recent blog post, some experts predict this latter-day Y2K could occur within the decade. Michele Mosca, cofounder of the Institute for Quantum Computing in Waterloo, Ontario, has estimated a 1-in-7 chance that quantum breakthroughs will defeat RSA-2048, a common encryption standard, by 2026. If that’s true, then the time to begin reengineering our digital defenses is now. As Langley writes, waiting around for guidance on standards “seems dangerous”; there’s no time to lose.

Buttressing Langley’s view is a recent paper out of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The research organization determined that, while the advent of an encryption-busting quantum computer is unlikely within the decade, preparations to defend against one must be undertaken as soon as possible. Since web standards take more than a decade to implement, a press release accompanying the paper warned, developing new, attack-resistant algorithms “is critical now.”

The era of quantum computation fast approaches. Fortune 500 companies like IBM, Google, Microsoft, and Intel, are plugging away on the tech alongside smaller startups, like Calif.-based Rigetti. Nation states like China are, meanwhile, dumping billions of dollars into research and development. Whichever entity achieves so-called quantum supremacy first will find itself in possession of unprecedented power—the equivalent of X-Ray goggles for the Internet.

That is, unless we act with urgency to armor up.

A version of this article first appeared in Cyber Saturday, the weekend edition of Fortune’s tech newsletter Data Sheet. Sign up here.