Day: July 14, 2021

NHTSA urges some Chevy Bolt owners to park their car away from home, citing fire risk

Chevrolet Bolts are back in the news — this time for another consumer alert issued by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, less than a year after the agency issued a recall for a similar issue.

NHTSA is recommending owners of Model Year 2017-2019 park their Bolts away from homes due to the risk of fire. Those are the same vehicles that were recalled in November 2020, due to the possibility of fire from the battery pack underneath the backseat’s cushion. The recall affected 50,932 2017-2019 Chevy Bolt vehicles.

But this recall seems to have been triggered by two recent fire incidents in vehicles that were supposedly remedied as part of that previous safety recall, General Motors said on its website.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we are asking owners of 2017-2019 Chevrolet Bolt EVs who were part of the recall population to park their vehicles outdoors immediately after charging and not leave their vehicles charging overnight while we investigate these incidents.”

GM says it has potentially identified a remedy to the battery anomalies, which customers can access by visiting a participating Bolt dealer. Customers of 2019 Bolts were able to access this remedy from April 29, and owners of 2017 and 2018 Bolts were eligible from May 26. The diagnostic software GM used to identify the anomalies will be standard in 2022 Bolts, and other future GM vehicles, the automaker said.

Ashton Kutcher says he sold his ticket to space

Remember when Ashton Kutcher bought a seat on a flight to space? Well, he sold his golden ticket.

During AT&T’s 5G event in New York City on Wednesday, Mashable sat down with the actor and tech investor. We asked him if he was booked on a flight to space and could bring anyone but his wife, who would he choose?

Kutcher reminded us he had already booked a flight to space. Back in 2012, billionaire Richard Branson said Kutcher snagged the 500th ticket for a flight on Virgin Galactic, which were originally selling for $200,000. But apparently Kutcher sold it.

“I was booked on a flight to go to space and, in fact, I’m quite rueful about the fact that I am not going to space,” Kutcher said, “My wife asked me to sell my ticket to space because she didn’t think that it was a smart family decision.”

According to Space.com, Virgin Galactic officials originally said they were hoping for takeoff in 2013 or 2014. The first fully crewed flight, however, just happened this week.

Among said crew was Virgin Galactic’s very own founder, billionaire Sir Richard Branson, who launched into space aboard SpaceShipTwo on Sunday and safely returned the same day.

A lot happened for Kutcher between 2012 (when he bought the ticket) and 2021. In 2015, he married actress Mila Kunis. They now have two children.

Considering a Virgin Galactic spacecraft crashed in October of 2014 — tragically killing a pilot — along with another failed test flight last year, it’s safe to say Kunis’ concerns were extremely valid. However, with Branson successfully returning from his Virgin Galactic ride and Elon Musk preparing for his own, it’s safe to assume Kutcher might be feeling a lil’ bit of FOMO.

Regardless, he remains hopeful.

“I’m no longer booked on a flight to space, [but] someday I’m going to space,” he said.

Here’s what you need to know about Clubhouse, the invite-only social app

Clubhouse has been around for a bit but remains invite-only.

You might’ve heard of Clubhouse by now. It might still be unlikely that you’ve actually joined Clubhouse.

That’s because the new social media platform has built its reputation, in part, on exclusivity. Well, exclusivity and being the audio-only app where people spend countless hours mostly networking and plugging their own projects. It has also been been copied (or working on being copied) by other social media companies after its hyped success.

However you still have to secure an invite from a current user to get in to Clubhouse, although that may eventually change. Here’s what you need know about Clubhouse in case you soon find yourself using it.

What is Clubhouse?

In short: Clubhouse is an audio-based social media app. The company describes itself as “a new type of social product based on voice [that] allows people everywhere to talk, tell stories, develop ideas, deepen friendships, and meet interesting new people around the world.”

Basically, you can jump in and out of different chats, on different subjects, in something akin to a live, free-flowing podcast. You can simply listen or choose to throw in your thoughts. In theory, it’s supposed to be something like a cocktail party or…clubhouse. In practice, it’s some mixture of LinkedIn, a panel discussion, or a professional conference.

Vogue described the app‘s experience as “a dizzying bringing together of live podcast-style conversations, panel discussions, networking opportunities (some savvy people are already swapping ‘influencer’ for ‘moderator’) and advantageous multiple-room use (locked and private options are available so you can talk to pals too), the social-media app mimics real-life interactions.”

The audio itself, however, doesn’t leave the app. That’s the main rule: There’s no recording of conversations and they’re not saved.

Who uses Clubhouse?

Clubhouse is big with celebrities. Float around the app and you might hear folks like Oprah, Kevin Hart, Drake, Chris Rock, or Ashton Kutcher. They might even host chats. In some ways, that’s part of Clubhouse’s appeal. You get the chance to hear, and even participate in, unvarnished conversations with famous and powerful people. Refinery29 described networking as the primary reason for Clubhouse’s rising popularity. Indeed, spend enough time on the app and you’re bound to hear folks not-so-casually slipping their accomplishments and goals into conversation.

Other than celebrities, the app is seemingly focused on people it considers an elite clientele. It became a status symbol of sorts for Silicon Valley types after its launch last year. The whole invite-only thing was apparently taken pretty seriously. But it’s now growing. Taylor Lorenz for the New York Times reported in December that it had 600,000 registered users and has been courting influencers.

Its downloads have slowed recently but Clubhouse is attempting to roll out new features that’ll keep folks interest. Most recently it announced that it would debut audio-only Ted Talks on the platform.

Who made it?

Paul Davison and Rohan Seth found the app last year. By May, it was valued at around $100 million despite have just 1,500 users at the time, according to CNBC. Its most recent round of funding reportedly valued it at $4 billion.

What’s the controversy with Clubhouse?

Clubhouse already has abuse and content moderation — or lack thereof — problems. As the Times noted, there have been numerous complaints that Clubhouse hasn’t done much to protect folks from abuse.

Tweet may have been deleted

The Verge wrote back in July that the app didn’t seem to have a plan for moderating content. Things haven’t seemed to get much better. Vanity Fair wrote a piece in December detailing out the ephemeral, audio-only nature of Clubhouse allowed the app to “become a haven for the powerful to flirt with misogyny and racism.” The responded to Vanity Fair saying it “unequivocally condemns all forms of racism, hate speech, and abuse, as noted in our Community Guidelines and Terms of Service, and has trust and safety procedures in place to investigate and address any violation of these rules.”

How do you get an invite to Clubhouse?

Right now, you still cannot join Clubhouse without an invite. You can download the app and reserve a username, if that sort of thing interests you. It was once available only for iPhone users but it is available on Android now.

But the app apparently plans to expand to the general public at some point. It says it hasn’t done that yet for two reasons: It wants to build community slowly and it wants to prepare features that will help it handle larger numbers of people.

“We are building Clubhouse for everyone and working to make it available to the world as quickly as possible,” the app’s site reads.

How do you delete Clubhouse?

So, what happens if find you nab an invite to Clubhouse but then want to get rid of it? After all, the app isn’t everybody’s cup of tea.

Mashable’s Jack Morse wrote a detailed piece on deleting Clubhouse — and the app’s data policies — but it’s safe to say getting rid of your account is not a simple process.

There is no option or button to delete your Clubhouse account within the app. You have to contact Clubhouse directly and ask them to delete your data.

“Please log in to your account or contact us (at support@alphaexplorationco.com) if you need to change or correct your Personal Data, or if you wish to delete your account,” the app’s privacy policy reads.

From there, it’s not clear how quickly Clubhouse will follow up on your request.

So, yes, it may be hard to get into Clubhouse, but it might be just as hard to leave.

This story was originally published in January 2021 and updated in July 2021.

Could Cloud PCs be Microsoft’s gateway to Chromebook-like hardware?

When Microsoft announced that it was releasing a cloud PC service called Windows 365 this morning, it got me thinking. While Windows 365 is about packaging a virtual Windows business desktop in a cloud context, if you think about the announcement in a different way, perhaps it could herald the beginning of a lightweight, cloud-based version of Windows — something that has been talked about for some time.

To be clear, the cloud PC announcement wasn’t related to hardware at all. It’s taking a Windows desktop and moving it fully virtualized to the cloud where you can run it from anywhere giving you a replica of your Windows desktop PC in the cloud. But what if you stretched that idea a bit by taking Microsoft 365 with Office apps and threw it onto a low-cost PC and used the Edge browser as your primary way of interacting with the computer? Now you have something that could compete directly with a Chromebook-style computer.

That’s exactly what Google has done with Chrome and Chromebooks for over a decade, working with partners to deliver low-cost hardware with most required compute work taking place in the cloud. The Chrome browser is the primary desktop environment, Google Workspace (aka G Suite) is the default set of office suite apps with word processor, spreadsheet and presentation software along with email and calendar and other services. In fact, you can run any software service you wish in Chrome including Microsoft’s cloud office tools. Regardless, the end-result of this is a low-end business (or personal) laptop that gets most of its power from the cloud.

Most people don’t need a modern notebook computer, and the hardware required to run full-strength operating systems contributes to the high cost of the underlying machine, something Google discovered long ago. If you simplified everything to a browser, an office suite, and web access to your favorite tools, you would have just about everything you need without all of the management headaches associated with owning a PC with a traditional OS sitting on it.

Think about the person who just uses email, office tools and watches a little Netflix. This kind of machine would be perfect for them without blowing their budget out of the water or being overly complex.

Last year when the pandemic hit and everyone had to hunker down and work on a PC including children, people went looking for a low-cost option. They voted for Chromebook in droves accounting for over 30 million units sold, including over 11 million in the fourth quarter alone, according to Canalys data.

While growth slowed a bit in the first quarter of this year, Canalys found Chromebook shipments still grew by 275%. Brian Lynch, an analyst at Canalys wrote in the report that “Chromebooks are well and truly a mainstream computing product now,” adding that “while the education sector still accounts for the majority of shipments, their popularity with consumers and traditional commercial customers has reached new heights over the course of the last year.”

Windows did well too, but given the number of Chromebooks flying off the shelves — led by Lenovo and HP, two companies that also make machines running Microsoft software — a Windows-based cloud PC could give Chromebook a run for its money.

It’s worth noting that, yes, there are low-cost Windows PCs out there. You can get one at Walmart for $149, which competes price-wise with any Chromebook computer out there, but these lower end Windows machines are still a full-fledged Windows PC and you still have to deal with all the management. From an IT (or personal use) perspective, Chromebooks are much easier to manage than Windows PCs.

Since Satya Nadella came on board as CEO at Microsoft in 2014, the company has shown a strong willingness to shift its focus away from the PC where it made its name (and its money) and move toward the cloud. So far, Redmond has done well moving in that direction with its market cap recently breaking the $2 trillion threshold.

What’s more, Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure market share sits at around 20%, more than doubling where it was in 2014 when Nadella took over. Even more, the company had around 16% of cloud office suite market share in 2014, a figure that has grown to 40% today. Google’s office suite is the fairest of them all though with almost 60%, according to Statista. That is due at least in part to its Chromebook sales pushing users towards its suite.

If Microsoft wants to dent that number, a good way to do that would be to create a cloud-based notebook that looks a lot like Chromebook, but with a Windows bent. It would mean eating into their traditional desktop PC OS dominance, but much like in 2014, it could be about trading a past with diminishing returns for a future with much more promising ones.

Toyota’s Woven Planet acquires HD mapping startup Carmera

Woven Planet Holdings — an entity created by Toyota to invest in, develop and eventually bring future of transportation technologies like automated driving to market — has acquired HD mapping startup Carmera for an undisclosed amount. The announcement comes less than two months since Woven Planet Holdings acquired Lyft’s autonomous vehicle unit known as Level 5 for $550 million.

It also follows another HD mapping acquisition — Nvidia’s purchase of DeepMap — that was announced in June.

Under terms of the deal, Carmera will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Woven Planet. The startup’s 50-person team will maintain its offices in New York and Seattle and will eventually be integrated into Woven Planet’s 1,000-person-and-growing enterprise, according to Woven Planet CEO James Kuffner.

Carmera will essentially become the U.S. outpost of Woven Planet’s automated mapping platform (AMP) team, which is headquartered in Tokyo. Ro Gupta, co-founder and CEO of Carmera, will report up to Mandali Khalesi who heads up AMP.

Carmera launched in 2015 with a barter type business model that uses data collected from a service it provides for free to commercial fleet operators to maintain and expand its primary mapping product. Carmera’s main and initial product is a high-definition map developed for autonomous vehicle customers like automakers, suppliers and robotaxis. Autonomous vehicle startup Voyage, which was acquired this year by Cruise, was an early Carmera customer. Baidu also used Carmera’s technology to support the open source Apollo mapping project.

The company uses data crowdsourced from its fleet-monitoring service product to keep those AV maps fresh. The fleet product is a telematics and video monitoring service used by professional fleets that want to manage risk and improve safety with their vehicles and drivers. These fleets of camera-equipped human-driven vehicles deliver new information to the autonomous map as they go about their daily business in cities.

Carmera has evolved its product lineup over time. It added a real-time events and change-management engine to its autonomous map and created a spatial data and street analytics product for cities and urban planners. Last year, Carmera launched it’s so-called Change-as-a-Service platform, a suite of products that detects changes and can be integrated into other third-party maps.

“The problem I’ve always had with some of the HD map companies is it’s nice that you have this capability, but until you can figure out how to scale it, host it and keep it updated, you’re stuck in the ‘I-have-a-neat-piece-of-software-that-someone-is-going-to-buy-from-me role,’” Mike Ramsey, VP analyst at Gartner said. “This deal solves Carmera’s scale problem.”

Carmera Toyota

Image Credits: Carmera

While Carmera is tiny in size and capital compared to Woven Planet, those following the industry might have predicted this union.

Carmera has been working with Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development, which was the impetus of Woven Planet, for three years. The startup first participated in a proof of concept project in Japan to develop camera-based automation of HD maps for urban and surface roads. The partnership expanded in 2020 to include mapping of roadways in Detroit and other roads in Michigan as well as in Japan.

“It was really easy to invest a lot into the relationship,” Gupta said reflecting on Carmera’s first partnership with Toyota in 2018. “The vision was just so similar; it’s almost eerie looking at our seed deck from five years ago and comparing it to what Woven Planet’s overall vision is and their vision for this automated mapping platform.”

Woven Planet (and by extension Toyota) already has satellite-based mapping and the massive amounts of data gleaned from its millions of vehicles on the road today. Carmera brings the dynamic mapping piece as well as its experience in the commercial fleets and safety business to Woven Planet’s portfolio.

“For me, there’s immediate near-term applications that we’ve already worked on as proofs-of-concept with Carmera, and that we haven’t yet announced, but are in the area of safety and automated driving,” Kuffner said, noting that the automaker’s new Lexus LS and Toyota Mirai models will offer an advanced driving assistance technology called Teammate that uses HP maps. 

What Woven Planet is weaving

woven city prototype

Image Credits: Woven Planet/Toyota

The Lyft and now Carmera acquisitions represent a sliver of Woven Planet’s myriad of activities since its formation in January 2021 as the automaker seeks a competitive edge against established rivals and upstarts, particularly on the software front. The entity, which is based in Tokyo and a subsidiary of Toyota Motor Corp, includes two operating companies, a VC fund called Woven Capital and Woven City, a testing ground for new technologies set in an interconnected smart city prototype. Toyota broke ground in February 2021 at future site of Woven City, the Higashi-Fuji site in Susono City, Japan, at the base of Mount Fuji.

The two operating companies are Woven Alpha and Woven Core, formerly Toyota Research Institute — Advanced Development Inc. Woven Core includes the mapping unit and is focused on automated driving while Woven Alpha is charged with developing new concepts and projects including the prototype city.

Meanwhile, Woven Capital invests in those next-generation mobility innovations. The VC arm kicked off its new $800 million strategic fund in March 2021 by announcing an investment into autonomous delivery vehicle company Nuro. Last month, Woven Capital invested an undisclosed amount into Ridecell, a transportation software startup that has developed a platform designed to help car-sharing, ride-sharing and autonomous technology companies manage their vehicles.

 

Facebook will pay $1 billion to creators to get them to use its platforms. Will it work?

Facebook is trying to get creators to use its platforms. Will these incentives work?

What would social media be like without content creators?

Facebook knows all too well how important the people publishing their videos online are to its social network, which is why it’s just announced new programs that will pay out $1 billion in total to creators.

“We want to build the best platforms for millions of creators to make a living, so we’re creating new programs to invest over $1 billion to reward creators for great content they create on Facebook and Instagram through 2022,” wrote founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a public post on his Facebook profile.

Facebook’s new creator programs

Creators who publish on Facebook and are invited to join the new program will be able to earn a bonus on top of their regular ad revenue share over the next four months for using in-stream ads. In-stream ads are short advertisements Facebook inserts into video content.

Gaming creators on Facebook can also earn a bonus via its Stars Challenges program. Stars are basically Facebook’s version of YouTube’s Super Chats or Twitch’s Bits. The program allows livestreamers to monetize their streams via direct donations from their fans and followers. Over the next three months, Facebook will provide a financial bonus to creators who hit certain Stars milestones.

According to the New York Times, these creator programs are currently invite-only. However, as Times reporter Taylor Lorenz notes, invite-only doesn’t mean that the program is just for VIPs with huge followings. The company will invite smaller creators to take part in these new programs too.

Tweet may have been deleted

​​Dennis Segstad, a tech startup founder with just over 13,000 Instagram followers, shared screenshots on Twitter of his invitation from the company to use its new “badges” feature on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.

Instagram Badges allows followers to purchase “badges” to show off their support for the creator in the comments section when the creator livestreams. The company has also included a milestone program, which rewards creators with financial bonuses for hitting certain goals.

For example, Segstad shared a screenshot of a $100 bonus offered by the company which he could receive by just going live once on Instagram sometime in the next week for 15 minutes.

CNN reporter Kerry Flynn shared other creator programs Facebook is rolling out on Instagram, such as IGTV ads bonuses, which will program provide a financial incentive for invited creators to simply sign up for IGTV, an app by Instagram for long videos. Once on that platform, Instagram can run ads on a creator’s video content, which will also earn them a share of the ad revenue.

And finally, Reels Summer bonus is the last newly announced creators program from Facebook. It will pay creators who post content on Instagram Reels based on how their reels perform.

It’s been done before

“Investing in creators isn’t new for us, but I’m excited to expand this work over time,” Zuckerberg continued.

Investing $1 billion into creators specifically is not new for the company, either. Back in 2017, as Facebook prepared to compete with YouTube, the company announced it would invest that exact chunk of change into creating and publishing video content.

A little over a year into that program, Mashable spoke to numerous creators who were part of the Facebook partner program. While a select few creators were pulling in six figures on Facebook Watch, most were not finding the same success.

Some creators even found that any boost Facebook received from its $1 billion push of video content pretty much disappeared once the company stopped funding the endeavor. It had simply not established itself as a viable alternative to YouTube.

Facebook has long struggled to compete with the major platforms that have become synonymous with video creators.

Aside from the roll-out of Facebook Watch in 2017, which set out to woo video makers by paying creators to make content for the platform, Facebook has also attempted to bring gaming livestreamers over from YouTube and Twitch. Just this past December, for example, Facebook announced a $10 million fund for Black gaming creators to make content for its platform.

Over on Instagram, the company attempted to compete with popular online video services by launching IGTV. As TikTok blew up in the short-form video space, the company tried to compete there too by incorporating similar features like Instagram Reels. It also released stand-alone apps like Lasso, which was Facebook’s attempt at clone TikTok.

While some attempts have been more successful than others, neither Facebook or Instagram have accomplished the goal of becoming a real alternative to YouTube, Twitch, or TikTok. IGTV and Facebook Watch have both struggled to cement themselves within their own platforms. Facebook shut Lasso down after a little over a year and a half.

As for its latest effort, along with the ones detailed above, Facebook says it will roll out additional bonus programs for creators throughout the year.

This move from Facebook to be taken seriously as a creators platform focuses on incentivizing consistent and prolonged use of Facebook’s platform. Similar creator programs appear to have worked for Snapchat and TikTok.

Will it work for Facebook this time? Or is it just too late for the social network?

12 places for thrifty bookworms to download the best free e-books

A woman reads from an Amazon Kindle while sitting on the steps of the fountain in Washington Square Park. Maybe she got her e-books for free from one of these 12 places, we don't know.

Looking for the next great book to sink your teeth into? Look no further.

If you don’t want to lug around a hardcover in your bag or under your arm, you might want to invest in some e-books. And, thankfully, this is an investment that won’t break the bank. Digital bookworms — you can get in a good read without spending a dime. The internet is filled with free e-book resources so you can download new reads and old classics from the comfort of your smartphone, iPad, or whatever eReader you prefer. If you have a Kindle, there are loads of other places you can download free e-books, specifically made for your device. And, once you’re all set up, you might even be able to share them with friends and family from your Kindle.

Here’s a list of 12 places where you can find a wealth of free e-books (yes, free e-books!).

1. Google eBookstore

The Google eBookstore offers an entire section of free e-books to download.

The Google eBookstore offers an entire section of free e-books to download.
Credit: GOOGLE EBOOKSTORE

In the free section of the Google eBookstore, you’ll find a ton of free books from a variety of genres. Look here for bestsellers, favorite classics, and more, including titles from Ayn Rand and Franz Kafka. Books are available in several formats, and you can also check out ratings and reviews from other users.

2. Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg has of over 60,000 free e-books.

Project Gutenberg has of over 60,000 free e-books.
Credit: Project Gutenberg

With a collection of more than 45,000 free e-books, Project Gutenberg is a volunteer effort to create and share e-books online. The selection includes everything from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll to Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. No registration or fee is required, and books are available in ePub, Kindle, HTML, and simple text formats.

3. Open Library

Never run out of free book download options with Open Library.

Never run out of free book download options with Open Library.
Credit: OPEN LIBRARY

The Open Library has more than one million free e-books available. This library catalog is an open online project of Internet Archive, and allows users to contribute books, which allows for its fascinating selection of everything from Ronald Dahl to John Grisham. You can easily search by the title, author, and subject.

4. Internet Archive

Internet Archive has millions of free books, movies, music, and more.

Internet Archive has millions of free books, movies, music, and more.
Credit: Internet Archive

If you’re looking for out-of-print books in different languages and formats, check out this non-profit digital library. The Internet Archive is a great go-to if you want access to historical and academic books, like an electrical engineer’s pocketbook from 1918 and cookbooks from across the world.

5. BookBoon

BookBoon is ideal if you're looking for e-books of the educational textbook or business book variety.

BookBoon is ideal if you’re looking for e-books of the educational textbook or business book variety.
Credit: BookBoon

Searching for a particular educational textbook or business book? BookBoon may have what you’re looking for, from Advanced Communication Skills to An Introduction to Business and Business Planning. The site offers more than 1,000 free e-books, it’s easy to navigate and best of all, you don’t have to register to download them.

6. ManyBooks.net

ManyBooks.net has all you could want for your Kindles, iPads and other e-readers.

ManyBooks.net has all you could want for your Kindles, iPads and other e-readers.
Credit: ManyBooks.net

With more than 29,000 free e-books at your fingertips, you’re bound to find one that interests you here. You have the option to browse by most popular titles, recent reviews, authors, titles, genres, languages, and more to find books written by Agatha Christie and Tamara Grantham. These books are compatible for Kindles, iPads and most e-readers.

7. Free eBooks

A plethora of free book downloads await -- everything from self-improvement e-books to poetry downloads.

A plethora of free book downloads await — everything from self-improvement e-books to poetry downloads.
Credit: free ebooks

From romance to mystery to education, this website is a good source for all sorts of free e-books. When you’re making a selection, you can go through reviews and ratings for each book. If you’re looking for a site wide variety of books in various categories, one that can serve you The Real Law Of Attraction Code, Blockchain Secrets, and Poetry in Spoken Word in the same breath, check out this site.

8. LibriVox

LibriVox is the ideal free e-book choice if you prefer an audiobook to a physical copy.

LibriVox is the ideal free e-book choice if you prefer an audiobook to a physical copy.
Credit: LibriVox

Want to listen to books instead? LibriVox is home to thousands of free audiobooks, including classics, out-of-print books, and historical texts, like all of the State of the Union Addresses by United States Presidents.

9. PDF Books World

PDF Books World has a massive collection of the PDF versions of all the classics you want.

PDF Books World has a massive collection of the PDF versions of all the classics you want.
Credit: PDF Books World

Thanks to public domain, you can access PDF versions of all the classics you’ve always wanted to read in PDF Books World’s enormous digital library, from The Great Gatsby by Francis Scott Fitzgerald and The Call Of The Wild by Jack London. Literature, plays, poetry, and non-fiction texts are all available for you to download at your leisure.

10. Feedbooks

If you're looking for free public domain books, try Feedbooks.

If you’re looking for free public domain books, try Feedbooks.
Credit: feedbooks

Similar to PDF Books World, Feedbooks allows those that sign up for an account to download a multitude of free e-books — from Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad to The Scarlet Plague by Jack London — that have become accessible via public domain, and therefore cost you nothing to access. Just make sure that when you’re on Feedbooks’ site you head to the “Public Domain” tab to avoid its collection of “premium” books only available for purchase.

11. International Digital Children’s Library

The University of Maryland's International Digital Children's Library is a great place to look for younger readers.

The University of Maryland’s International Digital Children’s Library is a great place to look for younger readers.
Credit: International Digital Children’s Library

If you’re having a hard time finding a good children’s book amidst the many free classics available online, you might want to check out the International Digital Children’s Library. Here, you can find award-winning books that range in length and reading levels, from Aesop’s fables to Tales of passed times by Mother Goose, with morals. There’s also a wide selection of languages available, with everything from English to Farsi.

12. Check your local library

You can get some downloadable e-books through your local library, or an online library like Libby, which requires that you have an actual library card to sign up. The drawbacks are clear: Libraries have a specific number of copies to lend, and if all copies are already checked out, you’ll have to wait your turn. And, like all other books you borrow from the library, you can’t hold onto the e-book forever. But if you want a recently released book, this could be your best bet.

This story was originally published in 2014 and updated in 2021.

Amazon launches its mobile-first Kindle Vella serialized story platform

Steve Dent
Contributor

Steve Dent is an associate editor at Engadget.

As it promised last month, Amazon has launched its serialized fiction Kindle Vella store that lets you unlock episodic, self-published stories via in-app purchases. The new platform is a way for readers to discover new fiction and a new way for authors to generate revenue from the Kindle Direct Publishing service.

While the name might suggest otherwise, Kindle Vella isn’t available on Amazon’s Kindle e-readers. Rather, you’ll only find it on Amazon.com or the Kindle iOS app (no Android for now). To start with, the service will be limited to US-based authors who publish stories in English.

The serialized stories will run from 600 to 5,000 words per episode, with the first three offered for free. To see subsequent episodes, you’ll need to pay for “tokens,” with prices ranging from $2 for 200 tokens up to $15 for 1,700 tokens. The latter will give you about 34 episodes, though prices per episode depend on the word count — the more words, the more you’ll have to spend.

Authors, meanwhile, will receive 50 percent of the revenue along with bonuses based on engagement with the app’s social media-style features. To that end, readers can follow stories to be notified of new episodes, leave a thumbs up for episodes they like, apply a “Fave” for their favorite story of the week (provided they purchase tokens), and share on Twitter, Facebook and other social media. To boost engagement, authors can speak directly to readers at the end of episodes to “share story insights and behind-the-scenes content,” Amazon wrote.

Since Amazon opened Vella to authors three months ago, “thousands of authors” have published “tens of thousands of Kindle Vella episodes across dozens of genres and microgenre,” Amazon said. Authors appear to be interested as well. “I’ve published close to 30 novels, and I’m enjoying the adventure of writing The Marriage Auction in this new format,” said bestselling author Audrey Carlan in a statement. Whether or not the format takes off now depends on readers — to try it out, you can access Vella here.

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Engadget

WhatsApp is testing multi-device support that works without the phone

WhatsApp is finally pushing an improvement to a key feature that even the Facebook-owned instant messaging service acknowledges has been a top request from users for years.

On Wednesday, WhatsApp said it is rolling out a limited public beta test for its improved multi-device capability.

The update enables WhatsApp users for the first time to use the service on up to four non-phone devices without having the registered phone switched on or otherwise connected to the internet. A WhatsApp spokesperson told TechCrunch that this chain of multiple devices can’t have another phone in it.

“Each companion device will connect to your WhatsApp independently,” said the messaging app in a post.

To be clear, WhatsApp, which is used by over 2 billion users globally, already provides support for multiple-device use. A user can simultaneously access the service, for instance, from a web browser or a desktop app on their computer. But the multi-device support flow currently requires the phone to be connected to the internet.

In WhatsApp’s own words:

“By requiring the phone to perform all operations, companion devices are slower and frequently get disconnected — especially when the phone has a poor connection, its battery is running low, or the application process gets killed by the phone’s OS. It also allows for only a single companion device to be operative at a time, meaning people can’t be on a call in Portal while checking their messages on their PC, for example.

The new WhatsApp multi-device architecture removes these hurdles, no longer requiring a smartphone to be the source of truth while still keeping user data seamlessly and securely synchronized and private.”

In a whitepaper published today (PDF), WhatsApp has outlined how this feature works, which gives an insight into why it took so long to ship.

The firm says it has developed new technologies that ensure that even on multiple-devices, messages sync while maintaining end-to-end encryption, a feat that is currently rare in the market.

Image: WhatsApp

“To achieve this, we had to rethink WhatsApp’s architecture and design new systems to enable a standalone multi-device experience while preserving privacy and end-to-end encryption,” the company wrote. “Each message is individually encrypted using the established pairwise encryption session with each device. Messages are not stored on the server after they are delivered.”

The feature also doesn’t change how WhatsApp uses cloud backups for users, a spokesperson said. “The mechanism we use to synchronize messages and other app data across a user’s devices is independent from our cloud backups,” the spokesperson added, pointing to the whitepaper that describes the protocol in more detail.

WhatsApp doesn’t have a specific date for when it plans to roll out this feature to all users. Instead, the firm told us that it is initially rolling out this feature to its existing beta users. Over the coming months, it plans to start adding it as an opt-in beta feature for a small number of users on stable versions of the app, as well.

The aforementioned feature is one of many that WhatsApp is currently developing. WhatsApp is working on a dedicated app for the iPad as well as expand on the last year’s disappearing mode feature. The app, which currently allows users to set a seven-day timer on messages, plans to expand this feature to let users share pictures and videos that can only be viewed once.

Olivia Rodrigo visits White House to encourage young people to get vaccinated

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 14: Olivia Rodrigo looking happy and healthy arriving at the White House.

Olivia Rodrigo knows what is “good 4 u,” getting vaccinated.

Rodrigo, actress and singer of “drivers license,” “good 4 u,” and “deja vu,” visited the White House to promote vaccination among young people. She met with President Biden and Dr. Fauci, spoke at the White House, and plans to answer young people’s vaccine questions on her Instagram.

Rodrigo’s visit comes after President Biden missed his goal of 70 percent of U.S. adults having received their first dose by July 4. Currently, that number is about 67.7 percent, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

Additionally, vaccination rates among young people were lagging behind. As of this week, 50.7 percent of 18 to 24 year olds have received their first and 41.8 percent of 18 to 24 year olds are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

COVID-19 vaccination rates for people ages 12 and up is even lower. The CDC reports that only 33.9 percent of people ages 12 to 15 have received their first dose of a vaccine with 25.3 percent fully vaccinated. Additionally 45.8 percent of 16 and 17 year olds have received one dose, with just 37.5 percent of that age group being fully vaccinated. The CDC recommends “everyone 12 years and older should get a COVID-19 vaccination to help protect against COVID-19.”

On Tuesday, Biden posted on Instagram calling for young people to help other young people get vaccinated. Rodrigo commented “i’m in! see you tomorrow at the white house!”

Wednesday morning Biden announced Rodrigo’s visit on Twitter.

Tweet may have been deleted

Rodrigo spoke at the White House press room on Wednesday, praising Biden and Fauci’s vaccination efforts, urging people to get vaccinated.

“It’s important to have conversations with friends and family members to encourage all communities to get vaccinated and actually get to a vaccination site which you can do more easily than ever before given how many sites we have and how easy it is to find one at vaccines.gov,” said Rodrigo.

Rodrigo sings the praises of Biden and Fauci's vaccination efforts.

Rodrigo sings the praises of Biden and Fauci’s vaccination efforts.
Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

After photos and videos of Rodrigo on White House grounds started circulating online Twitter users starting making clever jokes.

Tweet may have been deleted

Tweet may have been deleted

Tweet may have been deleted

Tweet may have been deleted

Hopefully young people respond to Rodrigo’s message as well as they respond to her music. Good 4 u Rodrigo!

How To Choose A Computer Monitor For Business

A computer monitor is one of the essentials every business should have. You can use it for work or even play games during your free time. There’s a wide variety of computer monitors available in the market today. Finding a computer monitor model that fits your business and personal needs is crucial.

There are several options to consider that make it difficult to decide what’s best for your needs. You should look into the features of every monitor out there and choose one that can enhance your productivity. This guide will help you know the things to look for in a business computer monitor.

Here are the things to keep on your checklist.

The Type Of Work You Do

things to consider when buying a monitor

The type of work should dictate the monitor you choose for your company. Every computer monitor in the market suits a specific kind of work. For instance, you may opt for a computer with good response times if you work in the gaming industry. This, however, won’t matter to you if you do data entry work.

A graphic design professional, on the other hand, will look for a 5k monitor. There are lots of reasons why 5k monitors are worth considering. These monitors have a display resolution of 5120 x 2880 pixels. The clarity of text they deliver and the display justice they do to images make it undoubtedly the future of computer displays.

Resolution matters to graphic designers; the higher, the better. Therefore, you should not choose a computer monitor without thinking about the work you want to do with it. Thankfully it’s easy to find the best monitor for any work you do.

Screen Size

The screen size is another feature that boils down to personal preference. The amount of space on one’s desk can determine the size of screen one chooses. It can also be about how you want your working area to look. A small monitor can be ideal for you if you like seeing your desk fairly open and clear.

To be precise, smaller screens are within the range of 19 inches, while large screens can go up to 34 inches. It is worth noting that screen measurements get taken diagonally. It would be best to find a screen size that fits your viewing needs and the amount of space on your desk.

Price

Another thing that matters when buying a monitor is pricing. The price of a computer monitor depends on different factors. It can be screen size, resolution, or the type of work it’s designed to do. As a business, you need to consider your budget, then check out several monitors within that price range.

Startups usually operate on strict budgets, making it vital to regulate their spending. You may go for small screen sizes, low resolutions, and other budget-friendly options if you run such a business. Established businesses, on the other hand, spend a lot more. They can go for monitors with high resolutions, height-adjustable stands, etc.

Screen Resolution

High resolutions deliver better quality pictures. Today, nearly all 22-inch and above monitors display high-definition images. Smaller screens can only deliver up to 720p, which may not be ideal for some types of work. You need to consider the resolution that will deliver the image quality you desire.

It is always good to look for high resolution in a monitor. Although your work may not require high resolution now, you may need it in the future. Investing in a quality monitor now can help you save the money you’d have spent on buying another one in the future.

Refresh Rate and Response Time

You also need to check a monitor’s refresh rates before purchasing it. The refresh rate, usually marked as hertz (Hz), is how long a monitor takes to update images on your screen. Gamers, for instance, need high refresh rates because the pictures keep changing from second to second.

Response times are also a critical factor to look for in a computer monitor. You can go for low response times if you love fast reactions in between image transitions. Keeping the desired response times and refresh rates in mind can help you find a monitor that fits your business needs.

Special Features

Monitors come with different kinds of features that determine performance. Everyone has qualities that they need depending on why they bought the monitor. You can choose a curved monitor if you love viewing the screen from different angles. Someone else could be looking for height adjustability.

Other special features are there to protect the user from different hazards. For instance, you could be looking for a monitor that has eye protection features. This is if you have experienced irritations and eye strains with some types of monitors. The qualities one chooses depends on individual preferences.

Compatibility

what to consider when buying a monitor for business

A good monitor needs to be compatible with your PC. Most monitors available today can connect with standard PCs making it easy to find one that will fit your needs. But then, modern PCs have different ports from older models. Some use HDMI outputs, while others use DVI or DisplayPort.

It would help if you were sure that the monitor you choose would be compatible with your PC. Besides, it would be best to ensure that the monitor’s resolution matches your PC’s output. You may not have a good experience using a monitor with a higher resolution than what your PC gives you.

Some people love working with more than one monitor. If you do this, ensure you confirm that your monitors allow you to accommodate more monitors. This will enable you to take full advantage of your hardware and also gives you value for money.

Conclusion

Buying a computer monitor can be hectic with so many options out there. It would help if you kept in mind the things that matter before choosing one, and we have looked at them in detail. Taking your time to research computer monitors is worth it rather than choosing a monitor that won’t deliver to your personal or employees’ expectations.

The insights above can make finding the perfect monitor for your needs simple. Besides getting a monitor with the right features, the monitor you choose needs to fit your budget needs as well. Keep these tips in mind, and you will not get disappointed.

The post How To Choose A Computer Monitor For Business appeared first on Dumb Little Man.

Twitter is shutting down Fleets on August 3, citing low usage

Stories that disappear after a period of time are where the action is on social platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook. But when it comes to Twitter, it looks the product itself is going to be going away in a matter of days. Twitter has confirmed that Fleets — its own take on ephemeral Stories that it launched into general availability just nine months ago — is shutting down on August 3.

The company said the reason for the move is a lack of activity — specifically, among the more hesitant Twitter users who it said it was trying to target with Fleets in the first place. Kayvon Beykpour, Twitter’s head of consumer product, said that the company would be building other products, but didn’t say whether they would be bringing in any more ephemeral aspects to any of them.

Spaces, the company’s answer to Clubhouse, currently sits in the same strip at the top of the app as Fleets and it will become the sole occupant of that horizontal carousel when Fleets disappears.

Meanwhile, the company noted in a blog post from Ilya Brown, VP of Product, that some of what it built for Fleets — such as the veritical, full-screen advertising test that it ran only as recently as June — would possibly reappear in other places on the app.

The announcement shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that the most we’ve heard about Fleets has been when Twitter launched them, or made some kind of product iteration on them, or found itself facing a technical glitch. Yet in terms of viral traction, or high profile Fleets, there hasn’t been much.

Most of all, though shut-down also underscores how Twitter continues to struggle to make its product accessible in a more mainstream way to a wider pool of users; and how it struggles to boost engagement by tapping users who are there but just to sit back with their popcorn and watch the action.

Back when Twitter first started testing Fleets in limited markets in March 2020, its bet had been that some people weren’t tweeting as much as others because the permanent format of Twitter put them off. Make the tweets disappear, they thought, and more people would get talking… not least because the format was proving so popular on other social platforms. (Before it made its move last year, Twitter was, indeed, one of the few social media sites that had yet to launch a stories format.)

Initial rollout of the feature looked promising — at least, if you consider it a positive indicator that Fleets crashed from the surge of people using it when it first became a available worldwide.

But longer term, it turns out those quiet Twitter users weren’t much interested in Fleets, either, and that the only people really posting stories as Fleets were already pretty active on the platform.

To be clear, we don’t know how many of power users were using Fleets, either. Twitter declined to provide any usage numbers or other stats on Fleets when asked.

There were other issues that Twitter never quite resolve with the user experience of Fleets. For example, was it an issue or confusing at all that when Twitter launched Spaces they appeared in the same place as Fleets? Or was that lack of clarity the writing on the wall for Fleets?

And with Fleets, it was never completely clear how Twitter decided what to put in the space. Some people follow thousands of accounts, and there was never a way to specifically follow people for their Fleets, so what you saw became a question of Twitter’s algorithms.

It seems that Twitter is not closing the door on trying more experiments, even if it’s had a lacklustre track record in getting some of them into wider use. “Bg bets are risky and speculative, so by definition a number of them won’t work,” Beykpour noted. “If we’re not having to wind down features every once in a while, then it would be a sign that we’re not taking big enough swings.”

Twitter disappears Fleets

And like that, they're gone.

It took eight months, but Fleets are officially disappearing.

Twitter confirmed Wednesday that it is ending its brief experiment with disappearing messages, dubbed Fleets, on August 3. According to the company, the Stories-like posts which lived at the top of users’ mobile Timelines never really caught on — or, at least not in the way Twitter wanted.

“We hoped Fleets would help more people feel comfortable joining the conversation on Twitter,” wrote Ilya Brown, Twitter’s vice president of product, in a blog post announcing the decision. “However, we haven’t seen an increase in the amount of new people joining the conversation with Fleets like we hoped.”

Twitter launched Fleets back in November of 2020 to much hype and fanfare. The logic at the time, so far as it was articulated by Twitter, was that posts which automatically disappeared after a 24-hour window would encourage otherwise shy users to post more.

“That thing you didn’t Tweet but wanted to but didn’t but got so close but then were like nah,” teased Twitter back in 2020. “We have a place for that now—Fleets!”

Tweet may have been deleted

In hindsight, it’s noteworthy that Twitter described Fleets “as a place” for disappearing content. Fleets were always a separate, segmented product that felt apart from the core of Twitter. With Fleets, Twitter didn’t give users the ability to make tweets automatically delete at a future date. Rather, the company created a distinct place where users could temporarily dump images or videos.

In Wednesday’s blog post, Brown explained how Fleets were actually being used.

“Although we built Fleets to address some of the anxieties that hold people back from Tweeting, Fleets are mostly used by people who are already Tweeting to amplify their own Tweets and talk directly with others.”

We asked Twitter if the decision to retire Fleets in any way affects its decision to, as of yet, deny users the ability to set future expiration dates for their tweets.

“We’re still exploring ideas like this and others to help people feel more comfortable joining the conversation,” replied a spokesperson.

Brown did, however, insist that this is not the last Twitter product which may get spun up only to later be unceremoniously killed off.

SEE ALSO: Twitter Fleets have created a whole new opportunity for reply guys

“If we’re not evolving our approach and winding down features every once in a while — we’re not taking big enough chances,” Brown wrote.

With only three weeks left for Fleets, it looks to be a relatively quick death for a feature that was already dying of natural causes. So go ahead and say your goodbyes to Fleets now, before it disappears one final time.

You can see fires, but now Qwake wants firefighters to see through them

When it comes to tough environments to build new technology, firefighting has to be among the most difficult. Smoke and heat can quickly damage hardware, and interference from fires will disrupt most forms of wireless communications, rendering software all but useless. From a technology perspective, not all that much has really changed today when it comes to how people respond to blazes.

Qwake Technologies, a startup based in San Francisco, is looking to upgrade the firefighting game with a hardware augmented reality headset named C-THRU. Worn by responders, the device scans surrounding and uploads key environmental data to the cloud, allowing all responders and incident commanders to have one common operating picture of their situation. The goal is to improve situational awareness and increase the effectiveness of firefighters, all while minimizing potential injuries and casualties.

The company, which was founded in 2015, just raised about $5.5 million in financing this week. The company’s CEO, Sam Cossman, declined to name the lead investor, citing a confidentiality clause in the term sheet. He characterized the strategic investor as a publicly-traded company, and Qwake is the first startup investment this company has made.

(Normally, I’d ignore fundings without these sorts of details, but given that I am obsessed with DisasterTech these days, why the hell not).

Qwake has had success in recent months with netting large government contracts as it approaches a wider release of its product in late-2021. It secured a $1.4 million contract from the Department of Homeland Security last year, and also secured a partnership with the U.S. Air Force along with RSA in April. In addition, it raised a bit of angel funding and participated in Verizon’s 5G First Responder Lab as part of its inaugural cohort (reminder that TechCrunch is still owned by Verizon).

Cossman, who founded Qwake along with John Long, Mike Ralston, and Omer Haciomeroglu, has long been interested in fires, and specifically, volcanos. For years, he has been an expeditionary videographer and innovator who climbed calderas and attempted to bridge the gap between audiences, humanitarian response, and science.

“A lot of the work that I have done up until this point was focused on earth science and volcanoes,” he said. “A lot of projects were focused on predicting volcanic eruptions and looking at using sensor networks and different things of that nature to make people who live in those regions that are exposed to volcanic threats safer.”

During one project in Nicaragua, his team suddenly found itself lost amidst the smoke of an active volcano. There were “thick, dense superheated volcanic gases that prevented us from navigating correctly,” Cossman said. He wanted to find technology that might help them navigate in those conditions in the future, so he explored the products available to firefighters. “We figured, ‘Surely these men and women have figured out how do you see in austere environments, how do you make quick decisions, etc.’”

He was left disappointed, but also with a new vision: to build such technology himself. And thus, Qwake was born. “I was pissed off that the men and women who arguably need this stuff more than anybody — certainly more than a consumer — didn’t have anywhere to get it, and yet it was entirely possible,” he said. “But it was only being talked about in science fiction, so I’ve dedicated the last six years or so to make this thing real.”

Building such a product required a diverse set of talent, including hardware engineering, neuroscience, firefighting, product design and more. “We started tinkering and building this prototype. And it very interestingly got the attention of the firefighting community,” Cossman said.

Qwake offers a helmet-based IoT product that firefighters wear to collect data from environments. Image Credits: Qwake Technologies

Qwake at the time didn’t know any firefighters, and as the founders did customer calls, they learned that sensors and cameras weren’t really what responders needed. Instead, they wanted more operational clarity: not just more data inputs, but systems that can take all that noise, synthesize it, and relay critical information to them about exactly what’s going on in an environment and what the next steps should be.

Ultimately, Qwake built a full solution, including both an IoT device that attaches to a firefighter’s helmet and also a tablet-based application that processes the sensor data coming in and attempts to synchronize information from all teams simultaneously. The cloud ties it all together.

So far, the company has design customers with the fire departments of Menlo Park, California and Boston. With the new funding, the team is looking to advance the state of its prototype and get it ready for wider distribution by readying it for scalable manufacturing as it approaches a more public launch later this year.

‘This Way Up’ Season 2 captures mental health issues and sisterly relationships with compassion

Aine (Aisling Bea) and Shona (Sharon Horgan) in

“Don’t worry Rachel, I’m a sad girl too.” These are the words said to me by a kind friend earlier this year when I hit a bit of a rough patch during the UK’s third national lockdown.

Watching Channel 4 and Hulu’s This Way Up Season 2 feels exactly like that fellow-sad-girl-friend reaching their arm around you to remind you you’re not alone after all.

In the very first episode of the new season, Aine (Aisling Bea) tells her sister Shona (Sharon Horgan), “It’d be nice to be in bed with someone at night other than my pile of shit boyfriend.” And by “pile of shit,” she means the literal pile of detritus that’s accumulated on the side of the bed she doesn’t sleep on — a familiar sight to anyone whose homes have ever become a reflection of the state of their mental wellbeing.

Produced by Horgan’s company, Merman (responsible for the likes of This Way Up‘s first season, HBO’s Divorce, and Channel 4’s Catastrophe), Bea’s comedy tells the story of language teacher Aine, who’s just spent a stint in rehab after having a breakdown. In Season 1, we see Aine attempting to get her life back on track while her overprotective sister Shona watches with concern. Aine navigates the solitary existence of living in a big city far from home and the very specific type of loneliness you can feel living in flat shares in London.

Season 2 sees Shona encounter a rough patch of her own — will she go through with marrying Vish (Aasif Mandvi)? Will she and Charlotte (Indira Varma) be able to run a business together with all that sexual tension? Meanwhile, Aine takes on an ambitious new career venture and starts to live life with a few more risks. Fans of the first season will recall the workplace sexual tension between Aine and Richard (Tobias Menzies) — and, without giving too much away, the storyline between the dynamic duo continues.

Just as the first season of This Way Up portrayed the reality of loneliness like nothing I’d ever seen before, the second continues its streak of capturing mental health issues with compassion and without relying on stereotypes and clichés. Season 2 also delves into a topic that we rarely see portrayed with care and sensitivity on our screens: erectile dysfunction.

What’s really wonderful with This Way Up is the way the show continues to portray the reality of living with mental health challenges without pathologising the character or presenting them as a great anomaly. For Aine, depression is lurking in the background — as it is for so many — and every now and again it rears its familiar face. It’s not portrayed in an overly dramatic way that makes viewers gasp in horror, but rather, if you’ve ever had a period of low mood in your lifetime, you’ll likely spot a few reminders of that time.

Above all, though, This Way Up is a story of sisterly love, warts and all. Anyone with a sibling will know it’s not all BFFs-having-a-sleepover vibes 100 percent of the time. Sometimes the people that really love us and know what’s best for us in tough times can be really bloody irritating (especially when they’re telling you something you don’t want to hear).

This Way Up is streaming in the UK, beginning July 14 at 10 p.m. BST on Channel 4 with all episodes available on All 4 following the first episode. It’s also streaming in the U.S. on Hulu.

Microsoft launches Windows 365

Microsoft today launched Windows 365, a service that gives businesses the option to easily let their employees access a Windows 10 desktop from the cloud (with Windows 11 coming once it’s generally available). Think game streaming, but for your desktop. It’ll be available for business users (and only business users), on August 2, 2021.

Announced through a somewhat inscrutable press release, Windows 365 has been long expected and is really just an evolution of existing remote desktop services.

But hey, you may say, doesn’t Microsoft already offer Azure Virtual Desktop that gives businesses the option to let their employees access a Windows PC in the cloud? Yes, but the difference seems to be that Windows 365 is far easier to use and involves none of the complexity of setting up a full Azure Virtual Desktop environment in the Azure cloud.

But couldn’t Microsoft have made Azure Virtual Desktop easier to use instead of launching yet another virtual desktop service? Yes, but Azure Virtual Desktop is very much an enterprise service and by default, that means it must play nicely with the rest of the complexities of a company’s existing infrastructure. The pandemic pressed it into service in smaller companies because they had few alternatives, but in many ways, today’s launch is Microsoft admitting that it was far too difficult to manage for them. Windows 365, on the other hand, is somewhat of a fresh slate. It’s also available through a basic subscription service.

“Microsoft also continues to innovate in Azure Virtual Desktop for those organizations with deep virtualization experience that want more customization and flexibility options,” the company says. At least we know why the company renamed Windows Virtual Desktop to Azure Virtual desktop now. That would’ve gotten quite confusing.

Image Credits: Microsoft

This also gives Microsoft the opportunity to talk about “a new hybrid personal computing category” its CEO Satya Nadella calls a ‘Cloud PC.’ It’s a bit unclear what exactly that’s supposed to be, but it’s a new category.

“Just like applications were brought to the cloud with SaaS, we are now bringing the operating system to the cloud, providing organizations with greater flexibility and a secure way to empower their workforce to be more productive and connected, regardless of location,” Nadella explains in today’s press release.

But isn’t that just a thin client? Maybe? But we’re not talking hardware here. It’s really just a virtualized operating system in the cloud that you can access from anywhere — and that’s a category that’s been around for a long time.

“Hybrid work has fundamentally changed the role of technology in organizations today,” said Jared Spataro, corporate vice president, Microsoft 365. “With workforces more disparate than ever before, organizations need a new way to deliver a great productivity experience with increased versatility, simplicity and security. Cloud PC is an exciting new category of hybrid personal computing that turns any device into a personalized, productive and secure digital workspace. Today’s announcement of Windows 365 is just the beginning of what will be possible as we blur the lines between the device and the cloud.”

 

 

6 Tips To Quickly Pay Off Credit Card Debt

Some people who have credit card debt tend to put in extra cash they acquire to pay off their debt instinctively. However, there are times when you might wonder, is it a smart move to settle your balance early or all at once? You may have heard the idea that it is beneficial for your credit score to carry a balance.

Credit cards are considered an unsecured loan. These types of loans don’t require collateral, but defaulting on them can trigger a lender to send your debt to a collection agency or take you to court. Settling credit card debt as fast as possible can save interest amounts and even help you keep your credit score in good condition. But settling these debts is often not as easy as acquiring them in the first place.

Nonetheless, you can still do something about it. With discipline, dedication, and a decent plan, you can consistently work your way towards a life without credit card debt.

Pay Off Debts With The Highest Interest Rates First

how to pay off credit card debt

Settling credit card debt with the highest financing cost will help you save money over the long haul. If you carry large balances with a high interest rate, you’ll have a larger amount to pay back.

You can save more if you quickly settle the card with the largest balance and the highest interest rate. In case you’re keen on setting aside cash over time, start paying off high-interest rate debts first. Settling debts with high interest rates lowers the total amount of finance fees you need to pay off.

Consolidate Your Debts

Combining all your credit card debts allows you to consolidate some higher-interest balances into a single one with a lower rate. With this, you can settle your obligation quicker without risking a larger payment amount. You can consolidate all of your bills and settle them with a single personal loan or credit card. Two of the most common methods to consolidate debt are:

  • Balance transfer. A balance transfer allows you to move balances from either a single or multiple cards to an alternate account. Make use of low balance transfer rates to transfer debt of credit cards with high-interest rates. Moreover, if you settle your balance before the introduction period closes, you will pay less interest.
  • Home equity credit. If your home has equity, you might have the option to utilize it to settle credit card debts. Home equity credit sometimes offers a lower rate in contrast to the rate your cards charge. Know that closing costs frequently apply; however, an additional advantage is that home equity interest installments are regularly tax-deductible.

If you opt to consolidate, remember that it’s vital to lower your overall spending. If you fail to cut back unnecessary expenses, you might end up with more debt on top of the amount you consolidated.

Use The Snowball Method

In order to quickly settle your balances, it’s important to determine which debts to pay off first. When it comes to credit card debt, you can choose to pay off small balances first. A great strategy to settle credit card balances without the risk of accumulating more debt is through the snowball method.

Using the debt snowball approach, you can settle all your obligations regardless of interest rates. With this approach, you can bring down your credit use on individual cards faster and lower the number of accounts that have outstanding balances. When you finish settling the smallest balance, you start settling the next account.

Each balance you settle gives you more cash to assist in settling the following accounts faster. Once your payments pick up momentum, it is easier and more motivating to keep settling your remaining debts. Besides, the debt snowball approach can positively affect your credit scores, particularly if you eliminate credit card debts first.

Put Away Your Cards

how to pay off credit card debt quickly

One of the ideal approaches to settle credit card debt quickly is to stop utilizing credit cards. In short, you need to keep them out of sight so you can avoid the temptation to swipe them. Store your cards in a safe place until you’re free from debt. Pay for your shopping using cash rather than using credit; it will help you separate your wants from needs.

Keep a record of your spending, and always consider your priorities carefully before spending money. After you successfully pay off your entire debt, try to use only one credit card. You will realize that one is enough.

But if you can’t seem to let go of your credit cards, make sure to be responsible when using them. According to CreditNinja’s guide on good financial habits, while irresponsible credit card use can lead you to trouble, mindfully utilizing them can teach you a thing or two about following a repayment schedule. This can positively impact your credit standing.

Negotiate For A Lower Rate

Most people don’t realize it, but it is possible to negotiate with various lenders, such as banks. If you are having a hard time settling your credit card debt, you can contact your lender and request a lower financing cost. In many instances, banks agree if you ask for a lower interest rate.

Banks significantly incur a loss if you default on your obligation. So, it’s in their benefit to offer you an alternative. It can also help you negotiate if you are a long-time client and have a record of timely payments.

Be Open To Outside Help

There are times when debts can be overwhelming. In case you’re struggling to keep up with your regular payments, or your gross debt takes up more than half of your gross annual income, itt may be an ideal opportunity to seek outside assistance.

Debt relief alternatives such as bankruptcy and debt management plans from nonprofit credit agencies can help you to pay off your obligations. If you can’t figure out when you need to seek help, repaying your debt may take decades and sabotage your financial goals.

Final Thoughts

Sometimes, debt can be too much to handle, particularly if you have obligations on several credit cards. Using the strategies above, you can actively take control of your obligations. Although it would take time and lifestyle adjustments to pay off your debts, the effort you put in is worth it. Pay off your credit card debts quickly and put your money into more worthwhile ventures for your future.

The post 6 Tips To Quickly Pay Off Credit Card Debt appeared first on Dumb Little Man.

Facebook’s ‘On This Day’ feature makes me want to delete my account every day

The uncertainty of my friends' Facebook memories is terrifying.

There are some things in life you just want to leave in the past.

Do you have a burning desire to reread messages you sent your eighth grade crush after school? Are you eager to rewatch videos of yourself complaining about homework in your childhood bedroom? Or perhaps you’d like to see selfies you took on a webcam so old that you had to physically plug into into your computer’s USB port?

In all seriousness, you might. It could be a funny, touching, nostalgic journey. But you can’t convince me that you want those digital ghosts from your past living online for others to see.

I surely don’t!

In the year 2021 you may summon a shred of inner peace by telling yourself that all your embarrassing online content from the past two decades — messages, videos, photos, ice cold takes, and declarations of love — are in the past, and therefore, they can’t make you cringe anymore.

That’s mostly true. Unless, of course, you have Facebook. If that’s the case, then the “On This Day” feature — which Facebook released to all users in 2017 — will drag all your old content to light on a daily basis. It’s both a blessing and a curse. But we’re here to talk about what makes Facebook memories such a nightmare.

Facebook doesn’t forget (unless you tell it to)

From privacy concerns to problems with fake news, there’s much to dislike about Mark Zuckerberg’s social network. Yet the Facebook feature that fills me with the most dread on a daily basis is On This Day.

For those who need a refresher, On This Day collects your own Facebook memories that were posted on the same day years prior, then privately displays them for you in a convenient feed. It shows you past status updates, photos you uploaded or were tagged in, friendiversary reminders, and posts that friends shared to your wall. It sounds harmless, but there’s a catch.

Most people who’ve taken issue with the On This Day feature in the past dislike being shown their own memories for reasons I completely understand. You can be shown memories of a loved one who’s died, reminded of a troubling time in your life, or shown a whole slew of things you’d rather leave in the past. The feature can be triggering for some, so since launching On This Day Facebook has created settings that let users hide memories from certain people or time periods.

For me, however, unwelcome memories that appear on my feed aren’t the concern. Not knowing which memories of me appear in other On This Day”roundups is what sparks anxiety.

The dreadful uncertainty of one-sided trips down memory lane

As a millennial who was (just barely) allowed to get a Facebook account in eighth grade I unfortunately started using the social media platform in an era when middle school and high school students didn’t think twice about what they posted online.

From 2006 to 2012-ish everyone my age publicly had conversations that should have been DMs on each other’s Facebook walls. We overshared, we posted far too many times a day, and for some reason we felt free to be our weirdest, most obnoxious teenage selves online in plain sight.


Not knowing which memories of me appear in other On This Day roundups is what sparks anxiety.

While I don’t think anything I posted on Facebook walls in the past was horribly offensive, I know I would think that the majority of my old posts were embarrassing. I cringe at the idea that my Facebook friends — some of whom I’ve fallen out of touch with over the years — have easy access to my old teenage content while I don’t. And I shudder at the thought that they’re actively reminded of that content a daily basis.

When I scroll through my own Facebook memory page and see grainy Photobooth photoshoots, videos of naively childish rants, and other absurd things that friends posted to my wall as teens, I usually laugh and reflect fondly on the past — no matter how ridiculous. But those lighthearted feelings fade when I think, “Oh shit. Who knows what embarrassing, cringeworthy content of mine Facebook is including in other On This Day pages.

In the grand scheme of life I know that Facebook memories aren’t even close to being a serious problem. But the uncertainty of never knowing what old content of me the platform is circulating has undoubtedly become a gnawing social media anxiety of mine.

So is there a fix?

I’ve thought about ways I could review my old wall posts and choose the content I’d like to save, hide, or delete, but it doesn’t seem like Facebook has a convenient solution for this problem yet.

You can view individual friendships you have with people and easily scroll through your exchanges over the years, but exploring years and years of digital friendships would require an absolutely absurd amount of time and effort — two sacred things I’m no longer willing to give to Facebook.

I’m aware that I can disable the Memories feature for myself, but that’s not what I want. Rather, I wish Facebook would let users review all of their daily throwback memories (including those that only others see) or let us opt out of Memories and choose to prevent our old content from appearing in friends’ On This Day roundups entirely.

Though I, like many others, am fed up with Facebook, I’m not ready to permanently delete my account quite yet. If it weren’t for some light FOMO, a sentimental attachment to photos I never actually look at, and a fear of forgetting birthdays I would be free of the site. But for now I’ll continue to anxiously wonder what mortifying content of mine Facebook is dredging up from the days when I had bushy eyebrows, lived in Aéropostale monkey sweatshirts, and didn’t own a hair straightener.

Just know that I’m about one embarrassing memory of a friend away from inputing important birthdays into my phone’s calendar, downloading photos, and breaking up with the platform for good. If that day ever comes, I’ll be sure to write the date down and celebrate the memory annually.

Volvo’s first electric-only SUV has useful analog features

The Volvo C40 Recharge has plenty of compartments.

Volvo’s first EV without a gas-powered counterpart has some slick features that have nothing to do with touchscreens, software updates, or battery range.

The C40 Recharge was announced earlier this year and will arrive in the U.S. at the start of 2022. It’s expected to start around $55,000 before federal tax credits. I took a look at a Fjord Blue model at Volvo’s tech offices in the Bay Area last week.

Sure the C40 Recharge has built-in Google integration with navigation, audio, and entertainment running on Android software, an accompanying app to monitor charging, and over-the-air software updates. But it’s the simple details like the front trunk (or “frunk”) and console layout that pique my interest.

Subtle compartments, fixtures, and design choices are scattered throughout Volvo’s first dedicated electric SUV.

Frunk

Like most EVs, the front space under the hood is now an available storage unit. Thanks to the lack of internal combustion engine, the battery laying flat along the car floor, and the dual electric motors along both axles, there’s extra space up front. The Recharge has 21 liters of volume to hold purses, small bags, or, even more conveniently, charging cords.

Receptacles galore, including a trashcan

The front console between the driver and passenger seats in the C40 Recharge is where Volvo’s Scandinavian roots really show. Beyond the usual cupholders, cellphone stand, and cavernous armrest compartment, there’s a small flap behind the gear shifter. It opens to a small trashcan for gum wrappers, receipts, and other miscellanea that finds its way into the EV. Instead of collecting in random crevices, your trash stays organized and is easier to clear out later.

There’s even something for the back row. Built into the side of the seats are small open compartments to snug in water bottles, electronics, or — since we’re talking about analog features — even a real book.

So many compartments.

So many compartments.
Credit: sasha lekach / mashable

Trunk

The backside of a car is usually overlooked because, well, it’s just big open space to put stuff. The C40 Recharge trunk isn’t that exhilarating or anything, although it does have a “secret” compartment below the trunk floor for added storage that’s more secure. But a unique feature in the back space is system of hooks to hold your grocery (or other) shopping bags in place. It’s the little things.

Moonroof

A huge pane of glass really opens up the compact SUV. While the panoramic window doesn’t do anything functionally (it’s sealed shut), it makes the experience of sitting in the car that much better. Even with the glass in the ceiling weather-tight, the car somehow feels more open, and makes a late-night recharging session sound more palatable while gazing into the sky above.

Reservations for the C40 Recharge are open online with a $500 deposit even though the car hasn’t started production. The official range hasn’t been released yet, but Volvo’s similarly sized XC40 Recharge hits over 200 miles on a single charge — if you care about those things. Clearly I’m all about cupholders and storage space.

Former Nutanix execs launch new startup with $50M seed round

Today a new software company from two former Nutanix executives called DevRev emerged from stealth with a $50 million seed round from Mayfield Fund, Khosla Ventures and several industry luminaries. The company, which aims to bring the coding and revenue processes closer together, already has 75 employees working on the new software platform, which they hope to have ready to launch later this year.

It’s not every day you see a $50 million seed round, but perhaps the fact that former Nutanix co-founder and CEO Dheeraj Pandey and his former SVP of engineering Manoj Agarwal are involved, could help explain the investor enthusiasm for the new project.

Pandey says that he has seen a gap between developers and the revenue the applications they create are supposed to generate. The idea behind the new company is to break down the silos that exist between the front of the office and the back of the office and give developers a deeper understanding of the customers using their products, or at least that’s the theory.

“Dev and Rev are Yin and Yang to each other. In today’s world they are really far apart with tons of bureaucracy between these two parties. Our goal to bring dev and rev to get rid of the bureaucracy,” Pandey told me

The company intends to build an API to help developers pull this information from existing systems for companies already working with a CRM tool like Salesforce, while helping gather that customer information for younger companies who might lack a tool. Regardless, the idea is to bring that info where the developer can see it to help build better products.

The way it works in most companies is customer service or sales hears complaints or suggestions about the product, and tickets get generated, but putting these issues in front of the people building the software isn’t always easy or direct. DevRev hopes to change that.

Navin Chaddha, managing director at Mayfield, whose firm is investing in DevRev, sees a need to bring these different parts of the company together in a more direct way. “The code that developers work on today is used by support as well as marketing and sales. By bringing the world of issues and tickets closer to the world of revenue and growth, DevRev’s unified platform bridges the gap between developer and customer and elevates the developer to a business leader,” Chaddha said.

With 75 employees working on the problem, DevRev is already a substantial startup. As experienced founders Pandey and Agarwal certainly understand the importance of building a diverse and inclusive company. Pandey sees the top of the employment funnel really being focused on engineering, design and business schools and the company is working to bring in a diverse group of young employees.

“[We are looking at ways] to search for talent and to promote talent, to make them into leaders. I think we have an empty canvas by the way, and we have this idea of COVID, and being able to do remote work has really grown the top of the funnel, the mouth of the funnel now can be anything and everything. […] [Colleges and universities] are I would say the real source of all diversity at the end of the day. We have seen how engineering schools, design schools and business schools are actually getting so diverse,” he said.

The company is working to build the product now and reaching out to developer communities on Discord, GitHub and other places that developers gather online to get their input, while testing and improving the product in-house and with design partners.

Nutanix, the founders’ previous company, launched in 2009 and raised over a $1 billion before going public in 2016. Pandey and Agarwal left Nutanix at the end of last year to launch the new company.

How to create a FaceTime link for your Android and PC friends

FaceTime is for anyone and everyone now.

FaceTime is now for everyone.

With iOS 15, Apple’s finally letting Android and PC users get in on the FaceTime action. The operating system update, which will be officially released this fall, adds the ability to schedule and send a FaceTime link to anyone you would like to video chat with — no iPhone necessary.

This means that you can use the link feature to set up FaceTime calls in advance for fellow Apple users, or in the moment for Android or web users. As a participant, all you’ll need is a friend with an Apple device running iOS 15 to set up the link and you should be able to tune in from any device you choose.

If you’ve been selected as the designated Apple friend and you have no idea how to set up the FaceTime link for your virtual group hangout, do not fret. We’ve got you covered with step-by-step instructions below.

First, you need to update to iOS 15

This whole tutorial will be pretty useless if you haven’t gotten the latest iOS 15 update yet. So go ahead and download the beta.

1. Navigate to the FaceTime app

Normally, when I FaceTime other Apple users, I just go to their contact card or latest texts in my iMessage app, and tap on the FaceTime icon there. But to set up a group or individual FaceTime link, you have to go to the actual FaceTime app.

It's green... like the Android logo. Maybe Apple was planning this all along.

It’s green… like the Android logo. Maybe Apple was planning this all along.
Credit: screenshot: apple

2. Tap “Create Link”

It really can't get any clearer than this.

It really can’t get any clearer than this.
Credit: screenshot: apple

When you open the app, the new Create Link feature will appear up at the top. You’ll want to tap this.

3. Name and share your link

Leaving the call nameless just shows a lack of personality.

Leaving the call nameless just shows a lack of personality.
Credit: screenshot: apple

The naming function is a little hidden. Tap on the green text that says “Add Name” under “FaceTime Link” at the top of the pop-up box. You can also opt to not name your call, but that’s no fun people!

You can choose to send your link the same way you send almost anything on an iPhone: AirDrop to a nearby Apple device; iMessage/text; email; or just copy the link to paste elsewhere.

4. Tune into your call at whatever time you decide

If you’re making the link in advance of when you actually want to FaceTime, make sure you tell your friends what time to click on the link and join the call when you send it to them. There isn’t an exact scheduling function like you’d find with Google Meet or Zoom, where you would input a time for the call while making the link. It’s up to you to inform your participants when to tune in.

It'll stay in your app until you choose to delete it.

It’ll stay in your app until you choose to delete it.
Credit: Screenshot: apple

Your scheduled link will appear at the top of your FaceTime app as soon as you’re done creating it, and it’ll stay there until you delete the link. So, theoretically, you could keep reusing the same link for future calls with the same people, as long as they save the link somewhere handy.

5. Let other people in the call

It's kinda funny that you have to join your own FaceTime call, but whatever,

It’s kinda funny that you have to join your own FaceTime call, but whatever,
Credit: screenshot: apple

Once you’re in the FaceTime, tap “Join” and wait for any others to arrive. Every time a participant clicks the link, they will input their name in a pop-up box and you will get an approval request before they can officially join in.

The view is a little different than a regular FaceTime call, even with just one person.

The view is a little different than a regular FaceTime call, even with just one person.
Credit: screenshot: apple

Here is where you can add more people to send the link to.

Here is where you can add more people to send the link to.
Credit: screenshot: apple

If you want to add more people to the link while you’re on the call, you can also tap on the call’s name. This will display the call’s settings menu, where you can add people, switch to a grid layout, or silence join requests if you’re getting random people trying to hop in.

6. Gab it up, baby!

All that’s left is to chat to your heart’s content. You can even mess with how other people see you on FaceTime by activating some old and new settings, like Animoji and Portrait Mode on FaceTime.

The 12-foot Home Depot skeleton will return this year — and he has a hot new friend

Look at those LifeEyes!

America’s leading source of autumnal serotonin is coming back.

Home Depot revealed its Halloween and holiday décor collections on Wednesday, July 14, including — thank god — a restock of the fabled 12-foot giant skeleton with LCD LifeEyes that shook the internet to its bones last year. The skeleton will be in stock on Home Depot’s website on July 16, according to the retailer, and will cost $299, the same amount it did in 2020.

If you happen to have an extra $50 in your “12-foot skeleton” budget, Home Depot will also be selling an upgraded, significantly weirder version of the 12-foot skeleton. The “Inferno Pumpkin Skeleton” has a pumpkin for a head, a “refined hourglass figure,” and flames (not real flames) in his ribcage, which we can only assume is due to severe acid reflux.

The original skeleton (left) and the new Inferno Pumpkin Skeleton (right).

The original skeleton (left) and the new Inferno Pumpkin Skeleton (right).
Credit: Mashable Composite/Home Depot

Don’t have room for an enormous skeleton in your yard this season? There are plenty of smaller, equally weird products available, including spooky rotten pumpkins, assorted gravestones, plenty of inflatables, and more. Our personal favorite? The tactfully named Bone Throne, a spooky and stately piece of furniture that should be as much fun to sit in as it is to name-drop.

YuLife nabs $70M at a $346M valuation for its gamified, wellness-oriented approach to life insurance

Life insurance — financial protection you buy against your death — may not read like the liveliest of industries on paper. But a life insurance startup that believes it can turn that stigma around, by infusing the concept with gamification and a push towards wellness and health — and change the life insurance industry in the process — is today announcing significant funding, a sign of the traction it’s getting for its big ideas.

YuLife, a London startup that has built a new kind of life insurance concept — it incentivizes and rewards users to focus on their physical and mental health through a gamified interface — has raised $70 million in what is, to date, one of the largest Series B’s raised by an insurtech startup in Europe.

Led by Target Global, the round also included Eurazeo, Latitude and previous backers Creandum, Notion Capital, Anthemis, MMC Ventures, and OurCrowd. Sammy Rubin, YuLife’s CEO and founder, confirmed that the round values YuLife at $346 million (£250 million).

The company will be using the funding to continue expanding its business, build more products on its platform, and importantly continue to invest in the technology that it uses to run its service and determine how its policies should run.

“Our insurance is about helping people live healthier and longer lives,” Rubin said in an interview. “If we can help to reduce claims while incentivizing people to do that, it’s a win-win.” But it’s about more than that, he added. “We are building a new type of risk model where we are able to create new actuarial tables, which have not been updated in 200 years. Actually, I think smoker rates and how they’ve changed was the last update. So, most will just look at your age and whether you are a smoker and that’s it.”

YuLife is currently active only in the UK and is only sold directly to organizations, who in turn provide it to their employees. That business currently — which also includes income protection and critical illness cover — provides $15 billion of coverage and has seen 10x growth in the last year — a bumper one for life insurance policies, possibly for the worst reasons (hello, pandemic; goodbye, predicting what the future might look like). Customers include Capital One, Co-op, Curve, Havas Media, Severn Trent, and Sodexo.

That $15 billion is just a drop in the bucket in an industry that is currently estimated to be worth some $2.2 trillion.

The company got its start on the back of a persistent problem that Rubin experienced at his previous insurance startup PruProtect (which is now called Vitality Life).

“Usually insurance benefits just sit on shelf and never get used,” he said. YuLife set out to change that by making the policy “all about engagement.”

The app — built by veterans of the gaming industry — is designed around the concept of different environments, currently covering forest, ocean, desert and mountains, which YuLife collectively terms its “Yuniverse.” (This incidentally also became a template for the company’s HQ design in London.)

Within each of these environments, users are encouraged to walk, cycle, meditate and do other activities to get around their environments in a healthy way, while at the same time being able to compare their progress against other co-workers. There is a degree of personalization in everyone’s experience, in that one person leaning into one activity over another seems to produce different subsequent scenarios.

Along with this, users are offered discounts on third-party products to further engage with the game within YuLife, which could include a subscription to meditation app Calm, FitBit and Garmin devices, and more.

As users make their ways through their worlds, they get rewards, in the form of something called YuCoins. The YuCoins can in turn be used to redeem vouchers from the likes of Amazon and Asos to buy things… consumerism being another way to improve happiness for some of us.

All of this sums up as more than just a policy aimed at giving people peace of mind for their families should they depart this world.

“Long term, it’s not just about health, it’s about lifestyle,” Rubin said.

It’s also about YuLife’s business: the various products that it offers are built around an affiliate model, so there is a business interest for the company around offering and seeing items purchased and redeemed. However, this is not essential to using the app as a policy holder.

The win-win theme runs strong, but so too does the fact that YuLife is taking a different approach altogether, in an industry where most of the “disruption” has up to now been more about how to buy life insurance, rather than reassessing what life insurance actually is. For others in the space doing just that, see DeadHappy, BIMA, and the Jay-Z backed Ethos. That being said, it’s also not the only one tackling “lifestyle” as part of life insurance: Sproutt is another rethinking that area as well.

“YuLife is redefining life insurance, using the most innovative technologies to transform a largely traditional industry,” said Ben Kaminski, partner, Target Global, in a statement. “With health and wellbeing increasingly thrust into the limelight in the wake of Covid-19, YuLife is fundamentally changing insurance by incentivizing people to lead healthier lifestyles. YuLife is ideally positioned to build on its tenfold growth during the pandemic and lead the way in helping its clients respond to the challenges posed by an ever-changing working environment. We are very proud to partner with YuLife on its journey of becoming a global leader in life insurance.”

The delight of soft, motivational shitposting on Instagram

Motivational shitposting is taking over my Instagram.

I’ve noticed something when I open my Instagram app at 7 a.m. and start flipping through my friend’s Stories: A new trend has popped up. A bold, odd photo — sometimes an iridescent rose or oversaturated characters from Winnie The Pooh or a dolphin, jumping through an ocean of sparkles — accompanying a line of text.

Sometimes the text is animated, although it isn’t always. Sometimes the text is an affirmation: “I am Boss Baby.” Sometimes it’s, well, different: “frogs are Naturally Born Gay, sweetie.” But there is something it always has: a photo, accompanied with a funny line of text. Some people call it motivational shitposting.

The reasoning behind why these posts are doing so well across the platform isn’t nearly as simple as the text that accompanies these memes. It could be because people love the satire, or because it’s a helpful way to deal with our own insecurities, or because we find it genuinely motivational, or maybe just because we’re tired and it’s fun.

Cat Frazier, a 30-year-old creator out of Las Vegas, makes these for her some-150,000 followers on Instagram. You might know her as @itsanimatedtext — her avi is an animated dolphin with headphones on — where she posts, you guessed it, animated text. She told Mashable that started creating text posts on her Tumblr while she was in college, and eventually learned to animate the text. She was studying graphic design and critical theory, but just wanted to take some time to make art that is “kind of minimal and boring,” something she called “really different and borderline ugly.”

“So I started just posting, on Tumblr, quotes from music videos and just some jokes that I had using 3D texts, and that was also around the time where I found internet archeology, which basically archives a lot of old GeoCities sites in the early 2000s,” Frazier said. “And I noticed a lot of them were using 3D word art. So I found the program that they used to make those, and I just posted to Tumblr. And honestly, as soon as I started posting people were requesting [their own edits], so it became like a request page as opposed to just like my jokes online.”

Requests started flooding in. Eventually, she pivoted her Instagram account to post the text posts in combination to her Tumblr, a blog by the same name. And, soon, she started animating those posts to add in “a little bit more depth.”

“Instead of making something that’s like, ‘not to get political, but what the F is oatmeal,’ as just a text post, I thought it’d be funny if I could start using stock images,” Frazier said of the changes she’s made within her own work and meme page. “And it was also around the time I started seeing other meme pages use static stock footage along with text.”

It’s hard to describe these kinds of posts, but it’s hard to describe just about any successful meme trend when it pops up into the general public lexicon. Frazier thought a description she heard — “motivational shitposting” — worked as a good descriptor of her work.

“I saw a post the other day that was, I think it had, like a rat on it or something really weird, and it said, ‘don’t destroy the cringe, destroy the part of you that cringes,'” Frazier said. “And I love that because this is exactly what it is. It’s a sense of being extremely self-aware and breaking down why you think this way about things and making fun of it.”

Mats Andersen, the 21-year-old mind behind @afffirmations out of Oslo, Norway, creates similar work to Frazier. But he isn’t sure shitposting really encapsulates his posts because of “how much time I spend on making these pictures,” which he isn’t sure aligns with the “lower quality” assumptions that come along with calling something shitposting.

“But of course I’m not stupid, so I realize that people will view [my account as shitposting] because an aspect of this account of this aesthetic is that it looks cheap. It looks like it’s taken right from the internet. And this is of course a very important aspect of the account. So I won’t neglect this description of the account, of course, I think it’s great actually,” Andersen told Mashable. “But I would describe it as some crazy shit, really. Just some crazy shit.”

But no matter what you call it, the effect is the same. Frazier and Andersen are creating work they think of as one thing, and the audience takes it and runs with it. Frazier says she’s creating “things that I think are so difficult for people to explicitly say, and then couple them with something that is seen as absolutely absurd or narcissistic. It’s an uplifting thing, but it’s rooted in a very real thing that people are going through.”


“It’s an uplifting thing, but it’s rooted in a very real thing that people are going through.”

“It’s weird because making animate text to me isn’t — I don’t look at it as something I have to do. It’s something that kind of distracts me from whatever I’m talking about… It almost allows me to kind of process it through the creation of it,” Frazier said. “And honestly when I release it to me, that’s kind of just like releasing it from myself into the world. And it’s something that I’ve acknowledged and I feel a little bit lighter and I get this question a lot because I think as an audience member, your experience with what I make is different from mine as the person behind it.”

And Andersen feels similarly — the way he feels about something while he creates it doesn’t necessarily match up with what the audience takes with them.

“The reason I started this was because I was feeling creatively inspired, artistically inspired, and I wanted to do something in an artistic nature. And so how it often is with art, the artist has his own reading into it. And the audience has their own reading, their own understanding,” Andersen said of his own work. “I don’t think that [my intention] matters because what matters is the viewers, how do they read it? How do they understand it? Everybody’s got their own understanding of this post. Some think that it’s satire or ironic, some think that it is serious.”

No matter their intent, people love it. Frazier says she thinks people gravitate towards the work so much because of its “complete lack of self-awareness.” Her art, and other art pages like them, communicate “the ability to be vulnerable and still feel like you’re the shit in a terrible situation.”

“It’s something that I have a hard time describing,” she said, before pointing to one other most successful posts, which says “bad bitches go to therapy.” She’s taking something that could be seen negatively — therapy — and partnering it with something undoubtedly positive — being a bad bitch.

“It’s something that is usually seen as a negative or something that kind of puts you down as a person, but repurposing it by using internet slang playing or using something that’s extremely braggadocious to comment on something somebody is actually going through or struggle to go through,” Frazier said. She added that she thinks people are first attracted to her work thanks to “the sadness and the vulnerability that draws people in.” And, she hopes, that when they’re took looking at it, they feel like it’s not so bad. “And you can just kind of like, excuse it in any way,” Frazier said.

For instance, in her post that says “my parents need therapy/how do we set that up Patricia,” the comments range from “breaking the cycle by going to therapy before I have kids so they don’t have to deal with the shit I did” to “I’m patricia.”

Andersen says he thinks people gravitate towards the work so much for a variety of reasons: because it makes them laugh, or because it makes them think, or because it makes them reconsider something.

“The point is that I want to conjure from the audience an emotional reaction. I want them to think on their own to reflect on their own,” Andersen said. “And if I can help do something that bears fruit in accordance to mental wellbeing and make people talk about this, I think I’ve done something right. But if they just want to have a laugh or something like this, this is fine too, because this how I’m writing, how I’m doing the system in general, there are so many ways of interpreting it.”

People interpret it as sincere, or satire, or motivational, or, even, spiritual. I mostly just interpret it as “good.”

Save on a stock photo subscription you can actually get excited about

Choose from over 400,000 images.

TL;DR: Spice up your online content with photos from Scopio Authentic Stock Photography. As of July 14, get a lifetime subscription for only $29.99 and get a bonus $30 credit.


Stock photography isn’t usually something to get excited over, with an abundance of generic backgrounds and generic smiling faces. But Scopio’s some 400,000 royalty-free images are different.

Launched in 2016, the female-founded company “scopes” out photos and videos from the billions posted on social media daily. The result is a gallery sourced from over 13,000 photographers from over 150 countries, offering authentic, diverse, and artistic options that stretch way beyond the basics.

Photo collections span dozens of different categories, including current events, healthcare, body positivity, and motherhood. In other words, they go beyond just “nature” and “lifestyle.” And with new photos added every single day, you’ll be able to find new and interesting shots to match your needs. Whether you’re looking to add images to your publication emails and newsletters or social media pages and blog posts, a standard license has you covered for everything.

A lifetime subscription to Scopio’s authentic stock photography is sort-of free for a limited time. You’ll pay just $29.99 ($3,480 value) for your membership and, after your purchase, a $30 credit will be manually added to your StackSocial account to go towards your next purchase.

Next Gen Foods to launch its plant-based chicken in the U.S. after raising a $20M seed extension from investors like GGV

A photo of Next Gen's TiNDLE Parmigiana

“Chicken” Parmigiana made from Next Gen’s TiNDLE

Singapore-based Next Gen Foods will bring its plant-based chicken alternative to the United States after raising a $20 million seed extension. Investors included GGV Capital, agriculture and food tech-focused Bits x Bites, food and beverage company Yeo Hiap Seng, entrepreneur and “Blitzscaling” author Chris Yeh and English footballer Dele Alli.

Returning investors include Temasek, which led Next Gen Foods’ original $10 million seed round, announced in February, and K3 Ventures. The first $10 million was already the largest seed funding ever raised by a plant-based food tech company, based on data from Pitchbook, and now the round totals $30 million. Part of the funding will be used to fill 50 roles in the U.S. for its research and development, sales, supply chain and finance and marketing teams. 

Next Gen also announced changes to its leadership team. Co-founder Timo Recker is moving from his chief executive officer position to chairman, while Andre Menezes, another founder, will take over the CEO spot. Former Temasek director Rohit Bhattacharya will join the startup as its chief financial officer. 

Next Gen’s chicken alternative, called TiNDLE, launched in Asia through partnerships with restaurants and is now served in more than 70 locations in Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau. Over the next 12 months, Next Gen will take a similar approach as it enters the U.S., working with food services in cities to develop TiNDLE dishes for their menus. Eventually it will expand to other distribution channels, like retail, Menezes told TechCrunch.

To replicate chicken meat’s texture, Next Gen uses a proprietary blend of plant-based fats, including sunflower oils, and natural flavors. This allows TiNDLE products to replicate the aroma and browning of chicken when it cooks. 

In the U.S., Next Gen faces rivalry from plant-based food companies like Beyond Meat, which launched its Chicken Tenders product at about 400 restaurants earlier this week. Panda Express, a popular food chain, is also piloting Beyond Meat orange chicken. 

When asked about the competitive landscape, Menezes said, “We are really glad this sector is gaining traction and we do not see other plant-based companies as our competitors. The only competition we worry about are the companies bringing unsatisfactory products to consumers. Consumers may end up having the wrong impression that plant-based foods compromise in taste and experience even today.” 

He added that TiNDLE is GMO and cholesterol-free, and Next Gen has an asset-light business model that will make it easier to scale into new markets. 

Before launching Next Gen, Recker founded German-based LikeMeat, while Menezes worked at one of the world’s largest poultry exporters before serving as general manager of Singapore food distributor Country Foods. 

In a statement, GGV managing partner Jenny Lee said, “The Next Gen team has one of the strongest founder-market fits in foodtech, having previously developed and successfully launched a plant-based meat product for the European market. The team’s focus on product quality, brand recall and distribution provides a strong foundation for the future growth of the company.”

Indian storytelling platform Pratilipi raises $48 million led by gaming giant Krafton

Pratilipi, an Indian startup that operates an online storytelling platform to enable writers to share their work in various formats, said on Wednesday it has raised a $48 million financing round led by Krafton.

South Korean gaming giant Krafton led the Series D round for the seven-year-old Bangalore-based startup, bringing its to-date raise to $78.8 million.

Existing investor Omidyar Network India as well as scores of high-profile entrepreneurs including Pratilipi chief executive Ranjeet Pratap Singh as well as Unacademy’s Hemesh Singh and Gaurav Munjal, Locus’ Nishith Rastogi, Meesho’s Vidit Aatrey, Udhyam’s Mekin Maheshwari and NoBroker’s Amit Agarwal also participated in the round.

Pratilipi started its journey as an online reading and writing platform, where writers shared their stories in several Indian languages. The idea at the time was to create a platform where quality literary work could be hosted and shared in Indian languages, something that only had sparse representation on the web, said Singh, who is a voracious reader of Indian literary work and worked at Vodafone before starting Pratilipi, in an interview with TechCrunch.

The platform has ballooned to become a market leader since. Over 370,000 writers on the platform today share their work in a dozen languages and more than 30 million readers browse Pratilipi each month to read their work.

These writers can choose to share their work with readers for free or charge a subscription fee. But increasingly there’s another avenue for them to monetize their work.

Pratilipi — which has expanded to book publishing, audio and comics in recent years — uses proprietary algorithms to identify stories that it believes could be turned into a book or a web series and buys the IP from the writers.

The startup has inked several partnerships with industry players including giant on-demand video streaming service MX Player, which carried Pratilipi’s show “Midnight Lily” earlier this year.

“We have been a part of Pratilipi’s growth story since the early stages,” said Pratik Poddar, Principal at Nexus Venture Partners, an early backer of Pratilipi, in a statement. “Over the years, we have witnessed the team’s deep product focus, an obsession to make creators successful, and keen understanding of monetizing content IP which is extensible across different formats.”

Pratilipi’s Singh said the startup will deploy the fresh funding to broaden its partnerships with industry players as well as invest in building in-house publishing stack. With Krafton, which recently launched the Battlegrounds Mobile India game in the South Asian country, the startup aims to develop stories that can be incorporated into global gaming franchises.

The demand for original stories have surged in India in recent years and many streaming services and publishing giants are engaging with Pratilipi, he said. “We will continue to work with ecosystem partners and for formats where we already have in-house expertise we will expand on those,” he said.

Pratilipi also plans to use the fresh funds to expand outside of India. A fraction of its users today already live outside the country, said Singh. “We haven’t worked on the expansion so far, but now the plan is to actively reach out to creators and readers in other markets,” he said.

Wednesday’s announcement also illustrates Krafton’s growing push into the Indian market, where in recent months it has held talks to acquire several gaming studios, according to a person familiar with the matter.

“It is exciting to see the growth of Indian local IPs in online literature, comics and audio platform in Pratilipi, which is already the largest player in India in multiple categories,” said Sean Hyunil Sohn, Head of Krafton’s India division, in a statement.

“With Pratilipi already having a multilingual platform for online literature, it is poised to become one of the strongest players in emerging markets in the future. Krafton believes in long term potential of local Indian IPs that can be successful not just in India but globally as well across formats including literature, comics and gaming and our investment in Pratilipi is another step in realising that vision.”

Gourmey is a cell-based poultry startup working on lab-grown foie gras

Meet Gourmey, a new French startup that recently raised a $10 million founding round in equity and debt. The startup is working on meat grown in laboratories from animal cells. In particular, the company is focusing on poultry and aims to convince chefs that they should use the company’s products in their restaurants.

“We’ve been raising animals for 20,000 years,” co-founder and CEO Nicolas Morin-Forest told me. “We grow cells, which is much more efficient because you only produce what you eat.”

Victor Sayous and Antoine Davydoff, the two other co-founders, have a background in molecular and cell biology. When they teamed up to create a startup, they started looking at intensive livestock farming.

“When you dip your toes in that, you realize that this isn’t exclusively about animal welfare — it’s also about the planet, humans,” Morin-Forest said.

Gourmey is part of a group of startups that want to create meat alternatives and turn them into mass-market products. The first generation of startups that wanted to replace traditional meat bet heavily on plant-based substitutes. Beyond Meat and Livekindly Collective are some well-known examples.

More recently, a new generation of startups have been focusing on cell-based meat, such as Eat Just, Mosa Meat and Meatable. Gourmey is the first French startup working on lab-grown meat.

Like other lab-grown meat startups, Gourmey relies on stem cells. Combined with the right nutrients at the right temperature, those cells mature in a bioreactor.

Gourmey is starting with a premium product and a premium distribution strategy. The startup has been working on cultivated foie gras or — as they say — slaughter-free foie gras. Reproducing the taste of foie gras is also a complex task, which means that Gourmey is setting high expectations.

In some countries, there’s such a stigma attached to foie gras that it has been removed from supermarket shelves. As a result, some people might be tempted by lab-grown foie gras. Gourmey hopes that chefs in particular will try its first product and use it in their high-end restaurants. Gourmey hopes to sell its product more or less at the same price as regular foie gras.

The idea is to launch more mass-market products as the startup scales. Once it has optimized its production lines and there’s enough demand for Gourmey’s products, you can expect to see other chicken and duck products.

There are some regulatory hurdles to overcome before lab-grown startups can sell their products around the world. Eat Just started selling lab-grown meat in Singapore but it could take several years before you see cultivated meat in Europe for instance. Food safety regulators will have to approve those new products.

When it comes to Gourmey’s funding, Point Nine and Air Street Capital are co-leading the $10 million seed round. Heartcore Capital, Partech, Big Idea Ventures, Eutopia, Ataraxia, Beyond Investing ans several angel investors are also investing. Gourmey also received some support from public institutions, such as Bpifrance and the European Commission.

“Cultivated meat is one of the most promising solutions to deliver energy-efficient, sustainable proteins to the world,” Point Nine managing partner Christoph Janz said in a statement. “However, taste parity will remain the key success factor. We have been truly impressed by Gourmey’s delicious products and the company’s ability to progress both on the science and the flavor at record speed.”

With this funding, the company plans to create its pilot production line in Paris. It expects to be able to sell its foie gras products in late 2022 or early 2023.

Image Credits: Gourmey

Apple’s new MagSafe battery pack unlocks a secret iPhone 12 feature

The Battery Pack charges the iPhone, but the iPhone also charges the Battery Pack.

On Tuesday, Apple unceremoniously dropped a new iPhone 12 accessory, the MagSafe Battery Pack. It’s a battery pack that magnetically attaches to the back of an iPhone 12 and charges it wirelessly.

But what Apple didn’t say — or at least didn’t emphasize enough — is that this new accessory unlocks a previously unannounced iPhone 12 feature: reverse wireless charging.

This means that, when the MagSafe Battery Pack is attached to an iPhone, and the iPhone is charging via a Lightning cable, the iPhone is actually delivering power to the battery pack.

This was noticed by MacRumors, but Apple actually confirms it in a support document.

“If both your iPhone and MagSafe Battery Pack need to be charged, you can charge them at the same time. Attach your MagSafe Battery Pack to your iPhone and then plug the MagSafe Battery Pack into a power adapter. (…) You can also charge both if you attach your MagSafe Battery Pack to your iPhone, then plug your iPhone into a power source. You might want to charge this way if you need to connect your iPhone to another device while charging, like if you’re using wired CarPlay or transferring photos to a Mac,” the document says.

This is interesting, because it means the iPhone 12 should be able to charge other devices as well, such as AirPods. Then again, perhaps it can only work when the iPhone 12 is plugged in.

In any case, there’s no official word about this feature working with any other accessory besides the new MagSafe Battery Pack, but this may change in the future.

Those who attack Elon Musk’s space tweet have made a new Twitter meme

You can't eat hope, Elon.

The billionaire space race has been heating up lately, with Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson boarding a test flight on Sunday to beat Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to the outer reaches of our atmosphere. SpaceX founder Elon Musk has also thrown his astronaut helmet into the ring, recently booking a flight to space with Virgin Galactic.

Many have expressed the opinion that such undertakings by disgustingly wealthy private citizens are indicative of deep societal and moral failings, particularly as poverty and homelessness continue to run rampant. Of course, the spacefaring billionaires don’t see it that way. In fact, some of them consider their jaunts as beneficial for mankind. Your own mileage may vary.

“Those who attack space maybe don’t realize that space represents hope for so many people,” Musk wrote in a tweet earlier this week, reeking of “hopes and prayers” sentiment and completely misunderstanding criticisms of the cashed up elite’s space obsession.

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Musk’s attempt to spin his personal interest in space as a benevolent humanitarian effort is a stretch. Space exploration may represent hope for some people, but giving people actual hope in the form of physical assistance would be much more immediate and effective — and is well within Musk’s power.

As of 2019, 34 million people in the U.S. were living in poverty, with the country’s official poverty rate siting at 10.5 percent even before the coronavirus pandemic hit. Nearly 20 percent of essential care workers in the U.S. live in poverty and over 40 percent need public assistance. Meanwhile, Elon Musk is currently ranked second on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index with a net worth of $183 billion.

As such, Twitter users were quick to riff on Musk’s self-aggrandising tweet, coming up with many other things that represent hope for so many people.

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None of this is to say that learning about space is a completely valueless endeavour, or that we should abolish NASA. However, when billionaires are joyriding in rockets while 38 million people are on food stamps in the U.S. alone, it seems fair to question priorities.

Great Question gets $2.5M seed round to make customer research easier

Great Question's user dashboard

Great Question’s user dashboard

Customer research is invaluable for software companies, but there are many obstacles, like finding the right group of people to survey. Great Question wants to make building and talking to their own panels accessible to all companies, no matter their size. The startup, which was part of Y Combinator’s winter 2021 program, announced today that it has raised $2.5 million in seed funding.

Great Question launched in February 2021, and its clients include Linktree, Honeybook, O’Reilly Media and MainStreet. The platform has been used to interview customers about product ideas and strategy, find product-market fit, conduct usability studies on UX designs and see how well marketing landing pages perform. Great Question’s seed round came from investors including Funders Club, January Capital, Nomo VC and Twenty-Two Ventures. Angel investors like Warren Hogarth, co-founder of Empower Finance; Jon Williams, co-founder of Culture Amp and Pyn; Jason Smale, senior vice president of engineering at Zendesk; and Robbie Allan, former group product manager at Intercom also participated.

Before founding Great Question, PJ Murray and Ned Dwyer sold their last startup, web developer marketplace Elto, to GoDaddy in 2015. In email, Dwyer told TechCrunch that they did very little formal research at Elto. “We would talk to customers, but it wasn’t structured or consistent.”

After joining GoDaddy, however, they became “a lot more rigorous in our approach to building product—we suddenly had a much larger audience, a bigger team and aggressive targets.” Murray and Dwyer also had the advantage of working with GoDaddy’s UX research team.

The two saw an opportunity to make customer research more accessible to product development teams. Dwyer said that if companies outsource to a large UX research provider, the starting price can be $40,000 a year. On the other hand, Great Question’s freemium pricing model includes paid subscription plans for $49 and $199 a month.

Great Question has almost all of the things needed for customer research—survey smart templates, prototype tests, scheduling tools and transcription—in one place, so teams can share information easily. One of its most important features is customer recruitment and filtering tools. Dwyer explained that many UX research companies sell access to panels they have already built. That means clients often get feedback from relatively homogenous groups of people who are not their target customers—for example, college students or stay at home parents who signed up to answer surveys so they can earn extra cash or gift cards.

Great Question builds custom landing pages where users can opt into panels, decide what kind of research they want to participate in and how often they are willing to answer questions (for example, the platform automates rolling studies, sending questions to different groups of customers every two weeks). Great Question lets its clients integrate incentives programs, such as Tremendous, to compensate participants with cash or gift cards. But many of the people who participate in research through Great Question are motivated because they want to have a say in products they are already using, or find out first about upcoming releases, Dwyer said.

A landing page created for MainStreet with Great Question's user research platform

A landing page created for MainStreet with Great Question’s user research platform

Once customer panels are created, Great Question provides smart templates for surveys or interviews and automatically schedules them for distribution. This saves clients time. For example, MainStreet approached Great Question when it was preparing to release a product that would change its onboarding flow. The startup, which lets small businesses find and claim tax credits and economic incentives, didn’t have time to perform customer research before the launch. “Within 24 hours of signing up to Great Question they’d booked eight customer interviews—this was over Christmas mind you—and got the usability feedback they needed to iterate on the designs before they went to production,” said Dwyer.

In a statement about the investment, Funders Club co-founder and chief executive officer said Alix Mittal said, “Even the best product and business teams know everyday iteration, large pivots, and new launches can be hit or miss. We backed Great Question because they provide the missing tool to effortlessly incorporate customers into product and business decisions and to never miss the mark.”

Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers reunite to ask space-bound billionaires: “Really!?!”

In case you missed it, a super rich guy went to space over the weekend, and another super rich guy is heading there next week. Yes, the billionaire space race is very much a thing that is happening in our reality, and the only acceptable response is: Really!?!

So Late Night host Seth Meyers invited his old SNL castmate and Weekend Update co-anchor Amy Poehler to reprise one of their simplest and best bits, and roast the incomprehensibly wealthy men spending their incomprehensible wealth on yeeting themselves not quite off the planet.

“Richard Branson, you didn’t go to outer space,” jeered Meyers. “You just went pretty high for a plane. You just went to outer sky.” (Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin is very keen for you to understand this distinction.)

“And by the way, I think we all understand the obsession with the rockets, right?” smirked Poehler. “Really: The rockets are dicks. The skyscrapers are dicks. Even Freud is like, ‘You don’t need me for this, right? You get it! Those rockets are dicks.'”

“You know who’s not going to space? Any women,” Poehler went on. “Really! Yeah, we’re staying down here ’cause we gotta fix all the things! We got shit to do down here!” Really! There’s nothing more girlboss than not going to space, billionaire bros!

Investment app Syfe raises $29.6M Series B led by returning investor Valar Ventures

A photo of Syfe founder Dhruv Arora

Syfe founder Dhruv Arora

Investment apps in Southeast Asia are attracting a lot of funding, and now some are raising fast follow-on rounds, too. For example, Indonesian robo-advisor app Bibit raised $65 million in May just four months after a $30 million growth round. Now Singapore-based Syfe is announcing that it has closed a $40 million SGD (about $29.6M USD) Series B, only nine months after its Series A. It also said all of Syfe’s full-time employees will receive equity in the company.

The latest round’s lead investor is Valar Ventures, which also led Syfe’s Series A, marking the fintech-focused venture capital firm’s first investment in an Asian startup. Returning investors Presight Capital and Unbound participated, too.

This brings Syfe’s total raised so far to $70.7 million SGD (about $52.3 million USD) since it was founded in 2019. The startup did not disclose its Series B post-money valuation, but founder and chief executive officer Dhruv Arora told TechCrunch it increased 3.6 times from its Series A. The company also hasn’t disclosed total user numbers, but assets under management have grown four times since January, thanks in large part to user referrals and the launch of new products like Syfe Cash+ and Core portfolios.

“To be honest, we weren’t really looking to raise a Series B,” Arora told TechCrunch. “We saw some of the positive outcomes of resources from our Series A. We really scaled up the team and started launching new products and options for our users.” Syfe probably could have waited another six months to a year to raise a new round, he added, but its investors approached the startup again and offered good terms for another round.

About 50% to 70% of new users each month come through recommendations from existing customers, which keeps Syfe’s acquisition costs extremely low, Arora says. Since the beginning of this year, it has also doubled its team in Singapore to more than 100 people, allowing the startup to explore different kind of distribution strategies and partnerships. The app currently has users in 42 countries, but only actively markets in Singapore, where it holds a Capital Markets Services license from the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). It has plans to announce a second market soon.

Syfe was founded in 2017 and launched its app in July 2019. Prior to starting Syfe, Arora was an investment banker at UBS Investment Bank before serving as vice president and head of growth at Indian grocery delivery startup Grofers.

While retail investment rates are still low in Southeast Asia, interest has jumped significantly over the past year. One of the reasons most commonly cited is the economic impact of COVID-19, which motivated people to earn returns from their money instead of keeping it in saving accounts.

“Most of my career has been within Hong Kong, Singapore and parts of India. I think culturally we’ve always been told to save, save, save,” Arora says. “It made sense because banks were giving good interest rates, but now the majority of economies are in negative real rate of interest.” Along with consumers’ growing familiarity with online wallets and other digital financial services, this set the stage for investment apps to come in, attracting customers who might not have gone to traditional brokerages.

Arora says he expected people to become more interested in investing, but gradually, over the course of about five to seven years. Instead, that shift is happening much more quickly. “My view is that tomorrow’s saving accounts become smart investing accounts. That’s been my view ever since we started Syfe, but this last year has made it evident that it has to happen and has to happen much bigger. So I think this wave will continue,” he says.

While many investment apps focus on millennial users, Syfe’s target demographic is wider. In the last six to nine months, Arora says there has been an uptick in users aged 50 and above on the platform, and its oldest user is 93 years old.

“The users in that segment have become a bigger percentage and the reality is that they typically have more disposable income. The average customer in their 50s will deploy, in our experience, almost twice the more conventional demographic which might be between 30 to 40,” says Arora.

Out of the many investment apps that have emerged in Southeast Asia, users most often compare Syfe to Stashaway, Endowus and Autowealth when shopping around for a platform. Arora says the space has a lot of room to grow because retail investment in the region is still very low. “I think it’s still super early in the game. There is enough room for multiple players and I think more will come into this domain, because if you can get your acquisition metrics into place, this can be a very profitable business.”

In terms of differentiating, Syfe is focused on new product development and user localization and personalization so customers can create more customized portfolios.

Syfe has a team of financial advisors for users who want person-to-person consultations, but Arora says most of Syfe’s investors rely entirely on its app to decide how to invest. Over the last nine months, it has only added one new advisor to its team, while focusing on making its user interface more intuitive.

“The human touch is optional, but it’s not necessary and in many cases, it’s only needed to help people understand the offering once,” says Arora. “But our goal is always going to be technology company and for the app to become so intuitive that whether you are 18 or 93, you are able to use the offering with very limited guidance.”

In a press statement, Valar Ventures founding partner Andrew McCormack says, “Syfe was our first investment in Asia and we’ve been impressed by its rapid, sustained growth over the past couple of years. The opportunity for the company to meet the saving and investment needs of a burgeoning mass-affluent consumer population in Asia remains significant, and we are confident that Syfe will continue to expand at pace.”

 

NewView Capital leads $22.3M Series B in Australian telehealth platform Eucalyptus

Telehealth platform Eucalyptus raised a $22.3 million Series B round of funding to build a digital health portfolio for primary care in Australia.

NewView Capital led the round with participation from existing investors Blackbird Ventures and W23, and new investor AirTree Ventures. As part of the investment, Ravi Viswanathan, NewView founder and managing partner, will be joining the Eucalyptus board.

The new round gives the Sydney-based company a total of $32.8 million raised since it was founded in 2019 by Tim Doyle, Benny Kleist, Alexey Mitko and Charlie Gearside.

Australia’s healthcare system is a two-payer model, where most of the care is paid for by the government, and there is a smaller insurance coverage that is owned by individuals. Eucalyptus fits into these models as a private-pay option selling directly to consumers. In some cases, the company is able to charge lower copays for care than the average $25 per doctor visit, Doyle told TechCrunch.

He touts the company as the “largest vertically integrated telehealth platform in Australia,” serving more than 200,000 patients across four demographic-focused brands: contraception and fertility, skincare, men’s health and sexual wellness. Each brand has its own core platform of healthcare providers, patient data repository, remote monitoring tools and partnerships with pathology labs and pharmacies.

All of that results in a higher touch and higher quality relationship between doctor and patient, Doyle said.

“We are seeing an opportunity to shorten the amount of time between identification of a condition and diagnosis,” he added. “We also want to go more in-depth into diabetes, heart conditions and mental health. People are dropping out of diabetes and mental care because there are not enough touch points that are easy to use. If we can build a hub, it will make it easier to treat those conditions.”

In addition to product development, the new funding enables Eucalyptus to build toward being a major player in the telehealth industry. The company will introduce new brands in the next year around chronic care like behavioral health, weight management and diabetes.

Eucalyptus grew its revenue between 200% to 300% year over year since 2019, Doyle said. This is not unlike other startups in the digital health sector, where 2020 saw another record year for venture capital investment. He expects similar growth in 2021, including adding about 20 employees to be over 100 by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Doyle said he is excited to work with NewView, especially with Viswanathan and principal Christina Fa, who said Eucalyptus is proving that Australia can lead in digital healthcare.

“The team is impressive in terms of clarity of vision and execution, especially in the way they brought in people to manage the brands,” she told TechCrunch. “It is unique being based in Australia where they don’t have Teledoc and other digital health companies. Instead, Eucalyptus had to build all of that in-house and do the hard work upfront. In addition, they curated a network of health providers and four brands, each with their own personalities. This allows them to be fully vertically integrated and own the customer journey.”