Day: July 18, 2021

Gillmor Gang: Catching Up

As the pandemic dwindled enough to get in our car with dogs, SiriusXM, and our children in the rear view mirror, we drove to South Carolina. Tina had endured the last year and almost another half while her mother languished with aging pets, her husband in a facility, and eventually his death. As the miles melted away, we alternated between MSNBC, the Beatles channel, and a mixtape of soul, Steely Dan, and Bill Withers.

For years, we’d dreamed of a way to live from anywhere, and now the pandemic had made our reality a shared one. We’ll see how much this sticks as companies try to find a way to mix this digital acceleration with some semblance of business life as we knew it. But as we reached the driveway in Charleston, we were tired enough to not care much how the captains of industry would work things out.

We’d calculated the journey to leave on a Monday and arrive on a Thursday, three 16 hour days and then a day to rest before recording the next Gang session. Instead we left on Tuesday and arrived the night before the session. Surprisingly, the combination. of a three hour time zone shift and the ease of recording on Zoom, two M1 Macs, and enough WiFi to get away with it added up to a relaxed session. I’ve been using blur mode on Zoom for some months now, so everything felt just about normal. I even got to joke with a few of the guys who could not quite tell which coast we were on.

The dogs locked in to their summer digs with alacrity, roaming the fenced in back yard for a quick check and then settling into strategic spots surrounding us on our bed. Our daughters heated up the Facetime video link with tales of boyfriends and babies (our oldest is in her six month) and extended life seemed possible. When reality intruded, it somehow arrived with a gentleness we hope to get used to. Dinner with our youngest’s godparents was careful — no masks but no hugs either— as we ease our way into the new next.

Our first show here was followed by a train wreck of dueling agendas and uncomfortable management parries. The show started in a jocular fashion as Brent Leary tried to apologize (sort of) for his comments on one of his shows about the Gillmor Gang. It seems, he joked, that our show was rudderless and frequently a good opportunity to nap on air.

But then Brent said he hoped neither Tina nor I was watching this unspooling in realtime, which of course I was. Now I was both pissed off and actually more amused. Brent’s instincts fall somewhere between Harpo Marx’s brilliant silence and an unerring ability to bat back a question designed to prove he wasn’t engaged with a comment that proved not only that he was but that he chose not to say anything. Brilliant, devastating, and kind all at once. So I seized the moment to call him and say of course I was watching.

The next Gang recording session featured Brent’s repeated attempts at an apology or at least an explanation, but I kept interrupting him. The result was a funny but diffuse beginning to the show that devolved into a debate about social media and the First Amendment that we often can’t seem to avoid. As usual, no light was shed, and the show remains unreleased.

from the Gillmor Gang Newsletter


The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, June 25, 2021.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang

Subscribe to the new Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the backchannel here on Telegram.

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook … and here’s our sister show G3 on Facebook.

TikTok users parody East Asian fetishization with ‘Americacore’ videos

American grocery stores are just so exotic

What do energy drinks, chicken nuggets, and inaccessible healthcare have in common? They’re all Americacore.

TikTok users are spoofing videos that romanticize other cultures by referring to day-to-day aspects of American life as “Americacore.” As of Sunday, the tags #americacore and #americancore each have over 30 million views on TikTok, and the tag #Americacoreuwu has about 140,000 views.

Under the guise of celebrating “Americacore,” TikTok users are recording their trips to Target and Walmart, eating snacks like Goldfish crackers and Funfetti cookies, and using paper plates. Paired with gentle music and soft filters, the video trend mimics the way many Americans fetishize East Asian culture, but misrepresent them in “aesthetic” content.

Lifestyle influencers have long made content from visiting “unique” Korean grocery stores, for example, but to any Korean or Korean-American person, buying chips at H-Mart is about as aesthetically pleasing as buying chips at Ralph’s.

Americacore is not to be confused with Americana, though. This is not a celebration of folk music and art, but a criticism of how Americans engage with other cultures.

In one video romanticizing “Americacore,” a TikTok user pours a can of Monster Energy into a teapot emblazoned with the American flag, and serves with a Twizzler, which they refer to as “rubber pocky.”

It’s reverse Orientalism at its finest.

Americacore videos parody "kawaii" videos fetishizing East Asian cultures.

Americacore videos parody “kawaii” videos fetishizing East Asian cultures.
Credit: tiktok / lavender_goat

The videos poke fun at the way Americans often woefully misrepresent other cultures.

The videos poke fun at the way Americans often woefully misrepresent other cultures.
Credit: tiktok / lavender_goat

The videos are as much of critique of American norms as they are of the way Americans tend to idealize and infantilize East Asian cultures. Videos by lifestyle influencers visiting Asian grocery stores, for example, have been criticized as crossing the line between cultural appreciation and fetishization. The trend pokes fun at the absurdity of white Americans’ fascination with arbitrary aspects of East Asian food, music, and traditions.

TikTok user kinokino1226 parodied lifestyle influencers who exalt common Asian snacks as exotic by visiting her local Safeway.

“Fun fact: Americans are very patriotic,” kinokino1226 captioned her video, posing for an “aesthetic photoshoot” with American flag-wrapped grocery store flowers.

Nothing more American than visiting Safeway

Nothing more American than visiting Safeway
Credit: tiktok / kinokino1226

TikTok users made sure to "respect vegan culture."

TikTok users made sure to “respect vegan culture.”

With the worldwide success of the K-pop and anime industries, Asian culture is often misrepresented as a monolith rather than a diverse set of rich, individual cultures. The distillation of Asian heritage into a palatable melting pot of cute packaging, exotic skincare routines, and popular music only perpetuates harmful stereotypes. Americacore, as Vice notes, turns the fetishization of East Asia back on itself.

Ironically, as some Twitter users pointed out, other countries do romanticize American products the way Americans romanticize East Asian ones.

Tweet may have been deleted

Before you post pictures of the “exotic” snacks you may have scored from the Asian grocery store, consider whether you’d portray Oreos and red plastic cups the same way. Those, dear reader, are simply Americacore.

Spyware meant to track terrorists was used against journalists and activists, too

A forensic analysis of dozens of smartphones belonging to journalists and activists around the world discovered spyware created by NSO Group.

Pegasus spyware was created by an Israeli spyware firm to track terrorist organizations and global criminal cartels.

An investigation published on Sunday spearheaded by multiple media outlets and news organizations has discovered that Pegasus spyware has been used to monitor journalists and activists around the world.

A group of more than a dozen media outlets from around the world teamed up for a comprehensive report that looks at how the Pegasus spyware created by the Israeli firm, NSO Group, was used to hack into phones belonging to reporters, business executives, and human rights activists.

The investigation discovered the spyware on a phone belonging to Hatice Cengiz, the fiancée of Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist assassinated in 2018 by the Saudi Arabian government for his work. The report also found that Khashoggi’s wife, Hanan Elatr, was a target of the spyware, but researchers were unable to confirm whether her phone had been infected.

A forensic analysis conducted found the spyware was used in hacking attempts on 37 smartphones belonging to journalists and activists. The numbers belonging to these phones were discovered on a list leaked to the human rights organization Amnesty International and the Paris-based news nonprofit Hidden Stories.

This leaked list contained more than 50,000 phone numbers based in countries that regularly engage in civilian surveillance and are known to be clients of the NSO Group. The forensic analysis was conducted by ​​Amnesty’s Security Lab.

NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware is a fairly sophisticated technology. A target is text messaged a link and is convinced to click it. With a single tap on that malicious link, the spyware is installed on the target’s phone. From there, the attacker has limitless access to their target’s device — from emails and text messages stored there to the ability to activate the camera or microphone. The spyware then transmits the data from the hacked phone to the attacker.

Most alarming is that the Pegasus spyware has become even more advanced over time and can now be installed without any interaction from the target. Through a “zero-click” attack, an attacker can simply target a phone with the spyware without relying on the target to do anything, thanks to security exploits found in mobile operating systems.

The NSO Group is denying the allegations uncovered in the report, saying it had conducted its own investigation and found the claims to be false. The firm said that it does not operate the spyware for its customers and would have no access to any data obtained through its software. NSO Group said it would shut down a customer’s access to Pegasus if it had discovered misuse.

The Israeli spyware firm is considering a defamation lawsuit over the investigation.

However, this isn’t the first time the NSO Group’s spyware was found to be surveilling journalists and activists. In 2019, WhatsApp sued the firm. The popular messaging app claimed that NSO Group’s Pegasus was used to hack more than 1,000 of its users, including Rwandan dissidents and Indian journalists.

Following that, a Citizen Lab investigation found that dozens of Al Jazeera journalists and employees were hacked using NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware in 2020.

Valve’s Steam Deck seems like a nightmare for Nintendo

Valve's Steam Deck is basically a gaming laptop with a Nintendo Switch form factor.

Was it merely coincidence that Valve announced its Steam Deck on the same day pre-orders opened for Nintendo’s new, OLED-enhanced Switch?

Only Valve can answer that question, but the company’s reveal surfacing at roughly the same moment fans raced to place pre-orders for a Switch (OLED Model) certainly made a point. Where the new Nintendo device is mostly just a fancier screen running on the same basic underlying hardware that’s been out since 2017, Steam Deck is something new.

Valve’s handheld is superficially similar to the Switch, but it’s considerably more machine on the inside and outside both.

The Steam Deck sports all the controls you’d expect to see on a modern gamepad: Two thumbsticks, a set of four buttons (using the Xbox controller labeling and layout of A/B/X/Y), two triggers, two shoulder buttons, and a directional pad. There’s also a few additional front-mounted buttons for accessing pause menus and system features.

But the Steam deck also goes further. There are two touchpad-style surfaces right next to each thumbstick, which should be especially handy for games that aren’t as controller-friendly. The handheld also sports four rear-mounted buttons similar to the paddles you’d find on an Xbox Elite or some other high-end controller.

The details of its innards are a bit murkier in terms of actual specs. Valve has answered some questions on this front about the processor, RAM, and more, but we can also gather plenty from the games that Steam Deck has either been said or shown to support. Alongside indie gems like Disco Elysium and Hades, we’ve also seen Valve’s own Portal 2 in action as well as newer, more technically demanding examples like Death Stranding and Control.

While the Steam Deck’s resolution in handheld mode is limited to 720p, that’s not a bad thing for a device with a 7-inch screen. Games will still look sharp on a display that size, and the lower resolution means they’ll run better even with an array of fancy graphics features switched on. It remains to be seen how those same games run in docked mode — yes, just like a Switch, you can output Steam Deck to a TV via USB-C — but this thing is clearly built more for portable gaming.

It also runs circles around any version of the Switch that exists, including the incoming OLED model. Nintendo’s hardware actually does support Control, but only as a cloud gaming title. Meaning you need a speedy and steady Wi-Fi connection in order to play; the game isn’t installed on your device, it’s streamed.

Let’s be clear: Nintendo’s strength in the gaming world has always been rooted in the software. The 3DS handheld outlived than Sony’s PlayStation Vita — they both launched in 2011 — despite packing significantly less power. It’s because of Mario, Zelda, and all the rest. Nintendo fans crave their favorite series’ most of all.

But since its launch in 2017, the Switch has been able to dominate mostly because there’s nothing else quite like it. Sure, it doesn’t quite rival a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One in terms of the hardware, but you wouldn’t know it playing, say, Breath of the Wild. People on Twitter and other social media spaces tend to obsess over specs and hardware comparisons, but most of us just want our games to play and run smoothly.

Steam Deck changes the landscape. All of a sudden there’s going to be another device on the market with built-in game controls that plays a wider range of games than Switch currently offers. What Valve loses to Nintendo in terms of a beloved library of games it more than makes up for by giving people the ability to install and load up an Assassin’s Creed or Grand Theft Auto while they’re away from their TV, and with no internet connection required.

The Switch will certainly continue to thrive, given how many have sold since 2017 and how invested people are in their libraries (not to mention the inherent advantage of boasting Nintendo exclusives). But it was only a matter of time until a competitor came along, and Valve’s Steam Deck is shaping up to be a more-than-capable Switch alternative in all the right ways.

The end of open source?

Shaun O’Meara

Shaun O’Meara, global field CTO at Mirantis, has worked with customers designing and building enterprise IT infrastructure for 20 years.

Several weeks ago, the Linux community was rocked by the disturbing news that University of Minnesota researchers had developed (but, as it turned out, not fully executed) a method for introducing what they called “hypocrite commits” to the Linux kernel — the idea being to distribute hard-to-detect behaviors, meaningless in themselves, that could later be aligned by attackers to manifest vulnerabilities.

This was quickly followed by the — in some senses, equally disturbing — announcement that the university had been banned, at least temporarily, from contributing to kernel development. A public apology from the researchers followed.

Though exploit development and disclosure is often messy, running technically complex “red team” programs against the world’s biggest and most important open-source project feels a little extra. It’s hard to imagine researchers and institutions so naive or derelict as not to understand the potentially huge blast radius of such behavior.

Equally certain, maintainers and project governance are duty bound to enforce policy and avoid having their time wasted. Common sense suggests (and users demand) they strive to produce kernel releases that don’t contain exploits. But killing the messenger seems to miss at least some of the point — that this was research rather than pure malice, and that it casts light on a kind of software (and organizational) vulnerability that begs for technical and systemic mitigation.

Projects of the scale and utter criticality of the Linux kernel aren’t prepared to contend with game-changing, hyperscale threat models.

I think the “hypocrite commits” contretemps is symptomatic, on every side, of related trends that threaten the entire extended open-source ecosystem and its users. That ecosystem has long wrestled with problems of scale, complexity and free and open-source software’s (FOSS) increasingly critical importance to every kind of human undertaking. Let’s look at that complex of problems:

  • The biggest open-source projects now present big targets.
  • Their complexity and pace have grown beyond the scale where traditional “commons” approaches or even more evolved governance models can cope.
  • They are evolving to commodify each other. For example, it’s becoming increasingly hard to state, categorically, whether “Linux” or “Kubernetes” should be treated as the “operating system” for distributed applications. For-profit organizations have taken note of this and have begun reorganizing around “full-stack” portfolios and narratives.
  • In so doing, some for-profit organizations have begun distorting traditional patterns of FOSS participation. Many experiments are underway. Meanwhile, funding, headcount commitments to FOSS and other metrics seem in decline.
  • OSS projects and ecosystems are adapting in diverse ways, sometimes making it difficult for for-profit organizations to feel at home or see benefit from participation.

Meanwhile, the threat landscape keeps evolving:

  • Attackers are bigger, smarter, faster and more patient, leading to long games, supply-chain subversion and so on.
  • Attacks are more financially, economically and politically profitable than ever.
  • Users are more vulnerable, exposed to more vectors than ever before.
  • The increasing use of public clouds creates new layers of technical and organizational monocultures that may enable and justify attacks.
  • Complex commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solutions assembled partly or wholly from open-source software create elaborate attack surfaces whose components (and interactions) are accessible and well understood by bad actors.
  • Software componentization enables new kinds of supply-chain attacks.
  • Meanwhile, all this is happening as organizations seek to shed nonstrategic expertise, shift capital expenditures to operating expenses and evolve to depend on cloud vendors and other entities to do the hard work of security.

The net result is that projects of the scale and utter criticality of the Linux kernel aren’t prepared to contend with game-changing, hyperscale threat models. In the specific case we’re examining here, the researchers were able to target candidate incursion sites with relatively low effort (using static analysis tools to assess units of code already identified as requiring contributor attention), propose “fixes” informally via email, and leverage many factors, including their own established reputation as reliable and frequent contributors, to bring exploit code to the verge of being committed.

This was a serious betrayal, effectively by “insiders” of a trust system that’s historically worked very well to produce robust and secure kernel releases. The abuse of trust itself changes the game, and the implied follow-on requirement — to bolster mutual human trust with systematic mitigations — looms large.

But how do you contend with threats like this? Formal verification is effectively impossible in most cases. Static analysis may not reveal cleverly engineered incursions. Project paces must be maintained (there are known bugs to fix, after all). And the threat is asymmetrical: As the classic line goes — blue team needs to protect against everything, red team only needs to succeed once.

I see a few opportunities for remediation:

  • Limit the spread of monocultures. Stuff like Alva Linux and AWS’ Open Distribution of ElasticSearch are good, partly because they keep widely used FOSS solutions free and open source, but also because they inject technical diversity.
  • Reevaluate project governance, organization and funding with an eye toward mitigating complete reliance on the human factor, as well as incentivizing for-profit companies to contribute their expertise and other resources. Most for-profit companies would be happy to contribute to open source because of its openness, and not despite it, but within many communities, this may require a culture change for existing contributors.
  • Accelerate commodification by simplifying the stack and verifying the components. Push appropriate responsibility for security up into the application layers.

Basically, what I’m advocating here is that orchestrators like Kubernetes should matter less, and Linux should have less impact. Finally, we should proceed as fast as we can toward formalizing the use of things like unikernels.

Regardless, we need to ensure that both companies and individuals provide the resources open source needs to continue.

Facebook’s response to Biden and his COVID misinfo criticism is a big miss

Facebook should be more transparent about COVID-19 misinformation.

President Biden has really gotten under Mark Zuckerberg’s skin.

On Friday, a reporter asked Biden what he would say to platforms like Facebook when it came to COVID misinformation. Biden’s response: “They’re killing people.”

Facebook’s rebuttal was quick.

“We will not be distracted by accusations which aren’t supported by the facts,” said a Facebook spokesperson in a statement to Mashable that afternoon. “The fact is that more than 2 billion people have viewed authoritative information about COVID-19 and vaccines on Facebook, which is more than any other place on the internet.”

Facebook attempts an offensive

Facebook wasn’t done there though.

On Saturday, the company dropped a follow-up by it’s VP of Integrity Guy Rosen. His post, titled “Moving Past the Finger Pointing: Support for COVID-19 vaccines is high on Facebook and growing,” was published on the Newsroom section of the website.

“At a time when COVID-19 cases are rising in America, the Biden administration has chosen to blame a handful of American social media companies,” Rosen begins. “While social media plays an important role in society, it is clear that we need a whole of society approach to end this pandemic. And facts — not allegations — should help inform that effort.”

Rosen goes on to focus on a survey Facebook conducted with Carnegie Mellon University and University of Maryland which finds that “85% of Facebook users in the US have been or want to be vaccinated against COVID-19.”

“President Biden’s goal was for 70% of Americans to be vaccinated by July 4,” Rosen writes, speaking of the Biden administration’s failed target in its battle against COVID-19. He concludes: “Facebook is not the reason this goal was missed.”

The survey is questionable. Wouldn’t those who have been vaccinated be more likely to take this survey? But, first, let’s get this out of the way. There are a myriad of reasons why the Biden administration is struggling to get 70 percent of the country vaccinated. As Rosen points out, other countries such as Canada and the UK have blown past that vaccination rate.

For one, these countries do not have to deal with the vaccine disinformation being beamed onto the TV sets of millions of people in the form of Fox News, Newsmax, and OAN 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Politicians in this country have hyper-politicized the issue. Florida Governor Ron Desantis, a Republican, released a line of anti-vaxxer-esque merchandise just this past week.

So, of course, Facebook is not the reason this goal was missed. But, it’s surely a reason.

Facebook’s selective data

Facebook hones in on its stat that “more than 2 billion people have viewed authoritative information about COVID-19 and vaccines on Facebook.”

That’s well and good. But how many people have viewed anti-vaccination, COVID denying conspiracy theories on Facebook? Does the good Facebook says it does outweigh the negative? The answer: We don’t know. Facebook does not release this data.

Facebook shares that it has “removed over 18 million instances of COVID-19 misinformation” since the beginning of the pandemic. The company says it has also “labeled and reduced the visibility of more than 167 million pieces of COVID-19 content debunked by our network of fact-checking partners so fewer people see it.”

When touting that 3.3 million Americans used their vaccine finder tool, a Facebook spokesperson said “[he facts show that Facebook is helping save lives. Period.”cking partners got a hold of it? How many people saw it and never caught the fact check? We just don’t know.

Facebook does not release stats related to content reach, or how many people viewed a piece of content on its platforms. This actually became a point of contention inside the company, as Kevin Roose of The New York Times recently reported.

Roose created a Twitter account which used Facebook’s Crowdtangle platform to share which Facebook Pages had the top posts each day. Crowdtangle is a platform that Facebook provides to researchers and journalists where they can sift through data related to posts and pages on Facebook and Instagram. Roose’s Twitter account based the top performing pages on engagement, or how many people interacted with the content — a data point which Facebook provides.

The account showcased just how often right wing pages, which regularly post conspiratorial content and misinformation, make up the top-performing content on the platform.

Roose’s Twitter account caused issues within Facebook. Company executives had felt reach would be a better data point than engagement and there was a push to provide more data to researchers…until Facebook discovered that the same types of accounts were dominating in reach too. So, Facebook turned against Crowdtangle, a tool that actually provides transparency, rather than the issue itself and decided it would fight back with messaging using data it selects.

One of the results of this: The post we see from Facebook, using such selective data to push back against the Biden administration.

Facebook won’t tell us

Even if Facebook’s argument is that the company is doing everything correctly now, the fact is that the algorithm it created, which continues to award reactionary content — i.e. conspiracy theories, misinformation — that receives the most engagement, undermines positive efforts. Also, there’s plenty of damage done before corrective actions can be taken in the first place.

When touting that 3.3 million Americans used their vaccine finder tool, a Facebook spokesperson said “[t]he facts show that Facebook is helping save lives. Period.”

With more than 320 million people living in the U.S. and a vaccination rate currently sitting at less than 50 percent, how many more Facebook users were served up misinformation which could’ve played a role in a decision to not get vaccinated? How much of that misinformation was recommended to them via Facebook’s algorithm?

Facebook could share this information and dispel Biden’s accusations. But, we just don’t know because Facebook won’t tell us.

How to connect your iPhone to a speaker

Woman celebrates connecting her iPhone to her Bluetooth speaker.

Picture this: You’re at a party. The music is terrible. You want to jump on aux, but you don’t know how to connect your iPhone to the speaker. Sounds like a nightmare, right?

Good thing it’s very simple and easy to connect your iPhone to a Bluetooth speaker.

Your iPhone is equipped with the ability to connect to speakers via Bluetooth, which comes in handy anytime you want to play music or anything else on a speaker.

Follow these steps to connect your iPhone to a Bluetooth speaker.

How to connect your iPhone to a Bluetooth speaker:

1. Open Settings.

2. Select “Bluetooth.”

Select "Bluetooth" to begin the process of connecting your iPhone to a Bluetooth speaker.

Select “Bluetooth” to begin the process of connecting your iPhone to a Bluetooth speaker.
Credit: Screenshot: apple

3. Make sure your iPhone’s Bluetooth is on.

If it is on, the oval next to Bluetooth will be green, and you will see “My Devices” and “Other Devices” below Bluetooth. To turn Bluetooth on, tap the circle in the oval next to Bluetooth.

Circled in red is the button that turns Bluetooth on and off on your iPhone.

Circled in red is the button that turns Bluetooth on and off on your iPhone.
Credit: screenshot: Apple

4. Make your speaker available to pair.

Hold down the button on your speaker that makes it available to pair. This may be different depending on your speaker.

5. Find your speaker under “Other Devices” on iPhone, and tap it to connect.

If you follow those simple steps you should be able to connect to any Bluetooth speaker.

If your speaker is not Bluetooth, you can connect your iPhone to it the old fashioned way…simply by plugging it into the aux cord.

There you go.

How to break up with a hookup

Post-vaccine dating began with so much promise, didn’t it? Our pent-up lust for both other people and life in general climbed as the months passed, as did our eagerness for summer dates like drinking patio beers or visiting the beach.

At this point, however, you may have realized that your expectations don’t match reality. The patio beers are warm and you got burned at the beach.

Hot vax summer? More like lukewarm vax summer.

Maybe it’s time to break up with your situationship, but — as the name suggests — it’s merely a situation, a nebulous relationship neither of you defined. Even so, that doesn’t mean the person you spent time with shouldn’t be treated with respect.

Whether you refer to it as a situationship or hookup or fling, we asked experts how to end such a relationship courteously but firmly.

What if I don’t know if I want to end things?

It’s absolutely reasonable to be on the fence about whether to do this in the first place. With COVID restrictions loosened, some people feel pressure to go out and have both all-ages and X-rated fun — especially if you already have a willing participant on lock. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

It’s time to say goodbye, however, the moment the drama outweighs the fun, said Dr. Nikki Coleman, licensed psychologist and relationship expert. Sex therapist Dr. Kate Balestrieri echoed this: If you’re uncomfortable around the person you’ve been seeing, or a sense of obligation is the driving force behind continuing to hang out with them, these are signals the situationship has run its course.

Further, if you’re not feeling valued, loved, or seen in this arrangement — and there’s no hope of that changing — move on, said Dr. Carla Marie Manly, clinical psychologist, speaker, and author of Date Smart.

Even if this isn’t an exclusive or long-term relationship, you deserve connections that fulfill you regardless. Manly notes that the quality of our relationships affects us over time; value yourself above any hookup and leave it behind.

Should I break up in person?

Yes, breaking it off face-to-face is the most respectful way to go about it, said Manly, but if you have any safety concerns — always prioritize those — you can obviously avoid that. If meeting up in person is off the table, you can have a phone call.

Coleman agreed that verbal communication is best, even if it’s by using a voice note or a conversation app like Marco Polo, a blend of WhatsApp and FaceTime that allows people to send video messages back and forth. Talking “demonstrates that you took the other person seriously and valued them as a person,” said Coleman. Even if this wasn’t a “serious” relationship, that’s still important.

Talking “demonstrates that you took the other person seriously and valued them as a person”

Texting is a last resort, said Manly, but if you do it, send a text you yourself would feel good receiving.

What should I say?

For Coleman, the conversation is where boundaries are tested. You don’t have to get deep into your emotions or the details. You can say something succinct and factual like, “I’ve enjoyed being with you, but I’m looking for something different at this point,” and leave it at that.

Since the terms of the relationship were vague to begin with, moving on can feel messy, according to Manly. A direct break is best so you both unequivocally know where you stand, even if that wasn’t the case while you were hooking up. She offered words that acknowledged that this was an undefined relationship: “I know we didn’t define our connection, and it seems we’ve been going with the flow. I’ve done a lot of soul-searching and know in my heart that it’s time for me to move on.”

By setting boundaries in your relationships — even the unofficial ones — you set boundaries with yourself. Moving forward, you can find yourself looking for connections that better align with what you want.

Depending on the situationship, both people involved may be indifferent — or one may have been more invested than the other. If you’re breaking up with a hookup that perhaps wanted more (or just wanted it to continue), you can hold space, or be present, for their feelings.

Mashable Image

Credit: vicky leta / mashable

“When breaking off a situationship with someone whose feelings or sense of pride is likely to be hurt, it’s important to acknowledge their feelings and concerns without getting looped into negative dynamics,” said Manly.

An example she offered if your now-ex-hookup feels rejected is to say, “I see that you are sad. I’m sorry that you’re hurting. Although I know my decision to move forward is what’s best for me, I’m happy to talk with you about your feelings.”

If your hookup is persistent, Coleman advises you to acknowledge that you’re both in different places and that’s okay. Her advice is to be firm in your boundaries, but genuine and compassionate toward the other person as well.

Unless there’s a safety issue, don’t ghost. Be accountable and also respectful to this person.

“We are living in a culture where people and sex and romance becomes so commoditized and dehumanized because of the mechanisms of technology and dating apps,” said Balestrieri. “So I think it’s really important — unless there’s a threat to your safety or somebody who’s not respecting your boundaries — to avoid ghosting.”

What if we hooked up during the COVID pandemic?

If you rode out the pandemic with a hookup and want to end it now, be mindful of the unique connection you share. The experience of going through such a traumatic time together often creates an intense bond, Manly explained, which can make bidding farewell more difficult than it would be if it were an ordinary hookup.

Given this, Coleman said to be aware of timing — but you don’t have to define your actions based on someone else’s timing. If your partner is in a vulnerable place, you should still end the relationship when you need to, but be patient and kind when doing so (which you should be regardless).

You’re well within your right to end any type of relationship, but — especially with quaran-hookups — be cognizant of the time you’ve had together.

Both Manly and Balestrieri said to honor the time you spent and challenges you faced together, and honor the feelings that come up as you end things as well. Acknowledge COVID hardships and how they made you feel, and make space for mourning and grieving.

“Be upfront that the last year-plus has been intense, and we all wanted some comfort and connection; that they provided that in a time when you really needed it,” said Coleman, “but, again, now you’re in a different space.”

To that point, Balestrieri said it’s okay to give yourself permission to move on. In post-vaccine life, you may want to explore dating others or go inward for some self-development.

“People might feel very torn or might feel like it’s scary to leave…a comfortable hookup situation,” she said. “But if it doesn’t feel right, it is not only okay but it’s important to move on so that you can make space for this new period of self-growth.”

15 deals on fans to keep you cool this summer

Cut back on your AC use and snag a personal fan for your desk.

When the dog days of summer hit, you might need to pull out all the stops when it comes to personal cooling. That’s where these deals on fans come in.

As of July 18, these 15 mini, personal, and home fans are all on sale for a limited time.

Whirlwind Cool Blade-Less Mini Fan

Throw this fan in your purse or backpack to beat the heat as you commute, go for a stroll, or even enjoy a baseball game. It comes in three different colors and is currently on sale for 63% off, knocking the $59 price tag down to just $21.99.

Air Shower Fan F210

This fan is perfect for resting at the base of your bed or in the corner of your living room to make any gathering or late night in just a little bit cooler. Get it for just $129.

Air Shower Fan F210 — $129

Credit: Boneco

Fantask 35W 28” Oscillating Bladeless Tower Fan

This oscillating tower fan has three wind speed settings and stands at 28 inches tall, so it saves space in your home while keeping you cool. Save 21% for a limited time and pay just $54.99 (normally $69).

16” Adjustable Oscillating Pedestal Fan

No matter where you are in the house, you can adjust the speed of this fan with its remote control. Save 10% and take it home for just $89.99 (normally $99).

Q-Beam® Cyclone Combination Rechargeable LED Work Light and Fan

Take this rechargeable fan with you wherever you go to beat any unexpected heat that comes your way. Since it’s magnetic, it sticks to any metal surface to stay out of the way and keep you cool. Get it for just $59 for a limited time.

Costway 20” High-Velocity Industrial Grade 3-Speed Floor Fan

When you’re working outdoors, nothing feels better than an industrial-grade fan hitting you as you focus on the task at hand. Save 30% and take this one home for just $89.99 (normally $129).

Costway Evaporative Air Cooler Portable Fan

This portable air cooler is perfect for the foot of your bed or the corner of your living room. Take 25% off and get it for just $149.99 (normally $199).

Smart Leafless Fan

Save 26% for a limited time and take this Dyson rival home for just $182.95 (normally $249).

Smart Leafless Fan — $182.95

Credit: Mesay

The Octopus: Adjustable Arm Fan

With octopus-like legs that wrap around just about anything, this fan is great for golf carts, strollers, and more. Get it for just $29.99 (normally $59) — it’s 33% off.

Personal Rechargeable Double Fan Neckband

Save 50% and get this double fan neckband for just $29.99 (normally $50).

Inno Portable Fan with Diffuser

Diffuse your favorite scents as you cool your space with this 2-in-1 extendable fan. Get it for just $50.99 (normally $69) for a limited time.

Easy Breezy Hands-Free Cool Neck Fan

With hidden blades and an ergonomic design, this fan rests easily around your neck to deliver cooling air right where you need it. Save 66% for a limited time and get it for just $49.99 (normally $149).

Easy Breezy Hands-Free Cool Neck Fan — $49.99

Credit: Electronic Avenue

Flow by Objecto F3 Fan

With up to five fan speeds, you can use this fan all year long when you need extra cooling. Enter the code OBJECTO20 at checkout to get the F3 Fan by Objecto for just $209 (regularly $229).

Flow by Objecto F5 Fan

The F5 fan has five different fan speeds to keep you cool and also extends to be a floor fan or a taller, standing fan, reaching up to 39 inches tall if desired. Enter code OBJECTO30 at checkout to shave $30 off the total price, meaning you pay just $269 (normally $299).

Outdoor Portable Camping Fan with LED Lights

This durable fan is perfect for all of your outdoor adventures. Get it on sale for just $54.95 (normally $69).

All eyes are on India’s brightest Zomato

Relevance is often tied to rarity. As a result, the first anything — whether a birthday, scientific feat or female vice president — comes with its own weight. Whether that pressure is warranted is a discussion in and of itself, but today, we’ll focus on the ripple effects of India’s first unicorn IPO: Zomato.

Food delivery startup Zomato, set to start trading public shares next week, has been labeled by journalists and industry experts as India’s biggest tech public offering to date. The company could be valued at up to $8.6 billion in its public debut, and early indications of investor interest were strong. 

As my colleagues Alex Wilhelm and Anna Heim put it in their column, the eventual performance of Zomato will be watched by Paytm and MobiKwik, two Indian fintech unicorns also looking to go public soon, the some 100 Indian unicorns, and, of course, returns-focused venture capitalists. The success of the startup could lead to more venture funding, exits down the road, and overall, highlight a milestone for growth investments amid legislative and regulatory tension. 

While the pressure is on for Zomato not to get squashed by the public markets, it’s not simply baseless, anticipatory energy. Our on-the-ground reporter Manish Singh has religiously reported on all the signs that India has been building toward this event, from the early-stage startup fundraising frenzy to how engineers suddenly feel empowered to ask for more money thanks to an increase in demand.

A Zomato success may turn more investors to pay attention to the startup scene, but they will be playing catch-up: Indian startups have raised a record $10.46 billion in the first half of 2021, up from $4 billion during the same period last year, and $5.4 billion in the first half of 2019, data insight platform Tracxn told TechCrunch. For comparison, Indian startups had raised $11.6 billion in all of 2020.

The takeaway here, both in life and in startups, is that the first anything is rarely a result of a single decision. Often, if you look closely, a massive milestone is due to an amalgamation of different wins, successes, failures, and tinier milestones along the way. This doesn’t take away its title as the biggest tech startup to go public in India (relevant, and rare!) but it does suggest that ripple effects aren’t just a side effect of a financing event, but maybe the impetus of the IPO in the first place.

In the rest of this newsletter, we’ll get into emerging fund manager trends, as well as funding round advice that has nothing to do with closing a round. You can find me on Twitter @nmasc_ or listen to me as a co-host on Equity.

Emerge, then converge


Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

The clip of closed funds led by diverse, emerging fund managers is unlike anything I’ve seen before. In the last week, Female Founders Fund closed $57 million for Fund III, Nasir Quadree announced one of the largest solo GP funds, Peter Boyce II is nearing a $40 million close for Stellation Capital and H Ventures landed a $10 million debut fund.

Here’s what to know: More and more established venture firms are turning to emerging managers for deal flow, and frankly, new partners, per my colleague Connie Loizos. Just this week, Initialized Partner scooped up Parul Singh from Founder Collective, making her a new partner at the firm. Don’t expect the trend to slow down anytime soon.

Your funding round isn’t special, but you may be

It may be easier to fundraise than it is to secure fundraising coverage. As we talked about in our recent Equity podcast, featuring special guest Forbes Senior Editor Alex Konrad, the bar for “the funding round story” has never been higher.

Here’s what to know: In order to stand out, founders need to be transparent about competition, their industry and leave those godforsaken preapproved quotes and talking points. We get into specific advice on the show, and how a numbing effect could hurt historically overlooked individuals.

For more fundraising advice:

Around TC

  • The TechCrunch Disrupt Agenda just went live. It’s a must-read line up and a must-attend event.
  • Have you ever taken a cohort-based course from an edtech platform? I’m writing a story, so please e-mail if you’re open to chatting about your experience at one.
  • Shout out to Christine Hall for recently joining the TechCrunch team. Follow her on Twitter. I’ll wait!

Across the week

Seen on TechCrunch

Seen on Extra Crunch

Thanks for reading along, everyone. Have a good weekend, and if you liked this newsletter, make sure to share it with at least one friend!


Understand everything about SEO with this stacked online training bundle

The 2021 Complete Google SEO and SERP Certification Bundle is on sale.

TL;DR: The 2021 Complete Google SEO and SERP Certification Bundle is on sale for £21.68 as of July 18, saving you 98% on list price.

Optimising your website to appear higher on a list of search results can make a big difference for your business. That’s why SEO skills are so crucial.

With the 2021 Complete Google SEO and SERP Bundle, you can learn how to make data-informed decisions for you and your company. This bundle includes 26 hours of content on Google SEO, video SEO, Amazon marketing, and more.

You’ll kick things off by learning how to boost views and engagement on YouTube. Next, you’ll learn more background information about SEO, like keyword research and link building. Many pieces work together to complete the puzzle of an effective SEO strategy, and you’ll discover how to cover all of your bases.

If you find you have a knack for it, you can even get tips and tricks on how to start your own SEO business from home. It’s a job that will always be in demand and one that most business owners have no idea how to approach. That’s where you come in.

Courses are taught by experts such as Josh George, an SEO and Google Ads expert that boasts an impressive instructor rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars. George is the founder of an award-winning SEO agency in the UK called ClickSlice. If you want to be the SEO leader at your office or within your own business, he’s the person to learn from.

Normally, this 11-course bundle goes for over £1,000, since you truly learn the ins and outs of a skill that is rarely taught in school. But for a limited time, you can score 98% off, and start learning SEO for just £21.68.

5 best free photo layout apps

Photo layout apps, which can help you quickly and easily create attractive photo collages and montages, are an absolute godsend for those of us who aren’t conveniently blessed with mad Photoshop skillz. After testing dozens of them, we can now bring you, in alphabetical order, the five best free photo layout apps out there.

Choose one of these to take your design skills to the next level without having to even think about layer masks or lossy compression.


Canva is arguably so much more than a photo layout app: It’s a complete graphic design suite. But if you just need photo layout, it’s highly recommended for exactly that. Canva offers a fabulous photo collage tool with hundreds of different grid-style layouts for you to choose from for free.

As well as giving you the option to easily create freestyle photo collages and montages, Canva offers designs sized specially for all the major social media services. If you’re looking to create a photo-based Instagram or Facebook Story, this app helps you do it quickly and easily.

Credit: screengrab: canva

Credit: screengrab: canva

You can use your own content, or you can add to your design with hundreds of thousands of free photos and graphics from Canva. The app also gives you the ability to collaborate with other Canva users and work together to create a montage. Canva allows you to save your designs to the cloud; even the free version gives you 5GB of cloud storage.

Canva Pro costs from $12.99 a month and gives you unlimited access to over 420,000 templates; more than 75 million premium stock photos, videos, audio, and graphics; 100GB of cloud storage; and the ability to create a “Brand Kit” with your own fonts, brand color palette, and logos to use on the Canva platform.

Layout from Instagram

We’re big fans of the free Layout app from Instagram. It’s not as full-featured as other photo layout apps, but it’s very intuitive and simple to use, and it will provide you with watermark-free photo collages in a matter of seconds.

Get started by selecting the images you want to use from your phone’s photos, then the app dynamically creates different layout options with photos arranged in different ways, all horizontal, all vertical, and a mix of the two, etc. Simply tap to choose the design that best suits your needs.

Credit: screengrAb: layout from instagram

Credit: screengrab: layout from instagram

Once you’ve selected your layout, you can drag and drop the images to reorder them, flip them, and add a border. It’s a quick process to share your creation: Instagram obviously comes up as one of the shortcut share options.


Moldiv is a photo editing app that’s available for iOS and Android. Its beauty camera functionality, which softens your skin, slims your face, and enlarges your eyes, makes it a popular choice for selfies. Moldiv also offers comprehensive layout options, including magazine-style layouts that let you select a design you like, replace the images with your own photos, and switch out the text to whatever you want your message to be.

Credit: screengrab: moldiv

Credit: screengrab: moldiv

As far as straightforward collages go, Moldiv offers more than 300 different designs, all of which are grid-based, with different-sized squares and rectangles, to choose from. Whether you want to simply stitch two photos together or create an elaborate grid of imagery, the options are there for you.


PicCollage is a fresh and fun photo layout app that offers cool and contemporary designs, many of which are available for free — although if you want to get the best out of this app, you’re going to need to pay for the premium functionality, which costs $35.99 a year.

PicCollage’s templates are organized into categories, such as summer, “thank you,” travel, birthday, and the like, which makes it easy to find the correct design to suit your needs.

Credit: screengrab: piccollage

Credit: screengrab: piccollage

This app also really shines when it comes to cute stickers. There are an absolute ton of really sweet little stickers, with sayings and phrases, food and drink items, and graphics such as hearts, stars, and flowers that you can overlay on your design. These are also organized into categories, making it simple to find the best graphics to add the perfect finishing touch to your creation.

Pic Stitch

Pic Stitch offers an ad-supported free version of its app that allows you to create and export very basic photo collages and montages. If you pay for the annual subscription, which costs $29.99, you get access to a lot more advanced tools, with more than 300 collage layouts, 20-plus filter packs, 10-plus border packs, video editing tools, and the option to add music to your creations.

Credit: screengrab: pic stitch

Credit: screengrab: pic stitch

Pic Stitch’s free layouts are sorted into “classic,” offering a mix of standard square and rectangular designs, and “fancy,” offering more contemporary options for you to browse. You can also view trending layouts, although those are often mostly only available to subscribers.

But the free version of the app is quick and easy to use. Simply select the layout you want, add your imagery, and then hit the export button. This gives you the ability to save your creation to your phone or share it to the major social networks.