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Coinbase abandons its cautious approach with plan to list up to 30 new cryptocurrencies

Coinbase is the most conservative exchange in cryptoland, largely because it operates in the U.S. under the watchful eye of the SEC. The $8 billion-valued company trades fewer than ten cryptocurrencies to consumers but on Friday announced it announced a major expansion that could see it list up to 30 new tokens.

The company said it is considering support Ripple’s XRP, EOS — the Ethereum challenger that held a year-long ICO that raised $4 billion — Stellar, a creation from a Ripple co-founder, chat app Kik’s Kin token and more.

The full list is below:

Cardano (ADA), Aeternity (AE), Aragon (ANT), Bread Wallet (BRD), Civic (CVC), Dai (DAI), district0x (DNT), EnjinCoin (ENJ), EOS (EOS), Golem Network (GNT), IOST (IOST), Kin (KIN), Kyber Network (KNC), ChainLink (LINK), Loom Network (LOOM), Loopring (LRC), Decentraland (MANA), Mainframe (MFT), Maker (MKR), NEO (NEO), OmiseGo (OMG), Po.et (POE), QuarkChain (QKC), Augur (REP), Request Network (REQ), Status (SNT), Storj (STORJ), Stellar (XLM), XRP (XRP), Tezos (XTZ), and Zilliqa (ZIL)

The company last announced new asset explorations in July, although today it did add four new ERC tokens to its pro service.

Coinbase recently revamped its policy on new token listings. Instead of abruptly adding new assets, a process that sent their valuations spiking along with rumors of inside trading, it now goes public with its intention to “explore” the potential to list new assets in order to lower the impact of a listing. It also doesn’t guarantee which, if any, will make it through and be listed.

“Adding new assets requires significant exploratory work from both a technical and compliance standpoint, and we cannot guarantee that all the assets we are evaluating will ultimately be listed for trading,” the company said.

Support for tokens is pretty nuanced. Coinbase lists some assets on its professional service only, with just nine supported on its regular consumer-facing exchange — those are Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum, Ethereum Classic, Litecoin, Zcash, USD Coin, 0x and Basic Attention Token.

The company may also introduce some tokens on a state by state basis in the U.S. in order to comply with laws.

Brian Armstrong told the audience at Disrupt San Francisco that Coinbase could list “millions” of cryptocurrencies in the future

Coinbase is looking into this glut of new tokens — some of which, it must be said, are fairly questionable as projects let alone operating with uncertain legal status — at a time when the market is down significantly from its peak in January, both in terms of trading volume and market valuations.

In recent weeks, sources at a number of top exchanges have told TechCrunch that trading-related revenues are down as much as 50 percent over recent months and, while the numbers for Coinbase aren’t clear, there’s no doubt that its revenue is taking a big hit during this ‘crypto winter.’ That makes it easy to argue that Coinbase is widening its selection to increase potential volumes and, in turn, its revenue — particularly since it just raised $300 million from investors at a massive $8 billion valuation.

Coinbase defenders, however, will argue that a greater selection has long been the plan.

Ignoring the reasons, that’s certainly true. It is well known that the company wants to massively increase the number of cryptocurrencies that it supports.

CEO Brian Armstrong said as much as our TechCrunch Disrupt event in San Francisco in October, where he sketched out the company’s plan to be the New York Stock Exchange of crypto.

“It makes sense that any company out there who has a cap table… should have their own token. Every open source project, every charity, potentially every fund or these new types of decentralized organizations [and] apps, they’re all going to have their own tokens. We want to be the bridge all over the world where people come and they take fiat currency and they can get it into these different cryptocurrencies,” he said during an on-stage interview at the event.

That tokenized future could see Coinbase host hundreds of tokens within “years” and even potentially “millions” in the future, according to Armstrong.

The company has done a lot of the groundwork to make that happen.

Coinbase bought a securities dealer earlier this year and it has taken regulatory strides to list tokenized securities in the U.S, albeit with some confusion. In addition, its VC arm has backed a startup that helps create ‘digital security tokens’ and the exchange introduced a new listing process which could potentially include a listing fee in exchange for necessary legal work.

These 30 new (potential) assets might not be the digital security tokens that Coinbase is moving to add, but the fact that the exchange is exploring so many new assets in one go shows how much wider the company’s vision is now.

The crypto community has already reacted strongly to this deluge of new assets. As you might expect, it is a mix of naive optimism from those invested in ‘under-performing’ projects (shitcoins) who think a Coinbase listing could turn everything around, and criticism from crypto watchers who voiced concern that Coinbase is throwing its prestige and support behind less-than-deserving cryptocurrencies.

I already helped with the rebranding strategy.
The logo is for free, feel free to use it.
Please also delist Bitcoin, thanks. pic.twitter.com/GubHTYIU8F

— WhalePanda (@WhalePanda) December 7, 2018

Coinbase went from the most conservative company in crypto to YOLO in like 6 months https://t.co/ndwF5wtb4t

— Crypto Bobby (@crypto_bobby) December 7, 2018

Coinbase adding XRP or any other DA isn’t big news anymore. Every major financial institutions is tripping over themselves to get involved with an exchange.

Coinbase is welcome to add anything they want but they are now simply playing catch up.

Not a 🔥 take. Just fact.

— ecent (@EDadoun) December 7, 2018

I hope Coinbase realizes that several months after raising a $100M ICO, the Kik founder called blockchain ”unconvincing”. Yet their coin is still on the shortlist…

Bonus points for anyone who can count how many of these have active class action lawsuits against them?

— Larry Cermak (@lawmaster) December 7, 2018

Coinbase shitcoins OK for millions of retail investors. Bitcoin ETF for institutional investors too crazy. What f*ing parallel universe is this? 🤦‍♂️🤯

— Gabor Gurbacs (@gaborgurbacs) December 7, 2018

Note: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life.

24 Ways to Find a Date Offline

Everyone seems to be trying out online dating these days. With how common it is, you might think that it’s an easy process. The truth, however, is that online dating isn’t always ideal. Apart from the risk it poses to your security, you can also end up feeling disappointed and frustrated.

If you want to avoid those things, you should probably consider dating offline.

But first, let’s review a few tips to make it work.

  • Have a simple goal of making new friends. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Seek to find a great friend and see where things lead.
  • Commit to saying “Hi” first. Don’t be shy. Perhaps set a goal of saying hi to 5 people a day. Start with one a day and then work your way up.
  • Smile and have fun. Everyone looks better with a smile.
  • Be open to meeting new people- anywhere and everywhere.
  • Always be dressed and groomed to meet new people even if you’re just running out to get milk. You just may meet that someone special in the dairy isle!
  • Be interested in others and ask lots of questions.
  • Don’t be afraid of rejection. You’ve got nothing to lose!! What’s the worst that could happen? Someone will laugh at you? That’s hardly likely. And even if they do, who cares! Just say “Next!” and move on!
  • Go slow for safety and success. Never rush into anything. Go slow.
  • Check out these conversation starters from Searchwarp and Suite 101.

Now that we got that out of the way, here are the best ways to find an online date:

Host a “White Elephant” party for singles

The idea is everyone who is invited must bring a single friend, preferably of the opposite sex. You can also have each invited person invite 5 other people to increase the numbers for your party.

Join a social/singles group in your area

Check the newspaper, yellow pages or online.

Start a social/singles group in your area

If you don’t have one in your area or want something different, start your own. Start small and build. It can even become a business down the line if you have success and decide to charge dues.

Ideas for events for your group:

  • Themed parties
  • Sports events, like ski trips or baseball games
  • Meet and greets with a speaker of interest

Find singles magazines or newsletters in your area

Join their mailing lists and see if you can find anyone who interests you.

Check the “Local Happenings” section of your newspaper

Clip out the events that interest you and go. Bring a friend or go solo, but just remember to meet at least one new person when you go!

Take your dog or other pet to a dog/pet park

You can also search for pet meetups online according to dog breed or really any other interest you may have. Other places to use your pet as a lure: main street shopping areas, fairgrounds, and outdoor sporting events.

The ‘Ole Meat Market

Yes, you can meet someone in a bar. People do it everyday. Is it the best place? Maybe not, but you shouldn’t rule out any place where there is opportunity.

Join a club in an area that interests you such as astronomy, public speaking, gardening, books, or whatever. Check Google, local bulletin boards, or your local paper for ideas.

Take an adult education class in something that interests you

You’ll be surprised at the people you’ll meet there.

Go shopping in the opposite sex’s department

Ask a stranger for help in shopping for your relative.

Browse bookstores, libraries, and video stores

Go in the sections that interest you. Ask someone their opinion and see what develops!

Attend trade shows, conventions, specialty sales, and auctions for things that interest you.

It is the perfect place to talk to new people because that’s what it’s all about!

Your workplace

First know your employer’s dating policies and always use discretion. Many people have met their mate this way. Maybe it will happen for you, too.

Attend an event of another department. Let select co-workers know that you are looking. Maybe they will know someone you’d like to meet.

After hours shopping

Grocery shopping, the hardware store, and the like can be great places to meet someone just like you. If you’re shopping after 5pm or on a Saturday pay attention to check out more than just the produce and then take some action by saying hi and asking a question.

Attend a singles dating event

It can’t hurt. Bring a friend if you need a little confidence boost.

Go to those weddings, reunions, and other such events that you’ve been invited to.

Fight the urge to say “Ugh. Oh no.” Go. Have fun. Talk to people and see what happens.

Volunteer for a group or an area of interest for which you have a passion

animal rescue volunteer

What better way to meet someone that may be compatible with you? Looking for people in your area of interest is one way to make sure you end up with someone who has the same passion as you.

Attend art gallery and museum openings and functions

Culture, creativity, and dating potential, oh my!

Join a professional organization

And when you do, be sure to go to events and maybe volunteer to help out with some of them. Working on projects with others is a great way to get to know some new people.

Join a health club or a casual sports group

This includes softball leagues, golf, ski clubs, sailing, etc. And don’t rule out groups just because you’ve never done it before. If you’ve always wanted to learn how to sail, then join a group and learn. There’s always room for newbies.

Travel

international travel tips

Consider a singles vacation trip. There are many organization including Club Med that organize trips to any and all destinations you can imagine. Search the newspaper or online.

Spiritual groups

If you belong to a religious group, see if they have any groups that interest you. If they don’t maybe you could start one and then advertise it in their weekly bulletin or newsletter.

Music and Theater

Go see a band, a play, the orchestra or an opera. Expand your cultural horizons or simply go for some head banging. Just remember to meet some new people.

Attend a free seminar

Many businesses present free seminars to gain new clients such as brokerage firms, home improvement stores, and technology stores. Go get some learning and chat to some fellow attendees.

A little help from your friends and beyond

If you’re really looking, put the word out to a lot of people that you are open to introductions or invitations to events to meet people. Hand out your card with your number and email. Tell people what you are looking for. Then let it sit. If you do this consistently, you’re sure to end up with some dates.

What do you think is the best way to meet someone? What is your favorite conversation starter? What’s the craziest story you know of a couple and how they met?

Please share in the comments!

Written by K. Stone, author of Life Learning Today, a blog about daily life improvements. Popular articles are How to Write a Book in 60 Days or Less and Should You Start Your Own Work at Home Business?

The post 24 Ways to Find a Date Offline appeared first on Dumb Little Man.

Taiwan-based travel startup AsiaYo raises $7M Series B led by Alibaba Taiwan Entrepreneurs Fund

AsiaYo, a travel accommodation booking platform based in Taipei, Taiwan, has raised a $7 million Series B led by Alibaba Taiwan Entrepreneurs Fund, a non-profit initiative run by the Chinese e-commerce giant, and China Development Financial. Darwin Ventures and Delta Ventures also participated in the round, which brings AsiaYo’s total raised since its launch in 2014 to $10 million, including a $3 million Series A.

Founded by CEO C.K. Cheng, AsiaYo has grown over the past four years to a team of about 100 people and now claims about 300,000 members on its site. In addition to Taiwan, the platform also operates in Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, and Thailand, and says overseas bookings account for 60% of its business. AsiaYo’s new funding will be used to launch in new markets, with operations in Singapore and Malaysia and a new Japanese website slated to launch next year. Cheng told TechCrunch that it picked Singapore and Malaysia as its newest markets because of the amount of travel between the two countries, which are next to one another.

AsiaYo works with 50 partners, including Hong Kong Airlines, KKday, and Rakuten LIFULL STAY, to provide reward programs and deals on vacation bookings. The website is currently available in English, Chinese, and Korean and claims 60,000 listings across 60 cities. The startup targets younger tourists traveling within Asia with what it calls “hyper-personalized journeys” created with the help of its AI-based algorithm AYSort, which analyzes user behavior to provide booking suggestions.

In a press statement, Alibaba Taiwan Entrepreneurs Fund executive director Andrew Lee said “With rapid economic development across Asia, we have seen a significant rise in inter-regional tourism. AsiaYo has capitalized on this trend, demonstrating its growth potential. We’re currently working with AsiaYo to further develop technological capabilities in the travel industry.”

AsiaYo’s listings include a combination of rooms, apartments, hostels, and hotels, which means it competes against a wide variety of other accommodation booking sites, like Airbnb, Agoda, and HotelQuickly. The startup differentiates, however, by verifying listings with landlords before they go live for quality assurance and to “inspire travelers to step out of their comfort zone,” said Cheng. The company also provides multi-lingual customer support through several channels, including Line, Facebook, WeChat, and its own helplines.

Fintech investors and founders to judge Startup Battlefield Africa

TechCrunch will soon be returning to Africa to hold its Startup Battlefield competition dedicated to the African continent.

The event, in Lagos, Nigeria, on December 11, will showcase the launch of 15 of the hottest startups in Africa onstage for the first time. We’ll also be joined by some of the leading investment firms in the region. The event is now sold out, but keep your eyes on TechCrunch for video of all the panels and the Battlefield competition.

Here are just some of the investors and founders who will be judging the startups competing for US$25,000.


Olugbenga Agboola, Flutterwave

Olugbenga Agboola is the CEO of Flutterwave, a payments technology company headquartered in San Francisco with operations and offices across Africa and Europe. Prior to co-founding Flutterwave, Olugbenga contributed to the development of fintech solutions at several tech companies and financial institutions such as PayPal and Standard Bank, among others. He is a serial entrepreneur with two successful exits under his belt. He is a software engineer with a Master’s Degree in Information Technology Security and Behavioral Engineering, as well as an MBA.

Barbara Iyayi, Element

Barbara Iyayi is the chief growth officer and managing director of Africa for Element, which deploys AI-powered mobile biometrics software to develop digital platforms globally. Barbara was part of the founding team of Atlas Mara, a London stock exchange-listed company, co-founded by Bob Diamond, ex-CEO of Barclays Bank, which was the first-ever entity to raise more than $1 billion to invest in, operate and manage financial institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa. As the Regional Lead for M&A and Investments, she led investments into banks and developed the banking platform’s entry into seven countries in Africa. Notably, she led the acquisition and first-ever merger of two banks in Rwanda, to be the leading innovative retail bank — Banque Populaire du Rwanda — and led a $250 million equity investment in Union Bank of Nigeria.

Aaron Fu, MEST Africa

Aaron is an early-stage investor, entrepreneur and strategic advisor to both startups as they scale and corporates as they transform to gain agility for disruptive innovation. Over the last five years he has specifically focused on innovation in Africa, working with global brands and entrepreneurs across diverse industries, from financial services to health to mobile to agriculture.

As managing director at MEST, he is dedicated to training, investing in and incubating the next generation of global software entrepreneurs in Africa. He manages a portfolio of 30-plus startups spanning fintech, media, e-commerce and agritech. 

Sam Gichuru, Nailab

Sam Gichuru is founder and CEO of Nailab, one of Kenya’ s leading business incubators. His contribution in establishing the startup business ecosystem in Kenya, through Nailab, has been significant, and as a result was invited as a key speaker during the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit, held in Nairobi and officiated by then U.S. President Barack Obama.

Sam has been instrumental in propagating the development of a strong and vibrant entrepreneurship ecosystem, and it’s through this engagement that he was most recently selected by Jack Ma to lead, through Nailab, the Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative, a $10 million Initiative that seeks to discover, spotlight and support 10 African entrepreneurs every year for the next 10 years.

Olufunbi Falayi, Savannah Fund


Olufunbi Falayi  is a partner at Passion Incubator, an early-stage technology incubator and accelerator that invests in early-stage startups. He co-led investment in 12 startups, including Riby, BeatDrone, AdsDirect, TradeBuza and Waracake. Olufunbi also a principal at Savannah Fund, driving investment in West Africa.

E Ink debuts a new electronic drawing technology

E Ink — a name synonymous with e-reader screens — just debuted a new writing display technology called JustWrite. The tech offers the company’s familiar monochrome aesthetic — albeit in negative this time, with white on black.

The key here, as with most of E Ink’s technology, is minimal power consumption and low cost, the latter of which it was able to accomplish by dumping the TFT (thin-film-transistor LCD). Instead, it’s a thin roll that could be used to paper surfaces like conference rooms and schools, in order to let people write on the walls using a stylus with practically no latency, as evidenced in the below GIF. 

“The JustWrite film features one of E Ink’s proprietary electronic inks and offers similar benefits as E Ink’s other product lines: a paper-like experience with a good contrast and reflective display without a backlight,” the company writes. “The JustWrite film is an all plastic display, making it extremely durable and lightweight, with the ability to be affixed and removed easily, enabling writing surfaces in a variety of locations.”

The technology could go head to head with the likes of Sony and reMarkable on drawing tablets, but E Ink appears to be more interested in embedding it in non-traditional surfaces. No word yet on how or when it will come to market, though the company is showing it off in person for the first time this week at an event in Tokyo.

“Daredevil” will not be renewed for a fourth season, the latest Marvel series cancelled by Netflix

Despite strong reviews and a fan petition, Netflix said today that it is cancelling “Daredevil” after three seasons. This is the latest Marvel series, after “Luke Cage” and “Iron Fist,” that Netflix has cancelled recently, and is a sign that Marvel TV and Netflix’s multi-series agreement, signed in 2013, may be hitting some bumps.

Centered around a blind lawyer-turned-superhero in New York City, played by Charlie Cox, “Daredevil” was the first series released as part of the Marvel -Netflix deal in 2015. This leaves “Jessica Jones” and “The Punisher” as the two remaining Marvel series on Netflix.

Netflix said in a statement sent to Deadline, which first broke the news, that “we are tremendously proud of the show’s last and final season and although it’s painful for the fans, we feel it best to close this chapter on a high note. We are thankful to our partners at Marvel, showrunner Erik Oleson, the show’s writers, stellar crew, and incredible cast including Charlie Cox as Daredevil himself, and we’re grateful to the fans who have supported the show over the years.”

The streaming service added that the three seasons will remain on Netflix for years, while “the Daredevil will live on in future projects for Marvel,” leaving open the possibility that the character might appear in “Jessica Jones” or “The Punisher.” Another possibility is the series moving to Disney’s upcoming streaming service, Disney+, expected to launch late next year (the Walt Disney Company owns Marvel Entertainment).

The abrupt cancellations of three Marvel series over the last new months may point to hiccups in the partnership between Netflix and Marvel TV. Potential conflicts between the two include the cost of producing Marvel-Netflix shows, the success of Netflix’s own original content, and disagreements about the length of seasons. The Marvel seasons had 13 episodes each, but newer Netflix shows are only 10 episodes per season.

Ice-T discusses that whole thing about him never eating a bagel

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A few weeks ago, people caught wind of the fact that Ice-T had never eaten a bagel until Law and Order: SVU, when he was required to eat one. Right? Huge.

Ice-T and co-star Mariska Hargitay appeared on The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon on Wednesday, where they were quizzed about the kerfuffle. For Ice-T, he just had to cop the bagel, although he didn’t actually swallow.

“On the show they wanted me to eat a bagel. I said I don’t eat bagels,” Ice-T replied. “But it was in the script, so you know I just did it. But I acted like I ate it, I didn’t eat it.”

The actor eventually did eat a bagel, explaining he recently filmed an ad for dating app Coffee Meets Bagel, where he well, didn’t enjoy it. “I ate one, I had one bite, and it felt like I ate a loaf of bread. Why would I eat an unsweetened donut?” he said. Read more…

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AWS Transit Gateway helps customers understand their entire network

Tonight at AWS re:Invent, the company announced a new tool called AWS Transit Gateway designed to help build a network topology inside of AWS that lets you share resources across accounts and bring together on premises and cloud resources in a single network topology.

Amazon already has a popular product called Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC), which helps customers build private instances of their applications. The Transit Gateway is designed to help build connections between VPCs, which up until now has been tricky to do.

As Peter DeSantis, VP of global infrastructure and customer support at AWS speaking at an event Monday night at AWS Re:Invent explained, AWS Transit Gateway gives you a single set of controls that lets you connect to a centrally managed gateway to grow your network easily and quickly.

Diagram: AWS

DeSantis said that this tool also gives you the ability to traverse your AWS and on-premises networks. “A gateway is another way that we’re innovating to enable customers to have secure, easy-to-manage networking across both on premise and their AWS cloud environment,” he explained.

AWS Transit Gateway lets you build connections across a network wherever the resources live in a standard kind of network topology. “Today we are giving you the ability to use the new AWS Transit Gateway to build a hub-and-spoke network topology. You can connect your existing VPCs, data centers, remote offices, and remote gateways to a managed Transit Gateway, with full control over network routing and security, even if your VPCs, Active Directories, shared services, and other resources span multiple AWS accounts,” Amazon’s Jeff Barr wrote in a blog post announcing to the new feature.

For much of its existence, AWS was about getting you to the cloud and managing your cloud resources. This makes sense for a pure cloud company like AWS, but customers tend to have complex configurations with some infrastructure and software still living on premises and some in the cloud. This could help bridge the two worlds.

Soundbrenner’s wearable metronome gets a modular upgrade

It took all of 14 minutes for the Soundbrenner Core to hit full funding. Not too shabby. Last week, the wearable maker closed out its campaign with more than 10x its $50,000 goal. A few days later, we sat down with the startup at the headquarters of Hong Kong-based accelerator, Brinc.

Soundbrenner has already made a bit of a name for itself with Pulse. The connected, wrist-worn device brought some clever innovation to the metronome, that old familiar piano-mounted accessory long banished to the dustiest corners of the music shop. The wearable offers haptic feedback that can be synced across an entire band to keep everyone on the beat. The company sold 60,000 of the things.

Admittedly, simplicity is one of the best things the product has going for it, but Soundbrenner figured it could take things a bit further — and apparently 2,477 Kickstarter backers agreed. The Core (which can be pre-ordered through the a separate Indiegogo page), is being positioned as a “4-in-1 tool.”

First is the vibrating metronome, which allows up to five musicians to sync to a beat, via feedback that’s around 7x that of a standard smartwatch. Wearers can also tap the screen to create a manual beat.

The most introducing bit here is probably the modularity (which arrives, fittingly, around the time the company started receiving mentorship from Mistfit co-founder Sonny Vu). The magnetic display snaps off and attaches to a guitar tuning pegs, where it can test tuning via vibration. There’s also a built-in decibel meter and some standard push notifications — though it’s far from full smartwatch functionality, which is probably for the best.

The Core is smaller than its predecessor, but it’s not small, exactly. The company says this was intentional, at least in part, as these devices have become a kind of calling card among musicians. Beats a secret handshake, I guess.

Walmart in China is now testing same-day grocery delivery from Dada via WeChat

Walmart has just begun testing same-day grocery delivery called Walmart To Go in one of its stores in China, months after the American retail titan expanded grocery delivery in its homeland.

The service is accessed through a mini-program within WeChat – the Tencent-owned messaging platform Walmart partnered with earlier this year, in order to better reach its Chinese customers. The retailer hasn’t made a formal announcement about the same-day grocery delivery because the service is being tested while Walmart collects customer feedback. However, there is signage in the store that informs customers about the option.

walmart delivery china

Customers near Walmart’s Xiangmihu store can now have groceries delivered to their doorsteps within one hour.

The test is taking place in the main Walmart WeChat mini-program, and appears when you select the store where the delivery service is enabled.

The feature allows Walmart’s WeChat customers to place orders on mobile and then receive delivery in as little as one hour. Nearly 8,000 SKUs are available on the service, Walmart says, including fresh products, condiments, snacks, baby items, personal care items, homecare items, a range of products from Walmart’s private brand Great Value, and Walmart’s Direct Import products sourced from around the world.

In addition, customers who shop in the store using Walmart’s Scan and Go for quick checkout can now easily re-order those items from home through the service.

Though the deliveries are provided by Dada, the new Walmart to Go service is not directly related to the recent investment that JD.com and Walmart jointly made to deepen JD’s “borderless retail” strategy that blends online and offline shopping, the company clarified with TechCrunch.

In August, the Alibaba archrival and Walmart poured $500 million into Dada-JD Daojia, which is part-owned by JD and offers same-hour grocery delivery across 63 Chinese cities. JD and Walmart’s tie-up dates back to 2016, when the Chinese online retailer scooped up the American firm’s Chinese e-commerce marketplace Yihaodian.

However, Walmart To Go is another of Walmart’s ominchannel  initiatives – this one, focused on personalizing the shopping experience for the customer by way of product recommendations and coupons customized to the individual user. Explained a company rep, Walmart to Go is just one more channel to serve customers shopping through the WeChat mini-programs.

At TechCrunch Shenzhen, Walmart’s Senior Director of E-commerce in China, Ted Hopkins, confirmed the test being advertised in the Walmart Xiangmihu store (or known to Shenzhen customers as 沃尔玛 香蜜湖店) is brand-new. It’s been operating for about a week, he said, and invited the event attendees to go check it out and offer feedback.

The store is located near Walmart’s offices in the city, which could be why it’s the first to launch the service. It’s also the first to test Walmart’s new mini-program that allows in-store shoppers to access a digital map that shows the location and stock status of store inventory.

walmart delivery china

The mini-program helps customers locate where these apples are in the store.

Walmart has been working on integrations with WeChat since the beginning of the year, then began scaling the programs in earnest in late March to early April 2018. It rolled out its Scan-and-Go technology, which allows Chinese shoppers to scan items in their shopping cart then pay using a program within WeChat. In a five-month period, Walmart scaled this from 10 stores to over 400 stores.

Walmart’s tie-up with WeChat appears is a logical move as its ally JD.com counts Tencent as a major shareholder. Meanwhile, Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms including Tmall and Taobao are noticeably absent within WeChat as links to these services are blocked on China’s biggest messaging app.

Since becoming an option within WeChat through the platforms mini-programs, customers are adopting this sort of digital payment method at scale. Its best performing store has over 40 percent order penetration, Hopkins noted.

Google report: Southeast Asia’s digital economy to triple to $240 billion by 2025

It may sit in the shade of China and India, but tech has real growth potential in Southeast Asia. Home to a cumulative 650 million people, the region’s digital economy is forecast to triple in size and reach $240 billion over the next seven years, according to Google’s third “e-Conomy SEA” report.

The annual study, which is authored by Google and Singapore sovereign fund Temasek and is arguably the most comprehensive research program for tech in Southeast Asia, has raised its estimation for the size of the digital economy in 2025 from an initial $200 billion after seeing the region reach “an inflection point.”

Southeast Asia has 350 million internet users across its six largest countries — that’s more than the entire U.S. population — and the latest data suggests its internet economy will reach $72 billion this year, up from $50 billion last year and $19.1 billion in 2015.

Online travel accounts for the majority of that revenue ($30 billion) ahead of e-commerce ($23 billion), online media ($11 billion) and ride-hailing ($8 billion), and that rough breakdown is likely to be maintained up until 2025, according to the report.

Indonesia, the world’s fourth largest country by population, is forecast to hit $100 billion by 2025, head of Thailand ($43 billion) and Vietnam ($33 billion) with strong growth forecast across the board. Indonesia and Vietnam, in particular, have seen their respective digital economies more than triple since 2015, according to the data.

This year’s Google-Temasek report includes more detail on ride-hailing, which has become a particularly fascinating space in Southeast Asia since Grab acquired Uber’s local business earlier this year. Grab and its close rival Go-Jek, which is expanding from its base in Indonesia, have seen the market grow considerably, according to the report. Daily ride-hailing users in 2018 are up to eight million from 1.5 million in 2015, with monthly users growing to 35 million from eight million during the same time period.

Growth in revenue is actually coming faster for food delivery services over core transportation services, which is a good sign for Grab and Go-Jek since the two businesses have aggressively expanded into additional on-demand services. Singapore, while the smallest of Southeast Asia’s six largest economies with a population of 5.5 million, has an outsized share of the region’s ride-hailing market — and that’s forecast to continue to 2025.

Speaking of outsized, the report sheds some light on how the region’s largest companies utterly dominate its funding landscape. Billion-dollar companies in Southeast Asia sucked up $16 billion of the $24 billion invested in the region of the last four years, with Grab alone responsible for $6 billion of that figure.

Every edition of the report has stressed that the growth forecasts are contingent on requisite levels of funding boosting the Southeast Asian startup ecosystem as a whole, so the fact that most capital is going to a few very big players is a concern. However, the report does show that there has been progress from the rest of the field, with non-unicorn funding jumping nearly forecast annually during the first half of 2018 — which raised more than the whole of 2017.

“More than 2,000 internet economy companies in the region have secured investments, with companies valued less than $1 billion able to raise collectively almost $7 billion in the last three years. Among them, the most dynamic segment was that of companies valued between $10 million and $100 million. The bedrock of the internet economy, these companies have raised $1.4 billion in the first half of 2018, already eclipsing the $1.0 billion they received in all of 2017,” the report states.

You can read the full findings here.

Snap is being probed over its IPO because some investors are salty about losing money

Here’s something I didn’t expect to read today. The U.S. Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission has subpoenaed Snap for details on its IPO apparently in connection with a lawsuit from disgruntled shareholders who claim the company played down its rivalry with Instagram.

Reuters first reported on the subpoenas which Snap has confirmed. Precise details aren’t clear at this point but Snap told Reuters that the probe is likely “related to the previously disclosed allegations asserted in the class action about our IPO disclosures.”

Snap went public last March with sharing popping over 40 percent on its debut to give it a valuation of $30 billion. It’s market cap today is a more modest $8.9 billion due to numerous factors including, most prominently, the efforts of rival Facebook to compete with Instagram, which has rolled out a series of features that mimic Snap’s core user experience.

That cloning has taken its toll on Snap’s business.

Today, Instagram’s Stories — the feature that closely resembles Snap’s app — has some 400 million users, that’s more than double the users of Snap. But it is far-fetched to claim that Snap played down that threat when it went public, which is what the class action case claims.

The writing had been on the wall for some time as Snap noted in its S-1 filing ahead of the IPO:

We face significant competition in almost every aspect of our business both domestically and internationally. This includes larger, more established companies such as Apple, Facebook (including Instagram and WhatsApp), Google (including YouTube), Twitter, Kakao, LINE, Naver (including Snow), and Tencent, which provide their users with a variety of products, services, content, and online advertising offerings, and smaller companies that offer products and services that may compete with specific Snapchat features. For example, Instagram, a subsidiary of Facebook, recently introduced a “stories” feature that largely mimics our Stories feature and may be directly competitive. We may also lose users to small companies that offer products and services that compete with specific Snapchat features because of the low cost for our users to switch to a different product or service. Moreover, in emerging international markets, where mobile devices often lack large storage capabilities, we may compete with other applications for the limited space available on a user’s mobile device. We also face competition from traditional and online media businesses for advertising budgets. We compete broadly with the social media offerings of Apple, Facebook, Google, and Twitter, and with other, largely regional, social media platforms that have strong positions in particular countries.

But even if an investor something didn’t read that document or reports of it (not advised) there was ample press coverage of the growth of Instagram Stories, and Facebook’s general Snap cloning efforts, since its launch in August 2016.

In particular, TechCrunch covered the rivalry and cloning closely ahead of Snap’s IPO with reports that showed Instagram was “stealing” Snap users, that it was responsible for slowing user growth and more.

In short, it was fairly clear that Instagram was cloning Snap, which in turn was a key factor for Snap’s growth struggles.

Don’t get me wrong there’s certainly a lot to worry about over at Snap — those poor user numbers, a string of executive exits and a strange u-turn on a recent hire — but this lawsuit looks to be little more than sour grapes from investors who either didn’t fully understand the space they invested in, or simply made a poor decision to back Snap at whatever price they did.

On that note: anyone who invested at Snap’s peak valuation might have lost more money than betting on Bitcoin during this year’s January hype — that’s saying something — but ultimately they have no-one to blame but themselves.

SAP agrees to buy Qualtrics for $8B in cash, just before the survey software company’s IPO

Ryan Smith of Qualtrics speaks onstage during TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2015

Enterprise software giant SAP announced today that it has agreed to acquire Qualtrics for $8 billion in cash, just before the survey and research software company was set to go public. The deal is expected to be completed in the first half of 2019. Qualtrics last round of venture capital funding in 2016 raised $180 million at a $2.5 billion valuation.

This is the second-largest ever acquisition of a SaaS company, after Oracle’s purchase of Netsuite for $9.3 billion in 2016.

In a conference call, SAP CEO Bill McDermott said Qualtrics’ IPO was already oversubscribed and that the two companies began discussions a few months ago. SAP claims its software touches 77 percent of the world’s transaction revenue, while Qualtrics’ products include survey software that enables its 9,000 enterprise users to gauge things like customer sentiment and employee engagement.

McDermott compared the potential impact of combining SAP’s operational data with Qualtrics’ customer and user data to Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram. “The legacy players who carried their ‘90s technology into the 21st century just got clobbered. We have made existing participants in the market extinct,” he said. (SAP’s competitors include Oracle, Salesforce.com, Microsoft, and IBM.)

SAP, whose global headquarters is in Walldorf, Germany, said it has secured financing of €7 billion (about $7.93 billion) to cover acquisition-related costs and the purchase price, which will include unvested employee bonuses and cash on the balance sheet at close.

Ryan Smith, who co-founded Qualtrics in 2002, will continue to serve as its CEO. After the acquisition is finalized, the company will become part of SAP’s Cloud Business Group, but retain its dual headquarters in Provo, Utah and Seattle, as well as its own branding and personnel.

According to Crunchbase, the company raised a total of $400 million in VC funding from investors including Accel, Sequoia, and Insight Ventures. It had intended to sell 20.5 million shares in its debut for $18 to $21, which could have potentially grossed up to about $495 million. This would have put its valuation between $3.9 billion to $4.5 billion, according to CrunchBase’s Alex Wilhelm.

This year, Qualtrics’ revenue grew 8.5 percent from $97.1 million in the second-quarter to $105.4 million in the third-quarter, according to its IPO filing. It reported third-quarter GAAP net income of $4.9 million. That represented an increase from the $975,000 it reported in the previous quarter, as well as its net profit in the same period a year ago of $4.7 million. Qualtrics grew its operating cash flow to $52.5 million in the first nine months of 2018, compared to $36.1 million during the same period in 2017.

In today’s announcement, Qualtrics said it expects its full-year 2018 revenue to exceed $400 million and forecasts a forward growth rate of more than 40 percent, not counting the potential synergies of its acquisition by SAP.

Qualtrics’ main competitors include SurveyMonkey, which went public in September.

Xbox One will work with keyboard and mouse as of November 14th, starting with Fortnite

We knew the Xbox One was set to get keyboard and mouse support eventually, but now we know exactly when: November 14th.

Don’t expect all Xbox One games to play friendly with the new keyboard/mouse functionality right out of the gate. It’s up to individual developers to figure out if/how it works with their games and patch things up accordingly, so only a handful will support it at first.

But one of the first titles picking up support is a big one: Fortnite, the free-to-play third person shooter that has taken over the world, will roll out support with an update later this week. As will Warframe, the free-to-play coop shooter.

Bomber Crew, Strange Brigade, Warhammer: Vermintide 2, War Thunder, X-Morph: Defense, and Deep Rock Galactic will get support later in November, while Children of Morta, Vigor, Warface, Wargroove, DayZ, Minion Masters, and Moonlighter have pledged to add support at some less specific point down the road.

Growing pains at venture-backed Moogsoft lead to layoffs

Eight months after bringing in a $40 million Series D, Moogsoft‘s co-founder and chief executive officer Phil Tee confirmed to TechCrunch that the IT incident management startup had shed 18 percent of its workforce, or just over 30 employees.

The layoffs took place at the end of October; shortly after, Moogsoft announced two executive hires. Among the additions was Amer Deeba, who recently resigned from Qualys after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charged him with insider trading.

Founded in 2012, San Francisco-based Moogsoft provides artificial intelligence for IT operations (AIOps) to help teams work more efficiently and avoid outages. The startup has raised $90 million in equity funding to date, garnering a $220 million valuation with its latest round, according to PitchBook. It’s backed by Goldman Sachs, Wing Venture Capital, Redpoint Ventures, Dell’s corporate venture capital arm, Singtel Innov8, Northgate Capital and others. Wing VC founder and long-time Accel managing partner Peter Wagner and Redpoint partner John Walecka are among the investors currently sitting on Moogsoft’s board of directors.

Tee, the founder of two public companies (Micromuse and Riversoft) admitted the layoffs affected several teams across the company. The cuts, however, are not a sign of a struggling business, he said, but rather a right of passage for a startup seeking venture scale.

“We are a classic VC-backed startup that has sort of grown up,” Tee told TechCrunch earlier today. “In pretty much every successful company, there is a point in time where there’s an adjustment in strategy … Unfortunately, when you do that, it becomes a question of do we have the right people?”

Moogsoft doubled revenue last year and added 50 Fortune 200 companies as customers, according to a statement announcing its latest capital infusion. Tee said he’s “extremely chipper” about the road ahead and the company’s recent C-suite hires.

Moogsoft’s newest hires, CFO Raman Kapur (left) and COO Amer Deeba (right).

Moogsoft announced its latest executive hires on November 2, only one week after completing the round of layoffs, a common strategy for companies looking to cast a shadow on less-than-stellar news, like major staff cuts. Those hires include former Splunk vice president of finance Raman Kapur as Moogsoft’s first-ever chief financial officer and Amer Deeba, a long-time Qualys executive, as its chief operating officer.

Deeba spent the last 17 years at Qualys, a publicly traded provider of cloud-based security and compliance solutions. In August, he resigned amid allegations of insider trading. The SEC announced its charges against Deeba on August 30, claiming he had notified his two brothers of Qualys’ missed revenue targets before the company publicly announced its financial results in the spring of 2015.

“Deeba informed his two brothers about the miss and contacted his brothers’ brokerage firm to coordinate the sale of all of his brothers’ Qualys stock,” the SEC wrote in a statement. “When Qualys publicly announced its financial results, it reported that it had missed its previously-announced first-quarter revenue guidance and that it was revising its full-year 2015 revenue guidance downward. On the same day, Deeba sent a message to one of his brothers saying, ‘We announced the bad news today.’ The next day, Qualys’s stock price dropped 25%. Although Deeba made no profits from his conduct, Deeba’s brothers collectively avoided losses of $581,170 by selling their Qualys stock.”

Under the terms of Deeba’s settlement, he is ineligible to serve as an officer or director of any SEC-reporting company for two years and has been ordered to pay a $581,170 penalty.

Tee, for his part, said there was never any admission of guilt from Deeba and that he’s already had a positive impact on Moogsoft.

“[Deeba] is a tremendously impressive individual and he has the full confidence of myself and the board,” Tee said.

 

Eddie Redmayne, actual wizard, performs a magic trick for Jimmy Fallon

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Eddie Redmayne is truly a wizard, both onscreen and IRL.

Chatting to Jimmy Fallon on Wednesday about the new Fantastic Beasts film, The Crimes of Grindlewald, the subject naturally moved to magic.

The star, who plays protagonist Newt Scamander in the Harry Potter spinoff series, said he used to have magicians at his birthday parties as a kid, and has learned a few tricks since — one of which he performed on The Tonight Show.

Notably, Redmayne says he wore a rollneck sweater specifically for the show, “because I feel like only magicians can pull off rollnecks.” Read more…

More about Eddie Redmayne, Jimmy Fallon, Fantastic Beasts, Fantastic Beasts The Crimes Of Grindelwald, and Entertainment

Facebook connects Russia to 100+ accounts it removed ahead of mid-terms

The 115 accounts Facebook took down yesterday for inauthentic behavior ahead of the mid-term elections may indeed have been linked to the Russia-based Internet Research Agency, according to a new statement from the company. It says that a site claiming association with the IRA today posted a list of Instagram accounts it had made which included many Facebook had taken down yesterday, and it also has since removed the rest. The IRA was previously llabeled as responsible for using Facebook to interfere with US politics and the 2016 Presidential election.

Facebook’s head of cyber security policy Nathaniel Gleicher issued this statement to TechCrunch:

“Last night, following a tip off from law enforcement, we blocked over 100 Facebook and Instagram accounts due to concerns that they were linked to the Russia-based Internet Research Agency (IRA) and engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior, which is banned from our services. This evening a website claiming to be associated with the IRA published a list of Instagram accounts they claim to have created. We had already blocked most of these accounts yesterday, and have now blocked the rest. This is a timely reminder that these bad actors won’t give up — and why it’s so important we work with the US government and other technology companies to stay ahead.”

Yesterday, Facebook had published that it would provide an update on whether the removed accounts were connected to Russia, as some were in Russian languages:

On Sunday evening, US law enforcement contacted us about online activity that they recently discovered and which they believe may be linked to foreign entities . . .  Almost all the Facebook Pages associated with these accounts appear to be in the French or Russian languages, while the Instagram accounts seem to have mostly been in English — some were focused on celebrities, others political debate . . . Typically, we would be further along with our analysis before announcing anything publicly. But given that we are only one day away from important elections in the US, we wanted to let people know about the action we’ve taken and the facts as we know them today. Once we know more — including whether these accounts are linked to the Russia-based Internet Research Agency or other foreign entities — we will update this post.”

Attribution of foreign interference into politics via social media can be difficult to accurately attribute, however. Facebook could have provided stronger wording in this update regarding its own evidence about the connection between Russia and the 80 Facebook accounts and 35 Instagram accounts it removed yesterday. Now with the mid-term results being counted, we’ll see if politicians or researchers suggest election interference could have influenced any of the results.

Edo raises $12M to measure TV ad effectiveness

Edo, an ad analytics startup founded by Daniel Nadler and actor Edward Norton, announced today that it has raised $12 million in Series A funding.

Nadler and Norton have both had startup success before — Nadler co-founded and led Kensho, which S&P Global acquired for $550 million. Norton invested in Kensho and co-founded CrowdRise, which was acquired by GoFundMe.

Even so, ad analytics might seem like an arcane industry for an actor/filmmaker to want to tackle. However, Norton said he was actually the one to convince Nadler that it was worth starting the company, and he argued that this is an important topic to both of them as creators. (Nadler’s a poet.)

“Movie studios and publishers, they take risks on talent, on creative people like us,” Norton said. “We want them to do well … The better they do with the dollars they spend, the less risk averse they become.”

Nadler and Norton recruited Kevin Krim, the former head of digital at CNBC, to serve as Edo’s CEO.

Krim explained that while linear TV advertising still accounts for the majority of ad budgets, the effectiveness of those ads is still measured using old-fashioned “survey-based methodologies.” There are other measurement companies looking online; Norton said they’re focused on social media sentiment and other “weak proxies” for consumer behavior.

Edo screenshot

In contrast, Edo pulls data from sources like search engines and content sites where people are doing research before making a purchase. By applying data science, Krim said, “We basically can measure the change in consumer engagement, the behaviors that are indicative of intent. We can measure the change in consumer behavior for every ad.”

In fact, Edo says that since its founding in 2015, it has created a database of 47 million ad airings, so advertisers can see not just their own ad performance, but also that of their competitors. This allows advertisers to adjust their campaigns based on consumer engagement — Krim said that in some cases, advertisers will receive the overnight data and then adjust their ad rotation for that very night.

As for the Series A, it was led by Breyer Capital. (Jim Breyer has backed everything from Facebook to Etsy to Marvel.) Vista Equity co-founders Robert Smith and Brian Sheth participated in the round, as did WGI Group.

“For more than a decade I’ve watched the data science talent arbitrage transform industries from finance to defense, from transportation to commerce,” Breyer said in the funding announcement. “We needed someone to bring these capabilities to bear on the systemic inefficiencies and methodological shortcomings of measurement and analytics in media and advertising.”

On the customer side, Edo is already working with ESPN, Turner, NBCUniversal and Warner Bros. I wondered whether some of the TV networks might have been worried about what Edo would reveal about their ads, but Norton said the opposite was true.

“I don’t sense that they in any way have trepidation that we’re going to pull their pants down — quite the opposite,” he said. “They are absolutely thrilled with our ability to help burnish and validate their assertions about the strength of what they’re offering.”

Far-right social network Gab goes offline after GoDaddy tells it to find another domain registrar

Gab, the far-right social network that the suspect in Saturday’s mass shooting at Pittsburgh synagogue used to share anti-Semitic posts, has gone offline after GoDaddy gave it 24 hours to find a new domain provider. GoDaddy’s decision comes after PayPal, Medium, Stripe, and Joyent banned Gab’s accounts over the weekend.

Bowers may face the death penalty after being charged with 11 counts of murder and multiple hate crimes in connection to the attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, which the Anti-Defamation League said it believes is the deadliest against the Jewish community in U.S. history.

On his Gab profile, Bowers had written “jews are the children of satan” in his biography and repeatedly shared anti-Semitic content and other hate speech. Shortly before the shooting, Bowers allegedly wrote “HIAS [an organization that aids Jewish refugees] likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

In an emailed statement, a GoDaddy spokesperson said Gab was told to move after breaking the domain registrar’s rules against violent content:

“We have informed Gab.com that they have 24 hours to move the domain to another registrar, as they have violated our terms of service. In response to complaints received over the weekend, GoDaddy investigated and discovered numerous instances of content on the site that both promotes and encourages violence against people.”

Gab now displays a message claiming it “is under attack” and has been “systematically no-platformed by App Stores, multiple hosting providers, and several payment processors.”

This is not the first time Gab has run afoul of its online service providers. Last year, Gab was banned from the Apple app store and Google Play for content violations. In August, Microsoft threatened to boot it from Azure web services if two anti-Semitic posts were not removed (the posts were taken down and Microsoft continued serving Gab).

After being suspended by Joyent, Gab said through its Twitter account that it would “likely be down for weeks,” but later tweeted that it would “be back soon.”

GoDaddy also stopped providing domain services to white supremacist site Daily Stormer in August 2017 after it posted an obscene article about Heather Heyer, who was killed while protesting last year’s Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

A Twitter employee groomed by the Saudi government prompted 2015 state-sponsored hacking warning

An explosive report in The New York Times this weekend sheds new light on the apparent targeting of Twitter accounts by “state-sponsored actors” three years ago.

It comes in the wake of the confirmed death of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi on Friday, two weeks after he disappeared in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Khashoggi had long been a target of a Saudi troll army, according to the report, which employed hundreds of people to stifle the speech of government critics, like Khashoggi, who left the kingdom to live and work in the United States.

But the troll farm is said to be one part of a wider scheme by the Saudi leadership to surveil critics and dissidents.

According to the report, Western intelligence officials told Twitter that one of its employees, a Saudi national, was asked by the Saudi government to spy on the accounts of dissidents. The employee — an engineer — had access to account data on Twitter users, including phone numbers and IP addresses. Saudi officials are said to have convinced him to snoop on several accounts. Twitter fired the employee, despite finding no evidence that he handed data over to the Saudi government. The employee later returned to the kingdom and now works for its government.

After the dismissal, the Times reports, Twitter sent out warnings a few dozen users that their accounts “may have been targeted by state-sponsored actors.”

“As a precaution, we are alerting you that your Twitter account is one of a small group of accounts that may have been targeted by state-sponsored actors,” said Twitter in the email to affected users. “We believe that these actors (possibly associated with a government) may have been trying to obtain information such as email addresses, IP addresses, and/or phone numbers.”

Twitter didn’t say at the time what was the cause of the email warning, leading some to question what linked the affected accounts.

Around 20 users were affected, including privacy and security researcher Runa Sandvik, human rights activist Michael Carbone, and Austrian communications expert Marco Schreuder.

Several of the affected users also worked for the Tor Project, a non-profit that allows activists and researchers to browse the web anonymously — often to bypass state-level censorship and surveillance.

Facebook and Google also have similar alerts in place in the event of suspected state-sponsored attacks or hacking, though often the companies send out alerts out of an abundance of caution — rather than a solid indicator that an account has been breached.

When reached, a Twitter spokesperson declined to comment.

Magic Leap is real and it’s a janky marvel

After years of speculation, some mockery, and more than a little befuddlement, the Magic Leap augmented headset is arriving in the hands of developers and users — and its first product is a somewhat janky piece of magic.

After officially announcing the availability of the product for pre-orders last month,  the company is pulling back the curtains on all of the prestidigitation it’s been cooking for the past several years. 

The company’s first developer conference is slated for tomorrow, with a keynote bright and early in the morning, but the $2.3 billion dollar augmented reality headset manufacturer let a slew of VIPs, media types (including your humble reporter) take a look at the first official content partnerships to come from its formerly super secret studios.

Development studios like Weta Workshop (whose partnership began with Magic Leap nearly a decade ago) and Wingnut AR (the augmented reality development studio founded by Peter Jackson) have revealed new games that involve battling robots and spider infestations (respectively); while the medical imaging company Brainlab and the direct to consumer furniture retailer and design consulting service, Wayfair, pitched their augmented reality wares to show the business use case for Magic Leap’s magic leap into virtual reality.

In all some sixteen companies pitched demos at the curtain-raising event today.

Earlier this afternoon Weta just debuted their augmented reality game as a preview to the Magic Leap conference and it’s impressive. The robot battling Dr. Grordbort’s Invaders is the clearest vision of what Magic Leap’s platform can do.

Magic Leap teased the two companies’ vision for what immersive augmented game play could like in its promotional materials for years, but the culmination of the development work the two have undertaken is about three to five hours of gameplay battling robots that appear from the walls and floors and doors of any room. It’s (pardon the easy pun) magic.

According to Weta games director Greg Broadmore, the final game is the result of six years of collaboration between the creative studio and Magic Leap.

Rony Abovitz, Magic Leap’s visionary chief executive, first reached out to Weta with a vision for “Our Blue” a far-reaching, immersive, science fiction-influenced immersive world that Abovitz wanted Weta to help realize. Abovitz kept in touch with the Weta team and as he began putting the pieces together for Magic Leap, brought the studio on board to develop content.

Dr. Grodbort’s is the first fruits of that partnership and it’s pretty stunning.

Setting aside the problems that Magic Leap still has with field of view and with slight glitches in the game mechanics (which could entirely have been the fault of this author), Dr. Grordbort’s lays out the Magic Leap headset as a convincing gaming device (albeit at a somewhat price-prohibitive $2,295 apiece.

In the game, users are given a backstory by the eponymous Dr. Grordbort, who informs players that they’re the last best hope to save the world from a robotic alien invasion. From there on in, it’s about picking up a blaster and shooting the potential robot invaders who appear from portals around a room.

To start the game, a user maps their space by wandering around it with the Magic Leap on. Once the device has the lay of the land ( a process that can take up to four minutes — depending on size) the narrative will commence and the user is drawn into Dr. Grordbort’s world and gameplay.

“The game helped shape the platform,” said Brodmore. “Dr. Grordbort’s was the problem and Magic Leap is the solution.”

Without the close relationship to Magic Leap that Weta enjoyed, the game from Wingnut’s studio was far less robust, but no less enjoyable.

In their first foray into Magic Leap’s world, the augmented reality studio created a game that puts the user into the most bizarre job training session they’ve ever experienced.

As the new hire at an extermination company that deals with some fairly vicious and viscous insects, the user is put through some paces with how to kill virtual bugs in real space. The mapping engines and graphics are exceptional, the narrator walking a user through the game shows off Magic Leap’s exceptional use of sound technology and the humor in the game is reminiscent of some of the best Wallace and Gromit set pieces.

Beginning with a simple bat, and working up through a flamethrower, players were instructed in how to kill various creepy crawlies and concoct a serum to attract others. I’m not a fan of first person shooters (or much of a gamer in general), but that Wingnut game was damn fun.

And if gaming was one side of the spell that Magic Leap was hoping to weave with new users, business use cases were the other.

In partnership with Brainlab, the company is trying to show how its toolkit can be used in both educational and operational theaters for physicians and surgeons. In a demonstration users were encourage to take a look at a replica of a brain tumor patient’s brain scan in three dimensions. The device is aimed at helping doctors plan surgeries and understand the potential ramifications of different approaches to removing growths in a brain.

Meanwhile, the retailer Wayfair put users through a demonstration of its first Magic Leap application. A visualization tool that takes furniture from a virtual showroom into the real space that furniture would occupy.

It’s part of a longterm skunkworks development project set up within the online retailer to explore applications for augmented reality in a bit to sell more stuff to more folks without the need for a physical showroom (although Wayfair has launched a few popups earlier this month)

Behind all of this is a simple truth. Magic Leap needs content — almost as much as it needed to reduce the form factor and improve the usability of its first headset.

It has achieved those last two demands above the expectations of even the most hardened critic. Wearables still look goofy, but they feel good and the pack that powers the Magic Leap experience is among the best — lightweight and wearable, and with a three-hour battery charge, among the best in the industry.

There’s still some assembly required, as a user needs to determine the type of headset they’ll need and select a nosebridge that gives the headset the proper lift so its hardware can work properly. If a user wears glasses, it’s going to require a special prescription that can be ordered separately as an attachment that fits into the headset.

The other pieces of hardware packaged with the Magic Leap include a motion sensing hand controller (similar to what users have experienced as part of any video game console) and a hip pack with the processing power of a notebook computer.

The device doesn’t need to be tethered to a computer, but it does only work indoors.

Setting aside the limitations of the first generation of a hardware device, the Magic Leap is about as impressive a piece of augmented or virtual reality hardware as I’ve seen. Other companies may have better fields of view and a more compact device, but they lack the variety of content that makes Magic Leap’s offerings shine. The early partnerships the company has inked have, indeed, paid off.

And as it rolls out its offerings the company is learning the lessons of wearable headsets past.

Its initial customers — in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle — will receive a home visit from a Magic Leap employee who will walk them through the way the product works in a thirty minute to sixty minute demo. That’s the same level of bespoke treatment that Google Glass offered to its initial explorers.

One benefit of an AR headset like Magic Leap’s is that it’s much, much easier to navigate than a fully immersive VR headset. Another, is the flexibility it offers in terms of applications from a mixed reality setting.

“This is the evolution of computing,” said Shrenik Sadaigi, the director of next generation experiences at Wayfair — and the architect of the company’s experiments in augmented and virtual reality.

“We think of this as a productivity device,” Sadaigi said. “Browsing for stuff on the web. That’s the computing environment. Your space is your screen and your space becomes another variable on the computing platform. We want to make people love the space they live in. Using mixed reality to … the app that we’re presenting today we think of it as a design experience.”

One of the big breakthroughs in the company’s platform is the controller and how easy it is to use, as Sadaigi noted in our conversation. “The controller is doing a lot of work for you. [The company] is giving you something new… that is kind of the old, but in a new form. It’s simplified the experience to swiping and clicking.”

More complicated interactions can be handled by using the voice interface the company has built into the device and the eye scrolling feature that’s part of the inside out tracking the company uses.

Behind all of this is Abovitz and his crazy vision for a new platform for computing.

“That decision to start something new and bigger and more ambitious, to try to change all of computing, was a bit nuts. It’s like Bilbo Baggins having to step out of the Shire,” Abovitz told VentureBeat earlier this year. “If you spend enough hours in a Magic Leap system, it’s almost impossible to go back to your phone or computer or television. You realize that they’re very thin slices. Magic Leap gives you a giant volume of computing. When you actually get to play with it, spatial computing means you work within a volume, not just a slice.”

Not hog dog? PixFood lets you shoot and identify food

What happens when you add AI to food? Surprisingly, you don’t get a hungry robot. Instead you get something like PixFood. PixFood lets you take pictures of food, identify available ingredients, and, at this stage, find out recipes you can make from your larder.

It is privately funded.

“There are tons of recipe apps out there, but all they give you is, well, recipes,” said Tonnesson. “On the other hand, PixFood has the ability to help users get the right recipe for them at that particular moment. There are apps that cover some of the mentioned, but it’s still an exhausting process – since you have to fill in a 50-question quiz so it can understand what you like.”

They launched in August and currently have 3,000 monthly active users from 10,000 downloads. They’re working on perfecting the system for their first users.

“PixFood is AI-driven food app with advanced photo recognition. The user experience is quite simple: it all starts with users taking a photo of any ingredient they would like to cook with, in the kitchen or in the supermarket,” said Tonnesson. “Why did we do it like this? Because it’s personalized. After you take a photo, the app instantly sends you tailored recipe suggestions! At first, they are more or le

ss the same for everyone, but as you continue using it, it starts to learn what you precisely like, by connecting patterns and taking into consideration different behaviors.”

In my rudimentary tests the AI worked acceptably well and did not encourage me to eat a monkey. While the app begs the obvious question – why not just type in “corn?” – it’s an interesting use of vision technology that is definitely a step in the right direction.

 

Tonnesson expects the AI to start connecting you with other players in the food space, allowing you to order corn (but not a monkey) from a number of providers.

“Users should also expect partnerships with restaurants, grocery, meal-kit, and other food delivery services will be part of the future experiences,” he said.

How To Take The Perfect Selfie (With Or Without AR)

For millennia, people have sought after the perfect method of capturing one’s likeness. From cave drawings to royal commissioned portraits to tintype photography, our perceptions of self are constantly changing. And now, a lot of people are focused on how to perfect selfie.

The Evolution of Selfies

As photography quality grew over the 19th and 20th century, so did people’s fascination with human faces. Photography quality improved so much in fact, that artistic trends began shifting in the opposite direction. Surrealism and expressionism boomed in popularity and inspired some of the most famous pieces of artwork known today.

The imaginative likeness of humanity through artwork, juxtaposed against the solemn nature of black and white photography captured the imagination of people everywhere. It ushered in a new era of not only how we see the world around us, but how we see ourselves. The idea that a self-portrait could be anything we wanted it to be. It was not just an expression of physicality, but of our very essence.

Today, we are expected to take over 25,000 selfies during our lifetime. By 2015, 95% of millennial had taken at least one selfie. With an average posting rate of 9 selfies a week, it’s not a surprise we see them as often as we do. Social media is the hub of selfies, but not all platforms are equal.

The Start of AR Selfies

Snapchat pioneered the world of AR selfies when the quintessential Rainbow Barfing filter rolled out in 2015. Users were blown away by the detail, tech, and the sheer absurdity of these augmented reality gems.

Using facial tracking technology, users were able to filter over their own features in real time. Adapting to movements and even more than one face in the frame, this feature boomed. It made Snapchat the selfie hub. More than one in three people who use Snapchat do so primarily to take, send, and save selfies. In comparison, only 4% of posts are solo selfies in Instagram.

In a way, these creative filters harken back to the days of when the extremes of human imagination were made real through art and early photography. Long gone are the days when selfies were considered a vain and attention-seeking practice.

Today, they are vital pieces of self-expressionism, especially among social media users. No matter how far we edit our selfies, we know it still remains an image of ourselves.

While there is no formula to the “perfect” selfie, there are general guidelines, tips, and tricks that many veteran selfie-takers can agree on.

Popular opinion consensus has decided that selfies are a good thing now, and the more creative and personality-filled, the better. After all, what’s more unique than a photo of one’s own face?

It’s only fair to take advantage of the seemingly endless online resources for selfie augmenting, whether it be in real-time like Snapchat or in post-production, so to speak.

How to Perfect Selfie

perfect selfie

When starting your selfie session:

  • Be aware of lighting, shade, and shadows. Many selfie “experts” may suggest avoiding shadows if possible. The good news is that there are many techniques that make shadow work to your strengths.
  • Don’t be afraid of the flash. In darker environments, getting your front-facing phone camera to focus can feel like an endless uphill battle. The flash may be scary at first, but at the right angles it can light up the high points of the face.
  • Everyone has a “good side”. Just because you play to your angles doesn’t make a selfie disingenuous. Often times front-facing cameras on phones are compressed in order to fit as much in the frame as possible. On some users this can make the nose appear larger, the forehead appear longer, and other distorting results.

Don’t forget that there is very rarely a “bad” picture. We are our own worst critics, and for photos that come out not quite right, we can be quick to judge ourselves negatively. When a selfie isn’t working out the way we hoped it would, remember back to the last time you saw a bad photo of someone else; we bet you can’t really recall.

Even a photo that seems to highlight your “flaws” is still a photo of you. To friends and family, that is exactly what they see. They see a loved one, not a bad picture.

There’s a time and place for everything and while part of the appeal of selfies is that you can literally snap one anywhere, it should not be taken:

  • in a place of worship during services
  • whilst behind the wheel
  • during a movie, lecture, or live performance
  • in museums, or memorials, and of course funerals

How do you use augmented reality to up your selfie game? Take a look at this infographic for more on the art of selfies, the future of AR development, and the influence of self-expression on technology itself.

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