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Comcast’s mesh Wi-Fi system, xFi Pods, launches nationwide

Comcast today is officially launching its own Wi-Fi extender devices called xFi Pods that help to address problems with weak Wi-Fi signals in parts of a customer’s home due to things like the use of building materials that disrupt signals, or even just the home’s design. The launch follows Comcast’s announcement last year that it was investing  in the mesh router maker Plume, which offers plug-in “pods” that help extend Wi-Fi signals. The company said that it would launch its own xFi pods that pair with Comcast’s gateways to its own customers as a result of that deal. Those pods were initially available in select markets, including Boston, Chicago and Denver, ahead of today’s nationwide launch. The pods themselves are hexagon-shopped devices that plug in to any electrical outlet in the home, and then pair with Comcast’s xFi Wireless Gateway or the xFi Advanced Gateway to help Wi-Fi signals extend to the hard-to-reach areas of the home. The pods work with the Comcast Gateways to continuously monitor and optimize the Wi-Fi connections, Comcast explains, while its cloud-based management service evaluates the home’s Wi-Fi environment to make sure all the connected devices are using the best signal bands and Wi-Fi channels. Plus, the devices are smart enough to self-monitor their own performance, diagnose issues and “heal” themselves, as needed, says Comcast. However, early reviews of Plume’s pods were mixed. CNET said the system was slow and the pods were too expensive, for example. But Engadget found the system had the lowest latency, compared with competitors, and helped devices roam more easily and accurately.

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Epic Games will pump $100 million into Fortnite eSports competitions

Epic Games doesn’t want the party to stop. The gaming company announced today that it plans to funnel $100 million into Fortnite eSports competitions for the “2018-2019 season,” a move which will undoubtedly drive talent and enthusiasm to the battle royale title. The company announced the investment in a short blog post : In the 2018 – 2019 season, Epic Games will provide $100,000,000 to fund prize pools for Fortnite competitions. We’re getting behind competitive play in a big way, but our approach will be different – we plan to be more inclusive, and focused on the joy of playing and watching the game. Fortnite has had an explosive period of growth over the past several months since the release of its battle royale flavor following the popularity of PUBG, but Epic Games seems to be doubling down on ensuring the continued popularity of the recent multiplayer gameplay trend. Unlike a lot of popular eSports titles, Fortnite is available across a pretty wide variety of platforms beyond just the PC, with console and mobile flavors also available. Epic hasn’t released much in the way of usage numbers lately, but the game hit 2 million concurrent players in January and it has undoubtedly surged in popularity since then. Whether the young title can continue to draw attention and crowds in the face of fresher talent  moving forward will depend heavily on streamers and eSports leagues continuing to show interest, but $100 million in investment in prize pools will almost certainly prove to be quite helpful.

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Comcast is leaking the names and passwords of customers’ wireless routers

Comcast has just been caught in a major security snafu: revealing the passwords of its customers’ Xfinity-provided wireless routers in plaintext on the web. Anyone with a subscriber’s account number and street address number will be served up the Wi-Fi name and password via the company’s Xfinity internet activation service. Security researchers Karan Saini and Ryan Stevenson reported the issue to ZDnet . The site is meant to help people setting up their internet for the first time: ideally, you put in your data, and Comcast sends back the router credentials while activating the service. The problem is threefold: You can “activate” an account that’s already active The data required to do so is minimal and it is not verified via text or email The wireless name and password are sent on the web in plaintext This means that anyone with your account number and street address number (e.g. the 1425 in “1425 Alder Ave,” no street name, city, or apartment number needed), both of which can be found on your paper bill or in an email, will instantly be given your router’s SSID and password, allowing them to log in and use it however they like or monitor its traffic. They could also rename the router’s network or change its password, locking out subscribers. This only affects people who use a router provided by Xfinity/Comcast , which comes with its own name and password built in. Though it also returns custom SSIDs and passwords, since they’re synced with your account and can be changed via app and other methods. What can you do?

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Uizard raises funds for its AI that turns design mockups into source code

When you’re trying to build apps, there is a very tedious point where you have to stare at a wireframe and then laboriously turn it into code. Actually, the process itself is highly repetitive and ought to be much easier. The traditional software development from front-end design to front-end html/css development to working code is expensive, time-consuming, tedious and repetitive. But most approaches to solving this problem have been more complex than they need to be. What if you could just turn wireframes straight into code and then devote your time to the more complex aspects of a build? That’s the idea behind a Copenhagen-based startup called Uizard . Uizard’s computer vision and AI platform claims to be able to automatically turn design mockups — and this could be on the back of napkin — into source code that developers can plug into their backend code. It’s now raised an $800,000 pre-seed round led by New York-based LDV Capital with co-investors ByFounders, The Nordic Web Ventures, 7percent Ventures, New York Venture Partners, entrepreneur Peter Stern (co-founder of Datek) and Philipp Moehring and Andy Chung from AngelList . This fundraising will be used to grow the team and launch the beta product. The company received interest in June 2017 when they released their first research milestone dubbed “pix2code” and implementation on GitHub was the second-mosttrending project of June 2017 ahead of Facebook Prepack and Google TensorFlow.

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Google Photos adds likes and favorites with hearts and stars

Twitter swapped out its Favorite star icon for an appreciation-focused heart icon instead, but Google Photos is embracing both icons with an update rolling out now. The company announced this afternoon it’s adding a new star-shaped Favorites button to its photo-sharing service starting today, which will be followed by a heart-shaped “Like” button next week. The two will have different functionality, however. The Favorite (star) button will only appear on photos in your own library, allowing you to mark an individual item as a favorite which, in turn, will automatically populate a new photo album with just your favorite photos. This is a feature that most other photo services already offer, including Apple’s and previously, Google’s own Picasa, so it’s a bit of an obvious catch-up addition on Google’s part. Meanwhile, the heart icon is Google Photos’ version of the “like.” This will appear only on those photos that have been shared with you from your family and friends. You can also like a full shared album, but not any photos or albums that aren’t shared, says Google. If you want to save one of these shared photos to your own Favorites album, you have to copy it to your own library first. Though seemingly minor additions, the implementation of a proper favoriting system is actually a big design decision for a social platform. When Twitter switched from stars to hearts, for example, there was quite the user backlash . And some people continue to upset over the change years later. Even Facebook had to acquiesce to users’ demands for an alternative to its “Like” button by offering different ways to react to a post. It would have been fun to see Google Photos do something similar – perhaps a shocked emoji, or laughing with tears – in addition the simple heart. After all, we know not all the photos we take are beloved – some are just ridiculous, goofy, crazy, weird, and so on

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Sony shrinks its Digital Paper tablet down to a more manageable 10 inches

I had a great time last year with Sony’s catchily named DPT-RP1 , an e-paper tablet that’s perfect for reading PDFs and other big documents, but one of my main issues was simply how big the thing is. Light and thin but 13 inches across, the tablet was just unwieldy. Heeding (I assume) my advice, Sony is putting out a smaller version and I can’t wait to try it out. At the time, I was comparing the RP1 with the reMarkable, a crowdfunded rival that offers fantastic writing ability but isn’t without its flaws. Watch this great video I made: The 10-inch DPT-CP1 has a couple small differences from its larger sibling. The screen has a slightly lower resolution but should be the same PPI — it’s more of a cutout of the original screen than a miniaturization. And it’s considerably lighter: 240 grams to the 13-inch version’s 350. Considering the latter already felt almost alarmingly light, this one probably feels like it’ll float out of your hands and enter orbit. More important are the software changes. There’s a new mobile app for iOS and Android that should make loading and sharing documents easier. A new screen-sharing mode sounds handy but a little cumbrous — you have to plug it into a PC and then plug the PC into a display. And PDF handling has been improved so that you can jump to pages, zoom and pan and scan through thumbnails more easily. Limited interaction (think checkboxes) is also possible. There’s nothing that addresses my main issue with both the RP1 and the reMarkable: that it’s a pain to do anything substantial on the devices, such as edit or highlight in a document, and if you do, it’s a pain to bring that work into other environments.

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Lyft reportedly wants to launch electric scooter service

Because there aren’t enough electric scooters on the roads, Lyft is looking into launching its own fleet of electric scooters in San Francisco, The Information reports . Lyft would join the likes of Spin, Bird and Lime — the three startups that deployed their scooters in San Francisco, without permission, back in March. Lyft has reportedly been in talks with San Francisco city officials to discuss applying for a permit, and has drafted some prototypes of scooter designs. A Lyft spokesperson declined to comment. Earlier this month, the city of San Francisco laid out its requirements for companies seeking to obtain electric scooter permits. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has yet to actually finalize the application and terms, but a spokesperson told me on Friday the permit applications should be ready as early as this week. The city will issue permits for no more than five companies during the 24-month pilot program. The program would grant up to 2,500 scooters to operate, but it’s not yet clear how many scooters each company would be allowed to deploy. Here’s how SF wants to regulate electric scooters Meanwhile, Uber also has its eyes on electric scooters. In April, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told me the company plans to “look at any and all options” that would help move transportation options in ways that are city-friendly. That same month, Uber acquired bike-share startup JUMP for about $200 million . As it stands now, there are four companies that have announced electric scooter sharing

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OpenStack spins out its Zuul open source CI/CD platform

There are few open source projects as complex as OpenStack , which essentially provides large companies with all the tools to run the equivalent of the core AWS services in their own data centers. To build OpenStack’s various systems the team also had to develop some of its own devops tools, and in 2012, that meant developing Zuul , an open source continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD) platform. Now, with the release of Zuul v3, the team has decided to decouple Zuul from OpenStack and to run it as an independent project. It’s not quite leaving the OpenStack ecosystem, though, since it will still be hosted by the OpenStack Foundation. Now all of that may seem a bit complicated, but at this point, the OpenStack Foundation is simply the home of OpenStack and  other related infrastructure projects . The first one of those was obviously OpenStack itself, followed by the Kata Containers project late last year. Zuul is simply the third of these projects. The general concept behind Zuul is to provide developers with a system for automatically merging, building and testing new changes to a project. It’s extensible and supports a number of different development platforms, including GitHub and the Gerrit code review and project management tool. Current contributors include BMW, GitHub, GoDaddy, Huawei, Red Hat and SUSE. “The wide adoption of CI/CD in our software projects is the foundation to deliver high-quality software in time by automating every integral part of the development cycle from simple commit checks to full release processes,” said BMW software engineer Tobias Henkel.

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Teen monitoring app TeenSafe exposes thousands of passwords

U.K.-based security researcher Robert Wiggins has found two exposed TeenSafe servers, leaking the passwords and information of some users of the monitoring service. TeenSafe is meant to protect teenagers by letting their parents monitor their texts, phone calls, web history, location and app downloads. The breach was first reported by ZDNet . According to the report, TeenSafe left two of their servers, which were hosted on AWS, exposed and viewable by anyone. Moreover, the database included information such as the parent’s email address, child’s Apple ID email address, device name, device unique identifier and plaintext passwords for the teenager’s Apple ID. So… just about everything. TeenSafe requires that teenagers abstain from using two-factor authentication so parents can keep an eye on their activity, making those teenagers even more vulnerable to malicious actors now that their personal information has been exposed. TeenSafe claims on its website that it encrypts data so that it wouldn’t be accessible in the case of the breach. According to ZDNet, the server held at least 10,200 records from the past three months containing customer data. The publication also included that some of those records were duplicates and that one of the servers appeared to store test data. That said, it’s unclear if there are other leaky servers with exposed data yet to be discovered.

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This top Silicon Valley venture firm just made a contrarian move with its newest fund

In Silicon Valley, venture firms with a track record of success find themselves awash in money thanks to the growing number of institutions that want to invest more of their capital in tech. In March, an SEC filing showed that General Catalyst had closed a $1.375 billion fund , the biggest vehicle in its 18-year history. Battery Ventures also closed on two funds earlier this year that are the 35-year-old firm’s biggest to date. Sequoia Capital, meanwhile, is reportedly out raising $12 billion across a series of funds, a move that’s unprecedented for the firm — or any U.S.-based venture firm, for that matter. Fifteen-year-old Emergence Capital could easily follow the same path. Emergence funds early-stage ventures that are focused on enterprise and SaaS applications, and it does this very well. Its bets include the storage company Box (now public), the social networking company Yammer (sold for $1.2 billion to Microsoft in 2012) and Veeva Systems, the company that’s generally known for its customer relations software for the life sciences and pharmaceutical industries, though envious investors recognize Veeva as the company that produced a more than 300x return for Emergence when it went public in 2013. (Emergence had invested just $6.5 million in the outfit and owned 31 percent of it going into the IPO. It was also Veeva’s sole venture backer.) Still, when it came time to raise its fifth fund, Emergence did not raise a billion-dollar fund, as it surely could have. Instead, the San Mateo, Calif., firm, which closed its fourth fund with $335 million in 2015, opted to increase the fund by 30 percent, closing its new vehicle this past Friday with $435 million. We talked the other day with firm co-founder Jason Green, who is one of four general partners, about the firm’s trajectory. Specifically, we asked why — like almost every other firm in Silicon Valley — it didn’t close its newest fund with exponentially more in capital commitments than its last fund. The answer, said Green: “Our sweet spot is on early market fit, with a core team we can work around.” Because that hasn’t changed, neither has the size of the funds it raises, he said

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Nvidia’s researchers teach a robot to perform simple tasks by observing a human

Industrial robots are typically all about repeating a well-defined task over and over again. Usually, that means performing those tasks a safe distance away from the fragile humans that programmed them. More and more, however, researchers are now thinking about how robots and humans can work in close proximity to humans and even learn from them. In part, that’s what Nvidia’s new robotics lab in Seattle focuses on and the company’s research team today presented some of its most recent work around teaching robots by observing humans at the  International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), in Brisbane, Australia. Nvidia’s director of robotics research Dieter Fox. As Dieter Fox, the senior director of robotics research at Nvidia (and a professor at the University of Washington), told me, the team wants to enable this next generation of robots that can safely work in close proximity to humans. But to do that, those robots need to be able to detect people, tracker their activities and learn how they can help people. That may be in small-scale industrial setting or in somebody’s home. While it’s possible to train an algorithm to successfully play a video game by rote repetition and teaching it to learn from its mistakes, Fox argues that the decision space for training robots that way is far too large to do this efficiently. Instead, a team of Nvidia researchers led by Stan Birchfield and Jonathan Tremblay, developed a system that allows them to teach a robot to perform new tasks by simply observing a human. The tasks in this example are pretty straightforward and involve nothing more than stacking a few colored cubes. But it’s also an important step in this overall journey to enable us to quickly teach a robot new tasks

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After tens of thousands of pre-orders, high-end 3D headphones startup Ossic disappears

After taking tens of thousands of crowd-funding pre-orders for a high-end pair of “3D sound” headphones, audio startup Ossic announced this weekend that it is shutting down the company and backers will not be receiving refunds. The company raised $2.7 million on Kickstarter and $3.2 million on Indiegogo for their Ossic X headphones which they pitched as a pair of high-end head-tracking headphones that would be perfect for listening to 3D audio, especially in a VR environment. While the company also raised a “substantial seed investment,” in a letter on the Ossic website , the company blamed the slow adoption of virtual reality alongside their crowdfunding campaign stretch goals which bogged down their R&D team. “This was obviously not our desired outcome. The team worked exceptionally hard and created a production-ready product that is a technological and performance breakthrough. To fail at the 5 yard-line is a tragedy. We are extremely sorry that we cannot deliver your product and want you to know that the team has done everything possible including investing our own savings and working without salary to exhaust all possibilities.” We have reached out to the company for additional details. Through January 2017, the San Diego company had received more than 22,000 pre-orders for their Ossic X headphones. This past January, Ossic announced that they had shipped out the first units to the 80 backers in their $999 developer tier headphones. In that same update, the company said they would enter “mass production” by late spring 2018. In the end, after tens of thousands of pre-orders, Ossic only built 250 pairs of headphones and only shipped a few dozen to Kickstarter backers. Crowdfunding campaign failures for hardware products are rarely shocking, but often the collapse comes from the company not being able to acquire additional funding from outside investors. Here, Ossic appears to have been misguided from the start and even with nearly $6 million in crowdfunding and seed funding, which they said nearly matched that number, they were left unable to begin large-scale manufacturing.

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After tens of thousands of pre-orders, 3D audio headphones startup Ossic disappears

After taking tens of thousands of crowd-funding pre-orders for a high-end pair of “3D sound” headphones, audio startup Ossic announced this weekend that it is shutting down the company and backers will not be receiving refunds. The company raised $2.7 million on Kickstarter and $3.2 million on Indiegogo for their Ossic X headphones which they pitched as a pair of high-end head-tracking headphones that would be perfect for listening to 3D audio, especially in a VR environment. While the company also raised a “substantial seed investment,” in a letter on the Ossic website , the company blamed the slow adoption of virtual reality alongside their crowdfunding campaign stretch goals which bogged down their R&D team. “This was obviously not our desired outcome. The team worked exceptionally hard and created a production-ready product that is a technological and performance breakthrough. To fail at the 5 yard-line is a tragedy. We are extremely sorry that we cannot deliver your product and want you to know that the team has done everything possible including investing our own savings and working without salary to exhaust all possibilities.” We have reached out to the company for additional details. Through January 2017, the San Diego company had received more than 22,000 pre-orders for their Ossic X headphones. This past January, Ossic announced that they had shipped out the first units to the 80 backers in their $999 developer tier headphones. In that same update, the company said they would enter “mass production” by late spring 2018. In the end, after tens of thousands of pre-orders, Ossic only built 250 pairs of headphones and only shipped a few dozen to Kickstarter backers. Crowdfunding campaign failures for hardware products are rarely shocking, but often the collapse comes from the company not being able to acquire additional funding from outside investors. Here, Ossic appears to have been misguided from the start and even with nearly $6 million in crowdfunding and seed funding, which they said nearly matched that number, they were left unable to begin large-scale manufacturing. The company said in their letter, that it would likely take more than $2 million in additional funding to deliver the existing backlog of pre-orders

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Apple started paying $15 billion European tax fine

It took a couple of years, but Apple has started to pay back illegal tax benefits to the Irish government. The company has paid $1.77 billion (€1.5 billion) into an escrow account designed to hold the fine. Apple has to pay $15 billion in total (€13 billion). In August 2016, the European Commission said that Apple benefited from illegal tax benefits in Ireland from 2003 to 2014. According to Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, Apple managed to lower its effective corporate tax rate thanks to a Double Irish structure . By creating two different Irish subsidiaries and allocating profit to the right subsidiary, you can end up paying corporate tax on a fraction of your actual profit. Of course, Apple wasn’t the only tech company that optimized its tax structure. And the company also claimed that everything was legal . The Irish government tried to appeal the decision but the decision remained intact. Ireland had to recover €13 billion starting on January 2017. But nothing happened.

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AI will save us from yanny/laurel, right? Wrong

If you haven’t taken part in the yanny/laurel controversy over the last couple days, allow me to sincerely congratulate you. But your time is up. The viral speech synth clip has met the AI hype train and the result is, like everything in this mortal world, disappointing. Sonix, a company that produces AI-based speech recognition software, ran the ambiguous sound clip through Google, Amazon, and Watson’s transcription tools, and of course its own. Google and Sonix managed to get it on the first try — it’s “laurel,” by the way. Not yanny. Laurel . But Amazon stumbled, repeatedly producing “year old” as its best guess for what the robotic voice was saying. IBM’s Watson, amazingly, got it only half the time, alternating between hearing “yeah role” and “laurel.” So in a way, it’s the most human of them all. Top: Amazon; bottom: IBM. Sonix CEO Jamie Sutherland told me in an email that he can’t really comment on the mixed success of the other models, not having access to them. “As you can imagine the human voice is complex and there are so many variations of volume, cadence, accent, and frequency,” he wrote. “The reality is that different companies may be optimizing for different use cases, so the results may vary. It is challenging for a speech recognition model to accommodate for everything.” My guess as an ignorant onlooker is it may have something to do with the frequencies the models have been trained to prioritize.

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