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08.24.16 | 4:16 pm

Facebook turns on Safety Check for Italy earthquake

Facebook moved quickly to activate its Safety Check feature in the wake of the deadly earthquake that struck central Italy early Wednesday, allowing users of the social network who were in the area to signal to friends and family that they were okay. 

The feature has been employed numerous times since it was first introduced in 2014 and gained wide attention after the attacks in Paris in November of last year. It was used for the first time in the United States in June after the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. 

The death toll for Wednesday's 6.2-magnitude quake has risen to at least 120, CNN reported, citing Italian officials. The event has reportedly reduced some towns to rubble.  

Image: USGS

10.24.16 | 11:18 pm

Microsoft’s Satya Nadella gets back to BASICs

Microsoft is on a roll at the moment, with its stock price having hit an all-time high last week—finally topping a record set way back in the last century. Here at the Wall Street Journal's WSJ.D Live conference, CEO Satya Nadella says that as he shapes the company's efforts, he spends a lot of time thinking about what made the company successful starting with its first product in 1975

It was a BASIC interpreter for Altair. We were a tools company. We were a company built for the hackers of the world, the makers of the world, the builders of the world. I've always felt we're best when we express that identity for changing times.

10.24.16 | 10:52 pm

Netflix’s Reed Hastings: “We’re tiny!”

I'm at the Wall Street Journal's WSJ.D Live conference in Laguna Beach, California. The very first speaker at the opening dinner is Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. A few tidbits from his conversation with the Journal's Dennis Berman:

 • The company is fine with the idea of AT&T buying Time Warner as long as HBO's bits get treated the same as Netflix's.

• The company's increasingly global scale is reflected in its show Narcos, which "is made by a French company in Bogata, Colombia, with a Brazilian star. That's what we see as the future for us."

• Netflix currently has 87 million subscribers, but in terms of its aspirations: "How many people use Facebook every day? A billion? We're tiny!" But "our goal is to make our current customers happy, and then we'll see how fast we grow."

• "Fundamentally we're about eliminating loneliness and boredom . . . that's what entertainment does."

• He's excited about The Crown, an upcoming series about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. "If you can recognize Winston Churchill's voice, you will love this show."

• Short term, VR is mostly interesting for gaming. "You do it for half an hour, and you're exhausted."

• "We compete against YouTube, against Snapchat, against everything you do to relax." Including board games and sleep.

•  People think that Kodak blew it by not getting into digital cameras, but "the fundamental thing that Kodak offered, sharing memories, became Facebook and Instagram."

10.24.16 | 6:21 pm

Why wait until he loses? “Trump TV” is up and running.

As Donald Trump's campaign has gone further and further off the rails—all without alienating his base—some speculate that he might launch his own news channel, Trump TV, after the election is over. 

But why wait until he's officially vanquished by Hillary Clinton? Last week, just before the third presidential debate, Trump energized his supporters by going on Facebook Live and whipping them into a frenzy (and gaining 9 million views in the process). Now, Wired is reporting that starting this evening, Trump will begin nightly broadcasts on Facebook. So, get ready for the crazy. 

10.24.16 | 6:09 pm

Working women in Iceland walked off the job at 2:38 p.m. today

Encouraged by unions and women's organizations, women in Iceland walked out of their workplaces at 2:38 p.m. today to protest wage inequality. The timing is meant to coincide with the hour of the day in which women begin to work without pay compared to their male counterparts.

Although it is illegal to discriminate based on gender in Iceland, the original Women's Day Off was held on October 24, 1975 and based on current trends, it will take 52 years to reach parity.

Here in the U.S., the gender pay gap will not close until 2059.

10.24.16 | 6:08 pm

Donald Trump video game lets you grab ‘em by the you-know-what

The cats! What were you thinking?

Trump's Pussy Grabber is a whack-a-mole game that tasks you with grabbing a bunch of meowing pussycats. Of course, Donald Trump's voice from his infamous Access Hollywood video, is playing in the background the whole time. Creepy, and pretty funny.

10.24.16 | 5:22 pm

Designers and city planners converge in NYC to discuss the worst train station in the world

Nothing unifies Northeasterners more than their shared hatred of Penn Station. The unsightly midtown Manhattan transit hub is an aesthetic and logistical mess, from its cavernous underground design to its mysterious stench. 

Now a group of artists, urban planners, and architects are meeting for a two-part "public summit" to discuss the station and what can be done about it. The first part, on Oct. 25, will look at the station's legacy. (The destruction of the original station in 1963 kicked off the modern preservation movement.) The second part, on Nov. 2, will focus on the future of the station. (New York's governor has proposed moving it to a grander building across the street.) 

Either way, something has to happen. Read more about the summit here.

[Photo: Flickr user Peter Dutton]

10.24.16 | 5:00 pm

Afternoon intel: What to expect from Apple’s Q4 earnings 

Apple's Q4 earnings report will be out tomorrow. We're expecting sales numbers for the iPhone 7 and Apple Watch, but chances are they won't be meaningful until next quarter due to supply shortages. Also on our radar: iPad sales, which climbed up last quarter.

• Speaking of the Apple Watch: Smartwatch sales last quarter amounted to 2.7 million, down 51.6% from Q3 2015. As an IDC analyst said, "It has also become evident that at present smartwatches are not for everyone." Indeed. 

Samsung is really worried about losing customers. A new upgrade program will allow owners of the recalled Galaxy Note 7 phone to trade it for a Galaxy S7 and then upgrade to either a Galaxy S8 or Galaxy Note 8 next year

• The New York Times just bought The Wirecutter—the product recommendation site founded by technology journalist and former Gizmodo editor Brian Lam—for $30 million. 

• We don't know yet how AT&T's acquisition of Time Warner is going to pan out—but man, have there been some bad corporate mergers. 

10.24.16 | 4:10 pm

Vive opens store in China where you can VR your heart out

There are Apple Stores, Microsoft Stores, and now … an official Vive store. 

Taiwan's HTC opened the doors in Shenzhen, China, to its first Vive store—there will be many, many more to come—where the VR-curious can play with all kinds of virtual reality experiences, UploadVR reported. China is perhaps the biggest market for VR, experts say, and stores like this could be a big help in bringing the technology to many new people.

10.24.16 | 3:56 pm

IDC: Smartwatch sales dove 51.6% in the third quarter

The research firm calls it "growing pains." Total smartwatch shipments were 2.7 million last quarter, a decrease of 51.6% from the 5.6 million units shipped in the same quarter a year ago. 

Apple is still the overall leader of the worldwide smartwatch market, yet Apple Watch sales declined more than any other brand over the past year. "Apple revealed a new look and feel to watchOS that did not arrive until the launch of the second generation watch at the end of September," said IDC analyst Ramon Llamas.

Llamas also points to Google's decision to hold back Android Wear 2.0, which has made it hard for smartwatch makers to launch new products running that operating system in advance of the holidays.

"It has also become evident that at present smartwatches are not for everyone," adds IDC analyst Jitesh Ubrani.

10.24.16 | 2:33 pm

This week in the Bay Area: A conference dedicated to death 

In the Bay Area, anti-aging technologies are all the rage. But this week, entrepreneurs are gearing up to confront the inevitable: Death. 

Design firm Ideo and its sponsors Sutter Health, the Helix Centre, and the Ungerleider Palliative Care Education Fund, are putting on a series of events this week to raise awareness around end-of-life care. Highlights include a candlelight labyrinth walk through Grace Cathedral, free workshops to better understand issues like medical aid, and a dinner party to discuss life after loss. Check out the full schedule of events here. 

10.24.16 | 1:00 pm

IBM Watson writes an emo song with musician Alex Da Kid

IBM's Watson artificial intelligence has played Jeopardy, written recipes, and created a scary movie trailer. Now it has helped Grammy-winning music producer Alex Da Kid write a sad, sad song about heartbreak called "It's Not Easy." With a looping harmony, the four-minute piece mostly repeats three lines and the sound "ooh."

As with the trailer for the widely panned AI horror film Morgan, Watson didn't create "It's Not Easy" by itself, but rather provided material and tools to assist Alex Da Kid and his human collaborators Wiz Khalifa, Elle King, and X Ambassadors. (It's the first of four Watson-inspired songs on Da Kid's new EP.) The Watson Alchemy Language API and Tone Analyzer API went through five years of writings—from speeches to song lyrics—to discern the "emotional fingerprint" of each year and help create the simple lyrics. A tool called Watson BEAT deconstructed popular music to identify key items including pitch, time, and key signatures. It also noted sequence to help create original scores tuned to moods (like "devastated") and feelings (like "spooky").

The result is a pleasant, generic pop song and accompanying black-and-white video of a woman pulling a rolling suitcase down an empty road. Aside from an energetic ditty by Khalifa toward the end, the song mostly consists of three lines:

It's not easy.
No, it's not easy.
It's not easy breaking your heart.

Repeated 10 times.

10.24.16 | 12:21 pm

In honor of AT&T and Time Warner, here are some of the worst corporate mergers in history

We're not saying the combination of AT&T and Time Warner is a bad idea per se, but we did think news of the pending $85.4 billion merger was a good opportunity to look at those that have failed. The below mergers—or attempted mergers—are generally cited as some of the worst ever. It turns out, they happen in every industry.