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04.22.16 | 10:32 am

Google’s Earth Day Doodles are beautiful

07.24.17 | 2 hours ago

Here’s Jared Kushner’s full statement to the Senate committee about Russian contacts

Jared Kushner may have had a few meetings with the Russians, but he didn't mean anything by it, baby, promise. Those four meetings meant nothing to him, nothing! According to Bloomberg, President Trump's son-in-law-in-chief confirmed four "contacts" with Russians during Trump's presidential campaign and his transition to power, but the encounters were "unmemorable" and he would never have actually "colluded" with Russia against his country or committed treason. Besides, "anyone would have taken that meeting," so don't hold it against him.

On Monday, Kushner released a lengthy prepared statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee ahead of a closed-door interview. 

"I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government. I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds to finance my business activities in the private sector. I have tried to be fully transparent with regard to the filing of my SF-86 form, above and beyond what is required. Hopefully, this puts these matters to rest."

Read the full 11-page statement here.

07.24.17 | 3 hours ago

Meow! Amazon-commissioned futurists think pet translators are coming soon

The internet retailing giant has sponsored a report by futurists Anne Lise Kjaer and William Higham, who claim that advances in AI and machine learning will enable companies to make devices that can accurately translate a cat's meows and a dog's barks into English, reports the Guardian. The report cites a study by Con Slobodchikoff, professor emeritus at the department of biological sciences at Northern Arizona University, who has found that prairie dogs have specific sounds they make for various predators and colors.

Though prairie dogs are rodents, Slobodchikoff believes other animals have similar "vocabularies" and thus a commercial device that will be able to translate animal sounds to human speech, and vice versa, is not far off. Personally, we're a bit skeptical and think Jeff Bezos is more likely to find talking aliens on a Blue Origin mission than he is to be selling devices on Amazon.com that allow humans and animals to converse in English.

07.24.17 | 5:59 am

After 32 years, Microsoft is killing off Paint

The computer graphics program has been bundled with every version of Windows since 1985, but the upcoming fall Windows 10 Creators Update signals the beginning of the end for the much-derided app, reports the Guardian. In the upcoming update, Microsoft has moved Paint to the "deprecated" features list, which includes apps that are "not in active development and might be removed in future releases."

Given that Microsoft introduced the new Paint 3D app this year, all signs point to the original Paint not being long for this world. Sure, Paint was never a match for professional graphics applications, but for the people who mocked it and its capabilities, maybe they just lacked artistic talent. As these awesome Paint masterpieces prove, the 32-year-old app was capable of creating some pretty stunning stuff.

07.24.17 | 5:47 am

This tool lets you enter your location to see how much you’ll be impacted by next month’s once-in-a-century solar eclipse

The Los Angeles Times has put together a cool tool that allows you to enter your city and state to find out if you'll be seeing a partial or full solar eclipse on August 21st. If you're only going to see the partial eclipse the tool also tells you how many miles away you'll be from the total eclipse, just in case you want to hop in your car and drive to that better location.

[Screenshot: LA Times]

07.24.17 | 5:35 am

Grab is getting another $2.5 billion to fight Uber in Southeast Asia

The Singapore-based ride-hailing service is getting $2 billion worth of the massive round of investment from current investors China's Didi Chuxing and Japan's Japan's SoftBank, while another $500 million is expected to come from smaller investors, reports Reuters. The $2.5 billion round is reportedly the largest ever single financing round in Southeast Asia and demonstrates just how ferociously the powers that be are battling for ride-hailing dominance in that part of the world. Southeast Asia has a market of over 600 million people and the region is expected to become a keen focus for Uber after it pulled out of the Chinese market last year.

07.24.17 | 5:24 am

So, Apple and The Rock got together to make a movie about Siri…

And it's funny, it's essentially a long commercial, and Siri works way better in it than in real life.

07.21.17 | 8:35 pm

The record sums tech giants just spent to influence U.S. law in the Trump era, in a handy chart

As they searched for their sea legs amid the strong currents of a new administration, technology companies spent a record amount—$15.79 million—on lobbying politicians at the White House and in Congress during the second quarter of 2017.

While spending by Microsoft was down over the same three-month period in 2016, some companies' spending surged. Alphabet spent $5.9 million, up 40% over last year; Oracle spent $2.79 million, a 45% hike; Uber spent a record $430,000 in its tumultuous second quarter, a 26% climb over 2016; Palantir, cofounded by billionaire Peter Thiel, spent a record $380,000, up 46% over last year; and Apple spent $2.2 million, an almost 80% increase from last year. The big splurge contributed to a surge in lobbyist revenues during the same period.

What are they after? While the tech companies' latest public campaigns have centered around net neutrality, their objectives before the White House and Congress include responses to the president's travel ban, immigration, STEM innovation, privacy regulations, small businesses, digital terrorism, and freedom of expression, as Recode notes. Tax reform is also a major issue, as tech companies contemplate how to repatriate overseas cash. (An analysis by Moody's released this week says that five of the country's largest tech companies — Apple, Microsoft, Google, Cisco and Oracle — have a collective $512 billion in money abroad.

There are more company-specific objectives too. Amazon, for instance, also lobbied a variety of federal agencies for issues related to Wi-Fi and device accessibility, copyright reform, renewable energy tax reform, drones, cybersecurity, immigration, and autonomous vehicles. A few companies are fighting a proposal in Congress that would impose new limits on how companies tap users' data to sell ads.

Aside from advancing their business priorities, some of the companies are also likely thinking defense. Back in May 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump suggested that Amazon has a "huge antitrust problem." As the (Jeff Bezos-owned) Washington Post reports, the lobbying comes amid new regulations and penalties in Europe, while "in recent months, some in Washington have called for increased scrutiny of tech's dominant platforms." 

07.21.17 | 3:50 pm

Here are the most head-scratching quotes from Anthony Scaramucci’s first press conference

Wall Street financier Anthony Scaramucci has just been hired to lead the White House's communications, and the upheaval turned the news cycle to mayhem. Namely, Press Secretary Sean Spicer announced he will leave his post in August, and he will be replaced by former deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. And Twitter has been abuzz with takes galore. 

At his press conference, Scaramucci talked about his new role and how everything transpired. He also said some colorful and wacky things. Here are the highlights.

 • When asked about Spicer, Scaramucci said he wished him the best and hoped the former press secretary goes on to "make a tremendous amount of money." (For reference, Fox News has already publicly not ruled out the possibility of hiring him.)

• Trump is "the most competitive person I've ever met. I've seen this guy throw a dead spiral through a tire. I've seen him at Madison Square Garden with a topcoat on, standing in the key and he's hitting foul shots and swishing them, okay? He sinks three-foot putts. I don't see this guy as a guy that's ever under siege. This is a very, very competitive person."

 • On Trump's ability to work with Congress on health care: "The president has really good karma, and the world turns back to him. He's genuinely a wonderful human being, and as members of Congress get to know him better and get comfortable with him, they're going to let him lead them to do the right things for the American people."

 • Noting the media's scrutiny of the White House and his hiring, Scaramucci referenced Dave Eggers' book The Circle, "where you have to wear a police camera on you when you have private conversations." Why not. 

• At Goldman Sachs, where he and Steve Bannon both worked at separate times, Scaramucci said, "there were two great things about the culture: You subordinate yourself to your team even if you had disagreements." And you stay modest. "I want to keep my head in the game, my ego low."

• Scaramucci has said a few critical things about Trump, including that he was "a hack politician." He said that Trump "brings it up every fifteen seconds," and, addressing the camera, said, "Mr. President, if you're listening, I personally apologize for the 50th time." He also pointed a finger at the media. "That was three minutes of my life. He's never forgotten it, you've never forgotten it, and I hope that someday Mr. President, you will forget it."

• He cited Teddy Roosevelt, who said the presidency was "a bully pulpit." Trump "has a great gift at being able to control the news cycle and able to control the messaging…. I think the policies are fantastic. he's doing a phenomenal job. And we just need to get it out there a little more aggressively." 

• Of Trump's social media power, he said, "I know he's picking up about 300,000 followers a day, God bless him."

• How will he make sure he's on the same page as the President when it comes to messaging? "I think it's super important for us to let him express his personality. It has been a very successful life experience for President Trump to be President Trump. So let's let him do that… Let's see where the chips fall," and if there are differences, "we'll address that." 

 • When asked about Trump's claim that 3 million people voted illegally, the new communications head hedged: "If the President says it, let me do more research on it." He then added, "there's probably some level of truth to it."

Then he said au revoir:

[Photo: Jdarsie11 via Wikimedia Commons]

07.21.17 | 1:01 pm

Vice Media just laid off 2% of its staff in a mad dash for video and global expansion

Vice Media is joining the ranks of media companies doubling down on video content. Today it confirmed to Variety that it laid off 2% of its 3,000-person workforce. One of the teams hit hardest was Vice Sports, which cut most of its editorial staff to focus on video content. Beyond Sports, numerous other departments—including non-editorial—were affected. 

This happened while Vice—along with nearly every other media company out there—is going after big ad dollars in video. Vice is considered one of the most successful and highly valued new media companies around (just last month it raised $450 million), and yet it is not immune to this type of business insecurity. 

I wrote earlier today about how Facebook has been effectively forcing media companies to emphasize video for the last year, while simultaneously trying to prove that video is the future. This latest move shows how media companies are taking the bait, to the detriment of their staff.

07.21.17 | 12:05 pm

Report: Sean Spicer says bye-bye to the White House

A lot of internal White House intrigue is happening today. Yesterday, it was reported that Wall Street insider Anthony Scaramucci was being tapped by President Trump's administration to lead communications. Today that was confirmed

It appears not everyone is happy about it: Press Secretary Sean Spicer has quit his post, reports the New York Times. Why did Spicer quit? It's not completely clear right now, but I'm guessing some anonymous sources will fill out the narrative as today rolls on. 

07.21.17 | 11:25 am

Facebook tells us how great video is after forcing everyone to pivot to it

We're in the middle of a media bloodbath. News companies, begging for any new digital ad revenue and solid monetization footing, are cutting editorial teams in the name of a "video pivot." Why? One reason is that video is hot right now and advertisers love to spend money on new things. Another reason is that Facebook and Google, which dictate media consumption, want to emphasize video.

But while media organizations flail, Facebook wants to let marketers know that video really is the future. A new report from Facebook explains that more people are watching videos on the platform, and more people are expecting to watch video.

At first glance, this seems like a normal internal research sort of project. Upon further examination, it's a bit odd. For one, instead of focusing on how video is paying off for publishers, the report talks about how more Facebook and Instagram users are emotionally engaging with video. Which, in a sense, is a self-fulfilling prophecy: Facebook has been shoving video down everyone's throats—video is everywhere on our news feeds. So it shouldn't be shocking that people are watching more video and expect to watch more of it. 

According to Facebook, people like video because it's more personal and engaging. Take this statistic:

"Those surveyed were also 1.8x more likely to say they feel inspired by mobile video on Facebook and Instagram than TV, and 1.5x more likely to say they feel excited by mobile video on Facebook and Instagram than TV."

This is all a way for Facebook to sell to marketers that video is the future, without really showing ROI. People feel "inspired" watching Facebook videos. Great! Look at how we force it upon our billions of users and then they watch it.

[Image: Facebook]

07.21.17 | 11:05 am

Excited about Disney’s immersive “Star Wars” hotel? Thank a cord-cutter

Disney's plans for an immersive Westworld-style hotel and resort that puts you inside the Star Wars universe is generating galactic buzz. The project was teased at last week's D23 Expo and will be part of a massive Star Wars-themed area set to open at Disney World. In fact, Disney has been investing like crazy in its theme parks, with large-scale projects based on Toy Story, Marvel, Tron, and others in the works. 

A few trends in Disney's business help explain why. First, its largest and most profitable segment has long been Media Networks, which raked in $7.6 billion in operating income last year. But growth is slowing in that area thanks mostly to changes in the way people watch TV. Cord-cutting is a real and growing problem for Disney-owned networks like ESPN and ABC.  


How to make up the difference? Enter Parks & Resorts, a smaller segment but increasingly vital to Disney's future. Theme-park operating income has more than doubled since 2010, even as TV profits have leveled off. So expect to see an even greater emphasis on theme parks in the years to come. The takeaway? Fire up your lightsaber and do your Star Wars cosplay with abandon. Disney needs it.