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04.18.17 | 8:00 am

Smoke up, drink up—Foursquare says legal weed isn’t hurting the bar industry

Foursquare just took a look at the impact of legalized recreational marijuana on the bar industry. Based on their findings, it seems that legal weed had very little discernible impact on bar tabs, because people enjoy both staying home with a batch of pot brownies and a full season of Bojack Horseman and meeting a friend at a bar for a beer or two.

For their study, Foursquare looked at a 12-month period in Oregon, after recreational pot use was legalized in 2015. While visits to liquor stores grew by 5% to 10%, they were slower than in the rest of the United States. However, visits to "nightlife spots" (that includes every type of bar, lounge, club, and brewery) grew on par with the national average.

As for demographics of pot buyers, 46% of dispensary visitors were millennials ages 21-34; and they may have been hitting the pot shop with their baby boomer grandparents, because 23% of visitors were over the age of 55. (That could certainly make family game night more interesting.) 

Foursquare also has unique access to the food cravings of stoners, who are apparently really into dumplings and ramen. Other than cravings, recreational pot users were generally not living up to the slacker stereotype, as Foursquare found that they were more likely to visit ski resorts, climbing gyms, stadiums, and bike shops than average Foursquare users. Score one for the stoners, eh? 

[Photos: Foursquare]

07.25.17 | 22 minutes ago

Google threw its algorithms into the hot race for nuclear fusion

Amid advances in physics and climate concerns, nuclear fusion energy has become an increasingly hot pursuit for governments, startups, and skunk works. A long-heralded holy grail of the energy world (it's said to always be "30 years away"), fusion smashes together atomic nuclei in a controlled fashion and in a way that, theoretically, could provide virtually unlimited "clean" energy. 

To accelerate its research into plasmas, the ultra-hot gas balls used in fusion, fusion startup TriAlpha has turned to Google. As The Guardian reports, the secretive Paul Allen-backed company collaborated with Google Research to create "the Optometrist algorithm," which is intended to combine computation with human judgement in the complex search for useful engineering and physics. 

"The whole thing is beyond what we know how to do even with Google-scale computer resources," said Ted Baltz, at the Google Accelerated Science Team. So the scientists combined computer learning approaches with human input by presenting researchers with choices. The researchers choose the option they instinctively feel is more promising, akin to choosing the clearer text during an eye test. 

As a result, operations that had formerly taken a month speeded up to just a few hours, and achieved a 50% reduction in energy losses from the system, according to research published on Tuesday in the journal Scientific Reports

Even as it fires up a new reactor, and though it has raised over $500 million, TriAlpha will need more funds if it wants to reach the even more difficult next stage: a reactor with superconducting magnets. Alongside the multi-government ITER test reactor project in France, the companies racing to develop fusion also include General Fusion, which is backed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. As with other billionaire moonshots, the private tech money is betting it can advance science that up until now has been publicly-funded, subject to red tape and political winds. That's to say nothing of some very big science and engineering. Earlier this month, a new version of a European "road map" on fusion energy pushed its estimate for a working reactor back a decade to the 2050s. 

[Photo: Tri Aplha Energy]

07.25.17 | an hour ago

Apple appeals to ‘Merica in new Music ad

The new Apple Music ad features motorbikes, country music, small-town folk, open fields and open roads, and the flag. The star of the ad is country singer Brantley Gilbert, who narrates an ode to his old hometown and his love of country.  The spot debuted Sunday before a Nascar race. Getting the idea? Apple is reaching out to Red State America with the simple, wholesome stuff that audience craves. Apple Music has based its ads around specific genres before, so it may just be country music's turn; and the video (shot in black and white for a more authentic feel) is okay. For me it's just a little hard fitting (refined, cosmopolitan) Apple in the same frame with Nascar country. 

07.25.17 | an hour ago

John McCain, fresh out of the hospital, casts crucial yes vote in GOP’s Obamacare repeal effort

The fight to repeal Obamacare is not over yet, despite recent polls showing a majority of people want the current health care law to stay. Today, the Senate voted to advance a debate to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. It was a close vote, but ultimately a few Republicans who had vowed to vote against it changed course.

Most apparent among them is John McCain, who just announced a brain cancer diagnosis. The Arizona senator returned to Congress specifically to vote for this motion, and voted yes. With the vote tied at 50-50, Vice President Mike Pence delivered the tiebreaker

Following today's vote, the GOP will begin floor debate and roll out amendments to the Senate's health care bill. A House version of the bill passed in May.

07.25.17 | 2 hours ago

Trump is confused about Amazon and taxes. Here’s what Amazon really wants

Lower taxes, but not sales taxes. Trump fired off a series tweets on Monday night and Tuesday morning suggesting that Amazon is "using the Washington Post as a lobbyist" to keep Congress from scrutinizing Amazon's "no-tax monopoly." First of all, the Post is owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, not by Amazon. The question of whether Amazon should pay state sales tax was settled in March, when Amazon relented and began to collect tax in any state that has it. So it's very doubtful Amazon would be spending lobbying hours on that issue. 

Amazon spent a healthy $3.2 million on lobbying in the second quarter, filings show, but it was very likely to influence lawmakers on the same key issues concerning other large tech companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft. The top two items on the tech policy agenda this year are a lower corporate tax rate and a low tax rate on profits returned from overseas (repatriated). 

Ironically, Trump and Amazon are probably aligned on both those issues. The Trump administration's tax reform plan is centered around reducing the corporate tax rate (that's why the markets went up after Trump was elected), and Trump has proposed a low 10% tax rate (it's normally 35%) on repatriated profits. Amazon currently holds about $22 billion in overseas accounts.

07.25.17 | 11:50 am

Study: CTE present in 110 out of 111 former NFL players’ brains

A neuropathologist recently examined the brains of 111 players in the National Football League (NFL) and discovered that almost all of them, 110 to be exact, had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative disease that has previously been linked to blows to the head. The disease can cause memory loss, depression, confusion, and dementia, and often exhibits symptoms years after blows to the head have stopped.

The study involved examining the brains of 202 deceased players, including the 111 former members of the NFL. Players ranged from age 23-89, and included players from every position on the field.

The NFL released this statement to NPR:

We appreciate the work done by Dr. McKee and her colleagues for the value it adds in the ongoing quest for a better understanding of CTE. Case studies such as those compiled in this updated paper are important to further advancing the science and progress related to head trauma. The medical and scientific communities will benefit from this publication and the NFL will continue to work with a wide range of experts to improve the health of current and former NFL athletes. As noted by the authors, there are still many unanswered questions relating to the cause, incidence, and prevalence of long-term effects of head trauma such as CTE. The NFL is committed to supporting scientific research into CTE and advancing progress in the prevention and treatment of head injuries.

07.25.17 | 11:22 am

Report: Lyft is now growing faster than Uber

It's an understatement to say the last year has been rough for Uber. The company has been mired in multiple scandals, each of which tainted its public image. Conversely, Lyft has kept a relatively low profile, which seems to have helped it better compete with the larger Uber.

In fact, growth for Lyft has been accelerating rapidly, reports Bloomberg. Citing unnamed sources, Bloomberg writes that Lyft's gross bookings grew by over 25% over this quarter to exceed $1 billion. This is allegedly faster growth than Uber, which reportedly told investors it was in the "mid-teens." 

Of course, Uber is still much bigger than Lyft. Thanks to its international business, the ride-hailing app saw gross bookings exceed $8 billion this past quarter, reports Bloomberg. Still, this Lyft growth will surely be something Uber—which is still looking for a new CEO—will keep tabs on. 

07.25.17 | 10:40 am

Snopes has already hit its $500k crowdfunding goal

Yesterday, the oft-cited fact-checking website Snopes took to crowdfunding due to a dispute that left it without a steady flow of ad revenue. In a plea to its readers, the site asked people to donate to help keep things afloat as the legal mess gets figured out.

It's been only a day, and the GoFundMe for Snopes has already exceeded the $500,000 goal. As of the writing of this post, over 18,000 people have helped raise nearly $509,000. The campaign is still roaring on, so it's anyone's guess how much the site will be able to raise.

07.25.17 | 10:04 am

Cord-cutter watch: Nielsen starts counting some Hulu and YouTube TV viewing as traditional ratings falter

Audience measurement is a messy thing in 2017, and Nielsen has been trying to clean things up with new ways to count viewers who watch TV shows across various platforms and devices. In its latest move, the measurement firm said it will start reporting "eligible TV viewing" from Hulu and YouTube TV in its ratings. That would give the ad industry a better sense of how many people are watching a particular show on platforms other than traditional TV sets, Nielsen says. The company says the new Hulu and YouTube TV measurement will contribute directly to C3 and C7 currency—which is when people watch a show within three or seven days of its original airdate. 

With TV audiences fragmenting, and viewers cutting the cord at a faster pace, Nielsen is facing an existential crisis of sorts as it seeks to measure 21st-century audiences in ways that advertisers and media companies can agree on. The company has been the focus of blame-the-messenger backlash from some TV executives who, in the face of declining ratings, have called Nielsen's relevance into question. 

Check out the full story here.

[Photo: courtesy of Hulu]

07.25.17 | 7:38 am

India won’t allow driverless cars if they take away jobs

In language that is sure to frighten the likes of Google, Tesla, and every other company with a foot in the driverless car game, India's road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari has said that driverless cars will not be allowed in the country if they take away jobs, reports the HindustanTimes. Speaking on Tuesday, Gadkari said:

"We won't allow driverless cars in India. I am very clear on this. We won't allow any technology that takes away jobs. In a country where you have unemployment, you can't have a technology that ends up taking people's jobs."

India is one of the top destinations tech companies are focusing their resources on for growth. With a consumer market of 1.2 billion people, if India actually ends up not allowing driverless cars in the country it will effectively seal off one-sixth of the world's population from the autonomous car market.

07.25.17 | 7:30 am

Language-learning app Duolingo is almost a unicorn

Duolingo is the funny little app that could. With cute illustrations, playful chatbots, and humorous practice phrases, such as "Your bear drinks beer," the foreign-language learning app has gained over 200 million users. Most of them pay nothing—other than a flicker of attention to occasional ads. (The paid version has a few bonus features, like that ability to use it when the phone is offline.) But investors are paying a lot. A new funding round of $25 million led by Drive Capital brings Duolingo's total take to $108.3 million, the company said today, giving it a $700 million valuation.

Founded by Carnegie Mellon computer science professor and MacArthur "genius award" winner Luis von Ahn five years ago, Duolingo has grown to support 27 languages, mostly crowdsourced from bilingual volunteers. It also provides an English certification exam and a flashcard-making app called Tinycards. By the end of the year, the Pittsburgh-based company says it will nearly double its staff from 80 to 150.

07.25.17 | 7:02 am

Michael Kors just bought Jimmy Choo for $1.2 billion

Michael Kors, which has pitched itself as an "affordable luxury" brand, is hoping to improve its fortunes with the acquisition of Jimmy Choo, a high-end shoe brand that targets an upmarket consumer.

Michael Kors has been struggling over the last few years. The company's strategy of discounting has backfired, severely hurting the brand's image, and causing its share price to plummet by 20% in 2017. It is now planning to shutter as many as 125 stores. Jimmy Choo, on the other hand, has been thriving, largely due to strong sales in Asia. 

Michael Kors is following in the footsteps of Coach, another "affordable luxury" brand which recently acquired the high-end shoe brand Stuart Weitzman and accessories brand Kate Spade in an effort to better compete. 

Read more in the New York Times.

07.25.17 | 6:02 am

Hey, Apple and Google: iRobot wants to sell its Roomba vacuum indoor mapping data

The Roomba 900 series doesn't just clean your floors, it collects valuable indoor mapping data by doing so, thanks to its use of simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) technology. SLAM enables the high-end Roomba to build a map of the room it's operating in, which is what allows it to do things like automatically return to its docking station when it needs a recharge.

As much of the outside world has already been mapped by Google and Apple, the two companies are now turning to mapping indoor locations, which makes iRobot's mapping data potentially very valuable, as iRobot CEO Colin Angle told Reuters, "There's an entire ecosystem of things and services that the smart home can deliver once you have a rich map of the home that the user has allowed to be shared." Angle said he thinks iRobot could reach a deal to sell its indoor mapping data to "one or more" of the "Big Three" (Amazon, Apple, and Google) in the next few years, but notes he would not sell a Roomba user's room data without their permission.

[Image: iRobot]