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12.05.16 | 11:30 am

Startups say the tech industry will reflect U.S. diversity by 2030, but pathway is unclear

Companies surveyed as part of First Round Capital's startup report say they believe tech-industry employment will reflect the diverse makeup of the United States by 2030. However, steps toward that 14-year goal are noticeably lacking, according to the survey. 

When asked if their company has a strategy around diversity and inclusion, 54% of startup founders and CEOs said they had an informal policy; only 14% had a written plan. It's no surprise, then, that 60% of these startups had all-male boards and 50% of them had teams composed predominantly of men. Talking about being diverse is not the same, it seems, as actually making diverse hires. But then again, outsized expectations are fairly common among this group of founders. Roughly one-fifth believe they're building billion dollar companies.   

07.24.17 | 2 hours ago

Facebook’s cafeteria workers, barely making ends meet, are now trying to unionize

Not everyone working at Facebook is living the dream. In fact, most of the contracted facility workers at the company's Menlo Park, California, headquarters are having trouble making ends meet. That's why about 500 of Facebook's cafeteria employees are banding together to join a union, reports The Guardian

While cafeteria workers do make wages above the $15/hour minimum wage, they are not provided benefits to help them stay afloat. With the price of living in Silicon Valley and the Bay Area rising to staggering levels, these employees are unable to afford adequate housing or health care. 

One family of Facebook cafeteria workers, profiled by The Guardian, lives in a garage. Facebook employees are given access to amenities like on-site doctors, but these workers are not allowed access to such perks. 

The big union push is to help these employees get the adequate support they need. While neither Facebook nor the food service contractor they work for opposes the union, the cafeteria workers likely have a long fight ahead. You can read the full profile here

[Photo: Flickr user Jimmy Baikovicius]

07.24.17 | 2 hours ago

Julia Roberts to star in Gimlet’s latest podcast-turned-TV show

Homecoming—Gimlet's Peabody Award-nominated podcast—just kicked off its second season today, and now it may have more to celebrate than just another chapter in the dark psychological thriller. Deadline is reporting that Julia Roberts will star in the show when it makes the jump from podcast to Amazon drama.

It was previously reported that Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail was turning Homecoming into a TV series. The podcast, which was created by Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg, was one of the first podcasts to head into the Hollywood pipeline, following shows like Limetown and Gimlet's Startup, which inspired a forthcoming series called Alex, Incstarring Zach Braff. Homecoming already made headlines when well-known actors Catherine Keener, Oscar Isaac, and David Schwimmer joined the cast, proving that podcasts could attract serious star power. According to Deadline, Homecoming has already been picked up for two seasons by Amazon. The only bummer is that they are reporting that Roberts will play a caseworker at a secret government facility that uses an experimental therapy protocol to help a soldier rejoin civilian life, which is the role originated by Keener. While Roberts is great and all, she's no Catherine Keener. 

If the rumors are true about Roberts, that's some serious A-list talent for little old podcasts and could be a boon for the format.

07.24.17 | 3 hours ago

KKR is buying WebMD so it can continue its reign of symptom-Googling terror

TechCrunch reports that private equity group KKR is buying WebMD for $2.8 billion (that's $66.50 per share), and just in case Western medicine isn't working for them, Forbes reports that KKR is also buying The Nature's Bounty Co., a wellness company that sells fish oil supplements, vitamins, protein bars, and the like. 

KKR is trying to corner the market on internet-based health information dissemination at a time when Googling random symptoms to see if they explain that weird rash has become a very common practice. As TechCrunch notes, WebMD has a lot of competition in its quest to horrify, er, provide answers to anyone Googling their symptoms—including Google, which has started including health information on its main search app. Plus, any aspiring hypochondriac knows to also check out the Mayo Clinic's site, as well as those from the Cleveland Clinic, Everyday Health, and eHealthForum.com, and HealthBoards.com, which just so happen to be part of a KKR-owned company called Internet Brands, too. WebMD will be rolled into Internet Brands, which houses B2B sites like MedScape, as well as consumer-focused sites, and ever-popular web destinations like VeinDirectory.org.

07.24.17 | 4 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 | 7:51 am

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 21. 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.