Turbotodd

Ruminations on tech, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Archive for the ‘2018’ Category

Happy Thanksgiving Black Friday

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Well, it’s that time of year here in the U.S.

Time for giving thanks…briefly…before the real fun begins, shopping on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and all points in between.

I’m only partially joking. For many retailers, this several day period can also be a time for giving thanks and making up for other soft periods throughout the year.

The good news, consumer confidence is high, the unemployment rate is at a 50-year low, and the Walmarts and Targets and Amazons and Apples and all the other retailers are ready to rock n roll for the full stop start of this year’s holiday shopping season.

My predictions for this year: I’ve learned not to get too far out over my skis on predictions, but I will say I believe mobile shopping (via tablets and smartphones) will continue to grow, more omnichannel opportunities will be taken advantage of so consumers don’t have to fight their way through crowded stores (i.e., buy online only to pick up at the store later), and based on my own personal experience these past few days, Roku and Amazon Fire streaming devices are in high demand.

As for my own shopping proclivities, I don’t have anything tech-related that’s trying to burn a hole in my pocket. I bought a used iPhone 7 Plus off Gazelle earlier this year, and a Google Pixelbook earlier in the year which I really, really like (yes, you can consider that an endorsement). And I’ve had my Air Pods for over a year now, and don’t know how I lived without them (another endorsement).

But if YOU are looking for some help with the holiday shopping onslaught, particularly as it relates to tech, I found the Wall Street Journal “Best Tech Gifts 2018” list helpful. I’ve also become a big fan of The New York Times Wirecutter reviews, and they, too, have a helpful shopping list for electronics and a whole host of other retail categories.

But for today, let us give thanks. For good friends, for family, for great food and abundance, and for each other. Sure, all this stuff can bring some joy to our lives, and I’m also thankful for the benefits technology provides.

Yet as we’ve surely witnessed over the past few years, any technology — including digital technology and social media — can be used for both good and ill.

On this day, the day of giving thanks, I’m going to choose to celebrate the good of those technologies and be thankful for how they keep me closer to my friends and family and enrich my life and theirs.

For despite all the negativity and division, we should step back and realize we live in amazing and wondrous times, with great possibilities and promise ahead, technologically and otherwise.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. And try not to stampede your fellow shoppers at the Walmart this year!

 

Written by turbotodd

November 22, 2018 at 10:51 am

Common Sense AI

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Microsoft announced that it is acquiring conversational AI and bot development software vendor XOXCO, Inc., an Austin-based firm, for an undisclosed amount.

According to a report from ZDNet, XOXCO was founded in 2008, and has been working on conversational AI since 2013.

One of its products, Howdy.ai, has been described as one of the first commercially available bots for Slack that helps schedule meetings.

Though it may be great for scheduling meetings, a new article in WIRED suggests that artificial intelligence and deep learning could stand to gain some common sense:

Deep learning is the reigning monarch of AI. In the six years since it exploded into the mainstream, it has become the dominant way to help machines sense and perceive the world around them. It powers Alexa’s speech recognition, Waymo’s self-driving cars, and Google’s on-the-fly translations. Uber is in some respects a giant optimization problem, using machine learning to figure out where riders will need cars. Baidu, the Chinese tech giant, has more than 2,000 engineers cranking away on neural net AI. For years, it seemed as though deep learning would only keep getting better, leading inexorably to a machine with the fluid, supple intelligence of a person.

But some heretics argue that deep learning is hitting a wall. They say that, on its own, it’ll never produce generalized intelligence, because truly humanlike intelligence isn’t just pattern recognition. We need to start figuring out how to imbue AI with everyday common sense, the stuff of human smarts. If we don’t, they warn, we’ll keep bumping up against the limits of deep learning, like visual-recognition systems that can be easily fooled by changing a few inputs, making a deep-learning model think a turtle is a gun. But if we succeed, they say, we’ll witness an explosion of safer, more useful devices—health care robots that navigate a cluttered home, fraud detection systems that don’t trip on false positives, medical breakthroughs powered by machines that ponder cause and effect in disease.

I look forward to having an argument with a bot…someday.

Written by turbotodd

November 14, 2018 at 11:05 am

Posted in 2018, AI, microsoft, Uncategorized

Tagged with , ,

A Foldable Phone

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Happy Monday.

We have ourselves another weekend-announced tech deal, this time SAP announcing that it would purchase survey-software provider Qualtrics for $8 billion in cash.

Axios reports that "this would be the largest-ever purchase of a VC-backed enterprise software company" and "the third-largest sale of any SaaS company (behind Oracle buying NetSuite for $9.3B, and SAP buying Concur for $8.3B).

AP CEO Bill McDermott said in a conference call that the Qualtrics IPO was already over-subscribed, and that this deal will be as transformative for SAP as buying Instagram was for Facebook — with SAP being able to merge its massive trove of operational data with Qualtrics’ collection of user experience data.

Meanwhile, if you’ve been keeping an eye on that nifty-looking foldable Galaxy F smartphone, Yonhap News Agency is reporting that it will launch in March, "along with a fifth-generation (5G) network-powered Galaxy S10."

Yonhap reports that the eagerly anticipated foldable smartphone is expected to launch at the Mobile World Congress in February, but that it is not expected to support 5G. So all that folding will have to transpire on existing 4G networks.

Hey, a slower folding phone is better than no folding phone, right?

And if you’ve already started that Christmas shopping binge, looking for the latest and greatest gaming console, you might want to hit "pause" just long enough to read this effort from The Wall Street Journal’s Sarah Needleman.

She writes that tech giants are "trying to bring videogames the same streaming capabilities that gave rise to Netflix and Spotify," which could potentially do an end around traditional gaming consoles.

I wouldn’t short the X-Box or Playstation just yet, but there is the possibility those consoles will have to reinvent themselves to stay up to speed with the Jones’s…errr, I meant to say, the Streamers.

Written by turbotodd

November 12, 2018 at 12:22 pm

Facebook’s Portal Doublethink

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CNET is reporting that Facebook’s new home smart video assistants, Portal and Portal Plus, are now available for sale on the Portal online store, Amazon and Best Buy.

Facebook Portal Plus is selling for $349, and has 1080p HD res and a 15.6-inch screen. The $199 Portal has a 720p, 10.1-inch screen. Both serve as Alexa speakers as well as offer Facebook’s “Hey, Portal” (so original!) voice service.

Yes, Facebook’s Portal product uses Alexa service because, well, why reinvent the home assistant and copying is the sincerest form of flattery.

As for a Facebook video product being unleashed into the privacy of your home??  Well, I would have used to say read Facebook’s privacy policy with care…

A post from Facebook on privacy and security for Portal alleges the following:

  • Facebook does not listen to, view or keep the contents of your Portal video calls. This means nothing you say on a Portal video call is accessed by Facebook or used for advertising.
  • Portal video calls are encrypted, so your calls are secure.
  • Smart Camera and Smart Sound use AI technology that runs locally on Portal, not on Facebook servers. Portal’s camera doesn’t identify who you are.

And as to how they use information from Portal:

  • Portal is integrated with some of your Messenger and Facebook experiences. When you use Portal, we process the same kinds of information as when you use Facebook products on your other devices. Some of this information, including the fact that you logged into your account or how often you use a feature or app, may be used to inform the ads you see across Facebook.
  • While we don’t listen to, view or keep the contents of your Portal video calls, or use this information to target ads, we do process some device usage information to understand how Portal is being used and to improve the product.

Read the full post for more details here.

At least one technology journalist, The Wall Street Journal’s Joanna Stern, isn’t having any of it. She wrote:

I just couldn’t bring myself to set up Facebook’s camera-embedded screen in the privacy of my family’s home. Can you blame me when you look at the last 16 months?

The personal data of millions of users was accessed for political purposes without consent. Whoops. False news articles were deliberately spread across our feeds to hoax us. Whoops again. Hackers gained access to nearly 50 million accounts, the largest-ever security breach at the social network. Giant whoopsies.

However, she did go on to write that “The Portal+, with its 15.6-inch giant rotatable screen, is one of the most immersive video-chatting experiences I’ve ever had.”

Doublethink?

Written by turbotodd

November 8, 2018 at 9:33 am

Posted in 2018, privacy, video

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The Amazon Runoff

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Happy Monday.

If you’ve been wondering where Amazon HQ2 might land, The Wall Street Journal is reporting today that the company is in late-stage talks with cities that included Crystal City, Virginia; Dallas, Texas; and New York City.

Apparently the talks with local officials in some of the other 20 cities on the shortlist, including Denver, Toronto, Atlanta, Nashville, and Raleigh “have cooled.”

You can just hear the mayors, chamber of commerce heads, and real estate developers screaming in the jaws of potential victory and the agony of possible Amazonian defeat (depending on their respective locales, of course).

The story also hints that an announcement could be made as soon as this month, and cites an interview Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos did recently with author Walter Isaacson about how the company was going about making its decision:

For a decision like that, as far as I know, the best way to make it is you collect as much data as you can, you immerse yourself in that data, but then make the decision with your heart.

LATE-BREAKING UPDATE! The Journal is now reporting that Amazon plans to split its second HQ evenly between two locations rather than picking one city for HQ2. 

The driving force behind the decision to build two equal offices in addition to the company’s headquarters in Seattle is recruiting enough tech talent, according to the person familiar with the company’s plans. The move will also ease potential issues with housing, transit and other areas where adding tens of thousands of workers could cause problems.

Under the new plan, Amazon would split the workforce with 25,000 employees in each city, the person said.

Written by turbotodd

November 5, 2018 at 9:41 am

Posted in 2018

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Another Facebook Breach

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Happy Friday!

Well, depending on who you ask.

The BBC, Gizmodo, and others are reporting a new Facebook data breach, this time of private Facebook messages of at least 81,000 unfortunate souls.

It’s being reported the culprit was a Chrome Extension exploit, and is apparently not related to the more widespread September breach previously reported of 120 million Facebook accounts.

Some details:

The hackers, who may be Russian since they reached out to the BBC Russian Service, appear to have the Facebook messages of at least 81,000 people, mostly of Russians and Ukrainians, but also from people in the U.S., UK, and Brazil, according to the BBC.

“Browsers like Chrome can be very secure, but browser extensions can introduce serious gaps in their armor. The addition of browser extensions increases what is otherwise a small attack surface. Malicious extensions can be used to intercept and manipulate the data passing through the browser,” said Rick Holland, CISO of Digital Shadows, which helped the BBC analyze the breach.

As to the content of those messages:

Many of the messages are relatively benign and include simple chats about going on vacation and attending concerts. But as you’d expect, there are also more sensitive discussions, including “intimate correspondence between two lovers,” as the BBC describes it.

Hoped all 81K Facebook users whose private messages were sold!

Written by turbotodd

November 2, 2018 at 3:24 pm

Apple’s Price Hike, China’s DRAM Scam

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This week’s was the first Apple event I haven’t watched in quite some time.  Maybe years.

Is my love affair with Apple products over?

No, if anything, quite the opposite.

I use quite a number of Apple products.  

I just tend to hang on to them.

My 2011 Apple MacBook Air still works fine, albeit a little more slowly.

I love my AirPods (how’d we ever live without those!?)

And a few months ago I bought a used iPhone 7 Plus on Gazelle, and that was a big upgrade in terms of screen size and storage from my SE.

No, I just don’t need any more Apple stuff (new or otherwise), and I’m not the only one.

People aren’t upgrading as much as they used to, and that’s been particularly the case for the iPhone.

Which is likely why as part of this week’s announcement, the prices rose for both the new MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air (to $1,299 and $1,199 respectively).

Not outrageous hikes, and considering that a high-end iPhone can now cost as much or more as the MacBook Air…I guess it all depends on how you view it and what you need. Apple reports its latest earnings today after market close.

Meanwhile, there’s another story that appeared on the horizon, which was that a Chinese state-owned company was charged with conspiring to steal trade secrets of U.S. chipmaker Micron Technology Inc. 

According a report from Bloomberg, Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit Co. and Taiwan’s United Microelectronics Corp. were indicted in California along with three individuals.

These indictments come just as Attorney General Jeff Sessions apparently “plans to announce Thursday a new initiative to respond to Chinese efforts to obtain American technology and trade secrets.”

Bloomberg writes that Micron is the only U.S.-based company that manufactures dynamic random-access memory, or DRAM, and that China didn’t possess DRAM technology before the alleged theft.

Written by turbotodd

November 1, 2018 at 1:13 pm

Posted in 2018, china

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The Google Walkout

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What’s going on on this fine Thursday?

Quite a lot, actually.

But speficially, Google is finding itself in the middle of a significant employee walkout (mostly by women), one that started in its Tokyo offices and has been working its way around the world.

The New York Times has a detailed run down of the specific grievances here.

For one, they’ve asked Google to end its use of private arbitration in cases of alleged sexual assault and harassment.

They’ve also demanded the publication of a transparency report on instances of sexual harassment, further disclosures of salaries and compensation, an employee representative on the company board, and a chief diversity officer who can speak directly to the Alphabet board.

The seven employees who organized the walkout had this to say:

Today at 11:10 a.m. in every time zone in which the protest is taking place, employees at nearly two thirds of Google’s global offices are walking out of their offices. We, the seven core organizers of today’s Google Walkout, represent thousands of Google employees in our call to demand change.

All employees and contract workers across the company deserve to be safe. Sadly, the executive team has demonstrated through their lack of meaningful action that our safety is not a priority. We’ve waited for leadership to fix these problems, but have come to this conclusion: no one is going to do it for us. So we are here, standing together, protecting and supporting each other. We demand an end to the sexual harassment, discrimination, and the systemic racism that fuel this destructive culture.

We are building on the work of others. Many at Google have been advocating for structural change for years. It’s their legacy and leadership that made this moment possible. We are a small part of a massive movement that has been growing for a long time. We are inspired by everyone from the women in fast food who led an action against sexual harassment to the thousands of women in the #metoo movement who have been the beginning of the end for this type of abuse.

So today, over 60 percent of all Google offices, and thousands of Google employees will walk out, around the world.

You can read their full post on The Cut here. 

The times they are a changin’.

Written by turbotodd

November 1, 2018 at 12:19 pm

And the Winner of the Call for Code Is…

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When IBM and its partners announced the Call for Code global developer initiative in May, I quickly surmised I was going to be part of a team working on an effort that would be a highlight of my career at Big Blue.

Little did I know the ripple effect that effort would have around the globe.

The rallying cry was an important one: Asking developers everywhere to team up and use their skills and mastery of the latest and greatest technologies to drive positive and long-lasting chance across the world with their code.

Specifically, for the 2018 effort (Call for Code is a multi-year initiative), to create solutions that significantly improve preparedness for natural disasters and relief when they hit in order to safeguard the health and well-being of communities.

The Call officially began in June, and the deadline for contributions was towards the end of September.

Then, last night at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco, the winner was announced: Project OWL.

Project OWL’s stated disaster preparedness problem was an important one: To help avoid the chaos and uncertainty a disaster can bring, first responders need to make critical decisions with limited evidence and execute with confidence.

Their solution was brilliant: To use a set of APIs and open data sets from a variety of sources (The Weather Company, the American Red Cross, FEMA) to help build an ad-hoc mobile “Clusterduck” network.

The network would be an offline communications infrastructure created by physical, Wi-Fi-enabled devices dispersed in clusters which would help first responders and relief workers to share information about their specific situation, location and needs.

While the Project OWL team was the winner of the $200K grand prize, the other finalists also offered quite compelling solutions, and I would encourage you to read more about them in this blog post.

As for Project OWL, they took their moment in the spotlight last night in San Francisco and have already turned their attention back to improving upon their initial effort, with the goal of focusing on regions where annual weather patterns consistently impact communities negative, including India, China, the Philippines, and parts of the U.S.

They’ll also receive support from the IBM Corporate Service Corps (think of it as IBM’s Peace Corps), and will have the opportunity to pitch OWL to venture capitalist firm NEA for potential funding.

In the end, over 100k developers from 156 nations participated in this year’s challenge, and built some 2,500 disaster preparedness apps, demonstrating once again the power software developers around the globe have to change the world for the better!

Written by turbotodd

October 30, 2018 at 2:54 pm

Posted in 2018, call for code, developers

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IBM to Acquire Red Hat

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IBM and Red Hat have announced they have reached a definitive agreement under which IBM will acquire all of the issued and outstanding common shares of Red Hat for $190.00 per share in cash, representing a total enterprise value of approximately $34 billion.

More simply put, IBM is acquiring Red Hat.

“The acquisition of Red Hat is a game-changer. It changes everything about the cloud market,” said Ginni Rometty, IBM Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer. “IBM will become the world’s #1 hybrid cloud provider, offering companies the only open cloud solution that will unlock the full value of the cloud for their businesses.

“Most companies today are only 20 percent along their cloud journey, renting compute power to cut costs,” she said. “The next 80 percent is about unlocking real business value and driving growth. This is the next chapter of the cloud. It requires shifting business applications to hybrid cloud, extracting more data and optimizing every part of the business, from supply chains to sales.”

This acquisition brings together the best-in-class hybrid cloud providers and will enable companies to securely move all business applications to the cloud. Companies today are already using multiple clouds.

However, research shows that 80 percent of business workloads have yet to move to the cloud, held back by the proprietary nature of today’s cloud market. This prevents portability of data and applications across multiple clouds, data security in a multi-cloud environment and consistent cloud management.

“Open source is the default choice for modern IT solutions, and I’m incredibly proud of the role Red Hat has played in making that a reality in the enterprise,” said Jim Whitehurst, President and CEO, Red Hat. “Joining forces with IBM will provide us with a greater level of scale, resources and capabilities to accelerate the impact of open source as the basis for digital transformation and bring Red Hat to an even wider audience –  all while preserving our unique culture and unwavering commitment to open source innovation.”

BM and Red Hat will be strongly positioned to address this issue and accelerate hybrid multi-cloud adoption. Together, they will help clients create cloud-native business applications faster, drive greater portability and security of data and applications across multiple public and private clouds, all with consistent cloud management.

In doing so, they will draw on their shared leadership in key technologies, such as Linux, containers, Kubernetes, multi-cloud management, and cloud management and automation. 

IBM’s and Red Hat’s partnership has spanned 20 years, with IBM serving as an early supporter of Linux, collaborating with Red Hat to help develop and grow enterprise-grade Linux and more recently to bring enterprise Kubernetes and hybrid cloud solutions to customers.

These innovations have become core technologies within IBM’s $19 billion hybrid cloud business. Between them, IBM and Red Hat have contributed more to the open source community than any other organization.

With this acquisition, IBM will remain committed to Red Hat’s open governance, open source contributions, participation in the open source community and development model, and fostering its widespread developer ecosystem. In addition, IBM and Red Hat will remain committed to the continued freedom of open source, via such efforts as Patent Promise, GPL Cooperation Commitment, the Open Invention Network and the LOT Network.

IBM and Red Hat also will continue to build and enhance Red Hat partnerships, including those with major cloud providers, such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, Alibaba and more, in addition to the IBM Cloud. At the same time, Red Hat will benefit from IBM’s hybrid cloud and enterprise IT scale in helping expand their open source technology portfolio to businesses globally.

Written by turbotodd

October 29, 2018 at 1:22 pm

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