Twitter will soon let you switch between algorithmic and real-time feeds

Twitter today announced a change to the way it shows tweets to users. The announcement detailed a future that includes switching back and forth between an algorithmically sorted timeline and one that shows all tweets from your followers, in reverse-chronological order, much like the one Twitter launched with in 2006. Prior to the update, unchecking the box meant the feed would display tweets reverse-chronologically, but with the Show the best Tweets feature up top, and the real-time tweets shown below. Now, you can get rid of the top section, and just display the tweets, in real-time, like you probably think…

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Deebot Ozmo 930 is the robot vacuum you’ve been waiting for

As smart vacuums go, there’s a lot of space between the very best, and the very worst. Residing in the middle are all sorts of robotic cleaning devices, some of which barely qualify as a vacuum. The Ozmo 930 sits comfortably near the top of available options, while falling just short of the peak. To be clear, it’s good. Real good, in fact. Its struggles are similar to those of any other oversized hockey puck-shaped robo-vacuums I’ve tried to date. It’s going to get stuck sometimes, shoe laces are your worst enemy, and it’s never quite going to get those…

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Government wants imprison some poor schmuck for pirating Deadpool on Facebook

In case you thought your day was going poorly, the US government has asked that a young man who uploaded a bootleg movie to Facebook be smacked with a prison sentence. The person in question, then-20 year-old Trevon Franklin, downloaded a copy of Deadpool — which was in theaters at the time — from a site called Putlocker. He then put it on Facebook, where it was viewed over six million times. Unsurprisingly, the post drew the attention of 20th Century Fox and the FBI. Franklin was arrested in 2017, and pleaded guilty to a Class A misdemeanor. According to Deadline, he…

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Review: Amazon’s Fire TV Cube made me like smart speakers again

Amazon’s latest Alexa-powered gadget is a Fire TV and Echo smart speaker hybrid called the Fire TV Cube. Allow me to cut to the chase: This is the best Alexa experience you can get. I wasn’t prepared for the Fire TV Cube. As a hardware reviewer, I try not to pre-judge equipment. I think it’s important to keep an open mind. But, I have to admit, I wasn’t looking forward to yawning over another “smart” speaker, or diving into yet another “all new” way for me to watch the same old shows. Luckily for me, five minutes after I plugged…

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Sennheiser’s short film shows the power of binaural audio

In a world where everyone wears headphones, it’s curious that binaural audio is so rare. The technology can create a 3D soundscape more realistic than the best home theater set-up, and yet hardly any music or movies take advantage of it. In the last couple of years, that’s finally started to change. Positional audio is more prominent thanks to the advent of VR. Where recording in binaural once required complicated setups and expensive gear, products like Sennheiser’s powerful Ambeo Smart Headset make it more accessible than ever. Don’t make my word for it though. Sennheiser partnered with director Roxanne Benjamin…

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Japan’s Yusaku Maezawa revealed as first customer for SpaceX trip around the moon

Yusaku Maezawa
Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa introduces himself during a news briefing at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. (SpaceX via YouTube)

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk today introduced Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa as the first paying customer for a trip around the moon.

“Finally I can tell you that ‘I choose to go to the moon,’” Maezawa said, echoing President John F. Kennedy’s famous phrase.

Maezawa, 42, founded a mail-order retail business called Start Today in 1998, which spawned what’s now Japan’s largest fashion retail website, known as Zozotown. His net worth is estimated at more than $3 billion.

He’s made a name for himself as a musician and art collector as well as an entrepreneur. During tonight’s big reveal at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., Maezawa said he intended to organize an art project that could take up to a dozen artists and cultural leaders around the moon with him.

“We better get that flight right,” Musk said, dead-serious. “This is a dangerous mission. It’s definitely dangerous.”

Musk said Maezawa came to SpaceX to ask for the ride.

“He is, I think, the bravest person and the most willing to do so,” Musk said. “He stepped forward to do it. We’re honored that he chose us.”

Musk did note that Maezawa invited him to come along, and Maezawa nodded along. “I don’t know, all right, maybe we’ll both be on it,” Musk said.

Maezawa declined to say how much he was paying for the weeklong trip.

“But it’s going to be free for the artists, so that’s cool,” Musk added. He said Maezawa has already paid a significant deposit that “will have a material effect on paying for the cost of developing the BFR.”

Musk said that the cost of getting the BFR flying would be on the order of $5 billion — more than $2 billion, but less than $10 billion. He expected the cost to be covered by revenue from SpaceX’s launch business and from its Starlink satellite data venture. For what it’s worth, Musk’s net worth is currently estimated at $20.7 billion.

Tonight’s announcement  followed days of speculation over the identity of the first passenger — and months of chatter about the capabilities of the BFR, an acronym for “Big Falcon Rocket” in its G-rated interpretation.

Musk laid out his first design for the mammoth two-stage BFR in 2016 at the International Astronautical Congress in Mexico, and refined it for the 2017 IAC meeting in Australia. The BFR’s principal purpose is to carry settlers and their stuff to Mars, 100 passengers at a time.

Last year, Musk said the BFR could be used for trips to the moon and other celestial destinations, as well as for suborbital point-to-point trips on Earth.

Short-hop testing of the BFR’s second stage, nicknamed the Big Falcon Spaceship or BFS, could begin as early as next year at SpaceX’s test site in Texas. Those tests will take the form of progressively higher up-and-down flights at an earthly launch facility.

If all goes according to plan, spaceflights could start in the early 2020s. Maezawa is aiming to take his round-the-moon trip in 2023, accompanied by artists such as film directors, painters, fashion designers and musicians. However, Musk acknowledged that he was “definitely not sure” the project could meet the 2023 launch date.

“There are so many uncertainties. … It’s not 100 percent certain that we even get this to flight,” Musk said.

The latest version of Musk’s vision specifies an overall length of 118 meters (387 feet), with a 55-meter-long (180-foot-long) second-stage spaceship. In comparison, NASA’s Saturn V moon rocket stood 111 meters (364 feet) tall on its launch pad.

The design includes two fins near the front of the spaceship and three fin-shaped landing legs in the back. The front fins and two of the back fins would be steerable to guide the ship to an aerodynamic landing at the end of each space mission.

Both the second-stage spaceship and the first-stage booster would be reusable and refuelable.

Musk said the launch system would be capable of putting 100 metric tons in low Earth orbit, and the second stage could be refueled in orbit to send that payload onward to Mars or other destinations.

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell was quoted today as saying that the company had its “eyes on the prize” for an initial BFR flight to Mars in 2024, although she acknowledged that SpaceX’s timelines often slip to the right.

SpaceX said last year that it planned to send two private citizens around the moon in a Dragon crew capsule to be launched by a Falcon Heavy rocket. The company said the passengers paid a “significant deposit” for the trip but did not identify them.

In February, SpaceX launched the Falcon Heavy for the first time. However, Musk said that rocket would not be certified to carry people, which ruled out a round-the-moon trip on a Falcon Heavy. Instead, SpaceX shifted its future focus to the BFR. In response to a question, Musk seemed to indicate that Maezawa was one of the would-be passengers interested in the earlier plan. “It’s the same person,” he said.

Some have voiced concern that Musk’s focus on the BFR, as well as his involvement in other ventures such as Tesla, the Boring Company and Neuralink, would distract him from SpaceX’s main business.

But in a tweet sent out before tonight’s big reveal, Musk emphasized that the “top SpaceX priority” is to launch national security missions and to get the company’s Falcon 9 rockets and Crew Dragon capsules ready to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station. SpaceX’s crewed missions are currently scheduled to begin by the middle of next year.

Boeing is working in parallel to get its CST-100 Starliner capsule ready for crewed flights to and from the space station. Its timeline currently lags slightly behind SpaceX’s, but both timelines are still subject to change.

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg has said more than once that the first person to walk on Mars will get there on a Boeing-built rocket, in an apparent reference to NASA’s heavy-lift Space Launch System. When asked about Muilenburg’s claim tonight, Musk replied, “Game on … let’s do it.”

For more information about Maezawa’s mission, check out the Dear Moon website, the @dearmoonproject Twitter account, and the #DearMoon hashtag.

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TLDR: Are third-party sellers paying Amazon employees to delete negative reviews?

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Pivotal Commware raises millions more in investment for beamforming antennas

Pivotal Commware beams
An artist’s conception illustrates different applications for Pivotal Commware’s software-defined antenna system. (Pivotal Commware Illustration)

BELLEVUE, Wash. — Pivotal Commware, a venture that’s backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, is in the midst of a fresh funding round that could bring in $20 million or more for its effort to develop flat-panel antennas that boost wireless communications.

In documents filed today with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Bellevue-based startup said that four investors have put $14.75 million into a Series B equity funding round so far.

The filing says the offering amounts to $20 million, with $5.25 million yet to be sold. However, Pivotal Commware’s vice president of marketing and sales, Kent Lundgren, told GeekWire via email that the final amount of the round is yet to be determined.

Lundgren said participants in the round “will include existing investors and perhaps some new strategic investors,” but declined to go into further detail.

Pivotal raised $17 million just last year in a Series A round that included Gates as well as DIG InvestmentLux Capital, the family office of private equity investor Barry Sternlicht and The Thermo Companies, which is the corporate parent for the Globalstar satellite venture.

When that round was announced, Pivotal CEO Brian Deutsch said the company intended to ramp up its workforce from 20 to 40 employees, and LinkedIn listings indicate that’s what has happened.

Pivotal is one of four metamaterials-based ventures that have been spun out from Intellectual Ventures, a technology incubator that’s also based in Bellevue. The others are Kymeta, which focuses on flat-panel satellite antennas; Echodyne, which builds radar systems suited for drones and connected cars; and Evolv, which is working on security scanning applications.

Gates has invested in all four ventures.

In Pivotal’s case, metamaterials technology has opened the way for software-defined, “holographic beamforming” antenna systems that can focus signals on fixed or moving targets. That’s an advance on today’s standard wireless communications hardware, which typically sends signals in a wider, less efficient beam.

This year, Pivotal demonstrated a repeater system that can receive millimeter-wave signals and amplify them to boost 5G reception inside buildings.  The same technology could be used to “reflect” 5G signals around corners or into a cul-de-sac, allowing carriers to widen coverage without having to install more base stations.

“This way, service providers can further minimize costly base station deployment,” Pivotal Commware says in a product brochure.

The Echo 5G Beamformer could become commercially available in 2019 or 2020 as wireless carriers make the transition to 5G.

Another Pivotal application, known as Fasthaul, transmits signals over a high-speed wireless connection using millimeter-wave frequencies, as an alternative to fiber connections.

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Nintex founder launches firm to invest in golf-related startups, acquires indoor simulator maker

Overload Golf Ventures recently acquired aboutGolf, a develop of indoor golf simulators. (Photo via aboutGolf)

It started with a veteran tech executive trying to improve his golf game. Now Brett Campbell has turned his sports interest into a new venture firm.

Campbell, co-founder of workplace automation software vendor Nintex, is the executive chairman of Overload Golf Ventures, a new group based in Kirkland, Wash. that is seeking to make investments in tech-focused golf companies.

Campbell was taking golf lessons when he met Randall Henry, CEO of aboutGolf, a leading indoor golf simulator developer. They discussed how technology can be used to improve golf and get more people into the game. That eventually led to Campbell creating Overload and acquiring aboutGolf, with Henry joining him as a general partner at the firm.

Brett Campbell is chairman of Overload Golf Ventures. (Photo via Overload Golf Ventures)

Austin Fazio, Henry’s brother-in-law and son of famed golf course architect Tom Fazio, is also a general partner, as is Ken Kamada, a former finance executive at companies including Redapt, Zaarly, DoubleDutch, and Social Chorus.

Overload is raising $25 million from high net worth individuals, including golf course owners and other golf execs, for its first fund. It will put much of its focus on developing software that powers aboutGolf, which has 3,000 simulators installed inside homes and businesses around the world.

Overload also made a recent investment in Cycleboard, which makes an electric stand-up vehicle meant to replace golf carts. The group plans to back a few other companies and is developing beta applications with the PGA to make golf accessible to more players, Campbell said.

“Our goal is to grow golf and lead it to a better place,” he added.

In that vein, the firm is following a similar strategy to Topgolf, which now has 47 driving-range-meets-bowling-alley entertainment locations around the world with many more set to open. Technology is a key part of the Topgolf experience, from balls with RFID chips to its Protracer cameras. Topgolf raised $275 million in funding two years ago.

Investors see opportunity in golf-related businesses away from the traditional course and many which are enabled by new technology. The National Golf Foundation reported 8.3 million people who played at off-course facilities including Topgolf and indoor simulators built by companies such as aboutGolf in 2017.

Campbell helped launch Nintex in 2004. The software company was acquired by a private equity firm earlier this year. Campbell also runs another investment firm, Harvey Partners, which has backed Seattle-area startups including Fitcode and ABC Creators.

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I-5 stretch running through Pacific Northwest is the best route for self-driving trucks, INRIX study finds

An I-5 entrance in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo)

When we envision our self-driving future, cars with built-in entertainment systems buzz us to and from work, while flying Ubers drop off passengers nearby. But the reality of the first commercial autonomous vehicles to arrive on our streets will probably be less sci-fi, more practical.

Researchers at INRIX set out to discover which routes are most practical for commercial AVs — specifically freight trucks — in a new study released Monday. They analyzed trip data from the Kirkland, Wash. company’s traffic database between June to August of 2018. They wanted to find out which freight routes in the U.S. could see the biggest safety improvements from AVs and which would be the most commercially viable to the companies operating them.

(INRIX Image)

INRIX determined that the swath of Interstate 5 stretching from the Canadian to Californian borders is the best route for initial adoption of autonomous trucks in the U.S. Researchers compared 100-mile or longer freight routes, looking for roads with low congestion, high potential to reduce labor costs by eliminating drivers, and high numbers of accidents and incidents that could be reduced by self-driving trucks. The I-5 stretch running through Washington and Oregon scored the highest.

“Mobility data and analytics are more powerful when multiple layers – such as congestion, volume and incidents – are added into the equation,” said Avery Ash, INRIX’s head of autonomous mobility, in a statement. “Using data-driven insights will allow commercial truck operators and road authorities to proactively leverage [autonomous vehicles] to solve key mobility and business challenges.”

The findings lend credibility to an idea floated by Seattle-based Madrona Venture Group. For the past two years, the investment firm has published a report predicting that I-5, between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., will be used exclusively by autonomous vehicles by 2040.

Earlier this year, Seattle-area tech, transportation, and development companies created the ACES Northwest Network to ensure cars that are “automated, connected, electric and shared” are introduced into the region’s transportation system. Members include INRIX, Nvidia, Uber, Lyft, Amazon, Puget Sound Energy, and others.

Meanwhile, government officials and tech companies in the Pacific Northwest are studying the possibility of building a high-speed rail connecting Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, B.C.

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