There’s now an ad metric that measures how long you stare at stuff in AR/VR

As further proof that technology is the worst, and that the future is on a one-way path to hell, the European VR industry has now officially backed a metric that tracks how long you stare at ads. Dubbed the “Gaze-At-Ratio,” (GAR) the algorithm determines the value of a user’s gaze in relation to a digital ad by factoring distance, duration, and depth of a user’s gaze as the object (advertisement) enters and exits their field of vision. First suggested by EUVR — a European non-profit dedicated to the VR industry — GAR was part of a broader measure to ensure…

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Why personalization is the key to long-term health

In the nearly two decades since we entered into the new millennium, there have been a wide variety of factors that have contributed to an increased demand for personalization in healthcare. In 2003, the Human Genome Project successfully unlocked the complete blueprint for human genetics, unleashing a surge of medical research and technology that sought to explore how understanding the individual patient’s genetic code could influence treatment strategy and improve patient outcomes. Sweeping healthcare policy reform during the Obama administration ignited a heightened awareness of healthcare spending and cost, and with premiums, benefits, and deductibles fluctuating dramatically, patients turned more…

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YouTube copying Snapchat Stories actually makes sense, for once

Just when you thought everyone was done copying Snapchat, another big tech company enters the clone club: YouTube. But for once I actually think it makes complete sense. YouTube’s approach is called ‘Reels’, and the company outright admits it’s its own spin on the stories format in an announcement blog post. The feature was introduced along with the expansion of the Community tab, a section of YouTube to help creators interact with audiences. While the tab was originally limited to a few creators, now it’s rolling out to everyone with 10k subscribers or more. Reels will be part of the…

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Or just read more coverage about: YouTube,Snapchat

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Bitcoin exchanges crash day after US demands cryptocurrency transaction info

Cryptocurrency exchanges are crashing, Bitcoin is fluctuating like an electrocardiogram hooked up to someone at a pie-eating contest, and the US government is turning its eye on big ticket Bitcoin transactions. It’s a crappy day to be a crypto enthusiast. Coinbase and Gemini, two of the world’s most popular cryptocurrency exchanges, are both having a difficult time completing transactions over the last few hours. Reports indicate most users are unable to even log in. If that weren’t bad enough, Coinbase may also be getting demands from US courts to turn over transaction documents. Is this what it looks like when…

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Or just read more coverage about: Bitcoin

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American Airlines computer glitch might force customers into Christmas staycations

Hundreds of American Airlines customers today discovered they might have to stay home for the holidays, thanks to an error in American Airlines’ computer system. According to Bloomberg, the glitch showed that some flights had a surplus of staff when they didn’t. As a result, the airline gave too many pilots the holiday season off, leaving up to 15,000 flights between December 17-31 critically understaffed. An American Airlines spokesperson told Bloomberg the company has corrected the error which led to the scheduling problem. The company is now offering 150 percent hourly wage to pilots who agree to work during the…

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Report: Amazon to unveil ‘Alexa for Business,’ expanding voice assistant into workplace

Amazon CTO Werner Vogels will deliver the Thursday keynote at AWS re:Invent. (GeekWire File Photo)

Amazon is preparing to bring its Alexa voice-based assistant into the workplace, according to a report by CNBC this afternoon.

The news could be announced as early as Thursday at Amazon Web Services’ re:Invent conference in Las Vegas. CNBC cites four unnamed sources in its report and says several Alexa sessions at the event, the names of which have been kept under wraps, will focus on Alexa’s features and skills for workers and businesses, including how to build a smart conference room with Alexa.

Microsoft and Amazon announced plans this year to connect Alexa with the Redmond company’s Cortana voice-based assistant, but a move by Alexa into the workplace and productivity applications would put the two virtual assistants in more direct competition.

Alexa has so far been targeted to the home, through Amazon’s Echo devices and a growing array of third-party hardware. Companies including Bellevue, Wash.-based Acumatica have experimented with Alexa in enterprise settings, running into stumbling blocks including a lack of user authentication to identify who is speaking and grant access based on their permissions.

Amazon highlighted Acumatica’s warehouse demonstration in April with this caveat at the time: “While Alexa isn’t yet intended for the enterprise, we are always thrilled to see the Alexa developer community experimenting and pushing boundaries.”

Now it appears that’s changing. Stay tuned for continuing coverage from AWS re:Invent on GeekWire.

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Watch: Dustin from ‘Stranger Things’ sings in a band that covers Pearl Jam

Gaten Matarazzo
Gaten Matarazzo of “Stranger Things.” (Instagram Photo)

Eddie Vedder survived the world of grunge, but if he disappears in the “upside down” will Dustin even try to rescue the Pearl Jam frontman?

Gaten Matarazzo, who plays one of the lovable kids on the Netflix supernatural hit “Stranger Things,” is also a member of a New Jersey band called Work In Progress.

A post on Uproxx alerted us to the 15-year-old actor’s singing chops along with a blurry Instagram video posted on the band’s feed a few days ago. It shows Matarazzo and company taking a run at “Porch,” a track on Pearl Jam’s 1991 album “Ten.”


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Comcast subscribers lose ability to set DVR recordings via Xfinity Remote app after cable giant loses patent fight with TiVo

Comcast app
A Comcast subscriber in Seattle who tried to record a college basketball game via his Xfinity TV Remote app learned that that capability had been shut off. (Twitter Photo / @JoshEdits)

Comcast subscribers who relied on their mobile Xfinity TV Remote app to set a DVR recording while away from home are going to want to stay a little closer to the television. The company removed that capability from the app on Wednesday following a patent ruling by the International Trade Commission.

Comcast customer Josh Belzman of Seattle spotted the issue on Wednesday morning after he got a prompt on his phone while using the app to try to set a recording at home for an upcoming Gonzaga University basketball game.

“This feature is no longer available,” said the alert on his iPhone.

Belzman tweeted at @XFINITY, asking if the DVR scheduling feature had been removed. The official Xfinity support account @ComcastCares tweeted back at Belzman, saying that the functionality had indeed been taken off apps.

“If you’re away from your DVR box and cannot schedule a recording and miss a show, check to see if it’s available on XFINITY On Demand!” @ComcastCares wrote. “We apologize for the inconvenience.”

The move results from Comcast being on the losing end of a patent fight last week with Rovi Corp. — or TiVo, as the DVR pioneer is known. According to Reuters, the ITC ruling prohibits Comcast from importing and selling certain types of Rovi’s Xfinity X1 set-top boxes.

“We respectfully disagree with the ITC’s decision in this matter,” Comcast said in a statement to GeekWire. “In fact, Rovi has never disputed that Comcast or its predecessors independently developed our X1 platform and our cloud- and app-based technology. While we believe the ITC reached the wrong decision, we will remove this feature from those offered to our subscribers while we pursue an appeal.”

The Comcast app description and the Xfinity support website had not been updated as of Wednesday afternoon and still guided users on how to set up a recording through the TV Remote app.

Xfinity support
( screen grab)

Even though Comcast didn’t deliberately set out to make their app less useful, it’s still a bummer for Belzman, especially as college hoops season gets going and he forgets to set a recording or is running late and might miss the start of a game.

“Being able to schedule a recording from anywhere was a neat trick and was pretty much the only thing I used the app for,” Belzman told GeekWire. “Sometimes I used it if I read a good review of a show or a friend mentioned something they’d watched — I could just get out my phone, search for the show and schedule a recording right then and there.”

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Scientists program semi-synthetic bacteria to create an ‘alien’ protein that glows green

Glowing E. coli bacteria
Bacteria express a green fluorescent protein that’s produced from DNA instructions with unnatural chemical “letters” added. (Scripps Research Institute Photo / Bill Klosses)

Researchers have reached a new milestone in their effort to expand the genetic alphabet of life by designing a strain of E. coli bacteria that creates proteins unlike anything cells can produce naturally.

The technique, detailed in a paper published today in the journal Nature, could lead to the production of totally new types of protein-based medicines, plastics and biofuels.

It could also stretch the definition of natural vs. artificial life.

“I would not call this a new lifeform — but it’s the closest thing anyone has ever made,” study leader Floyd Romesberg, a biochemist at the Scripps Research Institute, said in a news release. “This is the first time ever a cell has translated a protein using something other than G, C, A or T.”

Those four letters stand for guanine, cytosine, adenine and thymine, chemicals that serve as the alphabet for the coded instructions in DNA molecules. The instructions are used to produce all the amino acids and proteins that cells require for life’s processes.

Three years ago, Romesberg and his colleagues successfully inserted two other chemicals, dubbed X and Y, into DNA molecules. Since then, the researchers have developed ways for bacteria to store the augmented DNA and pass it along as they reproduced.

In their newly published paper, the team reports that the six-letter DNA coding could be transcribed into RNA molecules, and then translated into amino acids and proteins that don’t occur naturally.

The technique was used to customize a set of genetic instructions for manufacturing a variant of green fluorescent protein, or GFP, that incorporated unnatural amino acids. When E. coli bacteria were genetically engineered to include those instructions, the organisms produced the protein, which glowed bright green under ultraviolet light. That signaled that the bacteria could make use of the “alien” DNA.

“This was the smallest possible change we could make to the way life works — but it is the first ever,” Romesberg said.

The study also demonstrated that life’s molecular machinery could make use of linkages other than the hydrogen bonds that bind G, C, A and T. The X and Y bases were designed to avoid hydrogen bonds, to make sure they didn’t get mixed up with the other molecular letters.

That has implications in the search for “weird life” beyond the earthly variety we all know and love.

“It’s very hard to ask questions about the origins of life. It’s hard to ask questions about why we are the way we are, why we are built the way we are, because we have nothing out there to compare ourselves to,” Romesberg said. “We’ve now given the field a comparison. It’s a small step, but it’s the first successful step.”

He and his colleagues emphasized that the semi-synthetic organisms couldn’t live or reproduce outside the lab, because the chemicals required for producing the X and Y bases had to be provided externally.

Romesberg is among the founders of a biotech venture called Synthorx, which is developing protein therapeutics that make use of X and Y.

In addition to Romesberg, the authors of the Nature paper, titled “A Semi-Synthetic Organism That Stores and Retrieves Increased Genetic Information,” include Yorke Zhang, Jerod Ptacin, Emil Fischer, Hans Aerni, Carolina Caffaro, Kristine San Jose, Aaron Feldman and Court Turner.

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Kentucky Derby operator Churchill Downs selling Big Fish Games for $990M, just two years after initial purchase

Churchill Downs bought Big Fish for $885 million in 2014; now it is selling the company for $990 million. (GeekWire Illustration; Photo by Jeff Kubina, via Flickr)

Just two years after acquiring Big Fish Games, Churchill Downs Inc. is selling its mobile gaming subsidiary to Australia-based Aristocrat Technologies for $990 million.

Churchill Downs announced on Wednesday that it will sell Seattle-based Big Fish to Aristocrat Technologies, a subsidiary of Aristocrat Leisure Limited, a publicly-traded gaming company that operates in 90 countries and employs more than 5,000 employees. The deal has been approved by the Churchill Downs board and is expected to close in the first quarter next year.

Churchill Downs is a publicly-traded company that operates the famous Churchill Downs horse racetrack in Louisville, home to the legendary Kentucky Derby. It also owns six casinos, a video poker business, an online wagering business, and a bevy of other holdings.

The company acquired Big Fish in 2014 for $885 million — so about $100 million less than what Aristocrat agreed to pay three years later.

“Big Fish is a very successful business with a bright future that will be best realized by being part of Aristocrat’s strategy and vision for their online and mobile gaming portfolio,” Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen said in a statement. “We thank our team members at Big Fish for their outstanding efforts over the three years since CDI acquired Big Fish. We will refocus our strategy on our core assets and capabilities including growing the Kentucky Derby, expanding the casino segment, and other forms of real money gaming, and maximizing our thoroughbred racing operations.”

We’ve reached out to Big Fish for more details about the future of its Seattle-based office and employees, and will update this story when we hear back. The company employs 700 people; more than 500 employees are based in Seattle, according to LinkedIn, where it will relocate from its current waterfront home to a larger new headquarters in downtown Seattle next year. There are 24 open positions on its career site.

In a press release, Aristocrat said Big Fish will continue to operate as a standalone business. In its investor presentation for the acquisition, the company noted that Big Fish reported $458 million in annual revenue for the 12 months ending Sept. 30, up $337 million in 2014 — annual profits were up from $57 million in 2014 to $83 million this year.

Aristocrat operates a Buffalo Grand video slot game. (Photo via Aristocrat)

Big Fish also has 12.4 million monthly active users and 3.5 daily active users, up from 5.1 million and 1.1 million in 2014, respectively.

In its most recent earnings report on Nov. 1, Churchill Downs noted that revenue from Big Fish declined $4.4 million from last year, while adjusted earnings fell by $10.2 million.

Aristocrat said the deal will establish the company as the No. 2 social casino publisher globally. The global social gaming market is expected to reach $19 billion by 2022, up from $8 billion in 2016, according to Research and Markets.

“Big Fish’s digital-first social casino content and industry-leading meta-game capability and applications are highly complementary to Aristocrat’s existing and industry-leading land based digital content business,” Aristocrat CEO Trevor Croker said in a statement. “The acquisition of Big Fish will also materially expand our social gaming footprint, positioning Aristocrat to further capitalise on growth in mobile gaming following the acquisition of Plarium. Big Fish’s strength in casual and card games is highly complementary to Plarium’s strategy games portfolio.”

Big Fish was founded in 2002 by Paul Thelen, a former RealNetworks employee who holds an MBA from Stanford and an electrical engineering degree from the University of Washington.

The company raised $83 million from Balderton Capital in 2008, and it had been discussed for years as a possible IPO candidate.

By 2011, the privately-held company reported $180 million in revenue and had about 700 employees. Thelen resumed the CEO post in 2012attempting to launch the company’s streaming gaming efforts. However, by 2013, Big Fish had pulled the plug on the cloud games business and announced a number of layoffs, including the closure of facilities in Ireland and Canada.

The company never produced a massive hit in the mobile or social gaming realm, passed by companies such as Zynga (with Farmville) and Rovio (with Angry Birds). Even so, Churchill Downs decided to pay $885 million for the company in 2014.

Big Fish, which has additional offices in Oakland and Luxembourg, currently offers more than 450 mobile games and 3,500 PC and Mac games. Big Fish Casino is one of the top grossing mobile casino games. The company describes itself as “the world’s largest producer and distributor of casual games.”

Aristocrat, meanwhile, does have some recent Seattle-area connections. This past September, it announced a partnership with Tulalip Tribe of Washington that will enable the company to bring its games in the state.

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