Trump’s State of the Union Address is now a quasi-ethical online fundraiser

As President Donald Trump gears up to deliver his first State of the Union Address, it’s his campaign manager, not the President, that should be sweating. Trump has little to lose. He is who he is, and we’ve come to expect nothing less than a circus each time he’s behind a podium (or a mobile keyboard). It’s been a tumultuous year, but tonight offers an opportunity to right past wrongs, to take the stage, calm and collected, and deliver a speech that inspires confidence in a divided country. It’s a chance to prove his stable genius. Instead, the Trump campaign…

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Ford’s vision for driverless police cars offer zero chance to flirt your way out of a ticket

A patent from Ford revealed ideas for autonomous police cars which are capable of finding law-breakers, doling out tickets, and even waiting in hiding spots. The patent, filed in 2016 and spotted by Motor1 last week, details all the ways in which an autonomous police car could help catch law-breaking drivers. The language specifically proposes a future in which autonomous vehicles are more common, and what role police vehicles would play: While autonomous vehicles can and will be programmed to obey traffic laws, a human driver can override that programming to control and operate the vehicle at any time. When…

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You can’t spell without AI

When legendary performer attended the World Economic Forum in Davos last week it wasn’t to entertain anyone. He and his company,, are focused on two things: AI, and the future. In case you missed it, is a dedicated technologist. And as my colleague Matt Hughes pointed out last year, we’re not even joking a little bit. He’s quickly becoming one of the biggest names in AI. Again, not kidding. And it’s not for nothing either. He seems to know what he’s talking about, his intentions seem good, and his products work. He’s like Elon Musk, but only…

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Child welfare advocates protest Messenger Kids — can Facebook meet them halfway?

Facebook’s feet are being held to the fire again — this time, its being criticized by those hoping to protect children. Child advocacy group Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) today wrote an open letter to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg today in which they outlined their objections to Facebook’s child-centered app, Messenger Kids. The letter has been signed by more than 100 organizations and individuals. The CCFC wraps up the letter by asking Facebook to delete Messenger Kids, but let’s be realistic — Facebook’s not going to do that. The company is desperate to pull in the previously-untapped audience of under-13s…

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Bitcoin bleeds over news of US government subpoena

US regulators today subpoenaed one of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges as questions mount over a digital token called Tether. A popular substitute for US dollars on various crypto exchanges, Tether provided an easy way for investors to ride out storms in volatile markets without removing money from the marketplace and converting it back to fiat currency. Its value, however, was due to its reported ties to the US dollar with each Tether token (USDT) being worth exactly one dollar. As of last week that all changed. Bitfinex, Tether’s creator, severed ties with its auditing firm Friedman LLP, a company…

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Brouhaha builds over Bill Nye the Science Guy’s date for State of the Union Address

Bill Nye the Science Guy
Planetary Society Bill Nye flashes a Vulcan greeting during a 2014 visit to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Planetary Society Photo)

Bill Nye the Science Guy is going to the State of the Union Address, but as a guest of President Donald Trump’s choice for NASA administrator. And therein lies the rub.

The NASA nominee is U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., who became notorious as a climate policy opponent during the Obama administration. In 2013, for instance, Bridenstine called on President Barack Obama to apologize for spending so much money on climate research.

Bridenstine backtracked a bit last year during Senate hearings on his NASA nomination. He said he didn’t know whether climate change was being driven primarily by human activities, “but I do know that humans have absolutely contributed to global warming.”

Such statements may have helped smooth relations with Nye, who has spoken up long and loudly for climate science and measures to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. He explained why he accepted Bridenstine’s invitation to Capitol Hill on Monday in a Facebook posting:

Nye’s explanation didn’t go over well with some other science advocates, including a Colorado-based group called 500 Women Scientists.

“As scientists, we cannot stand by while Nye lends our community’s credibility to a man who would undermine the United States’ most prominent science agency,” the group wrote in a blog posting for Scientific American. “And we cannot stand by while Nye uses his public persona as a science entertainer to support an administration that is expressly xenophobic, homophobic, misogynistic, racist, ableist, and anti-science.”

500 Women Scientists didn’t stop with the State of the Union: They took Nye to task for debating creationists and climate deniers, on the grounds that such debates gave undue weight to his opponents’ views (and ended up boosting the coffers of anti-science campaigns).

The Planetary Society’s Casey Dreier volleyed back, saying that it’s important to acknowledge Bridenstine’s shift toward the mainstream on climate science.

“If pro-science activists want to see their policies succeed, by definition they will have to gain new supporters, and in so doing they will have to change people’s minds — and embrace it when it happens,” he wrote.

Bill Nye and Jim Bridenstine
Bill Nye and U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., face the cameras during a recent meeting to discuss space policy issues. (Jim Bridenstine Office Photo via Planetary Society)

Will the brouhaha bruise Bill Nye’s image, which was burnished during the Obama years by presidential selfies at the White House? Probably not much. Nye, who started out as a Boeing engineer and worked his way up as a TV personality on “Almost Live” in Seattle and on PBS’ children’s show, is secure in his Planetary Society gig as well as his hosting duties for “Bill Nye Saves the World” on Netflix.

But will Nye’s appearance shore up Bridenstine’s nomination, which has been languishing in the Senate for months? Probably not much. Climate policy really isn’t the sticking point, as evidenced by the fact that the Senate had no trouble confirming EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s nomination (even though he sued the agency many times as Oklahoma attorney general).

The sticking point is politics: On one level, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., has spoken against Bridenstine’s nomination on the grounds that NASA shouldn’t be led by a politician with a notably partisan history.

On another level, Bridenstine’s partisan history has come back to bite him: During the 2016 presidential campaign, the Oklahoman was a strong backer of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and said some unkind things about Florida Sen. Mario Rubio, one of Cruz’s GOP primary rivals.

It’s assumed that Bridenstine’s confirmation is on hold because he doesn’t have enough GOP senators on his side. “I know that at this point, they do not have the votes to pass him,” E&E News quoted Nelson as saying last week.

Rubio appears to be a big part of the reason. Although he hasn’t spoken out publicly against Bridenstine, he has joined with Nelson in voicing concern about politicizing the NASA nomination.

Sounds like it’s already too late for that.

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Red Hat snaps up CoreOS for $250M, adding a big piece to its container strategy

Alex Polvi, CEO, CoreOS
Alex Polvi, CEO, CoreOS (CoreOS Photo)

One of the more prominent startups on the cloud-native computing scene, San Francisco’s CoreOS, was acquired by Red Hat Tuesday for $250 million.

The deal will add the container-related work that CoreOS helped pioneer to Red Hat, which might be making more money off container services than the startups that helped bring containers to the masses. CoreOS has also contributed a fair amount to Kubernetes, and that expertise gives Red Hat another selling point for its array of products and services.

“There’s really no other company out there that is so like-minded in terms of the way we approach open-source software development, the way we approach delivering value to customers, and all of that,” said Alex Polvi, CoreOS co-founder and CEO, in an interview with GeekWire after the deal was announced.

CoreOS was founded in 2013 by Polvi and Brandon Philips, and developed its own container standards that quickly butted heads with Docker’s popular format. Containers are the next generation of virtual machines, allowing companies to extract more performance from their existing hardware or cloud services by packaging applications into lightweight containers that can be deployed across different machines or cloud services.

After everyone settled on a container format in 2015 that favored Docker’s approach, CoreOS seemed to lose some momentum but wound up as a big contributor to Kubernetes, the container-orchestration software open-sourced in 2015 that emerged as a de facto standard last year. Its Tectonic product was launched to service customers that need help working with the notoriously complex Kubernetes project, and some of its technology is instrumental in the push toward lighter-weight operating systems in enterprise computing.

An overview of CoreOS Tectonic. (CoreOS Image)

The company’s prospects, however, were looking a bit grim after Amazon Web Services launched its own managed Kubernetes service in November at re:Invent 2017. Tectonic offers a few more bells and whistles, but with all major cloud players now offering a managed Kubernetes service within their own walls, joining forces with a large enterprise sales team and huge installed base makes some sense.

And it also gives Polvi, an outspoken critic of the growing power that AWS has come to wield over enterprise tech, a bigger platform from which to promote open-source driven cloud portability.

“We’re at this precipice of Amazon getting too embedded and making too much money,” Polvi said in an interview with GeekWire last year. “You’ll see the open-source community build around it.”

For its part, Red Hat has turned a few decades of success in commercialized open-source support into one of the stronger container product lines in enterprise tech. The technology and products developed by CoreOS will fit into its OpenShift product line.

But a lot of Red Hat’s business still comes from products designed for the last era of enterprise computing, and in Polvi and Phillips, the company acquires two product-driven engineers very much born of the cloud-native era. That could pay off down the road.

The two companies are still evaluating exactly what the new product roadmap will look like, said Matt Hicks, senior vice president of engineering at Red Hat, but it sounds like OpenShift and Tectonic will meld into one product.

CoreOS had raised $50 million in funding from blue-chip Silicon Valley investors such as Google Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins, to name a few. It graduated from Y Combinator’s accelerator program in 2013, and I’m going to use this space to take a victory lap from picking a successful exit from the only YC Demo Day I ever went to.

Red Hat will also get a San Francisco office out of the deal, taking over the CoreOS space and adding a new space to its Silicon Valley presence already in Sunnyvale, Polvi said.

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Nearly 100 scholars and urbanists urge HQ2 cities to collectively reject Amazon’s call for incentives

Amazon selected these 20 cities to move onto the next phase of its HQ2 competition. (Amazon Image)

Some of the top minds in North America are expressing deep concern about Amazon’s solicitation of incentives from cities vying for its second headquarters.

Amazon listed government incentives as one of its preferences in a request for proposals for HQ2, a $5 billion second corporate headquarters for the Seattle-based tech giant that will employ up to 50,000.

A petition signed by 93 academics, urbanists, and policy experts — from Stanford to the Brookings Institution — calls on elected officials to band together and reject the request.

The petition was championed by Richard Florida, a professor and Director of Cities at the University of Toronto and CityLab’s editor at large. The petition says its signatories are ideologically diverse. Some are more conservative and amenable to incentives. Others are more liberal.

“But, we share a concern about the level of incentives and the looming competition between cities over incentives for Amazon’s new headquarters,” the petition says.

Amazon’s appetite for incentives has been controversial since the company released its RFP in September with critics labeling it “disgusting” and a “race to the bottom.” But some cities jumped at the opportunity to gain an edge in what has become perhaps the biggest economic development contest in modern U.S. history.

The signatories of today’s petition believe that is a mistake:

Tax giveaways and business location incentives offered by local governments are often wasteful and counterproductive, according to a broad body of research. Such incentives do not alter business location decisions as much as is often claimed, and are less important than more fundamental location factors. Worse, they divert funds that could be put to better use underwriting public services such as schools, housing programs, job training, and transportation, which are more effective ways to spur economic development.

Earlier this month, Amazon narrowed the field of 238 applicants down to 20 cities. Amazon will spend the next few months digging into each of the 20 proposals, requesting additional information from each city. The company will make its final decision sometime this year.

“This use of Amazon’s market power to extract incentives from local and state governments is rent-seeking and anticompetitive,” the petition says. “It is in the public interest to resist such behavior and not play into or enable it. We urge you the mayors, governors, and other elected officials, as well as economic developers and community leaders, of Amazon HQ2 finalist cities, to put an end to such an imprudent policy.”

Read the full letter accompanying the petition here.

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Amazon’s Alexa can now send SMS text messages to smartphones via voice command

Amazon’s Echo Spot, Echo, Echo Plus and Fire TV. (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop)

Amazon’s digital brain, Alexa, can already make calls and now she can send text messages too.

Users can now ask Alexa to send a message to a friend, and the virtual assistant will figure out the best avenue to do so, either through the previously released Alexa messaging program or an SMS text message to a smartphone (if that person doesn’t have an Alexa-powered device). So far, the service is only available for Android users.

To set up Alexa’s texting capabilities, open the Alexa app and select “contacts” within the conversations tab. Then select “my profile” and enable the message feature.

Previously, Alexa could only send messages to other Alexa-powered devices. The new texting capabilities come just a few months after Amazon introduced the Echo Connect, a $34.99 device that augments Alexa’s calling features and turns the Echo into a hands-free speakerphone, with the ability to make calls over landlines or voice over IP.

Though Amazon’s take on the smartphone failed to catch on, Alexa has taken on more phone-like capabilities such as calling and now texting. Some Alexa-powered devices, like the Echo Show, have the ability to do video calls as well.

Earlier this month, Amazon announced new voice control capabilities for its Alexa app on Android, bringing the experience closer to the interactions users have come to expect through the company’s lineup of smart speakers. Users can ask Alexa questions and access features like music, smart home, skills, news, weather, and more.

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How VCs think: Lessons for startup founders after our behind-the-scenes pitch day experience

Partners from Seven Peaks Ventures huddle after hearing pitches from startup founders in Seattle. (GeekWire photo/Taylor Soper)

Learn to tell your story; be confident but comfortable; and focus on a problem, not a solution.

These are a few tips for startup founders who want to raise investment dollars from venture capitalists, based on our experience inside the war room with Seven Peaks Ventures.

The Bend, Ore.-based venture firm held a private pitch event in Seattle last month and GeekWire got a behind-the-scenes look at how early-stage tech investors assess founders and their startups.

Founded in 2013, Seven Peaks raised its second fund this past summer with plans to invest in 20-to-25 startups across the West Coast. Its portfolio companies include Portland-based Opal, Bend-based Manzama, Seattle-based Amplero, and several others in places like Utah and Boulder.

Vendorhawk CEO Patrick Lowndes pitches to partners from Seven Peaks Ventures.

The firm, which recently opened a new Seattle office, met with six Seattle-area companies last month: Equinauts, Observa, Magic AI, Riveter, Genneve, and Vendorhawk. Part of the impetus for the event was to help Seven Peaks identify about potential investments, but also to provide feedback to entrepreneurs who are raising capital, whether or not the firm decides to invest in them.

“The problem is that founders get so little feedback and so much negative experience — what are they actually learning?” said Tony Abena, operating partner at Seven Peaks. He added: “We talk about opening up the black box a little more.”

Below are some key takeaways for startup founders who are pitching investors, based on my observations during the pitch sessions and the subsequent discussion between the partners.


Beyond revenue projections or a go-to-market strategy or the value proposition of your startup, founders need to know how to tell their story.

“It’s not a pitch,” said Abena. “It’s a rich story that has many parts to it.”

Abena recommends that founders start the pitch creation process by writing a 2-page story about their company and its future — after doing that, it will help you put together a better slidedeck.

Tom Gonser, partner at Seven Peaks and co-founder of Docusign, said founders should be prepared for when a laptop or projector malfunctions in front of investors and the presentation isn’t usable.

“They’ll say, ‘we only have 15 minutes, just tell us your story,’” Gonser said. “You need to be able to have a conversation about what you’re doing.”

It’s not just investors that want to hear a convincing and passionate story.

If I can’t tell my story, I can’t find a co-founder,” Parker said. “If I can’t find co-founder, I definitely can’t find investment or customers.”

A storytelling tip: Think about the headline or lede paragraph to your story if it appeared in The New York Times or GeekWire. This “working backward” approach is similar to what Amazon does with its product development process.

Problem > Solution

Founders should fall in love with the problem they are solving — at least more so than the solution they are pitching.

Matt Abrams, investing partner at Seven Peaks, used Steve Jobs introducing the iPhone an example. Jobs didn’t start his pitch by talking about the actual iPhone itself, but rather an existing problem that was easy to understand. He talked about the pain point of carrying around several clunky products like an MP3 player or PDA, and then showed what Apple was doing to fix the problem.

Investors don’t love it when they hear about “technology looking for a solution,” said Dino Vendetti, who founded Seven Peaks more than four years ago.

Abrams added that if founders “can’t define the problem simply to us, then how do they tell it to customers?”

Speaking of, Vendetti said founders should be “maniacally focused on their customers.” He added that customers are often the most valuable source of information for an investor.

“Where we try to improve our odds in a huge way is by investing in companies that have at least some visible evidence of product market fit so we can talk to customers,” Vendetti explained. “Their opinion matters more than anybody.”


Corey Schmid, investing partner at Seven Peaks, thinks about whether she’d like to work for a founder when he or she is pitching.

“Does that person motivate me and drive me?” she noted. “Do I want to hitch my wagon to them?”

Asking these questions help investors determine a CEO’s leadership potential. Beyond the numbers in a spreadsheet, investors are often placing a bet on someone’s intangibles. Vendetti said he likes founders that balance risk-taking with staying the course, while learning and adapting and pivoting as needed.

“Part of this is the drive of founders,” he added. “There will be super lonely days. You just have to be driven and tenacious to make it through that.”

Investors also pay attention to how an entrepreneur listens to feedback.

“I don’t have to like you, but are you willing to listen?” Parker noted.

Founders should also be confident in their idea — but not too confident. Investors appreciate the humility.

“The most credible founders are completely comfortable in admitting what they don’t know,” Vendetti said. “One of our founders, for example, is so secure in himself and confident, yet humble and real. He’s O.K. with saying he doesn’t know something. He talks about how the company will figure it out and what that can open up. That’s a leap of faith that as investors we are willing to take.”

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