Hori’s replacement Joy-Con fixes Nintendo Switch’s D-Pad, with some sacrifices

The Nintendo Switch may very well be one of the best consoles of all time, but one thing that’s not so neat is its lack of a proper D-Pad. Hori’s upcoming replacement Joy-Con fixes that problem. Unfortunately, it also takes away some of the Switch’s best features. The replacement Joy-Con looks just like the original one, except that it swaps the default directional buttons for a very traditional-looking D-Pad, and comes in a deep blue. The Switch opts for separate buttons instead of a D-Pad because you can detach the controllers and use each joy-con as a separate mini controller.…

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There’s an algorithm to simulate our brains. Too bad no computer can run it

Scientists just created an algorithm capable of performing a complete human brain simulation. Now we just have to wait for someone to build a computer powerful enough to run it. The team, comprised of researchers from Germany, Japan, Norway, and Sweden, recently published a white paper detailing the new algorithm, which connects virtual neurons with nodes. It’s designed to simulate the brain’s one billion connections between individual neurons and synapses. A human brain’s neuronal activity is incredibly complex and simulating it at a 1:1 ratio is impossible with current technology. Achieving just a 10 percent simulation rate maxes out the…

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The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is at least four times worse than scientists thought

Researchers at The Ocean Cleanup, a non-profit dedicated to ridding our seas of trash, today published the results of a three-year study to determine the size of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP). The largest accumulation zone of ocean garbage on the planet, it turns out, is much worse than anyone thought. The vast majority of the trash is microplastics derived from deteriorated pieces of larger plastic debris or health and beauty products that contain “micro beads.”  But the bulk of the GPGP’s mass comes from fishing nets and pieces of debris over 5cm. This has made determining its size…

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How the Cambridge Analytica scandal could harm data research efforts

The scandal that has erupted around Cambridge Analytica’s alleged harvesting of 50m Facebook profiles assembled from data provided by a UK-based academic and his company is a worrying development for legitimate researchers. Political data analytics company Cambridge Analytica – which is affiliated with Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL) – reportedly used Facebook data, after it was handed over by Aleksandr Kogan, a lecturer at the University of Cambridge’s department of psychology. Kogan, through his company Global Science Research (GSR) – separate from his university work – gleaned the data from a personality test app named “thisisyourdigitallife”. Roughly 270,000 US-based Facebook users…

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Review: Loupedeck cut my Lightroom editing time nearly in half

When people hire a photographer, they usually don’t realize how much work goes into the editing process. If I spend eight hours shooting a wedding, it will often take me eighty hours to edit the photos. Loupedeck, a hardware device that assigns physical controls to almost all of Lightroom’s editing functions, is designed to significantly reduce that editing time. Unlike most competing devices that work with multiple apps, such as the modular Palette, the Loupedeck only works with Lightroom. It’s supremely niche, and $260 is a lot of money to pay for such an inflexible device. But it’s that extreme niche that…

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From Earth’s depths to the stars, there’s good news for science in spending bill

U.S. Capitol
Congress is considering an omnibus spending bill. (USGS Photo / Toni Smith)

The $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill that’s under consideration in Congress preserves several of the scientific initiatives that the Trump administration wanted to kill, including a West Coast earthquake warning system and the WFIRST space telescope.

It may not be popular with Senate GOP conservatives such as Rand Paul, but the bill’s a hit with the likes of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“The scientific community is over the moon with the bipartisan omnibus bill in Congress that significantly increases funding for research and development,” AAAS CEO Rush Holt, a physicist who served in the House from 1999 to 2015, said in a statement.

AAAS’ analysis shows that total R&D spending would reach its highest point ever in inflation-adjusted dollars, amounting to $176.8 billion. Among the highlights:

  • Earthquake research: The White House wanted to zero out federal funding for the ShakeAlert program, which aims to provide precious seconds of advance notice that a seismic shock is coming. The omnibus spending bill would provide $12.9 million for continued development during the current fiscal year, which is a $2.7 million increase over the 2017 level of support. There’s also a one-time $10 million award to add more sensors to the West Coast seismic monitoring network.
  • Energy research: The White House wanted to kill ARPA-E, a DARPA-like energy innovation agency at the Energy Department that’s one of Bill Gates’ favorites. There was also a cloud over U.S. support for the international fusion research program known as ITER. The omnibus spending bill would save both programs. U.S. contributions to ITER would rise to $122 million, more than double the previous level. ITER’s construction effort is ramping up, with completion targeted for the mid-2020s.
  • NASA: The space agency would see its budget boosted by $1.1 billion to $20.7 billion. Earth science missions such as OCO-3, CLARREO-Pathfinder and DSCOVR would live on. So would NASA’s education program. Work could continue on WFIRST — the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, which astronomers rated as one of their top priorities for the next decade. Planetary science programs would get a 20 percent boost. The bill sets aside $595 million to send a probe and a lander to Europa, a Jovian moon that may harbor an ice-covered ocean and perhaps life.
  • Environment: The spending bill rejects the White House’s proposed $2.5 billion cut in the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget, and preserves the EPA’s core research missions at current levels.
  • Health research: Each institute within the National Institutes of Health would receive a roughly 5 percent increase over 2017 spending levels at a minimum. The bill also directs an additional $414 million for Alzheimer’s research, and an additional $500 million for opioids research. The Cancer Moonshot, BRAIN Initiative and Precision Medicine Initiative would receive the funding mandated by the 21st Century Cures Act, which was championed by Vice President Joe Biden at the end of the Obama administration.

The House approved the budget today, but Rand Paul has been holding up the bill’s march through the Senate because of its increased spending levels. President Donald Trump has to sign the approved bill by midnight Friday to avert a government shutdown.

The omnibus bill authorizes spending through the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30, but a fresh set of budget bills will have to be drawn up for the 2019 fiscal year. Which means yet another gauntlet looms for endangered science programs. But isn’t that always the way it is?

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TLDR: Microsoft’s big solar deal, Facebook’s privacy fallout, and Amazon’s patent for waving at drones

[Editor’s Note: TLDR is GeekWire’s daily news rundown, hosted by Starla Sampaco. Subscribe to GeekWire on YouTube to catch every episode, check back every weekday afternoon for more, and sign up for TLDR email updates below.]

Microsoft’s giant solar deal: Microsoft bought 315 megawatts from solar panels in Virginia. It’s part of a larger trend of major American companies turning to renewable energy.  Microsoft’s power will come from 750,000 solar panels spread across 2,000 acres. At least half of Microsoft’s data centers are now powered by clean energy — including wind and hydropower energy. Microsoft has several sources of clean energy, including wind farms in the Netherlands and solar rooftops across Singapore. A representative for the company says Microsoft now has “enough power to light up 100 million LED bulbs or send Marty McFly back to the future.


Facebook fallout: The Facebook data breach scandal continues to be a hot topic. Over the weekend, The New York Times and several British news outlets reported that Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm, illegitimately accessed data from 50 million Facebook users to help President Trump on the campaign trail. Cambridge Analytica has ties to former Trump advisor Steve Bannon. The goal was to leverage strategies from Cambridge University that claimed to predict personality traits and behavior through a process called “psychographic mapping.” This mapping helps campaigns target specific groups. 

Yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg broke his silence on the scandal. He said Facebook has already demanded that Cambridge Analytica delete information taken from Facebook and that the data firm has been banned from using any of Facebook’s services. GeekWire spoke to Ryan Calo, a University of Washington professor and expert on cyberlaw and privacy, who suggested a different business model, where the business isn’t built on selling data to marketers and instead people can pay to use Facebook.


Waving at drones: Lastly, this is probably the wackiest patent picture you’ve seen in a while … The U.S. Patent Office released this image of a man flailing his arms at a drone. The patent is for an unmanned aerial vehicle that could understand and react to human movements. The picture also includes an empty speech bubble coming from the man, who appears to be yelling at the drone, and we’ll let you use your imagination to guess what he might be saying. Amazon often files patents for futuristic ideas, like a patent for a blended-reality mirror that puts the user in virtual outfits.


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Starbucks wants your email address: Coffee giant tests new WiFi sign-up process at U.S. stores

Kevin Johnson, Starbucks chief executive officer, speaks at the Starbucks Annual Meeting of Shareholders at McCaw Hall in Seattle on Wednesday. (Photo via Lindsey Wasson/Starbucks)

Since rolling out free WiFi in its U.S. stores nearly eight years ago, Starbucks has asked customers to simply accept terms and conditions in order to connect to its public WiFi network — no other sign-in process required.

Now the coffee giant is testing a new WiFi login process in its U.S. stores, asking customers to provide their email address before connecting.

The business implications are significant: It’s a way for Starbucks to establish a personalized marketing channel with the 60 million U.S. customers who visit its stores each month, but aren’t part of the Starbucks Rewards program.

Starbucks says this would make the login process smoother for repeat customers, automating how they connect to the WiFi network when returning to any U.S. company-operated store (licensed stores are not part of this test).

However, asking for an email address could also alienate some customers in an era of ever-growing concerns about personal privacy. With WiFi access now commonplace at indie coffee shops and other Starbucks competitors, the move would be a calculated risk from the company.

“Once opting in for automated login, customers can expect to receive periodical email newsletters and offers from Starbucks – about 1 per week – sharing information about our stores, products and programs to enrich their Starbucks Experience,” a company spokesperson told GeekWire.

Roz Brewer, chief operating officer and group president for Starbucks, speaks at the company’s shareholders meeting Wednesday in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

Customers can unsubscribe from the email newsletters and still access WiFi, the company said.

Starbucks likes to bill its 28,000 worldwide stores as a “third place” — a location between home and work where customers can drink coffee, eat food, have meetings, do work, relax, and more. Those who use WiFi are likely staying inside the stores for longer periods of time than a typical customer, more likely to purchase additional items, and therefore making them more valuable to Starbucks over time.

“We have plenty of opportunity to form active relationships with millions of more customers,” said Roz Brewer, Starbucks chief operating officer and group president, at the company’s shareholders meeting Wednesday in Seattle.

Added Brewer: “We know how powerful digital engagement is as a driver of customer satisfaction and increased spend with Starbucks.”

The company says 75 million customers visit its stores every month. About 15 million of those are members of the Starbucks Rewards program, and the company has increasingly been using technology to personalize its interactions with them.

Asking for an email address is driven in large part by the company’s desire to have a digital relationship with the remaining 60 million customers.

Here’s how Scott Maw, the company’s chief financial officer, explained the strategy at the recent UBS Global Consumer and Retail Conference:

“So, if you want to use Wi-Fi in Starbucks, we’re going to make it easy for you. Enter your e-mail once, every time you walk into the store, it automatically connects to Wi-Fi, and you don’t have to accept the terms and conditions again. That allows you to have the convenience of connection. It allows us to have the ability to have those e-mail addresses. And so, across those ideas and others that we’re considering, we’ve said we’ll have several million non-Starbucks Rewards digital relationships by the end of this year. And if you think about that 60 million, I would expect that number to continue to grow at a relatively rapid clip over the next handful of years.”

Starbucks also plans to open up its mobile order-ahead app feature to anyone this year. The technology, previously only available to Starbucks Rewards members, lets customers order with their smartphone via Starbucks’ app and skip the line. Allowing anyone to access the mobile order-ahead feature, which accounted for 11 percent of transactions in the U.S. last quarter, is another way Starbucks can reach non-Rewards customers.

“We’re now working to expand our digitally-connected customer relationships well beyond their current state,” Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson said on Wednesday. “We want to reach millions and millions of more customers digitally.”

Brewer said the company expects to see double-digit growth with its rewards membership this year. More than 30 percent of all U.S. transactions are paid for with the mobile app.

At the shareholders meeting, Brewer also said that mobile payments within the fast food industry jumped 75 percent between 2016 and 2017. Companies like McDonald’s, Domino’s, Panera, and others are also investing heavily in mobile technology.

Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz and CEO Kevin Johnson at the shareholders meeting.

Starbucks is betting that more personalized deals and engagement with customers will help increase revenue.

“If we can get those customers into that personalization engine, we will drive comps,” Maw said at the conference. “It’s just a matter of getting the information and then tracking and building the capability to market to them.”

The company posted $6.1 billion in revenue last quarter, up 6 percent, but its stock price has remained flat over the past three years as growth has slowed.

Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz addressed the stock price at the shareholders meeting on Wednesday, reminding the 3,000-person crowd that the company’s market value has grown from $250 million in 1992 to $80 billion today.

“We are in this for the long term,” Schultz said. “We are building a great, enduring company. We’re trying to make long-term decisions.”

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Demand for Dropbox IPO reportedly pushes opening price to $21, above its initial projections

(Photo courtesy Flickr user nakashi / cc2.0)

The stock market had a rough Thursday, but Dropbox is looking ahead to Friday’s trading, when it will officially become a public company with an opening price higher than the company had forecast.

The magic number is $21, according to reports from CNBC and The Wall Street Journal. Early in the IPO process, Dropbox said it expected to list its shares on the Nasdaq between $16 and $18 a share, and later revised that range upwards to $18 to $20 a share.

At $21, Dropbox will raise around $700 million and carry a valuation of around $8 billion, which is still below the valuation it was awarded during its last private financing round but better than some had initially feared. The cloud file storage company is unprofitable, but still growing at a healthy rate, and it has plans to expand into other areas of the enterprise software market.

It might seem like a bad time to go public, given the stock market’s jittery nerves ahead of a huge vote on a federal spending bill and the illogical trade war that appears to be around the corner. But reports throughout the IPO process have suggested that Dropbox is seeing a lot of demand for its shares among institutional investors, and that might be enough to carry it against the tide of the overall market, at least for a while.

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What the f, indeed: Economist magazine cover perfectly captures the fall of Facebook

The Economist
(The Economist Image)

There’s been plenty of fallout in recent days due to the scandal enveloping Facebook, and the social media giant’s reaction to research firm Cambridge Analytica’s misuse of data tied to 50 million Facebook users.

The folks at The Economist, like many in the media, are doing a deep dive on what it all means for Facebook and the company’s reputation, and what the proper response should be inside and outside of the company.

The cover for this week’s edition of the magazine, bathed in Facebook blue, should leave Mark Zuckerberg and his cohorts seeing red. It’s a perfect and simple design play relying on language, typography and corporate branding.

“Epic ail,” the cover reads, with a tumbling Facebook “f” — from the word fail — falling to the bottom of the cover.

That f is known to billions of people around the world, who rely on Facebook to connect, entertain and inform them.

Coming across the lips of those in power at the tech giant of late — and those watching billions get erased from the company’s market value — the f is most likely in front of words other than fail.

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