Supreme Court rules cops need a warrant to get phone location data

In a colossal victory for privacy advocates, the Supreme Court ruled today in favor of requiring law enforcement to have a warrant before accessing mobile phone location data from telecom providers. The decision today was actually a reversal of a previous ruling from two lower courts. In a string of Radio Shack robberies, courts convicted Timothy Carpenter of the crime based on evidence obtained from is cellular provider. Investigators managed to secure 12,898 location points that helped to track Carpenter over 127 days, putting him near four of the robbery locations. All of the data was obtained from the cellular…

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Build your own Tesla? Elon Musk teases interactive factory tours

Tesla’s recent layoffs were said to be a cost-cutting measure. Is allowing people to build their own Tesla another one? Was thinking of offering an extended Tesla factory tour option where you could help build part of a car & understand how they come together. I know it would have been super fun for me when I was a kid (or now). — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 22, 2018 It’s dark times for Tesla. Much to the chagrin of Musk the company has been treated entirely fairly by the majority of the media. That is, to say, it’s been ripped…

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Apple announces new warranty program for faulty MacBook and MacBook Pro keyboards

Apple today officially acknowledged the existence of faulty keyboards in its most recent MacBook and MacBook Pro laptops. The problem, caused by a faulty butterfly key switch mechanism, caused many of the laptops’ owners to experience keys that stuck, or failed to function as intended. Today, Apple not only acknowledged it was an issue — after months of pretending it wasn’t — but offered a new extended service program to fix affected machines. According to Apple’s service page, the program covers the following issues: Letters or characters repeat unexpectedly Letters or Characters do not appear Key(s) feel “sticky” or do…

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Tesla factory becomes literal dumpster fire after recycling machinery goes up in flames

A machine used to recycle paper caught fire at Tesla’s Fremont, California, campus last night. It was just the latest in a series of unfortunate events for the beleaguered company. In recent months, Tesla has faced criticism for mass layoffs, the erratic behavior of its CEO, Elon Musk, and its inability to hit self-imposed production targets. Analysts believe that due to its current struggles, the company could be in trouble without a capital injection by the end of the year — something Musk says the company has no plans to pursue. But yesterday, Tesla went from a figurative dumpster fire…

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Facebook confirms it’s working on a feature to curb your social media addiction

Facebook wants to help you spend less time on Facebook. Yes, you read that right. The discovery comes courtesy of developer Jane Manchun Wong. She found code in Facebook’s Android app for a feature called “Your Time on Facebook,” as first reported by TechCrunch. Facebook has since confirmed the feature is in active development, saying “We’re always working on new ways to help make sure people’s time on Facebook is well spent.” Facebook is working on “Your Time on Facebook” which could help users to manage their time spent on Facebook app. Instagram is also working on helping users to improve their digital…

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Amazon hit with lawsuit by SXSW venue, alleging tech giant strong-armed return of rental payment

Native Hostel in Austin. ( Photo)

A trendy events venue in Austin is suing Amazon after the tech giant canceled plans to hold an event at the facility during the South by Southwest music and tech festival.

Native Hostel alleges Amazon “collaborated” with Wells Fargo, to claim it had transmitted its deposit in error to get a refund on an initial payment, violating the agreement it signed when it booked the venue.

The suit, filed in Texas last month, but moved to U.S. District Court in Seattle this week, claims Native got to keep all prior payments Amazon made if the tech giant canceled. Amazon made two payments — the second of $132,500 — before canceling its rental in December 2017. Amazon asked Native to return that payment, and Native said no.

“Amazon then collaborated with its bank, Wells Fargo, to effect the transmission of a fax, to PlainsCapital stating: ‘We have been notified that the following ACH transfer was sent to you in error. Please consider this letter as your authorization to return the item(s) to us,’” according to the suit.

Native — which describes itself as an “experiential hostel” that includes sleeping rooms and beds, an event space and kitchen and bar — doesn’t go into detail in the suit about how exactly Amazon “collaborated” with Wells Fargo, one of the largest U.S. banks.

PlainsCapital, a Dallas-based bank, returned the payment after receiving the notice, according to the suit. Native is seeking damages between $100,000 and $200,000.

Amazon responded to Native’s claims earlier this month, arguing that parts of the agreement are unenforceable or ambiguous. Amazon also claims it had no involvement in the back and forth between the banks that led to the return of the payment.

Amazon did not immediately return a request for comment. The tech giant is seeking “that Plaintiff take nothing in this lawsuit.”

Here’s the full lawsuit from Native and Amazon’s response:

Native v. Amazon and Wells Fargo by Nat Levy on Scribd

Amazon response by Nat Levy on Scribd

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Biotech company Omeros and former exec battling in court over non-compete deal and bonuses

The Omeros Building on the Seattle Waterfront. (BioMed Realty Trust Photo)

Omeros, one of Seattle’s biggest biotech companies, is in the midst of a contentious legal battle with its former chief business and commercial officer, whom the company alleges violated his non-compete agreement when he left for a Boston-area company that is developing a potentially competing drug.

The company sued Leonard Blum last month, aiming to block the executive from working at EyePoint Pharmaceuticals in Watertown, Mass. This week, Blum fired back with a counter-claim, alleging the company never paid annual bonuses he claimed to have earned while working at Omeros.

Omeros alleges in its lawsuit that DEXYCU, a therapy EyePoint is developing that replaces eye drops meant to treat inflammation associated with cataract surgery, is competitive with Omeros’ only commercial drug, OMIDRIA.

During Blum’s resignation, Omeros alleges, he said he would not be able to abide by the terms of his non-compete. The company worries that Blum will try to peel off its customers, recruit employees to work at EyePoint and divulge confidential information, all things Omeros claims would violate his non-compete.

“During his resignation, Blum indicated that he would not directly solicit Omeros employees for one year, but later explicitly reserved the possibility of hiring Omeros’ employees and did not otherwise commit that he would not induce, recruit or encourage Omeros’ commercial employees or consultants to terminate their relationship with Omeros. Because he denies that the OMIDRIA and DEXYCU products are competitive, Blum also did not commit to abide by his obligation to not solicit any licensor, customer or licensee of Omeros.”

Blum joined Omeros in May 2016, and left two years later. He has more than 30 years of executive and management experience in the pharmaceutical industry, working at companies like Theravance and Merck & Co, and he founded his own company that later sold to Eli Lilly and Co.

In his counterclaim, Blum said his offer letter included possible 25 percent annual incentive bonus and up to a $150,000 sales bonus. Blum claims he met the criteria for the annual bonus program, and the company never set targets for the sales bonus.

Blum went on to allege that Omeros has a history of withholding bonuses and omitted that during recruitment, which he claims consitutes fraud.

“During the recruitment process leading up to the time that the counter-plaintiff executed the offer letter, no one from Omeros told him that Omeros had a history of holding bonus payments beyond a reasonable period based on commercial practice — in some instances, multiple years.”

Omeros and Blum did not return requests for comment.

At the time Blum joined Omeros CEO Gregory Demopulos said in a statement that: “Leonard brings valuable experience and a proven track record in leading commercial organizations and driving sales – all of which we expect will be assets to Omeros as we continue to accelerate our OMIDRIA revenue growth. We also expect that Leonard will add significant value in the strategic partnering of one or more of our development programs.”

When he joined the company, Blum signed Omeros’ Proprietary Information and Inventions Agreement, which included non-compete provisions. It is written into Blum’s non-compete agreement that violations entitle the company to seek “extraordinary relief” in court, including restraining orders and injunctions.

“Monetary damages are insufficient to remedy Defendant’s wrongful conduct because, unless Defendant’s employment with EyePoint is enjoined, Defendant will utilize and misappropriate Omeros’ proprietary information, solicit employees or consultants of Omeros, and/or unlawfully compete, all in violation of the provisions of the PIIA.”

Blum is seeking damages for alleged breach of contract and withholding of bonuses and wages.

Non-compete clauses have become a hot topic in the tech industry, with proponents claiming they are necessary to protect valuable trade secrets and critics arguing they hinder worker mobility and startup activity. Washington state, which has seen a couple of recent high profile non-compete lawsuits, has attempted several times in recent years to pass a law banning non-competes, though those efforts have come up short.

Here is the full lawsuit and Blum’s counter-claim:

Omeros v. Blum by Nat Levy on Scribd

Blum counter-claim by Nat Levy on Scribd

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Geek of the Week: There’s no escaping it — Puzzle Break’s Nate Martin created his dream startup

Nate Martin
Nate Martin, co-founder and CEO of Seattle-based Puzzle Break. (Photo courtesy of Nate Martin)

Nate Martin can’t escape his work. And he’s never been happier about it.

As the co-founder and CEO of Puzzle Break, Martin is leading a revolution at America’s very first escape room company. For the uninitiated, escape rooms are an in-person, interactive way for groups to solve puzzles and use teamwork to find their way out of a locked room in one hour.

Martin, GeekWire’s new Geek of the Week, started the company in 2013 with a $7,000 investment, and five years later he says the landscape for such companies has changed dramatically.

“I graduated from the DigiPen Institute of Technology with a Computer Science degree with a focus on Real-Time Interactive Simulation, which was just about the first legitimate video game programming degree in the world,” he said. “I later worked at Microsoft and Electronic Arts in a variety of roles (it turned out I wasn’t the world’s greatest programmer) and projects before taking the leap that would kickstart an entertainment revolution!”

Learn more about our latest Geek of the Week, Nate Martin:

What do you do, and why do you do it? “I make pure, raw, uncut fun. Puzzle Break’s primary mission is to create the maximum amount of fun for the maximum amount of people, full stop. We make escape rooms, puzzle hunts, brain teasers, huge team events, and everything in between. We have locations across the country and on Royal Caribbean International cruise ships across the world! Overseeing all our projects and growth lets me directly engage with our players and enjoy the hell out of them enjoying the hell out of Puzzle Break. It’s a rush that cannot be fully described.

Additionally, I give many talks and interviews on entrepreneurship, business, games, design, and all things escape rooms. Last year an interviewer called me the “Founding Father of Escape Rooms” and I’ve been sure to drop that in every conversation I can ever since.

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? We famously started Puzzle Break from an out-of-pocket investment of $7,000. It’s a great success story and we’re very proud. BUT, the Escape Room landscape is very different five years later. Long gone are the days where folks could design a game, build it from thrift store materials on a shoe-string budget (which, for the record, is exactly what we did), and compete in the marketplace. In order to run a successful escape room operation in 2018 and beyond, you need to have serious capital or find a niche. Also, I’d like to take this opportunity to speak to all the escape room players out there: 1. We love you; Thanks so much for letting us live our dreams. 2. We humbly request you minimize the hulk strength inside our games.

Where do you find your inspiration? Video games! There’s a rich history going back decades of unsung puzzle and adventure games that shaped our childhoods. Every experience we make is an homage to the Mysts, the Grim Fandangos, the Legends of Kyrandia out there.

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? My treadmill desk! My lifestyle isn’t nearly as physically active as it should be, and spending a few hours every day working, watching TV, World of Warcraft (you name it!) on the treadmill desk has done wonders over the years.

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? Same answer! While active on the treadmill desk, I cannot operate with fewer than three screens at once: two for productivity, and one for background entertainment.

Nate Martin’s treadmill desk set-up . (Photo courtesy of Nate Martin)

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) I’ve cheated. I made my everyday life of puzzles and games the very work I do. It’s not feasible for everyone, but I’m having a great time.

Mac, Windows or Linux? Windows has all the games, and I used to work on the Windows team!

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? Picard and it ain’t close.

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? I feel like a Time Machine could be exploited to obtain the other two and everything else I could ever hope to want.

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … Give it back to them and tell them to find someone who hasn’t already launched the startup of their dreams.

I once waited in line for … Warcraft 3. There was a midnight launch on July 3, 2002, and I had a math final the very next day. A final for which I was extremely unprepared. I chose to get in line about 2 p.m. and was the only person in line for several hours. I used the time to study, got the very first copy of Warcraft 3, and got a commanding A- on my math final. I remain very proud to this day.

Your role models: I stand in continual awe of Bill Gates, who changed the world of technology and business in innumerable ways. Then he immediately turns around and brings the full force of his time and resources to making the world a better place. The world could use a few more Bill Gates.

Greatest game in history: Final Fantasy VI.

Best gadget ever: As a society, I think we take laptops for granted. Imagine for a minute what society would be like if we had never been able to successfully shrink the personal computer.

First computer: 33 MHz Intel 386.

Current phone: Android, though I make sure to always have an iPad so I have access to all platform exclusive games.

Favorite app: Netflix.

Favorite cause: In the general case, education. To my mind, there isn’t an aspect of life anywhere that can’t be improved with better education.

Most important technology of 2018: Augmented reality.

Most important technology of 2020: Self-driving automobiles.

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: Make something! Now! You don’t need to wait for that degree, or that funding, or that job. Just sit down and make something today and go from there.

Website: Puzzle Break

Twitter: @GuyFromTomorrow

LinkedIn: Nate Martin

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University of Washington lecturer’s essay on ‘Why Women Don’t Code’ stirs controversy

UW Computer Science principal lecturer Stuart Reges. (UW Photo)

A University of Washington lecturer is sparking new debate with an essay claiming that the technology industry is about as close to gender parity as it will ever get because of fundamental differences between men and women, joining the controversial school of thought thrust into the public eye by former Google engineer James Damore.

Earlier this week, Stuart Reges, a principal lecturer at the UW’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science in Seattle, published a lengthy essay defending his perspective titled “Why Women Don’t Code,” on Quillette. He asserts that women are underrepresented in computer science because of personal preferences and choices, rather than systemic forces that exclude them. Reges argues that diversity initiatives should be focused on equal access to opportunity, rather than equal outcomes.

“I believe that women are less likely than men to want to major in computer science and less likely to pursue a career as a software engineer and that this difference between men and women accounts for most of the gender gap we see in computer science degree programs and in Silicon Valley companies,” he writes.

In an interview with GeekWire, Reges elaborated.

“Don’t attribute to oppression that which can be explained by free choice,” he said. “People talk about the problem in tech, that there’s not enough women in tech and they assume that it’s because of oppression. I don’t believe that. I believe that choice is more significant in explaining what’s going on.”

Leilani Battle, a postdoctoral researcher in the UW’s Allen School. (UW Photo)

Leilani Battle, a postdoctoral researcher in the Allen School, disagrees. “As a black woman scientist, I have seen first hand how discrimination shuts the door on people, but also how diversity programs can change people’s lives dramatically and for the better,” she said via email.

Women comprise about 30 percent of UW’s computer science school. In the essay, Reges says this is on par with what his colleagues at other universities are seeing, with some exceptions.

“I’m OK with it,” Reges said. “I think we have to be. It doesn’t necessarily upset me. Women are doing quite well in lots of fields.”

But diversity advocates argue that while women aren’t underrepresented in every field, they are in one of the economy’s most lucrative industries: technology. Female-founded companies received just 2 percent of venture capital dollars in 2017.

Since the late 1990s, women have earned about half of bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering. But the number of computer science degrees awarded to women has decreased from 28 percent in 2000 to 18 percent in 2013, according to data from the National Science Foundation.

A TechRepublic report found that despite many universities touting near-equal gender ratios for intro computer science classes, the parity doesn’t exist for upper-level students and those that ultimately graduate with computer science degrees. The report cited lack of women peers and role models at multiple levels as a reason for the imbalance.

Women made up 15 percent of engineers and 25 percent of computer/mathematical scientists in 2013, according to the National Science Foundation. The gender disparity in tech has gained more attention in the past few years as more women report stories about toxic workplace cultures.

Last year, former Uber engineer Susan Fowler publicly detailed sexual harassment and discrimination she experienced working at the company. That sparked several more women to speak out about similar experiences.

Reges believes that many of the existing statistics about women in computer science are misleading. Here’s how he puts in it the essay:

Computer science has gone through two major boom and bust cycles in the last 40 years. The idea that men drove women from the field is not supported by the data. There has been no period of time when men have been increasing while women have been decreasing. In 48 of the last 50 years the trend was the same for men and women with the percentage of women going up at the same time that the percentage of men went up and the percentage of women going down when the percentage of men went down. But while the trend has been the same, the magnitude of the response has differed significantly.

In both cycles, men disproportionately reacted to the boom part of the cycle and women disproportionately reacted to the bust.

Ed Lazowska, UW Computer Science professor. (GeekWire Photo)

Ed Lazowska, a longtime fixture in the UW Allen School, said that while he disagrees with the conclusions in Reges’ essay, “I found it thought-provoking and I encouraged others on the faculty to read it.”

“I agree that there are differences between genders,” he said. “But I believe that there are so many other factors at work that we can’t possibly say what the role of gender differences might be. What factors? Parental encouragement and expectations. Early exposure to technology. Stereotypes about programmers and programming. Perceptions of the work culture in the software industry. Socioeconomic factors. Sexual harassment. Failure to communicate the empowering role of computer science in so many fields and careers. I could go on and on.

The Allen School posted a long thread on Twitter detailing the department’s position on diversity.

Reges launches into the controversial essay with some remarks about Damore, the Google engineer who circulated an internal memo criticizing the company’s approach to creating a diverse workplace and argued that biological differences contribute to gender disparities in computer science.

Google fired Damore last August. In a note to employees, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said that “portions of the memo violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.”

“Our job is to build great products for users that make a difference in their lives,” Pichai wrote. “To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK.”

Damore filed a class action lawsuit against Google in January. In his essay, Reges invites the “closet Damores out there to join the discussion and to let people know what you really think.”

“Our community must face the difficult truth that we aren’t likely to make further progress in attracting women to computer science,” Reges writes. “Women can code, but often they don’t want to. We will never reach gender parity. You can shame and fire all of the Damores you find, but that won’t change the underlying reality. It’s time for everyone to be honest, and my honest view is that having 20 percent women in tech is probably the best we are likely to achieve. Accepting that idea doesn’t mean that women should feel unwelcome. Recognizing that women will be in the minority makes me even more appreciative of the women who choose to join us.”

It’s not the first time Reges has circulated a controversial opinion. The New York Times reported he was dismissed from Stanford University in 1991, quoting Stanford officials saying Reges “advocated drug use and boasted of carrying drugs in his backpack while on campus,” and also “paid for alcoholic beverages for students under the age of 21 at a university function.”

In his essay this week, Reges writes that he was “fired from Stanford University for ‘violating campus drug policy’ as a means of challenging the assumptions of the war on drugs.”

“Saying controversial things that might get me fired is nothing new for me,” he writes, adding later, “My attitude in all of these cases has been that I need to speak up and give my honest opinion on controversial issues.”

Battle, the UW postdoctoral researcher, believes that Reges’ perspective on women in the field ignores the underlying factors that discourage women from approaching computer science to begin with.

“It is critical to consider how our positions of power can influence our thinking with respect to programs designed to address discrimination, like diversity programs,” she said. “When people start to shift the balance to eliminate discrimination in areas like computer science, it can feel like a loss of rights for some members of the majority group … This is not the first article to point out that women seem less interested in computer science, but the key follow up question is why? I would argue that this avoidance is not due to natural or biological causes, it is cultural.”

Rowan Zellers, a graduate student in the Allen School, said he was upset by Reges’ essay but unsurprised given the lecturer’s previous comments and interactions with students.

“A lot of people have tried to bring it to the department chair’s attention, the administration’s attention, however, nothing seems to be happening,” he said. “So it’s sort of like, this is a normal even though saying that makes me pretty uncomfortable.”

In a message to the Allen School community, Director Hank Levy said, “All members of the Allen School are entitled to share their ideas freely, and no one among our leadership has any interest in silencing or censoring people even when they express controversial ideas. However, our leadership also has the right and the responsibility to affirm our values and to discuss the many ways
in which we are supporting those values.”

Reges doesn’t believe his position is incompatible with his role teaching women to become computer scientists. He says that his goal is to shift the narrative away from negative stories about challenges women face in tech to a celebration of those who do choose to pursue computer science.

“There’s a feeling that women are being excluded,” he said. “I just don’t see it. I work at UW. We’re amazingly welcoming. We’ve done all sorts of things. I’d like to have someone tell me in what way are we excluding women?”

GeekWire reporter Taylor Soper contributed to this story.

Reges’ title has been updated since publication to reflect his position as a principal lecturer.

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Google Doodle honors Seattle author Octavia E. Butler, a voice for sci-fi diversity

The late Seattle science-fiction writer Octavia E. Butler gets a star turn in today’s Google Doodle graphic.

Seattle science-fiction author Octavia E. Butler passed away in 2006, but she’s getting timely good wishes today on what would have been her 71st birthday in the form of a Google Doodle tribute.

The black writer’s work broke the “white guys with lasers” mold for science fiction by telling stories that reflected the future-day diversity she wanted to see in present-day society. Not in a preachy way, but in the form of more than a dozen thought-provoking, award-winning novels and shorter works.

In 1995, she was the first science-fiction writer to win a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” and four years later she moved from her native California to Seattle. She died unexpectedly at the age of 58 after falling and striking her head on a walkway outside her home.

Butler came from humble beginnings — her father was a shoeshine man, and her mother was a maid — and she accepted her fame with humility.

“People may call these ‘genius grants,’ ” Butler said in a 2004 interview with the Seattle P-I, referring to her MacArthur prize. “But nobody made me take an IQ test before I got mine. I knew I’m no genius.”

In that, she was wrong.

Butler’s family members expressed their thanks for today’s tribute in a statement:

“Her spirit of generosity and compassion compelled her to support the disenfranchised. She sought to speak truth to power, challenge prevailing notions and stereotypes, and empower people striving for better lives. Although we miss her, we celebrate the rich life she led and its magnitude in meaning.

“Today, on her birthday, it is with immense pride that we give tribute to Octavia for the magnificent gifts she bestowed upon all of us. Her legacy endures. As long as we speak her name, she lives.”

She lives as well in her books’ influence. Here are GeekWire’s favorites:

“Lilith’s Brood: The Complete Xenogenesis Trilogy,” recommended by Clare McGrane: “Butler is a master of creating fantastic alien worlds that feel so much like our own, and nowhere is this so apparent as the Xenogenesis series. I love how Butler challenges her readers in these books. She forces you to ask — what would I sacrifice to survive, to make sure humanity survives? The characters all have different answers to that question, and it reveals much about our world here and now.”

“Clay’s Ark,” recommended by Frank Catalano: “About the only flaw I can see with the novel is that I really would like to know what happens after it ends. That’s probably not a real flaw, but a wish for more. Clay’s Ark is a complete novel — spare, thought-provoking, entertaining, haunting, and a page-turner.”

“Kindred,” recommended by Stefania Hajnosz: “I had to read one of her books in high school, and it was the best book we read that year. Never had there been so many kids reading ahead of the assigned reading.”

The Google Doodle exposure touched off other tributes as well. Here’s a sampling from the Twitterverse, which was born a month after Butler passed away:

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