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Verizon throttled fire department’s ‘unlimited’ plan during deadly blaze


As wildfires raged out of control in Northern California this summer, the firefighters responsible for managing them learned a hard lesson about net neutrality. For the Santa Clara Country Fire Department, it couldn’t have come at a worse time. When they needed them most, Verizon had effectively disabled their mobile devices, leaving the department to scramble for solutions while fighting fires that cost could cost California insurers some $10 to $12 billion. As Fire Chief Anthony Bowden tells it: County Fire has experienced throttling by its ISP, Verizon. The throttling has had a significant impact on our ability to provide…

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5 useful technology practices and resources for your business


Technology is continuously advancing, so many business owners find themselves frustrated trying to keep up. Their customers are growing annoyed, too: as consumers, they have expectations of the establishments they purchase from, and those expectations include convenience and accessibility. If you are a business owner sporting outdated tools, you are losing an opportunity to connect with customers. Technology does not have to drain your bank account, though. As Ramon Ray says in his book Technology Resources for Growing Businesses: “Most of the time it’s not technology first and foremost that a business needs to improve. It’s a business process. For…

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Google’s ‘Tell me something good’ might just restore your faith in humanity


Being perpetually tuned into the news is not fun. Important, perhaps, but usually not particularly good for your outlook on humanity. Google, one of the world’s principal supplier of news, is taking a small step to make things better. Google Assistant is testing a new feature that will only feed you positive stories. Just ask the Assistant “tell me something good” and you’ll be greeted with a curated sumary of positive stories that might just brighten your day. Google says it highlights stories “about people who are solving problems for our communities and our world.” Some examples of what you…

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Review: The Prime Exclusive LG Stylo 4 is a bargain-basement Galaxy Note (but we love it)


The LG Stylo 4 is a stylus-enabled phone looking to fill the void left in anyone’s life who can’t (or won’t) afford the Galaxy Note 9. Whether or not it succeeds is up to you, but we fell in love with this scrappy device despite its obvious shortcomings. It would be ridiculous to compare a budget phone to the soon-to-be-released Samsung Galaxy Note 9. My colleague Napier Lopez called the Note 9 a “welcome return to obscene specs.” The LG Stylo 4, on the other hand, tickles the opposite end of the spectrum: its specs make it one of the…

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Review: The Even H3 are classy $150 headphones that tune sound to your hearing ability


In the last few years, some headphone makers have taken a novel approach to sound quality: don’t just make the best-sounding headphones possible, make the best-sound for *your* ears. The idea is that everyone hears frequencies at varying intensities, so these products are able to adjust a headphone’s outputs to account for your hearing’s strengths and weaknesses. A startup named Even was among the first to flaunt this ability back in 2016. Its headphones ask you perform a short hearing test to determine your ‘EarPrint’ – a hearing profile unique to you – and modify the sound accordingly. As Even…

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Inside ‘Changemaker’: T-Mobile’s new competition helps young entrepreneurs pitch their big ideas

T-Mobile CEO John Legere takes a photo with Changemaker Challenge participants on Monday at the company’s headquarters in Bellevue, Wash. (Photo courtesy of T-Mobile)

If the scene at T-Mobile’s headquarters on Monday was any indication, the future is in good hands with tomorrow’s leaders.

The wireless carrier this week hosted the final stage of its first-ever Changemaker Challenge, a new initiative it launched with social entrepreneurship non-profit Ashoka to help young people tackle social and environmental issues.

More than 300 teams applied from across the country, and 30 were invited to T-Mobile’s campus in Bellevue, Wash. to pitch their ideas in front of T-Mobile senior executives as part of a 2-day mentorship and training experience.

The “Aware” team, which aims to provide a more inclusive environment for students with special needs, answers a question after a pitch as T-Mobile COO Mike Sievert looks on. (GeekWire photo / Taylor Soper)

The pitches were polished. The entrepreneurs were energetic. The ideas were game-changing — bringing solar power to Puerto Rico; smashing the stigma surrounding mental illness; connecting high schoolers with scholarships.

It was no different than attending a Y Combinator or Techstars Demo Day, except for the fact that many of the participants haven’t even graduated high school yet.

T-Mobile CEO John Legere and T-Mobile COO Mike Sievert joined other company leaders on Monday to judge six pitches. To say they were impressed would be an understatement.

“That was unbelievable,” Legere said after hearing Sarah Raza pitch her idea for Aware, a group that aims to provide a more inclusive environment for students with special needs. “Can you start at T-Mobile tomorrow?”

T-Mobile CEO John Legere provides feedback after hearing a pitch at the company’s Changemaker event. (GeekWire photo / Taylor Soper)

Many of the ideas stemmed from hardship experienced by the students themselves. Her own battles with depression and anxiety helped inspire Alison Ingalls to join The Yellow Tulip Project, a community that helps teens struggling with mental illness. The aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico led J.I. Cruz back to his home country to build solar power products for thousands of people as part of Dios del Sol.

Other finalists included ArtPass, an educational curriculum to create a youth-friendly experience at children’s hospitals; and Peerlift, a non-profit that aims to increase access to college for low-income, first generation students.

T-Mobile originally planned to pick two winning teams and bring them back to Bellevue for further development and support. But Legere was so moved by the young entrepreneurs that he decided to invite all six finalists back to campus and give them an additional $30,000 from his own pocket. They will also all be featured on his Slow Cooker Sunday show that has more than five million followers.

“I’m absolutely stunned at the professionalism, the depth of their ideas, the magnitude of the impact,” Legere told GeekWire. “I didn’t hear anything in there that I wouldn’t personally want to go be apart of right now. It’s inspiring.”

Janice Kapner, executive vice president of communications at T-Mobile, helped kickstart the idea for Changemakers. The company has seen revenues and customer growth surge in recent years and wanted to do something beyond its foundation work.

“Once you start to have success and momentum, you have a bit of a moral responsibility to try and share that in some capacity,” Kapner said.

Legere said organizing an event that helped support young people with their big ideas is on brand for T-Mobile, which has billed itself as the “Un-carrier.”

“Disruption is kind of our thing,” he said.

Westin Bills and his brother, Russel, pitch the idea for Echo Effect. (GeekWire photo / Taylor Soper)

Westin Bills and his brother, Russel, came up with the idea for Echo Effect. It’s an app that encourages younger folks to use social media for good — instead of taking selfies and seeing how many likes rack up, what about taking selfies of yourself doing a good deed?

“It is our dream to change how our generation uses social media,” Westin Bills said during the pitch.

Sievert, T-Mobile’s COO, said Echo Effect reminded him of his wife, who has a habit of picking up litter whenever she sees it.

“What if she took a selfie of that every single time and challenged other people to do it? What if there was an Echo Effect?” Sievert told the founders after their pitch. “There’s something about this idea I really love.”

Beyond learning about storytelling and marketing and business plans, the Changemaker participants also took home personal development lessons.

“You can pretty much put your mind to it and get it done,” Westin Bill said, when asked what he learned. “You can get as far as you can. Even if you fail, you can get up and keep going.”

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Spocket raises $1.2M for platform that allows anyone to become an e-commerce retailer

Spocket’s Vancouver team (from left: Tom Hansen, Saba Mohebpour, and Mannat Cheema. (Photo by Stefan van Mourik).

This week, Spocket closed a $1.2 million fundraising round to double the Vancouver, B.C., startup’s team and push further into social media e-commerce.

Plug and Play Ventures, Panache Ventures, 7 Gate Ventures, and Mistral Venture Partners participated in the round.

Spocket takes care of inventory and on-demand shipping for small online retailers. The startup wants to be the world’s largest marketplace for dropshipping, a retail fulfillment method. Dropshipping has emerged as a new way for online sellers to get up and running. When a customer buys a product, the retailer purchases it from a third party and has it shipped directly, rather than stocking inventory themselves. Spocket has more than 15,000 retailer customers that use its marketplace to sell clothing, home decor, and other products.

With the fresh cash, Spocket plans to double its seven-person team to 14. The company is also developing tools to integrate with social media platforms so that retailers can sell products to their Instagram and Pinterest followers directly.

“We’re basically helping anyone in the world with access to a computer to start an online business and become an entrepreneur,” said Spocket CEO Saba Mohebpour. “It’s pretty much zero up-front costs.”

Spocket is a graduate of the Techstars Seattle accelerator though Mohebpour wasn’t able to visit Seattle at any point during the program. That’s because as an Iranian citizen, he was barred from entering the U.S. under President Donald Trump’s travel ban. Mohebpour applied for a waiver to the ban in December. The application is still pending.

In the meantime, Mohebpour received permanent Canadian residency in Vancouver, where his startup is based. In the past year, Spocket has raised a little over $2 million.

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New drone video captures dozens of colorful murals decorating buildings along Seattle’s ‘SODO Track’

If you haven’t ridden transit into or out of South Seattle lately, you may have missed the giant, colorful murals which comprise SODO Track. A new drone video will give you a view along and above the innovative art project.

Shot by Rudy Willingham, the 2-minute tour of the “urban art gallery” was uploaded to YouTube on Tuesday. Willingham, a photographer, music producer and DJ, is also a senior copywriter at DNA Seattle, and previously got attention for launching his drone over Amazon’s Spheres.

Willingham told GeekWire that this time he woke up at sunrise to capture footage — using a DJI Mavic Pro — along the light rail tracks for about 2 1/2 hours.

“My wife loves the ‘EVOLVE’ mural underneath the neon SODO sign,” Willingham said. “We see it every time we get on the West Seattle bridge to get home.”

After posting a photo of the mural on his Instagram page, a commenter informed Willingham that SODO Track continues for another two miles. In fact, according to the project’s official website, 40 artists produced 29 murals in 2016 and 2017, and last month 23 more artists came to liven up the surroundings.

“I went to check it out and my mind was blown,” he said. “I’m glad that despite all the growth, Seattle’s still got some soul.”

An aerial view of SODO Track, a rolling art project in South Seattle. (Rudy Willingham Photo)

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Vancouver, B.C., steps in for Seattle as thousands gather for The International ‘Dota 2’ championships

They come from “all corners of the Earth,” and this week, instead of settling in Seattle, competitors and rabid fans have assembled three hours north, in Vancouver, B.C., for The International, the huge “Dota 2” esports tournament.

Bellevue, Wash.-based gaming giant Valve moved the tournament to Canada for the first time after holding it at Seattle’s KeyArena for four years. When the decision was made in March, Valve pointed to upcoming renovation of the venue at Seattle Center.

Now Rogers Arena is playing host to the main event — which opened Monday and runs through Saturday — and its thousands of attendees and big tourism dollars.

A video from the opening ceremony, above, was a mix of live music, acrobatics, team introductions and footage of gamers’ agony and ecstasy from previous competitions. Valve co-founder Gabe Newell then took the stage to welcome everyone.

“I do want to personally thank our Canadian neighbors,” Newell said. “Putting on an event like this when you have people coming from 64 nations is really challenging.”

Newell had previously said that The International could be moved out of the U.S. because of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, but blame was ultimately placed on the $700 million renovation of KeyArena.

The prize pool for The International is almost $25 million, with more than $10 million of that going to the first place team.

If you’re not in Vancouver with thousands of other “Dota 2” fans, the action is being live streamed. You can also check out the scene so far in some images from the official @dota2i Instagram account:

The watchful blade #TI8

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A silk dancer takes to the air for the #TI8 Opening Ceremony

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Welcome to The International #TI8

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The challengers #TI8

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Every team came together for the opening ceremony. #TI8

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Orrery.ai aims to turn streams of data into secret weapon for strategic investment

Chipsats
Chipsats like the ones shown here could provide streams of radar data for processing by Orrery.ai’s algorithms. (Photo courtesy of Orrery.ai)

Satellites, sensors, social media and purchasing data provide terabytes’ worth of information about how the global economy is working — and the insights gleaned from that data can be more precious than gold.

But what’s the best way to extract the gold from the dross? That’s where longtime space entrepreneur Dick Rocket intends to step in with a stealthy venture called Orrery.ai.

“There’s a gap between the data analysis firms and the financial sector,” Rocket told GeekWire this week. “That is our gap.”

Rocket launched Orrery.ai about a year ago, with backing from angel investors, but he and a small executive team are just now ramping up a more ambitious private funding campaign. They’re also mulling over where to put their headquarters. (The Seattle area is in the mix, along with sites in Florida, Texas, New York and Georgia.)

One of the key tasks ahead will be to fine-tune a set of machine-learning algorithms that can process publicly available data as well as proprietary data sets and satellite imagery to produce business insights.

“There are literally millions of data sources that are available to us,” said Jason Evans, a tech startup veteran who serves as Orrery.ai’s chief technical officer.

Dick Rocket
Richard M. David adopted the name Dick Rocket to reflect his passion for the final frontier. (Photo courtesy of Dick Rocket)

Space companies such as Spire Global and Seattle-based BlackSky already offer satellite data that can be used to figure out whose ship traffic is increasing, whose crops are doing well, or which retail chain’s parking lots are full. But they leave it up to their customers — including financial analysts and hedge fund managers — to decide what to do with that information.

In contrast, Orrery.ai would reserve the insights for its own use, although there may be some data-sharing deals on the side. “We don’t want anyone knowing what we know,” Rocket said.

Everything that Orrery.ai comes to know would be applied to strategic investments made through a separate but allied venture called the 2020 Fund. Rocket is already thinking big about how the 2020 Fund would leverage Orrery.ai’s proprietary data analysis to make money for its investors.

“We are here to destroy all the bad companies that are publicly traded, and make sure that great companies shine,” he said.

Rocket, who co-founded NewSpace Global in 2011 to offer business intelligence about emerging space companies, doesn’t pull any punches. During this week’s telephone interview, he freely dropped F-bombs when discussing the objects of his scorn (such as SpaceX and Elon Musk).

He’s held forth about the commercial space industry on media outlets such as CNBC, Fox News, Forbes, Fortune and “The Space Show.” He’s shepherded investments in space ventures through the Orrery Group. Rocket, who was born Richard M. David, even adopted a spacey last name in honor of his interest in the final frontier.

So what’s the space angle to Orrery.ai? “I thought you’d never ask,” Rocket said.

The plan calls for Orrery.ai to start off buying data from the likes of Spire Global or Planet, but eventually have its own satellites put into orbit. The strategy would take advantage of the fast-falling costs and fast-rising capabilities associated with small satellites.

Rocket envisions deploying a fleet of credit-card-sized “chipsats,” equipped with radar instruments to collect and beam down data day and night, whether it’s cloudy or clear.

“Our secret sauce is synthetic aperture radar,” he said.

A lot of the details behind Orrery.ai are still up in the air, ranging from who would make the satellites, to who would launch them, to how they’d be paid for. Rocket said that he’s been in contact with a host of well-known space organizations about filling in those details, and that the first deals could be nailed down within the next few weeks.

Will all the anticipated deals come to fruition? Time will tell, but Rocket realizes he doesn’t have an unlimited amount of time. He’s been diagnosed with a type of blood cancer that could turn into a life-threatening condition.

“I want to cure cancer in space. … That’s why I’m so intense about selling this, because I’m not on other people’s schedule,” he said. “I don’t expect to live to 100, unless I go in space, in which case I want to die of natural causes in orbit.”

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