Waymo Asks NHTSA To Fix Self-Driving Barriers; Disney Sells Yes Net; Facebook Mines AI in Minecraft; Microsoft-Back to Desktop for Convertables

Waymo, the self-driving car unit of Google parent Alphabet has urged the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to “promptly” remove regulatory barriers for cars without steering wheels and brake pedals.
Automakers must currently meet nearly 75 auto safety standards for self-driving cars, many of them written under the assumption that a licensed driver is in command of the vehicle using traditional controls. NHTSA has been grappling for more than three years with how to address those requirements. General Motors, Lyft, and Honda also filed separate comments asking the agency to clear these barriers to self-driving cars.

Disney has announced it has sold its stake in the YES Network to an investor group including Amazon.
The investor group, which also includes the Yankees and Sinclair Broadcast Group, acquired the 80% stake of the YES Network that was not already held by the Yankees. Disney agreed to sell the 22 regional sports networks (RSNs) owned by 21st Century Fox as a condition of Disney’s acquisition of the company. The total enterprise value of the deal was $3.47 billion, according to CNBC. The YES Network, which airs Yankees games as well as other local sports and specialty content, was among the RSNs the Department of Justice required Disney to sell.

Facebook is hoping it can train an AI assistant to understand a broad range of human commands with a little help from one of the biggest games in the world — Minecraft. According to businessinsider.com, a group of Facebook researchers published a paper in July explaining why they think Minecraft is the perfect place for an AI to learn about human communication. The key lies in the fact that Minecraft is what’s known as a “sandbox” game, where players can roam around with relatively free rein as to what they want to do or build, while also following a set of relatively simple rules. The researchers hope that the natural curiosity of Minecraft players will give the AI plenty of humans to practice with.
Minecraft has 91 million monthly active users, so the potential pool of humans who could help train the AI is pretty vast.

Microsoft is planning to redesign the tablet experience for Windows 10. The software giant has started testing a new design for 2-in-1 convertible PCs that will keep the user interface more similar to the existing desktop design. Currently, Windows 10 throws you into a more tablet-optimized UI that removes task bar icons and puts the Start menu full-screen when a device automatically switches into “tablet mode.” Microsoft is now walking back some of those changes, while keeping some touch-optimized elements for 2-in-1 PCs. Theverge.com says in the new tablet experience, the desktop will remain in full view, with the task bar icons visible and increased spacing between them.


Personalized Yelp; Opendoor Goes For Mortgages; Apple Letting Indies Fix iPhones; Better Battery Tech Coming

Yelp announced that it will start allowing users to tailor their search results and homepage based on their personal preferences. According to techcrunch.com, that means if you’re vegetarian, or if you’re parent who’s usually looking for kid-friendly restaurants, you won’t have to reenter that information every time you do a search. Instead, you can enter it once and Yelp will prioritize those results moving forward. Just select the “Personalize your experience” option, then choose options around dietary restrictions, lifestyle, accessibility needs, the types of food they prefer and other interests. Once you’ve made your selections, those preferences will start affecting the search results you see in your browser.

Opendoor, the well-funded San Francisco online real estate marketplace that buys and sells homes, is getting into mortgages, intensifying competition with Seattle rivals Zillow and Redfin. Geekwire.com reports the company is starting with six markets: Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, Houston, San Antonio, Phoenix and Tucson. One of Opendoor’s major selling points is that it will cut the time to secure financing in half. If Opendoor fails to close a loan by the scheduled date, it will credit $100 back to the buyer for every day of delay. Opendoor is now buying and selling more than 3,500 homes per month in 20 markets across the U.S. The company aims to get to 50 markets by the end of 2020.

Apple is launching a new independent repair provider program that will provide independent repair businesses with the same Apple genuine parts, tools, training, repair manuals, and diagnostics as Apple Authorized Service Providers, starting in the United States. Reuters says the program will only allow independent repair shops to offer out-of-warranty repair service for iPhones, with no mention of in-warranty repairs or other devices at this time. Apple has set up a new page on its website with more details. To qualify, repair shops must be an established business with verification documents available for review by Apple, must be in a commercially zoned area, and must have an Apple-certified technician on staff to perform the out-of-warranty iPhone repairs when using genuine parts. There is no cost to join the program. 

For a couple of years now, scientists have touted lithium metal batteries as the next major breakthrough in battery technology. Engadget.com says they can store at least 33 percent more power per pound, and they’re significantly lighter. The problem with lithium metal batteries is that they frequently develop small, tendril-like protrusions called dendrites. Over time, they can puncture the protective film that separates the positive and negative ends of the battery, leading to fires. A team of researchers at Stanford thinks they’ve solved that problem.  This battery tech would be a game-changer for electric vehicles (EVs). EVs spend about a quarter of their battery capacity carrying around their power source. The range of EVs would increase significantly with these batteries.


Microsoft Surface Event October 2; Yelp-Personalize Your Home Page; New Coating = Lighter Lithium Metal Batteries; K-Swiss CEO Shoe Collection

Microsoft will hold a special Surface hardware event in New York City October 2nd. Theverge.com reports it could serve as the first unveiling of Microsoft’s dual-screen Surface device. Redmond has been building a new dual-screen device, codenamed “Centaurus,” for over two years. It’s designed to be the hero device for a wave of new dual-screen tablet / laptop hybrids that should roll out in 2020.

Yelp announced that it will start allowing users to tailor their search results and homepage based on their personal preferences. According to techcrunch.com, that means if you’re vegetarian, or if you’re parent who’s usually looking for kid-friendly restaurants, you won’t have to reenter that information every time you do a search. Instead, you can enter it once and Yelp will prioritize those results moving forward.
Just select the “Personalize your experience” option, then choose options around dietary restrictions (whether they’re vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and so on), their lifestyle (whether they’re parents, car owners or pet owners), their accessibility needs (wheelchair access, gender neutral bathrooms), the types of food they prefer and other interests (like bookstores or date nights).
Once you’ve made your selections, those preferences will start affecting the search results you see.your browser.

For a couple of years now, scientists have touted lithium metal batteries as the next major breakthrough in battery technology, thanks to two main advantages over their lithium-ion counterparts. Engadget.com says one is that they can store at least 33 percent more power per pound. Secondly, they’re significantly lighter thanks to the fact the positive end of the battery, the anode, is made from lithium, instead of graphite.
The problem with lithium metal batteries is that they frequently develop small, tendril-like protrusions called dendrites. Over time, dendrites can puncture the protective film that separates the positive and negative ends of the battery. And when the two sides start interacting with one another, there’s the potential for a short circuit, which in turn can lead to the entire power cell catching fire.

Now, a team of researchers at Stanford University think they’ve solved that problem. The researchers created a protective coating that significantly limits dendrite growth. With the new film, the team says they were able to build a lithium metal battery that held 85 percent of its original charge after 160 recharge cycles. By contrast, most current lithium metal batteries tend to keep 30 percent of their original charge when they get to the same point in their lifespan. This battery tech would be a game-changer for electric vehicles (EVs). As the research team points out, most EVs spend about a quarter of their battery capacity carrying around their power source. With lithium metal batteries, the range of EVs would increase significantly.

K-Swiss this month unveiled a new line of shoes that are specifically designed for CEOs. Businessinsider.com notes that on their website, K-Swiss says “First impressions count. These sneakers are purpose-built for the hustle, the grind, the journey of building your business and brand.”
“Whether you’re in the office, entertaining a client or running through the airport, you’re never clocked out and constantly on your feet. Here is your versatile shoe, blending all-day comfort with sophisticated style.” The lace up leather sneakers are a very reasonable $69, and are only available on their website. One unique feature— a zipper on the side for quick removal at places like airport security lines.


Insider Selling Tracks 2007; Apple & Samsung Phones Investigated for Excess Radiation; Netflix-Easier to Find New & Upcoming Shows; Google Maps-New Android Auto Shortcuts

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The leaders of Corporate America are cashing in their chips as doubts grow about the sustainability of the longest bull market in American history. CNN.com says that corporate insiders have sold an average of $600 million of stock per day in August, according to TrimTabs Investment Research, which tracks stock market liquidity. August is on track to be the fifth month of the year in which insider selling tops $10 billion. The only other times that has happened was 2006 and 2007, the period before the last bear market in stocks. Winston Chua, an analyst at TrimTabs, noted “When insiders sell, it’s a sign they believe valuations are high and it’s a good time to be outside the market.”  

The Federal Communications Commission is reportedly investigating the claim that certain smartphones from Apple and Samsung emit higher levels of radiation than is allowed by the FCC. Businessinsider.com reports that the Apple iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 — as well as the Samsung Galaxy S8, Galaxy S9, and Galaxy J3 — were found to emit higher levels of radiation than they’re supposed to. Both Apple and Samsung say they comply with FCC regulations. The health risks of smartphone radiation are still uncertain. The higher radiation levels were mostly recorded in a test that simulated the phones at 2mm away from a human body — so, when a user holds up a phone to their ear during a phone calls, or when a phone is in a pocket.

It’s now easier to find what’s NEW and COMING SOON on Netflix. Mashable.com reports that  a “Latest” tab is now on your TV’s nav bar — it will show you titles that are: Brand new, Coming this week & Coming next week. You can also click “Remind Me” to receive a notification when those new titles launch. Preview videos and movie trailers will accompany the upcoming Netflix releases. A similar feature is available on Android with a “Coming Soon” section. It’s also currently being tested on iOS. The “Latest” tab will be curated based on each users’ preferences and will refresh throughout the day.

The centerpiece of Google’s Android Auto experience is Google Maps. Now, they’ve widely rolled out a new set of buttons for Maps users on Android Auto that make things just a bit more convenient. According to 9to5google.com, over the past few days, the Android Auto interface for Google Maps has introduced these new shortcut buttons for a good number of users. The buttons expand on what Google previously offered. In past versions, only the settings icon appeared underneath navigation details. Now, these new shortcuts include alternate routes, better search, a button for locations, and an overflow menu for other options.


Disney+…4 Streams & 4K; AT&T & FTC Settle Over ‘Unlimited’ Data Throttling; Sony and Yamaha- Self-Driving Cart for Theme Parks; DNA Test Sites Slowdown-Calm Before Storm

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Disney has fired a rather large cannon shot over the bow of Netflix and others with its Disney+ streaming service. According to macrumors.com, the service, announced at the D23 expo in Anaheim, will offer up to four simultaneous streams and 4 K content for $6.99 a month! You can already get 4 simultaneous streams and 4K from Netflix…but that will set you back $16 a month! Netflix obviously has a huge library to draw from, but Disney’s planned launch in November will have 500 feature films and over 7,500 shows…including the entire Pixar library. Take my money!

In a deal reached August 2nd, but just published, AT&T has settled its case with the FTC over throttling ‘unlimited’ data, that has been in court since 2014. 9to5mac.com reports that there is still a 90 day stay in place while the FTC reviews details. Other carriers have throttled and continue to do so, but the main issue here was that AT&T didn’t really disclose it. AT&T has always contended it only affected a ‘small number of users.’

Sony is now partnering with Yamaha on its SC-1 Sociable Cart. Engadget.com says the cart, which is being expanded to 5 a 5 passenger model, will be aimed at theme parks, golf courses, and ‘commercial facilities.’ The self-driving carts have NO windows, but instead has a 49-inch mixed reality display inside. Outside, it’s a rolling billboard, with 4 55 inch displays serving ads to passers-by. They expect the cart to go into service in Japan before March 2020, and come to the US after that.

Sales of consumer facing DNA tests form Ancestry and 23andMe are off this year. They haven’t offered any reasons, but it may be natural tapering off of early adopters combined with privacy concerns. CNBC.com reports that Illumina, which makes equipment that converts DNA to bits and bytes, says while short term things are softer, they look for bigger long-term growth as companies add more health reports like showing heart disease risk…even with continued privacy concerns. Illumina likens the first wave to hobbyists using PCs, and sees the next as a big explosion like when PCs started showing up in nearly every home.


Physical Apple Card & Leather; Future Google ‘Nest Mini’; Gmail To Autocorrect Typos & Grammar; Bose Portable Speaker Runs Alexa AND Google Assistant

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Documentation from Apple warns not to keep your new physical Apple card in a leather wallet or in denim…as either may cause ‘permanent discoloration that will not wash off.’ According to arstechnica.com, the titanium card is painted white, and this warning purely relates to the cosmetic appearance, you may want to store it in a sleeve or in a wallet or bag made of soft material. Apple also warns about slotting it with other credit cards, which can demagnetize the magnetic stripe…but that’s true of al credit cards. You can clean it with a gentle swipe of a soft, microfiber cloth and a bit of isopropyl alcohol. Maybe they should have just left it bare titanium….

Google is readying an updated Home Mini which will be rebranded the ‘Nest Mini’. 9to5google.com reports that it will feature better sound quality and louder available volume, a wall mount, and a 3.5 mm stereo jack. The leak doesn’t specify if the jack is for audio input, or is an output jack for an additional speaker or headphones. Of note: the Nest Mini will apparently have some sort of proximity awareness like the Nest thermostat and Hub. No word on pricing, but a good guess is that Google will stay close to the $49 price point of the last model. The Nest Mini is expected to bow at the Pixel 4 event this Fall.

Gmail is going to get an update that will feature autocorrect for grammar and typos. Thenextweb.com says the update is rolling out now for G Suite users on the web, and it uses AI to spot the errors. Small spelling errors will be corrected for you on the fly. If it detects a grammar error, you’ll see a squiggly blue line under the phrase or sentence. The features are being ported over from Google Docs, which got them back in February.

So far, Bose has just had relatively inexpensive portable speakers. Now, that changes, with a new model named (rather plainly) Portable Home Speaker. According to techcrunch.com, the $350 speaker comes with a handle that swings up like on a bucket, so it can be toted from room to room. It’s smaller in diameter than the Apple Home Pod, and the killer feature (without hearing it of course…the audio sound should be in that category for $350!) is that the Bose rocks two mics and runs Google Assistant AND Amazon Alexa. It also has AirPlay2 and Spotify connectivity baked in. The Bose Portable Home Speaker bows September 19th.


Facebook ‘Clear History’—Doesn’t; LinkedIn Has Blocked 21.6 Million Fakes This Year; YouTube Concedes Robot Fight Videos Aren’t Animal Cruelty; Amazon Doubling Presence in Portland

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At F8 2018, Facebook made a big deal about a plan to let users remove browsing data from the platform. It’s now rolling out…at least in Spain, Ireland, and South Korea. Mashable.com reports that the rub is…’Clear History’ doesn’t actually clear anything. It just ‘disconnects’ users from your data. Your data continues to live on Facebook servers. The social network whines that it would be too time-consuming and possibly unreliable to remove it! You will be able to opt to disconnect your future browsing from your account…although this won’t stop Facebook from collecting data about your activity in the first place! I, for one, am resigned to our Facebook overlords knowing what I’m going to do before I even think of it. Gah!

We just reported on Twitter killing a substantial number of accounts controlled by the Chinese government, aiming to disrupt the Hong Kong Protests. Well, LinkedIn has been busy this year, blocking 21.6 million fake accounts the first half of 2019! According to geekwire.com, the vast majority….19.5 million…were blocked at the registration stage, and never even went live on the network. They spotted and nuked another 2 million, with 67,000 accounts flagged by users and then killed off by LinkedIn. One thing that has kept the Microsoft owned platform out of the hornet’s nest of fake news and politics is pointed out by Editor in Chief Dan Roth. He notes that “You talk on LinkedIn the same way you talk in the office.” “There are certain boundaries around what is acceptable.”

YouTube has relented and apologized after taking down robot fight videos, claiming originally that they violated YouTube’s policy against “deliberate infliction of animal suffering” such as “dog fighting and cock fighting.” Gizmodo.com says the 9 videos that were pulled down are once again online. You have to give YouTube a little credit…a spokesperson told Motherboard “With the massive volume of videos on our site, sometimes we make the wrong call.”

Amazon is beefing up its operation in Portland, Ore., with 400 people being added to their staff there. Geekwire.com reports that Amazon is moving into a new 84,000 square foot office there. Amazon plans to double its Portland workforce with the move to the new space. The roles are in operations, software engineering, product management, as well as other tech fields. Portland is the tech hub for Amazon Web Services, the company’s giant cloud division.


Twitter & Facebook Kill Covert Chinese Government Accounts; Apple TV Coming in November; Minecraft Graphics Update; IFTTT Warns Not to Migrate Nests to Google Accounts

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Twitter is no longer going to accept ads from state controlled media outlets. This is on the heels of their taking down a covert Chinese social media campaign aimed at undermining pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Facebook also killed the accounts controlled by the Chinese government. Cnn.com reports that Twitter said the new policy would only apply to “news media entities that are either financially or editorially controlled by the state.” Twitter killed over 900 accounts traced back to the Chinese government. Facebook identified around a dozen pages that were followed by some 15,000 accounts before they pulled down the pages. It may sound like a drop in the bucket, but it’s a start.

Apple plans to launch Apple TV+ in November, as part of their effort to hit $50 billion in services sales by 2020. According to bloomberg.com, they will roll out a small selection of shows…around a half dozen originals, and have a free trial period. Most Apple watchers think the plan will end up being priced $9.99 a month like Apple News and Apple Music. This will be a tad higher than Amazon Prime and Netflix at $8.99, and notably higher than Disney+ which is debuting at $6.99. The first shows will be ‘The Morning Show,’ with Jennifer Anniston Reese Witherspoon, and Steve Carell, which already has a trailer out, ‘Amazing Stories,’, ’See’ (with Jason Momoa), ‘Truth Be Told,’ with Octavia Spencer, and a documentary about pricey houses called ‘Home.’

Microsoft if bringing Nvidia’s RTX ‘ray tracing tech’ to Minecraft. Businessinsider.com says says ray tracing enhances video game graphics by enhancing the lighting to look more realistic than in conventional video game lighting. Right now, the upgrade will only be on PCs. Rumor is, the next generation xBox will get ray tracing tech, but it won’t be Nvidia’s….Project Scarlett, the next gen xBox runs AMD hardware. In one way, this is a big move for Microsoft, as Minecraft has been playable on very cheap, underpowered computers (as cheap as a $350 laptop), and to play with the ray tracing upgrade, you will need an Nvidia GeForce RTX graphics card, which runs about $350 just by itself!

Google has planned to move Nest devices to the Google ecosystem for simplicity’s sake, but now with pushback from users, will maintain Works With Nest connections for some third party integration. TechCrunch.com reports that migrating over breaks connections with non-Nest gear using IFTTT integration over Works with Nest. They say it is irreversible. If you are using devices that run IFTTT applets, do not move over to Google, because they will lose functionality after August 31st.


Disney+ to Support Chromecast & Android TV; Spotify Premium Family Plan Gets Explicit Filter; Tesla’ Solar Rental Program; Titanium Apple Watch

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Disney has officially announced that Disney+ Streaming service will support Google’s Chromecast and Android TV. 9to5google.com reports the word came in and investor conference. The service will launch in November. Already announced support includes Roku, Apple TV, iOS, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and web browsers like Google Chrome. Disney said you can directly subscribe through in-app purchases like on iOS, but hasn’t affirmed that Google Play will support this.

Spotify is unveiling a new Premium Family Plan that gives parents the ability to filter out explicit content to individual accounts. According to engadget.com, it also includes ‘Family Mix,’ which opens up access to personalized playlists for the whole family. The feature allows granular control…so you don’t go into a coma over ‘Frozen’ and the like! The family plan gives you 6 individual accounts for $15 a month. It does require that all reside in the same household, although it appears they really haven’t been enforcing that so far.

After picking up SolarCity a while back, Tesla kind of dropped the ball. Now, they are looking to rental to give the business a shot in the arm. TechCrunch.com says that in the 3 years since Tesla picked up SolarCity, they have only deployed 29 megawatts of solar installations, while the number one and number two providers…SunRun and Vivint installed 103 and 56 megawatts respectively. Tesla will offer customers an option to rent solar systems ranging from $65 a month for a small system to $195 for its largest one. Customers only need to pay a $100 fully refundable charge at the outset. The catch? (Yes, there’s always a catch!) The contract can be cancelled at any time, but Tesla will charge users $1500 to remove the system once it has been installed. It remains to be seen if this will work as well as the no money down lease model SolarCity had used quite effectively before being acquired by Tesla.

A couple images have been spotted in the beta of Watch OS for the upcoming Apple Watch models. According to 9to5mac.com, one graphic shows a ceramic case (which Apple has previously had in the past), but also a Titanium case, which would be a whole new thing. It’s unknown if the titanium Watch would replace the stainless steel model or be a brand new offering. In the past, before dropping ceramic for Watch 4, Apple had offered both a white and a grey ceramic watch. It’s been speculated that since Apple is rolling out the Apple Card in titanium, that maybe they have new interest in that metal. Presumably, the aluminum Apple Watch will be continued as the entry level version to keep a lower price point.


Google Assistant-Reminders to Friends & Family; GM Shows EV Utility Vehicle; New iPhone 11 Details; Facebook Simplifies Group Privacy Settings

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Google has announced a new feature for Assistant that lets you send reminders to others like friends and family…as long as they are part of an opt-in group of fellow Assistant users. Theverge.com reports that a parent could (over) use this to send reminders to kids, or spouses to the significant other, etc. Google says it could also be used for friends or roommates. The reminders can be created with either voice or text, and can be set to pop up on the recipient’s phone at a set time OR location. It all works via “Hey Google,” like other Assistant features. You can either create a Family Group online at families.google.com or use the Smart Display or a smart speaker with Assistant built in as long as Voice Match is set to on.

General Motors has unveiled the Menlo EV, a utility vehicle built on the Bolt chassis. According to electrek.co, the baby electric SUV (dubbed the Bolt EUV) will be out later this year. GM already rolled out a couple of other EVs based on the Bolt, but they are China only…the Buick Velite 6 EV and Baojun E200. The Menlo will have 174 hp, and a 93 mph top speed. GM has not yet released the cruising range between charges.

An alleged Foxconn employee has leaked more about the upcoming iPhones. The names appear to be the 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max. As numerous previous rumors have indicated, there will be a large square bump with the 3 cams and flash on the back. This source also confirms that the glass back will be frosted, but adds a detail…they say there will be no iPhone nomenclature! There will also be 4 colors…the existing Space Gray, Silver, Gold, and a new dark green color. This source also says Apple will keep Lightening and not switch to USB-C.

Facebook is simplifying settings for Group privacy. According to engadget.com, there will no longer bey public, closed, and secret…now it will just be ‘public’ and ‘private.’ A slider switch in the ‘Private’ setting allows you to select either visible or hidden. The same community standards will apply as before, and Facebook will still still be able to monitor for ‘bad actors and bad content.’